Dáil Eireann

17/Nov/2004

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Code of Conduct for Office Holders.

Departmental Expenditure.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Visit of Western Cape Delegation.

Planning and Development (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2004: First Stage.

Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments: Motion.

Priority Questions.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Cash Escorts.

Other Questions.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Hearing Impairment Claims.

Military Investigations.

Defence Forces Operations.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Road Traffic Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Message from Select Committee.

Consumer Rights Enforcer Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate.

Health Board Allowances.

Postal Services.

Local Government Funding.

Planning Applications.

Written Answers.

Defence Forces Strength.

Defence Forces Regulations.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Naval Service Vessels.

Overseas Missions.

Army Barracks.

Overseas Missions.

Cash Escorts.

Coroner’s Inquest.

Naval Service Patrols.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Defence Forces Conduct.

Defence Forces Promotions.

Decentralisation Programme.

Terrorist Attacks.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Defence Forces Training.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Army Barracks.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Defence Forces Deployment.

Drug Testing Programme.

Common Defence Arrangements.

Foreign Conflicts.

Defence Forces Strength.

European Defence Agency.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Beef Imports.

Ministerial Appointments.

Departmental Funding.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Charitable Organisations.

Health Board Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Staff.

Property Disposal.

Hospital Services.

Care of the Elderly.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Departmental Funding.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Post Mortem Examinations.

Nursing Home Charges.

Departmental Programmes.

Nursing Home Subventions.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Hospital Accommodation.

Birth Rates.

Disabled Drivers.

Hospital Procedures.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Health Board Allowances.

Health Board Building Projects.

Health Board Services.

Health Board Staff.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Child Care Services.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Suicide Incidence.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Medicinal Products.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Legislative Programme.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Health Board Services.

Health Board Staff.

Medical Assessment Review.

Cancer Incidence.

Medical Negligence.

Ministerial Appointments.

Medical Cards.

Health Board Services.

Fireworks Injuries.

Community Care.

Hospital Staff.

Health Board Services.

Freedom of Information.

Health Board Services.

Health Board Staff.

Budget Submissions.

Garda Stations.

National Monuments.

Budget Submissions.

Communications Masts.

Tax Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Exchequer Provisions.

Tax Code.

Budget Submissions.

Tax Code.

Tax Collection.

Motor Fuels.

Tax Code.

Social Insurance Fund.

Flood Relief.

Public Private Partnerships.

Insurance Industry.

Tax Code.

Departmental Appointments.

Tax Code.

Grant Aid.

Disabled Drivers.

Tax Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Telecommunications Services.

Foreshore Licences.

Air-Sea Rescue.

Natural Gas Grid.

Telecommunications Services.

Inland Fisheries.

Telecommunications Services.

Fishing Fleet Protection.

Harbour Authorities.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Ministerial Appointments.

Coastal Zone Management.

Ferry Services.

Aquaculture Development.

Fisheries Research.

Marine Tourism.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Marine Safety.

Aquaculture Development.

Fishing Industry Development.

Inland Fisheries.

Harbours and Piers.

Search and Rescue Service.

Fishing Industry Development.

Departmental Expenditure.

Fishing Industry Regulations.

Communications Masts.

Telecommunications Services.

Offshore Exploration.

Execution of Irish Born Soldiers.

Overseas Development Aid.

Foreign Conflicts.

International Agreements.

Human Rights Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Human Rights Issues.

Ministerial Appointments.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Prevention of Terrorism.

European Constitution.

Departmental Correspondence.

National Aquatic Centre.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Ministerial Appointments.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Work Permits.

Charitable Organisations.

Community Employment Schemes.

County Enterprise Boards.

Work Permits.

Employment Levels.

Job Losses.

Job Creation.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Unfair Dismissals.

Ministerial Appointments.

Job Losses.

Employment Support Services.

Employment Action Plan.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Ministerial Appointments.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Family Support Services.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

School Transport.

Driving Tests.

Parking Regulations.

Driving Instruction.

Parking Regulations.

Departmental Staff.

Driving Tests.

Road Signage.

Bus and Railway Stations.

Air Services.

Railway Stations.

Road Traffic Offences.

Road Traffic Accidents.

Driving Licences.

Driving Tests.

Road Signage.

Road and Rail Networks.

Ministerial Appointments.

Air Transport Agreement.

Rail Services.

Grant Payments.

Road Network.

Grant Payments.

Proposed Legislation.

National Drugs Strategy.

Grant Payments.

Ministerial Appointments.

Scéim na mBóithre Áise.

Irish Language.

Decentralisation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Land Annuities.

Food Industry.

Grant Payments.

Bovine Diseases.

Departmental Budgets.

Grant Payments.

Farm Waste Management.

Grant Payments.

Early Retirement Scheme.

Milk Quota.

Grant Payments.

Ministerial Appointments.

Grant Payments.

Decentralisation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Asylum Support Services.

Corruption Perception Index.

Fireworks Licences.

Decentralisation Programme.

Garda Vetting.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Equipment.

Visa Applications.

Garda Investigations.

Prisoner Releases.

Legal Aid Service.

Residency Permits.

Irish Prison Service.

Human Rights Issues.

Garda Stations.

Asylum Applications.

Refugee Status.

Garda Strength.

Rights of People with Disabilities.

Child Care Services.

Visa Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Prison Accommodation.

Residency Permits.

Deportation Orders.

Garda Strength.

Registration of Title.

Garda Investigations.

Visa Applications.

Garda Investigations.

Sexual Offences.

Garda Equipment.

Garda Recruitment.

Residency Permits.

Crime Levels.

Prison Committals.

Garda Equipment.

Road Traffic Offences.

Road Traffic Accidents.

Road Traffic Offences.

Ministerial Appointments.

Registration of Title.

Ministerial Travel.

Garda Strength.

Visa Applications.

Criminal Assets Bureau.

Prisons Building Programme.

Garda Strength.

Garda Recruitment.

Child Care Services.

Citizenship Applications.

Visa Applications.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Higher Education Grants.

School Accommodation.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Third Level Outreach Facilities.

School Placement.

Student Support Schemes.

Schools Refurbishment.

Pension Provisions.

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.

Teaching Contracts.

Pension Provisions.

Special Educational Needs.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Education Welfare Service.

State Examinations.

Disadvantaged Status.

School Accommodation.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Transport.

Consultancy Contracts.

Special Educational Needs.

Education Schemes.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Refurbishment.

Early Childhood Education.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Accommodation.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Building Projects.

Third Level Fees.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

School Enrolments.

Special Educational Needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Special Educational Needs.

Bullying in Schools.

Special Educational Needs.

Overseas Missions.

Emergency Planning.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Ministerial Travel.

Defence Forces Property.

Ministerial Appointments.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Election Management System.

International Agreements.

Traveller Accommodation.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Slaughter of Seals.

Election Management System.

Archaeological Sites.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Departmental Appointments.

Correspondence with European Commission.

Local Authority Housing.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

EU Directives.

Tax Code.

Road Network.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Housing Grants.

Planning Issues.

Coursing Events.

Local Authority Housing.

Derelict Sites.

Ministerial Appointments.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Planning Issues.

Local Authority Funding.

Local Authority Staff.

Planning Issues.

Local Authority Funding.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

House Prices.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar10.30 a.m.

Paidir.
Prayer.

Mr. Kenny:  The Taoiseach told the House yesterday that his Government since 1997 was the most left-wing ever in the country. It was interesting that he chose not to mention his partners in Government.

The Taoiseach is very fond of regaling this House with statistics about the money the Government has spent over the past seven years. He is correct that spending by the Government has doubled in those seven years but it is a policy of containment instead of a policy of reform. If one looks at the key delivery areas where this socialist Government has a front-line role it is easy to see a litany of wastage, poor decisions and administrative staff being prioritised over front-line staff.

Does the Taoiseach accept a few simple facts that have been outlined by Deputy Richard Bruton, for instance that €2.2 billion extra is being spent on hospitals yet only 500 extra beds have been added? In 2003, a total of 33,000 fewer people attended accident and emergency units yet they are in chaos around the country. Spending in the criminal justice area is up by €500 million but under the Government one is more likely to be a victim of crime than to have that crime solved. People are more likely not to report crimes in the first instance and one is unlikely to find a garda when one wants one. Failure to properly deliver on road projects has added to overruns of over €4 billion in the past three years yet nobody on that side of the House has even blinked.

The Taoiseach will read from his brief the statistics on the expenditure of containment, which the Government has spent. What does he have to say to the parents of Lewis O’Carolan whose case was in, yesterday’s, The Irish Times? He is an autistic boy who has been waiting for months for a hearing on services, which would be available if the Government had been spreading equality to the disadvantaged and marginalised.

What does the Taoiseach have to say to the six young boys I met last Thursday aged from eight [846]to 11, all of whom have been forced to carry drugs across this city, one of whose mother is a prostitute in a council house, three of whose parents have attempted suicide and are alcoholics and the remainder are on drugs? How has his socialist Government dealt with that problem? These are the realities of life and the Taoiseach has failed to grasp them.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has moved from health to justice, to the economy and autism. I am not sure if that falls within the category of a question.

Mr. Kenny:  The marginalised and disadvantaged.

The Taoiseach:  The reality is that the Government has operated on the basis of creating wealth so that it can be redistributed. We have successfully done that. As I said yesterday in reply to Deputy Rabbitte, the desire to spread wealth in a fairer and more equitable way across society is a core of left of centre political ideology.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach should change the page.

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

Mr. D. Ahern:  Have some manners.

The Taoiseach:  Opposition Deputies appear to resent that we have 30,000 more people working in the health service.

Mr. Durkan:  This is a joke.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Kenny said we had invested an extra €2 billion in the health service, which they also appear to resent. In fact, we have moved from a position of €4 billion to almost €11 billion. It took from the foundation of the State in 1921 for 68,000 people to be employed in the health service, but in the seven years under my watch we have moved from 68,000 to 106,000.

Mr. Neville:  That makes it even worse.

The Taoiseach:  Those people are providing health services day-in, day-out to people. They are looking after the 1.2 million people availing of outpatient services and the hundreds of thousands of people availing of inpatient services. They are looking after, as best they can, all of the people in need of cardiac services, cancer treatment, maternity care and in all the other areas and they are doing so to the very best of their ability.

I will not give a litany of figures because Deputy Kenny cannot take them in, but the reality is that this year we are spending €500 million——

[847]Mr. Durkan:  The Taoiseach obviously cannot take them in. Although there are 30,000 extra people, there is nothing to show for it. The Taoiseach should be ashamed of himself.

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

The Taoiseach:  ——more on the capital programme in health. We are investing more in health all over the country.

Deputy Kenny raised the matter of Garda numbers. We recently announced an increase in Garda numbers which will appear in the Book of Estimates tomorrow.

(Interruptions).

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

The Taoiseach:  Why can I not have the same silence as the other Deputies? Why is that?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. D. Ahern:  They are fascists.

The Taoiseach:  Is it because they have five minutes on television on Wednesday morning and they feel they have to shout me down? They were not even here yesterday.

Mr. Timmins:  The Taoiseach is never here.

The Taoiseach:  And they will not be here tomorrow. They are never here.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The truth is bitter.

The Taoiseach:  The Opposition never wants to listen to me when I am here. Opposition Deputies never want to listen to facts.

Mr. D. Ahern:  They are only here for the television.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Only half the Cabinet is here.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We were here yesterday.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to speak, please. Deputy Kenny was allowed submit his question without any interruption whatsoever. The Taoiseach is entitled to exactly the same courtesy and Deputy Kenny is entitled to hear the Taoiseach’s response.

Mr. Kenny:  The Taoiseach made disparaging remarks, a Cheann Comhairle.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair will have to take the appropriate action if Members want to interrupt.

[848]The Taoiseach:  I have listened to a considerable amount of disparaging remarks already this morning so I am sure I am entitled to reply. It is the Parliament.

We now have a historically high number of gardaí in the State. I thought Deputy Kenny would have wished to raise the case of the garda who had just completed the excellent training course and who last week single-handedly confronted a serious criminal in this city who has many allegations against him and who was subsequently arrested. He might also have raised the issue of the gardaí who were shot last week apprehending robbers in a filling station and who do this job every day. I am very proud of the gardaí.

Mr. Neville:  Tell us something about the criminals.

Mr. Durkan:  That has nothing to do with the Taoiseach’s performance.

The Taoiseach:  I also read the article last Saturday about the life of Lewis O’Carolan and the effect of his autistic spectrum disorder on him and his family. The young man attended St. Paul’s special school in Beaumont, where I worked on the accounts many years ago. He attended there from November 1996 until February 2003, when he was, withdrawn by his parents. While in St. Paul’s, he was placed in a class of six children with one teacher and two special needs assistants as per the guidelines with other children. He also had a special needs assistant assigned solely for his needs on a one-to-one basis. To state that a good effort was not made by the State in this case is wrong. I acknowledge my time has concluded but I will come back if Deputies make any sane points.

Mr. Kenny:  I will take up the Taoiseach’s challenge to make a sane point. I will make a challenge to him and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Last Thursday at 6 o’clock, before the Taoiseach conducted the celebrations for the presidential inauguration in Dublin Castle, I visited tower block 4 in St. Michael’s estate in Inchicore. Of the 48 apartment units in that block, 40 are closed behind steel barriers and eight residents remain. The lift does not work and I walked through human excrement, urine and strips of tin foil for cooking cocaine to the top floor where a woman lives with her two children.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, that is a different question. Standing orders are quite specific and provide for one topical issue.

Mr. Kenny:  No garda has climbed those stairs, neither has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Taoiseach and his socialist Government regard these people as an underclass [849]of violent nobodies. Where is the wealth when the Government cannot spread it to people who cannot go outside their doors at night because there are junkies on the stairs and screaming outside? Will the Taoiseach send the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to the estate in order that he might learn something about the reality on the streets, rather than issuing his volcanic eruptions about Fine Gael and everyone else? Will the Taoiseach visit this tower block in his own city where these people have been cast aside, their only security a squad car driving through the estate on an irregular basis?

Mr. N. Ahern:  Fine Gael city councillors are involved there.

Mr. McDowell:  Fine Gael city councillors run that estate.

Mr. Kenny:  The Taoiseach should go to the estate and deal with the drug pushers and killers on the ground. He should take up that challenge and deal with it if it is a sane fact.

Mr. Durkan:  I bet that hurts the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

(Interruptions).

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

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy’s party’s city councillors run that estate.

Mr. Kenny:  The Minister was never down there. He knows nothing about these people.

Mr. N. Ahern:  There is a huge pattern of regeneration in the area which is being blocked by Fine Gael.

Mr. O’Dea:  Deputy Kenny was only there for half an hour.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Kenny asked me a fair question about St. Michael’s estate. I know the estate, I represent it and I have knocked at every door in it. The reason why 20 of the apartments are boarded up is that the Government is taking down the building and giving the residents new homes.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. McGinley:  The estate was only built 20 years ago.

[850]Mr. Durkan:  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — one of the socialists — is leaving.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Rabbitte without interruption.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Will the Taoiseach inform the House whether Aer Lingus will be the biggest casualty of the in-fighting in the Cabinet and between the two parties comprising this coalition? As the Taoiseach seeks to re-position Fianna Fáil, the national airline is left leaderless after the management — whatever one thinks of its direction — sought a clear indication from the Government as to the way forward, only to receive mixed signals in response. As a result of the resignations, the value of Aer Lingus has been shot to shreds and the prospect of finding a quality person to lead the company is virtually nil. The shareholder has lost confidence in the management without having any clear direction itself.

As the Taoiseach seeks to re-position Fianna Fáil and jettison the Progressive Democrats, there is no answer from the Government as to what is the future of the national airline. We have a very successful private airline in this country but we do not want a second Ryanair because, as an island nation, we have strategic trade interests. When the management sought direction, it was given conflicting signals. The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, wanted to privatise the company and negotiated with the unions through the national press. He was moved from his position by the Taoiseach after the June elections and the new Minister was given the opposite riding instructions. It is clear from the exchanges on “Morning Ireland” this morning that a direct head on conflict is involved in this case. When the Taoiseach informed the House that he shot down the notion of a management buy-out, he did so four days after Mr. Willie Walsh advised the Department of Transport that he was withdrawing it. That is typical of the Taoiseach’s decisiveness after the event.

The Taoiseach:  The day Mr. Willie Walsh and his colleagues proposed the MBO, I shot it down.

Mr. Rabbitte:  What did the Taoiseach tell the House?

The Taoiseach:  As a result of the actions of the Government and the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, in supporting the management of Aer Lingus, which has been in place for just a few years, and its predecessors, in a short period of time we turned Aer Lingus from being a loss-making commercial semi-State body to one which made a profit of €90 million last year and €100 million this year. I checked the Official Report last night which showed that even when, [851]as late as a few weeks ago there were calls in this House for the management to resign, I defended it in Leaders’ question for three separate weeks.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Who called for the resignations?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy should check the record. Deputy Rabbitte has just said he checked the record, therefore, the Deputy should do the same.

I congratulate the management for the job it did. The current business plan seeks to maximise the competitiveness of Aer Lingus as a low cost carrier with much lower costs achieved through out-sourcing. Negotiations on the industrial relations implications of this approach have been continuing at the LRC for some time. The unions are not convinced that this business model is necessarily the best. They are concerned about the impact on working conditions and believe that the management’s negotiating style is deliberately aggressive.

I have read with interest some of the articles in this morning’s newspapers but they are badly informed about what has really been going on. There has been a very difficult IR position. The workers and the unions are concerned that the very people they were dealing with as management wanted to sell out to make themselves extremely rich. That was the underlying position of the trade union movement to which I have been listening all year.

Ms Shortall:  The Taoiseach is scapegoating Mr. Willie Walsh.

The Taoiseach:  The level of trust between management and unions is non-existent. There is huge resentment that the management team has claimed virtually all the credit for the rescue of Aer Lingus after the events of 11 September 2001, ignoring the huge effort by union leaders and staff to make the changes work. That is what I have been dealing with. They are also determined not to yield up savings which they perceive are intended to enrich a management team concerned with its own position rather than the company’s future.

Ms Shortall:  The Taoiseach is dumping on management.

The Taoiseach:  If I made this speech outside the House, I would be accused of not coming before it. I am trying to give the facts of what is happening on a daily basis at the Labour Relations Commission and in the trade unions and what is the real story. If the House wants to hear it, I will continue but if it does not, I will sit down.

The question of why a State owned airline might make sense in current circumstances has not yet been fully addressed. The Goldman Sachs [852]report has been with the Government for just about a month. It is obvious that national flag carriers are fewer in number as a result of competition from low cost carriers and poor management and operations. However, for an island nation heavily dependent on trade, overseas investment and tourism, there are important strategic issues, which must be satisfactorily resolved. If somebody is in a hurry to go somewhere else, it is not——

Ms Shortall:  When did the Taoiseach discover this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will ask the Deputy to leave the House if she does not remain silent and allow the Taoiseach to speak.

The Taoiseach:  I have great regard for Deputy Shortall. In reply to her question, that is the reason we have sought a number of strategic reports, including the report we commissioned from Goldman Sachs last May. If Aer Lingus were privatised, there would still be point to point connections from Ireland to major international destinations. Connectivity to Ireland, especially for the business traveller, both direct and through the main hubs, is a consideration from a competitiveness point of view.

There is much evidence of some unease in the business community about the reduction in both the nature and quality of the connections. The Government is trying, based on last month’s Goldman Sachs report, to make the necessary and right decision — it is a big decision for the staff, management, the board and the country — on the national airline. I will not just click my fingers because some right wing economists believe we should privatise it.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Taoiseach has scuttled the management and now he is scuttling the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. D. Ahern:  You want it every way.

(Interruptions).

Mr. S. Ryan:  You are pathetic; you are destroying it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, allow your party leader to submit a question.

Mr. S. Ryan:  It is no wonder Deputy McDowell moved over to this seat.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, you are not the party leader.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Deputy McDowell moved to the left.

Mr. Timmins:  You have moved away, Michael.

[853]Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  He is not welcome over there.

Mr. Rabbitte:  When did the Taoiseach get worried about selling State companies and executives getting fat? He was not very concerned about it when he dismantled Telecom Éireann. Many people got fat but it was not the ordinary shareholders. This is an extraordinary change——

Mr. N. Ahern:  Yes, that is your——

The Taoiseach:  I can remind you of a few companies that went down the tubes.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The older brother is getting upset. Every morning he acts as a ventriloquist on the shoulder of the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach:  A great one liner.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach has lost the leaders of this company, although he says he defended them in the House. However, look at the value of Aer Lingus today in the market. How does the Taoiseach propose to recruit a chief executive when the shareholder does not know what it wants? Will he have the same success as he had in recruiting a chief executive for the health agency?

There is a serious sunder in the Government now. Two clearly opposite positions were expressed on the radio this morning. The reason the Taoiseach is in secret negotiations with a number of Independent Deputies is to provide protection for when the Progressive Democrats will be forced out of the Government. That is the reality. The Taoiseach knows that even the most heroic Independents will not vote themselves out of this House, so he will survive without the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. J. Breen:  Test us.

Mr. Rabbitte:  We would not have to put up too much of a test.

Mr. McHugh:  Who gave Deputy Rabbitte a mandate to speak for us?

Mr. F. McGrath:  We will save Aer Lingus.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Rabbitte to conclude.

Mr. Rabbitte:  That is what is under way. The two positions in Government cannot be reconciled. Will the Taoiseach retain State control of Aer Lingus? Is that what he is now telling the House since the conversion at Inchydoney?

Mr. O’Dea:  You went through a few conversions in your time.

[854]The Taoiseach:  Deputy Rabbitte would like to think that the Minister, Deputy McDowell, and myself have some differences on this——

Mr. Stagg:  Comrade McDowell.

The Taoiseach:  ——as if there were only two options. The Goldman Sachs report suggests about ten, so it is not so simple.

Mr. Quinn:  Will you publish the report?

The Taoiseach:  I will outline the position because it is important for the staff of Aer Lingus. The Goldman Sachs report is premised on the State examining whether it should invest equity. It is clear that such investment would be acceptable under State aids and I said as much in the House a month ago. State guarantees would be a form of State aid, which would not involve cash investment. The report then goes on to consider various forms of equity injections. It looks at privatisation and a number of different models. It is up to the Government to go through those and make a decision.

The Government has been engaged actively and comprehensively in the review of the policy on Aer Lingus and wider aviation issues. We thank and were pleased with Willie Walsh and his colleagues who worked on this——

Mr. S. Ryan:  What do you mean? On how many occasions have you——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  A Cheann Comhairle, will you give Deputy Ryan an hour tonight to speak? All he does is interrupt. He has not made a speech in months. Give him an hour so he can speak.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That is typical. You come out with things like that but you should read the Official Report.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We cannot hear you.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does Deputy Ryan wish to leave the House?

Mr. S. Ryan:  No.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It appears to the Chair that you do.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The people of Dublin North put me here and I will stay here.

The Taoiseach:  Aer Lingus is a success story thanks not only to the management but also to the union leadership and the industrial relations machinery, which made a major successful transformation possible through agreement. Of necessity, there will be a need for continuing [855]change in all airlines as the industry evolves. We are aware of that from aviation trends worldwide. No player is indispensable. A new management team will be appointed and the Government will proceed to take the necessary decisions as shareholder. We will complete our discussions on the Goldman Sachs report. Aviation policy and, by extension, the future of Aer Lingus are major strategic questions for an island nation that is heavily dependent on trade, investment and tourism. Policy decisions will be taken with an eye to the long-term future. We will not be stampeded by anyone.

Ms Shortall:  Meanwhile, you are destroying the company.

The Taoiseach:  The Government is close to making the necessary strategic decisions based on a report it received just a few weeks ago. It is important that those who are currently negotiating changes in the airline continue to address the necessity for change and flexibility so the future can be secured for everybody in Aer Lingus. That is our position.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Government could not run a sweet shop.

Mr. Durkan:  Does comrade McDowell agree with that?

Mr. J. Higgins:  Many of today’s newspapers were kind enough to point out that I was not in the House yesterday when the Labour Party leader asked the Taoiseach about his new found commitment to socialism. Ironically, I was abroad for several days on political work to advance the cause of socialism.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Did the Deputy have the Government jet?

(Interruptions).

  11 o’clock

Mr. J. Higgins:  You can imagine, a Cheann Comhairle, how perplexed I was when I returned to find my wardrobe almost empty. The Taoiseach had been busy robbing my clothes. Up to recently the Progressive Democrats did not have a stitch left due to the same Taoiseach but we never expected him to take a walk on the left side of the street.

The Taoiseach:  Extreme left.

Mr. J. Higgins:  He said: “I am one of the few socialists left in Irish politics”. Immediately, Tomás Ó Criomhthaín came to mind, as he lamented the last of the Blasket Islanders: “Ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann”. I then thought: “Good, Taoiseach. There are two of us in it and we will go down together.”

[856]Sadly, I had to take a reality check. If this conversion was genuine we would have to go back 2,000 years to find another as rapid and as radical. Saul’s embrace of Christianity on the road to Damascus stood the test of time but the Taoiseach’s embrace of socialism on the banks of the Tolka hardly will.

I was not impressed with the Taoiseach’s answers yesterday so I will set him a test on three brief points to check if he is a socialist. On public ownership, the Taoiseach stated——

The Taoiseach:  Is the Deputy inquiring if I am a positive or a negative socialist? He is a socialist of the negative kind.

Mr. J. Higgins:  We will see if the Taoiseach answers in the positive. Public ownership is crucial for socialists and the Taoiseach stated that he likes the idea that the Phoenix Park and the Botanic Gardens are publicly owned. As has been stated, however, he gave our telecommunications industry to venture capitalists to play around with. Will the Taoiseach answer the question to which he failed to reply just now? The Government is split on Aer Lingus and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, wants it to be in private hands. Will the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is reluctant to intervene but the Deputy’s time is concluded.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The second test is that democratic socialists never support imperialist invasions and certainly those of the type launched by the US military which is wading in blood through Falluja. The Taoiseach helped the US military to get there. Will he now denounce that atrocity and condemn the murder of an innocent Iraqi as we this morning condemned those obscurantists who murder innocent hostages?

On equality, the Taoiseach stated that he is happy that the children in Rutland Street school are given breakfast there. Why should they be obliged to depend on the school for their breakfast? It is because he has presided over one of the most unequal regimes in the western world which has given huge concessions to big business while poverty remains in our State.

The Taoiseach has three minutes in which to reply. I suggest that he devote one minute to each of the three tests and I will judge his replies at the end.

The Taoiseach:  I would never consider that I subscribe to the same kind of politics or ideology as Deputy Joe Higgins.

Mr. M. Higgins:  The Taoiseach has scored a “D” grade already.

The Taoiseach:  My politics and ideology might be closer to those of Deputy Michael D. Higgins. I have watched and listened to Deputy Joe [857]Higgins with interest for three decades but I have never heard him say anything positive. He displays what I believe to be a far left or “commie” resistance to everything. He does so in the hope that some day the world will discover oil wells off our coast which will fall into the ownership of the State, thereby allowing us to run a great market economy with the State at its centre. That utopia does not exist.

What I said yesterday when the Deputy was not present is that——

Mr. J. Higgins:  I read what the Taoiseach said yesterday. He should just answer the questions I have put to him now.

The Taoiseach:  ——at the core of left centre political ideology is the desire to spread the wealth more evenly. That means that people must be encouraged to create the wealth. When this is done, they are taxed and the money collected, is used to resource them.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies should allow the Taoiseach to continue, without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Joe Higgins is against wealth creation and, as a result, he favours high unemployment, high expenditure and high borrowing. Any of the tests the Deputy would set me fail on the grounds that he does not believe in them. That is the issue. What we do is create the wealth, thereby allowing ourselves to employ 100,000 people in the health services to care for others, tens of thousands of teachers, many community care professionals and resource and home liaison teachers and teachers to look after the disadvantaged in our schools. That is what our brand of socialism allows us to do. The Deputy’s brand of socialism has changed so much in recent years. As he is aware, one of the reasons for the rise in oil prices is because his friends in Russia have decided that the market economy can afford $50 a barrel.

(Interruptions).

Dr. Cowley:  We had oil wells off the coast and the Taoiseach gave them away.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is a right-wing doctor.

Mr. D. Ahern:  And a well paid one.

The Taoiseach:  That is what is wrong with Deputy Joe Higgins’s policies. I would be delighted to discuss the matter with him on the Blaskets or elsewhere whenever he likes.

Dr. Cowley:  I am concerned about a man in County Mayo——

[858]An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Cowley should allow Deputy Joe Higgins to continue, without interruption.

Dr. Cowley:  I want to discuss the case of a man——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order.

Dr. Cowley:  The man in question has been obliged——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair will be obliged to ask the Deputy to leave the House if he does not resume his seat. These are Leaders’ Questions. The Deputy is not permitted to speak. I call Deputy Joe Higgins.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, this man has been obliged to——

Mr. F. McGrath:  The Ceann Comhairle should ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the remark he made about the Deputy.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, this man is going to die because——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order. He must resume his seat. He cannot raise that matter at this time.

Mr. O’Dea:  Doctors are making too much money from the GMS.

Mr. F. McGrath:  What about the Minister’s legal eagle friends? They are not poor, are they?

Mr. J. Higgins:  The basic advice a teacher gives to a pupil who is going in to do an examination is not to spend the entire time on one question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Unfortunately, under Leaders’ Questions the Taoiseach must focus on one question and not on three.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The problem is that one cannot sack a teacher.

(Interruptions).

Mr. J. Higgins:  It was one question, divided into parts (a), (b) and (c). The Taoiseach, not being able to answer parts (a) or (b), spent all of his time trying to answer (c). On that alone, he has flunked the test. He has also flunked his history test by putting my type of socialism in the same gallery as that of the Russian Stalinists. I do not have time — unless the Ceann Comhairle will provide it — to educate the Taoiseach about that matter. He referred to my friends in Russia.

The Taoiseach:  They are not communists any longer, they joined the WTO.

[859]Mr. O’Dea:  Trotsky was the same.

Mr. J. Higgins:  My friends were murdered by the Stalinists. Trotsky and other fine socialists were killed because they stood for democratic socialism.

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

Mr. J. Higgins:  The Taoiseach stated that he has spread the wealth around. That is a curious statement, particularly as he has given €600 million to big business in corporation tax cuts, allowed tax exiles to get away with murder while ordinary people are obliged to pay through the nose and allowed stud farm owners and the rest to operate tax free while ordinary people are obliged to pay out massively through stealth taxation and in other ways. The Taoiseach should do the honest thing and withdraw the ludicrous claims he made at the weekend. Let us return to normal. Socialism is not a flag of convenience to be used after one’s party has been battered in the local and European elections in order to pretend that one is a friend of working people.

Dr. Cowley:  I would like the Taoiseach to withdraw the remark that I am a right-wing doctor.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is Leaders’ Questions. Deputy Cowley is out of order and I ask him to resume his seat. He will have to find another way to raise the matter. If he does not resume his seat, I will have no option other than to ask him to leave the House.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, I was obliged to give up my practice. I am in the Dáil——

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy decided to enter public life. He should either stick with it or return to his practice.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy wishes to leave the House, the Chair will facilitate him.

Dr. Cowley:  I am a Member of the Dáil because I am interested in obtaining equality for people. That equality is not being achieved.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat and allow the Taoiseach to conclude Leaders’ Questions.

Dr. Cowley:  People are not obtaining equality——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must resume his seat.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am asking the Deputy for the final time to resume his seat.

[860]Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, what I am——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is obvious to the Chair that the Deputy wishes to leave the House. I ask him to do so now.

Dr. Cowley:  I will leave the House. However, I just want to say that I am not——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach must be allowed to conclude Leaders’ Questions.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, I am——

An Ceann Comhairle:  As the Deputy will not leave, I move: “That the Deputy be suspended from the service of the Dáil.” Is the motion agreed?

Deputies:  No.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Under Standing Order 61, any division is postponed to take place immediately before the Order of Business on the next sitting day. The Deputy must leave the House now.

Dr. Cowley:  Ceann Comhairle, the man to whom I referred earlier——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must leave the House. If he does not do so, I will have no choice but to suspend the sitting.

Dr. Cowley:  I accept the Chair’s ruling. However, I must state that——

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Cowley to leave the House.

Dr. Cowley:  The man in question is——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy wish me to suspend the sitting?

Dr. Cowley:  I will leave the House. Go raibh maith agat.

The Taoiseach:  In reply to Deputy Joe Higgins’s question——

Mr. F. McGrath:  The Taoiseach should withdraw the remark he made.

The Taoiseach:  What remark?

Mr. F. McGrath:  The remark about the Deputy being a right-wing doctor.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is a doctor.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach, please.

[861]The Taoiseach:  If he gets that upset, the House can imagine what I feel every day.

Mr. F. McGrath:  Withdraw the remark.

A Deputy:  Deputy McGrath is becoming very precious.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Deputy is a medical doctor, not a spin doctor.

The Taoiseach:  In reply to Deputy Joe Higgins, my point is that one cannot distribute resources to education, health and social welfare unless wealth is generated. Deputy Higgins’s outrageous accusation against me that corporation tax has been lowered is not true. The facts are that corporation tax has soared from 4% to 9% of GNP during my period as Taoiseach. The Government through its policies has taken far more from the corporate tax sector by having lower taxes and generating far more activity in the economy. There are over 400,000 more in employment and lower unemployment figures——

Ms Burton:  The recent corporation tax yield is down. That is a matter of fact.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy Burton, allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  The Government has been given the resources to spend far more.

Ms Burton:  The Taoiseach is wrong. His ready reckoner is wrong.

The Taoiseach:  That is how we can have more doctors, more nurses, more therapists and more teachers. When the then Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, halved the rate of capital gains tax, the Government gained four times more revenue.

Mr. D. Ahern:  QED.

The Taoiseach:  By having lower taxes, we were able to spend more. I quoted a figure yesterday in the House in the Deputy’s absence which proves that the average industrial wage is now €10,000 more than it was seven years ago. Even taking the tax rate then and the different tax rate now, a person on that salary is paying €300 less. This shows the success of what we do. I know the Deputy is actually an admirer of that also.

Mr. D. Ahern:  That is our legacy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That concludes Leaders’ Questions. Perhaps the Chair should read out the Standing Order relating to Leaders’ Questions for the benefit of Members. The Standing Order allows for a brief question on one matter of topical public importance from the leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the designated leader [862]of the Technical Group. The overall time limit is 21 minutes. The time ran 17 minutes over time this morning. I ask Members to keep in mind the Standing Order. If they wish to change it, they know how to do so. The number of interruptions is totally unacceptable. This is a national Parliament and Members are entitled to be heard with courtesy and with silence. In future the Chair will insist that we carry out our responsibility under Standing Order 26A in regard to Leaders’ Questions. I ask Members to allow Members on all sides of the House to speak without interruption and that Members would try to stay within the time. The Chair is flexible, as Members know, but not to the extent that we can go 17 minutes over time. In future the Chair will have to take a tougher line because we cannot allow this to continue.

  1.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he has plans to amend the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21443/04]

  2.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he has plans to amend the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26390/04]

  3.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he has plans for amendments to the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27854/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The code of conduct for office holders has applied since 3 July, 2003. Given the code’s relatively short period of application, I have no plans to amend it.

Mr. Kenny:  Will the Taoiseach agree that the code of conduct should be updated and should make specific reference to the fact that politically appointed advisers should not sit on selection boards? There was quite a deal of controversy about a number of incidents in the past. Will the code of conduct be updated to take account of this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The House cannot have a debate on the contents of the code of conduct.

Mr. Kenny:  I did not debate it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is suggesting what might be in it.

Mr. Kenny:  I asked the Taoiseach if he agreed it should be updated.

[863]An Ceann Comhairle:  Just updated.

Mr. Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle has had a very good run during the 17 minutes of over time but I did not say what was in the code of conduct; I asked the Taoiseach whether it would be updated.

Mr. R. Bruton:  The word “amend” is in order.

The Taoiseach:  In reply to Deputy Kenny, the code is only 18 months in operation. I take Deputy Kenny’s point that special advisers should not sit on interview boards for posts. I will investigate the matter. I do not know if they have done so. The Deputy quoted an example where this happened. They would not sit on an interview board for Civil Service positions. I will look at the matter.

Mr. Sargent:  The code of conduct was published on 4 July 2003. It does not allow the commission to impose any sanctions and I wonder if there are plans to change that. It states that the Oireachtas may impose a sanction. Given that Ministers are members of the Government, it is hardly likely that such a motion would be carried in the Dáil. If it is left to the Oireachtas to impose sanctions, is the Government serious about this code, given that the office holders are members of the majority in the House? Would it not be more realistic to allow the commission to make a judgment independently and to impose sanctions accordingly?

The Taoiseach:  The code does not stand in isolation, being part of the wider ethics framework established by the Ethics in Public Office Act. Section 10(7) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 binds office holders to have regard to and to be guided by the code. The point raised by Deputy Sargent was foreseen and was nailed in section 10(7). Anything in the code may be taken into account and may be used in examination of a Member. If a Member is under investigation by the House or by a tribunal or court, the code may be taken into account. The wording of section 10(7) binds office holders to have regard to and to be guided by the code. In the case where the code cannot impose any new requirements which are not legislatively based, it can however be used by the commission as guidance as to whether a complaint made under section 4 of the Act should be investigated. An issue in the code, which is not tied in the legislation can be taken and used in full investigations. I have brought this to the attention of colleagues because people may not realise they are bound by an Act when strictly interpreted. According to section 10(7) one is responsible if it is in the code of conduct. A Member or his legal representative cannot simply read the Act and the code.

The Standards in Public Office Commission, which oversees implementation of the Act and [864]guidelines has specific statutory powers to investigate and make findings in respect of failures of compliance with the Act and also the code. The penalties available to the commission are those specified in the 1995 Act which under section 24 involves making a report to a committee of the House. The code is clearly admissible in any proceedings before a court or other tribunal or a committee of the House or the Standards in Public Office Commission. It is important that Members understand this because initially people believed that the code did not have that power.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Does the code expressly forbid office holders being engaged in any other business while they are office holders? Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the terms of the code are being complied with? Is that quite distinct from office holders being in receipt of income from other sources while office holders?

The Taoiseach:  The rules for the involvement of office holders in business are set down under the legislation and in the Cabinet handbook rather than in the code. There is a clear separation. They are entitled to receive income from companies, which they may own, providing they have made a clear and full declaration. One of my colleagues had a difficulty when he omitted to declare and the tribunal found against him on that basis. He should have declared the full content of shares and involvement. On that basis one can receive an income but it is clear that one cannot be involved in business under the legislation. Equally important is that the declaration must show clearly one’s involvement and the means by which one is deriving an income. Also, one must declare fully any such income on an annual basis.

Mr. Sargent:  On the misdemeanours found to have occurred in regard to the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, which resulted in a number of calls for more clarification in the code——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise out of these questions, Deputy.

Mr. Sargent:  We are talking about changes to the code. Arising from those incidents——

An Ceann Comhairle:  You are talking about specific incidents.

Mr. Sargent:  I do not mean to talk about specific incidents. I am talking about a need for revision in the code to set out exactly what Ministers may do at election time. That call was made at the time and I understood it was being followed up. Has there been any revision of the code to make it more specific on what Ministers and Ministers of State may do at election time?

[865]The Taoiseach:  It is a matter for the commission in the first instance to investigate such matters when they arise. There is no point in having a commission with strong powers, as it has, if they are investigated by somebody else. Depending on a particular finding, and not wishing to mention a particular case, if any complaint is made the commission has to carry out the investigations. In the cases the Deputy mentioned, the commission made a ruling and received an apology but the commission has full powers to investigate and then make a ruling on what should happen.

In reply to Deputy Sargent, it is important to make the point that after the issue was brought to my attention highlighting requirements in the code of conduct regarding the uses of official facilities, I pointed out the ruling of the commission to all my ministerial colleagues and the restrictions that are in place. That was the first election in which this arose but those restrictions now apply.

Deputy Rabbitte asked me a question yesterday on which I had not got the note but I have it on this particular file. It concerned the matter of an adviser moving to a job, and I gave a brief answer. I got the matter checked last night. This is a matter which is covered by the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour. Deputy Rabbitte raised this issue in the House last year and I undertook at that stage to raise the point because it is valid and important in terms of clarity for the individual and so as not to imply that somebody was doing something improper. It has been clarified in the September document on the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour.

The law now states that special advisers are subject to the same restrictions as civil servants when taking up outside employment. They are now subject to this, which was not the case previously. Stated briefly, the code requires that if, within 12 months of retiring or resigning, they wish to take up a position with an outside business with which they had official dealings or an outside business that might get an unfair advantage by engaging them, they must inform the appropriate authority of that. They must take the initiative in that regard. The appropriate authority is either the Secretary General of a Department for officers below Assistant Secretary level or an outside appointments board for those at or above Assistant Secretary level. With most people, that will now be an outside appointments board and the approval by an appropriate authority to take up the position may be unconditional or conditions may be attached. They cannot just sail from one job to the other——

Mr. Rabbitte:  Within 12 months.

The Taoiseach:  ——and it must be conditional. If they go, conditions could be put on their leaving.

[866]My view is that it is better to have certainty in this matter and the best way to achieve that, beyond doubt, is that they should inform the outside appointments board and then let that board decide whether conditions should be attached, rather than take the chance. At least we would have certainty then and it would avoid conflict. I had a problem myself some years ago with one of my advisers, as Deputy Rabbitte will recall, and it is better that this issue is absolutely clear and that people do this with certainty. More people will move in and out of these jobs and now it is covered in the code, as it is for the Civil Service. Unlike civil servants, however, these people can move in and out of jobs so they should take this particular action. That provides them with certainty, and in terms of the protection of the system.

  4.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Taoiseach    the total expenditure by his Department since January 2004; the way in which this figure compares with that provided in the Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21445/04]

  5.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the way in which the expenditure by his Department since January 2004 compares with the figure provided in the Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26391/04]

  6.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the likely out-turn for his Department’s Estimate for 2004. [27855/04]

  7.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his Department’s Estimate for 2005. [27856/04]

  8.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his Department’s spending in 2004 and the way in which it compares with the Estimate allocated to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28842/04]

  9.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his Department’s Estimate for 2005. [28843/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, together.

Expenditure by my Department up to the end of October was €21.5 million compared with a total Estimates provision of €37.5 million. While fluctuations in spending occur from month to month and some expenditures do not fall due until the end of the year, I am satisfied that overall spending by my Department for 2004 will remain within the agreed Revised Estimates for the year.

The Estimates for 2005 for my Department will be published in the Abridged Estimates Volume tomorrow. I look forward to addressing specific issues relating to the Estimates provisions when they are considered in the usual way by the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. I also [867]look forward to responding to questions which Deputies may wish to table separately in relation to specific aspects of the work of my Department.

Mr. Kenny:  I do not want to know the details of the Estimates in advance of their being published but could I get a guarantee from the Taoiseach that in respect of the National Forum on Europe, he will ensure that sufficient resources will be made available to it to allow it do its job? The Taoiseach will recall that in 2001, we got things badly wrong when insufficient information was given to the electorate at large about the first Nice referendum. In terms of the decision to have a referendum on the new constitution of Europe, this will be a complex matter in the minds of many people and they are entitled to the fullest level of information available. In that sense, the National Forum on Europe has a critical role to play. Can the Taoiseach give the House an assurance that he has seen to it that sufficient resources are contained in the Estimates to be published tomorrow to allow the forum do its job thoroughly?

The Taoiseach:  “Yes” is the answer to the question. Deputy Kenny has raised this matter. For this year we did that. At this stage, as we go into the last six weeks of the year, the National Forum for Europe is below profile. Obviously, next year’s expenditure will be heavier and the Department of Foreign Affairs also has an allocation because it will publish a more detailed booklet. Already, it has had a good run on the current booklet and I understand it will do more of those. It has gone into the community and I welcome the good take-up on that by the public. That is helpful to community organisations and schools in particular. I am assured, both by the chairman, whom I met recently, and the Department that matters are in order but I agree with Deputy Kenny that we have to provide adequate resources to ensure people have the information and that it is explained properly to them.

Mr. Kenny:  Can the Taoiseach assure the House that the forum will be able to move around the country? An important element of its work is that it becomes involved in local radio stations in community locations throughout the country so that school children, young people and the public in general can have an opportunity to hear the debates on the proposed constitution from the forum’s perspective.

The Taoiseach:  Yes. When the chairman came to see me as part of the Estimates process and other matters he made the point that that is the intention of the forum. He also said, and I support this, that when the forum travels around the country it should also engage with other organisations — the IFA, the ICMSA, the chambers of commerce and political parties. The forum will [868]pay the cost of holding the function but it will also involve other organisations to try to get a wider audience in their travels.

Mr. Sargent:  I agree the National Forum on Europe must be given the necessary resources to provide the comprehensive information required to allow people to make up their minds. Has the allocation for the operation of the forum been increased given that the 2004 Estimate increased by 25% compared to 2003? Can the Taoiseach provide an absolute or estimated figure for 2005? The allocation for consultancy services decreased by 33% between 2003 and 2004. Is there a reason or explanation for the greater need for consultancy services in 2003?

The Taoiseach:  Is the Deputy referring to consultancy services for the National Forum on Europe or the Department’s overall allocation for such services?

Mr. Sargent:  The allocation for the National Forum on Europe increased by 25% between 2003 and 2004.

The Taoiseach:  The overall figure allocated to the National Forum on Europe was €1,151,000. At the end of October the profile figure was €847,000 and the forum had spent approximately €600,000, although some outstanding bills remain. It submitted a figure for public relations of, I believe, €49,500.

I hope I understood the Deputy’s question on consultancy services correctly. Expenditure on such services in my Department as of October 2004 was approximately €62,200. This relates mainly to the implementation of the employee opinion survey for 2004. Expenditure on the Presidency includes €72,286.34 on consultancy services and €36,653.65 was spent on public relations. In addition, some programmes under the Vote also contain expenditure on consultancy. The Information Society Commission expended €907,000 on consultancy services and €45,563 on public relations. The National Forum on Europe expended €47,780 on public relations. Under the e-Cabinet initiative expenditure on consultancy was €8,546.82, while nothing was spent on PR.

Mr. Rabbitte:  What is the final cost of the EU Presidency?

The Taoiseach:  The total estimated cost from all Departments and agencies in relation to the Presidency is estimated to be in the region of €60 million. This includes the costs of official meetings, travel abroad, hospitality in Ireland, security arrangements, cultural presentations in Ireland and Europe, information services and the Presidency website. I understand the final cost is close to the estimated cost.

[869]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach expect the full 2004 allocation of €50,000 for the National Forum on Peace and Reconciliation to be expended by the year’s end? Will a further amount be included in the Estimates for 2005? Does the Taoiseach envisage that the forum will be reactivated in the future?

The National Forum on Europe was allocated €922,000 in 2004. Was this allocation drawn down in full? What are the Taoiseach’s plans for the forum in 2005? Will it be reactivated, specifically with regard to the debate on the new EU constitution?

I note that a substantial sum of €1.67 million was allocated for 2004 for what are called the information society and e-Cabinet initiatives. Will the Taoiseach indicate the practical benefits to taxpayers of this expenditure?

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the National Forum on Peace and Reconciliation, we have kept a provision for this purpose each year and will continue to do so because administrative costs always arise. The allocated figures have not been large but we will, if necessary, make further provision in the Department’s Vote, even if we do not have a full Estimate.

The National Forum on Europe has an allocation of €1,151,000, of which approximately €600,000 has been spent. It appears the full figure for 2004 will not be expended. As I implied, however, additional costs will arise in 2005 because of the impending referendum in terms of information, sessions and ongoing work. There will, therefore, be a full year cost for this purpose.

With regard to the Information Society Commission, actual expenditure has not been as high as the figure in the Estimate. Approximately €348,000 had been expended by the end of October so it appears the final figure will be under profile. Most of the commission’s beneficial work is in promoting the information society in the community and carrying out various surveys. It has launched a number of schemes, including the information society days in community centres and public libraries, and done research which is used widely in schools and elsewhere. All members of the board of the Information Society Commission work without payment — I believe they do not even get mileage costs. The costs incurred are, therefore, from research, surveys and the commission’s work in the community.

  10.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Taoiseach    the costs which have accrued to date to his Department in respect of the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21448/04]

  11.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the entire cost to the State to date for the Moriarty tribunal; the estimate for future costs to the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22482/04]

  12.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the total cost to date accruing to his Department arising from the Moriarty tribunal; if he has received an indication regarding the likely date for conclusion of hearings by the tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23382/04]

  13.  Mr. J. Higgins     asked the Taoiseach    the total cost to his Department relating to the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24149/04]

  14.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the total cost to his Department and the State of the Moriarty tribunal to date; the projected future cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28844/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, together.

The costs met by my Department to end October in respect of the Moriarty tribunal amount to €17,844,522. This includes fees paid to counsel for the tribunal and administration costs incurred to date since the establishment of the tribunal in October 1997. Total payment to the legal team is €13,302,609 to end October 2004.

As regards estimated future liabilities for costs, it is impossible to predict what costs may be awarded and to whom by the sole member of the tribunal. The annual running cost of the tribunal is under €4 million. Future costs will depend on the duration of the tribunal. The tribunal is due to conclude by January 2006.

Mr. Kenny:  I thank the Taoiseach for informing us that the Moriarty tribunal has cost €17.8 million to date. Later, the House will discuss an amendment to the terms of reference of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. This tribunal, as the Taoiseach is well aware, has produced four interim reports, some of which were best-sellers as members of the public wished to know their findings as soon as possible. Why has there been no interim report from the Moriarty tribunal? It has been sitting for some years at the cost of over €17 million, yet people are confused about where it is heading. Legal fees for senior counsel, set at €2,500 per day, are now to be trimmed to €900 per day under new arrangements. Is the Taoiseach happy that the Moriarty tribunal will conclude in the time stated?

The Taoiseach:  Over the summer the former Minister for Finance put in considerable work to bring conclusion dates to all the tribunals and introduce a new regime of fees, which work the Attorney General is continuing. With effect from 1 September last, the cost of all legal representation, including third parties, at newly established tribunals of inquiry, or other forms of inquiry, will be paid by way of a set fee payable for the entirety of the tribunal. The calculation of daily fees will not be based on this fee. This new fee structure will take up from when a new tri[871]bunal is appointed. With the Ferns and the Lourdes hospital inquiries and the Barr, Moriarty, Morris and Mahon tribunals, we have decided to come to realistic fixed dates of completion. This is based on detailed discussions and we can hold them to these dates. Whether the reports can be finished and the new fee structure introduced, I hope we can hold it both to the final report and to the fee structure.

I simply cannot answer the question on interim reports. The costs I gave for the Moriarty tribunal do not include future liabilities, such as costs awarded. Fees are mostly to the tribunal. However, the tribunal is in its eighth year and while I do not want to say that the costs may be high, it is a matter of concern. We have tried to get a firm fix on the Mahon tribunal. This is the first real attempt since the commencement of these inquiries to bring finality to them. It is an attempt to reach an understanding of what is required without undue interference. We want to introduce realistic deadlines to ensure we are not in a never-never position with costs and ongoing work. The date marked in for the completion of the Moriarty tribunal is 11 January 2006.

Mr. Sargent:  In June 2003 the Taoiseach told the House that he expected public hearings to end by December 2003 and a report to be written then.

The Taoiseach:  I was wrong.

Mr. Sargent:  I take it matters have been severely revised in the interim. At the time, the Green Party was also looking for an investigation to include matters concerning Glending, County Wicklow. In the meantime, reports have circulated that a deal has been done for reduced fees for tribunal lawyers. Are additional lawyers proposed for the Moriarty tribunal? Have there been any developments in this regard, considering much of the attention in the recent past has focused on the Mahon tribunal?

The Taoiseach:  The completion date for the Moriarty tribunal is 11 January 2006 and it is September 2006 for the Morris tribunal. There are enough staff on the Mahon tribunal to bring it to its finality by March 2007. However, the final report has to be written. As Deputy Kenny said, the tribunal has published interim reports and will continue to do so. No new staff will be appointed to the Moriarty tribunal. The effective date for the introduction of the new structure to the remaining tribunals and inquiries will be determined by the Government following communication between the Attorney General and the chairpersons of each tribunal of inquiry. We will be working to the dates he has agreed in these discussions.

[872]Mr. Rabbitte:  The former Minister for Finance received many headlines when he threw many shapes on this matter and announced to the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis that he would do the devil and all to reduce tribunal lawyers’ fees. However, no tribunal lawyer’s fees will be affected during the duration of any of the existing tribunals as the new provisions will not be brought into existence until their conclusion. After the beef tribunal, there was an informal understanding in the House that there would be no more tribunals. However, that changed for a variety of reasons. If there were another tribunal into a matter of public interest next year, would the new schedule of fees apply?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Rabbitte is correct in surmising that the new fee structure will not become effective until the dates of completion. The existing fee structure will exist until these dates are reached. Then it is a matter of consultation between the Attorney General and the chairpersons of the tribunals. However, if a tribunal went beyond these dates, we would argue that the new fee structure must apply. From 1 September 2004, the costs of all legal representation, including third party’s, at newly established tribunals of inquiry, or other forms of inquiry, will be paid by way of a set fee payable for the entirety of the tribunal. The new schedule of fees will become effective as and from September for any new tribunal.

Mr. J. Higgins:  When the Taoiseach says that the legal fees in the Moriarty tribunal have surpassed €13 million, will he acknowledge that his Government made a major error in allowing certain barristers to name any fee, no matter how exorbitant, they wished? Tribunals now make more millionaires than they investigate. Is it not obscene that certain barristers can name €5,000 to €10,000 as a price for a few hours’ work? Does the Taoiseach understand the anger and resentment among taxpayers and ordinary workers in having to fund these demands? Does he understand how the 1,300 Aer Lingus workers, soon to be forced out of their jobs, feel about this squandering of public moneys?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question related to the five questions to the Taoiseach?

Mr. J. Higgins:  Why does the Government not change the regime for charging barristers to a realistic level to match that at which ordinary people must survive? Is the Taoiseach concerned that the changes to the Mahon tribunal may mean that the Fitzwilton payment of €30,000 to Mr. Burke will not be properly investigated?

An Ceann Comhairle:  These questions deal specifically with the Moriarty tribunal. I suggest [873]the Deputy submit a question on the Mahon tribunal.

The Taoiseach:  In reply to Deputy Higgins, yes this is using up significant resources. There is no doubt about that. I do not think any of us believed in 1997 when the House agreed the terms of reference that we would still be here debating these issues as we head into 2005. At that time we took very senior and eminent people from the Bench and the Bar to undertake this work. We made the arrangements at the time and must wait until the tribunal concludes before we can end those arrangements. We have changed some of the arrangements, and that is the reason for this debate. The set fee to be paid to a senior counsel will be based on the annual salary of a High Court judge plus 15% in respect of a pension contribution, with related payments to other legal staff, including barristers and solicitors.

The specific annual remuneration packages have been negotiated on this basis for senior and junior counsel and solicitors. The Minister for Finance set out those figures recently. Having signalled his intention to curb the spiralling costs of tribunals, assuming that the awards of third party legal costs in ongoing tribunals is in line with such awards made in completed tribunals, the legal costs will be met by the taxpayer for all tribunals and inquiries, which could come to a figure of over €440 million by the end of this year.

We must look at the future position. The new measures will drastically reduce the legal costs of new tribunals and inquiries, and those of existing tribunals and inquiries from a future date. It is not possible to quantify the extent of the savings as it will depend on the operative date and ultimate duration in the case of existing tribunals and inquiries, and the legal representation employed by the new tribunals, but the new rates represent less than 40% of the maximum current rates paid to tribunals. While I acknowledge Deputy Joe Higgins’s point, the present position remains, but in the future the position will be very different. This indicates the potential savings that will arise from the new position compared to the present one. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has legislative responsibility for this area, will introduce the necessary enabling legislation.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The Taoiseach is letting the big barristers off in the same way that he let the big property developers and speculators off.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Over €4 million was allocated to the Taoiseach’s Department for the cost of tribunals in 2004. With the anticipated change in lawyers’ fees and the review of the basis for future tribunals, does the Taoiseach anticipate that this sum will decrease significantly in 2005? Has the Taoiseach seriously considered what format he favours for inquiries into matters of public concern in the future, as against the [874]experience of the tribunals, which have been running for several years?

The Taoiseach:  The answer to the first question is “No”, because most of the fees under the new regime will not kick in until 2006. It will be effectively 2007 before fees are reduced. If anything, the costs will spiral for the next few years because the third party claims in the Moriarty tribunal, for example, have not been decided. When that happens it will dramatically escalate the fees for the next three or four years, to judge by some of the other tribunals for which we are still paying because the figures are not forwarded very quickly.

To answer the second question, the new fees negotiated will take effect from the stated end dates and will apply to new tribunals and inquiries. The basis for those will be the new investigative arrangements on which we passed legislation. That will be far more streamlined and effective, involving more voluntary participation but allowing for the right to call witnesses and proceed in a legal way. I hope that system will be more efficient, speedier and cost-effective. That will apply to all new arrangements. We must go through the process for the next few years before the position is changed. Certainly in 2005, 2006, 2007 and probably 2008 the fees will be high.

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

Mr. Morgan:  I ask that the Dáil be adjourned under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of public concern, namely, the necessity for all socialists to stand together to prevent additional funding being wasted through the expansion of misguided measures such as the national treatment purchase fund which means taxpayers pay twice, and the further need to dismiss the call from very wealthy consultants to increase the cost to the poor people forced to use accident and emergency services.

Mr. Healy:  I request the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of urgent importance, namely, the urgent need for the Government immediately to remove the three senior Aer Lingus executives from office in view of the clear and serious conflict of interest of these executives with their public service mandate as shown in their proposal for a management buy-out and their attempt to dictate to the Government and the people.

Mr. Gogarty:  I ask that this House be adjourned under Standing Order 31 to debate an [875]issue of national importance, namely, the need for strategic investment in indigenous research and development in the area of renewable energy to protect our economic well-being in light of oil shortages and price hikes in the near future, given our unhealthy dependence on oil and other imports for our energy needs.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I ask that the business of the House be adjourned under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of urgent national business, namely, the inability of the Government to make a decision on the future of Aer Lingus.

Mr. Connolly:  I propose the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of urgent public and national concern, namely, the transfer from Monaghan General Hospital of the complete surgical team, that is, junior doctors and consultants, to Cavan General Hospital, the implications that will have for the performance of surgery at Monaghan General Hospital and the further implications it will have for hospitals of a similar size nationally.

Mr. Durkan:  I seek the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following issue of national interest, namely, the ongoing labour relations situation in An Post which is likely to jeopardise postal delivery services in the near future, with particular reference to the need to clarify conflicting information relative to the financial position within the company and the proposed restructuring proposals which are likely to result in redundancies, and ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

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

  12 o’clock

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 14, motion re Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, the Mahon tribunal; No. 25, the Road Traffic Bill 2004, Second Stage (resumed); and No. 26, the Disability Bill 2004 Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 14, including amendments thereto, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall include only amendments accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who shall not exceed 15 [876]minutes in each case; Members may share time; and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government shall be called to make a speech in reply, which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 36, Consumer Rights Enforcer Bill 2004, Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 14, motion re Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, agreed?

Mr. Gilmore:  Just before we began, a revised Order of Business was circulated which includes reference to the question that will we put by the Chair. It states that it shall include only amendments accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and that the following arrangements shall apply.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that in regard to the tribunal of inquiry?

Mr. Gilmore:  Yes, it is. I have tabled two amendments to the Government’s motion. Will those amendments be accepted by the Minister? If they are not to be accepted, it appears that the order presented to us does not permit for the separate taking of those amendments. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether the two amendments which I have submitted will be accepted by the Minister?

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware of the amendments the Minister will accept. That is a matter for the debate.

Mr. O’Dowd:  Fine Gael has two amendments down and I support Deputy Gilmore in his request.

Mr. Sargent:  If there is an attempt not to take amendments, that is unfortunate. Following discussions between the parties and the Minister, it should have been clear that it was insufficient to look for ways of shortening the inquiry without putting changes into the planning process that would take away the conditions which created much of the problem in the first place. Those conditions are still in place as land speculation is still providing enormous temptation for corruption. We should address the issue in a holistic fashion rather than trying to close down the tribunals, which is the impression.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Given the many hours the Mahon tribunal and its predecessor spent in addressing these issues, my concern is that we are being asked to make a substantive change in the course of the hearings of the Mahon tribunal in one hour and five minutes. It is not an adequate time to address the substantive motion presented by the Minister and it will certainly not allow us to address the amendments that other Deputies [877]have tabled. The Technical Group will only have five minutes to offer our views. That is too restrictive as this is a very important matter. The Government should reflect on this by extending the time to allow for a proper debate.

Mr. Gilmore:  I am in a difficult position as a result of the Taoiseach’s reply. The Taoiseach does not know whether the Minister will accept the amendment I have tabled and we are being asked to agree to a procedure under which those amendments would not be put separately to the House in the event of the Minister not accepting them. That procedure is not acceptable to the Labour Party. If the Minister does not intend to accept the amendments, we want an opportunity to put those amendments to the House so that it can decide them.

The Taoiseach:  Unfortunately, I cannot help the Deputy.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The amendments should be taken in the normal way.

The Taoiseach:  Does the Deputy want to put the amendment at a particular time?

Mr. Howlin:  At the same time.

The Taoiseach:  I am happy to do that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is it agreed that the amendments will be taken before the final vote?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does that mean there will be an extension of time to address the issue properly or are we still restricted to 65 minutes?

The Taoiseach:  There will be no change in the time limit.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I again appeal to the Taoiseach because the time limit is much to restrictive.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal, as amended, agreed?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No.

Question, “That the proposal, as amended, for dealing with No. 14 be agreed”, put and declared carried.

The Taoiseach:  The apparent murder of Margaret Hassan is a sickening and shocking crime. Since Margaret was abducted, her husband and her family have endured enormous distress, which is compounded by the horrific news of the past 24 hours. I have already had sympathy conveyed to Margaret’s husband, Tahseen, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, spoke to Margaret’s sister, Dierdre. As the House is aware, I met Tahseen and [878]Margaret’s brother and sisters, Michael, Dierdre, Geraldine and Kathryn, who have shown immense resilience, dignity and determination since Margaret’s capture. She was abducted four weeks ago. I am sure I reflect the unanimous view of this House when I say that our thoughts and sympathies and those of the Irish people are with them at this time.

I also extend my sympathy to Margaret’s colleagues in Care International who worked tirelessly for the Iraqi people over many decades. I thank all the people in Care International who have kept so closely to us for the past four weeks. We have had daily contact with them and their many aid workers and staff in trying various initiatives. Tahseen Hassan told the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs that he greatly appreciates the assistance of the Houses of the Oireachtas over the past four weeks. He asked that I inform the House that as soon as it is appropriate for him, he would like to come to Ireland to thank the House and all the people for their assistance.

The family is obviously devastated. This is the worst news they could possibly get. They have tried to be brave over the past few weeks. I thank everyone with whom we had contact, including the Jordanians and the Egyptians who also tried everything they could, as did various members of the media in the area. Those responsible for taking Margaret Hassan’s innocent life stand condemned in the eyes of all people of goodwill throughout the entire international community. I sympathise with Margaret’s family and friends in Kerry, Cork and Dublin and in the UK and with her and Tahseen’s friends in Iraq. This end is enormously sickening.

If it is as it seems, as members of her family accept it is, they have one remaining wish. They would like somebody somewhere to have the decency to allow her to be returned to her family so they can bid her farewell. That is all they ask. It does not seem too much for the House to ask that those who have not listened to us over the past four weeks might listen to this last request.

Mr. Kenny:  I join the Taoiseach in this series of short statements. This is a black day for the people of Ireland and Iraq and for humanity itself.

The world is a much poorer place following the passing of Margaret Hassan who demonstrated low-key compassion for her fellow man and had an unfailing belief in the capacity of the human heart. Many people who knew her well summed her up well when they spoke of the quiet and courageous way in which she went about the serious business of affecting people’s lives. In a million small ways, Margaret Hassan touched and changed the lives of an estimated 17 million people in Iraq over 30 years. She rejected what she considered to be the inhumanity of the sanctions against the Iraqi people and the inhumanity of many aspects of the war against their country. [879]That savage inhumanity has led to her apparent murder.

When Margaret Hassan was born in Holles Street, a stone’s throw from this House, her parents could not have imagined the fate that awaited her. They could not have anticipated the inspiring way in which she led her adult life in Iraq, thousands of miles from Ireland.

In a newspaper today, Robert Fisk has asked “Who killed Margaret Hassan?”. I regret that all of us might be responsible if we have failed to address the injustice, inhumanity and intransigence which are part of the Palestinian crisis, which is the crux of the Middle East problem. The tinder box of Gaza and the West Bank is fuelling violence and hatred throughout the Middle East, whether we like it or not. It is time for the European Union and the global community to commit to resolving the Palestinian crisis once and for all.

Margaret Hassan converted to Islam. The prayers at her funeral will ask for forgiveness for our living and our dead, those who are present and those who are absent, for our young and our old, and for our males and our females. On that occasion, we should interpret the word “our” as applying to all of us — Muslims, Christians, those of any religion and none — who are part of what has been shown in recent months to be the fragile community of man.

I do not doubt that during her life in Iraq, Margaret Hassan would have been aware of the Sufi mystic Rumi. Perhaps his words are most appropriate as I offer my deepest sympathy to her husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, and her broken-hearted family in Ireland, Britain and her beloved Iraq:

Why cling to one life till it is soiled and ragged?

The sun dies and dies

squandering a hundred lives every instant.

God has decreed life for you and

He will give another and another and another.

Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a hanam dílis agus go mbeidh sí ar suaimhneas na síoraí go deo.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It appears that Margaret Hassan has been, killed by those who were holding her. I join the Taoiseach and Deputy Kenny in deploring this heinous crime. On behalf of the Labour Party and on my own behalf, I would like to offer heartfelt sympathy to Margaret’s husband and the Fitzsimons family, including her three sisters and her brother.

Margaret Hassan devoted her working life to the people of Iraq for 30 years. She opposed sanctions and the war in Iraq and worked for the people of that country. For more than ten years, she headed up one of the most important agen[880]cies, Care International, which provided therapeutic feeding, clean water, medicine and hospital services to those who desperately needed them.

It is clear that no possible purpose can have been served by the murder of Margaret Hassan. The cause of the people of Iraq has not been served in any way by the sacrifice of her life. All that has happened is that a good person, who was a friend to the people of Iraq and selflessly worked for that country’s most vulnerable citizens, has been savagely murdered for no reason and no purpose.

My colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, met Margaret Hassan and described her on a number of occasions as one of the most extraordinary women he has ever met. He said in an interview last night that when he met her in January 2003, before the most recent war, she was preparing contingency plans for the distribution of food. Her dedication to the people of Iraq was total, according to Deputy Higgins. He argued that her death is all the more devastating when one considers the tenacity and courage she brought to her adopted people. Our thoughts must now be with the heartbroken family she has left behind.

Mr. Sargent:  The reported death of Margaret Hassan, which affects and shocks us all, defies any reasoning. More than anything, it brings home the futility of violence. It reminds us of the danger of dabbling in war, although that is a wider debate. It has often been said that although it is easy to start a war, it is difficult to win the peace. It is irresponsible to dabble in a war that is supposed to be in the national interest of the country in question. I believe that the death of Margaret Hassan is an effect of that.

Our thoughts are with Margaret Hassan’s brother, Michael, and her sisters, Deirdre, Geraldine and Kathryn. We should recall her quiet and unassuming self-sacrifice and selfless generosity. She worked in Palestinian camps in the 1960s, living with and supporting refugees. She moved to Iraq in 1972 after she met her husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, in London. She converted to Islam and became fluent in Arabic. I think her immense dedication to her work, coupled with her intense privacy, is worthy of sainthood. She will be seen as a martyr to many people.

I have read reports about children who have benefited from Margaret Hassan’s work. It has often been said that Iraq’s children haunted her. One report mentioned that she called the children of the embargo “the lost generation”. Half the people of Iraq are below the age of 15. Margaret Hassan was childless, but she cradled many children who were stricken with Iraq’s myriad of illnesses. That such problems have reached epidemic proportions since 1991 is linked to the destruction of water facilities and the use of chemically toxic and radioactive depleted uranium weapons. One could feel her passion to protect Iraq’s children as her own. She told Robert Fisk despairingly that there will be a second gen[881]eration of lost children as a result of current events.

Margaret Hassan leaves behind a reminder that cannot be ignored. Care International’s last project, which was completed at Margaret Hassan’s instigation, was a rehabilitation unit for patients with spinal injuries. In a poignant demonstration in support of an honorary Iraqi, some of the unit’s patients painstakingly wheeled themselves into the street to hold up banners pleading for her release. She was the quiet, unassuming and determined best friend of Iraq. If ever there was an ambassador for Ireland who demonstrated what is best about the essence of Irish generosity, it was Margaret Hassan, who epitomised that spirit with her outreach work and her efforts to bring peace to the region. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I join the other party leaders in the House and all Deputies in extending sincere sympathy, on my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, to the husband and family of the murdered Irish-Iraqi aid worker, Margaret Hassan. Her cruel captivity and death serve no cause. Her dedicated service to and embrace of the Iraqi people for over 30 years only emphasises the outrage of her murder. An opponent of the US-British invasion of Iraq, Margaret Hassan represented the overwhelming mass of Irish opinion. We have lost someone of whom we can be justly proud as a people. Her death demands a re-evaluation of this State’s shameful assistance for and association with the US-led war in Iraq, not in response to her murder but because it is the right thing to do and because it is what Margaret Hassan would have wished. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sí.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Perhaps I might, very briefly, on behalf of the Independent Deputies——

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is unfortunately no provision to facilitate every Deputy who wishes to speak on a statement. Only a member of each party in the House is entitled to speak under Standing Orders.

Mr. J. Higgins:  I am in a slightly different position since the Independent Deputies have asked me to say a few words.

Mr. Healy:  The Independent Deputies have asked him to speak.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair does not wish to enter into confrontation over this matter. The tradition under the Standing Orders of this House is that the leader of each party is entitled to speak on a statement.

Mr. Healy:  The exception proves the rule.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Many Members have indicated that they would like to speak on various [882]statements that came before the House. It is not possible to facilitate every Deputy, and the Standing Order is quite specific.

Mr. J. Higgins:  No one else is offering and it will take only 20 seconds.

On behalf of the Independent Deputies, I wish to extend our solidarity to the family and co-workers of Margaret Hassan and the thousands of Iraqi people who marched to demand her release and condemn absolutely the barbarism of that small, ultra-reactionary element in Iraq that uses the methods of kidnap, beheading and torture. That they claim to inflict them as a result of the barbarity of the actions of the US military does not justify them.

Resistance to occupation is absolutely justified, but slaughter of the innocent never is. We should remember — I hope that Irish people do so this morning — that they do not act on behalf of a majority of Iraqis any more than, 30 years ago, the Shankill butchers or those on this island who visited a similar fate on, for example, Mrs. Jean McConville, did not act in the name of the Irish people either.

Mr. Kenny:  In addressing the House yesterday regarding the appointment of a director for the Health Service Executive, the Taoiseach said that the person in question, Dr. Aidan Halligan, is due to take up the top job in Britain. I understand that there is no truth in that. Perhaps the Taoiseach might like to correct that if he was misinformed that Dr. Halligan was to take up that office.

The Taoiseach:  The position does not come up until next year.

Mr. Kenny:  I am aware of that.

The Taoiseach:  He is the favourite for the job.

Mr. Kenny:  As I understand it, he might be the favourite in some people’s eyes.

The Taoiseach:  He is the favourite for the post in Britain.

Mr. Kenny:  Yes, but I believe that he has no interest in it.

When does the Taoiseach expect to introduce the National Roads Authority Bill to update the legislation governing that organisation? I believe that it is due for publication in 2005.

The Taoiseach:  The national roads infrastructure Bill is being drafted but will not be ready until well into next year.

Mr. Rabbitte:  If the Taoiseach knows that Dr. Halligan is the favourite for the job in Britain, did he not know that before he offered him the job here? Are there any imminent plans to appoint a chairman to the Aer Lingus board?

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

Mr. Sargent:  As winter conditions worsen, I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. Ireland has the worst winter mortality in the EU owing to poor housing conditions. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has stopped producing statistics for electricity generating stations’ output.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy has a question on legislation, I will hear it, but we must move on. It is almost 12.30 p.m.

Mr. Sargent:  There is energy illiteracy in this country. Will the Government take it seriously?

The Taoiseach:  Early next year.

Mr. Stanton:  The Taoiseach spoke of the need to introduce legislation to deal with people in nursing homes who have been required to pay money, possibly illegally. Has there been any advance on that, and when might we see it, if at all?

The Taoiseach:  Not yet.

Mr. M. Higgins:  Will the Taoiseach explain the difficulty regarding the diplomatic relations and immunities (amendment) Bill, which addresses a constitutional issue that arose from 1967 legislation? It has been on the Order Paper for a very long time, yet no time has been specified to take it.

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the Bill were approved on 9 November, and the legislation will now be drafted.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Regarding the revenue Bill to update the legislative basis of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, no publication date has been indicated. Does the Taoiseach have any further information on that promised legislation?

The Taoiseach:  Decisions relating to that Bill and its publication will be considered in the context of the timing and availability of the report of the Moriarty tribunal.

Ms Enright:  I have asked the Taoiseach several times about people working with children and vulnerable adults. He said that the outcome of legislation would be dependent on North-South Ministerial Council negotiations. A very good system is up and running in Northern Ireland. Since they have their system, can we not proceed with ours? When will the register of persons considered unsafe to work with children come before this House?

[884]The Taoiseach:  As I previously stated to Deputy Enright, a cross-departmental working group reported to the Minister on proposals for the reform of vetting of employees by the Garda, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has now appointed an implementation group to advise on the necessity for legislation. I will make the point that we could possibly proceed without waiting for the North-South Ministerial Council.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The Taoiseach said at the weekend regarding promised legislation that people in relationships other than official heterosexual marriage should be accommodated in certain aspects of their lives by changes in the law of this State, and I agree. When will he introduce legislation to that end?

The Taoiseach:  The issue is being considered by both the Law Reform Commission, which has produced an initial report, and by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. When those reports have been issued, the question will be examined.

Mr. O’Dowd:  What about the proceeds of corruption Bill promised in the Fianna Fáil manifesto to fight white collar crime and corruption in the public and private sectors?

The Taoiseach:  I believe that it has now been incorporated into the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2003, which is currently before the Seanad.

Mr. Broughan:  Does the Taoiseach intend for the electricity Bill to be brought to the House before the market opening? Would he arrange a time for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to address——

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

Mr. Broughan:  He is the Leader of the House and can organise such things. Might it be possible for the Minister to give the House an account of his ongoing discussions with Eircom and An Post?

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the electricity Bill have been approved and the legislation has been drafted, but I do not have a date for its presentation.

Mr. Boyle:  Does the Government intend to introduce legislation on any proposal to change the status of either of the two remaining building societies that remain mutual?

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the building societies (amendment) Bill to amend the provisions of the Building Societies Act 1989 have [885]been approved by the Government, and the legislation should be published this session, although I do not know when it will come before the House.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I asked the Taoiseach last week about No. 55 on Tuesday’s Order Paper. Has he had an opportunity to consult the Whips and will there be a debate on the matter given that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, met a delegation from the Council of the West to discuss the underspend in the Border, midland and west region?

The Taoiseach:  I have asked the Whip to examine the possibility of a debate on that.

Mr. Stagg:  There is no chance.

Ms McManus:  There is a great deal of concern about the health Bill, which was agreed at Cabinet yesterday. Members have not received a copy of the Bill. Given that the HSC will be established on 1 January, what is the timeframe for the debate? When will it begin? When will there be a proper debate?

The Taoiseach:  I gave the dates for the debate last week. I think it will be taken on 22 November. The Bill was cleared yesterday.

Ms McManus:  Will it be 22 November? Does the Taoiseach know?

The Taoiseach:  I will ask the Chief Whip to confirm the date. I read the dates last week but I do not have the notes.

Ms McManus:  That is why I am asking.

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

The Taoiseach:  The Bill was cleared at Cabinet yesterday and I will confirm the dates later.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before proceeding with business I wish on my own behalf and on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann to offer a céad míle fáilte, a most sincere welcome, to our parliamentary colleagues from the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, who are here with us in the distinguished Visitors Gallery. The group is led by, their Speaker Shaun Edward Byneveldt.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make further and better provision in relation to the preparation by planning authorities of draft development plans and the making and variation of development [886]plans, to abolish requirements as to the payment of fees in respect of submissions or observations on applications for planning permission, to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 and to provide for related matters.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Since this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move: “That the Bill be taken in Private Members’ time.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann resolves that the terms of reference contained in the resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 7 October 1997 and by Seanad Éireann on 8 October 1997, as amended by the resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann on 1 July 1998 and by Seanad Éireann on 2 July 1998 and further amended by the resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann on 28 March 2002 and by the resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann on 3 July 2003 and by Seanad Éireann on 4 July 2003 pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2004, be amended by the addition of the following paragraphs after paragraph I:

‘J. (1) The tribunal shall, subject to the exercise of its discretion pursuant to J(6) hereunder, proceed as it sees fit to conclude its inquiries into the matters specified below, and identified in the fourth interim report of this tribunal, and to set out its findings on each of these matters in an interim report or reports or in a final report:

(a) the Carrickmines I Module;

(b) the Fox and Mahony Module;

(c) the St. Gerard’s Bray Module;

(d) the Carrickmines II Module and Related Issues;

(e) the Arlington-Quarryvale I Module;

(f) the Quarryvale II Module;

(g) those modules that are interlinked with the modules set out at paragraphs (a) to (f), and that are referred to in para[887]graph 3.04 of the fourth interim report of the tribunal.

(2) The tribunal shall, subject to the exercise of its discretion pursuant to paragraph J(6) hereunder, by 1 May 2005 or such earlier date as the tribunal shall decide, consider and decide upon those additional matters, being matters in addition to those set forth at J(1)(a) to (g) above and in respect of which the tribunal has conducted or is in the course of conducting a preliminary investigation as of the date of the decision, that shall proceed to a public hearing and shall record that decision in writing and shall duly notify all parties affected by that decision at such time or times as the tribunal considers appropriate.

(3) The tribunal may in the course of investigating any additional matter under paragraph J(2) or a matter being investigated under paragraph J(1) investigate any other matter of which it becomes aware when it is satisfied that such further investigation is necessary for the tribunal to make findings on any such additional matter or a matter referred to in paragraph J(1) above.

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of these terms of reference the presentation to the Clerk of the Dáil of an interim report or reports, as the case may be, and of the final report on the matters identified at paragraphs J(1)(a) — (g), J(2) and, where applicable, J(3) shall constitute compliance by the tribunal with all its terms of reference, as hereby amended, and no further investigation or report shall be required of or from the tribunal on any other matter.

(5) Nothing in these amended terms of reference shall preclude the tribunal from conducting hearings or investigations into any compliance or non-compliance by any person with the orders or directions of the tribunal.

(6) The tribunal may in its sole discretion — in respect of any matter within paragraphs J(1), J(2) and J(3) of these amended terms of reference — decide:

(I) to carry out such preliminary investigations in private as it thinks fit using all the powers conferred on it under the Acts, to determine whether sufficient evidence exists in relation to the matter to warrant proceeding to a public hearing if deemed necessary, or

(II) not to initiate a preliminary investigation and-or a public hearing of evidence in relation to the matter notwithstanding that the matter falls within the tribunal’s terms of reference, or

[888]

(III) having initiated a preliminary investigation in private, and whether same has been concluded, but prior to the commencement of any public hearing of evidence in the matter, to discontinue or otherwise terminate its investigation notwithstanding that the matter falls within the tribunal’s terms of reference.

In exercising its discretion pursuant to this paragraph the tribunal may have regard to one or more of the factors referred to below:

(i) the age and-or state of health of one or more persons who are likely to be in a position to provide useful information, including, but not confined to, oral evidence to be given privately or publicly, including the age and-or likely state of health of any such person at such date in the future when that person or persons might be expected to be called upon to give oral evidence or to otherwise co-operate with the tribunal, and in particular the issue as to whether their age and-or state of health is or is likely to be an impediment to such person being in a position to co-operate with the tribunal or to give evidence to the tribunal in private or in public;

(ii) the likely duration of the preliminary investigation or public hearing into any matter;

(iii) the likely cost, or other use of the resources of the tribunal, of such investigation or any stage of the investigation into any matter;

(iv) whether the investigation into the matter is likely to provide evidence to the tribunal which would enable it to make findings of fact and conclusions and-or to make recommendations;

(v) any other factors which in the opinion of the tribunal would, or would be likely to, render an investigation, or the continued investigation into any matter inappropriate, unnecessary, wasteful of resources, unduly costly, unduly prolonged or which would be of limited or no probative value.

(7) subject to paragraph J(3) any matter not brought to the attention of the tribunal or of which it is not aware by 16 December 2004 shall not be the subject of any investigation by the tribunal.’.

The purpose of the amendments is to expedite the work of the tribunal and to enable it to complete its work by 2007. The tribunal was established by the Oireachtas in 1997 to examine certain specific activities and letters that had aroused suspicions of corrupt acts in the planning process. The tribunal was also mandated to investigate [889]any other matters that came to its attention that could amount to corrupt acts in the period since 20 June 1985. The terms of reference were expanded in July 1998 at the request of the tribunal. As a result, the tribunal is mandated to investigate any allegation of corruption associated with the planning process in the Twenty-six Counties.

Notwithstanding the fact that the tribunal was expanded to include three members in 2001, the work of the tribunal, based on its terms of reference, has proved to be unwieldy. As a result, the tribunal, in its fourth interim report, requested a change to its terms of reference to allow it more discretion in the issues that it investigates to shorten the anticipated duration of the tribunal’s activities.

The primary intention of the report issued by the tribunal on 15 June 2004 was to give an overview of the work on hand, including all those matters such as the investigation into the land rezoning at Quarryvale and so forth, that have been widely reported in the media. The tribunal also gave a broad overview of the work that remained on hand, for which no public hearings have begun. Although of necessity the tribunal was circumspect in the language it used, the report indicated the tribunal still has a large volume of work on hand which, if its mandate is played out to its fullest extent, would all have to be investigated.

The tribunal, therefore, indicated that the work could carry on until 2014, 2015 or beyond. The tribunal recognised this situation could not be allowed continue. As a result, it requested a change to its terms of reference, which would allow discretion not to pursue lines of inquiry. If the tribunal then decided that the continued pursuit of its inquiries were of limited or no further value in discharging its mandate, it sought the power to report that to the Oireachtas and to convey to the Oireachtas the wish of the tribunal that its investigations and inquiries should terminate on a date to be specified by the tribunal. In other words, it wanted to have more control over its own situation.

Following publication of the report, the Government mandated the Attorney General, who is the appropriate person to carry out such discussions, to consult the tribunal on changes to its terms of reference, as provided for under the 1998 tribunals legislation. The Attorney General was also asked to discuss with the tribunal the impact of the Government’s decision in July 2004 to apply a new scale of fees to the legal teams of existing and future tribunals.

There have been three important outcomes from these discussions between the Attorney General and the tribunal, the proposed changes to the terms of reference, the indication by the tribunal that it intends to sit in divisions following completion of the current public hearings and the granting of additional resources and the date of [890]application of the new fees to the legal staff of the tribunal.

I refer to the proposed changes to the terms of reference. The tribunal currently has a mandate to investigate any allegation of an act of corruption associated with the planning process. Under the proposed changes which are the subject of the motion, a new paragraph J will be added to the terms of reference.

Paragraph J(1) enables the tribunal to complete its current investigations into planning issues in Dublin, including the Carrickmines and Quarryvale modules and interlinked matters. Paragraphs J(2) and J(7) provide for the introduction of two important deadlines. Under paragraph J(7), the final date for receipt of any new complaint or request for investigation is fixed by the terms of reference at 16 December 2004, that is, 30 days from today. The tribunal must decide what new matters on its books will proceed to a public hearing by 1 May 2005. After that date, no new investigation can be referred to public hearing by the tribunal.

However, there were concerns that the tribunal could discover something during its investigations that it feels must be investigated to allow it to complete its overall report and an inflexible deadline should not tie its hands in investigating something like that. For that reason, paragraph J(3) provides that, notwithstanding the dates in the terms of reference, the tribunal will be able to investigate something that it discovers during investigations if it is necessary to enable the tribunal to make findings on the matters it has investigated or has decided to investigate.

Paragraph J(4) provides that the presentation to the Clerk of the Dáil of an interim report or final report on the matters investigated under paragraphs J(1), J(2) and J(3) will constitute compliance by the tribunal with all its terms of reference and no further report shall be required of the tribunal on any other matter. Paragraph J(5) enables the tribunal to continue to conduct hearings or investigations into any issue of compliance or non-compliance by any person with the orders or directions of the tribunal.

Paragraph J(6) will enable the tribunal to exercise the discretion it sought in the fourth interim report on the matters that it proceeds to investigate, having regard, in particular, to the age or state of health of people who are likely to be in a position to provide useful information; how long the preliminary investigation or public hearing into any matter is likely to take; the likely cost; whether the investigation into the matter is likely to provide evidence to the tribunal which would enable it to make findings, reach conclusions or make recommendations; and any other factor which would, or would be likely to, render an investigation, or the continued investigation, into any matter inappropriate, unnecessary, wasteful of resources, unduly costly or unduly prolonged or which would be of limited or no probative value. I intend to bring a short [891]Bill before the Oireachtas in the next few weeks to give legal backing to the discretion being granted to the tribunal to decide which issues within its terms of reference to investigate. These changes to the terms of reference set a firm timeframe for the work of the tribunal, which has indicated that the changes will allow it to complete its work by March 2007.

I refer now to the sitting in divisions. The tribunal has confirmed in writing to the Attorney General that it intends to utilise the power to sit in divisions when it is appropriate and practical to do so. This could not happen until after the hearings of the current modules. However, it is anticipated that the tribunal will begin to sit in divisions thereafter. We welcome this because it will allow the tribunal to cover more ground more rapidly.

The final issue is that of additional resources. To help the tribunal meet the new more challenging time frames, the Government has agreed to the allocation of an additional seven people to its legal team. The tribunal has stated that to achieve the level of work required to complete its tasks by March 2007, especially to allow it to sit in divisions, it will need these additional legal staff. The additional cost should be looked at in the context of the shorter time frame for completion of the tribunal’s work — less than three years compared to ten years as indicated in the tribunal’s fourth interim report.

The tribunal feels it will now be in a position to complete its public hearings by March, 2007. The Government has decided that the new fee scale for lawyers appearing at tribunals, which was approved by the Government in July 2004, will apply to the tribunal from 31 March 2007. This will happen if, therefore, the tribunal does not meet its own deadline.

The changes proposed today will allow the tribunal complete its mandate within a more, timely and certain framework. The changes will allow the tribunal reach findings and make recommendations to help ensure that events similar to the ones it has investigated cannot occur. I commend the motion to the House.

There were some exchanges on this matter on the Order of Business. As Members will know from the briefing I gave to the spokespersons of the groups, the arrangements for amending the terms of reference of the tribunal were specifically set down in an order of this House on establishment. We must respond positively to the tribunal’s requests, but we cannot impose changes on it. Therefore, if I appear inflexible in some of my responses, it is because my hands are tightly tied by the decisions made by this House some time ago.

Mr. O’Dowd:  I move amendment No. 1:

[892]

In paragraph J. (1), to delete “interim report or reports or in a Final Report” and substitute “interim report and in a Final Report”.

Before dealing with my amendments, I will respond to what the Minister has said. Local government has changed over the past 100 years. In the 1930s and 1940s the County Management Acts were introduced because of widespread allegations of corruption and jobbery in the system. The result of their introduction was that the process of power within local government shifted from the elected representatives to the officials so that we now have probably the weakest local government powers among the European nations. It is time for change, but I did not note in the Minister’s proposals any proposal for fundamental change in the planning process or in the way we do business, in particular in dealing with development plans and rezoning issues, which are, effectively, at the root of the corruption which has been so well and clearly exposed by the Mahon tribunal.

I welcome the tremendous work done by Mr. Justice Flood and Judge Mahon in the tribunal. While the tribunal is expensive and is a serious burden, it is worthwhile because of the truth and transparency of its exposure of corruption at the heart of Government and the actions of Ministers. It has been traumatic but useful. What is wrong with this Government proposal is that there is no further proposal from the Minister to change the system and make a difference. That is what we want on this side of the House. We want to see a different planning system and want corruption exposed in a better and more efficient manner than through the tribunals. This is the heart of the issue.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, said recently that the social cost of bad planning and corrupt decisions in the 1960s and 1970s was approximately €160 million. We want proper sustainable development and real development plans. We want councillors to have real powers. We want an end to the back door unofficial system and approach. We want an end to the nod and wink planning that has been so clearly exposed in Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council through the tribunals. The Minister’s proposals mean that the corruption before the tribunals will continue. The only difference is that the Standards in Public Office Commission will investigate some breaches of the law. The law should be stronger. The Government is failing in its duty. While ensuring that this phase of the tribunal comes to a natural end — I accept the Judge is on board with that — there is nothing to replace it. What has happened in the past will happen again. The Government is sadly lacking in this process.

We are debating a motion that sets out to achieve a speeding up of the work of the planning tribunal and brings the prospect of it ending its [893]work within three years. In his fourth interim report to the Oireachtas, Judge Mahon expressed a view that the current terms of reference of the planning tribunal did not afford it a discretion as to which acts it is required to investigate and upon which it should report. The tribunal requested the Oireachtas to amend its terms of reference to provide it with the discretion which would allow it to concentrate its inquiries into areas where it could comprehensively report on payments and acts associated with the planning process.

The motion before the House is the outcome of discussions between the Government and Judge Mahon. While my party had some preliminary consultations with senior Government figures in recent months on these issues, there was no detailed consultation and what we have before us is the product of an agreement reached between the Government and Judge Mahon.

It would have been preferable if the Government had been more inclusive in its contacts and had given the Opposition more opportunity to contribute to contacts with Judge Mahon. We must remember that it was the Oireachtas that established the tribunal and it is the Oireachtas to which it reports. It is not always possible to include everybody in consultations but, given the sensitivity of the issues involved, it would have been in the Government’s interest to have had a greater involvement by Opposition parties.

Arising from the absence of detailed consultation, there are a number of issues my party would like to see clarified in this debate. We propose two amendments. The first lists a number of modules on which the tribunal will conduct public hearings. The amendment I have put forward suggests that after each of these modules is completed, the tribunal will issue an interim report. In the interests of natural justice, the tribunal should publish reports as soon as modules are complete and not wait until sometime in 2007 or 2008 to publish its reports on issues that have been in the public domain for a number of years. There are significant numbers of people from many walks of life whose names have been linked to matters before the tribunal. It is unsatisfactory that they should have to wait for years before the tribunal’s conclusions on their involvement are known.

My second amendment requests the tribunal to provide the Oireachtas with recommendations on the effectiveness and improvement of existing legislation governing corruption. This is a key issue and the real lesson from the tribunals. What will change as a result of what we have heard? What proposals does the Government have in this regard? It has none.

The initial terms of reference of this tribunal provide at paragraph 5 for the tribunal to make such recommendations if it finds corruption. The earlier reports made specific findings about corruption. We should not have to wait until 2007 or 2008 and the next Dáil before we hear the views of the tribunal on how corruption can be best [894]tackled through legislation. I would go so far as to suggest that, given the length of time this tribunal has been in operation, giving clear recommendations on preventing future corruption should be a priority for it.

Once the 30-day period for new complaints has expired, where should an individual who is concerned that corruption in the planning process may have taken place go with his or her complaint? Past history suggests the Garda was unable to investigate allegations of corruption adequately.

In the programme for Government, Fianna Fáil committed itself to bringing forward a proceeds of corruption Bill, which I understand is currently before the Seanad. Perhaps in his reply, the Minister might give the House the up-to-date position on the provisions he will include in the legislation to prevent and fight corruption.

The commissions of investigation legislation which will allow commissions of inquiry to be set up on an ad hoc basis has been enacted but it would appear to be contrary to the intent of that legislation that there would be a standing commission which could receive complaints and allegations of corruption in the planning process. It is important that we make the necessary legislative changes to provide a mechanism for complaints of corruption to be investigated. I have tabled amendments in an effort to direct the tribunal to the priority issues and I hope that the Minister will accept the points I have made.

I would also like the Minister to deal with a number of other points in his response. Will he explain why the specific modules at J(1)(a) to (f) have been identified? My presumption is that these modules have already been put in the public domain and, in the interest of due process and fair procedure, they must be continued in public. What is not clear from the amended terms of reference is whether some other high profile modules will be heard in public. Will the Minister give the House an indication as to whether Judge Mahon has signalled his intentions regarding the Golden Island issue? On 1 May 2005, in addition to seeing a list of modules, which will proceed to public hearings, will the Oireachtas be given any information, even on a coded basis which does not identify individuals, about the matters which the tribunal is not proceeding to investigate?

In the latter part of the summer, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, made an announcement concerning a reduction in fees payable to tribunal lawyers. Part of the agreement reached with Judge Mahon in regard to the planning tribunal involved the appointment of seven additional staff. Can the Minister confirm that these staff will be paid at the rate which is currently being paid to members of staff working at the tribunal and about which there is considerable public disquiet? Will the Minister explain why the new rates as set out by the former Minister, Deputy McCreevy, will not apply to these new staff members? Did this issue arise in dis[895]cussions between the Government and Judge Mahon?

In the context of the commissions of investigation legislation, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform accepted an amendment from Fine Gael, which provided for legal staff tendering for work at commissions of inquiry. Would the Minister consider using this process for the recruitment of the seven additional staff?

The crux of this debate was put succinctly by a county councillor from County Louth in speaking of the adoption of the county development plan for that county. He said that in the days prior to the adoption of the county development plan his house was inundated with landowners and developers coming to make their case to him. He said it was like spaghetti junction. A great deal of money can be made from rezoning. One can make millions of euro. There is a large and growing population on the east coast in towns like Drogheda and Dundalk and in the Minister’s constituency. There are significant development pressures in these areas and sustainable development must also be taken into account.

What proposals will the Minister make to change the present situation in regard to meetings between developers and local authority members? One could argue that there should be no such contact in the context of county development plans or specific rezoning issues that are before a council for consideration. All contact on such issues should solely be through the council. There should be no impediment to a developer writing to a council to make his case or appearing before it. This should also be the case with landowners. Such exchanges should be made in a transparent and open way. At present we do not know which developers are approaching councillors.

Serious and important public issues remain at the core of this matter. As a start we could ask councillors to make a declaration before the council as to which developers had met or contacted them. There is supposed to be a national register but I suggest a register of developers and lobby groups should also be held at council level. This would result in total transparency regarding who is meeting whom and what they are saying. The overriding interest in all cases is the public interest, the public good and the issue of sustainable development.

We should examine how we can improve the planning process and make it more transparent. What added value can we, as Members of the Oireachtas, put into the process to improve it and make it more accountable and transparent? Many councillors are concerned about this issue. They are unhappy with the present situation, which must change. Councillors are prepared to take on the responsibility of making good planning decisions but in many cases the pressure they are being put under is unacceptable. This pressure is [896]localised and personalised. I urge the Minister to consider these issues which would be for the good of local authorities and for the greater good.

Many professional hours are invested in the development of local area plans. A great deal of experience goes into what the managers and their officials propose to councils, yet these can be overturned by a motion under section 140 or pressures for extra jobs. If jobs are needed in an area, then a decision will be taken to go against a sustainable development plan even though it may be considered to be the best plan. Pressures coming through the back door or a councillor’s front door are unacceptable. It is important to focus on these changes.

The tribunal was first set up in 1997 but it could be 2007 before it makes recommendations, which is much too long. There has been no response in the interim from the political system, apart from the Commissions of Investigations Act. There has been no fundamental change. Corruption will not go away and human nature has not changed. It is the same throughout the world. We need to protect the public interest and ensure, in so far as we possibly can, that when this tribunal concludes, we will never have a need for another one. The only way we can do that is by changing our planning laws.

The planning process is much too cumbersome. I understand An Bord Pleanála has three or four times the number of appeals it had previously, notwithstanding that we have shortened the time within which it must make its planning decisions. We have a great deal of work to do and I hope we can do it together. Both sides of the House want to tackle this matter and bring back to public life the esteem, merit and worth it so richly deserves but is lacking because of corruption in the planning process and the lack of fine-tuning of some of the rules and regulations governing representation which has led to a spaghetti junction situation, so to speak, at councillors’ doors. The area has fallen into disrepute and needs to be changed as a matter of urgency. It is the Minister’s task to do it.

  1 o’clock

Mr. Gilmore:  I congratulate the Mahon, formerly Flood, tribunal on its outstanding work to date. For years and perhaps decades there had been rumours and speculation about possible corruption in the Irish planning system. Journalists such as Joe McAnthony and Frank McDonald wrote about it. Some members of this House, including me, called for an official investigation or inquiry into it. The Garda investigated it in the early 1990s but nobody was able to make it stand up, produce the evidence, name names or identify corrupt payments associated with particular planning decisions. That was the case until the instigation of the Flood tribunal.

The tribunal has exposed a web of corruption in planning in Dublin involving some developers, public representatives and a former senior [897]council official. The tribunal has done a great public service in exposing the wrongdoing and in hopefully helping to create a more open culture where such corruption should not occur again. It has taken a long time — the Mahon tribunal is now in its seventh year — and it has cost a huge amount of taxpayers’ money. In April of this year, the Secretary General of the Department of Finance told the Committee of Public Accounts that all the tribunals and inquiries had so far cost €144 million, of which €103 million was for legal costs, and that a further €300 million was estimated for third party costs, bringing to more than €400 million the total cost of the tribunals to date.

The fourth report of the Mahon tribunal, which was submitted to the Dáil in June this year, sets out an estimate of the time it is likely to take to deal with and report on all the matters before it. It states that it will be 2009 before it is able to report on the matters it is hearing and on the modules, which are inter-linked. It goes on to state in paragraph 5.08: “The tribunal therefore estimates that on the basis that (a) it retains its present constitution of three members and that (b) the current terms of reference remain unaltered, the likely time scale for the completion of all the tribunal’s currently identified workload is probably in the region of ten or 11 years, and that it is unlikely to conclude before 2014 or 2015.”

Based on the figures given to the Committee of Public Accounts by the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, that would bring the estimated cost of this tribunal to approximately €1 billion.

It would be wrong for this House to permit the commitment of such a huge sum of taxpayers’ money to the tribunals. We have to face up to the choice of whether €1 billion of taxpayers’ money is to be paid to tribunal lawyers or to help solve the problems in our schools and hospitals or among those with disabilities. If even a fraction of this money were to be committed to properly resourcing the planning system at local government level, to include the employment of more professional planners, especially the employment and resourcing of planning enforcement officers, would we not end up with a more satisfactory and transparent planning process and one which is less amenable to corruption?

When this House previously addressed the issue of the tribunal’s mounting costs and duration, it decided to appoint two additional judges in the belief that this would speed up the work. I had expected that the three judges would sit in parallel divisions and I have been surprised that they continue to sit as a three-member panel, although I understand that they are now required to do so until they complete the modules and matters which they commenced hearing on a three-member basis. I also note from the fourth report that if they were to sit in parallel, additional resources would be required to service parallel hearings, prepare for accelerated public [898]hearings and provide the additional premises to accommodate parallel hearings.

The tribunal, in its fourth report, identifies the tribunal’s current wide and mandatory terms of reference, as the key source of delay. It draws our attention to the requirement that it must investigate everything and that it has little if any discretion. Chapter 7 of the fourth report sets out the amendments that the tribunal is seeking to its terms of reference and these are largely reflected in section 6 of the motion.

I agree it is necessary to amend the tribunal’s terms of reference, which were clearly too wide and unworkable from the beginning. The original terms of reference in 1997 effectively expected the tribunal to climb every tree and those who had already been up “every tree in north County Dublin” should have known from experience just how fruitless all that climbing might prove. It makes sense to give the tribunal the discretion to decide what matters it should now pursue and to enable it to weed out the vexatious and the insignificant. After all it is somewhat absurd for a full tribunal to spend months, perhaps years, investigating, first in private and then for weeks in public, payments the amounts of which are sometimes less than the fee which one of the tribunal lawyers will get for a single day’s attendance.

The Labour Party shares the general concern that the number of matters on the tribunal’s agenda has expanded to grotesque and unmanageable proportions. Clearly there is a need to re-establish a sense of priorities and a realistic end-point. As the Labour Party leader wrote to the Minister on Monday last, the Labour Party is concerned that: “While the amended terms of reference list a series of factors to be borne in mind by the tribunal when deciding whether or not to continue investigation of a matter, all six are factors that would justify discontinuation.” I strongly argue in favour of some reference being made to criteria that would justify the continuation of an investigation. I believe we should not send a signal to the tribunal or the public that in the general haste towards a conclusion of tribunal business, serious and substantial matters should be jettisoned. This is particularly problematic where matters will be lost from consideration without the Houses or the public ever having been aware that they were on the tribunal’s agenda in the first place.

I am thinking of something along the following lines — an amendment to paragraph J(6) which would add the following consideration: “, whether or not, having regard to the seriousness of the claims made, the public interest in arriving at the truth of the matter outweighs in importance the public interest in avoiding the expenditure entailed by such an investigation.” A further amendment would add another consideration to state: “, whether any of the persons claimed to be involved in or connected to the matter are currently, or were recently, public representatives or public servants.” These two amendments were, [899]put by the Labour Party leader to the Minister on Monday last, arising from the briefing and subsequent correspondence we received last week. I am now formally moving these amendments to the terms of reference and I hope that the Minister will agree them. Furthermore, I hope that they will then, in turn be agreed by the tribunal, as the Dáil can only amend the terms of reference with the agreement of the tribunal itself.

In reply to the Minister’s earlier response, I do not think he is prohibited from accepting these amendments. It is open to the House to amend the Government motion before us and thereafter to seek the agreement of the tribunal to the amended terms of reference. I would be surprised if the tribunal was not agreeable to such an amendment. These amendments are necessary to make it clear to the tribunal that, where the public interest requires it, certain inquiries should be continued.

This is especially necessary in view of paragraph (4) of the Government’s motion, which effectively provides for the winding up of the Mahon tribunal after it has completed its examination of the issues relating to Dublin. As I interpret the paragraph, the Mahon tribunal is effectively being told not to continue its investigations outside Dublin. I am not surprised by, that because the Minister has spoken publicly on a number of occasions about Glending, for example. The terms of reference, which we propose to give to the tribunal would seem to prohibit the investigation of that particular case.

Similarly, I am concerned about the prohibition on the investigation of future matters. Any matter which is brought to the tribunal’s attention after 16 December next will not be capable of being investigated by this tribunal, which is far too restrictive a condition to place on the terms of reference. It should also be noted that the formula for winding up the tribunal and for the submission of a final report, which is contained in paragraph (4) of this motion, is different from the formula which the tribunal itself proposed in its fourth report. The formula proposed by the tribunal itself is in paragraph (3) of its requested revised terms of reference, which appears on page 15 of the report. That formula provided that the tribunal would make a report to the House on the matters it had investigated and on the matters with which it did not feel it could get any further. It would then seek the authority of the House to wind up its business. For these reasons, therefore, it is important to make it absolutely clear to the tribunal and to the public that, while cost and proportionality are concerns of the Oireachtas with regard to the tribunal’s work, the revised terms of reference should not be a message that significant wrongdoing in the planning system should not be examined and exposed.

The issue of cost and the choices that must be made as to the best use of taxpayers’ money, centre on legal costs, particularly the fees paid to tribunal lawyers and those who are granted legal [900]representation at the tribunal. The tribunal is to be complimented on the decisive way it has dealt with outrageous claims for legal costs that were made by some of those who obstructed the tribunal and who, in effect, added to its costs.

People who are finding it hard to make ends meet have been scandalised by the enormous fees paid to lawyers at the tribunal. The release of information regarding these fees has given the public a glimpse of the excessive charging by some privileged members of a powerful profession, which serves to make access to the law the preserve of those with money and which also serves to perpetuate inequality and unfairness in society. That is a subject to which the Dáil should return.

Last summer, the Minister for Finance announced, to great media fanfare, that he would reduce the fees being paid to tribunal lawyers from the current rate of €2,000 to €2,500 per day for senior counsel to an annual salary of €213,098 for senior counsel, €176,000 for solicitors and €142,065 for junior counsel. These are not bad salaries by any standards. Under these new payments, a senior counsel at the tribunal would be paid almost three times the salary of a Deputy, a solicitor at the tribunal would be paid twice a Deputy’s salary and a junior counsel would be paid the salary of a Minister of State.

However, it appears that some tribunal lawyers have cocked their noses at such salaries. Within six weeks the Government had backed down on the new scale of fees. The new scales will not now apply to the Morris tribunal until January 2006, the Barr tribunal until June 2005 and the Moriarty tribunal until September 2006. In the briefing material we received on the Mahon tribunal, we are told that the new rates of payment will not apply to that tribunal until 31 March 2007. Is it any wonder that the costs of the tribunals are already €400 million and that some estimates of the ultimate cost approach €1 billion?

It is time to put a stop to this gravy train. The new rates of payment should be brought in immediately and not later than 1 January next. There may be senior counsel who can earn more than €213,000 a year and solicitors who can earn more than €176,000 a year. If there are, they can stuff their wigs and get back to cleaning out their clients in the Four Courts. There must be good lawyers in Ireland who are prepared to work in the service of the people for tribunals established by the representatives of the people and for remuneration that is at the highest end of public service pay.

The Oireachtas needs to consider again the need for properly resourced parliamentary committees with the power to investigate and which can, like the DIRT inquiry, get to the bottom of wrongdoing in a manner that is effective, public and cost efficient. Will the Minister reconsider accepting the amendments I have tabled on behalf of the Labour Party and those which Deputy Fergus Flood——

[901]Mr. O’Dowd:  I thank the Deputy for the promotion.

Mr. Roche:  He is not paid that much yet.

Mr. Gilmore:  That was a Freudian slip. I agree with the amendments tabled by Deputy O’Dowd. It is open to the House to amend the Government motion and the amended motion could be put to the tribunal for its agreement. The amendment is necessary because what we are doing today is not providing a formula for the winding up of the tribunal but a formula for the continuation of its good work in a way that is more cost effective and efficient.

Mr. McHugh:  I wish to share time with Deputies Connolly, Cuffe and Morgan.

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

Mr. McHugh:  The fourth interim report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments set alarm bells ringing when it stated that the work of the tribunal could continue almost indefinitely and almost certainly until 2014. There is no justification for any inquiry, regardless of how complex or detailed, to continue for so long. However, there is a message in this for all involved in establishing the tribunals, both Government and Opposition.

At the time of its inception, any logical argument that might have been put forward to ensure the tribunals were structured and focused would have met with cries of rigging and accusations of attempts to muzzle the tribunals in their work. If the intention of any action is to make the tribunals more efficient, there should never be cheap charges of rigging or muzzling. However, the hysteria surrounding the establishment of the tribunals did not permit logical, calm or reasoned thinking. I hope the Government and Opposition Members will learn the message from that for the future.

The main changes proposed have the support of the chairman of the tribunal and, as such, it would be foolhardy of the House to oppose them. The proposal to impose a deadline for receipt of new matters is sensible. Everybody who might have issues of concern will be afforded time within which to make their submissions. It was also a flaw in the terms of reference that the tribunal was obliged to investigate every matter, irrespective of its significance. It always seemed wasteful that three judges sat together rather than in parallel divisions where work could be progressed at a faster rate. I welcome the expectation that all public hearings will be completed by 31 March 2007 and, in advance, I wish the Minister a happy birthday.

Mr. Roche:  I will not get the big fees on the day.

Mr. McHugh:  My criticism of the new arrangement is that the legal profession will continue to [902]charge exorbitant fees. That is regrettable. It is certainly not in the interest of the taxpayer.

I am confining my remarks to the detail of what is before the House today. There are many areas one could address during this debate but we must bear in mind that the motion before the House has been agreed between the chairman of the tribunal and the Attorney General. Although I have the highest regard for Deputy O’Dowd and Deputy Gilmore, I question the wisdom of putting down amendments that have not been agreed in advance with the chairman.

I compliment the Minister on the manner in which he has dealt with this matter.

Mr. Connolly:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the changes in the terms of reference of the Mahon tribunal. The tribunal chairman’s request for more discretion over which cases to investigate and the considerations of cost, corruption levels, likely time scale and likelihood of reaching a conclusion might allow certain individuals to evade exposure. Such individuals will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of not being brought to account.

The tribunal must end some time. The country’s longest running saga must reach its inevitable conclusion but some practical means of bringing wrongdoers to book must be found. A clear signal must be sent that such individuals have not escaped. The Cherrywood module and other modules where people have not yet been exposed have still to be dealt with. What happens after 1 May if a major clanger is dropped? What will we do about it?

The tribunal’s interim report raised the hopes and expectations of the public that the individuals adjudged to have received corrupt payments were to be made accountable. Such hopes have been somewhat diluted by the fact that these individuals have, in most cases, escaped the consequences of their actions. I trust that the proposed amendments to the tribunal’s terms of reference do not serve to shield other possibly corrupt persons from the cold draught of justice appropriately applied. Despite having a staff of six barristers, three solicitors, four researchers and two paralegal personnel, the tribunal chairman described the tribunal as stretched to the limits, if not beyond.

The effect of the motion before the House is to approve changes to the terms of reference of the Mahon tribunal to ensure the tribunal’s work is expedited. I am not sure if this is a good thing, even though the most recent interim report held out the possibility of the tribunal’s public hearings continuing into 2014 or 2015. By setting the date of 1 May 2005 for decisions by the tribunal on matters to investigate and, in particular, the introduction of new investigations, the tribunal is, in effect, setting a limit on the degree of corruption it may unearth.

Mr. Cuffe:  Without vision, the people perish. Without fundamental reforms of the planning system, corruption will continue to exist and thrive. It is not enough to change the terms of reference unless the underlying malaise in the [903]land use and planning system is also changed. The vision to encourage such change must come from the top, namely, from the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. At present, a proper planning system in this country has been substituted with a much too cosy relationship between developers and councillors. Unless the position is changed, we will continue to have tribunals from now until the cows come home.

A number of changes are needed. First, the All-Party Committee on the Constitution made strong and coherent recommendations regarding the rezoning of land. It stated that agricultural land, once rezoned, should not provide millions of euro for developers and that it should not attract a value 25% greater than that of the existing use value. If the changes recommended by the all-party committee are introduced, we could, in one fell swoop, deal with many of the conditions that give rise to corruption in the land use and planning system.

The second change I would suggest involves the establishment of a new body to vet development plans at national level prior to their approval. It is not good enough to have a Minister cast his or her eye over these plans to see whether they meet with his or her approval. It is not good enough that the Minister’s predecessor directed Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to zone more land. We need a body similar to but separate from An Bord Pleanála to vet development plans. Prior to a development plan being approved, the said body’s imprimatur would be required. This would help temper the excesses of the rezoning zeal some councillors bring to the planning process.

The third change I would suggest is that more planning staff must be recruited. Many local and planning authorities do not have the services of full-time planners. I was horrified to hear that the council in a town with which I am familiar, Bray, which straddles the border between Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and County Wicklow, does not employ a planner and that the new development plan is being prepared by the town engineer. Such behaviour does not display the type of vision required to deal with a town, which will change dramatically during the next ten years and in which the population is increasing hugely. The broad spectrum obtained from properly trained planning staff is required and not just that provided by an engineer, regardless of how good are his or her credentials. Planners must guide and provide the vision in tandem with elected representatives at local level.

It is important that the changes before the House should be advertised and placed in the public domain by the Department. After all, a small advertisement placed in the newspapers eight or nine years ago by Colm MacEochaidh and Michael Smith led to the establishment of the Mahon tribunal. Everyone is indebted to these men for the work they did in terms of sowing the seeds for the tribunals. It is important that the changes will be publicly advertised. I support the [904]changes, which, I understand, are being drawn up by other Opposition parties.

Mr. Morgan:  I wish to begin on a positive note. The tribunal process has brought into the public domain the corruption, which was endemic in the planning process in this State for many years and has created a climate in which corruption is no longer acceptable. However, there are many problems with the tribunal process as currently constituted. It is costly, its progress is slow and few prosecutions have resulted from its work. The Government has allowed the legal profession to exploit the tribunal process as a cash cow for far too long. The fees being charged by members of that profession are simply obscene.

In the context of the proposed amendments to the terms of reference of the Mahon tribunal, it has been clear for some time that something needs to be done if the process is not to continue indefinitely. The planning tribunals are taking so long because there was so much corruption in the planning system. In every avenue it has pursued, the Flood-Mahon tribunal has discovered more corrupt payments which needed to be investigated.

If we consider the flaws in the tribunal process on an individual basis, the first question we must ask is why the revised fees relating to barristers will not be implemented immediately. What is preventing this from happening? I look forward to the Minister’s explanation in that regard. In light of the slowness of the process, why was the proposal to split the tribunal into three separate divisions not implemented when the new judges were appointed to sit with Mr. Justice Flood two years ago?

On examining the future of the Mahon and other tribunals, one must ask whether they are delivering justice. Many believe they are not doing so. Few prosecutions have resulted from the various tribunals held to date. Have the criminals whose activities were laid bare by the beef tribunal, for example, served time behind bars? The answer is that not one of them has done so. How much time has, been served behind bars by corrupt politicians and officials whose activities were exposed by tribunals? Is the Government concerned that the lack of prosecutions has undermined public confidence in the tribunal process?

In terms of the proposals put before the House by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, there are a number of matters in respect of which deep concern arises. We need to ensure that the chairman of the tribunal is not being given too wide a discretion in terms of deciding what to investigate and, perhaps more importantly, what not to investigate. If certain allegations are not to be investigated by the tribunals in public, we need assurances that they will be fully investigated by the Garda. It has been suggested in the media that it is unlikely the payment to Ray Burke, when serving as Minister for Communications, from Rennicks Manufacturing, in which media mogul Anthony O’Reilly has been implicated, will not now be investigated. The Minister must clarify the position in this [905]regard as a matter of urgency. Has the Minister considered giving a role in this process to a committee of the Dáil, particularly in respect of decisions regarding the matters that are not to be investigated? Will there be oversight regarding issues the chairman of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters chooses not to investigate?

I wish to make some brief comments about a facet of this issue which is rarely addressed, namely, the consequences of corruption and the victims of such corruption. I refer here to those people who continue to suffer because an official or Minister put his greed ahead of the welfare of the citizens of this State. Corrupt officials such as George Redmond accumulated huge personal fortunes on the back of the misery of ordinary citizens who continue to suffer today from the decisions taken in the past. If the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government is sincere in showing us that it has moved away from the corruption of the past, it must prioritise addressing the social consequences of that corruption, which are still evident today.

While the amendments are welcome, they do not go far enough. This is unfortunate because it represents a major opportunity lost in terms of reviving public confidence, particularly in the entire tribunal process. I note that almost everyone who contributed to the debate raised a significant number of questions. It is not just Deputies who require answers; members of the public also want them. I hope there is time for the Minister to provide such answers.

Acting Chairman:  It is now 1.30 p.m., the time at which we would normally suspend the sitting. However, if there is agreement to dispose of this item, we can perhaps accommodate the Minister by giving him five minutes in which to reply.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche):  I will do my best. I thank the Members for their contributions. It has been a good debate which has raised a series of issues. Unfortunately many of the issues, which were raised are outside the remit of this specific motion. I explained at the outset and during the course of the briefings that I was surprised how tightly tied our hands have been. Deputy McHugh made the point that it may be a salutary lesson for the House in that we did tie our hands and bind ourselves to previous legislation. The changes now being proposed are within that context.

Deputy O’Dowd’s amendment would mean that the tribunal would have to repeat all its interim reports in its final report and this is unnecessary in my view. The tribunal’s interim reports have been an effective method of producing reports on the modules as they were completed and I do not wish to tie its hands and make it unnecessarily complex.

On the matters raised by Deputy Gilmore, I received Deputy Rabbitte’s letter this morning. It came to my office while I was in the House. The Deputy wished to add two specific considerations for the tribunal to bear in mind in exercising its [906]discretion. In my view both are unnecessary because the tribunal has been given the right to exercise more discretion in this. Deputy O’Dowd’s other proposed amendment would ask the tribunal to make recommendations about legislation by 1 June 2005. I prefer not to tie the hands of the tribunal in that regard. In my view it should be allowed make its recommendations about legislation based on the overview of all the matters it has investigated.

Mr. O’Dowd:  On a point of order. Will the Minister recommend that it come back as quickly as possible on that specific issue?

Mr. Roche:  That would be my hope. However, I do not wish to tie it to a specific date. Deputy O’Dowd also made a very interesting contribution about all the changes in the local government system from the 1890s onwards. I would like to debate that topic with him, given that I made a career out of that subject for 21 years, teaching students in UCD. Deputy O’Dowd and others expressed concerns about the pressures put on councillors and it is a concern I share. An unfair level of pressures is put on councillors. We live in a very open democracy and it is very difficult to see how one could stop, for example, local residents’ groups coming to see a councillor. This is probably an issue for a different day.

Deputy O’Dowd and others, Deputy Connolly in particular, are worried that there will be no possibility to carry out further investigations from allegations when this process has finished. This is not the case. Deputy Gilmore did not make a similar suggestion but he indicated his concern to know that there would be an ongoing process. As the House is aware, the Government has put in place a number of mechanisms to investigate allegations of corruption. In particular, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, brought forward the legislation to allow commissions of inquiry to be established. They are far less cumbersome than this process and it has been a learning process.

Deputy O’Dowd also suggested that nothing had changed since the establishment of the tribunal. That is not true, in my view. Legislation will be introduced to tackle corruption in public service.

Mr. O’Dowd:  The Planning Acts have not been changed.

Mr. Roche:  The Planning Act 2000 introduced a new level of transparency in the planning system so I think the Deputy is being unnecessarily harsh with the entire system, which we as legislators have implemented. Deputy Gilmore is correct when he comments on the phenomenal costs and this point was also raised by Deputy Morgan in his final contribution. These phenomenal costs have caused some scandal rather than eyebrows to be raised among the general public. He is correct to state, as was Deputy Cuffe in his contribution, that these resources could have been used. Some €1,000 million was the figure mentioned by Deputy Gilmore. Those resources [907]could certainly be used to better effect, whether by investing in resources or in better planning. We are where we are now.

Under the tribunals Act, the only changes the Minister can make are those which have been requested by the tribunal and where the tribunal has given its consent. Deputies Gilmore and Morgan spoke of the gravy train and the issue of fees. Both asked a reasonable question as to why the new fees are not being introduced immediately. The tribunal has warned it is likely that its legal staff would leave and the work of the tribunal would cease which would not be in anyone’s interest. The general cynicism about the system would not be dealt with if we were to operate in that way.

Mr. Morgan:  The lawyers are blackmailing us.

Mr. Roche:  I am not saying that. I am simply saying it is a matter——

Mr. Morgan:  I am saying it.

Mr. Roche:  That is the Deputy’s view and he is entitled to it. The reality is that people are not tied to desks and in a free society they have a right to walk if they wish and that is the danger. On the issue of planners and in reference to Deputy Cuffe’s contribution, the Deputy is quite correct that there is a real difficulty getting people with the necessary skills and experience. At the end of 2003 there were 1,795 professional planners in the planning service, which is a phenomenal increase on the figures of previous years. There are still not enough. A lot has been done and undoubtedly there is more to do. At least we are moving in the right direction.

I do not like being inflexible, particularly when I am dealing with people who are being reason[908]able with me but my hands are tightly tied. Deputy Gilmore commented that I could perhaps accept amendments and retrospectively go back to the tribunal but my advice is that I cannot do so.

Mr. Gilmore:  What does the Minister mean? The letter from the Labour Party leader was sent to him on Monday, incidentally. He indicated he would consider these two amendments. What does he mean by that?

Mr. Roche:  I did not intend to mislead the Deputy or the House in any way. I sought to explain the situation with regard to amendments to the Deputy and to his party leader. Under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1998, only changes which either (a) the tribunal has requested or (b) to which the tribunal has given prior consent, following consent by the Attorney General, can be put here. Whether or not I wished to do so I cannot retrospectively do what the Deputy requests.

Mr. Gilmore:  Then unfortunately the House will have to divide.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move amendment No. 2:

In paragraph J, to insert the following subparagraph after subparagraph (6)(v):

“(vi) Whether or not, having regard to the seriousness of the claims made, the public interest in arriving at the truth of the matter outweighs in importance the public interest in avoiding the expenditure entailed by such an investigation.”.

Amendment put.

[907]The Dáil divided: Tá, 47; Níl, 64.

 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crowe, Seán.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Healy, Séamus.
 Higgins, Joe.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Paul.  McManus, Liz.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Séamus.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Wall, Jack.  


[909]Níl
 Ahern, Noel.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Brady, Johnny.  Brennan, Séamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Fitzpatrick, Dermot.  Fleming, Seán.
 Fox, Mildred.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Jacob, Joe.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Séamus.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGuinness, John.  McHugh, Paddy.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Donal.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M. J.  Ó Fearghail, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donnell, Liz.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Malley, Fiona.  O’Malley, Tim.
 Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Brendan.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Wallace, Mary.
 Walsh, Joe.  Wilkinson, Ollie.
 Woods, Michael.  Wright, G. V.

[909]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.

[909]Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move amendment No. 3:

In paragraph J, to insert the following subparagraph after subparagraph (6)(v):

“(vi) Whether any of the persons claimed to be involved in or connected to the matter are currently, or were recently, public representatives or public servants.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

[910]Mr. O’Dowd:  I move amendment No. 4:

In paragraph J, to insert the following subparagraph after subparagraph (7):

“(8) The tribunal shall, not later than 1 June 2005, make recommendations as to the effectiveness and improvement of existing legislation governing corruption in the light of its inquiries to date.”.

Amendment put.

[909]The Dáil divided: Tá, 49; Níl, 65.

 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crowe, Seán.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Padraic.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Finian.  McGrath, Paul.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Pattison, Seamus.  Perry, John.
 [911]Quinn, Ruairí.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  


[911]Níl
 Ahern, Noel.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Brady, Johnny.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Dempsey, Tony.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Fox, Mildred.
 Gallagher, Pat The Cope.  Glennon, Jim.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Jacob, Joe.
 Keaveney, Cecilia.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGuinness, John.
 McHugh, Paddy.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Donal.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Fearghail, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 O’Malley, Tim.  Parlon, Tom.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Sexton, Mae.
 Smith, Brendan.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Wallace, Mary.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G. V.  

[911]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.

[911]Amendment declared lost.

Question put and declared carried.

Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  55.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the position on the request from the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, to supply troops to the EU battle group concept; and if
he will make a statement on the matter. [29186/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I find the term “battle groups” misleading. At the Euro[912]pean Council in Helsinki in 1999, member states set a headline goal that by 2003, co-operating together and voluntarily, they would be able to deploy rapidly and then sustain forces capable of the full range of Petersberg Tasks as set out in the Amsterdam treaty. These tasks range from humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management operations, including peacemaking. This included inter alia a capability to provide rapid response elements, available and deployable at high readiness. The EU’s ambition to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises is a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy. Having learned from historical experiences in the Balkans and Africa, the EU wants to be able to react faster when crises develop. Last year this was illustrated by the EU’s first autonomous military operation conducted in Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The operation, undertaken at the request of the UN Secretary General and deployed in rapid circumstances, was successful in contributing to the stabilisation of the security environment and the improvement of humanitarian conditions in Bunia.

[913]During his visit to Dublin on 14 and 15 October, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, underlined the extent to which he believes regional organisations, such as the EU, can contribute to the UN’s requirements in crisis management. At the Forum on Europe on 14 October, Mr. Annan specifically welcomed the development of EU capabilities in the context of European Security and Defence Policy. He stressed how important strengthened EU capacities, in particular rapid deployment capabilities, are to the UN. The following day, at an event in McKee Barracks, Mr. Annan paid tribute to Ireland’s contributions over the years to the UN. He also highlighted Ireland’s key role during our EU Presidency term in promoting co-operation between the EU and the UN in crisis management, and in particular the possible use of EU rapid response elements to support UN peacekeeping operations.

Given our long tradition of participation on UN peacekeeping operations, Ireland can make a positive contribution to EU rapid response elements. At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Government agreed that I should advise my EU counterparts of Ireland’s preparedness to enter into consultations with partners with a view to participation in rapid response elements. A detailed analysis of the implications for an Irish contribution to a rapid response element is ongoing and will continue over the coming months. It will cover policy considerations such as potential costs, legislative aspects, questions relating to potential multilateral partners and deployability aspects. In addition, other aspects such as training and interoperability with potential partners will be analysed. Following completion of the necessary analysis, I will return to Cabinet with proposals regarding the level of such participation. Ireland’s participation in such rapid response elements will remain subject to the usual requirements of a Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation.

Mr. Timmins:  From the Minister’s reply, I take it that the Government has agreed in principle to participate in the so-called battle groups. I agree it is an unfortunate term but one that will stick. The Government will analyse the arrangements to see how many Army personnel, and in what form, can be contributed to this scheme. Under the UN standby arrangements system, UNSAS, Ireland has 850 Army personnel on standby for UN operations. Will this figure be extended for the EU battle group scheme? Will changes to legislation be necessary to facilitate our involvement in these battle groups? The Defence Forces have said that for Irish troops to train on foreign soil may require legislative change.

I am glad the Government has taken this decision as it is important that Ireland makes a contribution in this area. It should in no way be clouded by reference to the existing system of Dáil and Government approval for UN man[914]dates. However, we must return to that issue later. Battle groups will consist of 1,500 personnel. If Ireland cannot provide that number in personnel, will the contribution be made through speciality fields such as signalling, artillery or transport in conjunction with another country? Will Ireland enter into negotiations with another EU member state on this matter?

Mr. O’Dea:  I have a detailed note from the Department on the issue of legislative change which I will forward to Deputy Timmins. There are no plans to increase the number of personnel on standby from 850. We have not yet entered discussions with other EU member states as this concept was only formulated last June at the European Council. Some member states have been quick to signal their availability. However, Ireland still has a number of questions on the matter. My Department has raised questions with the EU civil service in Brussels and our EU counterparts, such as Finland and Sweden. Clear answers must be given to these questions. Other aspects will also be taken into consideration such as the need for legislative change, extra costs and with which country or countries should we link up. I will inform my fellow Defence Ministers of this in Brussels next Monday. If Ireland participates in this scheme, every request for troops to join a battle group will be decided by, the Government on a case-by-case basis and the triple lock will continue to apply.

  56.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    if he was requested by the UN Secretary General during his recent visit to provide troops for deployment in Iraq; if so his response to this request; the types of activities in which troops may be involved in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29185/04]

  59.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Defence    if a request has been received from the UN for Defence Forces personnel to serve in a peacekeeping capacity in Iraq; if consideration to the deployment of Defence Forces is being given; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29357/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 59 together.

No request has been received from the UN for the provision of Defence Forces personnel for the UN assistance mission in Iraq. The question of deploying Defence Forces personnel to Iraq will not be considered at this time.

During the UN Secretary General’s visit to Ireland last month, we discussed the security situation in Iraq and the difficulties this was creating for the UN assistance mission there. We both recognised the need for a much, expanded UN operation to support the rebuilding of Iraq. The UN Secretary General expressed the view that it would be difficult to mount an expansion of the UN mission in Iraq in the absence of greater [915]security and stability in the region. The barbarous events of recent days have extended the timeframe in which it will be possible to reach stability.

In the event of the situation stabilising and becoming more secure with an expanded UN peace support mission with an appropriate Security Council resolution, the Government would consider a request from the UN for troops. Such consideration would be treated like all requests for support and the response would be within available resources and capabilities. Any deployment would be subject to the triple lock mechanism involving UN authorisation, Government and Dáil approval.

Mr. Sherlock:  During his recent visit here the UN Secretary General asked the Minister to provide Irish troops for deployment in Iraq. Has the matter been discussed at Cabinet level and can the Minister assure the House that any decisions will require what he referred to as the triple lock? Does the triple lock refer to the Department and the Dáil or whatever? Will the Minister please explain what it means?

Mr. O’Dea:  Triple lock means that three elements must be satisfied before we commit troops on a foreign peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian mission. First, the Government must decide that it is appropriate to commit the troops; second, both Houses must authorise it after debate in the Dáil and the Seanad; third and very important, it must be a UN-established mission. It is not sufficient that it be a mission supported by the majority of UN countries or that it has widespread support within the United Nations. It must be established by the United Nations and for that to happen, the Security Council, which consists of five members, must decide unanimously that it will proceed. If any country vetoes it, the mission is no longer deemed to be established by the United Nations and the triple lock will come into play.

We have not discussed this at Cabinet because the situation remains hypothetical. I spoke generally to Kofi Annan and we agreed that the situation in Iraq is depressing and out of control. Kofi Annan said that the United Nations has a mission in Iraq to help the country claw its way back to some form of democracy. If the mission is successful, some form of democracy is established in Iraq and some form of stability or relative stability returns, the United Nations might decide that it would be desirable to send in a peacekeeping force. If that stage were reached, and the United Nations so decided, and the Government had to decide whether to contribute to that peacekeeping force, it would discuss the decision at Cabinet.

Mr. Sherlock:  If that request were made, how would the deployment of Irish troops in Iraq dif[916]fer from the role of Defence Forces in other UN peacekeeping missions? What is the Minister’s view of the latest US offensive in Falluja?

Mr. O’Dea:  It would not differ to any degree from present peacekeeping missions. The idea of peacekeeping is to keep the peace and to keep warring factions apart.

Mr. Sherlock:  If the request came to send troops into Iraq, what would the Minister do?

Mr. O’Dea:  If the United Nations made such a request, the Cabinet would decide on it. The Cabinet studies various factors to inform such decisions, for example, how many troops are requested, how many are available, whether a peacekeeping mission at that time would achieve the desired result and whether it is the most appropriate response. It would also consider the degree of risk to our own troops. That is important and would weigh heavily with the Cabinet.

Did the Deputy ask another question?

Mr. Sherlock:  What are the Minister’s views on the latest US offensive in Falluja?

Mr. O’Dea:  That does not arise under the terms of the question as asked.

Mr. Sherlock:  I thought the Minister would be more clear in his answer. If the request came and went to Cabinet, what would he do? Will the Minister please tell the Dáil what his views are on the deployment of troops to Iraq at this time?

Mr. O’Dea:  There is no question of deploying troops to Iraq at this time. I thought I made that clear. There is no question of deploying troops to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission at this time. Kofi Annan admitted that to me. He said it may take several years for the situation to stabilise sufficiently to justify the United Nations making a request to supply troops to Iraq. At that hypothetical time in the future, if the situation were sufficiently stabilised and the request were to be made, the Cabinet would decide on the basis of the criteria I have outlined.

My views on the war in Iraq are well known and well ventilated in the public domain. I did not agree with unilateral action in Iraq and that remains the position.

Mr. Connolly:  In that hypothetical situation, which may not be too far away, does the Minister agree that any peacekeeping in Iraq would be classified as high risk from an Irish point of view in contrast with the previous low-risk peacekeeping in Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia, Lebanon and Liberia? Does he agree that people from the West, especially those who speak English, which would include Irish people, are perceived as or equated with US and UK invasion forces? Ireland effectively facilitated the US by allowing troops [917]to land at Shannon Airport, so much so that the US Government named Ireland as part of the “coalition of the willing”.

Does the Minister agree that Iraqi resistance would regard Ireland and its UN peacekeeping troops as hostile and we would be committing them to enter what the fanatics have called “the gates of hell”? Does he share the concerns of the families of these peacekeepers? What are his concerns? He should voice his concerns at Cabinet and should enter into talks with Defence Forces personnel in the event that they are called upon. Under what circumstances would the Minister consider a commitment of Irish troops to a UN peacekeeping force in Iraq?

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy is talking about a hypothetical situation which might not ever occur.

Mr. Connolly:  It might not be that hypothetical.

Mr. O’Dea:  I do not share the Deputy’s view that it is just around the corner. Anybody who glances even cursorily at the stories about Iraq in the newspapers or elsewhere in the media knows that if ever the United Nations wanted to send troops, it would be a long way into the future. It would be madness for the United Nations to send in troops and expose them to risk in the present situation in Iraq. They would simply be lambs to the slaughter. The level of risk at a time in the future when such a request would come will have to be assessed.

I have already outlined to Deputy Sherlock and the House the yardsticks the Government uses in deciding whether to commit troops to the peacekeeping mission. Primary among those is the level of risk and danger to which we expose troops. I cannot answer Deputy Connolly’s question about whether it would be riskier in Iraq than in the other areas he listed to which we traditionally sent our troops because I do not know what the situation in Iraq will be at this hypothetical time in the future when such a hypothetical request might be made. It would depend on the situation there at the time.

Mr. Connolly:  Does the Minister regard the US forces there at the moment as peacekeeping forces?

Mr. O’Dea:  No. Let us be clear on this. Our position on peacekeeping is that we do not get involved in military alliances or mutual defence pacts. We get involved in peacekeeping when the United Nations establishes a peacekeeping mission and when the Government decides and the Oireachtas authorises. There is no question of the United Nations having authorised what is happening in Iraq at the moment. Obviously I do not regard the present American activities in Iraq as peacekeeping.

  57.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Defence    his views and the evidence he has reviewed on the question of whether to issue less lethal weapons to the Defence Forces. [28805/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  The issue of less lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces was previously raised by, the Deputy in a parliamentary question on 19 October 2004. As I informed the Deputy in my reply to that question, the introduction of less lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces in the course of aid to their civil power duties is the subject of ongoing consideration in my Department. The issue remains under consideration and no decision has yet been made.

As I previously explained to the Deputy, the consideration of the use of a limited less lethal capacity by the Defence Forces follows the proposal of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, noted by Government in November 2002, to authorise the introduction of a limited range of less lethal weapons for use by the Garda emergency response unit where this is necessary to avoid the use of firearms. The less lethal weapons for use by the emergency response unit are the bean bag shot, a pepper spray device and a ferret pepper spray shot. Any decision to introduce less lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces acting in aid to the civil power will be on the basis that the capabilities of the Defence Forces in this area will not exceed those of the Garda emergency response unit. Should a decision be taken to provide the Defence Forces with less lethal weapons, the lead will be taken from the Garda Síochána. We will provide the Defence Forces with the same weapons and they will deploy them only when acting in aid to the civil power in the same limited situations that the Garda intends to use them.

The Defence Forces have recently conducted evaluation tests on 40 mm bean bag ammunition. I await receipt of the evaluation report when a decision will be made on whether to proceed with the purchase of a small amount of such ammunition with which the Defence Forces can provide a graduated response acting in aid to the civil power while adhering to the principle of absolute minimum force at all times.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Minister should be aware that the use of less lethal weapons on this island by military forces acting as a so-called aid to the civil power is a very controversial and emotive issue. Their use has resulted in the deaths of 17 Irish people in the Six Counties, eight of whom were children. There have been many more serious injuries and deaths throughout the world due to these weapons. As we know, these weapons are open to abuse. Last month, an unarmed female sports fan was killed by police in Boston, using so-called less lethal pepper spray, a weapon that the Garda have been authorised to [919]use and which is being looked at by the Department of Defence. The PSNI have regularly used this same CS type spray in attacking nationalists in Derry in recent months.

In deciding to consider the introduction of these weapons for use by the Defence Forces against the Irish population, the Minister potentially has a major human rights issue on his hands. Has he consulted the human rights commission on this issue? Has he looked at the research compiled by the Pat Finucane Centre or the Committee on the Administration of Justice regarding the experience of people in the Six Counties at the receiving end of these weapons? Will he talk to those who have been injured and the relatives of those who have been killed? What human rights training and protocols for the use of these weapons is the Minister considering? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has so far refused to publish the guidelines for their use. I hope the Minister for Defence will take the bold step to publish the guidelines if he makes the decision to purchase these.

Mr. O’Dea:  I would have thought that this was a step in the direction of protecting human rights rather than the opposite. We are taking our lead from the emergency response unit of the Garda Síochána. Only lethal weapons such as guns and ammunition are currently available to the emergency response unit. We are trying to provide non-lethal weapons to replace those.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  They are lethal weapons.

Mr. O’Dea:  I will take my chances of being hit by one of those things rather than by live ammunition. Maybe the Deputy has more experience in these matters than I have. That is my information.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I doubt it. The Minister plays with guns every week.

Mr. O’Dea:  When the Defence Forces are acting in aid of the Garda in maintaining order, we need a graduated response. At one level, we can give them batons and at the other level we can give them guns and live ammunition. There is a huge gap between the two methods of maintaining order. We are trying to find something in the middle. We are in the process of evaluating some of this material at the moment. To what extent it has the capacity to kill or seriously injure people will be considered. In any case, the Defence Forces will not go down this road unless the Garda lead, because the Defence Forces will only use these weapons in aid of the civil power, which is the Garda Síochána.

If a range of new weaponry is introduced for people who are sent out to maintain order, they have to be trained properly in the use of those weapons. They will be properly trained. I am not aware of the dialogue on publishing guidelines [920]between the Deputy and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I will talk to my people in the Department of Defence on publishing the guidelines. Unless there is something of which I am not aware, I do not have any objection to publishing guidelines in these matters. People are being trained to use certain weapons that I hope are non-lethal, in aid of the civil power. How we train them is certainly a matter of public interest and I readily concede that.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Will the Minister publish the list of weapons the Defence Forces are investigating and the findings on whether they are acceptable or not? Other jurisdictions have done so.

Mr. O’Dea:  I will do that.

  58.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the amount of funding his Department receives from the banks for providing defence security for cash in transit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29187/04]

  614.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of cash transport escorts provided by the Defence Forces in the past 12 months; the costs involved and the degree to which the Exchequer was reimbursed by the financial institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29273/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 61 together.

To aid the civil power is among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces. This means to assist when requested, the Garda Síochána, which has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. In this regard, the Defence Forces assist the Garda as required in duties which include escorting cash deliveries to banks, post offices and other institutions. An annual contribution of €2.86 million is paid by the banks for army escorts. This figure was set by the Department of Finance in the 1995 budget and has not been altered since. The contribution from the banks was designed to partially cover the total costs to the State of providing cash escorts. At that time, the contribution covered approximately 72% of the total cost arising to the Defence Forces, which includes pay and allowances. Based on annual costing by my Department, the relative level of the contribution has fallen in real terms over the years to the situation where it now only covers 43% of the total costs. My Department is currently in communication with the Irish Bankers Federation with a view to increasing the contribution.

The total cost of the provision by the Defence Forces of assistance to the Garda Síochána in protecting movements of cash for the years 2000-03 including pay, allowances, transport and aerial [921]surveillance, was as follows. It was €5.7 million in 2000, €6.58 million in 2001, €6.87 million in 2002, €6.64 million in 2003. These costs related to the following numbers of requested escorts. There were 2,285 in 2,000, 2,488 in 2001, 2,516 in 2002 and 2,335 in 2003. For the first nine months of 2004, approximately 1,825 escorts took place. In any given month, approximately 1,592 army man-days are expended on these escorts.

Mr. Timmins:  Is there evidence showing a significant threat to the movements of cash and to the security of our prisons, proving that it is still necessary to have these operations of aid to the civil power? These were set up following the difficulties we had in Northern Ireland. Has the threat been re-assessed? Does the Minister believe we should look at the concept of withdrawing the military support for these operations?

I know it is not the populist line to take and that most people believe the banks should pay for everything, but part of the Department’s mission statement is to protect the security of the State. In a democratic society, there is an onus on the democratic authority to provide a secure environment so that economic activity can take place. This will go contrary to the populist view that the banks should pay because they are not the most popular at the moment. However, I have concerns that as we originally went down this road we will not know where to stop. What happens if the equivalent of a Don Tidey operation occurs again, where someone is kidnapped and the security forces have to carry out checks? Should the company then have to pay for that kind of operation? Could we be faced with a situation where if people can pay for it they can have it, but if they cannot then they will not?

  3 o’clock

Mr. O’Dea:  I see the point the Deputy is making. The security forces came into this back in 1978 following a significant robbery in Limerick. It was felt necessary to involve the security forces because of the fear of large sums of cash falling into the hands of paramilitary groups and terrorists. I agree with Deputy Timmins that the threat has receded somewhat. There are mixed views on whether the protection scheme is still necessary. Some people argue that dangers still exist and difficulties will recur if the banks have to rely on their own resources.

I understand Deputy Timmins’s argument that the banks should be expected to contribute. They never agreed in principle that they should contribute, but the 1995 budget more or less forced them to make a contribution, which has never been increased. I appreciate that the State has a vested interest in this regard, as it does not want large cash sums to fall into the hands of undesirables, particularly paramilitaries. If the State did not provide this protection the banks would have to pay for it, which could be extremely costly. The banks are direct beneficiaries. Their initial contribution was 72% of the total cost to the State, but [922]it has fallen to 43% because the relevant sum has not increased since 1995.

The Deputy is aware that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform also provides protection. The annual contribution given to the Department was set at approximately €950,000 in 1995, but that figure was recently increased to €3 million, or over 90% of the total cost, when an agreement was reached by the banks and the Department. It was felt, not unreasonably, that the banks should be asked to increase their contributions because they benefit substantially from the protection scheme. They receive 80% of the benefit and the post offices receive 20% of it. I will have preliminary discussions with the banks on the issue this evening. I hope the matter can be finalised in the next week.

  60.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Defence    if the Armed Forces will be participating in the EU’s new battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28810/04]

  97.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on the Defence Forces September 2004 submission in favour of participation in the EU’s new battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28811/04]

  105.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Defence    if Ireland will participate in EU-led groups that can intervene in a rapid manner to prevent the loss of life; the circumstances under which such participation might take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28764/04]

  109.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Defence    the position with regard to Irish participation in proposed EU battle groups under a United Nations mandate; if Irish participation in the battle groups will be subject to the triple lock procedure; if he has plans to bring a proposal to the Cabinet on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28821/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 60, 97, 105 and 109 together.

At a European Council meeting in Helsinki in 1999, member states set as a headline goal that, co-operating voluntarily, they would be able to deploy rapidly and sustain forces capable of the full range of Petersberg Tasks, as set out in the Amsterdam treaty, by 2003. Such tasks include being able to provide rapid response elements, which are available and deployable at very high readiness. The EU’s ambition of being able to respond rapidly to emerging crises has been and continues to be a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence [923]Policy. The value of this effort was illustrated last year when the EU engaged in its first autonomous military operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The operation, which was undertaken rapidly at the request of the UN Secretary General, successfully contributed to the stabilisation of the security environment and the improvement of humanitarian conditions in that region.

As Deputies are aware, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, recently visited Dublin. He outlined clearly his belief that regional organisations such as the EU can contribute to the UN’s crisis management requirements. At a meeting of the Forum on Europe on 14 October last, Mr. Annan specifically welcomed the development of EU capabilities in the context of European Security and Defence Policy. He stressed the importance of strengthened EU capacities, particularly rapid deployment capabilities, to the UN. He paid tribute to Ireland’s contribution to the UN over the years at a meeting in McKee Barracks on 15 October. He highlighted the key role played by Ireland during its Presidency of the European Union in promoting co-operation between the EU and the UN in respect of crisis management. He referred in particular to the possible use of EU rapid response elements to support UN peacekeeping operations.

Given its long tradition of participation in UN peacekeeping operations, Ireland can make a positive contribution to EU rapid response elements. At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Government agreed that I should advise my EU counterparts in Brussels next Monday of Ireland’s preparedness to enter into consultations with its partners with a view to participating in such elements. The ongoing detailed analysis of the implications of an Irish contribution to a rapid response element will continue over the coming months. The analysis will cover various policy considerations. I intend to submit proposals on the level of such participation to the Government after the necessary analysis has been completed. I emphasise that any Irish participation in rapid response elements will remain subject to the usual requirements — a Government decision, the approval of the Dáil and UN authorisation.

Mr. Gormley:  It seems clear from the Minister’s response that the Government is committed to EU battle groups. He should come out and say it clearly. Does the Minister agree the Government has done more than any other previous Administration to undo and dismantle Irish neutrality? We see examples of that in Shannon Airport almost every day. The apparent decision to participate in battle groups is another step in that direction, as is the new EU constitution. What is Ireland’s role in the new European arms agency? Will the battle groups be part of the structured co-operation which forms part of the new European constitution? That important question also [924]needs to be answered. Does the Minister accept that a common defence, as defined in the new EU constitution, is on the way? It is no longer merely possible that we will be involved in a common defence, as the EU constitution states explicitly that we will be part of a common defence. Do these developments not demonstrate that the Government’s commitment to neutrality is about as plausible as its commitment to socialism?

Mr. O’Dea:  I do not really know what Deputy Gormley is committed to, on any front.

Mr. Gormley:  I am committed to Irish neutrality.

Mr. O’Dea:  He is obviously committed to not listening.

Mr. Gormley:  I listened to the Minister.

Mr. O’Dea:  If he listened carefully to my reply, he would have heard me make clear that I will talk to my European counterparts about the matter on Monday. When I have received answers to the various questions I want to ask——

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister is very predictable.

Mr. O’Dea:  There is no group as autocratic in this country as liberals. They do not want to hear anybody else’s point of view.

Mr. Gormley:  I am listening.

Mr. O’Dea:  I ask the Deputy to keep listening. I will ask the various questions compiled by the Department, the responses to which we are still evaluating. When I have received the answers to the questions, I will discuss the matter at Cabinet level. I will not make the decision on Ireland’s participation in the battle groups. I have views on the matter, but the decision will be taken by the Cabinet.

I reject Deputy Gormley’s spurious contention that the Government is undermining neutrality. The Government’s definition of neutrality, which has been upheld by the courts, involves non-participation in military alliances. That has been the policy of this country for the last 50 years and it continues to be its policy. Ireland is not involved in any military alliance and it will not be involved in such an alliance. It is not involved in any mutual defence pact and it will not be involved in such a pact. Ireland has not taken any action in respect of Iraq or anywhere else that was not taken by successive Irish Governments over the last 50 years. It is clear that is the reality.

I remind Deputy Gormley that those with certain beliefs are entitled to have them. I allow them to voice their opinions and I wish they would let me voice my opinion, rather than trying to shout me down. As far as I am concerned, such people are entitled to their opinions. I do not [925]send people around in the middle of the night to damage such people’s property. My property was damaged on a number of occasions by people who, according to the Garda in Limerick, are associated with Deputy Gormley’s party.

Mr. Gormley:  Come on.

Mr. O’Dea:  My property has been damaged simply because I happen to hold a different opinion.

Mr. Gormley:  That is outrageous.

Mr. O’Dea:  We live in a democracy. God help us if the Green Party, with its present autocratic attitude, is ever in charge.

Mr. Gormley:  It is outrageous.

Mr. O’Dea:  Deputy Gormley has asked for various——

Mr. Gormley:  It is outrageous.

Mr. O’Dea:  It is a matter of fact. If Deputy Gormley does not believe me, I will send him the evidence of the Garda in Limerick.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Charge them.

Mr. Gormley:  Do something.

Mr. O’Dea:  I will. Deputy Gormley and some of his colleagues in the mid-west who shout the loudest have been asking for a debate on neutrality. I have no difficulty with having such a debate at any time, in any place. I suggest the putative coalition partners in the next Government should have a debate among themselves first, so they can come to me with a common voice.

Mr. Timmins:  Fine Gael definitely has a very clear view on this. Following the difficulties the UN encountered in the Balkans during the mid 1990s and the analysis carried out for the Brahimi report published in 2000, the UN realised that its traditional concept regarding preparing personnel and getting them out into the field of operation for peacekeeping no longer worked. Essentially it is trying to subcontract peacekeeping missions to various groupings or regional forces such as the African Union or the EU. It would be more beneficial to our Defence Forces and peacekeeping across the globe if the UN had forces on which it could call at short notice who had trained together and were properly equipped.

Mr. O’Dea:  I agree with Deputy Timmins on the reason for greater regional emphasis, for example, the EU coming on board regarding Bosnia and the African support group coming on board from local countries regarding the situation in Sudan. In the changed conditions of the mod[926]ern world, the UN must rely on having forces organised regionally. Kofi Annan explained during his recent visit to Ireland how that came about.

However, he also explained that the United Nations have no ambition to be in charge of a standing army. He wants the traditional situation to continue, but certain things have to change. For example, the earliest way that the United Nations had to put people in the field was to request various countries to deploy troops. That operation, from the time that the request went out until the troops could be deployed, took about four months. We know that, given the conditions of modern warfare with all the new types of weaponry available, such as gas and chemical weapons, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people are dead by the time those troops go into the field.

That is why the need for a more rapid response has arisen and peacekeeping has become regionalised in certain situations. We have no difficulty getting involved in any peacekeeping or even peacemaking mission, let alone humanitarian crisis management, regardless of whether it is organised at an EU or UN level, provided that it is a mission established and approved unanimously by the Security Council of the United Nations. That continues to be and will remain our position.

Mr. Sherlock:  On Question No. 60, I have another brief linked supplementary question.

On 24 October it was stated — and not refuted by the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea — that Kofi Annan had made a request to him. The Minister confirmed yesterday that when he met Mr. Annan during his recent visit to Ireland the Secretary General had asked him to consider Irish troops being sent to Iraq under a UN mandate. Was such a request, made by Mr. Annan, and what was the Minister for Defence’s reply?

Mr. O’Dea:  As I have already informed the House, Kofi Annan and I discussed the situation generally. He told me that at some time in the future the situation might stabilise to the extent that the UN might decide to send in a peacekeeping force. In that event, it might request our participation. That is what I told the House and the media when the story was published. How the media wish to interpret what I tell them is a matter for them. However, I am stating the factual position.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  According to the latest edition of The Sunday Business Post, the Minister received a briefing document from his officials on key developments in Europe regarding European security and defence policy, including the European Defence Agency, the Helsinki headline goal and the new battle groups. The briefing document states that each development poses a set of [927]policy, financial and operational challenges for Ireland.

Yet in answer to a question from me to both the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Smith, on 11 May and himself on 12 October 2004 regarding the financial implications, both Ministers for Defence stated that there would be no resulting increase in defence spending. However, both also confirmed that the Department had not undertaken a comparative cost analysis before making such commitments. How can the Ministers give an answer in the House that contradicts the internal briefing document from their own advisers?

Mr. O’Dea:  I am aware of the briefing document to which the Deputy refers. I have discussed it with senior officials in my Department. I asked them squarely how the extra costs arose and to check out whether they will definitely be involved. That is a matter for them to consider in the context of our considerations as to whether to participate in what are wrongly termed “battle groups”.

I forgot to reply to the Deputy’s earlier question about the European Defence Agency. The purpose is to establish a single market for the purchase of armaments. Obviously, if people are going on peacekeeping missions, they will need certain armaments to protect themselves. Currently all the countries participating in peacekeeping compete to purchase arms from dealers. The primary purpose of the European Defence Agency is to establish a single purchaser that in theory and, one hopes, in reality, will make those armaments cheaper for the member states.

Mr. Gormley:  I like to refer to it as the “European Arms Agency”. I was on the defence working group that discussed it. It states explicitly in the new draft constitution that each member state will progressively improve its military capabilities. Is the Minister for Defence suggesting to the House that it could cost less money? It will cost more, and he should be up-front with the House, telling us how much more it will cost and where he will get the money.

The Minister did not answer my other question on structured co-operation. Instead he engaged in cheap smear and innuendo. I suggest that if he has any evidence of criminal activity on the part of members of my party, he go to the Garda Síochána and have those people charged instead of attending the House to take cheap shots.

Mr. O’Dea:  I have done that. I have told the Garda Síochána.

Mr. Gormley:  Now the Minister is interrupting me. Perhaps I might ask him about structured co-operation. “Battle groups” are the proper words. Are they not the first step in structured co-oper[928]ation, and is that not the first step towards a common defence?

Mr. O’Dea:  “No” is the answer to both questions.

Mr. Gormley:  How can the Minister say “No” when it is quite explicit in the document?

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy will not accept someone else’s opinion.

Mr. Gormley:  Please do not talk absolute nonsense. I cannot stand it.

Mr. O’Dea:  “No” is the answer.

Mr. Gormley:  It is not the correct or truthful answer. It is about time we had some truth in this regard.

Mr. O’Dea:  Whether the Deputy approves of it is a matter of supreme indifference to me.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister sold out on Irish neutrality.

Mr. O’Dea:  Whether the Deputy accepts that is a supreme irrelevance to me. “No” is the answer to both questions.

Mr. Gormley:  We will see whether the Irish people accept it, because the Minister is not telling the truth.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Let us move on to Question No. 61.

Mr. O’Dea:  Do not encourage people to damage others’ property.

Mr. Gormley:  Will the Minister withdraw that outrageous remark? A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, he said that I was encouraging people to damage people’s property.

Mr. O’Dea:  I did not say that the Deputy did so, but his party.

Mr. Gormley:  Yes, he said it. It is on the record. He said, “Do not encourage people to damage others’ property.” That is what he said. The Minister should withdraw that remark.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. O’Dea:  People associated, according to the gardaí——

Mr. Gormley:  Withdraw that remark.

Mr. O’Dea:  According to gardaí in Limerick, people associated with the Deputy’s party have damaged my property twice.

[929]Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, I ask the Minister to withdraw that remark.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the remark was made in a personal way, it should be withdrawn.

Mr. O’Dea:  I did not personalise it. I said “people associated with the Deputy’s party”.

Mr. Gormley:  Yes, he did.

Mr. O’Dea:  I said “people associated with the Deputy’s party”. How is that personal?

Mr. Gormley:  No, he said, “Do not encourage people to damage others’ property.” He addressed the remark to me.

Mr. O’Dea:  If the Deputy did not encourage them, I withdraw the remark. Does he condemn it?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. I call Question No. 61.

Mr. Gormley:  I would never encourage anyone to do that. Withdraw the remark.

Mr. O’Dea:  Does the Deputy condemn it?

Mr. Gormley:  Withdraw the remark.

Mr. O’Dea:  Does the Deputy condemn it?

Mr. Gormley:  Withdraw the remark.

Mr. O’Dea:  I will do so when the Deputy condemns it.

Mr. Gormley:  Does the Minister withdraw the remark?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Question No. 61. Order, please. If the remark was meant in a personal way, it should be withdrawn.

Mr. O’Dea:  Does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle intend to ask the Deputy to condemn such damage to property?

Mr. Sherlock:  That is not the question.

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy did not condemn damage to property.

Mr. Timmins:  Can we go on with Question No. 61 now?

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy did not condemn damage to property. Who damaged the aeroplanes at Shannon Airport? Did the Deputy condemn that?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Question No. 61.

[930]Mr. Gormley:  I insist that the remark should be withdrawn. The Minister cannot accuse me of encouraging criminal activity.

Mr. O’Dea:  Did the Deputy condemn the criminal activity of his party member at Shannon Airport?

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister cannot accuse another Deputy of encouraging criminal activity. He should withdraw that remark.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. I call Question No. 61.

Mr. O’Dea:  Did the Deputy condemn the criminal activity at Shannon Airport for which people have been convicted?

Mr. Gormley:  That has nothing to do with this. The Minister should withdraw the remark. I have never encouraged criminal activity of any description.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. O’Dea:  One condones it if one does not condemn it.

Mr. Gormley:  I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, there are rules in the House for which there should be respect. The Minister has damaged the House by the remark he made and he has damaged me. He said I encouraged criminal activity but I have never encouraged such activity.

Mr. O’Dea:  One condones it when one does not condemn it.

Mr. Gormley:  I ask the Minister to withdraw the remark.

Mr. O’Dea:  I did not make the remark. I cannot withdraw what I have not said.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister must withdraw the remark because he has damaged me in the House.

Mr. O’Dea:  I cannot withdraw what I have not said.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister would not say it outside the House.

Mr. O’Dea:  I will say it outside the House.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister would never say outside the House that I encouraged criminal activity.

Mr. O’Dea:  I have no hesitation repeating what I have said outside the House.

[931]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. Deputy Gormley should resume his seat.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, there are certain standards in the House. The Minister has crossed the threshold and he has gone way beyond the Pale on this. He must withdraw the remark, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have asked the Minister, if the remark was personal, to withdraw it.

Mr. Gormley:  It was made towards me. He said I encouraged criminal activity.

Mr. O’Dea:  I withdraw any suggestion that the Deputy is encouraging criminal activity.

  61.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has plans to introduce a system whereby Army reservists would be used in overseas missions; his views on whether reservists may not have the same standard of training as full-time Army staff serving abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28825/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  On 26 July 2004 my predecessor, Deputy Michael Smith, launched the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan which is the start of a process that will radically change the structure and configuration of the reserve while preserving its traditional strengths. These include the spirit of voluntary commitment, the maintaining of strong links with local communities and a nationwide spread.

The permanent Defence Force is organised in a three-brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The Reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged the implementation of this plan will take place over the next six years. The plan defines the organisational framework of the new Army Reserve and provides for a greater concentration of units within each Army brigade area. There will be mergers both at battalion and company level as well as between sister technical support units. This will be the key to providing enhanced training facilities and opportunities for each member of the reserve.

The military authorities have taken due cognisance of the existing FCA presence within communities in producing detailed proposals for restructuring of reserve units within each brigade area. Consultation and communication have been a priority throughout the development of the plan. They will continue to be important if the proposed changes are to be carried through smoothly and effectively. Reserve units will be kept informed of developments on a regular basis.

Members of the FCA are experiencing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of [932]better clothing and improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops additional benefits will accrue through a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure and opportunities for suitably qualified personnel, who have received additional training, to serve overseas. There will also be benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.

As indicated in the White Paper on Defence, an important change recommended by the study of the reserve is that members of the FCA and Naval Service reserve should be considered for participation in overseas peace support missions subject to suitable qualifications, personal availability and appropriate advance training. Service by reservists on overseas peace support missions in other countries is common.

General criteria governing selection for overseas service come within the scope of representation and matters relating to overseas service by members of the reserve that come within the scope of representation will be raised with the representative associations at the appropriate forum. The question of the security of civilian employment for the members of the reserve who may wish to serve overseas will be considered as part of the ongoing implementation process.

Mr. Sherlock:  Will reservists be called up to participate in missions, for example, in Iraq? Will they have sufficient training and experience to participate in such missions? Is the use of and reliance on reservists further evidence of the Government’s cutbacks on Defence Forces strength to save money?

Mr. O’Dea:  I was not aware the Labour Party favoured a larger Army but one lives and learns. Most countries who participate in peacekeeping give their reservists the opportunity to participate in overseas missions. The Reserve Defence Force implementation plan concerns the reorganisation of the reserve and this issue has been mooted at the request of the representative associations. No decision has been taken but the associations have mentioned they would be interested in such participation. A decision on whether to permit reservists to participate in peacekeeping will be discussed in more detail with the representative associations. No country, including Ireland, would send reservists abroad unless they were properly trained and equipped and the authorities were satisfied they would be as safe as the permanent defence forces. Appropriate measures would have to be introduced and a system put in to place to ensure security of employment while reservists were abroad.

Mr. Timmins:  The Minister referred to my concern about the security of employment at home for members of the reserve force who may serve abroad. I encourage him to introduce the necessary legislation for those employed by the State [933]to protect their pensions. Several European countries supply reservists to UN peacekeeping missions and they are adequate and successful.

Mr. O’Dea:  This issue is of critical importance. The reserve is a volunteer force and, even though the force is being reorganised and we propose to give the force a clearer role and more training, etc., it would be unreal to offer reservists the prospect of overseas missions at the cost of jeopardising their jobs and pension rights.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Are missions envisaged within the State in aid of the civil power rather than sending reservists overseas on missions? Has there been a request to take part in such missions similar to the use of escorts?

Mr. O’Dea:  No such request has been made. The Permanent Defence Force has a three-brigade structure and it is proposed that the Reserve Defence Force will comprise 12,000 members, of whom approximately 2,600 will be integrated with the Permanent Defence Force as a back up in contingency scenarios. The remainder will be organised similar to the three-brigade structure of the Permanent Defence Force. The 2,600 members could be used as an aid to the civil power but no decision has been taken in that regard.

  62.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of claims for damages for deafness determined in court or settled out of court at the latest date for which figures are available; the amount paid out to date in damages or legal costs; the number of claims outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28835/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  On 31 October 2004 a total of 16,726 claims had been received in my Department from current and former members of the Defence Forces in respect of loss of hearing allegedly caused during their military service of which 332 claims have been determined in court and 15,070 have been disposed of out of court, mainly through settlement, leaving a total of 1,324 claims outstanding at that date. A sum of €277.3 million has been paid in respect of hearing loss claims, including €93.3 million in legal costs for plaintiffs.

Mr. Sherlock:  When will the Department deal with the outstanding claims? What procedures are in place to expedite them? What is the estimated final cost of claims?

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy will appreciate from the figures I have outlined that few claims are outstanding. New claims were coming in at a rate of 11 per week in 2002. The rate reduced to four per week last year and it is running at one per week currently. We are satisfied the claims will be wrapped up reasonably soon.

[934]The early settlement system under which most people settled expired in July 2002. Our best estimate of the total cost, taking into account payouts and plaintiff costs, comes to under €300 million. That current projection is a considerable improvement on some of the figures predicted in the early stages of the process, which were doomsday figures.

  63.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    the details of the investigation he has initiated into practices at a barracks (details supplied); the reason such an investigation has been initiated; when the investigation is likely to conclude; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28833/04]

  64.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on an ongoing investigation taking place at a barracks (details supplied) in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28771/04]

  114.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on the investigation he has initiated into practices at a barracks (details supplied) in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28807/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 63, 64 and 114 together.

The Chief of Staff approached me two weeks ago and outlined that he proposed to have an investigation carried out into the operation of the Army equitation school in McKee Barracks, Dublin. As Deputies will appreciate, when a situation such as has recently transpired in Irish showjumping hits the news, and with the series of events which has subsequently occurred, rumour and innuendo abound. The Chief of Staff advised me that some unattributed rumours were circulating which suggested that certain unacceptable practices were taking place in the equitation school. While he advised that there were no grounds for believing that anything untoward was happening in the school, as a proactive measure he felt it prudent to move quickly to safeguard the school’s good name and reputation.

The investigation is being carried out by the Military Police in conjunction with two independent veterinary surgeons from the UCD veterinary college. The investigation is being carried out both at the equitation school in McKee Barracks, where almost 40 horses are stabled, and at the equitation detachment at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare, where up to 12 non-competition horses are kept. The investigation includes an examination of animal husbandry and interviews with all relevant personnel, including grooms and riding officers. It has been welcomed by the commanding officer of the equitation school, who has stated that the school has nothing to hide.

I understand that the investigation has just been completed and that a report is being for[935]warded to the Chief of Staff. I hope to have that report shortly. Pending receipt of that report, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the matter at this time.

Mr. Sherlock:  The Minister has provided general details, but will he provide the exact details? I read a report, which stated that the Minister sanctioned the investigation. If he did, what progress has been made on it? The investigation appears to relate to animal welfare. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? Given the recent focus on the use of drugs in showjumping, will the Minister state whether drugs are an issue in the investigation?

Mr. O’Dea:  The Chief of Staff approached me to inform me he wanted to launch the investigation because of unattributed rumours that were circulating. I told him to proceed and, therefore, I sanctioned the investigation. I understand that some of the rumours related to the allegation that illegal substances were being used to improve the performance of the horses. Therefore, the answer to the last part of the Deputy’s question is “Yes”. The rumours related to the illegal use of drugs.

We have launched a thorough investigation. The report will come to the Chief of Staff, who will then give it to me. I will publish the report when it is to hand, which I expect to be within days.

Mr. Timmins:  I welcome the decision to carry out the investigation. I am confident that nothing untoward will be found because the equitation school has established a fine reputation over many years. Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that because of the society in which we exist, we must almost do as President Bush did a number of years ago — carry out an investigation into himself to show he was clean? Is this a country that is becoming awash with rumours, whether over this or any other incident?

Mr. O’Dea:  I agree this country is well known for rumours of various sorts, some parts of the country being worse than others. In the wake of the O’Connor controversy and the question as to whether the gold medal was won legitimately, certain rumours began circulating about the Army equitation school. Some of the rumours were specific in detail, but I hope they will prove to be unfounded. Nevertheless, they circulated widely enough and in sufficient detail to encourage the Chief of Staff to take pre-emptive action to protect the reputation of the Army equitation school. I hope the action he has taken will do that.

Mr. Gormley:  Do some of the rumours relate to the practice of rapping, which is a practice used to make the horses jump higher? It was also alleged against Cian O’Connor. Does the Mini[936]ster agree that this is an unacceptable horrific practice that should be condemned and that anybody found guilty of it should be punished?

Mr. O’Dea:  Some of the rumours related to that practice. I agree it is unacceptable and represents the worst form of cruelty to animals. If any evidence of rapping is found, the guilty will be punished. I hope the investigation will vindicate the reputation of the Army equitation school, as it has been a thorough investigation. However, I do not yet know the result of the investigation. I do not know whether the report has reached the Chief of Staff’s desk yet. When it comes to me, there will be no delay in publishing it.

Mr. Sherlock:  Given that the Minister was aware these questions would arise today, how is it that he does not have up-to-date information on the investigation and when it is likely to be concluded?

Mr. O’Dea:  The investigation is concluded and I said that in my reply. The report is on the way to the Chief of Staff and I imagine he will have it today or tomorrow. He will transmit it to me and I will publish it immediately.

  65.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on the Defence Forces participation in the Partnership for Peace to date in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28814/04]

  67.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of joint training exercises in which the Defence Forces have participated in each of the past ten years; the nature of the exercises in each case; and the other forces participating in each case. [28806/04]

Mr. O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 67 together.

Ireland’s participation in Partnership for Peace to date is set out in our four individual partnership programmes, copies of which have been lodged in the Oireachtas Library. Ireland’s fourth IPP, covering the period 2004 to 2005, was completed in consultation with the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Justice Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. A total of 108 activities were chosen representing participation by the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Activities consist of training courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, staff exercises and table top exercises.

Defence Forces personnel have participated in a number of staff, technical and crisis management exercises in the context of both the EU and [937]PfP as set out in the following schedule. In accordance with stated policy, the Defence Forces do not participate in multinational military field exercises.

Ireland also participates in the PfP planning and review process, known as PARP. In common with the other EU neutral states, Ireland is using the PARP in connection with planning for humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and [938]crisis management, collectively known as the Petersberg Tasks. The scope of our involvement in PARP is focused on enhancing inter-operability and familiarity with operating procedures in a multinational environment.

Participation in Partnership for Peace activities is voluntary and is based on the principle of self-differentiation, that is, a state selects for itself the nature and scope of its participation.

Exercise Title Exercise Type Participating Nations Host Nation
Viking (held in 2001 and 2003) Computer-based crisis response exercise PfP nations Sweden
Combined Endeavour (held from 2001 annually to date) Radio communications exercise (required to test DF communications equipment for inter-operability purposes in PSO) PfP nations Germany
Co-operative Lantern 2002 Peace support command post exercise for crisis response PfP nations Netherlands
Co-operative Nugget 2002 This exercised PfP nations on their planning and process and staff procedures. PfP nations Sweden
Co-operative Safeguard 2002 Maritime command post exercise based on response to a natural disaster PfP nations Iceland
Allied Action (2003 and 2004) Exercise to deploy a peace support operation joint task force HQ. PfP nations Turkey
CMX (2001) Crisis management exercise PfP nations In capitals
CME (2004) Crisis management exercise EU member states
CME/CMX (2003) Crisis management exercise EU & NATO In capitals
CME (2002) Crisis management exercise EU member states In capitals

[937]Mr. Gormley:  Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that Fianna Fáil did not honour its commitment to hold a referendum on the Partnership for Peace and our participation in it? Would he also agree that the Partnership for Peace is an important element of NATO strategy and is a stepping stone towards full participation in NATO?

Who are our permanent members and who participates in the Partnership for Peace on our behalf? Where are those members stationed? Are they based in Brussels? I visited NATO in Brussels some years ago and it was clear a number of Irish people were stationed there. Will the Minister elaborate on that?

Mr. O’Dea:  Regarding NATO, we are talking about a partnership for peace not a partnership for war or for aggression.

Mr. Gormley:  That is Orwellian use of language.

Mr. O’Dea:  Membership of the Partnership for Peace does not imply membership of NATO. There is no institutional link between the Partnership for Peace and NATO. That is a fact.

Mr. Gormley:  There is.

Mr. O’Dea:  There is not.

[938]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. We must conclude.

Mr. O’Dea:  I emphasise that there is no institutional link between the PfP and NATO. All European countries involved in the Partnership for Peace and in peacekeeping co-operate with NATO. It is the practical thing to do because they need access to NATO’s transport infrastructure, aerial capacity infrastructure etc. That is the basis on which all neutral European countries deal with NATO, and not only EU countries but also Switzerland, whose neutrality was never in doubt.

Mr. Gormley:  Of course it is.

Mr. O’Dea:  All EU member states are already co-operating with NATO in the context of participation in the stabilisation force in Bosnia, the Kosovo force and the PfP. The United Nations also has well established co-operation with NATO. The question of mutual defence commitments does not arise and there is no question of membership of the PfP being the slippery slope to membership of NATO. It is not. This is an old chestnut. All the unfounded rumours, fears and doubts that were expressed about this in the past have been found to be beside the point.

Mr. Gormley:  What about the referendum?

Mr. O’Dea:  It is true that in its programme for Government, the previous Government commit[939]ted itself to holding a referendum on this. It did not do so, although it met 99.9999% of its commitments in the programme for Government. We did not get around to doing one or two little things. However, the people adjudicated on that at the last election and we were returned.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Minister said there is no link with NATO forces but is it true that the majority of countries participating in the Partnership for Peace are members of NATO? Although participation is voluntary, are all joint training exercises held under the auspices of the Partnership for Peace akin to membership of a military alliance?

Mr. O’Dea:  It is not akin to any military alliance. It is a training ground for troops from countries who will be involved in peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks, crisis management etc. Sometimes it is necessary to go through certain exercises in training to see how something will work out in practice. Theory is fine but there is a practical element as well. It is not true to say that it implies membership of NATO or that this is the slippery slope to NATO.

I will send Deputy Ó Snodaigh a full list of the activities in which we will be engaged. I do not have any difficulty in making that available. The issue of whether most of those countries are members of NATO is beside the point. As I said, there is no institutional link between the EU and NATO and that is the reality.

In so far as Irish people being located in Brussels are concerned, I do not have any information on that but I will get it and communicate it to the Deputy.

Mr. Timmins:  It is a bit confusing for the Minister to be attacked by one side for giving away neutrality when Fine Gael recognises that Irish neutrality is a myth in many respects. As members of the EU, we believe it is worth defending. I urge the Minister to keep an open mind on the common European defence policy. Should we not be one of the architects of that policy rather than be on the outside?

Mr. Gormley:  It is incredible for the Minister to claim there is no institutional link between NATO and PfP.

Mr. O’Dea:  I meant between the EU and NATO.

Mr. Gormley:  I am glad the Minister qualified that but, in fact, he is not quite correct on that score either.

Mr. O’Dea:  I am.

Mr. Gormley:  It will make it very clear if he looks at the statement issued by the European Council dated 17 June 2004. It clearly states that [940]the operational doctrines of the EU’s military forces will be “in coherence with NATO”. How does the Minister square that with his last statement? If he looks at the various treaties to which we have signed up, including the new treaty, we have to have interoperability with NATO. Does the Minister not accept that?

Mr. O’Dea:  I square it by my understanding of the English language from the Oxford English Dictionary. That statement does not imply an institutional link between the EU and NATO. That is the reality of it.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister should read the treaties.

Mr. O’Dea:  The Deputy can interpret it whatever way he likes. I will interpret it my way. We still live in a democracy.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Pat Breen — the need for the Minister to provide extra funding from the local government fund in 2005 to Clare County Council; (2) Deputy Durkan — the need for the Minister to clear up the confusion arising from conflicting evidence regarding the financial position in An Post; (3) Deputy O’Dowd — the need for the Minister to respond to the fact that BSE risk material may have unsuspectingly entered the national food chain through the pipes of a Drogheda company (details supplied); (4) Deputy Ring — the need for the Minister to indicate when arrears of blind welfare allowances due to people for a number of years will actually be paid; (5) Deputy Upton — the need for the Minister to outline what criteria are used to assess the professional qualification and competence of members of An Bord Pleanála; (6) Deputy Neville — the need for the Minister to clarify the implementation of the Western Health Board’s Cois Abhainn project in west Limerick in the context of the primary care strategy; (7) Deputy Crowe — the need for the Minister to clarify the background and circumstances under which three senior managers in Aer Lingus resigned from the company and when a replacement executive will be appointed; (8) Deputy Fiona O’Malley — the need for the Minister to discuss the continuation of the SRUNA project in Carrickgollogan Woods.

The matters raised by the Deputies Ring, Durkan, Pat Breen and Upton have been selected for discussion.

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

Cecilia Keaveney:  The Road Traffic Bill is of particular interest to me, in that my constituency experienced one of the highest rates of road death during the summer. Some 12 people were killed in as many weeks. I express my sincere sympathy to the families of those killed and injured. Many of the victims in these cases were very young but given that the inquiries into the specifics of those cases are ongoing I do not wish to say anything more about them.

Some aspects of the Bill need to be clarified on Committee Stage. I welcome the fact that Deputy Cullen now has responsibility for this area. However, I bemoan the fact that two Departments are involved in issues relating to roads. That is not a reflection on the Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, whom I also commend. The fact that two Departments deal with roads can lead to difficulties when it is not clear which Department is responsible for issues of concern. The Ministers in question need to work in close co-operation.

I welcome the prohibition of the sale of vehicles to minors. This provision has been long awaited and will be especially welcomed in my constituency where minors have been able to get failed MOT cars for virtually nothing. Young people drive these cars around and eventually set fire to them. They are a danger to the young people involved and to the communities in which they drive their cars. We have had lucky escapes in regard to the access of minors to cars and any move to tighten up this area will be very welcome.

Previously, car dealers ran a scrappage scheme whereby people got £1,000 for trading in their old cars. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should look at a scheme to encourage people to properly dispose of old cars, particularly failed MOT cars. This would reduce the potential number of vehicles for sale to minors.

The question could be asked as to the reason for the Bill in the first place. I come from a constituency north of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that jurisdiction intends converting speeding signs from miles to kilometres. It is not uncommon for accidents to be caused by people from abroad who are used to driving on the other side of the road. There is potential for confusion in Border areas, given that distance is confusingly measured in both miles and kilometres, depending on which side of the Border one is on. Moreover, signs indicating speed limits as 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 100 could refer to either mph or kph. It may not be confusing to people who do not live near the Border, but I defy officials from the Department to identify on which side of the Border they happen to be while driving in the [942]area. I would accept this provision if it were part of an overall strategy for an all-Ireland road traffic plan and that, when the Ministerial Council is back up and running, a similar provision was introduced in the North so that we could compare like with like in regard to speed limit signs. Otherwise, there is scope for confusion, which must have implications for road safety.

An all-Ireland traffic policy is very much needed. For example, the Dublin to Derry, N2 — A5, development is being dealt with on a two jurisdiction basis. However, without it the drive from Dublin to Donegal would be 244 miles instead of 170 miles. Moves must be made to co-ordinate and develop the N2 — A5 project and the link from Letterkenny to Lifford and from Letterkenny to Derry through Bridgend. In order to travel from Dublin to Donegal, I must travel through what is technically a different jurisdiction, which uses miles and depends on funds from that different jurisdiction. If this provision is part of an all-Ireland road policy, it would make sense that the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, co-operates with his counterpart when the Northern Ireland Executive is back up and running, which I hope it will be in the near future.

I have a problem with the proposal for all regional roads to change from a 60 mph speed limit to 50 mph. The Inishowen peninsula has fewer than ten miles of national primary or secondary roads, the remainder are regional or lower category roads. The road which links Derry, Buncrana, Carndonagh and Moville is a regional one on which I will have to change from travelling at 60 mph to 50 mph, which will have implications on my ability to get around. Although, it is stated that the point of this legislation is to make the roads safer, I can identify far more dangerous national primary and secondary roads than the regional roads in my constituency, yet I can legally drive faster on worse roads.

I appreciate that some Members will state that now that the money is spent on the signs, it cannot be wasted, but why not leave regional roads at 60 mph and only use signs where the council officials consider the roads dangerous enough to reduce the limit on them to 50 mph? The concept of the Bill is to reduce all limits to 50 mph, while giving local authorities the option to increase limits to 60 mph where they consider it safe to do so. However, should an accident occur, I would not like to be a member of a local authority which decided to increase a speed limit from 50 mph to 60 mph because I would be held culpable by people seeking compensation. However, if the speed limit was set at 60 mph and could be reduced to 50 mph, it would be a different argument.

I acknowledge that the Minister is re-examining the issue of regional roads because he understands that they are of varying standards. However, the roads to which I refer are well able to justify a 60 mph limit in the vast majority of locations and it is not right for the speed limits to [943]be reduced to 50 mph, unless the local authorities — if it is to them that decisions will be delegated — are strongly supported when they propose increases from 50 to 60 mph

I acknowledge that there have been many deaths on our roads. I am sure the Department has the relevant statistics, but I do not believe that most accidents are caused by, drivers travelling at 65 mph in a 60 mph zone. I may be proved wrong by the statistics, but I believe the vast majority of accidents are caused by, people who were driving vastly in excess of the speed limit or had consumed alcohol or drugs. A speed limit of 60 mph is not an unreasonable one for most roads, although there is a different argument in respect of more minor roads.

One of the key issues which needs, to be addressed is the visibility of gardaí and the belief among drivers that they can be caught breaking the speed limit. The penalty points system should operate as a deterrent and people should know that if they flaunt the law significantly, they will be caught. The threat of Garda patrols and the “hairdryer” speed detection unit should affect drivers’ behaviour, although ultimately drivers should be responsible and should not need that threat to comply with the law. Nevertheless, the reality is that we need Garda visibility.

Many roads throughout the country have improved greatly. Some years ago, Donegal County Council had its LIS money taken back by the then Minister of State, Bobby Molloy, on the basis that it was not spending significant amounts on any particular road but in a piecemeal manner. However, in many cases, the money is still being spent piecemeal by the Department because some major roads have been receiving small amounts of money every year, when it would be much better to grab the bull by the horns and make funds available to improve the road properly. As county councillors at the time, we felt penalised. The LIS gave discretion to the council as to which roads were repaired but it was informed that not enough was being spent. However, the Department was doing exactly the same in the way it was spending money.

  4 o’clock

More money should also be diverted into areas, which are well-known for accidents. A number of examples spring to mind — there is a 90 degree bend at Quigley’s Point on the road to Carndonagh and there is a blind junction just outside Malin on the Glengad road. Such areas should be prioritised, as they have been by the council. However, because they are not national primary and secondary roads, we seem to be fighting a difficult battle in regard to the money allocated for safety measures. Why not focus on recognised accident black-spots and invest significant money in the short term since it will have a much more beneficial result?

One of the biggest gripes people have with the penalty points system is that it is often people travelling at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone or 45 mph [944]in a 40 mph zone who are caught, while people passing them at 90 mph or 100 mph in a 60 mph zone do not seem to be touched. Why not focus on where the problems are and address them?

I do not know the Naas dual carriageway well, but I do not understand why any dual carriageway has a 40 mph limit where it has two or three lanes. Perhaps there are good reasons for it and I am not up to speed on them, if Members will pardon the pun. However, dual carriageways and motorways are of a standard that can cater for traffic travelling at relatively high speeds of 75 miles per hour. I would probably have increased the speed limit on a motorway to 80 mph but I welcome the proposed increase. If a road is suitable for speed, there should be no problem in permitting it.

I did a little research on changing speed limits. America increased the speed limit and it did not cause the anticipated problems. According to a US Department of Transportation pamphlet on speed zoning, research and experience show that effective speed limits are those at which the majority of motorists naturally drive. Raising and lowering speed limits do not substantially influence that speed. If speed limits are lowered, people will not drive slower just as people do not automatically drive faster when the speed limit is increased. These are common misconceptions, along with the mistaken belief that speed limit signs will decrease the accident rate and increase safety and that motorways with speed limits will be safer than unposted motorways.

This Bill is not a panacea. We should try to put something in place to which people will adhere. What is the point of having something wonderful on paper when we know it will not work? We should aspire to put legislation in place that is close to what reality will be. If a road can easily take traffic travelling at 60 mph and the limit is decreased to 50 mph, people will get penalty points for simply doing what the road can support when they are not a danger to anybody. In that case something has gone astray. I hope that during the passage of this Bill through the Houses, the points I have made about the miles per hour versus kilometres per hour — if that is part of an ongoing process, it is fine but if it is an end in itself, it is a problem — and the reduction of the limit from 60 mph to 50 mph are taken on board.

The prohibition on the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors has been long awaited and must be implemented. I look forward to the day when there is a proper way for young people to learn to drive. When I was teaching in Coleraine, the transition year curriculum included a driving course. One could watch the transition year students driving around the car park in the school. They had little slaloms and so forth. Giving them a properly controlled facility to do something that was previously forbidden is an interesting approach, although they had to be a certain age before they participated. The diffi[945]culty at present is that they appear to have easy access to vehicles. They are driving dangerously and recklessly and this is causing a considerable problem, even death.

There are many roads in my constituency on which more money should be spent to improve their standard. The difficulty with improving the standard of roads is that people will want to drive faster on them. The effect of this Bill must be the establishment of limits that are reasonable and are enforced. I have no problem with the reduction of the limit on minor roads or the increase of the limit on good roads. However, I have taken advice from people who know more than me about engineering and they concur with me that many regional roads could cater for a higher limit than 50 mph. I hope this will be addressed.

I will make my pitch now for funds to be spent on the roads from Bridgend to Buncrana, Moville to Derry, the inner relief roads of Buncrana and Carndonagh and the Quigley’s Point to Carndonagh road.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Is the Minister taking notes?

Cecilia Keaveney:  Those are the major roads for which we will seek funding. Funding has been provided over the years but substantial moneys should be allocated so the roads can be dealt with more quickly than they are at present. I compliment the Minister on the work being done on the N2-A5. Previously, the roads north of the Border were better than those in the Republic. That has now been reversed. The Ceann Comhairle will appreciate the bypasses that have been and are being constructed. It is a pleasure to drive on the road to Dundalk. It is a safe, good road and I am proud to pay my €1.60. Some people opposed the level of the toll but I have been in many other countries and the toll is cheap when compared with tolls in other countries where the national minimum wage is just €2 per hour.

Significant progress has been made with the road network and progress must now be made on speed limits. However, the best way to secure road safety is for people to get the road safety messages. Those messages are most important. Garda visibility is also important if people will not take responsibility. I prefer the carrot to the big stick approach. I hope my comments today are seen to be constructive and that the issues I have raised can be addressed on Committee Stage.

Mr. Penrose:  I will preface my remarks by acknowledging that I am a barrister. One hears people say that legal practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time sieving through Bills to ascertain if there are any loopholes. One would almost feel it is a crime to do so. It is not; it is what one is paid to do. It also obliges legislators to ensure there is a minimum number of loopholes in legislation so they are not later subject [946]to examination. I support people’s right to go before the court to argue their case about any aspect of legislation under which they might be subject to a criminal prosecution and to mount their best defence thereto. It is important to have that right in a civilised society and a democracy.

Any Bill that makes a contribution to the safety of people who travel the highways and byways is an important step forward. It behoves us to bring forward legislation in a reasonable way. The legislation should have a target. One can have all the rules and regulations one wishes but if the people at whom they are aimed do not appreciate them, know about them or are not aware of their impact, we might as well bounce our heads off a wall. I will speak further about clarification and knowledge of some of the provisions in this Bill.

From when I was young and serving on the county council in the early 1980s, I have always believed that the responsibility of learning to drive a motor vehicle is the equivalent of learning the three Rs. It should begin at school. Many of us had to use our neighbours’ tractors to acquire driving skills. The urban areas might not have had tractors——

Ms O. Mitchell:  They certainly did not.

Mr. Penrose:  —but rural areas did. We learned our driving skills in fields. Sometimes we ended up in a ditch but at least we did not hurt anybody. How does one acquire the skills to deal with an actual situation? I believe it should be part of the civic, social and political education course in school. Pupils could learn the theory of driving as part of the school subject. This is as important as knowing how to add.

Virtually everybody uses a motor vehicle at some stage to travel to work. One could be Einstein but what good is that if one does not have the wherewithal to drive to work or if one does not have access to public transport? The ability to drive is an important educational attribute people carry with them through life. Driving should be taught as part of the educational syllabus, particularly in view of the fact that there is now a theory test. Teaching driving skills in schools would provide people with the opportunity to be introduced to the theory of driving.

In the past, gardaí visited schools to monitor school attendance. They brought with them armbands for distribution among the children. These may sometimes have been used for other purposes but parents, particularly in isolated rural areas, encouraged their children to use them if they were walking home late at night. The gardaí who visited the schools encouraged children to use reflectors, armbands etc. when cycling after dark. There was the Rules of the Road publication which emphasised care, courtesy and consideration. The latter are extremely basic concepts and if everybody observed them there would be no accidents. There has been a great [947]deal of hullabaloo about the PIAB being the great panacea. However, there would be no need for it if everybody exercised due care, courtesy and consideration because accidents would not occur.

We have an ideal opportunity to teach driving and the theory thereof to children in transition year. Simulators should be provided. I saw a report from Mondello or one of the driving schools recently in which children were doing what I advocated in 1984 or 1985. Some of the young men and women using the simulator could tell that a person was going to cross the road or that a light was going to go red. They were placed in a situation in which they had to react. However, they were forewarned. Imagine what would happen if, as in normal circumstances, they were not forewarned.

The Minister of State should try to have driving placed on the school curriculum in some form. Given that he is innovative and open to ideas, he could leave a mark in this area. Perhaps a pilot scheme could be put in place to see how things would work. I accept that he would have to discuss the matter with his counterpart in the Department of Education and Science, the various teaching organisations, etc. and that it would not be easy to put such a scheme in place immediately. There is an openness, however, to including driving in the curriculum. We all want to ensure that our children return home safely. People own vehicles at much younger ages than in the past and this is contributing to the problems on our roads.

It is easy to state that the statistics relating to road deaths are on the rise. However, we must be honest and recognise that there must be four or five times the number of cars on our roads now as there were in the 1970s and 1980s. This matter must be considered in the context of there being more people and bigger and better roads.

Many accidents happen at night or in the early hours of the morning, which is unfortunate. One sometimes hears people inquiring where the members of the Garda were when a particular accident occurred. It is unfair to expect gardaí to be stationed on every corner at night to prevent accidents. If we inculcate in young people and everyone else that there is an onus on them to drive with care and consideration and to not indulge in drinking alcohol while driving, we will have achieved something. I am strongly of the view that driving should be included in the school curriculum as part of the education process.

I salute the Minister of State for giving powers to local authorities. We have all been shouting from the rooftops seeking such powers for them. The powers they are being given in this legislation are important because there should be no national or secondary schools on major primary or secondary routes. It is time we changed the status quo. There are a number of schools situ[948]ated on the N4, which is dangerous because of the huge concentration of pedestrian traffic in or around them. The Bill provides the power to put in place particular speed limits in the environs of such schools. Westmeath County Council, which was innovative in this area, sought that power from the NRA many years ago in respect of Coralstown school, on the N4 between Kinnegad and Mullingar. The latter organisation was somewhat slow to react and I will give it a bit of a walloping later in my contribution because it deserves it in respect of some matters. Local people are aware of the situation that obtains at schools in their area and the Bill will give local authorities the power to impose certain speed limits.

The position is similar in respect of housing estates. It is sad that a great deal of speeding occurs in estates. I do not understand why people feel the need to speed through built up estates. There is a constant demand for ramps in particular estates but the difficulty is that not everyone wants them because if they are too close to a house, there are problems with noise and lights shining in the windows when vehicles slow down. One cannot win in this situation.

Mr. F. McGrath:  We call them speed cushions.

Mr. Callely:  Traffic calming measures.

Mr. Penrose:  Yes, so we have speed cushions, traffic calming measures, lights and signs. One of the difficulties that will arise will be the proliferation of signs. When there are too many signs, one has difficulty trying to absorb information. This brings us to the old human frailty of focusing upon the first sign one sees and not realising that what it says does not apply across the board in a particular area.

Deputy Glennon made a point about the N4, which is a fine dual carriageway. From Mullingar to Dublin there are five different speed limits on that road. The law can be an ass and that is when it loses respect. The law is an ass on the N4. When one reaches the only decent stretch of road in an area, the speed limit decreases from 60 mph to 50 mph. There is then a flash-lamp to ensure that one reduces speed still further to 40 mph before one is finally obliged to drive at 30 mph. However, when one comes close to Heuston Station, the limit rises again to 40 mph. I do not know who came up with these great speed limits, which cultivate a lack of respect for the law.

I salute the role played by gardaí, who are obliged to carry out some onerous work. I accept that some of this will be taken away from them and delegated to a different authority. I sometimes wonder if it is the best use of resources to have gardaí stationed under a bridge at a point where the speed limit drops from 50 mph to 40 mph. As a wise old sage said to me on the way to a football match one day, “It is like shooting fish in a barrel.” People drive on the stretch of road [949]to which I refer at 50 mph but at a certain point, where there is no difference in the camber, gradient etc. the limit decreases to 40 mph. Lo and behold, the gardaí produce the hairdryer and penalty points follow.

Some of my colleagues noted recently that they did not realise they had received penalty points until the package arrived in the post. The people to whom I refer do not drive like lunatics. They may have been doing 45 mph in a 40 mph zone and they will receive two or three points on their licence as a result. Why does this happen? It is because people driving on a stretch of road suddenly hit another with the same gradient, camber and width, but with a different speed limit — the road to which I refer is not situated in a built-up area and the Minister of State is familiar with it.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I hope the Minister of State was not speeding.

Mr. Penrose:  He could have been speeding. He could have been doing 42 mph in a 40 mph zone.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is all right, the Minister of State would be exempt under the legislation.

Mr. Penrose:  I do not disagree with that because Ministers and Ministers of State must be able to get from A to B.

Mr. F. McGrath:  There should be no exemptions.

Mr. Penrose:  We would all say that when we are on this side of the House. The difference in speed limits brings the law into disrepute. I appeal for common sense to be used in this area.

Another matter about which I am concerned is the Lucan junction on the N4. One must cross the highway in order to turn back. We advocated a flyover which is the most sensible solution. We are merely ordinary Joes, not engineers or architects, but we could see the sense of it. Slipways and flyovers are important to ensure the probability is lessened of an accident happening at those junctions. We have no status and our opinion on the danger is met with, “You would not know”. We know enough when accidents occur subsequent to us pointing out that this could be the best way forward.

Why is there such a marked reluctance to have service stations along the main national arterial routes? Does nobody ever have to stop to go to the toilet or to buy something? Why is the NRA so vehemently opposed to something of that nature? If one travels on the M1 and M6 in the United Kingdom, one can pull into a service station every 20 miles. They are big motorways. I suggest we should adopt the system used in the UK where motorways have a slow, overtaking and fast lane. I was a young man in London and hardly knew how to drive a tractor but I drove [950]those roads and I had no problems because it was a simple system.

I suggest there should be warnings about road conditions. In other countries, changes in the weather or condition of the road are signalled on overhead signs. We must aim for such signalling to become the norm in this country. People should be informed of the conditions on the road ahead.

The N52 is the main north-east, south-west arterial route, going through Dundalk, Ardee, Rathconnell, Mullingar and down to Kilbeggan, Birr and Nenagh. Hardly a shilling has ever been spent on that route. I always thought that when Deputy Michael Smith was Minister for the Environment there would have been improvements on it. It is a major route carrying a lot of traffic. People in the Delvin area complain continually and the NRA has been informed of the need to put in place the necessary funding to realign that route because of its status and the significant volume of traffic. There is a significant amount of work to be done. If there is money in a pot, I appeal for money to be spent on the N52 and the inner relief roads around Mullingar. Continued expenditure is required to improve the roads.

The delay from the date of application for driving tests is a problem, which is quite difficult for people to understand. Independent accredited testers supervised by the Department should be used. This is a suggestion made by a person known to Deputy O’Donovan who lives near the Deputy in west Cork. He is a motorcyclist. The current driving test for motorcyclists is rudimentary. Does it test one’s ability to ride a poor road surface, to ride at night or on primary routes? Those are the situations drivers will have to deal with afterwards.

The Bill contemplates the introduction of metric speed limits. What provision will be made to assist motorists to convert speedometers to metric calibration? Deputy Olivia Mitchell also raised this point. The current model of a well-known family car has a miles per hour speedometer with a secondary scale of kilometres per hour. The needle accurately points to the miles per hour scale but at the point where the needle crosses the kilometre scale, it covers about ten kilometres per hour of the scale and is therefore useless to the driver for judging the speed of the vehicle. I am concerned that people will be caught in that situation because the speedometers in most vehicles are of similar design. The Bill does not provide a tolerance to protect motorists who have paid many thousands of euro in taxes such as VRT. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry made that point. This is a practical deficiency. I presume the new Government fleet — I do not begrudge it — will have the new, recalibrated speedometers fitted to protect the ministerial drivers from the danger of exceeding the speed limit. As Deputy Finian McGrath [951]stated, we must all observe the law. Bearing in mind the substantial take from motorists by the Exchequer, the Minister for Finance should fund the conversion and recalibration of speedometers in all vehicles prior to the changeover to metric speed limits.

The Bill anticipates the introduction of regulations. When drafting the regulations, I ask the Minister to consider the placement of electronic or solar powered speed limits in central locations to adjust speed limits locally depending upon the time of day or the season. In many areas what is applicable in the summer is not applicable in the winter. Such signs and variable limits are needed at school approaches at relevant hours, to reduce speed limits to take account of pedestrian traffic, on approaches to sports facilities where large volumes of pedestrian traffic may be expected before and after matches and on approaches to churches and graveyards. Those measures might be of assistance when considering the Bill. I broadly welcome the Bill and I hope the Minister continues to improve it.

Mr. M. Moynihan:  I wish to share time with Deputy O’Donovan. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The Bill is designed to improve road safety. The Government is committed to road safety. The devastation caused to families as a result of road deaths has been apparent for many years. It seems to be part and parcel of the weekend and Monday morning news bulletins. I have seen many families including my own devastated as a result of road traffic accidents. The effects last a long time. It is vitally important that legislation is passed to ensure our roads are safer and to reduce the number of people killed each year. Legislation and rules and regulations can be in place but there must be goodwill from people willing to comply with the legislation and take due care on the road. Young people must be educated in good driving and all drivers must be educated to take due care on the road.

The Bill provides for a number of other initiatives. They relate mainly to amendments to the legislation on the administration of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, the Road Traffic Act 2002, which focus in particular on the outsourcing from the Garda Síochána of certain functions relating to fixed charge payments.

The central aspect of the Bill is the introduction of a new system of speed limits based on the metric values. That system is worthwhile. The Bill also provides for a number of changes to the Taxi Regulation Act 2002, which will assist in the operation of key provisions contained in that Act.

I have no doubt that the Government is deeply committed to road safety and is intent on achieving a record in this area comparable to none. Our policy is focused on the key areas of speeding, drink driving and seat belt wearing to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads.

[952]The past six years have seen a distinct improvement in our road safety performance. The first road safety strategy, which ran from 1998 until 2002, succeeded in reaching its target of reducing deaths on our roads by 20% and surpassed that figure with regard to serious injuries.

The biggest change in road safety and the way we police our roads was the introduction of the penalty points system just over two years ago. That has further increased the progress in this area. Many people have spoken to me on this issue, as have Deputies who contributed to the debate earlier. It is all very well to impose penalty points for speeding but they should not be imposed on people driving at 31 or 35 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. That will not cause deaths on our roads. The problem is driving on minor roads at 70, 80 or 90 miles an hour. It is all very well to set up checkpoints in villages and towns but the issue is more serious than that. Like all computer systems, if one is over a certain limit, that is it and one moves on, but there is a need to examine this matter in terms of people travelling at 31 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. That was not the issue in respect of penalty points.

From November 2002 to the end of September 2004, the number of road deaths fell from 775 to 675 in comparison with the previous 23 months. The measures I have referred to have helped save almost 100 lives, and I congratulate the Government on that achievement. The Government’s target is to ensure that we keep road deaths down to a maximum of 300. Perhaps we should not put a figure on that because it should be the aim of everyone involved, the Government and members of the public using the roads, to eliminate road deaths as far as possible.

In setting our goals for the period up to the end of 2006, we are supported by the knowledge that the strategic approach we have adopted has been shown to deliver the greatest benefits in the long term. The most successful countries in the European Union in delivering reductions in road casualty numbers on a sustained basis are those that have adopted such an approach.

In adopting our road safety strategy we learned from the experience of states like the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, which are the leading states in the European Union in terms of road safety performance. We have also adopted an approach that has seen the engagement of all the organisations that contribute to the various elements of road safety policy in the identification and pursuit of the policies through which the overall targets can be achieved.

In 2003 this downward trend in fatalities continued. Road deaths that year totalled 336, the lowest number of fatalities since 1963. Even though there were fewer cars on our roads in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and our population was 1 million fewer than it is today, the road death figures in that period were much greater [953]in comparison with today’s figures. That aspect should be examined. I understand the highest number of deaths was in 1973, a time when the number of cars on the roads was a small percentage of the number today.

There is a need, however, for constant vigilance and attention. Unfortunately, the number of road deaths so far this year is 28 higher than the number for the same period last year. I am confident that certain measures in the Bill will succeed in turning this figure around and ensure that our target of fewer than 300 fatalities per year by 2006 is met.

The Government has been responsible for legislating in this area by the introduction of fines, penalty notices, driving disqualifications and even prison sentences in the most serious of cases. The desired effect of the points scheme is to change the behaviour of drivers. The consequences of losing a licence becomes a reality for drivers who have incurred points, and they think twice before committing further breaches which will put them closer to the 12 point threshold.

Legislation alone, however, is not sufficient to tackle the issue of road safety. We must seek to change the driving culture evident throughout the country. It is imperative that our young people appreciate the responsibilities that accompany holding a driving licence. In that regard, I commend the Irish School of Motoring which, in conjunction with Mondello Park race track, is launching a new initiative aimed at teaching young people to drive responsibly and educate them about the dangers of speeding. I congratulate the Ministers who are embracing this initiative.

We cannot have a debate about road safety without discussing the conditions of our roads. While I am aware of the old adage that a bad workman blames his tools, it must be conceded that bad roads contribute to road traffic accidents. I congratulate the Government on the progress it has made regarding the implementation of the overall national roads upgrade programme provided for in the national development plan.

I welcome the initiative by this Government and the previous Government of putting money into infrastructure and opening new motorways. In terms of the journey from Dublin to Cork, the new Kildare bypass and the recently opened Monasterevin bypass have greatly improved conditions for drivers. The conditions in Limerick also have improved greatly. However, we must continue to fund these projects.

One of the roads where there have been more fatalities than normal is the N20, in particular the stretch between Charleville and Buttevant, County Cork. Accidents resulting in multiple deaths have occurred on that stretch of road. The route was selected for the Charleville bypass in the past six months. I urge the Minister to examine the possibility of providing funding to improve the section of road between Charleville [954]and Buttevant. I realise it cannot be done all at once but perhaps it can be upgraded in sections. We must ensure that the bypass project is moved forward a stage and that the road is made safer. The Minister of State will remember that there were four or five deaths as a result of one car accident on that road. That stretch between Charleville and Buttevant is classed as a blackspot area. I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. O’Donovan:  I, too, welcome the Road Traffic Bill 2004 and the opportunity to speak on it. Education is critical to this area. There is no adequate programme in transition year or fifth year to educate boys and girls on road safety and the problems of drink driving. Perhaps we should have a campaign that would frighten them into realising that if they speed on our roads or drink and drive, they are liable to be involved in accidents. We must change the attitude of young people towards driving. That would be a step in the right direction.

Last year, the road deaths toll was the lowest since 1963, although any death is one too many. I note that the volume of traffic has increased almost tenfold since 1963. Our record is, therefore, good but we must continue efforts to curb the number of accidents and road deaths.

Despite the brouhaha about the introduction of the penalty points system and concerns that we were developing into a nanny state, the system marked an important step in the process of compelling people to drive more carefully, wear seatbelts, particularly in the back of cars, etc. This should be encouraged and the regime enforced.

I was a member of a local authority when the national car test was introduced. Many councillors and public representatives argued at the time that the measure was unnecessary. It has been one of the best road safety measures ever introduced. The public is used to it and the cars on our roads are, by and large, roadworthy. Before taking my car for the NCT, I visited my garage to try to ensure my car was roadworthy. When I brought it to the Skibbereen NCT centre, the tester spotted a slight leak from a brake pipe, which, while new, had a problem with a washer or fitting. He informed me the car would not be passed that day and asked me to return at a later date with the problem repaired. In alerting me to this problem, he may have prevented an accident.

We have many foreign visitors from the Continent and America. While I do not wish to dwell on the nasty accident in which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, was involved in County Kerry, our tourist routes do not have sufficient signs indicating that one must drive on the left. While one sees them occasionally when leaving an airport, many more visible signs are needed in areas such as the rings [955]of Kerry and Beara, as well as other routes in the west.

I represent a constituency in which there is not a single mile of primary route. The N71, the only national secondary route, runs to Bantry via Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Ballydehob. Nobody in his or her right mind leaving Bantry or Castletownbere would consider using the N71 because it takes a longer route than other roads and one must drive through towns which, apart from Skibbereen, do not have bypasses. The road was planned 30 years ago and needs to be upgraded.

The R586 runs from Bandon to the townland of Scart in Bantry. Of all the routes in the area, I ask the Minister to consider upgrading this one. Why has the NRA not upgraded it to at least a national secondary route? It is appallingly slow to travel on this road. One must travel through a little place called Murragh, which is not even a village but a crossroads with a shop. The area has limits of 30 mph and 40 mph which is an abuse of speed limits.

The R585 runs from Ballylickey, an area the Minister of State will know, over the Cousane Gap to Cookstown where it meets the N18, the road between Cork and Killarney. I ask the National Roads Authority to examine the possibility of upgrading this road and other roads in the area. The R572 is the Castletownbere to Ballylickey route. Castletownbere is the second largest fishing port in Ireland and has the largest whitefish fleet. While I would like more of the fish landed in the town to be processed locally, 80% of it is, regrettably, taken by road to the Continent. While the road has been improved, I urge that the R572 be linked to Ballylickey Cookstown and the Cousane Gap and upgraded to a national secondary route. Given the favourable economic climate, the Minister should give this proposal serious consideration, as there is no point doing so in 15 years.

With a population of 75,000 people, my constituency is one of few which do not have a single mile of primary road. It has only one poor national route. The N71 from Bantry eventually winds its way to Killarney. Two lorries cannot pass in Marina Street in Bantry, which lies on the route and is probably the narrowest street in the town. I understand the NRA and the Department have specified a minimum road width. It is wrong that this stretch of the N71 does not comply with it.

Recently, a member of Cork County Council inquired as to when Bantry would have a bypass or relief road and was told officially by the NRA that the town may not have one until 2015. At that stage the Minister of State will be Taoiseach and I will be the Minister for foggy weather. It is crazy that Bantry may not have a relief road for 11 years. The hospital in the town cannot be accessed because the streets are too narrow. I accept the council is doing preparatory work in [956]attempting to purchase land from some landowners to ensure the groundwork, at least, can be done. I urge the Minister to ensure the Bantry relief road is commenced. It could be completed in sections. The N71 should be a decent road from west Cork to Cork city.

Mr. Callely:  We will have the matter reviewed.

Mr. O’Donovan:  I appreciate the Minister of State’s commitment. If one lives on Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head or the Beara or Bantry peninsulas, it takes two hours to reach the nearest maternity hospital. A previous Government of a different hue closed down our maternity hospital in 1985. I was appalled at this decision which was one of the catalysts for my entry into politics. The condition of access routes to our airport, Ringaskiddy seaport and the only decent emergency hospital, Cork University Hospital — I am not denigrating Bantry Hospital — is poor. The railway to Bantry, which I remember from my childhood, was closed down in 1961. West Cork does not yet have an airport, although we may get one if I remain a Member of the House for long enough. My predecessor, the ebullient former Deputy P. J. Sheehan, constantly argued that Bantry should have an airport and he is probably right.

At least one of the routes, either the Cousane Gap road, the R585 or the R586, which runs through Dunmanway, Ballineen and Enniskeane, must be upgraded. The narrow, winding stretch of road between Enniskeane and Bandon is appalling. Travelling to the train station on this road between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. is like travelling in a funeral cortege and there are no passing bays. All the roads I have mentioned need to be improved.

I welcome the Bill and the sensible provision that the speed limit on decent roads such as the Cork to Dublin route will be increased to 120 km/h or roughly 75 mph. Cork County Council must be given a derogation as regards the reduction in speed limits on the R585, R586 and R572. It is bad enough for people commuting to Cork and ambulances and trucks to have to use these roads but, at a minimum, the current speed limit of 60 mph must be retained.

Mr. Boyle:  I wish to share time with Deputy Cuffe.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Boyle:  This Bill, when passed, will add to a series of road traffic Acts enacted between 1961 and 2003. The Government is missing an opportunity to produce a consolidated road traffic Act, given the breadth of legislation in this area. All-encompassing legislation to which everyone can refer is necessary because all citizens are road users. While addressing a long-standing anomaly through the introduction of speed limits [957]expressed in kilometres — distances have been expressed in kilometres for many years — the legislation should also address wider aspects of road traffic usage.

A consolidated Bill would provide the opportunity to put in a hierarchy of road usage. None of the Road Traffic Acts refers to such a concept. The definitions of motor propelled vehicles and types of roads, already exists. However, a road use hierarchy is a simple element of all transport policies. If introduced, it would make matters more sane and begin to tackle the ongoing glut of needless deaths on the roads.

In the hierarchy concept, road space usage starts primarily with those on foot, then cyclists, public transport and finally those who use motor-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, our transport policies have been in reverse of this. Any analysis of road deaths, all of which are unnecessary, will show that many of them involve pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. The failure to put a road use hierarchy in practice has caused this imbalance. It is another lost opportunity that the Bill does not cover this area. I hope the Minister for Transport will take the earliest opportunity in introducing a consolidated road traffic Bill to tackle this anomaly.

The main purpose of the Bill relates to kilometre signage and speed limits. However, what is proposed is somewhat of a parson’s egg, particularly when some speed limits will actually be increased. The limit of 50 km/h is marginally more, when converted, than the limit of 30 mph it replaces. The top speed limit for motorways of 120 km/h is five miles higher, when converted, than the current 70 mph limit. These must also be weighed up for fuel efficiency and environmental measures. I admit our highest speed limit is nowhere near the speed limit levels on the German autobahn. However, the capacity to fill up the roads provided will affect all those motorways being built. The capacity of a single vehicle to effect a stop at 120 km/h must be questioned in those settings. It is one of our double standards, where people talk about responsible speeding and the right to use the overtaking lane to pass people already travelling at the speed limit.

The introduction of the penalty points system brought about the welcome reduction in deaths on our roads. Sadly deaths have begun to creep up again, as people have learned the odds are in their favour in avoiding punishment for speeding. No more than 550 members of the Garda are involved in traffic control on any given day. Traffic control refers not just to speeding detection but also issuing of tickets, monitoring intersections and court sittings. This means the odds of encountering a garda controlling speed levels are small. Attempts have been made to add to this with technology through speed cameras. However, some cameras have film in them and some do not. The Committee of Public Accounts [958]was recently informed that video recordings are used rather than digital forms, making it difficult to read registration numbers of cars caught speeding when visibility is poor.

With these problems of logistics and technology, there are also problems of incompetence in the courts system. As penalty points apply to the driver of the car, owners can play elongated games of cat and mouse with the authorities by claiming they were not driving the car when the offence occurred. That depends if a notice has been posted in the first place. When a case eventually gets to the court system, it depends on the availability of a garda. There are variations in applying the penalty points system which members of the public have copped on to and now know whether they will be caught and punished for speeding. Will the standards of enforcement sink home and bring about a better driving culture and fewer deaths on our roads?

On a national or EU level, is it possible to introduce the concept of a vehicle governor similar to that in Japan? Why are cars produced that can go in excess of speed limits? The temptation for people, particularly young men, to speed must be removed. There is an argument for allowing vehicles to reach only the legal speed limit.

The additional measures in sections 24 to 26 are interesting. I welcome the prohibition on supplying mechanically propelled vehicles to people under 16 years. It is an attempt to deal with the scourge of young people driving mechanically incompetent cars, creating havoc and danger to their lives and those of others. I am surprised that the opportunity was not taken to address the anomaly of young people driving tractors. It is a related issue to do with age, not with the stealing of cars. People at a young age are legally entitled to use large mechanically propelled vehicles, mainly off-road but sometimes on-road. Serious accidents have occurred in these cases resulting in disablement and sometimes death. I am disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity to tackle this anomaly.

  5 o’clock

Section 25 brings the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act in line with the Road Traffic Acts. However, regarding the promised traffic corps within the Garda Síochána, why has the Government chosen not to put in place the Green Party’s election pledge? It is not a question of a separate traffic corps but a separate traffic police. Such a police force could be administered through the local authority system. It is not a unique proposal as it exists in other jurisdictions. A clear distinction between the Garda Síochána and a traffic police would bring us more in line with practice in other countries. It would also free up the Garda to tackle other aspects of serious crime.

The amendment to the Taxi Regulation Act in section 26 is a response to the concerns of the taxi representative bodies about those with criminal records driving taxis. While it will be widely accepted, I would like to be assured that it has [959]been constitutionally tested. If an individual has been punished for a crime for which he or she has served prison time, this amendment raises serious civil liberties issues. If someone commits a crime while a taxi driver and subsequently loses his or her licence, no one could argue with that. There are crimes over which no one is prepared to stand, such as sexual assault or child abuse, that would disqualify people from driving a taxi. Will the Minister explain that this is not an intention and will not be an effect of this legislation when it is passed?

Mr. Cuffe:  I agree with all the points my colleague has made. I see little in this Bill to tackle the daily carnage on the roads. A root and branch reform of our approach to driving and speed limits is required to stop hundreds of people being killed and thousands injured annually on our roads.

While the motorcar has wrought many changes in Ireland over the past 20 to 30 years and brought obvious advantages to those who have cars, it has inflicted many disadvantages on communities whose members are unable to afford or access cars. I represented the south inner city on Dublin City Council for 11 years. Residents there spoke of cars colonising the space that once belonged to them. Their children could not play on the streets where they played as children. Parents were afraid to allow a child close to roads that had become racetracks where previously people socialised, shopped and carried out their daily business. There has been a sea change in our towns and cities, which have become more car parks than places for social intercourse and more racetracks than streets where people live, work and relax. One way to restore the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities is to restrict the speed of the vehicles allowed there.

While I welcome the potential introduction of a 30 km/h speed limit the number of caveats the Minister for Transport may attach to those limits is ludicrous. Why are there no restrictions on speed limits of 110 km/h or 120 km/h rather than on 30 km/h limits? This would save lives and enable children to play on the street outside their home. There should be restrictions on the higher limits. I am mystified as to why by-laws specifying lower speed limits in towns must receive the imprimatur of the Minister for Transport. It goes against the grain of all that I hold dear about what makes local government effective.

In the Netherlands and Germany, it is the norm that 30 km/h speed limits apply across the board in residential areas. That is not the case here which I suspect is due to the mindset of the senior civil servants implementing this policy. Traffic calming signs in Germany show trees, cars, people, and children playing on the streets. In the few limited neighbourhoods in Ireland where those signs have been introduced, the children have been scrubbed out of the picture. That is [960]due to an attitude among senior decision makers. The streets in residential areas should belong to children not to cars. There must be a sea change at senior level to make our streets safer for children and our neighbourhoods safe places in which the next generation can grow up. This comes down to simple matters such as traffic calming and speed limits.

The Bill does not bear any sign of the kind of changes for which I wish. Instead, it demonstrates a Toad of Toad Hall “let it rip” approach to motoring of increasing the highest speed limits by 5 mph. What national policy does that follow? Sustainable Energy Ireland goes to great pains on its website to show how one can save on energy, noise and air emissions by travelling at 50 mph as opposed to 60 mph or 70 mph. It does not even consider the 75 mph limit which the Minister is trying to introduce. The Minister and those working with him should slow down and stop the carnage on our roads.

There are other ways to address the high fatality levels on the roads. There should be speed restrictions on new licence holders, those holding a provisional licence and those holding a full licence for a year after acquiring the licence. That is the crucial time when people crash their cars. I make no claim to be a good driver. I am probably one of the worst drivers on the road but there is a crucial dangerous period after someone has acquired a licence. Lower speed limits should apply in those instances and that should be signalled in the Bill.

In section 21 there is a reference to emergency service vehicles. The provisions of the section are very broad and may not stop the double parking on Queen Street, or the treble parking by Garda vehicles on Pearse Street, both in the centre of Dublin. There is a disregard for the law at a senior level. People learn by example. If emergency service vehicles interpret the existing legislation liberally, ordinary motorists may do likewise. The Garda could set a better example for observance of the Road Traffic Acts in where and how its members park their vehicles. Gardaí should also move away from seeing the patrol car as the only means by which to go from point A to point B. I am incensed at the way Garda vehicles travel through St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. It creates a very visible barrier between the Garda Síochána and the people they serve. Garda vehicles should not be allowed within the gates of St. Stephen’s Green or any other urban park. Gardaí should get on their bicycles or use Shank’s mare if they are to patrol these areas in a meaningful manner.

While I recognise that this Bill is a clear and practical attempt to introduce the metric system into our speed limits, I am concerned that many of the limits are being raised by stealth and that the Minister will unduly restrict the introduction of a 30 km/h speed limit.

[961]Mr. T. Dempsey:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Fox. Tááthas orm labhairt go gairid ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. Tá sé tábhachtach mar is é ceann de phríomhaidhmeanna an Bhille ná saol ár muintir a chosaint agus a shábháil.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. We debate many aspects of life and livelihood in this House but we seldom speak about a Bill, which attempts to save Irish lives and those of visitors using our roads. While I do not share every sentiment expressed by Deputy Cuffe, I agree that many of our estates and many of our rural roads have become death traps, even at 2 a.m. People have become afraid. However, where I differ with the Deputy is in recognising that there has to be a balance, which recognises the role of the motorcar. We cannot go back to bicycles, much as some people might like to do so. The motorcar is here to stay, so it is incumbent on politicians to introduce legislation that strikes a balance between the safety of our citizens and the presence of a motorcar, which can now go at much faster speeds than before on roads that can accommodate cars travelling at such speeds. That is why the Bill is so important. I want to congratulate the Minister on expediting the important tenets of the Bill and to speak briefly about some of them.

The attraction of the Bill is the outsourcing of the collection of various charges to agents other than the gardaí. My constituents often complain to me that willing gardaí are desk bound in offices where no crimes will be committed. People want to see the gardaí back on the beat, or at 2 a.m. in Wexford when youngsters are speeding and racing cars against each other. Any measure, which takes away the bureaucratic role from the Garda is very welcome. Like all economic progress, the Celtic tiger brings its pitfalls as well as a rise in the standard of living. Since 1997, there are more than 500,000 extra people at work and all of them have motorcars. There are therefore about 500,000 more motorcars on our roads than in 1997. It is incumbent on us as politicians to recognise that the car is here, but that we must legislate in a way that makes it safer for us to travel on the roads.

Penalty points reduced the number of road deaths from 775 to 675 between November 2002 and September 2004. That represents 100 lives saved and 100 fewer families grieving. While we should aspire to eliminating deaths, at least that reduction has to be welcomed and it is as a result of penalty points.

We now recognise the different standards of roads and that common sense aspect of the Bill is welcome. The 60 mph limit on the N11 and on some of our poorer rural back-roads is an anomaly that is now being addressed. Changing from miles to kilometres is a recognition that we are in the EU. The 120 km/h limit on motorways and the 80 km/h limit on rural, regional and local roads are to be welcomed, as it recognises for the [962]first time that there is a difference between types of roads. Constituents approach me every week to say they and their children are afraid. Many of them look for speed ramps and speed limits.

Deputy Penrose spoke about the difficulties caused by speed ramps. If an ambulance is trying to access a housing estate at speed, speed ramps become a deterrent and could have safety implications. However, it is a road that local authorities must go down much faster. We need to recognise that speed in villages is costing lives. Speed is a frightening phenomenon and it makes old people afraid to come out of their doors late at night. I am therefore glad that in this Bill, the local authority will retain some of its legislative role in making special by-laws.

I remember saying at one of my first Fianna Fáil parliamentary meetings that we should introduce driving instruction of one form or another for students. I am glad to welcome the fact that it is now becoming part of the transition year for many students, but we need to go further. We need to teach about the dangers associated with speeding, not just at transition level, but for all students who have studied the CSPE programmes. That curriculum must include the dangers of not wearing safety belts, the dangers associated with drink driving and the dangers associated with speed. At the end of the day, the Bill only becomes effective if the majority of people accept it. I am delighted to speak in favour of the Bill and to congratulate the Minister.

Ms Fox:  I also welcome the opportunity to say a few words and I welcome this Bill. Given the dreadful reports of accidents on a weekly basis, it is obvious that there is a major problem with road safety, in particular with fatal accidents on our roads. Speeding is often cited as the major factor. In many cases this is caused not by setting low speed limits but by our own bad driving behaviour. I am hopeful that this Bill will bring clarity to the whole area of speed limits. If ever there was a road, which demonstrates the need for a general speed limit it is the N11, which I use most frequently. Cabinteely to Kilpedder on the N11 is a distance of over nine miles and the speed limit changes nine times. There seems to be no logic to the changes. The limit seems to be higher in residential areas and lower outside them. This type of signage is very confusing and frustrating to drivers and it does not serve anyone well. I am looking forward to a standard limit along that type of road.

A general speed limit will bring problems in differentiating what kind of road we are driving on. Many people do not know whether they are on a regional road or a local road and that will continue to be a source of confusion. This can easily be overcome with a few reminder speed limit signs along each route. All too often, when we are entering or leaving a town or a village, we will see about 20 signs together. Buried some[963]where among those signs will be a speed limit sign and that is not very effective in such cases. We need to have a system like that in the US and Britain, where there are reminder signs every few miles on their own which leave the driver under no illusion as to the speed limit.

Local authorities retain power in certain cases to make special speed limit by-laws on certain public roads. However, this has been unsatisfactory in many cases so far. While local authorities will ultimately have local knowledge and will be better placed to decide the appropriate speeds for local roads, the reality is that this will not happen given the workload already placed on staff and members of each local authority. If we are serious about road safety, then every local authority should be asked and appropriately funded to carry out a road survey to establish the appropriate speed limit on each road within its county and change the signs accordingly. There are regional roads in all areas, which are well capable of taking the proposed 80 km/h speed limit, but there are other regional roads which can become death traps at half that speed. For that reason, local knowledge is important, but funding and expert support should be given to local authorities to enable them to carry out that job if it is to be done.

I note that county managers will have the power to place temporary speed limit signs at locations where road works are ongoing. It is obvious that such a provision is necessary. Drivers are encouraged to take rat-runs in certain cases, however, when road works are ongoing. They may drive on less suitable roads, on which the speed limit remains unaltered at 60 mph. Major road schemes such as the N11, which I mentioned earlier, can take a number of years. A special speed limit of 40 mph was set on the N11 while it was being upgraded. Unofficial diversions took place on local roads with a 60 mph limit, most of which were in residential areas. There were many minor accidents as a result. The roads in question deteriorated because the volume of traffic on them doubled or trebled.

The N11 is now open, thankfully, and drivers have stopped diverting to smaller roads. Such roads have not been repaired following their deterioration, however. When road works are taking place on main roads, I suggest that county managers should consider the entire road network in the area. If they do not have the power to erect temporary speed limit signs in such circumstances, it should be given to them in this legislation. Such limits should be imposed on roads which suffer as a result of road works, even if the works are taking place elsewhere.

I welcome the Government’s intention to meet by the end of 2006 its target of reducing the level of road deaths by 25%. It will be a difficult task. I do not doubt that the penalty points system has altered many drivers’ attitudes to speeding.

[964]A number of Deputies have argued that driving lessons should be part of the school curriculum. I agree that should be done where possible. Such an approach works well in other countries, such as the United States and Britain, and I do not see why it should not be tried here. Young people often have to pay through the nose to insure their cars, unfortunately. They are sometimes seen as unsafe drivers, which is unfair in many cases. Many young drivers are taught to drive by older drivers, such as their mothers and fathers, who pass on their own bad habits. The introduction of driving lessons, where possible, would give learner drivers a clean slate. I hope that its positive effect on driver behaviour would, in turn, lead to cheaper insurance premiums.

This is an important Bill in so far as it sets important speed limits, but bad driving habits will not be changed if its provisions are not enforced effectively. Many Deputies have mentioned that gardaí seem to operate too many of their checkpoints on motorways and dual carriageways. While I do not wish to criticise the Garda Síochána for doing its job, it is important that there should be a visible Garda presence on all roads. Checkpoints should not be located exclusively on motorways.

While the penalty points system has made people think, many drivers become cynical when they see Garda checkpoints in the same locations week in, week out. I know that checkpoints are found in the same places on the N11 where they have been located for the last ten years. A Garda checkpoint is set up in the same place within the 40 mph zone in my local village at least once a week. It is referred to in the locality — I will not claim that the reference is affectionate — as the weekly turkey shoot. Garda checkpoints become ineffective when people become used to them being located in the same places every time. Drivers simply slow down to pass the checkpoint before speeding up again. Fixed cameras could do the same job in such circumstances. Gardaí should be randomly sent to secondary, or local, roads in country areas as part of the overall strategy of reducing road fatalities. The consequences of speeding are far more serious on such roads, unfortunately.

It is ridiculous that our educated society needs to be held by the hand and forced to change its behaviour, but it seems to be the only way. I appreciate that the Road Traffic Bill 2004 does not relate to Garda matters, but passing the legislation is pointless if the bigger picture is not changed. I broadly welcome the Bill. I hope some of the common sense suggestions which have been made by all Members in recent weeks can be taken on board.

Mr. P. Breen:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic Bill 2004. The legislation was initially supposed to be introduced at the end of June or in July. The former Minister [965]for Transport insisted that prominence be given to the State Airports Bill 2004 instead, however, because he had a hunch. The delay in bringing this Bill to the House has meant that the metrification of speed limits, which was due to have taken place in November, will not happen until the new year.

The Road Traffic Bill seems to have a number of unrelated objectives, including the standardisation of speed limits and the conversion of speed limits to the metric system. It gives local authorities comprehensive powers, such as the right to set speed limits and to grant parking permits. It contains provisions relating to the outsourcing of penalty points and the notification of points to drivers. It prohibits the sale of vehicles to minors. It provides for the disqualification of public service drivers and gives certain exemptions to emergency drivers. There is a long list of objectives, many of which are long overdue, particularly the modifications to speed limits and the prohibition of the sale of vehicles to minors. It is time for action on the ground, however, if we are to improve speed limits. Motorists, who face significant disadvantages at present, will suffer further if speed limits are not regularised.

I welcome the metrification of speed limits from miles per hour to kilometres per hour as an attempt to improve the current speed limit system. While I understand that we need to follow our European counterparts in moving to kilometres per hour, I am concerned that the change will lead to greater confusion on the roads. Additional resources and vigilance will be required in the Border area because roads in Northern Ireland will not be converted to the metric system. Drivers will need to reduce their speeds when they drive across the Border. I urge the Minister and his officials to do everything they can to ensure the public is made fully aware of the change. I am anxious that the Minister should fund the NRA sufficiently in this regard. This matter was recently raised by my colleague from County Monaghan, Deputy Crawford, who has grave concerns in this regard as someone who regularly drives on both sides of the Border.

I wish to discuss public information signage and speedometers. It is likely that difficulties will arise as a consequence of the new road signs and the existing speedometers. If we are to minimise disruption, changes in signage should be made in an efficient manner, which is friendly to motorists. Information on the changes should be made available to the public to the greatest possible extent. It is certain that the use of speedometers in existing cars will cause problems. Has the Minister considered providing a conversion device to motorists to help them to understand the conversion process? Members will recall that currency converters, which were provided to consumers when Ireland changed from the pound to the euro worked particularly well. Perhaps something similar could be provided by the Department of [966]Transport next year. It seems that such an approach would be sensible. Can the Minister assure the House that all new cars purchased in 2005 will be fitted with speedometers, which cater for the new metric speed system? I am keen to receive an assurance from the Minister of State in that regard.

Mr. Callely:  The SIMI has said “Yes” to that.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister of State knows that many garages are in possession of new cars, which will not be sold until 2005. I thank him for that assurance.

The public must believe that existing speed limits will work. It is clear that speed limits are of crucial importance in the promotion of road safety. Existing legislation relating to speed limits provides for the deployment of four different speed limits, in addition to the application of speed limits to certain types of classes. There has been a perception for a long time that the current system of speed limits is not appropriate to the changed system which exists on our roads. Criticism of our existing speed limits has centred on the current unbalanced policy in respect of speed limits. It does not make any sense that rural roads other than motorways are subject to the same general speed limits as national roads. This questionable aspect of our existing speed limit structure must be taken into account. Our roads have been upgraded and developed over the last 20 years.

I welcome the recent opening of the Monasterevin bypass, which is a great stretch of motorway. I have travelled on the road in question with the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, on many occasions. I welcome the fact that there is a now a motorway from Portlaoise to Dublin. It was a joy to travel on the road last week and this. It should improve road safety on that old stretch between the end of the motorway in Portlaoise and Monasterevin. I hope it will remain death-free for years and that we will not have any accidents on it.

In discussing that, I mention the Ennis bypass which will take two and a half years to construct. I had the opportunity to go with representatives of Gama the other day through the motorway, which will bring great relief to Ennis. I welcome the bypass. It should have been open by now, but unfortunately resources did not permit that. The Government halted the contract on several occasions, but it is now in place and I hope it will be open in two and a half years. I urge the Minister to continue the improvements on the western link to join Galway and the west of Ireland, giving us the same types of roads as our friends on the east coast and improving access to the west, particularly for Shannon Airport. It has been proved that there are fewer accidents on motorways.

I will now deal with the potential for public confusion stemming from the changes to the [967]speed limits. Although it is said that changes to the speed limits will have no greater impact than the conversion to metric, they have the potential to create confusion. No doubt the requirement to reduce speed limits will cause more trouble than will the increased limits. Extensive public information on changes is crucial. Speed limit changes will have a strong impact on the speed limits on rural roads where motorists would have to reduce speeds by up to 11 mph. Since such roads are the sites of many fatal accidents, it is certainly best to reduce speeds on them. However, it means significant changes for drivers’ mindsets. If the changes are to be introduced early in 2005, the Government should by now have started a campaign to give motorists adequate time to become accustomed to them. If imposed on them without a significant lead-in period, the measure will collapse.

The legislation empowers local authorities to establish special speed limits, a concept that I support. If we are to use our speed limit system to create greater safety — and, crucially, save lives — we need flexibility. Priority areas for speed limits can make a difference in promoting road safety and must be utilised to the full. That would definitely be the case with high levels of pedestrian and cyclist use outside schools or residential areas. It is also vital, if we are to reduce speed limits, including special speed limits, that they be backed up by significant funding for local authorities to introduce enhanced traffic-calming measures. There is no doubt that traffic-calming measures have been very effective in reducing speed. In my area, there is a village on the main national secondary route, the N68. Recently, they installed traffic-calming measures, which have reduced speeds substantially on the road. Residents of the area have welcomed it. The same can be said with regard to such places on the N7 as Toomevara.

International evidence suggests that it is crucial to have speed incentive measures to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Already this year, 53 pedestrians and nine cyclists have lost their lives on our roads. It is to our shame that we have one of the highest rates of child road deaths in Europe. Many such deaths could doubtless be avoided, but we need investment to implement extensive traffic-calming measures such as ramps in residential areas. Limiting speeds outside schools during busy periods, such as the beginning or the end of the school day, are worth considering. However, I fear that this could lead to further confusion. A blanket application of a 30 km/h limit outside all schools might be a better option, and I hope that local authorities will consider such proposals.

As the Minister is aware, unrealistically low speed limits in many places have undermined public faith in the entire system. The opposite also prevails where all speed limits are simply too [968]high in certain areas, such as outside schools, where we must slow motorists down. The Minister contends that this legislation seeks to change the setting out of speed limits for the four main categories of our road networks: built-up areas; local and regional roads; national roads; and motorways. However, my fear is that it will change nothing since, if local authorities do not act to change unacceptable speed limits, we will not have moved at all.

The Minister, through this legislation, intends to issue guidelines to local authorities, but they may simply gather dust. There is an onus on the Minister to ensure that the momentum is maintained on this issue. We need to see action. Can we be assured that local authorities will seize the initiative? If they do not, motorists will continue to disrespect speeding laws. I would also like the Minister to give a full explanation to the House of how, aside from changing miles to kilometres, he expects reasonable and effective speed limits to take hold. This legislation cannot be allowed simply to show good intentions. The Minister has a duty and responsibility to ensure that local authorities work with the NRA to encourage change on the ground.

Speeding heavy goods vehicles are a major issue. Yesterday evening on the route up to Dublin on the motorway I passed about 20 lorries, but five or six lorries passed me breaking the speed limits. The relevant authorities must address that. Surveys of speed limits undertaken in 1999 and 2002 revealed that a very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles exceeded the speed limits. It is vital that we examine measures to ensure that all vehicles abide by the limits. The legislation does not appear to have anything to force goods vehicles to keep within the law. It is of urgent concern, and only last weekend in Limerick a young Clare driver lost his life in an accident involving a heavy goods vehicle. I urge the Minister to tackle the issue as soon as possible.

We have a very high rate of road deaths. Inaction by the Government in key areas of road safety, is causing that toll to rise. I checked the figures last week, and I presume they have increased since. This year alone, 324 people have been killed on our roads, 27 more than in the same period last year. Those figures tell me that the initial benefits of the penalty points system have begun to wear off. We should be extremely concerned by the trend. It appears that our slipping record on road safety is in no small part due to the patchy implementation and enforcement of the penalty points system. There have been several inconsistencies. Controversies such as those which relate to the convictions from the toxic meter used to measure drink driving and the most recent dismissal of a speeding case — I believe that it was last June — have undermined public confidence in the penalty points system. Many people believe they can evade the law on road [969]safety. The absence of enforcement in all aspects of road safety law is eroding the penalty points system. If motorists are told by media pundits, that one can drive the length and breadth of Ireland without ever encountering a Garda inspection check point, it is little wonder that people believe they can persistently break the law and get away with it.

I welcome the decision by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, last week to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí. I hope it happens soon, but I wonder when that manpower will be out on the streets. It is very welcome that we will not have gardaí taken up with office administrative duties. I also welcome the national road safety strategy, which was recently published. I hope the recommendations are implemented as soon as possible. It is long overdue.

Last week a deputation from the Irish drivers’ association met our transport spokesperson, Deputy Olivia Mitchell. It is concerned at the implementation of the penalty points system. It believes motorists are being badly affected by Government policies. If a driver is caught travelling at 33 mph or 34 mph in a 30 mph zone, he or she receives an €80 fine and two penalty points. It believes this should be changed so that driving at five or six miles per hour in excess of the speed limit should result in a fine but not penalty points.

I welcome section 24, which deals with the sale of vehicles to minors. I am reminded of an accident in Carrigaholt, west Clare, last year in which two young girls were killed. They were passengers in a car sold to a minor in another county. This issue is close to my heart and I welcome the provision. Many Members are aware of the problem that the sale of vehicles to minors presents, particularly in terms of joyriding and related anti-social activities. The imposition of fines to deter adults from selling vehicles to minors is welcome but I urge the Minister to amend the provision because it prevents people selling or lending motorbikes and cars to people under 16 years. Cars can still be sold to a youth aged over 16 but under 17, even though he or she is not legally old enough to drive. The legislation needs to be amended in this regard.

There is also a need to make a distinction in regard to motorbikes. They can be sold to 16 year olds but they should not be sold to those under 17. Perhaps the Minister should go further in the section and provide that all sellers of vehicles should be required to check whether the purchaser has a licence, thus making it an offence to sell a car to an unlicensed driver. I urge the Minister to re-examine this difficulty.

Section 17 deals with the notification of speeding tickets. I am concerned because the onus of providing a notification of speeding offences has been placed on the motorist and not the Garda. The legislation is attempting to turn on its head the usual proposition that the defendant is inno[970]cent until proven guilty. I am not sure it is fair to expect motorists to prove they have not received notification of a speeding offence. The issue of notification of speeding offences has caused problems in the past. However, as the legislation is drafted, it may continue to create difficulties. Can the Minister implement a system whereby the Garda or those to whom the Garda has outsourced the notification of road safety offences must prove they notified individuals of their summonses? That is a rational and fair approach.

I welcome the provisions under section 26, which provide for the disqualification of public service vehicle drivers for 12 months if they are found guilty of offences that do not warrant imprisonment. I support this provision in addition to those in place if they guarantee the public will get a top quality, secure service from such drivers.

Section 20 covers exemptions for emergency vehicle drivers from speed limits. I welcome the provision but I would like to know whether emergency vehicles include ministerial cars. I stress that I prepared this contribution last week prior to the incident in Killarney involving the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This is valid question.

Fine Gael welcomes the Bill. We hope the Minister will restore public confidence in the penalty points system and that he will implement the national road safety strategy so that the high numbers of deaths and injuries on our roads are reduced.

Mr. Nolan:  This is the fourth road traffic Bill introduced since the previous general election and this illustrates the Government’s commitment to road safety. I welcome this legislation. There has been greater compliance with road traffic laws over recent years. While the significant number of accidents and deaths on our roads over the past 20 years and, in particular, over recent weeks, is unacceptable, there has been a general improvement in compliance by road users over that period, especially in obeying speed limits.

The legislation making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory has been an outstanding success. While more modern cars are fitted with an alarm that sounds if one does not put on one’s seat belt, it is generally accepted by motorists that wearing a seat belt is in their own interests and not only a necessity to comply with the law.

Speed is the greatest killer on our roads, as the Minister correctly pointed out. Given the significant capital investment in new roads and road improvements, there is a temptation to speed. While the legislation is being introduced to curb speeding and make roads safer, I am concerned that a number of local authorities have a tendency to extend speed limits outside small towns and villages to accommodate planning applications, which is the wrong reason for doing so. A number of Members have pointed out that [971]motorists are critical of the Garda because members of the force use 30 mph zones on an ongoing basis to catch them. As I travel throughout my constituency and between Dublin and my home, I can identify locations where the Garda normally sets up speed traps. Such speed traps amount to shooting fish in a barrel and are wrong. The Minister should examine this issue and guidelines should be set down regarding the establishment of 30 mph zones in particular.

The Government has experienced major success in reducing the cost of insurance over the past two years. The establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has been successful in that the number of fraudulent claims by unscrupulous individuals has been reduced. Other changes have not made the Government popular among the legal profession. Members of that profession abused their position by availing of the ambulance-chasing facility afforded them in legislation. That was unacceptable. The insurance industry has pointed out that there has been a fall off in the number of claims in the past months. Claims are also being settled in a faster and more efficient manner. In some cases the settlements are larger than heretofore, but the legal fees involved are substantially lower. This must be welcome.

A number of insurance companies made presentations to the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and it was frightening to hear some of the stories they related. We heard of settlements of €5,000 or €6,000 on a claim, followed by legal fees of €40,000 or €45,000. That situation could not continue as it forced motorists who could not get insurance at a competitive price to drive without insurance. Now that insurance is becoming more affordable and competitive, the number of individuals who think of driving without insurance will reduce.

I welcome the section of the Bill which will strengthen the role of the authorities in dealing with the unscrupulous individuals who have been selling vehicles to minors. The problem of joyriding is not only associated with Dublin and large urban areas, but is growing in certain rural areas also. The sooner this legislation goes through both Houses and is implemented the better.

This Government has made major investments in road improvements over the past four or five years, thereby making our roads safer. The call made for the setting up of a special traffic corps could reap rewards for the public and motorists. The improvements on the N9, the road with which I am most familiar, have ensured better safety. The Government’s commitment to the improvement of the inter city routes will ensure that the roads most used by motorists will improve.

The fitting of speed controls on vehicles is some way into the future. However, it would be worth the Minister’s while to consider this. Per[972]haps, he should also consider increasing the number of stationary speed traps as the number around the country is quite small. More stationary speed traps would be an investment. I do not suggest they be introduced to make money. However, if there were more of them, we would see a reduction in speed offences and greater compliance with speed limits.

The number of cycle lanes throughout Dublin has been increased. I would like to see cycle lanes introduced in large urban towns throughout the country. Cycling is dangerous, particularly in the winter when evening comes earlier and driving conditions are poor. While many more cyclists use helmets, they would have more confidence if cycle lanes were more plentiful.

The issue of heavy goods vehicles was raised by previous speakers. We had a significant problem in this regard, in particular over the years since 1997 since the significant improvement in the economy and the great improvement in the construction industry. The overloading of HGVs was a major problem. Apart from the dangers these vehicles caused to other users as a result of spillage of items from overloaded vehicles, the weight of the vehicles was destroying some of our smaller country roads. Road repair and construction costs are so high that it was unfair, and illegal, of these HGV drivers to overload their vehicles. I do not know whether the Garda initiated a deliberate operation to end this. However, I commend the Garda on the fact that HGV owners have become compliant. We will see the effects of that compliance in improved road standards. Also, our local authorities will not be under the pressure of having to patch and repair roads because of the damage caused by such vehicles.

The number of road deaths in 2003 was 336, the lowest number of fatalities since 1963. Road safety must remain a priority for the Minister for Transport. The legislation and policies being introduced must focus on the areas of speeding, drink driving and the wearing of seatbelts. We have come a long way with regard to compliance on seatbelts. However, we must continue to focus on the areas of speeding and drink driving if we are to reduce the number of deaths on our roads.

Road safety is about the behaviour of road users. If we have the legislation and it is implemented by gardaí, road users will improve their behaviour. We must continue to work on improving our roads. The Government committed itself in the national development plan to investing significantly in upgrading the standards of our roads.

In adopting the road safety strategy, the Government learned from the road safety experience of the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and a number of other EU countries. In his Second Stage speech the Minister said: “We have also adopted an approach that has seen the engagement of all the organisations that con[973]tribute to various elements of road safety policy in identification and pursuit of the policies through which the overall targets can be achieved.” Did the Minister consult and contact the driving instructors in that regard? In recent years calls have been made on Ministers to bring in legislation for driving instructors. We do not appear to have regulations which provide for driving instruction companies to impose standards on their members. I hope this Minister tries to provide for regularising the driving instructor association in the lifetime of this Dáil.

I welcome this legislation and hope it has a speedy passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

  6 o’clock

Mr. Howlin:  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this legislation. Road traffic Bills come before the House reasonably frequently, but this is not necessarily good. I do not say that by way of criticism. I was once responsible for this area and introduced a road traffic amendment Bill. We seem to be always tweaking the system.

That may be a requirement of coming to terms with one of the biggest killers of young people in particular, road traffic accidents. With changing technologies and life patterns we will frequently reassess and change our strategy to try to make roads safer.

By and large I welcome the legislation. The core of the Bill, to put our speed limits into metric form appears to be a straightforward proposition but it is fraught with difficulty. We have had a parallel system for a long time with distance signs being in kilometres and speed signs in miles. I am sure this was a cause of confusion for visitors. For example, coming out of Dublin city the distance to a destination is written in kilometres but the speed limit is given in miles although there is no indication as to whether it is in miles or kilometres. It is necessary to have a uniform system. It could only happen in Ireland that we would have two systems operating in parallel.

There is an inherent difficulty in changing speed signs to the metric system. As we are changing from miles to kilometres the figure will increase. When people see 100 written on a sign it must be clear that it is 100 kmh not 100 mph. Will the Minister indicate if the letter “k” or “km” will appear on the sign to avoid confusion on this matter?

The previous Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, voiced his concern at the arbitrary way in which speed limits are set. He indicated that if local authorities did not take a more rational approach to the decision making process he would take away this power from them and vest it in a national agency such as the National Roads Authority. I did not often agree with the previous Minister but he had a point in regard to this matter. Local councillors are often subject to pressure and irrational decisions are made partic[974]ularly in regard to national roads. I am afraid the problem has not been overcome with the response of local authorities to the Minister’s exhortation to be realistic. I note in the legislative proposals before us the Minister has left that decision with local authorities.

We need to have some overarching authority that says this or that is not right or is not a rational way to proceed. When driving one does not want to be constantly checking if one is moving from one zone to another, especially if one is on a national primary route.

Every Deputy who has spoken has instanced the road with which he or she is most familiar. I regularly travel the N11. When I travel from Dublin to Wexford I am delighted to reach Loughlinstown and get on a motorway. This road was previously the Bray bypass. The speed limit there is 70 mph. I immediately go from the motorway speed of 70 mph to 60 mph on the dual carriageway to a short 40 mph zone then back to a 50 mph zone through the Glen of the Downs and up to a 60 mph zone in the space of some 15 km.

There is no correlation between the quality of the road and the speed limit. Often the better road has the lower speed limit. There needs to be some overview on this. For a while a great deal of the new dual carriageway was a 40 mph zone, which was ludicrous. I spoke about this to members of the Garda Authority and officials of the NRA who all regarded that as an anomaly, which has been rationalised to some extent. I give that as an indication that one has to have consistency. The notion that people would be in jeopardy of losing their licences for not constantly adjusting speed on what looks like a consistent road of dual carriageway standard is something that needs to be examined.

I wish to briefly discuss the role of the Garda Síochána in regard to monitoring of speed limits. There is now a view within all operations of the State that we need some kind of yardstick to measure outcomes. All successes, be they in health, education or police enforcement have to be in some way measurable. The tape measure used for the Garda Síochána is the PULSE system. In order for one Garda division to be seen to be effective, the rate of prosecutions has to be at least equal to the neighbouring division. I am certain that gardaí are dispatched during the year to improve the batting average of their division. That is no way to improve road safety.

There should be a commendation for areas where there are few prosecutions because that is a true indication of effective policing. The fact that prosecutions have been made often means people are breaking the law more frequently. A highly visible Garda presence will often force people to keep the law. One does not need to have prosecutions to keep the law. The yardstick I suggest is a reduction in accident rates, not the level of prosecutions or fines within a Garda div[975]ision. This is a very important point. The criteria for success should be a reduction in accident fatalities and injuries, not the number of captured lawbreakers whether they are people a few miles over the speed limit or overtaking on a continuous white line or whatever. I am not encouraging that by any stretch of the imagination but it is a mindset we have to get right. I accept this is not primarily the responsibility of the Minister for Transport but it is an important component of a Road Traffic Bill to have that view expressed.

I am deeply concerned with the view expressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to the outsourcing of speed cameras. I served on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, which investigated the insurance industry. We produced two substantial reports and a raft of recommendations that come within the remit of the Minister for Transport. The former Minister for Transport was very helpful with the committee’s work. After careful consideration and on a unanimous cross-party basis, the committee recommended that speed cameras should be operated by the Garda Síochána and not by a franchised commercial entity. I am strongly of that view.

We looked closely at the model used in Great Britain. If we move away from this being an initiative to reduce accidents and save lives to one designed to make money, we will be on a very dangerous road, if the House will pardon my mixed metaphor. I genuinely believe this. If this is commercialised and there is an incentive for people to cover costs by capturing people the objective is no longer road safety. This is something I feel strongly about. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is quite wrong in holding firm that we should take this function away from the Garda Síochána and outsource it to some commercial entity.

We have the experience of clampers who, by and large, do a good job. However, in Galway a decision has been made to dispense with their services. A decision has been made in Dublin to look again at the contract for this service. A balance has to be struck between good public policy and a commercial company with a commercial mandate to make money. No company will apply for a franchise unless there is a commercial motivation. That was the strongly held collective view of the Oireachtas joint committee on reflection, which I hope the Minister of State will communicate to his Cabinet colleagues.

The committee made a number of recommendations which relate to the Department of Transport and road traffic, many of which are extremely important — for example, the improvement of driver testing and the regularisation of qualifications and standards for driving instructors. The committee supported the notion of random breath tests and the introduction into the school curriculum of road safety at second [976]level, which are important issues, which will form part of a rational approach to road safety.

Mr. Callely:  Is the Deputy referring to the 2004 report?

Mr. Howlin:  Yes. This is the second report of the Oireachtas committee, published in July 2004, which includes a checklist of the proposals which have been implemented, one of which is this Bill. The Health and Safety Bill, which is due before the House next week is another. On a cross-party basis, the committee is pushing to have a range of legislation implemented, even though some Bills are difficult. For example, the establishment of the PIAB was agreed on a cross-party basis and supported through the House, which is the correct way in which to make legislation if possible. I do not have time to go into detail on the work of the committee. I acknowledge that the Minister of State has read the report, but I recommend it to him and hope it will not gather dust. The committee will return to the issue and the Minister will be called before the committee again to examine the checklist of items which need to be addressed.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. For example, insurance costs for motorists have fallen by 18% on average this year, for which the committee can claim some credit by calling the insurance companies before it and holding them to account. The committee system is an effective way of doing business. The Press Gallery, which is obviously bulging now, might take note of the work of the committees.

Mr. Callely:  Deputy Cassidy is working on them.

Mr. Howlin:  I am sure he is. We have a very able and hardworking chairman and a new able vice-chairman since his predecessor, Deputy Conor Lenihan, was catapulted into high office.

I welcome the new offence of supplying a mechanically-propelled vehicle to minors, but the provision has come very late. On two occasions my colleague, Deputy Broughan, introduced legislation to the House to deal with the issue of so-called “company cars” only for it to be defeated by the Government. It is too important an issue to have been regarded as party political and voted down simply because it was proposed by this side of the House. Unfortunately, in my judgment that is the only reason it was voted down.

Mr. Callely:  That is not a fair reflection of the position.

Mr. Howlin:  The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond to that point. It is my discernment that the legislation which was proposed twice is the same type provided for in this Bill. It is a very important issue because so-called “joyri[977]ders” have been putting people’s lives at risk in Dublin and across the country. The measure is very welcome but it should have been dealt with earlier.

It is not a criticism of any particular Minister, or even of any particular Government, but it is a pity we do not normally have the generosity to accept legislative proposals from this side of the House. They might not be crafted to the finessed degree of Government legislation, but that can be addressed on Committee Stage. We should consider a mechanism such as exists in other parliaments so that Private Members’ proposals and even Private Members’ Bills could get much more hearing time in this Assembly. Perhaps this could be examined by the committee on Dáil reform. In some assemblies, for example, government departments are available to draft legislation for individual members from the other side of the house. I hope through the Oireachtas Commission that we can at least resource the House to provide better support for Members with good ideas from whatever corner of the House they come.

Section 21 clarifies the use of emergency vehicles, although I am not sure it does so all that well, to which the Minister of State might make reference. The very last sentence cites all the provisions from which emergency vehicles are exempt, but the final subclause states: “where such use does not endanger the safety of road users.” I presume there is a duty of care on everyone, even those with blue lights flashing. In that context, an ambulance driver trying to get a cardiac arrest patient to a hospital will take due care and attention because he or she will be a trained able person, but will have to be careful not to come a cropper because someone might suggest that he or she “does not endanger the safety of road users”. For example, travelling at 80 mph might well de facto endanger other road users but it might be necessary in certain circumstances. Perhaps the provision is lifted from elsewhere but the Minister of State might refer to it in his summation.

Section 8 sets the speed limit for motorways but I want to see a definition of “motorway”. The Arklow bypass is as good a road, with no direct access on to it that I can determine, as the Bray bypass. However, the Bray bypass is a motorway with a speed limit of 70 mph, which will be 120 km/h, whereas the Arklow bypass is a dual carriageway, although it looks identical in quality, and will remain a 60 mph zone or 100 km/h equivalent. We need to rationalise what is a motorway and what is an enhanced dual carriageway. I do not know whether it is just for funding purposes that the NRA categorises such roads differently.

Section 10 provides for local authority managers to make temporary speed limits for road works but it appears to be a very cumbersome procedure. I presume road works are often undertaken on an emergency basis, for example, [978]when one needs to dig up the road in the case of a burst pipe. However, according to this section, the commissioner has a month in which to make representations on it, to which the manager must have regard. How exactly will that work because I am not certain? I presume there is an over-ride. When I was the Minister, there was an over-riding principle of practicality. There was an unwritten rule which provided for the works being done.

I always thought it a nonsense that speed traps were erected on some of the best roads in the country, which captured drivers travelling at a few miles per hour in excess of a 60 mph limit, whereas drivers could whizz around on country roads without breaking the law. I welcome the more rational approach to speed limits. However, many non-national roads now carry heavy vehicles, notwithstanding the comment made by Deputy Nolan, collecting milk, delivering goods and so on. We need to examine restricting weights on some of our non-national roads and on ensuring that all lorries are covered. It is sugar beet season in my area at present, which provides one of the most dangerous factors on the roads at this time of year, as the Chair, given where he comes from, will be aware. Sugar beet falling onto icy roads is lethal. Therefore, we must ensure lorries are covered. I could say a great deal more about this important legislation. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to do so on Committee Stage, when I hope some of the points I have made will be taken on board.

Mr. Ellis:  This is an enabling Bill and it gives Members an opportunity to express views on a number of issues relating to road conditions and road traffic. Everybody has an opinion on speed limits. On the N4, for example, it is almost necessary to have somebody else in the car to say whether one is driving in a 30, 40, 50 or 70 mph zone. The section from the M50 roundabout to the Spa Hotel is probably the most signposted section of road in the country and the most abused with regard to speed limits. Sections of it have a 40 mph limit, which is ridiculous. Further along, there are sections with a limit of 50 mph before one reaches the M4.

Are these speed limit signs serving the purpose they are meant to serve? Is there a need to have so many speed limits on such a short section of road? It would be better if speed were controlled on those roads by means of warning signs rather than the signs currently used.

The Bill deals with speed limits throughout the country. It proposes to reduce speed limits on regional roads to 50 mph. This is low because some of these roads are in better condition than some of the roads classed as national secondary roads on which there is a 60 mph speed limit. The discretion for dealing with speed limits that the Bill proposes to leave to local authorities is important. Certain roads have a history of major accidents and perhaps the local authority should [979]have the power to intervene immediately if it believes there is a need to do so and place speed limits on those sections of road.

I am worried about county managers being given the power to declare speed limits. They should come before the local authority before the limits are imposed. However, in some cases it might be necessary to impose speed limits at short notice, for example, if road works need to be carried out in an emergency. We must be reasonably flexible. All speed limit changes should come before the local authority members. Under section 10, it is up to the local authority to notify members of the council. Will the members be notified before or after the speed limits are decided? It is imperative that there be a lead in period during which the managers would have to give notice to the councillors.

Speed limits are terribly important at schools, especially in rural areas. The recent programme of funding in CLÁR areas for warning signs at schools is of enormous benefit to both pupils and parents. In rural areas, children who do not use school transport are dropped to school and collected by their parents. As a result, one will see 20 cars or more outside some schools at 9.30 a.m. and at 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. These are dangerous times and warning signs are most important because motorists who are not from the local area will encounter a traffic hazard with parents allowing children to disembark at the schools. They can be in an extremely vulnerable position.

We must also consider the issue of driver education, which is most important. Deputy Howlin mentioned the recent reduction in the cost of insurance but I am aware of somebody who was quoted a price of €6,000 this week for insurance for a 1.2 litre car. The person is 17 years old and had just got a provisional licence. That price is way beyond the financial resources of any young person. Such prices can lead to the other problem of people driving without insurance, which is unacceptable. If there were a proper driver education programme in second level schools, and I have suggested this many times previously, we could ensure that when people reach the driving age of 17 years they will be able to get cheaper insurance. Driving habits are formed early. Driving tuition should be introduced as part of the second level curriculum. Young people should be taught how to drive so that when they go on the public roads they will have the benefit of a reasonable education behind them.

Another problem is that young drivers tend to feel they know everything about driving. However, no matter how much we have driven, we are always learning a little more. If one regularly drives on a certain road, one becomes familiar with its hazardous sections. One learns how to deal with road conditions, which can be an important factor in road accidents. If roads are wet or frosty they pose a grave danger which does [980]not exist on a nice dry road in the middle of summer.

The education system for drivers should also inform them about the maintenance of vehicles and ensuring that tyres, brakes, lights and so forth are well maintained. This is most important for safe travel on the roads, especially for young people. Will the Minister consider the possibility of introducing into the second level curriculum a driver education or tuition programme?

Another cause of concern is people driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or just fatigue. Look at the effects some prescription drugs can have on people’s ability to react. This is a grey area that needs to be examined. People should be made aware of the dangers of driving after taking prescription drugs. There is also the use of non-prescription drugs, which is a major hazard for road users. People who are under the influence of drugs and who take control of a car are, in effect, a lethal weapon. Let us be under no illusion about this.

The other common problem is drink driving. Everyone has their own opinion of drink driving and nobody condones it. However, I believe younger people are less condoning of drink driving than others. It is no longer socially acceptable to young people to drink and drive. That is a good attitude and it is the result of the education of young people about the dangers of drink driving. They have seen the consequences for some of their friends and families. The consequences are terrible. With regard to education, if somebody is invited to speak to young people about driving it might be no harm also to invite somebody who has been involved in an accident. He or she could explain how it has affected his or her life. In some cases that has been done and it had a major effect on young people. They saw the consequences of somebody driving either under the influence of alcohol or too fast.

Driving when tired is another problem but the only way to deal with it is by using common sense. We might consider the use of drink drive car locks in this country. These are operated in some Scandinavian countries — I have seen them — and they are considered to be quite successful. If one fails to pass the drink drive lock blow, one’s car is immobilised and one cannot drive it. That is a good idea. We should examine if it would be acceptable in the Irish context.

The Bill also deals with the sale of vehicles to young people, which is a major problem. Everyone is aware that it happens not only in Dublin but in rural areas. There are unscrupulous dealers who will sell cars to young people. It is easier to take a couple of hundred euros from a 16 year old to get a car out of the yard than to have it taken away, to be scrapped. The only way we can change this will be if it becomes mandatory to have insurance cover before one is allowed to take a car out to drive. Garages should not be allowed to permit a person to take mechanical [981]vehicles off their premises without proper car insurance. This would probably be the most rapid way to deal with this problem.

The fine set down in the Bill for selling a car to a person under 16 years of age is €3,000. It is equally lethal to sell a car to a person between the ages of 16 and 17 as to someone under 16. The Bill should be amended so that it will become an offence to sell a vehicle to someone under 17, the legal age at which someone can obtain a driving licence and insurance. It should be mandatory that a vehicle cannot be sold to someone unless he or she can produce insurance cover and he or she should not be allowed to remove it from a premises without such cover. This would prove far more effective than the imposition of a €3,000 fine. It will be difficult to collect the fine from many of the individuals who sell the cars to which I refer because they will either have moved on or will simply not pay it.

Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister will consider changing the age from 16 to 17. No one under 17 years of age should be permitted to buy a car. The only vehicle a 16 year old is allowed drive is a farm tractor. Perhaps that is the reason the legislation refers to the sale of vehicles to persons under 16. Those aged 16 are legally allowed to drive agricultural tractors on the roads. The problem must be tackled.

Deputy Howlin referred to so-called company cars. I refer to them as company hearses. We have all seen young people rallying cars down narrow rural roads at night. It is frightening to see some of the marks left on some bypasses on Sunday or Monday mornings by those who executed hand brake turns on them the night before. I travel regularly on the N4 and regularly see such marks after the weekend. These drivers may be displaying bravado but their behaviour could lead to terrible tragedy.

We should consider introducing a system of speed warning signs. A number of such signs are already in operation. I noticed one recently on the N3, the Cavan-Dublin road, which, as one approaches it, indicates the speed at which the vehicle is travelling. This is terribly effective. It makes people aware of the speed at which they are travelling and the speed at which they are actually entitled to travel in a particular area. A system of such signs would be far more effective than one which utilises speed cameras. A person who does not return to the proper speed on encountering a speed warning sign would not be entitled to any measure of mercy when it comes to prosecution. Someone who is aware that he is driving at high speeds and continues to do so does not deserve great sympathy in the event of their being prosecuted.

If we were to introduce such a system, it should apply on the entrance roads to towns where 40 mph, 30 mph and slow-down sections are in operation. The sorts of signs to which I refer would be far more effective than those currently in exist[982]ence. A sign which shows someone the speed at which he is actually travelling is much better because it shows him that he is a danger to others if he is driving too fast. With modern technology, the system to which I refer would not cost much more than other systems. Signs warning people to reduce speed, keep left or whatever are used wherever one encounters road works throughout the country. Smaller versions of such signs could easily be provided. These would warn people about the speed at which they are travelling. They would be particularly useful in built-up areas and on roads on which there has been a high incidence of accidents.

Section 26 relates to taxi regulation. Everyone in the House will welcome that section because, in many cases, cognisance is not taken of a person’s record when a taxi licence is granted. We are aware that, on occasion, gardaí have issued taxi licences to people they felt were not suitable to hold them. This section is a positive development because it will give us the opportunity to deal with situations with which it is not possible to deal under existing regulations.

We must also consider the issue of vehicle testing as it relates to problems on our roads. Since the introduction of the NCT, many older vehicles have been removed from our roads. However, it remains the case that reasonably new vehicles do not pass the NCT. This may sound alarm bells for car owners. However, when one’s car passes the NCT, one is at least aware that the tyres, brakes and lights on one’s car are working properly. The NCT is important and while there was some opposition to vehicle testing in the early days, it has been quite successful.

When one considers the many road traffic regulations and all the changes that have taken place with regard to dealing with offences, one can see that mistakes are made every day in terms of pursuing prosecutions. The Garda authorities should be asked to ensure that members of the force do their homework properly. That is all I want to say on this matter. I accept that it is not intentional that prosecutions cannot sometimes be pursued but in many instances people guilty of driving recklessly get off on technicalities. This is a matter of concern to many people.

The most important factor relating to road use is education. We must start at the bottom, namely, with people attending second level. Driving instruction should be placed on the curriculum to ensure that people obtain a proper grounding in respect of road use and what they can do while driving a car.

I referred earlier to the sale of mechanical vehicles to people under 16. I hope the Minister will consider my suggestion that the age limit should be raised from 16 to 17. A maximum fine of €3,000 on conviction is not sufficient. Judges should also have scope to impose prison sentences, if necessary, particularly in respect of persons committing second or third offences. I feel [983]strongly about under age people driving without insurance. Not only are these individuals putting their lives at risk, they are putting those of other road users in danger. If, as in recent years, we are going to curtail the number of deaths on our roads, we will need the co-operation of all road users, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

I could speak at length about what should or should not be done in respect of road use. The Bill is a positive move towards improving the situation and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Healy:  This Bill provides an opportunity to examine issues of road and traffic safety. Its purpose is to introduce a new system of speed limits based on metric values rather than miles. It provides for the adoption of changes to the administration of the fixed charge system for traffic offences; introduces a new offence relating to the supply of mechanically-propelled vehicles to minors; extends and clarifies the application of exemptions from traffic and parking restrictions for emergency vehicles; provides for amendments to taxi regulations; and contains various other changes to road traffic Acts since 1961.

Approximately one person is killed and one seriously injured in road accidents every day. It is time to look at road safety in a more detailed manner. Speed, alcohol and drug use are the main difficulties. It is important appropriate speed limits are put in place to ensure road safety is uppermost in people’s minds. Many speakers have outlined areas with numerous different speed limits, ranging from 30 mph to 70 mph, on a short stretch of road. This does not help solve the problems with regard to safety.

The issue of county roads is key to road safety, the prevention of road traffic accidents and ensuring lives are not lost unnecessarily. Speed limits on county roads must be reduced, in some cases substantially. There has been reference to the issue of speed limits in the vicinity of schools. A speed limit of 30 km/h should be introduced in such areas. I concur with Deputy Ellis’ suggestion that warning signs be provided. The vast majority of pupils are taken to and from school by car. Often significant numbers of vehicles are parked on narrow country roads or roads with numerous bends. Drivers who are strangers to the area might come upon such a situation. There should be a speed limit of 30 km/h as well as warning signs.

The outsourcing and privatisation of the installation and operation of speed cameras will not be good for road safety. Cameras should be operated by the Garda Síochána to ensure the primary objective is road safety and not revenue collection. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform should examine the issue again.

Control of speed is the most important element with regard to road safety. Trucks are now fitted with speed limiters, and this restriction should be [984]extended to private motor vehicles. It is a necessary and acceptable measure and will ensure road safety and the control of speed is uppermost in motorists’ minds. It will also ensure substantially less carnage on the roads. This Bill should be amended on Committee Stage to ensure speed limiters are fitted to cars.

The initial impact of the penalty points system was successful and reduced road traffic accidents and fatalities. However, this impact has waned because of the low probability of actually being caught. A special traffic corps should be established within the Garda Síochána to deal with road and traffic safety. The penalty points system will be largely undermined unless drivers feel there is a probability of being caught if they exceed speed limits.

However, there should also be an element of fairness. One runs the risk of both a fine and penalty points if one exceeds the speed limit by one, two or three miles per hour, particularly in lower speed limit zones. There should be an arrangement, a twilight zone if you like, whereby exceeding the limit by one to five miles per hour in lower speed limit zones of 30 mph or 40 mph attracts a fine and not penalty points as well.

The transition year curriculum in second-level schools lends itself to helping promote road safety. The education of young drivers is important, and transition year should be used for that purpose. Learner driving, tuition, and knowledge and minor maintenance of vehicles should be introduced as part of the transition year curriculum. That would contribute significantly to road safety in the future. I welcome in particular section 24 that controls the sale of cars to minors. Like Deputy Ellis I believe the age limit should be at least 17 years of age and not 16 as proposed in the Bill. I hope that provision can be changed on Committee Stage. The sale of cars to minors continues to be a problem and it has been raised in the House on a number of occasions. I hope an amendment to this section will be tabled on Committee Stage.

The practice of able-bodied people parking in parking spaces for the disabled annoys people including me. Many disabled people have indicated to me and to others that this offence should be dealt with severely. They recommend increased fines for that offence. There is a limited number of parking bays for the disabled. I recommend an increased fine when these spaces are used by able-bodied drivers.

Another element that could be provided for by way of an amendment to the Bill is that of the long waiting times for driver testing. The waiting time for a driving test is now running at between 40 weeks and more than a year and this is unacceptable. Not enough has been done to ensure that a reasonable time applies.

Mr. Callely:  That is not true.

[985]Mr. Naughten:  It is probably nearer to a year.

Mr. Healy:  Once an application is made, the outside waiting period should be 12 weeks. Many people are waiting to take the test in order to use their car for employment purposes. While the officials in the Department are very helpful in this area, they are not in a position to shorten the waiting time significantly even for people who are waiting to take the test for employment purposes. I ask that this Bill be amended to allow for an additional section providing for a waiting period of not more than 12 weeks.

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been quite vocal since taking up his new appointment in which I genuinely wish him well. He is a very committed politician since his time in the Department of Health and Children and I am sure he will be the same in the Department of Transport. In some ways those of us with responsibility for health matters miss him from that Department. Unlike some other people, he was a bigger risk-taker than most and he got things done.

Mr. Callely:  I thank the Deputy.

Mr. Neville:  I wish to credit another person who has moved, Deputy Naughten, for the work he accomplished during his time with responsibility for this area. He was extremely conscientious and did a great deal of research and work. He brought many issues forward. He heavily influenced and determined Fine Gael policy in this area. One of those issues he raised and to which Fine Gael is committed is the establishment of a road accident investigation unit. I ask the Minister of State to examine this area because a road accident investigation unit must be established to discover the root cause of accidents and to compile and publish accurate and detailed accounts of the causes of accidents.

While drink driving and speeding are major contributory factors to our atrocious road safety record they are not necessarily the main causes of accidents in the first instance. No one can supply an accurate figure in respect of the number of fatalities caused by drink driving because the only way to do so is to have the coroner test the blood alcohol level of a person involved in a fatal road accident and that is done at the discretion of the coroner. Figures relating to the involvement of drink driving in fatal accidents are not compiled. No one can therefore provide definite figures in respect of this matter. A system for the automatic investigation into the causes of accidents is required. The National Roads Authority currently has responsibility in this regard.

While the NRA compiles statistics relating to dangerous stretches of national roads, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other sections of national routes are accident hot spots. County [986]roads have some very dangerous stretches which are often not recognised. When they are recognised, a traffic sign is erected which often only lasts until it is hit and then is not renewed in many cases. Any community situated on a national primary route will know the official and unofficial black spots. The frequency of accidents at these unofficial locations does not bear out the statistics that road conditions are responsible for 2.5% of all accidents as claimed by the NRA. Many accidents are due to poor road conditions or in the cases of new roads, poorly designed roads, yet the NRA has failed to highlight this in any report to date because this would place the focus on the authority. The only way to ensure proper statistics is through the establishment of an independent road accident investigation unit.

I can give an example of the circumstances of a fatal accident. A tennis ball in the car rolled along the floor into the driver’s area. When the driver went to brake, the tennis ball jammed behind the pedal and caused the accident. It is important that people should be alerted to the many things that must be considered.

  7 o’clock

I wish to draw to the attention of the National Roads Authority the need for a bypass for Adare village in my constituency, from both a road safety and traffic access point of view. Some serious accidents have occurred particularly on the Rathkeale side of Adare. It is also dangerous on the Limerick side of the village where there are narrow bridges and many people walk that area. I ask that the NRA consider a bypass for Adare. Limerick County Council is publishing today a report on the options for the Adare bypass. Options, procedures and decision making in respect of the bypass are fine but funding is very important, not alone from the point of view of safety but from the point of view of development of the tourist products of Adare and the need to remove heavy traffic from the village. It is an excellent tourist product, one of the best in the country. From discussions with the NRA, I am aware that the inter-city routes are the Department’s chief consideration. I remind the Minister of State that the bypass for Adare is very short and very necessary. In the context of an overall budget it is a very small amount but would be very significant from a safety point of view and would provide access to the western part of west Limerick.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has completed its consideration of the Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill 2000 and has made amendments thereto.

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

Mr. Glennon:  I propose to share time but my colleagues are not here yet and I do not know who I am sharing with——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is sharing time with Deputies Fleming, Cooper-Flynn, O’Donovan, McGuinness and Ellis. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Glennon:  It is somewhat intriguing to hear that Deputy Cooper-Flynn’s name is on the list.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and commend Deputy Hogan for the work he has done on this issue. It is timely that we have a debate on the issue. Deputy Hogan will not be surprised to hear I will be supporting the Government’s position on his proposal but it is important that the Members of this House have an opportunity to discuss the concept of rip-off Ireland, as it has become known. My view is that it is not a reality. It is more a perception on the part of the media through which the term appears to have permeated down. Rip-off Ireland exists, but only in the minds of those who want it to exist. I am not saying we live in a price paradise in terms of all our goods and services. That is not the case, but I am emphatic that the, extent of price abuse, be it for goods or services, has been hugely exaggerated.

The reality is that we have much more money to spend. Consumers are paying more than people in most other European countries but there is a reason for that. I have particular experience of this in north County Dublin, which produces approximately 50% of the national output in the horticulture area and where horticultural products are regularly used as the pawns in the price wars of the major supermarkets. It is not uncommon for a head of lettuce to be used as a loss leader, so to speak, to bring the housewife into the supermarket.

We had an experience recently with a pumpkin grower in north County Dublin. Pumpkins are a seasonal product at this time of year. This grower was producing approximately 20,000 pumpkins specifically for the Hallowe’en market and was expecting a retail price of €3 per pumpkin. Her only concern was that she would have a repeat of last year when one of the major supermarkets dropped the price of pumpkins to €1 and shifted thousands of them in the process. That absorbed whatever profit she might have gained. In fact, she lost a significant amount of money. It would not have been worth her while this year if any [988]of the supermarket chains, and specifically that supermarket chain, had taken the same action. Last year it was the whim of that supermarket to use the pumpkin as a loss leader. This year, the whim took them somewhere else. The pumpkins were safe. The young girl starting out in business, producing in a niche market, was safe. She had a good crop. She lost very few pumpkins and got a reasonable price for her product. The Irish market is so small it is subject to such whims and the only way those whims can be dealt with is by an additional margin for most retailers on most products. It is important that we take account of that. There is no doubt, however, that there are a number of areas where dramatic improvements can be made.

We should be concerned on behalf of the consumer but we have to put the position in context. The growth in the economy over the past decade has been phenomenal, unforeseen and is something which has changed our entire way of life. We are now the second richest country in the European Union, with only Luxembourg ahead of us. We have gone from a position where, less than 20 years ago, we were exporting our brightest and best to earn a living abroad. We now have immigrants working here and they are welcome in our workforce. Unemployment is down to
4%. That is as near to full employment as we will get, and 1.8 million people are at work, more than ever before. All of that has given rise to a culture where people have a good deal of money and they might not be as careful with it as in the past. The youth now have disposable income that most of us in this Chamber did not have access to when we were that age. There are major questions to be asked about where their money is being spent. That particular sector of the electorate does not appear to be too bothered about value for money. From what I see of the hospitality business, and the pub business in particular, not many of the younger generation either inquire about the price of a pint or check their change. All the issues have been raised in regard to shots and, more recently, sachets of alcohol. There is no doubt there are rip-offs in that area, not only financially but morally also. They are the issues we should be addressing.

Abuses are being carried out by the monopolies in the transport, communications and banking sectors on price and service. Those sectors have dominant positions in those areas. There are very few companies operating in them. To one degree or another they have all exploited those dominant positions at the expense of the consumer and, unfortunately in some instances, they continue to do so.

It is our duty to protect the consumer and ensure the consumer protection laws are adequately enforced. While I accept the bona fides behind this proposed legislation, I am strongly of the view that the work currently in hand by the Minister and his Department and the [989]research being done, which I have no doubt will bear fruit in the next few weeks, is the way forward. We must deal with this issue on the basis of that research and the work being done in the Department. I oppose this legislation.

Mr. Fleming:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Consumer Rights Enforcement Bill 2004. I am amazed the Bill is, being brought forward by Fine Gael. I do not believe the majority of the party’s Front Bench would support the legislation if it were to progress tonight because much of what its spokespersons say on different issues runs counter to what is proposed. As regards the discussion about Opposition parties coming together in advance of the next election, I do not believe there is any prospect of Fine Gael getting——

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil parties are split, particularly on the issue of aviation.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Deputy Ryan is in no position to speak about party splits when he did not get support from his party to run for President.

Mr. Hogan:  The Government is also split on socialism.

Mr. Fleming:  Members of the Fianna Fáil Party are socialists. Other parties can speak for themselves. Effectively, the Bill proposes to establish another quango. One of the major disappointments of my few short years in the House has been our tendency to appoint a quango every other month. I had hoped we were beginning to move away from this approach but the Bill proposes the appointment of another regulator. Before long, legislation will be required to regulate the regulators because there are so many of them.

Mr. Hogan:  The Government set up every one of them.

Mr. Fleming:  The essence of the legislation is its vote of no confidence in the Director of Consumer Affairs as it proposes to remove her from office. The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs needs to be properly resourced and beefed up.

The Fine Gael Party is inconsistent on this issue. In the past year or two, the new consumer director in the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority has made tremendous progress on all matters relating to consumer protection in financial services. This Bill would set back progress such as the response to the recent debacle in which AIB was found guilty of overcharging customers in foreign exchange. As a result of IFSRA’s role, including that of its consumer director, AIB was immediately compelled to lodge €50 million with the Central Bank until the [990]various matters had been resolved and all customers reimbursed for being wrongfully overcharged. That is an example of new legislation that works, whereas this Bill would throw the baby out with the bath water.

Mr. Hogan:  That has nothing to do with the Bill.

Mr. Fleming:  On the contrary, financial products, whether mortgages, car loans or services provided by banks or the insurance and financial industries, are one of the most important areas of consumer affairs. This legislation runs counter to the good work being done in this area.

Mr. F. McGrath:  As with Deputy Glennon, the Deputy did not read the Bill.

Mr. Fleming:  Let us take a further example of the inconsistency of Fine Gael. The Bill proposes to provide in legislation for the new consumer rights enforcer to assume an advocacy role in representing consumers in the national partnership arrangements. Fine Gael Members have consistently complained about national partnerships, which were pioneered by the Fianna Fáil Party. My party works well in government and is proud of the partnership approach.

Anyone who understands trade union and voluntary negotiation will know that national partnerships are not established by legislation. They are by definition voluntary agreements between the Government, trade unions, employers, the agricultural sector and various other sectors of society acting in a voluntary capacity. A branch of the Fine Gael Party is, through the Bill, proposing to place one aspect of the partnership process on a statutory footing. Will we have social partnership in the future? I suspect we will not if the Fine Gael Party is in government.

Fine Gael’s approach is inconsistent in many respects. Comments made in the House by party spokespersons on a regular basis run counter to what the Bill proposes. It consistently complains about new quangos, yet the Bill proposes to establish another quango. The thinking behind the Bill is an example of the desperation the party showed in advance of the previous election when it proposed to compensate taxi drivers and Eircom shareholders, and spoke other guff and nonsense of that nature.

Mr. Hogan:  The Deputy is a sad case. The Government compensated taxi drivers. Will he give way?

Mr. Fleming:  I will do so briefly.

Mr. Hogan:  How much compensation did the Government pay out to taxi drivers?

Mr. Fleming:  Deputy Hogan has made his point. I hope the Taoiseach fulfils his promise to [991]serve the Government’s full term until the summer of 2007. We will have nothing to worry about if the public sees the machinations of the Fine Gael Party.

Mr. Hogan:  The Deputy has much to worry about.

Mr. Fleming:  I want to allow that party as much time and rope as it needs to hang itself, as it is doing tonight.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  Like my colleagues, I welcome an opportunity to speak to the Bill. There is no doubt that discussion of the rip-off culture, much of it fair, has attracted considerable media attention. I understand from Deputy Hogan’s comments that his objective is to remove the Director of Consumer Affairs. It is important to consider what the director has achieved, even in the current year. Of more than 35,000 queries examined by the office so far this year, 4,000 have been investigated. The office plays an important and increasingly busy role as a result of people’s belief that they no longer get value for money.

The Bill is motivated by considerable media interest in this issue. However, it has been introduced after the Tánaiste’s decision, in her previous position as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to set in motion a strategy group to examine this issue. Established in March, the purpose of the group is to consult the public and interested parties and listen to complaints to get the broadest possible spectrum of opinion on the issue. Its objectives are to provide consumers with knowledge, information and confidence to ensure they are well informed of their rights and have speedy means of address, a powerful voice and effective representation, that their views are heard and best practice and value for money are promoted. These also appear to be the objectives of the Bill——

Mr. Hogan:  In that case, the Deputy should vote for it.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  The Deputy is jumping the gun, however, because the consultation process has not been completed. He is aware the strategy group will publish its report towards the end of the year.

Mr. Hogan:  I would not depend on the Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, to produce a report.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  Given that it is November, why is the Fine Gael Party trying to rush a Bill through the House without first listening to what the public has to say in a proper consultative process. While I do not doubt the Deputy’s motivation, the timing of the Bill is suspect since it has been known since March that the strategy group [992]is examining the areas about which he is concerned. I look forward to the publication of the strategy group’s report and hope the Government will take serious action to implement its findings.

As a representative of a rural constituency, I am conscious of the differences in prices between rural and urban areas. In every aspect of life, people believe they are not getting value for money. While it is good that a report will be published on this issue in December, we will have to revisit this legislation if it is left on the shelf.

A number of important points arise, particularly with regard to the EU regulation on consumer protection co-operation on which agreement was reached during the Irish Presidency. It is important that any Bill introduced in the House incorporate agreements we have made at EU level and I am disappointed the Fine Gael Party has not taken this on board.

Does the Fine Gael Party believe the role of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs is not truly independent? The Bill seeks to introduce a new means of appointing a consumer rights enforcer who would be recommended by the Dáil and eventually appointed by the President. Under the current mechanism, the Public Appointments Service advertises the position and operates an open competition. This role is truly independent and it is a serious accusation to say otherwise.

Mr. Hogan:  That is correct.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  If Deputy Hogan believes that the public is dissatisfied with this office’s level of investigation, why is he then ignoring the people who have been consulted by the strategy group? These are the people——

Mr. Hogan:  It is fine if Deputy Cooper-Flynn wants to support the Government.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I am trying to analyse Deputy Hogan’s approach.

Mr. McHugh:  Come back Dev.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I am not being unreasonable, as this strategy group will report soon. Why could the Deputy not wait for its report to be published?

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Absolutely.

Mr. Hogan:  We have been waiting seven years.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  Then I might have been in a position to support this Bill.

Mr. Hogan:  I doubt it very much.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  Deputy Hogan might be surprised. I would not be afraid of supporting a Bill with value to offer——

[993]Mr. Hogan:  Fair play to the Deputy.

Dr. Twomey:  That is the Deputy’s prerogative.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  ——and which was not just about getting publicity on a matter which is very much being discussed in the media. I would be only too happy to support a genuinely motivated Bill that involved consultation with the public.

I advise the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, that when the report comes out, there will be an expectation that the Government will act. I sincerely hope that I will not have to debate another Bill on this matter from the Opposition due to Government inactivity.

Dr. Twomey:  Hopefully we will be in Government by then.

Mr. O’Donovan:  I am opposing the Bill but I understand the thrust of Deputy Hogan’s argument. The consumer strategy group was established less than a year ago, comprising eminent people from trade unions and business and experts from various sectors. The group is to report at the end of the year. Without trying to second-guess the outcome of the report’s findings, it would be wise and prudent for Deputy Hogan to await them.

Dr. Twomey:  We are simply trying to speed up the process.

Mr. Hogan:  Two years is a long time.

Mr. Ellis:  Deputy Twomey has not been in the House long enough for that.

Mr. Hogan:  He has been here two years.

Mr. McHugh:  He is not long on those benches.

Dr. Twomey:  It does not take me long to learn.

Mr. O’Donovan:  The consumer strategy group is examining consumer attitude and perception surveys, planning and land use, transportation, promoting consumer interests and the fruit and vegetable industry. Deputy Glennon referred to the lady in north County Dublin growing pumpkins.

Mr. McHugh:  Unlike the Government.

Mr. F. McGrath:  It is grand when one is into rugby.

Mr. Hogan:  The Deputy better be careful or he will turn into a pumpkin.

Dr. Twomey:  Or a chameleon.

[994]Mr. O’Donovan:  The group will also examine the pharmaceutical industry. As a Member with legal training, I am concerned with the constitutionality of the Bill. The Bill proposes that the consumer rights enforcer would have the power to impose administrative fines. The Competition Authority has similar powers, the constitutional implications of which have been referred to the Attorney General for investigation.

Mr. Hogan:  The Attorney General is a busy man.

Mr. O’Donovan:  The Bill also proposes that the consumer rights enforcer should periodically review and make recommendations on the fiscal jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court. Is it appropriate that the enforcer should have this power as that court falls under the remit of the District Court?

The Bill does not recognise the work done by the Director of Consumer Affairs to date. I am perplexed that an able Member such as Deputy Hogan would suggest that the director is not independent. It comes as a startling revelation to me as I believe the director is independent. There is an effort to control various prices. In Cork South-West I recently frequented a little hostelry where I was able to purchase a pint of Murphy’s stout for €2.60.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Deputy should name the establishment.

Mr. McHugh:  We could hire a bus to go there.

Mr. Ellis:  We would need a pint by the time the Opposition got down there.

Mr. O’Donovan:  It is not in Ahakista. However, the imported stout, Guinness, was €2.70.

Mr. Ellis:  Imported Guinness.

Mr. O’Donovan:  Guinness is foreign to Cork people.

Dr. Twomey:  Was duty paid on the Cork border?

Mr. O’Donovan:  In certain areas people are complaining about the price of drink in public houses. A Member pointed out how young people throw money across the counter, not caring if they get change. However, this is hitting home for publicans. Some blame the smoking ban. I note the Scots and the English are following our lead in that regard. The downturn in numbers visiting hostelries is not due to the ban but because many of them are ripping off their customers.

[995]Dr. Twomey:  That is what we have been saying for the last year.

Mr. O’Donovan:  Young people are inclined to buy their beer or wine in off-licence shops and stay at home. Some aspects of the Bill are good.

Dr. Twomey:  The Deputy agrees with us.

Mr. O’Donovan:  When the consumer strategy group produces its report in the next few months, we may well be acknowledging that Deputy Hogan’s points were appropriate. However, his timing is slightly out like the timing belt in a car not being perfect——

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  The Fine Gael Party never gets timing right.

Mr. Hogan:  Bad timing.

Dr. Twomey:  There speaks the real Taoiseach.

Mr. O’Donovan:  ——with a piston coming through the block.

Mr. Hogan:  Right or wrong, we keep on driving.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  With a rock in it.

Mr. O’Donovan:  I regret I will be opposing the Bill.

Mr. Hogan:  I am so sorry to hear the Deputy say that after him agreeing with the Bill in his speech.

Mr. McGuinness:  The Bill notes the emergence of a perceived rip-off. However, over the last several months, the Fine Gael Party has told people it is a real rip-off culture. As one who deals in business in the UK and Europe, the damage done by the Fine Gael Party to other Irish companies is incredible. The party took no stock of the impact of what it said on the business people must do on the Continent and in the UK. It is now perceived that Ireland has a rip-off culture and there is something untoward going on.

Dr. Twomey:  The Deputy should live in the real world.

Mr. F. McGrath:  There is a rip-off culture.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  The Fine Gael Party is totally responsible for this.

Mr. Hogan:  I am surprised Deputy McGuinness is not supporting the Bill.

Mr. McGuinness:  I am surprised at the Fine Gael Party taking this stand. It has not presented the debate in a balanced way and it has consist[996]ently harassed Government speakers to divert attention from this.

Mr. Hogan:  What does Deputy McGuinness know as he was not in the Chamber last night?

Mr. McGuinness:  It has not looked at the positive sides of the economy or the legislation passed by the Government on the minimum wage.

Mr. Hogan:  What about protecting consumers?

Mr. McGuinness:  This has added cost to how business is done. The Opposition has not acknowledged the good work done by the Tánaiste on the insurance industry.

Mr. Hogan:  I have acknowledged it.

Mr. McGuinness:  Business paid high premia before. However, this year premia in certain sections of my industry have come down by 40%.

Mr. Hogan:  It went up 300% in others.

Mr. McGuinness:  That is an incredible step forward. It depends on whether Deputy Hogan’s glass is half full or half empty.

Mr. Hogan:  Mine is two thirds full.

Mr. McGuinness:  It seems that it is constantly half empty. Last year the Fine Gael Party constantly claimed the economy was in recession, with 200,000 people unemployed.

Dr. Twomey:  The Deputy is getting confused with medical cards.

Mr. Ellis:  How can we trust figures from the Opposition?

Mr. McGuinness:  The Deputy is not politically big enough to stand back and say he was wrong, that he got it wrong and the economy continues to surge ahead. There are problems but they are being tackled.

Mr. Hogan:  The Deputy is on the wrong side.

Mr. McGuinness:  The Government is making a genuine effort to ensure that the economy, including the social economy grows and that on the macroeconomic level it can feed the benefits with which it must deal. The debate must be balanced. In the light of the announcements made by the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and recently by her successor, the Opposition has not presented a balanced debate. This Bill is an example of political opportunism.

Mr. McHugh:  I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Connolly, Eamon Ryan and Ó Caoláin. I welcome the opportunity [997]to speak on this Bill. The Government, with the exception of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, seems to accept that we are paying more for many goods and services than our counterparts in other European countries. I cannot understand the speed with which Ministers rush to attribute these higher prices to the success of the economy. The inference is that we must grin and bear it. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must play a significant role in this. He has only recently taken office but I hope he comes to terms with the job post haste because even though his predecessor spoke often about the need to be competitive, there is little evidence that she did much to bring that about. I support the Bill proposed by Deputy Hogan on behalf of Fine Gael because it is apparent that the measures in place are deficient and the agencies charged with protecting the consumer are ineffective.

The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy
Killeen, said that the Competition Authority has the resources and the autonomy to investigate the reasons for high prices which do not seem justifiable and to report publicly on its findings. The Minister of State may not be aware that Mr. Fingleton of the Competition Authority recently attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business which was investigating the high prices in the grocery and retail trade and their effect on consumers. Mr. Fingleton’s performance was disappointing, to put it mildly. He was expansive on generalities but short on specifics. He generated no confidence that his organisation was in a position to offer assistance to the committee in the matter under investigation. For example, he volunteered to the committee that the retail planning guidelines, which limit the size of retail outlets contribute to the high cost of grocery products when compared with those in other European countries. When asked for evidence he was unable to substantiate this claim.

Some of the major multiples and the discounters pointed to the fact that the limit on the size of retail outlets has no effect on prices. Lidl informed the committee that, based on the experience of other countries throughout Europe, there is no evidence that a restriction on the size of retail outlets has a direct impact on the price of groceries. That comes from a company, which opened its first store here in 2000 and now has a network of 48 stores throughout the country. Tesco also stated that it had no issue with the cap on the size of retail outlets and did not see it as an obstacle to being competitive. This is an example of the unsatisfactory situation whereby a body charged with ensuring our society is competitive feels it is adequate to give a top of the head view of this important issue without providing any evidence to support the claim.

[998]The Government has responsibility for many of the factors that contribute to the high cost of goods and services. For example, transport costs are 30% higher here than in Northern Ireland owing to fuel costs, the high level of road tax and the inadequate road infrastructure. Although insurance costs are falling to some degree, they are 200% above Northern Irish levels. The high cost of insurance is one case where direct Government action could have resulted in much reduced premium levels and would have led to reduced prices for goods and services. However, the Government did not act until the situation deteriorated to a level where business was going to the wall and job losses were occurring. Not alone do we need a consumer rights enforcer, we need the Government to act to show that it is also on the side of the consumer.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. This is important legislation for all sections of society but it is especially relevant to the weaker sections, those on low pay and those on welfare. Unfortunately, we live in a country in which certain elements are involved in a rip-off culture. We need a new framework to enhance consumers’ rights and to enable consumers to exercise those rights. That is why I disagree with Deputy McGuinness’ comments. The rich in our society have so much money they do not even notice. Working people, those on welfare and the low paid, are badly affected on an ongoing basis. People earning €100,000 or €200,000 per year do not bat an eyelid when they go out and spend €100 or €200 on dinner and a bottle of wine, but the minimum weekly adult social welfare rate is €134.80. Imagine trying to survive on that for seven days in 2004. There should be an increase of €20 on that in the budget, just as there should have been a flat rate increase of €20 for those on the minimum wage. All payments should be based on today’s reality, especially that of rip-off Ireland.

The consumer rights enforcer will name and shame the service providers it believes fail to provide consumers with an adequate standard of service. What is wrong with that? The consumer rights enforcer will have a seat at partnership level to ensure any national agreements do not impact disproportionately on consumers. The Bill will also allow for increases in fines and penalties to discourage breaches of legislation designed to protect consumers. When dealing with these price issues and the rip-off merchants, we must also address the growing number of low, income households in society. Rising average incomes have not benefited everyone to the same extent. One need only look at the scandal of the housing crisis. People, especially the young, are unable to buy homes in their own city. Meanwhile the wealthy have a field day, making significant money on their investments while some couples cannot buy and others must wait on housing lists.

[999]What does our socialist Taoiseach think of all this in our so-called wealthy country? Approximately 22% of the population is being left behind in rip-off Ireland and, despite all the talk, nobody seems to care. At the same time, low paid families represent an increased share of poor households. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that employment policies must be supplemented by tax and welfare measures while boosting the incomes of those on welfare and in low paid work.

I welcome section 5 of the Bill, which confers a series of powers necessary to ensure the rights of the consumer are upheld, are necessary, or are in force. It is very relevant. It is important that we defend the interests of consumers. Citizens have rights, consumers are citizens, and it is up to every Member of the Oireachtas to look out for and protect the interests of the consumer.

Mr. Connolly:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. We are all consumers in need of protection and consumer justice warrants that legislation be enacted for effective enforcement of the rights of the consumer. Prior to the establishment of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, enforcing consumer rights required a do-it-yourself approach. The civil court judge occasionally served as the ultimate enforcer of consumer rights if the consumer and service provider did not arrive at an amicable settlement.

This Bill aims to enshrine consumer rights in legislation by the appointment of a consumer rights enforcer or supremo. I do not particularly like the word “enforcer” because it smacks of the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” movie but the idea is right. The powers of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs were somewhat limited and the office mainly provided advice and information to consumers on legislation of interest to them. It does not get involved in individual issues or differences between consumers and service providers. There is a strong case to be made for the introduction here of “lemon laws” with strict enforceable penalties for consumers who may be sold lemons or, as we sometimes say in northern counties, may be sold a pup.

Lemons are so-called because of the sour taste they leave in the buyer’s mouth and they come in all shapes and sizes. Most lemons have wheels, for example, cars and bicycles, or they float, for example boats, or they can be houses. The days of caveat emptor or the hard luck story are over for consumers. Today’s consumers face a market place characterised by rapid change stemming from globalisation, deregulation of services and rapidly changing technologies affecting the kind of goods and services companies offer.

There has been an explosion in new products and services that require consumers to have considerable information to assess their value and [1000]implications. At the same time, traditional regulatory approaches have difficulty in keeping pace with protecting the consumer interest and providing the appropriate levels of redress. It is no wonder the number of consumer related issues have become flash-points, especially when people perceive that health services are at stake, such as in the case of the proposal to transfer a full surgical team from Monaghan General Hospital to Cavan General Hospital. For the people of Monaghan, health services are a major consumer issue and as recent experience has shown, they are truly a matter of life and death. We only have to ask the McCullough, Knox, Livingstone or Sheridan families about consumer issues in Monaghan.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Deputy McGuinness claimed that this is a question of seeing whether the glass is half full or half empty. I suggest to the Deputy that the real question in this debate is what price is the glass. Deputy Hogan referred last night to a glass of sparkling water with a splash of lime costing around €5 in Dublin. Deputy Perry spoke of a low price €3 pint in the village of Ballymote, while Deputy O’Donovan lauded the €2.60 pint in what I can only imagine is some shebeen close to his home in west Cork. The truth behind those two prices reveals a broader truth about Ireland. We live in an Ireland that is divided in two. One part of Ireland is this globalised, international finance world, especially in Dublin but also in Cork and Galway and places where there is multi-national investment, high finance and high incomes that come with localisation of global capital. For those people and for that culture, €5 for a glass of spring water makes eminent sense. The fear, however, and the reason I support this Bill is that in allowing a two-tier Ireland and accepting the reality of Ireland being a globalised centre, half of the population is caught out badly and suffers from the rip-off Ireland that genuinely exists, in spite of what the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, might say on the matter.

In one of the most open and globalised economies, it is remarkable that Ireland has allowed a situation develop where we have not benefited from some of the open markets. We are paying a far higher price, especially for groceries and everyday items that one would think would be brought down in line with such an open and globalised economy. That is not occurring because we are increasingly seen in the globalised market as a mere adjunct to the market of the north of England. Many retailers here buy products from the rest of the world in sterling and sell them in euro. They are putting a greater margin on each occasion, which leads to this market being very expensive in comparison to the neighbouring market in Northern Ireland, which has the same characteristics. The office recommended by Deputy Hogan could easily address that issue, yet the Government seems blind to it.

[1001]There is a more civic issue on retail planning guidelines and that is whether we should remove the cap on the size of retail stores to try to address the rip-off culture. I argue strongly that such a solution would not provide respite or any real long-term improvement to Irish consumers. Earlier today, the National Roads Authority gave a presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and it effectively admitted that any new retail outlet, particularly one the size of the proposed IKEA on the M50, would add traffic to a road that, although it is to be widened, will be at full capacity as soon as it is opened. For that reason alone it is bad policy. Similar economic arguments were made abroad for larger retail spaces in out-of-town locations. The experience has been that it leads to a monopoly supply position, where smaller indigenous retail outlets close down, there is a loss of competition in the long run and a loss of consumer rights and consumer choice. I urge the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as well as the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment not to proceed with this.

Deputy Hogan stated that there is a need for the partnership process to take into account wider consumer consideration. We have to think beyond that. We have to take into account environmental considerations and other social justice issues. These issues have not been addressed to date. It was interesting to hear the Taoiseach claim that his party was the worker’s party. To a certain extent, he may be right. His party is completely tied into the partnership process to represent what both IBEC and the ICTU want. That is what the Government parties take as gospel. It is an incredibly narrow definition of the rights and needs in this society. I found it hard to believe the claims of the intelligence unit of The Economist that we had the highest quality of life in the world. Maybe the glass is full, but for the people on €134 a week in social welfare trying to survive in this culture, there is a lousy quality of life. It is a difficult strain everyday just to survive. It is the same for those parents travelling long distances to bring their kids to school because they cannot afford housing. I welcome this Fine Gael Bill which allows us to debate this issue.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and on the issue at its core, which is undoubtedly one of great concern to many people. Prices of goods cannot be looked at in isolation. They are connected with Government policy across a broad range of areas. The rip-off culture behind this legislation, which Fine Gael has brought before the House, is the result of greedy, rampant individualism and, dare I say it, a capitalistic society which has been promoted by the Government parties, the movers of the motion and all those who believe that society should serve the economy. On the other hand, we [1002]in Sinn Féin, like some other voices in this House, but too few, are committed to a situation where the economy serves society. That is a great difference.

The free market economy has long been lauded in this State. Competition has been cited as the panacea for all ills, which clearly it is not. A free market economy is one where scarcities are resolved through changes in relative prices rather than through regulation. If a commodity is in short supply relative to the number of people who want to buy it, its price will rise and producers and sellers will make higher profits. The rip-off culture characterised by profiteers creaming off huge profits is, therefore, a resultant ill of a market-driven economy. Citizens need to be protected from the excesses of the market economy and that is why we need consumer protection legislation with legislation to protect workers’ rights and the environment.

I am glad Fine Gael accepts the necessity to regulate the market. I was happily surprised to hear Fine Gael say that there is not enough intensity of control over what is happening in the marketplace. I wondered if some of their Deputies had also caught the socialism bug, and there would be welcome for that.

Mr. Hogan:  No doubt about it.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The necessity for consumer protection serves as an acknowledgement that the free market does not work and does not serve the interest of the people of this State.

I would like to address a particular point on the terminology used not only by the movers of the Bill but frequently elsewhere. Fine Gael talks an awful lot about consumers, but very rarely about citizens or workers. That says a great deal about that party and others who take the same position that they seek to define people by their relationship with the ownership of goods.

The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government and IBEC often talk about competition only in terms of the public sector, breaking up State companies and so-called monopolies, while they fail to address competition in terms of price-fixing, cartels, self-regulation by the professions, the banking sector, the insurance industry and so on. Sinn Féin favours competition which is driven by a criteria of protecting the public good. Competition is clearly not the panacea, as I said. It has not been proven to bring down costs in many sectors. Competition does not protect people against profiteering and needs to be regulated.

I welcome many of the provisions of this Bill, especially those which relate to increasing fines and penalties. For example, I welcome the proposal to increase the penalty provisions in the Prices Act 1958 in respect of those who fail to display a price list, as required by law. I thank my comrades in Fine Gael for their work in preparing [1003]this Bill and I look forward to voting with them on it.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Neville:  Fianna Fáil is in trouble now.

Mr. P. Breen:  It is the start of a new relationship.

Mr. Neville:  I wish to share time with Deputies Ring, Twomey and Deenihan.

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

Mr. Neville:  I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Hogan, on introducing it to the House. He has been working on this matter for a considerable period and in many ways, for example, by investigating and researching this area. He has facilitated consumers by allowing them to have a say on a Fine Gael website, www.ripoff.ie, which has been of considerable benefit to members of the party. The website has informed Fine Gael of the concerns of the electorate.

Regardless of the extent of the evidence presented to them, successive Government speakers have demonstrated that they are in denial about the existence of the rip-off Ireland problem. I am sure they are logging onto Fine Gael’s website on a regular basis. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has argued that www.ripoff.ie propagates a myth. Figures published last week by the Central Statistics Office, however, reveal that the number of people visiting Ireland in the month of September decreased this year for the first time in three years. It is obvious to those who examine such matters — many people do not do so because they take them for granted — that costs in Ireland are much greater than in competing countries in the tourism market.

The Tánaiste said in 2000 that the Government was determined to tackle inflation by exposing previously sheltered sectors to competition, but nothing has been done since then to implement that agenda. No effort has been made to honour the Tánaiste’s commitment. Senator Leyden, Fianna Fáil’s enterprise spokesman in the Seanad, recently accused Fine Gael of trying to jeopardise employment and tourism and discouraging people from visiting Ireland by warning tourists about growing costs. When the Senator embarked on a personal “name and shame” consumer price-busting campaign in May of this year, however, he said he wanted to empower consumers to take action to reduce prices and encourage competition. The Senator decided to criticise Fine Gael for raising this issue, even though he had launched a campaign of his own. [1004]Such campaigns must be all right if they come from the Fianna Fáil backbenches.

The realities of life in Ireland are there for all to see. Ireland is the most expensive country in which to live in the EU. It is the third most expensive EU country for goods and services. Dublin is the fourth most expensive capital city in the EU. Ireland has fallen from fourth to 30th in the global competition league table. The current regulatory framework is hopelessly under-equipped to deal with the problems I have mentioned because the relevant laws stem from the 1970s and the 1980s. The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs has lost many of its powers. The legal regime to protect consumers, which is divided between five sectoral regulators, is dated.

This Bill is the first step in tackling the vested interests which have allowed a rip-off culture to flourish in Ireland. The Bill proposes that the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs be replaced with an office of consumer rights enforcer, which would have extra powers and would be charged with developing a code of conduct for service providers. The proposed office would engage in “name and shame” campaigns à la Senator Leyden. It would have a seat at the partnership talks and would impose fines and penalties.

The level of Government failure in this regard is monumental, deep-rooted and obvious. The Opposition has had to come up with answers as the coalition has slid further and further into a state of denial. The success of a survey on the price of sparkling water and lime, undertaken by Deputy Hogan last year, offers proof that Fine Gael’s policies can work. If a Deputy who does not have many resources can highlight these issues, one can imagine the power of an independent State-funded advocate for consumers.

Mr. Ring:  When I heard on the radio that a report has been published which claims that Ireland has the best quality of life in the world, my first thought was that those who wrote it must have stayed in the Shelbourne Hotel and spent three weeks drinking. They must have been drunk when they compiled the report because they certainly were not living in the real world. They do not know what is going on in Ireland.

As I listened to my local radio station when I was travelling to Dublin yesterday, I heard an interesting discussion on the motion to be debated in the Dáil this week. I did not hear much of the programme because I had an appointment, but I heard two women who contributed to the discussion. The first woman outlined her experience when she stayed in a lovely hotel in Galway. She paid a reasonable price, €85, for bed and breakfast in the hotel. She was pleased with the hotel at first because she and her husband did not encounter any difficulties. In the morning, they had a choice of a continental breakfast or a full Irish breakfast. They decided [1005]to take a small box of cornflakes — one can buy six or ten such boxes in a packet. They were told by an assistant in the hotel that they would have to pay extra for the cornflakes. When they paid the bill, they were surprised to be charged €5.50 for the little box of cornflakes. I am open to correction, but I believe one can buy a packet of ten or 12 small boxes of cornflakes for €2.80.

Later in the radio programme, another woman spoke of her experience in a town in the west, which I will not name because I do not want to embarrass its residents. She said she went for lunch in the town with her friend and a child, for whom she ordered two sausages. I am sure certain Deputies would not admit to eating sausages because they are too grand, but I assure the House that I have eaten plenty of sausages in my time. I know how much one pays for sausages and I know what a sausage is. The woman was charged €5.60 for her child’s sausages. She was told that the establishment’s practice was to charge people more money for anything extra they get. In this instance, she was charged an additional €5.60. If that is not a rip-off, I do not know what is.

I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a small supermarket in the west. He said that he is hardly able to survive, although he has never sold his goods as cheaply, because he has to compete with Dunnes Stores, Tesco and many other companies, which have come to this country.

I hope Deputy Hogan succeeds in passing this Bill and continues his work thereafter. Opposition Members are great at telling the Government what to do, but we are not half as good at doing what we should when we are in Government.

Many women have told me over the years that when they get home after buying goods in a supermarket, they find there have been problems with the bar code system. For example, they discover that they have been charged €9.99 or even €19.99 for a product that should have cost 90 cent. If a woman put a tin of beans in her pocket without paying for it, however, she would be sent to jail for shoplifting under the great justice system in this country. The justice system does not seem to acknowledge that rich business people steal, rip people off or do anything wrong. It seems to be all right for them to put their hands into people’s pockets to rob their money. It is fine for the people who discover such discrepancies, but what about those who do not discover the mistakes made by the bar code system? I want the House to pass legislation that ensures that supermarkets, which overcharge customers because their bar code system is not working properly are prosecuted. We cannot have one law for the poor and another for the rich. I want such legislation to be passed quickly.

Many Deputies spoke about a rip-off culture. We should not forget that every politician since the foundation of the State has spoken about [1006]pubs and the price of drink. The price of non-alcoholic drinks, such as water and minerals, is the greatest scandal in this country at present, especially for those who do not drink alcohol when they go to pubs. We have discussed this matter for the past 50 years but we have done nothing about it. The price of minerals, mineral water and tonics is a scandal and a rip-off. It is immoral and wrong and something should be done about it.

  8 o’clock

I compliment Deputy Hogan on the action he has taken in respect of the rip-off culture on behalf of Fine Gael over the past 12 months. The one thing that resonated with people was the rip-off culture they see every day of the week. The greatest rip-off of all is the Government itself, the county councils and the State agencies. We installed a regulator and were told we would have cheaper electricity, but the price has gone up four times in the past year. Social welfare provision did not go up that many times. People on €134 plus €15.40 for a child did not have their payments increased four times. The local authorities take in stealth taxes every day. A man came to my constituency office yesterday after his garage burned down. He had paid rates and other taxes to the State all his life, but when he had a fire on his premises, Mayo County Council sent him a bill for €10,000 to cover the cost of the fire service. He had paid his rates, which are supposed to cover charges for that. The same thing happened to a local man whose premises caught fire a few weeks ago. The fire brigade arrived, and he received a €2,000 bill yesterday. He was not covered for it and had to pay for it even though he had paid rates all his life.

That is rip-off Ireland at its best, and something must be done. It is not right that we crucify the consumer constantly. It is no wonder the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class is squeezed. We are letting the rich away with it, and we have seen that in this country’s taxation system in the past two weeks. The super-rich have not paid taxes to this State while the poor person on €140 is crucified every time he or she goes to the local supermarket, such is the rip-off society we have now. Tonight I say that enough is enough. Let the Government accept this legislation. If it wishes to table amendments, let it do so. Let this be the start. We must install the enforcer and allow the person to do the job. If one makes a complaint under existing legislation, there is no one to listen.

Dr. Twomey:  The total disregard for the consumer has been well highlighted by Deputy Hogan and Fine Gael’s rip-off Ireland campaign. Unfortunately, judging from what we have heard here tonight from the Government benches, it is obvious the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, is not the only person who supported zero tolerance when in opposition but [1007]seems to have become a mythical figure now that he is in the Government.

Rip-off Ireland is not a myth; it is happening, and many people have been greatly affected by it. Fianna Fáil believe the consumer would never link the contemporary rip-off culture with the Government, which has been very careful to court vested-interest groups, even to the detriment of the general public. We have seen that happen everywhere, including in the health services, education and business. Even the Tánaiste, when Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, made great hay out of the fact that she was going to be the Minister for competition and that everything would change under her tenure. After seven years in that post, what has she got to show for it? She has the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and nothing else.

We awaited reports to show how anti-competitive solicitors, barristers, doctors, architects and pharmacists were. Every profession was to be exposed, yet nothing has been published. I heard Deputy Cooper-Flynn talk here tonight about the report due in December. Naturally enough, she does not say which year, because we do not know. It has been in the pipeline for so long that it is turning into a joke. Saying that Fine Gael is doing the economy harm by highlighting the rip-off culture is along the same lines as saying that patients getting sick is bad for the health service or that people getting old are doing it an injustice. I can see the Minister mouthing the word “silly”. Thank you for listening to us.

Deputy Martin has now taken over at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, but what does he have to show? He set up three new health boards, which he abolished before he left, and established at least 25 new health organisations that his own Department’s report made by Prospectus, recommended should be abolished. He published at least 130 reports that he could not be bothered implementing. The only thing to his credit in four years as Minister for Health and Children was the smoking ban, which could itself go up in smoke in the course of a cold winter, but we will wait and see.

If Deputy Harney did very little at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, can we expect much from Deputy Martin, apart from the usual from this Government? The chameleon Taoiseach and his Government jokers are trying to put an extra spin on matters tonight. They are trying to talk over our heads and those of the Irish people, somehow deluding them into thinking that this is not a Government problem. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern, has finally realised that, after almost a decade in Government, the people expected a little more from him. He has not delivered, and that is the challenge to this Government. There is no point in knocking the Oppo[1008]sition for raising such issues. The coalition should have been dealing with them in its seven years in power.

The Government has made an enormous contribution to the increasing lack of competition. The tourism industry is taking a hammering because of the high cost of doing business. Foreign consumers can look up the Internet and very quickly compare what it costs to eat out, stay in a hotel, hire a car or buy a train ticket. One can buy a three-day rambler ticket in Prague with free tram access for €7. One would not even get a single bus fare from Wexford to Gorey for that. That is what foreign tourists compare when they enter this country. The bluff from Deputy McGuinness about doing business in Europe and what a big fellow he is over there does not impress anyone on this side of the House. Business people know exactly where the problems are. They have given up on this country and are gradually moving out of it. Fine Gael is trying to correct that problem for the sake of the people.

Mr. Deenihan:  In 1997, the rate of inflation in Ireland was 1.2%. In Europe it was 1.9%. In 2000, the Irish increase in prices was 2.1%. By 2003, the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index was 3.5% in Ireland, while in Europe it was 2%. Over the past seven years — and this year too — the previous pattern has been reversed. In the mid 1970s, prices here were increasing at a very low rate, whereas in Europe the rate was higher.

As spokesman on tourism, I refer to the industry. There are some very bad examples in tourism of how people have been ripped off, mostly tourists coming here who would obviously identify being overcharged. Generally speaking, I find that most people involved in tourism are under a great deal of pressure these days. More discount pricing is going on at present than ever before. People are trying to maintain cash flow.

A typical enterprise in any Irish tourist resort has to pay very high electricity charges, which have increased by approximately 40% since 2001, very high refuse charges to the local authority, and very high rates and water charges. Labour costs have increased, and all that time they have been making less than they did four or five years ago. That is unsustainable, and there will be many casualties. A Member from my county, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, remarked that Fine Gael should abandon this campaign. A few months ago in this House, the same Minister lectured the tourism industry that it would have to examine its prices. In September 2002, following the ITEC report, the Minister again highlighted overcharging and high costs in the industry and the fact that we were not competitive. It is rather ironic that he is now saying that we are not a rip-off country. The Minister knows full well that there are instances of that happening and that the current inter[1009]national perception — and reality, when people check up the Internet — is that we are more expensive. The Government has an opportunity in the Finance Bill to do something about it. We have a major difficulty. The National Competitiveness Council’s report in September 2004 highlighted that Ireland was the most expensive country in Europe in which to purchase food, the second most expensive in which to purchase alcoholic beverages and the most expensive in which to purchase tobacco. Tourists consume all these products when they visit Ireland and it is no wonder the impression is created that people are being ripped off. When all of us holiday in Spain and Portugal, we notice how cheap they are in comparison with Ireland.

The budget submission of the Irish Hotels Federation points out that the VAT regime for hotels and restaurants is a major barrier to the development of tourism. At 13.5%, Ireland has the second highest VAT rate in the eurozone for hotel charges, second only to Germany. That is not sustainable.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Miss de Valera):  I thank Deputy Hogan for bringing the Bill forward and providing us with the opportunity to debate the important issue of consumer protection law. However, the debate has only served to underline many public misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist in regard to consumer rights and the means available to consumers for seeking redress when those rights are denied.

Last March, the Tánaiste established the consumer strategy group to advise on the development of a new consumer policy. The group is expected to report to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, within weeks. In the meantime, it is instructive to examine the group’s terms of reference in the context of the debate. As the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Killeen, said last night, they are sufficiently broad to enable the group to examine and make recommendations on all aspects of the consumer agenda.

The group has been asked to examine means to provide consumers with the knowledge, information and confidence to be demanding of quality, service and value and to ensure consumers are well informed of their rights and have effective and speedy means of redress where those rights are denied. Much of the difficulty faced by consumers is understandable and is due to the way in which consumer law has evolved over recent decades. Consumer laws such as the original Sale of Goods Act 1893 date back more than 100 years. That Act has been updated but, in the meantime, numerous Bills dealing with various aspects of consumer law have been enacted. Many directives and regulations emanating from Brussels have also been transposed into Irish law. [1010]The result is that the Director of Consumer Affairs enforces more than 70 Acts.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that Deputy Lynch called for a law requiring the price of all goods on retail sale to be displayed so that the consumer would know the price of his or her intended purchase before he or she reached the checkout. Such a law has existed for many years and it was updated comprehensively in 2003. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, referred to it in his contribution last evening and I will, therefore, not repeat the detailed description of the law given to the House by him. However, Deputy Lynch’s contribution underlines the critical nature of the work of the consumer strategy group. Too many consumers are not aware of their rights. They do not know when they should complain nor, very often, do they know to whom they should complain. They do not have the confidence to demand quality, service and value for money and, unfortunately, unscrupulous traders thrive on and exploit this.

As legislators, it is our responsibility to put matters right. The law must be easier to understand and consumer rights must be set out in a simple, effective and coherent manner. Consumers must be provided with an easy mechanism by which they can make their complaints and proper enforcement of the law and adequate sanctions against those who break it must be ensured.

I was surprised at Deputy Ring’s contribution because he demonstrated that he does not understand consumer law. Legislation exists to ensure prices are displayed properly and retailers are open to prosecution if the price charged is different to that displayed. Consumer protection is not only about making sure that consumers can easily understand the law. Businesses must also be aware of their obligations and they must be encouraged to live up to them or pay a price. Deputy Hogan’s Bill is not the answer. It is not radical or comprehensive enough.

I take issue with comments made by Deputies Hogan and Perry last night. Deputy Hogan described the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs as “structurally compromised” by being answerable to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which I reject. The director is required to report annually to the Department but she is completely independent in the exercise of her powers and functions. I have never heard a party question her independence and it is unfair to do so.

The director was also criticised for taking only 13 prosecutions in 2003. The number of prosecutions has more than doubled this year but, apart from that, the number of prosecutions does not reflect the work undertaken by the director and her team of inspectors in ensuring compliance with the law. Deputy Perry also suggested the director had been given no new statutory powers since the 1980s, which is untrue. More [1011]than 40 Acts have come into force since 1990 and they are enforced by the director. Six have been in force for less than two years.

The regulatory system must be reviewed and modernised, where necessary, to protect consumers and to ensure they are offered a fair deal. This aspect of the consumer agenda is being addressed both by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the consumer strategy group. It is another area where the Deputy’s Bill fails the test. The Government is committed to the development of a modern national consumer policy, which is responsive to the needs and demands of one of the fastest growing economies in the world and befits a country that enjoys the highest quality of life in the world. We will do so in an informed manner on the basis of expert research. That is the least the consumer deserves.

Mr. P. Breen:  I welcome an opportunity to contribute to the debate and I commend my colleague, Deputy Hogan, for the important work he has carried out in this area in highlighting the rip-off culture that has taken over Ireland in recent years. Recently, my party leader, Deputy Kenny, appointed me to assist Deputy Hogan in his role as party spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment and I have been given special responsibility for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Small and medium enterprises are the back-bone of our economy and employment. They comprise 50% of enterprises. With modest global recovery forecast, SMEs are finding it increasingly difficult to compete. Last year, turnover and revenue from domestic and export sales remained stagnant or declined for a large number of businesses, which is worrying. The Government must act immediately to support SMEs. Recently, Tesco made a presentation on the cost of doing business in Ireland and the UK at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. The company’s representatives highlighted the high cost of transport — 30% higher — wage costs and insurance among many other issues, which affected the cost of items in Ireland compared to the UK.

Last week, RTE’s “Prime Time” highlighted the significant difference in the price of a shopping basket across the Border compared with the Republic. Many retailers might not like the Fine Gael website, www.ripoff.ie, because it exposes the rip-off culture but it has focused the consumer on price awareness and that counts in the end.

Does the Government have a policy to protect the consumer? Despite Government assurances, the majority of small businesses believe the Government’s insurance reform programme will have little impact on insurance costs this year or in the future. The cost of car insurance reduced in 2004 but insurance continues to be the most [1012]rapidly increasing cost for businesses. Last night the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, referred to the 2002 general election campaign and stated a petrol attendant who wanted a reduction in car insurance was promised by a candidate that he would reduce the cost of insurance, if elected. I was not the candidate and I hope it was not the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. If Fine Gael had not hammered home the high cost of insurance to the Government whether in the House or its committees, we would not have experienced the modest reduction in car insurance this year and, for this reason, Deputy Hogan and I will continue to highlight high insurance costs for SMEs which, if they are not tackled by the Minister, will result in many businesses winding up in the coming years.

I refer to local government funding and the effects local authority charges are having on enterprises because the Government has failed to adequately fund local authorities. The Minister can well say that he increased funding. For example, in my local authority in Clare, funding increased to €13.1 million in 2004, an increase of 15.2%. Why is it, therefore, that local authorities have increased commercial rates, water services, waste collection and development charges, and planning and development fees, to name but a few charges that have an adverse effect on small and medium enterprises and their ability to survive?

If the Government wants to help the consumer, it must be prepared to look at the burden that local authority charges have on businesses, where total costs have risen from €500 million to €5 billion over the past five years. Businesses in the North do not have the same local authority charges as we do. As a result, businesses in the South have additional difficulty with competition from their counterparts in the North who operate from a lower cost base.

I wish to speak briefly on the price of petrol and diesel. Yesterday, I had to take a detour on my way to the Dáil to attend a funeral in north Tipperary. I was astonished to see the varying price of fuel throughout the country. How can an outlet in the mid-west region sell diesel at €1.012 a litre while another in Kilkenny sells the same product at 91.8 cent? I know Deputy Hogan is good at his job, but I am sure he does not have that effect on the prices in his county.

Mr. M. Smith:  What about the price in Clare?

Mr. P. Breen:  Ten cent is a significant difference in the price of diesel.

Dr. Twomey:  The Tipperary lads always rip us off.

Mr. P. Breen:  Who is ripping off whom? I spoke to a haulage contractor yesterday in Ennis [1013]and he told me that his diesel now costs him €60 a day more per truck than this time last year. In the end, it is the consumer who pays those extra costs. I hope that when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen presents his budget next month, he will take these considerations on board. However, tonight I urge the Government Deputies to support this timely Bill. They know the problems that exist. Deputy Hogan said last night that if they had problems or queries, they could raise them on Committee Stage.

Mr. Hogan:  I thank all those who contributed to the debate and those Deputies who support this modest legislation which seeks to overhaul the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs and replace it with a consumer rights enforcer.

The consumer rights enforcer will be an independent statutory authority with similar powers and status to an ombudsman. I reject the Government Deputies and those not as well informed, as they should be on this matter who have indicated that this proposed legislation is about casting a cold eye and cold water on the current Director of Consumer Affairs. The current director has limited powers. She is attached to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and does not in any way hold an independent statutory office, as would the consumer rights enforcer who would advocate and champion the cause of consumers as effectively as we would like. The legislation has nothing to do with the individual in the office but everything to do with the necessary powers of the office.

Fianna Fáil Deputies, in particular Deputies Fleming and McGuinness, want it every way, not for the first time. Everybody acknowledges that Ireland is an expensive location, but Fianna Fáil does not wish to do anything about it or to bring forward any new ideas about what to do about overcharging. Every business is entitled to a margin of profitability. However, what this legislation seeks to do is deal with cases where excessive charges have been made and people have been overcharged. This is where colleagues on this side of the House and those on the Government benches differ.

We as consumers know of examples where people feel they were overcharged or had to pay too much for a product. Ireland is just coming to terms with being a consumer society. Despite the level of economic activity and growth over the past ten to 15 years, we have not come to the terms we should have with the level of consumerism, especially in terms of doing what the Tánaiste advocated some time ago as a solution, namely, to shop around. Two or three weeks after making that comment she proceeded to set up a consumer advisory strategy group.

We always seem to be one report, one group or one consultant away from taking action. We Deputies are around long enough and the [1014]Government has enough expertise at its disposal that we should be able to come up with a modest proposal that will help give additional powers to the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, if that is the direction the Government wishes to take. If not, it should give the necessary statutory independent powers to a new authority that would do the business. I do not mind which road it takes, but at least let us have a consumer policy. Any policy is better than being without one to deal with the issues that are so familiar to the people.

The level of contempt for consumers at State level is evident from the fact that the Consumers’ Association of Ireland must operate on a shoestring budget. It gets a few euro on an annual basis for various project work. Most of the people working in the association are volunteers and they operate from a small office in Merrion Square. They try to reflect through publications and information campaigns the prices of products and the various opportunities available to consumers to exploit, understand and inform themselves of their rights. This goes nowhere towards addressing the real information campaigns required to give consumers some latitude towards making informed decisions on their rights. Government Deputies have said that consumers need more information on their rights. If this is so, the Government should provide more money to the Consumers’ Association of Ireland as a first step in helping it to inform the people about what it has been doing, largely voluntarily, since 1967.

I wish to inform my Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, that workers and citizens, whom he thinks Fine Gael ignores, are also consumers. I remind him that we represent them, lest he thinks we are forgetting them.

The staged payments Bill, which was brought forward in the Seanad by Fine Gael, was also voted down by the Government, despite that consumers seeking houses, in particular young couples seeking their first house, pay interest to their financial institution although their house may be only half built. This is another rip-off. It is another example of how Government inaction contributes to the consumer rip-off, especially in the search for a first home. Fianna Fáil believes in supporting the status quo in case it might upset providers. Consumers, therefore, must lose out. Ordinary people always seem to take second place to big business.

I agree with the comment of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, that regulatory reform is important. However, these regulators were set up by the current Government without the necessary proper scrutiny, criteria and accountability to this House. That is the reason I resent the energy regulator seeking an excuse to bring more people into the energy market. To [1015]provide greater competition for the ESB he had to raise prices by 29% over the past two or three years. That is ridiculous. Regulators were brought in to introduce more competition and reduce prices. However, they are not working that way. What they are doing is contributing to higher costs and charges. As a result, the chairman of the National Competitiveness Council, Mr. William Burgess, said that the greatest challenge to the economy is high prices and costs. The Government has no strategy to deal with that.

The Government must realise that it is the godfather of rip-off Ireland. Since the previous general election, 27 new stealth taxes and charges have been introduced. Since 2002, VAT has risen by 8%, motor tax by 12%, hospital charges by 26%, the drugs refund scheme threshold by 31%, banking card charges by 108%, bin charges by 29%, parking fees by 25% and television licences by 40%. In 2003, VHI charges rose by 8.5%, the third level student registration fee rose by €80 up to €750 and the leaving certificate examination fee rose by €10 to €86. Development levies of between €6,000 and €30,000, with which local authorities are coming to grips, have been outlined to consumers for the first time this year.

The Government has proved this week that when it comes to consumer policy, the cupboard is bare. The comments of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, to Fine Gael on its consumer affairs website are confirmation that he is out of touch, arrogant and does not know what ordinary people are suffering [1016]under high taxes and charges under this Government. If he was in touch and displayed less arrogance, he would know that the tourism industry, the hospitality trade and ordinary people need more competition and more concerted efforts and marketing support from him to bring greater competition and more competitive prices to the economy.

The Government has proved during the debate that it wants to hide behind the pathetic excuse of waiting for another couple of weeks or months until we get another report. I will not hold my breath for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, to publish a report and do something about it. As Minister for Health and Children, he spent €30 million on consultancies and reports but did nothing. When he publishes the consumer strategy report I do not expect he will do anything about it either.

The Government has failed in regard to competition. The Competition Authority has presided over two years of gestation for the studies on professions, yet nothing has been done about it. It is significant that no member of the Progressive Democrats contributed to the debate in the House last night or tonight. The champions of competition have failed to turn up to support their socialist colleagues in government who unfortunately feel at odds with them.

I commend the Bill to the House. It is a modest step that will introduce more competition and give more rights to consumers who feel ripped off by the Government.

Question put.

[1015]The Dáil divided: Tá, 54; Níl, 65.

 Boyle, Dan.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crowe, Seán.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Ferris, Martin.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Gormley, John.
 Gregory, Tony.  Hayes, Tom.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Padraic.
 McGrath, Finian.  McGrath, Paul.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.  Murphy, Gerard.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Pattison, Seamus.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Twomey, Liam.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.



[1017]Níl
 Ahern, Noel.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Fitzpatrick, Dermot.  Fleming, Seán.
 Gallagher, Pat The Cope.  Glennon, Jim.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Jacob, Joe.
 Keaveney, Cecilia.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 McDowell, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGuinness, John.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Donal.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Fearghail, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Tim.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Sexton, Mae.
 Smith, Brendan.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Wallace, Mary.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G .V.  

[1017]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.

[1017]Question declared lost.

Mr. Ring:  This is a very important issue. Sometimes, the media take up issues because they are supposed to fight for the underprivileged. In that context, this is an issue which affects 700 people in the State at a cost of just €4.3 million. Two years ago, in October 2002, I started to raise the issue of arrears, which were due to people in receipt of blind welfare allowance. These people were not getting the correct payment amounts due to a miscalculation of the money as outlined in circular 479.

I and others referred this matter to the Ombudsman who agreed along with the Department of Health and Children that there had been such a miscalculation and that the money was due to 700 blind people. Last year, I raised the issue of whether this money would be paid out with the then Minister for Health and Children and was informed that the Department would examine the issue in the Estimates for 2004. A fortnight ago, I raised the issue again and was informed it [1018]would be examined in the context of the 2005 Estimates.

If people inside or outside this House or union members were due money in arrears, there would be a strike. If members of a profession were involved, they would be marching outside this House. However, because this concerns blind people, there is no respect for them. However, they should get what they are due. It will cost only €4.3 million and just 700 people are involved but because they are blind no one wants to fight for them. I will fight for them. I do not want to have to ask the Taoiseach on the Order of Business in the House every day if the Government will award the payment which is due to 700 blind people. It is not right. The Ombudsman and the Department of Health and Children acknowledge it must be paid. All I am asking is that the money is found to provide 700 blind people with just €4.3 million. If we cannot look after blind people, who can we look after?

I ask the media for its help to highlight this issue — to embarrass and shame the Government into paying this money. Every day, we are told about the wonderful surpluses and about how much money there is in the State, yet we cannot find €4.3 million for 700 blind people. Shame on the Government. Will the Minister of State tell [1019]me tonight that this money will be paid before Christmas so that these people can have a Christmas box?

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  On behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, I thank Deputy Ring for raising the matter and giving me the opportunity to outline the position. The blind welfare allowance is part of special service for blind persons under the Blind Persons Act 1920. Guidelines referring to BWA were issued to the health boards in 1979. It is a means-tested Department of Health and Children supplementary payment, which is paid to eligible persons who are blind or visually impaired.

The allowance is paid to eligible persons from 16 years of age. To be eligible a person must be in receipt of a Department of Social and Family Affairs payment, for example, invalidity pension, old age contributory and non-contributory pension, disability allowance and so forth or equivalent social security payment from another country, or persons whose income is below the combined blind pension rate and blind welfare allowance rate and are registered with the National Council for the Blind. If not registered with the National Council for the Blind, a qualifying certificate of visual impairment from an ophthalmic surgeon must be submitted. Persons maintained in a long-term facility are not eligible to apply for blind welfare allowance. However, if a recipient is admitted for short-term care purposes, the allowance may be retained for a period up to a maximum of eight continuous weeks in any 12 month period. The current amount payable is €41.90 per week from 1 January 2004 with an increase of €4.40 for each child dependant.

In May 2000, the Ombudsman referred a case to the South West Area Health Board on blind welfare allowance. The Ombudsman highlighted a provision in blind welfare allowance related to the methodology used by health boards in the assessment of income for means purposes for blind welfare allowance. The Department of Health and Children and the national health board review group on Department of Health and Children disability allowances and grant schemes, which was established in 1999 to review allowances and grant schemes that come under the remit of the Department, agreed with the Ombudsman’s interpretation of the methodology used.

However, in May 2001 the Department, following discussions with the various health boards and the Department of Finance, replied to the Ombudsman that the Department of Health and Children endorsed the Department of Finance position that procedures relating to the payment of blind welfare allowance should be based on standardisation of the existing general practice. In January 2002, the chief executive officers, CEO, group decided to amend health board procedures and commence paying blind welfare allowance in [1020]line with the methodology described by the Ombudsman.

In July 2002, the Department of Health and Children received a letter from the CEO group outlining the cost implications of the amended methodology of paying blind welfare allowance. This costing referred to a yearly cost of almost €800,000. Furthermore, the health boards stated there were arrears of €1.7 million to current recipients and €2.5 million to cover arrears for other applicants — those refused, discontinued or deceased. My Department is actively pursuing the matter as part of the overall Estimates process for 2005.

Mr. Durkan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this topical issue. When discussing An Post one should take the opportunity to praise the work it has done since its establishment. There is not an individual in any town, village or locality whom the postman or postwoman did not visit at least once a week. Sometimes he or she called every day and, in some cases, the postman was the only visitor some individuals received.

However, time passes and it now appears that difficulties have arisen for the service we have enjoyed for so many years. The past is gone and the present issues new challenges. Oddly, despite the advances in modern technology, it appears that some of the services we should have been able to use have not been availed of while, in other areas, electronic technology is taking over the job of the postal service. Nevertheless, there will always be a need for an efficient, effective and fast postal service. That is the only basis on which the postal service will be able to compete.

An Post is losing money at an alarming rate — allegedly there are losses of more than €40 million. The Communications Workers Union has carried out an assessment of the losses in An Post and it disputes their extent and the areas in which they are occurring. The union did not simply dream up those figures but arrived at them following an assessment carried out by professionals. The union’s assessment must be examined to ascertain the correct position before anything further happens.

Most importantly, many small businesses depend on An Post’s parcel and special delivery services, which are scheduled to be axed. These small companies cannot afford a dedicated courier service. In that context I urge the Minister, notwithstanding the work of the Labour Relations Commission and the debate that is taking place, limited as it is, to use his influence as a major shareholder in this enterprise to encourage both sides to come together to secure two important objectives, first, to prevent a postal strike in the run-up to the festive season for the sake of An Post, its workers and the community at large and, second, to undertake a thorough and independent examination of the financial position [1021]in An Post. Whatever action takes place in the future — all sides, including management and unions, accept that changes will and must take place — it should not be change for the sake of change. It must and can only be change based on sound judgment and sound business management and objectives.

I ask the Minister to use his influence to undertake that reappraisal now and to do everything in his power to ensure that the good service that was provided by An Post heretofore continues into the future.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  It would be helpful if, initially, I outlined for the benefit of the House the position in relation to our modern day postal business generally. The postal sector has changed significantly in recent years, with the liberalisation of the European postal market and with postal operators moving from national into international markets. This has impacted on this country with partial liberalisation of the postal market on foot of EU directives and with the presence of a number of international operators in the Irish market.

The parcels market in Ireland is now fully liberalised and operators are providing high quality services. The market includes some of the biggest postal operators in the world delivering international reach to Irish business. It is to be welcomed that our strong economic fundamentals make Ireland attractive for the big logistics firms. The competitive nature of the market, with a substantial number of local and international operators, offers a range of services which largely meet consumer and business needs.

It is important that An Post is structured towards the newly emerging competitive market with quality of service and meeting customer needs the priority objectives of the company. In this regard, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has made it clear to An Post that, having secured substantial price increases in the past, the company should refocus efforts on providing quality services, which is part of its universal service obligations. An Post customers expect no less, especially at Christmas. It is in all our interests that An Post continues to be a strong player in the Irish postal market.

In the circumstances following the heavy and unsustainable losses of €43 million in 2003, the restructuring of An Post is essential if the company is to return to financial stability and to continue to provide sustainable employment for its staff. The recovery strategy approved by the board of An Post sets out the basis on which the company, in partnership with the trade unions, can move forward. To progress the required restructuring, the management of An Post has, for several months, been involved in a dynamic negotiating process with the An Post unions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission.

  [1022]9 o’clock

The LRC process is the appropriate forum at which all parties are afforded the opportunity to put forward their views, positions and vision for the future of the company. Accordingly, both I and the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, believe that any disagreements that exist between the Communications Workers Union and the board and management of An Post should be addressed through the LRC process and, ultimately, if it becomes necessary, the Labour Court. The State’s industrial relations machinery is specifically geared towards mediating in disputes of this nature and I urge both sides to continue to use it to resolve issues of disagreement.

The financial situation of the company continues to be precarious and the need for restructuring remains an imperative. It is possible that the company may not suffer operational losses for 2004. However, it is important to stress that the financial position for 2004 needs to be viewed in the context of the non-payment of Sustaining Progress, large savings in non-pay costs, the once-off revenue from the European and local elections and the delay in implementing change management projects.

It has been recognised by the unions as well as the board and management of An Post that change is needed if the company is to have a viable future. The task now is for all parties to redouble their efforts to find solutions to the challenges facing An Post and to deliver the change needed to secure the position of the company for its customers, staff and the community at large.

Mr. P. Breen:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important matter, namely, that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provide additional funding from the local government fund for 2005 to Clare County Council because it took over responsibility from Shannon Development for Shannon town on 6 September last, which has caused a major drain on its resources.

The creation of Ireland’s first new town, Shannon, has been a major success story in the history of urban development in this country. It is now the second largest town in County Clare with a population of almost 10,000 people. The transfer of responsibility involved 68 houses and apartments, 130 acres of undeveloped housing land, water and waste treatment plants, associated distribution systems and all roads, footpaths, open spaces and landscaped areas of Shannon town. At the transfer ceremony on 6 September, the Clare county manager, Mr. Alec Fleming, promised that with increased responsibility for services in the town, the council had assigned extra personnel in its offices in Shannon and that he would ensure that the optimum level of services would be provided in the town by the council. How can the council provide this level of [1023]service if it is not given adequate resources from central Government?

I hope the Minister of State’s reply will not be to the effect that the Government has provided Clare County Council with €13.1 million in 2004, an increase of 15.2% over the allocation for 2003, which represents an increase of more than 350% since 1997 because that information was contained in the reply I received to a parliamentary question I tabled some time ago. That answer is not acceptable because if Shannon is to continue to grow and prosper, major improvements in water and sewerage facilities will be needed. Estimates show that €30 million will be required to upgrade these services. A total of €10 million will be required to upgrade the Castle Lake waterworks and €20 million will be required for the Traderee Point effluent treatment plant and other associated sewerage systems within Shannon and Bunratty.

No major funding was invested in the town in recent years. Shannon Development was only a development agency and did not have the same status as the local authority. I do not intend any criticism of Shannon Development and I take this opportunity to thank it for the service it provided in the town in the past. Its immense contribution throughout the region is well acknowledged.

The maintenance of a new town such as Shannon is extremely costly. There are many green and open areas, which are costly to maintain on a regular basis. Ennis Town Council has an excellent record in terms of maintaining our county town. Ennis has won many awards in recent years and it will hopefully be crowned Ireland’s tidiest town in 2005. Shannon, the county’s second largest town, has the potential to follow on from Ennis. With the assistance of Shannon Town Council and Clare County Council, it can do so.

This is a timely debate because the Department of Finance will publish the Book of Estimates tomorrow. I hope the Minister of State will consider the concerns I have raised on behalf of the people of Shannon and convey my sentiments to the Minister. When local authorities are notified of the local government fund grant allocations for 2005, I hope provision will be made for the additional responsibility Clare County Council has taken on in respect of Shannon town.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern):  I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As he is aware, Shannon town was originally developed as an adjunct to Shannon Airport and the industrial zone in one of the most far-sighted regionalisation initiatives in our history. The development of the town was carried out by Shannon Development outside the normal local government system, although it later took on commissioner status and latterly became a [1024]town council under the Local Government Act of 2001. Although a town council, responsibility for many normal local authority functions, such as the maintenance of roads and the provision of housing, remained with Shannon Development.

The initiative was highly successful and we now have a thriving town with a great community spirit located in what had previously been a quiet rural environment. It is a proud, early example of what can be achieved through vision and decentralisation. I am pleased that my Department has made its contribution to Shannon through the decentralisation there of the vehicle registration unit some years ago. The staff of the unit and their families have provided a welcome boost to the social and commercial life of the area.

Time and developments in public administration move on, however, and Shannon Development’s role was refocused some years ago. The day-to-day running of a town was inconsistent with its revised mandate. In the circumstances, a transfer of assets and responsibilities was agreed between Clare County Council and Shannon Development. The council assumed responsibility for roads, housing and water services and, in return, Shannon Development ceded income from rents, some development land and some other assets. These arrangements arose from detailed negotiations between the parties and were fully approved by the elected members and management of Clare County Council.

The motion refers to the funding implications of the change. Deputy Pat Breen is obviously already in possession of some of these figures but overall general purpose grants to local authorities have increased by 120% between since the Government came into office seven years ago. In the case of Clare County Council, these grants have been increased by 350% during that period. The grant for 2004, at more than €13 million, represented a 13% increase over the corresponding figure for 2003. These large increases in grant aid enabled the council to keep increases in its rates and charges to a reasonable level.

Details of local authorities’ general purpose grants for 2005 have not yet been determined but they are expected to provide real increases on the amounts provided in the current year. In determining these grants, the Minister will take all factors into account, including the overall funding available, the increases in demands generally on local authorities, and any significant changes that can be expected in income from local sources. I am satisfied that, in all the circumstances, the grant that will be made available to Clare County Council for 2005, together with the income it can obtain from other sources, will enable it to provide a reasonable level of services to its customers in 2005. Details of their general purpose grants for 2005 will be notified to local authorities shortly.

As the Deputy stated, the Book of Estimates will be published tomorrow. The notification of [1025]grants to local authorities will issue quite quickly thereafter. Grants to local authorities are not the only source of income they have to allow them to run their business. In general, the grants from the Department account for just under 20% of councils’ revenue. On average, therefore, they make up at least 80% themselves. In the case of Shannon, with its large rate base and a possible re-evaluation thereof, the Deputy may find that the gap he suspects to exist might not be there at all.

Mr. P. Breen:  I am sure the Minister of State will have good news for us tomorrow.

Mr. N. Ahern:  I accept the Deputy has concerns but I hope these will be allayed during the coming days.

Dr. Upton:  An Bord Pleanála plays a crucial role in determining planning applications on appeal from local authorities across the country. In its functions it is independent from the Oireachtas, from local authorities and from the Minister. It is accountable only to the High Court in limited circumstances and within a specified timeframe. The independence and powers of An Bord Pleanála is predicated on its planning expertise and competence. However, what happens when An Bord Pleanála, and in particular the board members of that body, go against professional planning advice? What happens when the board members do not display the required level of competence in performing their duties or when they draft new sections of the planning code without the legal authority?

There is one chairperson and eight ordinary members of An Bord Pleanála. They carry out their duties on a whole-time executive basis. I wish to raise the consideration of one appeal by the board members of An Bord Pleanála. The address of the application is 292-294 Ballyfermot Road, Dublin 10. The An Bord Pleanála reference number is 29S.207933 and the Dublin City Council reference is 2479/04. The application proposed a change of use and re-development of a former grocery store into a two-storey public house and off-licence. The planning authority, Dublin City Council, refused the application. The council based its decision on a detailed assessment of the proposal by a professional planner. It also followed a site visit to the location in question. The applicant appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála. On appeal, an An Bord Pleanála inspector, also a professional planner considered this file. The inspector undertook a detailed assessment of the application, including a site visit on 2 September. She recommended that An Bord Pleanála uphold the council’s determination of refusal. The board members of An Bord Pleanála considered this application at their meeting of Thursday, 11 November 2004. Regrettably, they [1026]decided to grant permission for this development. I wish to address two aspects of the consideration by the board members of An Bord Pleanála.

In this case, the board members of An Bord Pleanála rejected two sets of professional planning advice without due care. The board members for example should have made a site visit to the location in question. An Bord Pleanála has informed me that no such visit took place. The board members decided in this case to overturn professional planning advice, yet they have not outlined sufficient reasons for their decision, nor did they investigate this matter sufficiently. The board members’ decision includes the following assertion: “The Board also considered matters in relation to anti-social behaviour and public order, were matters outside the planning code.” I would like the Minister to say if the board members of An Bord Pleanála have the legal basis to decide what is and what is not part of the planning code.

Section 34 of the Planning Act 2000 outlines considerations for a planning authority to take into account in assessing an application. One part of this section includes “the policy of Government, the Minister or any other Minister of the Government.” However, tackling anti-social behaviour and public order are stated aims of the whole Government and of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The professional planners who assessed this application held that they should take account of anti-social behaviour and public order in considering a planning application. It also makes sense that regard should be had to crime and public order in considering any application, in the same way as traffic and residential amenity are factors.

The board members of An Bord Pleanála do not have the legal basis to decide what is and what is not part of the planning code. They cannot read into section 34 an exception that excludes anti-social behaviour and public order from planning. It is for An Bord Pleanála to decide between different competing factors within an application, but it does not have authority to exclude certain factors from its consideration. The independence and powers of the members of An Bord Pleanála are predicated on their planning expertise and competence. The board members have failed to show sufficient expertise or competence in this case. The board members also overturned two decisions of professional planners without taking any reasonable steps to justify their decision. In this case, they made their decision without even visiting the location in question. This decision of the board members also seeks to re-draft the Planning Act 2000, a task they do not have authority to do. They cannot take it upon themselves to exclude anti-social behaviour and public order from section 34 of the Act. I ask the Minister to look into this matter and do everything in his power [1027]to ensure that An Bord Pleanála carries out its functions with due expertise and competence.

Within 200 metres of the proposed site, there are 11 outlets for the sale of alcohol. There are many retail units or other facilities that would contribute very significantly to the quality of life of the residents of Ballyfermot but a super pub is not what they need.

Mr. N. Ahern:  An Bord Pleanála is a body established under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to operate independently in performing its functions. Procedures with regard to appointments to An Bord Pleanála are set down in Part 6 of the 2000 Act. Section 106 in particular deals with the appointment of ordinary members of the board. Under the Act the board normally comprises a chairperson and seven ordinary members. Additional ordinary members may be appointed where the Minister is of the view that the level of work at the board is so high as to require it and makes a ministerial order to increase the membership. Both Houses of the Oireachtas must approve such a ministerial order. The board’s current membership is increased by two to ten members, on foot of an order effective from 7 November 2001. This order will expire on 6 November 2006. Under section 106(1) of the Act, ordinary members of the board are appointed following nominations from six panels who are representative of a broad range of interests to reflect various facets of society. At least one member is appointed to represent each of the six panels.

The panels represent professions or interests relating to physical planning, engineering and architecture; persons or groups concerned with the protection of the environment and amenities; persons or groups concerned with economic development, and the construction industry; representatives of the interests of local government who should possibly be able to address the point made by the Deputy; trade unions, rural and local community development bodies; voluntary bodies, charities and Irish language interests. The 37 bodies prescribed under the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 to participate in the panels represent a wide range of interests in order to ensure a board membership with diverse backgrounds who can reach a view that reflects the broader views of society. It is not necessary for board members to have a planning qualification nor is it a requirement that persons nominated by an organisation should be members of that organisation. Members of the board are appointed in their own right and there is no ques[1028]tion of them reporting back to the organisation, which selected them, or acting as a representative of that organisation on the board.

Article 65 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 provides, among other things, that within eight weeks of a request for nominations under the Act, a prescribed organisation must select not less than two candidates for appointment and inform the Minister of the reasons, in the opinion of the organisation, each candidate is suitable for appointment as an ordinary member of the board. The organisation must send a curriculum vitae in respect of each candidate and the written consent of the candidate to his or her selection.

In seeking nominations for appointments to the board, the Minister notifies nominating bodies that he will have regard to the suitability of the candidates selected by the prescribed organisations and the need to establish an appropriate balance in the overall membership of the board. Government policy on gender balance on State bodies is also taken into account in relation to appointments. One member of the board is appointed from among the officials of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He or she must be an established civil servant under the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The Act also sets down specific procedures for appointment of the chairperson of the board.

These extensive and detailed provisions of planning legislation are designed to ensure an independent board and one which incorporates a broad mix of relevant backgrounds and competencies. They follow on similar provisions which have operated since the early 1980s and which were maintained under successive Governments. I am confident they are appropriate and adequate to the requirements of An Bord Pleanála in the future.

I apologise to the Deputy that her specific point is not covered in the reply. Another matter was raised on the Adjournment last night to do with An Bord Pleanála. We are public representatives. One week we think they are excellent when they make a decision that suits us and another week we think they are dreadful when they go against what we perceive to be the interests of our constituents. On the point raised by the Deputy as to whether the board has the authority and the right to define and say what is within or without the planning code, I will investigate that point and reply to the Deputy.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 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 14, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 15 to 54, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 55 to 65, inclusive, answered orally.

  66.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if there is adequate human resources in place in the Naval Service to meet the requirement of fishing protection; and the details of this requirement. [28754/04]

  68.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Defence    if the strength of the Permanent Defence Force will be altered over the coming 12 month period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28770/04]

  81.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Defence    if he has satisfied himself regarding the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, having particular regard to current or likely commitments overseas; if the Defence Forces are adequately equipped to deal with all such arising situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29132/04]

  100.  Dr. Twomey     asked the Minister for Defence    the authorised number of personnel for the Defence Forces; the current strength of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28759/04]

  608.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    if the current strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps is adequate to meet all contingencies in view of the likelihood of extra overseas deployment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29266/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 68, 81, 100 and 608 together.

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. The strengths of the Permanent [1030]Defence Force as at 31 October 2004 are as shown in the table below.

It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at a level required to meet military needs and as set out in the White Paper, that is, 10,500 Permanent Defence Force, all ranks. The Government remains fully committed to the policy of ongoing recruitment to ensure that an overall PDF strength of 10,500 is achieved and maintained. The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, approved by my predecessor, is designed to address any shortfall in personnel in the Defence Forces.

The White Paper provides an overall strength figure of 10,500 for the Permanent Defence Force, all ranks. This figure comprehends provision for the allocation of up to 850 members of the Permanent Defence Force to overseas peacekeeping missions at any given time. The military authorities advise that on 31 October 2004 there were 750 members of the Permanent Defence Force serving overseas on such missions. This represents 7.2% of the strength of the Defence Forces. I am satisfied that the current strength is adequate to meet all needs arising at home and overseas.

In 2004 the cadet intake was ten cadets to the Naval Service, 51 cadets to the Army and six cadets to the Air Corps. It is proposed to recruit 15 apprentices to the Air Corps in 2004. From January 2004 to 30 September 2004, there has been an intake of 278 general service recruits. The requirements for any further intakes will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

The Naval Service supported by the Air Corps maritime patrol aircraft provides Ireland with a very effective fishery protection service in accordance with our EU obligations and the requirements of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which has primary policy responsibility in this area. I am glad to inform the House that a memorandum of understanding incorporating a service level agreement is now in place between the two Departments setting out agreed commitments in relation to fisheries protection and providing for the effective discharge of the Departments’ respective obligations.

I am satisfied that the Naval Service has the required assets to meet its obligations under the memorandum of understanding. As such, there is no basis, nor do I have any plans to expand the current fishery protection capability of either the Naval Service or the Air Corps.

Strength of PDF 31 October 2004.

Service Officers NCOs Privates Cadets Recruits Total
Army 1,050 3,060 4,141 52 188 8,491
Air Corps 140 398 317 12 0 867
Naval Service 150 495 396 21 0 1,062
Total PDF 1,340 3,953 4,854 85 188 10,420

[1031]Question No. 67 answered with Question
No. 65.

Question No. 68 answered with Question
No. 66.

  69.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the recent remark by a person (details supplied) that the case of 13 soldiers serving in Donegal who face dismissal should be decided within the existing industrial relations framework and not left to the discretion of the men’s superior officers; if he has held discussions with PDFORRA regarding this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28820/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The discharge of enlisted personnel is governed by the Defence Act 1954, as amended and by the relevant Defence Forces regulations and Defence Forces administrative instructions. Under the relevant regulations, unit commanders or sub-unit commanders are not the authorised officers or the prescribed military authorities for the purpose of the discharge of enlisted members of the Defence Forces.

In the matter referred to by the Deputy, the military authorities advise that they are not aware of the identity of the particular individuals to whom the question relates. However they advise that no member of the Defence Forces was threatened with discharge nor is any member facing discharge at this time. A number of enlisted personnel were, however, informed verbally and in writing, by their sub-unit commander, that there was a possibility that they may not meet the criteria, as laid down in regulations and administrative instructions, to continue to extend service in the Defence Forces and they were advised of the possible consequences. The action of the sub-unit commander does not contravene regulations and is viewed as good management practice. Indeed, if the sub-unit commander had not so informed these personnel he might have left himself open to an accusation of failing to give timely advice and warning to those concerned.

  70.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of applicants for the Defence Forces who failed the medical entry test in the years 2002 and 2003; the reasons for failure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28758/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The number of applicants for the Permanent Defence Force, other than applicants for general service enlistment, who were found unsuitable on medical grounds in 2002 was 62. In addition, 325 applicants for general service enlistment were found unsuitable on medical-fitness grounds. A breakdown of this figure for medical reasons alone is [1032]not available. The number of applicants for the Permanent Defence Force who were found unsuitable, due to failing the medical examination, in 2003 was 123.

The reasons for failure of medical examinations which would disqualify a candidate from entry to the Permanent Defence Force are numerous and varied. Candidates are required to undergo a detailed medical examination to ensure that they are in good mental and bodily health and free from any condition, abnormality or past history of serious illness likely to interfere with the efficient performance of military duties.

  71.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on whether money accrued from the Government’s SSIA scheme should be used to fund a ship replacement programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28831/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The acquisition of new equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service will be a key focus for me as Minister for Defence. I am aware that significant investment has taken place in recent years and I want to continue the good work in that regard.

The unprecedented level of expenditure on equipment for the Defence Forces was made possible by the Government’s decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment.

In continuing with the investment programme, I am of the view that moneys required for this purpose will be raised through Exchequer allocations or from asset sales and not from money accrued from the SSIA scheme.

At every available opportunity, I will champion the cause of ongoing investment and development of our Defence Forces. We will continue to make substantial investment in new equipment and infrastructure in 2005 and beyond. While expenditure programmes will now have to be more prioritised due to the changed financial situation, I will ensure that a substantial re-equipment programme will continue to enhance the efficiency, professionalism and safety of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.

  72.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Defence    the overseas missions it is envisaged that the Defence Forces will contribute to for the remainder of 2004 and for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28772/04]

  73.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which he has received requests for participation in peacekeeping or peace enforcement under the aegis of the UN or EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29131/04]

  74.  Mr. Crawford     asked the Minister for Defence    the number of members of the Defence Forces that are available to the United Nations; if this number will be increased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28763/04]

  616.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the proposed Irish troop deployment, new or replacement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29276/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 72 to 74, inclusive, and 616 together.

Ireland is currently contributing approximately 745 Defence Forces personnel to 21 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, with 435 personnel and to the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo, with 213 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and the European Union. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the OSCE, the UN, NATO and the EU.

Ireland’s current major contribution to peacekeeping is in Liberia, where a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces has been serving since December 2003 with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. Ireland, together with an infantry company group from Sweden, provides the quick reaction force to the UNMIL force commander. Ireland was specifically requested by the UN to participate in a substantive manner in this mission, which is a tribute to the high regard in which the UN holds the Irish Defence Forces. It is intended that Defence Forces involvement in UNMIL will probably conclude in 2005-06, once the Liberian elections planned for mid-2005 are completed.

In KFOR, the Defence Forces are serving as part of a Finnish battalion with a Swedish-led multinational brigade. A reorganisation and downsizing of the NATO-led forces in KFOR, including the Irish contingent, was planned and had partly commenced when civil disturbances broke out in March this year in Kosovo. That downsizing has now been deferred to allow the situation to settle. Having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo and subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will continue to maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.

Next month, the EU is due to take-over the current NATO-led UN authorised operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as SFOR. Ireland currently has 12 personnel deployed at SFOR Headquarters. On 9 November 2004, the Government decided, subject to final approval by the UN Security Council of an appropriate resolution authorising the establishment of EUFOR and the approval of the Dáil, to despatch a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces for service with EUFOR, the EU-led mission-operation [1034]in Bosnia and Herzegovina, code named Operation Althea, to be established under the authority of the UN, as the legal successor to SFOR.

Subject to these conditions, planning for participation by the Defence Forces in EUFOR, which is due to commence operations on 2 December 2004, is currently ongoing. Members of the Permanent Defence Forces currently serving in SFOR headquarters will transfer to EUFOR upon the take-over of the mission by the EU. It is also proposed to deploy an additional 42 personnel to EUFOR as part of a Finnish-led multinational task force, bringing Ireland’s total deployment in EUFOR to 54. An advance party of 11 personnel has recently been deployed to the mission to put in place the requisite arrangements for the later deployment of the contingent.

Once this planned deployment is completed, the total number of Defence Forces personnel then serving overseas will be 776, which is within Ireland’s maximum sustainable commitment of 850 personnel under the United Nations stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS. At 850, the UNSAS commitment represents 10% of the total Army strength and this is the figure set in the White Paper on Defence. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations. It should be appreciated that at any one time one group of personnel will have just returned from service, one will be on overseas duty and a further group will be in training. There are no plans at this time to increase the level of our commitment to UNSAS.

Ireland receives requests from time to time in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case by case basis. However, we are currently fairly close to the limit of our sustainable commitments. It is appropriate that we keep some level of resources in reserve, should we need to reinforce existing missions or to take on additional missions at short notice. Looking to 2005, no other deployments are planned or envisaged at this time.

  75.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Defence    if there are any further plans to close Army barracks in the State; if the future of the three Army barracks in Donegal is secure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28823/04]

  86.  Mr. Penrose     asked the Minister for Defence    the property which he is considering to be sold in order to raise money for new equipment for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28832/04]

  613.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which all military installations decommissioned in 1998 have been disposed of; the total accruing to the Exchequer; the total costs associated with maintenance, security [1035]and so on, in the interim; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29271/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 86 and 613
together.

On 15 July 1998, the Government approved a programme of evacuation and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question were located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Castleblayney, Naas, Kildare and Clancy barracks, Dublin.

The sale of approximately 91 acres comprising lot 1, Murphy barracks, Ballincollig, to O’Flynn Construction for €41 million and the sale of lot 2 to the sitting tenant for €1.05 million — my Department’s reversionary interest in approximately 6.2 acres of the barrack lands — was completed in 2003. A further area comprising more than 27 acres at Murphy barracks is being handed over to Cork County Council for community use. Agreements have also been reached for the sale of a site comprising approximately 2.7 acres to the Southern Heath Board and a further plot of approximately 1.7 acres to the Department of Education and Science. Receipts in excess of €2.8 million will accrue to my Department in respect of those disposals. An area comprising approximately 0.545 of an acre has been set aside on foot of a request from the Office of Public Works for a plot of ground to facilitate extension of the existing Garda station located on Main Street, Ballincollig. My Department is in correspondence with the OPW on arrangements for transfer of the lands concerned, including the matter of a consideration therefor. Some 19.218 acres at the former Fitzgerald camp, Fermoy, were sold to Cork County Council in 2001 for €973,889 for development in conjunction with the IDA.

[1036]Castleblayney military post, County Monaghan, comprising approximately ten acres, was sold to the North Eastern Health Board for €761,843 in 2002. Seven acres at Devoy barracks, Naas, County Kildare, were ceded free of charge to Naas Urban District Council, while a further 14 acres were sold to that authority for €8,888,167. The balance of the barracks lands — one acre — was sold to Kildare County Council for €380,921 in 2002.

The Government decided in July 2003 that Magee barracks, Kildare, and Gormanston Camp, County Meath, would be among the State lands released for inclusion in the sustaining progress affordable housing initiative. The modalities of the transfer of these properties, as well as sites at St. Bricin’s Hospital, Dublin, and at Collins barracks, Cork, to the relevant local authorities are under active consideration in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office. The sale of Clancy barracks, Dublin, comprising 13.65 acres approximately, to Florence Properties Limited for €25.4 million was completed earlier this year. The disposal of a number of other minor surplus properties owned by my Department has also been completed during this period. The value of sales-disposals completed since 1998 has totalled in excess of €88 million.

There are currently no plans to close any further barracks or to alter the status of military posts at Finner camp, Lifford and Rockhill House, Letterkenny. The Department’s property portfolio is, however, kept under continual review and any properties surplus to military requirements will be disposed of to fund much needed investment to meet the equipment and infrastructure needs of the Defence Forces.

The security, maintenance, consultancy and other costs in respect of those barracks identified for closure in 1998 are as follows:

Security Maintenance and Other Costs
Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig # 1,120,604 257,113*
Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy # 330,813 42,633
Castleblayney Military Post # 131,289 10,548
Devoy Barracks, Naas # 472,654 16,959
Magee Barracks, Kildare # 123,291 15,677
Clancy Barracks, Dublin # 649,441 203,089

  76.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will elaborate on his recent comments that he is ready to take appropriate and immediate action should the security situation in Liberia deteriorate with regard to ensuring the safety of Irish UN peace-keepers; if he has assessed the level of security threat facing Irish [1036]troops serving in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28834/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The Defence Forces contingent, which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December 2003 comprises a motorised infantry battalion, of some 435 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have [1037]been also deployed at force headquarters and as military observers.

The main Irish contingent, together with a mechanised company from Sweden, representing a battalion level force, operates as the force commander’s quick reaction force. The role of the quick reaction force is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

Subject to renewal of the UN mandate, it is my intention is that the Defence Forces involvement in this mission will continue for two to three years. Elections, which are due in 2005, under the comprehensive peace agreement, should be completed at that stage. The 91st infantry battalion is due to return home shortly, after completing a six month tour of duty and will be replaced by the 92nd infantry battalion.

As the Deputy will be aware, there was significant unrest in Monrovia in recent weeks. In addition, there are continuing problems in Cote d’Ivoire. Overall it is vitally important to the region as a whole that Liberia remains calm. Indeed, during my recent meeting with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, he indicated the importance of Liberia as a beacon for peace and security in the region.

During the recent unrest in Monrovia, the Irish Defence Forces contingent was deployed at Mamba Point to protect the main governmental, administrative and foreign delegation areas. It also conducted ongoing patrols across the city in order to restore order. While the civil disturbances were widespread, I am glad to say that there were no injuries to Irish personnel.

The situation in Monrovia has now calmed and civil order has been restored. However, the speed with which these situations can get out of hand is indicative of the difficult circumstances in which our troops operate and one can never lose sight of this. Against this background it is important that our troops have the appropriate skills, training and equipment to discharge their mandate.

A wide range of equipment and force protection assets have been deployed with the contingent including Mowag APCs armoured vehicles and support weapons, heavy machine guns and mortars. Due to the equipment modernisation programmes that have taken place in the Defence Forces over the past few years, our UNMIL contingent is the best equipped ever to serve overseas. However, it is important that we keep the security situation under review. In the event that there is a requirement for the deployment of additional equipment or more extensive resources to support our forces in UNMIL, then this shall be done.

  77.  Mr. English     asked the Minister for Defence    the number of members of the Defence Forces who are involved on a day to day basis in providing security for cash in transit vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28774/04]

  94.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on his plans to alter the practice of providing Army security escorts to the banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28809/04]

  111.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    when his review into the cost of the Army providing security escorts for bank cash transits will be complete; the reason he recoups only just over 40% of its costs on providing these security services, whereas the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform recoups 90% from the gardaí for providing similar services to banks here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28827/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 94 and 111 together.

To aid the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána which has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State, is among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces. In this regard, the Defence Forces assist the gardaí as required in duties, which include escorting cash deliveries to banks, post offices and other institutions.

Earlier this year my Department conducted a review of the costs of cash escorts and the relative contribution of the banks to these costs. An annual contribution of €2.86 million is paid by the banks in respect of cash escorts. This figure was set by the Department of Finance in the 1995 budget and has not altered since. This contribution from the banks was designed to part-cover the total costs to the State of providing cash escorts. At that time, the contribution from the banks covered approximately 72% of the total cost arising to the Defence Forces, which includes pay and allowances. Based on annual costings by my Department, the relative level of the contribution has fallen in real terms over the years to the situation where it now only covers 43% of the total costs. The review also found that over 79% of all cash escorts are in respect of deliveries to banks.

The total cost in respect of the provision by the Defence Forces of assistance to the Garda Síochána in protecting movements of cash for the years 2000 to 2003 — the 2004 costs have not yet been finalised in my Department — including pay, allowances, transport and aerial surveillance, was as follows:

2000 2001 2002 2003
€5.70m €6.58m €6.87m €6.64m

These costs related to the following numbers of requested escorts:

2000 2001 2002 2003
2,285 2,488 2,516 2,335

For the first nine months of 2004, approximately 1,825 escorts took place. In any given month approximately 1,592 army man days are expended in relation to these escorts.

My Department is currently in communication with the Irish Bankers’ Federation with a view to increasing the contribution and I will meet the chief executive of the Irish Bankers’ Federation soon to progress the issue. Pending the outcome of those discussions, I do not believe it would be helpful to elaborate on any proposals to alter current cash escort practices. However, it may be the case that modern satellite tracking technologies and the use of more robust security vehicles could provide options in relation to the level of demand for armed cash escorts provided by the Defence Forces, where large cash consignments are being transported. At the end of the day, cash escorts are provided at the request of the Garda Síochána on the basis of their risk assessment and the Defence Forces will continue to respond to such requests as they arise.

  78.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to recent comments from the coroner for Donegal north west who investigated the death of an Irish soldier who was killed during a dispute with fellow officers while serving on UN duty in the Lebanon in 1989, that the Department of Defence gave very little co-operation when preliminary information was sought into the soldier’s death; if his Department will co-operate fully with the new inquest into the soldier’s death; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28828/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I am advised that my Department co-operated fully with the coroner for north-west Donegal in relation to the inquest into the death of an Irish soldier while on service with the United Nations in Lebanon in 1989.

In response to a request from the coroner, all the information requested was supplied with the exception of the United Nations board of inquiry report. The UN board of inquiry report is a confidential document, which belongs to the UN and is only provided to the Government on the basis that it is not made public in any form, either in whole or part.

[1040]My Department provided a copy of the Irish contingent board of inquiry report to the coroner. In addition, a member of the 28th infantry battalion represented the Defence Forces at the preliminary hearing of the inquest on 21 October 2004. I can confirm that my Department will continue to co-operate fully with the inquest into the soldier’s death.

  79.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Defence    the role of the Naval Service with respect to assisting the civil power in the fight against the illegal importation of drugs. [28753/04]

  102.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of vessels within the Naval Service; the number that are on permanent duty at any given time in policing the coastline and protecting against drug smuggling operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28769/04]

  107.  Mr. Coveney     asked the Minister for Defence    the number of fishing patrol vessels possessed by the Naval Service; the estimated remaining life of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28752/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 102 and 107 together.

The Naval Service is equipped with a total of eight vessels comprising one helicopter-carrying vessel, five offshore patrol vessels and two coastal patrol vessels. The nominal life of a naval vessel is approximately 30 years, although this can be extended or reduced depending on circumstances and usage. The type and age of each of the vessels is set out in the attached schedule.

The main day to day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s obligations as a member of the European Union. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish exclusive economic zone at any one time. The service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone, the 200 mile limit.

Fishery protection activity accounts for over 90% of all Naval Service patrol time. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels may be deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue, drug interdiction operations and assistance with pollution control.

Responsibility for the prevention of drug trafficking and other such illegal activities rests primarily with the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners. However, the White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for the Naval Service to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work. Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a joint task force involving the Garda, the Customs Service [1041]and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking, etc. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service in this important area.

A key target of the Naval Service has been to increase annual patrol days in line with the recommendations of the PriceWaterhouse report [1042]in 1998. I am happy to report that in the last four years to end 2003, the number of annual patrol days has increased by approximately 35%. The target for 2004 is 1,600 patrol days, which will represent a further improvement on the 2003 output of 1,496. The increase in Naval Service output has enabled it to deliver increased levels of service across all areas of its operations.

Type and age of Naval Service vessels.

Vessel Type Age Estimated Remaining Life*
LE Emer Offshore Patrol Vessel 26 years 4 years
LE Aoife Offshore Patrol Vessel 25 years 5 years
LE Aisling Offshore Patrol Vessel 24 years 6 years
LE Eithne Helicopter Patrol Vessel 20 years 10 years
LE Ciara Coastal Patrol Vessel 20 years 10 years
LE Orla Coastal Patrol Vessel 19 years 11 years
LE Róisín Offshore Patrol Vessel 4 years 26 years
LE Niamh Offshore Patrol Vessel 3 years 27 years

  80.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the tendering process for the acquisition of six new helicopters for the Air Corps; when he expects the process to be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28839/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The procurement process for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps is progressing well. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses such as air ambulance. The new aircraft will replace the current fleet of Dauphin, Alouette and Gazelle helicopters.

The tender competition was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Communities on 29 May 2004. The closing date for the receipt of tenders was Tuesday, 3 August 2004. Valid tenders were received from three companies. The companies involved are Eurocopter, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland.

A comprehensive tender evaluation process is ongoing at present. A project team comprising officials from my Department and Air Corps and Army personnel is undertaking the evaluation. This will, of necessity, take some time to complete. It is expected, however, that the Department will be in a position to place a contract before the end of the year. The Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position to give any details of the costs of the helicopters at this stage given that the evaluation process is ongoing.

The two light utility helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps primarily in the military pilot and aircrew training role. Primary [1042]taskings for the helicopters will include pilot training, instructor training and instrument flight training.

The four utility helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps in a general purpose military operational and training role. They will not be dedicated for use by any particular element of the Defence Forces. Primary taskings for the utility helicopter will include training and operations with special forces, security and aid to the civil power, military exercises, infantry interoperability training and limited troop transport. The helicopters will have the capability of lifting some Defence Forces equipment such as artillery pieces but will not have the capability to lift heavy equipment. They will also be used to perform air ambulance, inland search and rescue, aid to the civil community and VIP transport tasks.

The contract for the supply of the helicopters will be awarded on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender applying the following award criteria, which are listed in order of priority: functional characteristics, operational suitability and technical merit; maintenance, technical support and after sales service; tender prices; life cycle costs over 20 years; training packages offered; warranties offered; and delivery period.

The procurement of modern light utility and utility helicopters will provide a significant boost to the Air Corps. In that regard, every effort will be made to ensure that the process moves along as quickly as possible to ensure that the new helicopters are available to the Air Corps at the earliest possible date.

Question No. 81 answered with Question
No. 66.

  82.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Defence    [1043]the progress that has been made on tackling bullying and harassment within the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28766/04]

  91.  Ms Burton     asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made to date in implementing the recommendations of the Doyle report concerning fundamentally tackling the issue of bullying in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28822/04]

  103.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the comments of a person (details supplied) that they were gobsmacked at the manner in which details of bullying cases within the Defence Forces emerged in the media during the recent PDFORRA conference; his views on whether there is an ignorance at senior level of the Defence Forces of the depth and extent of bullying throughout the forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28819/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 91 and 103 together.

In March 2002, Dr. Eileen Doyle and the external advisory committee group presented their report, The Challenge of a Workplace, commonly referred to as the Doyle report, to my predecessor. The contents and recommendations of the Doyle report were accepted in full.

Action to implement the recommendations of the report has been one of the highest priorities for the Defence Forces since its publication. In this context, the comments made by the chief of staff at the recent PDFORRA conference reflected his puzzlement at an apparent lack of recognition of the unprecedented level of time and commitment which both he and senior civil and military management have given to addressing the issues raised in the Doyle report. One of the most notable features of the work undertaken to implement the recommendations of the Doyle report was that the representative bodies played such a full, equal and active part at all levels of the process. The chief of staff has strongly supported a partnership approach to addressing these issues. He has repeatedly emphasised his acceptance of the problems and has recognised the necessity to tackle this matter in a fundamental way at all levels of the Defence Forces. The chief of staff has demonstrated a very active and genuine commitment to change and has emphasised that it is incumbent on all commanders to ensure that best practice in management of personnel is fostered at all levels to eliminate the problems identified in the Doyle report.

I emphasise that bullying is not training for anything. I fully realise that the project of bringing about necessary fundamental changes in attitudes and culture will not be quick or easy. However, with substantial and vigorous leadership, I have every confidence that the proper [1044]environment will be firmly established and maintained throughout the Defence Forces.

The follow up action to the Doyle report was driven by the independent monitoring group established in May 2002 to oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from the report. This group met regularly to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Membership of this group included the general secretaries of the representative associations PDFORRA and RACO.

The independent monitoring group’s progress report entitled Response to the Challenge of a Workplace, commonly referred to as the Doyle report 2, was launched by my predecessor on Friday, 24 September 2004. This report describes the progress achieved since the publication of the original Doyle report in 2002.

The monitoring group has overseen the conduct of a major educational awareness programme throughout the Defence Forces. Considerable progress has been made in the past two years. Firm guiding principles had already been set out in the Defence Forces dignity in the workplace charter. A new administrative instruction on interpersonal relationships was introduced in March 2003 and a users guide was distributed to every member of the Defence Forces. This new instruction describes the six key relevant domains of interpersonal relationship within the Defence Forces. It sets out contemporary best practice for policy and procedures in dealing with negative workplace behaviours. It lists the full set of formal and informal complaint procedures that may be utilised by any party wishing to institute a complaint.

Some 200 trained designated contact persons are being put in place throughout the organisation to facilitate the operation of these procedures. Approximately 170 of these designated contact persons have already been trained and a strategic plan is in place to develop the numbers up to 200.

An independent 24 hour confidential telephone helpline and counselling service provided by staff care services was introduced in March 2003. Information leaflets on this service were sent to each member of the Permanent Defence Force when the service was introduced. Despite the small numbers availing of the service — 55 up to the end of February 2004 — this service will continue to be available.

A pilot project to record the experiences and views of outgoing members of the Defence Forces was conducted by the Dublin Institute of Technology research centre. This project, which involved confidential interviews and questionnaires, proved very valuable.

The particular challenges of the military training environment were identified in the Doyle report. This area has been given particular attention in the course of the last two years, especially as regards the key pivotal roles of NCOs in leadership and training within brigade forma[1045]tions. Focus groups of NCOs have proven useful here and external experts were sourced for training of these crucial NCO cadres. There has been a sustained emphasis on training the trainers.

The monitoring group has made a series of important recommendations concerning the ranking, selection, training and reward systems for officer and NCO instructors in the cadet school. An immediate change in the training regime for cadets will have a vital demonstration effect. It has been decided, therefore, that the process of introducing these changes will begin with the 2004 cadet intake. Some of the changes will take longer to implement and will be addressed through the conciliation and arbitration process or the overall review of Defence Forces organisation.

The equality steering group was established in autumn 2002 and conducted an independent study under a Labour Court chairperson of Defence Force regulations and administrative instructions, policy and procedures. Its comprehensive audit examined policy and procedures in the light of existing civil statutory requirements such as employment equality and equal status legislation and best civil employment practice. PDFORRA and RACO representatives were also members of this group.

The Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill has now passed all Stages. The provision of a statutory Ombudsman for the Defence Forces will provide a further significant impetus in support of the major transformation in culture and practice which has been initiated and which is now well underway.

The Defence Forces are in the process of developing an active and strategic human resource management model of personnel management, development and leadership under the new integrated personnel management system. This is a most important step that will facilitate and hasten the achievement and consolidation of our shared objectives. The tangible result will be a modern and contemporary Defence Force — an organisation that can serve as an international role model.

Every member of the Defence Forces has a right to be treated with respect and dignity and to work within the Defence Forces free from harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. The monitoring group has explicitly recommended that a further independent review and audit of progress within the Defence Forces be carried out no later than 2007 and that the results should be made public.

Since the publication of Response to the Challenge of a Workplace, Doyle report 2, this September the following action has been taken by military management: a steering group has been established to oversee the implementation of the proposals that were contained in Response to the Challenge of a Workplace. The steering group is chaired by the assistant chief of staff — support — and executive director human resources and [1046]consists of the director administration section, director human resources management section and the director defence forces training. Working groups are being convened by each of the three directors to undertake various tasks in line with the main subject areas covered by the report; a programme of briefings commenced on 16 November 2004 to ensure that each and every member of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, receives a comprehensive briefing on Response to the Challenge of a Workplace from awareness teams in each brigade and formation. Both representative associations, PDFORRA and RACO, will have members on the awareness teams. Members of the PDF in all barracks and posts will be briefed before the end of the year with briefings of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, to follow.

  83.  Mr. Howlin     asked the Minister for Defence    if he has plans to relax the rule whereby soldiers failing to win promotion above the rank of private after service of 12 years are let go by the Army; if his attention has been drawn to calls from PDFORRA for this rule to be relaxed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28826/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The unsatisfactory age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force was commented upon by the Gleeson commission in its report in 1990. The matter had also been of serious concern to the military authorities for a number of years. The age profile was also the subject of severe criticism by PriceWaterhouse Consultants which had been engaged by the efficiency audit group, EAG, to conduct an in-depth study of the Defence Forces. One of the key areas identified for urgent action by the EAG was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel. The EAG’s report was accepted by Government in 1995.

In an effort to alleviate the situation, the Government had already decided in 1993 to enlist personnel on a five year contract basis with a Reserve Force commitment of seven years. The recruitment of personnel on five year contracts was introduced following consultation with the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA.

In 1997 agreement was reached with PDFORRA on a new manpower policy for the Defence Forces. This policy, applying to personnel enlisted after 1 January 1994, provided that service for private soldiers would initially be for five years with the option to be extended to a maximum of 12 years. Any extension was subject to the individual soldier meeting certain criteria to include standards of medical and physical fitness and conduct. Longer periods of service were envisaged for junior and senior non-commissioned officers. The new policy represented a [1047]substantial improvement for personnel who would otherwise have had to leave after five years service while continuing to address the issues of age profile and fitness levels in the Defence Forces. I am satisfied with these existing arrangements.

PDFORRA has submitted a claim under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for a further review of the terms of service applying to personnel enlisting in the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 1994. As discussions on issues raised under the scheme are confidential to the parties concerned, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

  84.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    the position with regard to decentralisation plans for his Department; if further staff have agreed to relocate as part of this plan; the number of staff who have agrees to relocate; when the Civil Defence branch of his Department will be moved to Roscrea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28837/04]

  98.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Defence    the authorised number of personnel for the Civil Defence headquarters; the current strength of the headquarters; the location of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28756/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 84 and 98 together.

The Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department’s Dublin based Civil Service staff to Newbridge, County Kildare. The number of staff to be relocated to Newbridge is 200. The Government decision also provides for the transfer of 300 Defence Forces headquarters staff to the Curragh, County Kildare.

A total of 385 personnel, of whom 78 are currently serving in the Department, have declared an interest in relocating to Newbridge. The Office of Public Works is currently in discussions with Kildare County Council regarding the possible acquisition of a site in Newbridge for the Department’s new headquarters. A site for the Defence Force’s Headquarters at the Curragh has been selected.

The Civil Defence Board which was given responsibility for the management of Civil Defence at a national level under the Civil Defence Act 2002, is being relocated to Roscrea, County Tipperary. There are approximately 30 posts in the Civil Defence headquarters. Part of the staff of the Civil Defence Board has moved to temporary accommodation in Roscrea with effect from 10 September 2004. The Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the provision of official accommodation for Departments, is currently preparing tenders for the fit out of a leased building in Roscrea which will be the per[1048]manent accommodation for the Civil Defence Board. It is expected that this will be available for occupation in the first part of 2005.

  85.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Defence    the steps being taken to protect the State from terrorist attack in view of the heightened international risk of terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28776/04]

  108.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the most recent precautions he has taken to upgrade security measures to protect the State against international terrorist attacks; his views on whether the terrorist threat against Europe is generally high and Ireland must therefore improve its security capabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28836/04]

  115.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    the Defence Force’s current capability to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents either at home or abroad; his views on the opinion of the Army’s chief of staff that the development of such a capability should be foremost on the Defence Force’s agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28824/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 108 and 115 together.

The most important defence against any terrorist attacks is detection and prevention by the security forces. The Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. The potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by them in co-operation with the Defence Forces. The advice available to me at this time is, that, while the Garda authorities recognise that the terrorist threat to Europe may currently be high, in relation to Ireland it is low. Notwithstanding this, it is important that all prudent precautions are taken and that matters are kept under continuous review.

The Defence Forces make contingency plans for a range of scenarios where the security of the State may be at risk. In addition, the Defence Forces have contingency plans in place in relation to the provision of aid to the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, and the provision of assistance to the civil authorities for a range of emergency situations.

A detailed review of capacities and procedures to deal with a range of emergency situations was undertaken by the military authorities following on from the events of 11 September 2001. It included, inter alia, an update of the threat assessment; intensive contacts with other State agencies; a reassessment of operations orders relating to vital installations, alert systems, the Army ranger wing, ordnance and engineer assets in terms of explosive ordnance disposal and special[1049]ist search and a review of equipment including the need for air defence. Guidance documents pertaining to aid to the civil power and aid to the civil authorities were also reassessed. All matters arising were addressed and all procedures updated as required.

The capacity of the Defence Forces to deal with major emergencies is kept under constant review. Plans and procedures are updated as necessary and such additional equipment as is required to address any perceived deficiencies is acquired on the basis of identified priorities. Training and preparation for such events is also provided for in the Defence Forces annual training plan. The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting its members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time.

The most important defence against any attack is of course external vigilance, detection and prevention by the security forces. All the necessary resources of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are deployed to this end.

Question No. 86 answered with Question
No. 75.

  87.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin     asked the Minister for Defence    his position on the European Commission Green Paper on Defence Procurement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28829/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The Green Paper on Defence Procurement is one of the measures announced by the European Commission in its Communication — Towards a European Union defence equipment policy, adopted on 11 March 2003, COM(2003)113 final. Through these measures, the Commission hopes to contribute to the gradual creation of a European defence equipment market which is more transparent and open between member states and which would increase economic efficiency.

The purpose of the Green Paper on Defence Procurement is to develop debate on the establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework for the procurement of defence equipment. To date the procurement of defensive equipment in member states has been outside the scope of the normal procurement directives as provided in Article 296 — ex Article 223 — of the treaty. In so far as my Department is concerned, we welcome any developments which might lead to greater economies in the purchase of equipment for the Defence Forces.

  88.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of NBC protective clothing suits available to the Defence Forces; if new suits have been acquired in the past three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28765/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time. They hold an extensive range of modern NBC equipment that meets their current requirements. This range includes approximately 7,000 NBC suits, 1,500 of which were delivered in the early part of this year. It is planned to purchase a further 1,000 NBC suits next year. The requirement for additional NBC equipment is kept under continuous review by the Defence Forces. A programme for the purchase of NBC equipment is ongoing and whatever equipment deemed necessary is purchased expeditiously to meet the changing requirements.

  89.  Mr. O’Dowd     asked the Minister for Defence    the provisions in place for the new entrants to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29024/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The position is that entry to the Permanent Defence Force is either through general service enlistment, the cadetship competition, the apprenticeship competition or direct entry competitions which are held from time to time to fill vacancies in specialist appointments.

There are provisions in place to ensure that each new entrant to the Permanent Defence Force is given the appropriate training required to carry out the duties she-he will be required to undertake as a member of the Permanent Defence Force. Some of the provisions in place include accommodation, military training, physical training, arms and foot drill, technical trade training and weapons handling tactics. There are also appropriate provisions in place in relation to those who join the Reserve Defence Force.

  90.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of aircraft within the service of the Air Corps; the age of the aircraft within the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28768/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  There are a total of 40 aircraft in service with the Air Corps at present, comprising 14 helicopters and 26 fixed wing aircraft. The type and age of these aircraft is set out below.

The eight recently purchased Pilatus PC-9M turbo propeller aircraft will replace the Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. These aircraft will allow for the continued training of young cadets to the highest standards. These aircraft will also be capable of being armed and, as such, will have a limited defensive capability.

A comprehensive tender evaluation process is ongoing at present for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps. A project team com[1051]prising officials from my Department and Air Corps and Army personnel is undertaking the evaluation. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters, primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses, including Air Ambulance and emergency community support. The new aircraft will replace the current fleet of Dauphin, Alouette and Gazelle helicopters.

Type and age of Air Corps aircraft.

Aircraft Type Number in service Age
Helicopters
Alouettes 7 30 to 41 years
Gazelle 1 24 years
Dauphins 4 18 years
Ecureuill 1 7 years
EC 135 1 2 years
Fixed Wing
Cessna 5 32 years old
Marchetti 7 27 years old
Beechcraft 1 24 years old
GIV 1 13 years old
CASA 2 10 years old
Defender 1 7 years old
Learjet 1 11 months old
Pilatus 8 Up to 8 months old

Question No. 91 answered with Question
No. 82.

  92.  Mr. Allen     asked the Minister for Defence    the amount of funding obtained for the sale of barracks to date; the areas in which it has been spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28760/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The sale-disposal of departmental properties considered surplus to military requirements has, since 1998, realised in excess of €88 million.

There has been an unprecedented level of expenditure on infrastructure and equipment for the Defence Forces in recent years. This was made possible by the Government’s decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment. Over €174 million was spent on the capital investment programme for the upgrade of barracks, accommodation and other facilities between 1997 and the end of 2003. This year’s Estimate for the Depart[1052]ment of Defence includes a further €19 million for such capital works.

Significant progress has also been made in recent years with the acquisition of modern equipment for the Army, Air Corps and the Naval Service. Last month saw the final delivery in the contract for the additional 25 additional armoured personnel carriers from Mowag of Switzerland, which gives the Defence Forces 65 Mowag APCs in total. Mowag APCs are on operational duties with our troops in Kosovo and Liberia. The initial contract for 40 APCs saw deliveries completed by March 2002 and was valued at €51 million inclusive of VAT. The value of the additional contract is some €33 million inclusive of VAT with payments spread over the period 2002 to 2005.

Another significant contract relates to the acquisition of the Javelin missile system from Raytheon-Lockheed Martin in the USA at a cost of some €13 million inclusive of VAT. The purpose of this acquisition is to give Defence Forces personnel an effective, anti-armour capability while on peace support operations. The system will replace the Milan system. Some items under the contract have been delivered to allow for the training of personnel. The main delivery is scheduled for 2005.

There have been ongoing programmes of acquisitions of both nuclear, biological and chemical equipment and night vision equipment, NVE, in recent years and these programmes will continue to meet the ongoing requirements of the Defence Forces. The acquisition of light tactical vehicles, LTVs, for the Defence Forces will also be considered in the light of the ongoing budgetary situation.

The main priority for the Air Corps has been the purchase of eight fixed wing training aircraft all of which have been delivered. The new aircraft is the Pilatus PC-9M, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft Limited, Switzerland. The cost of the eight aircraft is approximately €60 million. While these aircraft are primarily for pilot training, they are capable of being armed and as such will have a limited defensive capability.

The procurement process for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps is progressing well. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses such as air ambulance. It is expected that a contract for the acquisition of the helicopters will be signed before the end of the year. The Naval Service has also benefited from the investment programme in recent years with the acquisition of two new modern ships, LE Róisín and LE Niamh, at a cost of some €25 million each.

  93.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Defence    the height requirement for men and women seeking to enter the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28757/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The minimum height requirement for entry to the Permanent Defence Force is 162.5 cm., 5 ft. 4 in., for both men and women. I have no plans to amend this eligibility requirement. The professional advice of the medical corps and the actual experience of training units is that persons of shorter stature encounter difficulties in carrying the bulk and weight of combat order equipment. Therefore, any lowering of the existing height requirements for enlistment in the Permanent Defence Force is not envisaged.

Question No. 94 answered with Question
No. 77.

  95.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on the situation of Irish troops in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28815/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The Defence Forces contingent, which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December, 2003, comprises a motorised infantry battalion, of some 435 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have been also deployed at force headquarters and as military observers.

The 91st infantry battalion is due to return home shortly after completing a six month tour of duty and will be replaced by the 92nd infantry battalion.

The main Irish contingent operates as the force commander’s rapid reaction reserve. The role of the Irish personnel is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

The Irish battalion in UNMIL has operated in a pathfinding and reconnaissance role supporting the deployment of other UN contingents. It has also conducted long-range patrols beyond Monrovia and well into the interior of Liberia showing a UN presence, deterring lawlessness and protecting local populations. The contingent also undertakes regular daily patrols within the Monrovia area. The Irish battalion is available to the force commander to provide support and a rapid response capability in the event of a breakdown in law and order or further conflict.

During the recent unrest in Monrovia, the Irish Defence Forces contingent was deployed at Mamba Point and also conducted ongoing patrols across the city in order to restore order. While the civil disturbances were widespread and the Defence Forces were deployed extensively, I am [1054]glad to say that there were no injuries to Irish personnel. The situation in Monrovia has now calmed and civil order has been restored. However, the speed with which these situations can get out of hand is indicative of the difficult circumstances in which our troops operate and one can never lose sight of this. We will continue to keep this situation under review to ensure that our troops have the necessary equipment and resources to discharge their mandate.

  96.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Defence    the surface to air weaponry capabilities that are available to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28762/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The Defence Forces possess a range of Air Defence assets, including radars for detection and weapons systems. With regard to radars, the Defence Forces have one Giraffe mobile air defence radar with a range of up to 40 km and eight Flycatcher mobile air defence fire control radars with a range of 20 km. On Air Defence weapons, the Defence Forces have 24 Bofors L70 air defence guns. These weapons are controlled directly by the Flycatcher radars. They also have six Bofors RBS missile launchers for use with the Giraffe radar.

Question No. 97 answered with Question
No. 60.

Question No. 98 answered with Question
No. 84.

  99.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of Border operations undertaken by the Defence Forces; if there are plans to reduce the number of troops stationed close to the Border with Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28777/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the gardaí as required. Defence Forces Border operations are undertaken as aid to civil power, ATCP, requests. The Defence Forces also assist the gardaí in relation to prisoner escorts, cash escorts and explosives escorts.

The demands on the Defence Forces in relation to Border duty depend on the nature of the requests for assistance received from gardaí at any particular time. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the level of demand for Defence Forces assistance to the gardaí in the Border area has reduced significantly. During 2003, there were 12 explosive ordnance device, EOD, callouts and four further occasions where the gardaí requested Defence Forces assistance. The ques[1055]tion of the level of demand on the Defence Forces in aid of the gardaí in the Border area will be kept under review in my Department in consultation with the relevant Departments as well as with the Garda authorities. There are no plans at present to reduce the number of Defence Forces personnel stationed in posts in the Border area.

Question No. 100 answered with Question
No. 66.

  101.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of Defence Forces personnel tested to date for the new drug testing programme; the number who have tested positive; the action taken when a member tests positive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28838/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  Drug abuse has long been recognised as a serious and escalating problem in our society and while there have been relatively few instances of drug related problems within the Defence Forces, it is recognised that the Defence Forces, as a component of the wider community, mirror the community at large. The implications of drug abuse in an organisation where personnel have access to fire-arms are too obvious to require elaboration.

A compulsory substance testing programme was introduced on 1 February 2002, as part of a Defence Forces substance abuse programme, following a long consultative process involving the Office of the Attorney General, the Deputy Judge Advocate General and the Defence Forces’ representative associations.

Prior to the launch of the programme, an education programme and awareness briefings were conducted throughout the Defence Forces. All personnel were issued with a booklet devised to inform them of the purpose of the new compulsory random drug testing programme, the administrative procedures involved and the sanctions for those who test positive. All necessary measures, including pre-enlistment screening, education, compulsory random drug testing, monitoring and sanctions, will be taken to maintain a drug free environment within the Defence Forces.

The primary objective of compulsory random drugs testing is deterrence. In order to provide a credible level of deterrent, the testing programme has been devised to maximise the possibility of random selection for testing. A trained drugs testing team is responsible for taking urine samples for compulsory random testing throughout the Defence Forces. Testing commenced on 14 November 2002 and the programme is now in its second year of operation. The target of testing 10% of the Permanent Defence Force has been achieved. A member of the Permanent Defence Force, randomly selected, may be required, at any time, to provide a urine sample which will be tested for evidence of use of controlled drugs, or the abuse or misuse of other substances, or for [1056]the detection of the metabolites thereof. A member of the PDF who refuses to provide a urine sample, or who provides a urine sample which tests positive, shall be liable to retirement, discharge or relinquishment of commission or withdrawal of cadetship as appropriate under the provisions of Defence Force regulations.

I have been advised by the military authorities that a total of 2,196 personnel, all ranks, have been tested to date. There have been eight positive tests. Where personnel have confirmed positive test results, they are discharged or retired in accordance with the relevant regulations.

Question No. 102 answered with Question
No. 79.

Question No. 103 answered with Question
No. 82.

  104.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has had consultations with his counterparts at European Union level with regard to the involvement of Ireland in a common defence arrangement across the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28773/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I have had no discussions with my counterparts at European Union level with regard to the involvement of Ireland in a common defence arrangement across the EU.

Ireland’s position with regard to the issue of common defence is as set out in our national declaration to the European Council held in Seville in June 2002. It states:

4. In line with its traditional policy of military neutrality, Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment. Nor is Ireland party to any plans to develop a European army. Indeed, the Nice European Council recognised that the development of the Union’s capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not involve the establishment of a European army.

5. The Treaty on European Union specifies that any decision by the Union to move to a common defence would have to be taken by unanimous decision of the Member States and adopted in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The Government of Ireland have made a firm commitment to the people of Ireland, solemnized in this Declaration, that a referendum will be held in Ireland on the adoption of any such decision and on any future treaty which would involve Ireland departing from its traditional policy of military neutrality.

6. Ireland reiterates that the participation of contingents of the Irish Defence Forces in overseas operations, including those carried out under the European security and defence policy, requires (a) the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations, (b) the [1057]agreement of the Irish Government and (c) the approval of Dáil Éireann, in accordance with Irish law.

The 26th amendment of the Constitution was approved by referendum and the following Article 29.4.9 was inserted into the Constitution: “The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defence would include the State.” I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 105 answered with Question
No. 60.

  106.  Mr. Cuffe     asked the Minister for Defence    if he will elaborate on his statement of 24 October 2004 that the situation in Iraq would have to be much more stabilised than it is now before he would commit troops to that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28812/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  In the course of my discussions with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, during his visit to Ireland last month, we discussed the security situation in Iraq and the difficulties this was creating for the UN assistance mission in Iraq. We both recognised the need for a much expanded UN operation to support the rebuilding of Iraq. The Secretary General expressed the view that it would be difficult to mount any expansion of the current UN mission in the absence of greater security and stability in the region. It was against this background that I stated that the situation in Iraq would have to be more stable before the Government committed troops to that country. I should also state that no formal request has been received from the United Nations for the provision of Irish Defence Forces personnel for the UN mission in Iraq and, as such, the matter does not fall to be considered at this time.

Question No. 107 answered with Question
No. 79.

Question No. 108 answered with Question
No. 85.

Question No. 109 answered with Question
No. 60.

  110.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Defence    the strength of the Army ranger unit; the future plans for the development of the unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28767/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  There is an existing policy of ongoing recruitment to the Army ranger wing. Selection courses are held periodically and successful candidates are then taken into the Army ranger wing. There is a [1058]planned selection course in progress at present. It is not known at this time how many personnel are likely to be successful on this course. The military authorities advise that the number of personnel serving in the Army ranger wing is less than 75. For security reasons it is not the policy to disclose the type of equipment available to the ranger wing.

Question No. 111 answered with Question
No. 77.

  112.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Defence    the role Ireland can play in the European armaments, research and military capabilities agency; if Ireland will have a permanent staff at the agency; if it will contribute money to this agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28817/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  A decision to establish an inter-governmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments, known as the European Defence Agency, EDA, was formally adopted at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 12 July 2004.

The overall aim of the agency is to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European security and defence policy. To achieve this, the agency has been ascribed four functions, relating to: defence capabilities development; armaments co-operation; the European defence technological and industrial base and defence equipment market; and research and technology.

At its meeting on 6 July 2004, the Government agreed that Ireland would participate in the framework of the agency. Participation in individual projects of the agency will be a matter for national decision on a case by case basis. The agency will be an important forum by which the EU can seek to improve competitiveness and efficiency in the defence equipment sector which has been notable for fragmentation and duplication. While Ireland is not a major consumer of defence equipment, I believe that we should encourage developments which improve market efficiencies or which may yield some economies of scale for equipment procurement for the Defence Forces.

The agency is still in the early stage of development and is currently in the process of recruiting staff. The recruitment process is open to citizens of all the EU member states. None of the staff appointed by the agency to date has been nominated by Ireland. Ireland has paid a contribution of €21,733.07 towards the agency’s initial general budget for 2004. The budget for 2005 will be discussed at a second meeting of the agency’s steering board which I will attend in Brussels on 22 November 2004.

  113.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Defence    if the Defence Forces have been issued [1059]with, or will be issued with, less than lethal weapons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28813/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The introduction of less lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces in the course of aid to the civil power duties is the subject of ongoing consideration in my Department. The consideration of the use of a limited less lethal capacity by the Defence Forces follows the proposal of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, noted by Government in November 2002, to authorise the introduction of a limited range of less-lethal weapons for use by the Garda emergency response unit, ERU, where this is necessary to avoid the use of firearms. The less lethal weapons for use by the Garda ERU are the bean bag shot, a pepper spray device and a ferret pepper spray shot.

Any decision to introduce less-lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces acting in aid to the civil power in Ireland will be on the basis that the capabilities of the Defence Forces in this area will not exceed the capabilities of the Garda ERU.

If a decision is taken to provide the Defence Forces with less lethal weapons, the lead will be taken from the Garda Síochána. We will provide the Defence Forces with the same weapons and the weapons will only be deployed by the Defence Forces acting in aid to the civil power in the same limited situations that the gardaí intend to use them.

The Defence Forces have recently conducted evaluation tests on 40 mm bean bag ammunition. I am awaiting receipt of the evaluation report at [1060]which stage a decision will be made as to whether to proceed with the purchase of a small amount of such ammunition with which the Defence Forces can provide a graduated response acting in aid to the civil power adhering to the principle of absolute minimum force at all times.

Question No. 114 answered with Question
No. 63.

Question No. 115 answered with Question
No. 85.

  116.  Mr. Naughten     asked the Taoiseach    the amount of imported beef from outside the EU in each of the past five years; the countries of origin and the tonnage involved in each case; the tonnage of each category subsequently exported from the State in each year concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28858/04]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  The table below shows the tonnage of beef imported from non-EU countries for the period 1999 to 2003 — 2003 is the latest year for which complete data is available. This data is broken down by beef category and country of origin. By using “country of origin”, Ireland, therefore, appears to import from itself because of beef which was exported being subsequently re-imported. Data is not available to answer the latter part of the Deputy’s question as the concept of “country of origin” does not apply to exports and consequently external trade statistics does not identify exports of goods previously imported.

Beef imports from Non-EU Countries.

Country of Origin 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Tonnes
Overall total 1,611 2,600 9,559 5.123 5.648
of which main categories are:
Frozen beef Brazil 924 1,541 2,133 2,168 3,122
boneless Egypt *3,722
Uruguay 237 138 115 631 13
Ireland 25 45 238
Saudi Arabia 287
Namibia 188
Argentina 14 126 27
Indonesia 163
New Zealand 121
United States 50
Philippines 26 9
Thailand 24
Iceland 11
Australia 10
Bangladesh 1
Nicaragua 1
Total 1,321 1,724 6,697 3,122 3,246
Fresh or chilled beef Brazil 158 233 369 1,047 1,589
boneless Egypt *164
Ireland 3 101 20 5
Uruguay 98
Argentina 41 11
Saudi Arabia 45
Bahrain 24
United States 3 7
Syria 10
Australia 5
Total 166 331 706 1,108 1,622
Fresh or chilled beef United States 15
carcasses and half carcasses Kenya 6
Ireland 2
Total 6 2 15
Other bovine meat Brazil 31 393 819 702 557
prepared or preserved Ireland 62 80 832 96 107
Argentina 22 58 56 56
Japan 102
United States 17
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
Romania 1
Total 115 473 1,811 856 738
Edible offal of bovine animals, frozen Japan 273
Ireland 69 3
Brazil 13 26
Uruguay 34
South Africa 24
Saudi Arabia 8
Egypt *5
Total 69 326 34 26
Edible offal of bovine animals, fresh or chilled Ireland 16
Norway 3
New Zealand 1
Total 1 3 16
Other bovine meat Syria 3
salted, in brine,
dried or smoked
Total 3
Frozen beef Ireland 2
other cuts with bone in, frozen
Total 2

  117.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Taoiseach    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replace[1062]ments for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29116/04]

The Taoiseach:  I have appointed two new advisers since the reshuffle of September 2004. [1063]Mr. John Lahart, special adviser to the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kitt, replaces Carl Gibney, special advisor to the former Chief Whip. Mr. Padraig Slyne has been appointed special adviser with responsibility for co-ordination between all Ministers of State and fills a vacancy which existed prior to the recent re-shuffle. There has been no increase in the number of special advisers who assist me in dealing with the complexities and volume of Government business. The salaries of these individuals are: John Lahart €70,578 and Padraig Slyne €53,977. Department of Finance sanction and approval of contracts has been received in both cases and the normal terms and conditions of appointment of special advisers apply.

  118.  Mr. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the issue of core funding for a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7 has been brought to his attention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29217/04]

  174.  Mr. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the stage the joint review of the work of a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7 is at within her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29254/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 174 together.

My Department understands that the issue of core funding for the Carmichael Centre, Dublin 7, will be addressed as part of the review of the work of the centre. Agreement has been reached between the Northern Area Health Board and the Eastern Regional Health Authority to contract an independent researcher to commission the review and I understand that the review should be complete by the end of the year.

  119.  Ms Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that a national ASD screening programme be established targeting public health nurses and general practitioners; if such a recommendation has been carried out; if so, the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29387/04]

  120.  Ms Enright     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that health boards establish procedures for the assessment of possible ASD in the siblings of identified children; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29389/04]

  121.  Ms Enright     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has [1064]been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that relevant professionals and diagnostic services come together to establish agreed AS-HFA and autism assessment procedures and that they ensure continuity by using up to date and agreed diagnostic criteria for the accurate and early identification of classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29392/04]

  122.  Ms Enright     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that speech and language therapy training programmes include a module on differential diagnosis — language disorder-AS — so that speech and language therapists may more effectively refer for comprehensive assessment where indicated; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make statement on the matter. [29397/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 to 122, inclusive, together.

In line with the recommendations of the report of the task force on autism my Department has liaised with the Department of Education and Science in relation to the provision of the relevant health related support services.

Since 1998 €16 million has been invested in the early intervention, pre-school and multi-disciplinary support services to enhance access to those services by children with autism and those with intellectual disability. My Department is continuing to work with the health boards and the Department of Education and Science to further develop the necessary support services for people with autism.

Questions Nos. 123 and 124 withdrawn.

  125.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will take steps to ensure that the clinical and financial audits of a facility managed by a charitable organisation (details supplied), which were undertaken by the South Western Area Health Board and completed in February 2004, and which have already been supplied to the charitable organisation, will be published and supplied to the parents and guardians of the residents of the audited facility; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a discrete financial audit of the charitable organisation itself, commissioned by the South Western Area Health Board in 2003, was apparently aban[1065]doned; and the reason it was abandoned. [28647/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The publication of the report referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate this matter and the other issues raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

  126.  Mr. Ring     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on a project (details supplied) in County Mayo. [28648/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in County Mayo, is in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. I understand from the board that a site has been identified and it is in the process of purchasing same.

My Department is at present examining the health capital programme to ascertain what new projects can be progressed through either planning or construction stages, taking account of existing commitments and overall funding resources available. It is in this context that my Department will continue to liaise with the Western Health Board regarding the proposed development at Ballinrobe in the light of the board’s overall capital funding priorities.

  127.  Ms Shortall     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress to date in meeting the target in the health strategy to clarify and simplify eligibility arrangements in respect of medical card holders in nursing home care; the steps taken to date in respect of providing a clear statutory framework in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28656/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Eligibility for health services in Ireland 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 seventy 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.

[1066]However, central to our system of publicly funded long-term care is 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. 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 current position reflects this approach.

Under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, health boards may pay a subvention to assist a person in meeting the cost of private nursing home care. The Department of Health and Children has established a working group to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme.

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 which 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.

Arising from concerns in relation to the current practice of charging for long-stay care in health board institutions, this matter is being examined having regard to advice from the Office of the Attorney General with a view to clarification of the situation at an early date.

  128.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has proposals for establishing here a convertible course similar to the course being run in Liverpool for state enrolled nurses to qualify as state registered nurses (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28668/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The state enrolled nurse, SEN, qualification is a United Kingdom qualification which is not recognised in this country. Persons who have obtained this qualification must undertake a nursing conversion programme in the United Kingdom in order to qualify for regis[1067]tration as a nurse. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide such a programme here because the rules of the United Kingdom regulatory authority for nursing only allow a maximum of 10% of the clinical component of the programme to take place outside the United Kingdom.

There is a grant available from the Department to assist state enrolled nurses, SENs, undertaking nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom. Under this initiative any SEN working in the Irish health service who wishes to undertake such a programme will be entitled to receive a non-means-tested grant of €7,618 towards the overall costs, including college fees, textbooks, travel and accommodation, involved in attending the programme in the United Kingdom. Payment of the grants will be subject to the SEN giving a written undertaking that she-he will work as a nurse in the Irish health service following registration with An Bord Altranais.

  129.  Mr. Fleming     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the land at the grounds of a hospital (details supplied) in County Laois will not be sold off in view of the strategic importance of these lands in the centre of Portlaoise and the valuable use that these grounds can be put to for the general health and well being of the community. [28669/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that following the enactment of the Health (Amendment) Act 2004, the change in legislation now requires health boards to obtain the consent of the Minister for Health and Children before they may sell or otherwise dispose of lands. The Midland Health Board, in accordance with section 15 of the Act, have advised me of some proposals to dispose of land at St. Fintan’s Hospital, Portlaoise, which would require my consent. The responsibility for the management and utilisation of the health board estate however still rests with the chief executive officer of the health board.

In that context, the proposals to dispose of lands have been developed by the Midland Health Board in line with the policy and guiding principles set down for the future utilisation of the landbank at St. Fintan’s Hospital, and these proposals are currently under consideration within my Department. The Deputy will also be aware that I am concerned that the sale of land or properties in the health area will be applied and used for health purposes, with the exception of contributions to the social and affordable housing initiatives.

  130.  Mr. Fleming    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an application from the Midland Health Board has been [1068]received by her for the provision of a CAT scan at Portlaoise General Hospital; and her views on whether the funding can be provided for such an essential facility. [28670/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department has recently received an application from the Midland Health Board for the provision of a CAT scanner at Portlaoise General Hospital. This is at present being considered by my Department in the light of various capital priorities in line with funding resources available. I expect to be in a position to make a decision on this shortly and my Department will then be in touch with the board on the matter.

  131.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made with the provision of long stay beds for the elderly at St. Canice’s Hospital, Kilkenny; the cost of the first phase of the development; the expected completion date; the estimated cost of the final phase; the projected time-frame; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28671/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in the Kilkenny area rests with the South Eastern Health Board in the first instance. The board submitted to my Department a proposal to develop a 30 bed residential unit and day facility for psychiatry of later life and a 22 bed residential facility for the elderly at St. Canice’s Hospital, Kilkenny.

Approval was given to the board to proceed with the project on a phased basis, commencing with the development of the 30 bed unit and day facility at an estimated capital cost of €1.4million. The board has advised that this project has gone to tender and a contractor has been selected. Approval was also given to the board to proceed with the design stages of the development of the long stay unit for older people. The capital costs for this refurbishment are currently estimated at €1.1million. Any decision in relation to progressing this project will be considered by my Department in the context of the significant additional revenue funding and staff which will be required by the board to operate the new unit and having regard to the board’s employment ceiling and funding available to my Department.

  132.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an assessment will be urgently arranged in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if the matter can be expedited as requested in writing by this person’s general practitioner on two occasions; if this person can be treated under the [1069]treatment purchase fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28672/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny 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 investigate the matter and reply to the Deputy directly.

  133.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will fund directly a proposal submitted from the centre for the care of survivors of torture in Dublin; if each health board will consider funding the proposal should she refuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28673/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  No request for funding has been received by my Department from the centre for the care of survivors of torture. However, I understand that such a request is being prepared by the organisation.

  134.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the approximate number of persons thought to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome; and the support services that are available for those who have this condition. [28674/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Responsibility for the provision of services, including support services for persons suffering from Asperger’s syndrome nationwide, is a matter, in the first instance, for either the Eastern Regional Health Authority or one of the seven health boards depending on the individual’s address. The information requested by the Deputy is not routinely collected by my Department, the regional chief executive of the authority and the chief executive officers of the health board have therefore been requested to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Question No. 135 withdrawn.

  136.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of cases of breast cancer detected in women in 2003; the percentage of women likely to develop or experience breast cancer during the course of their lives; if the capital funding announced for the roll-out of BreastCheck in the south west will be followed through with current funding; the estimated annual current expenditure for running costs and staffing that will be required to make the service in the south west [1070]operational; if this funding will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28725/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Statistics in relation to cancer incidence, including incidence of breast cancer, are collated by the national cancer registry. There were 1,890 cases of malignant breast cancer in 2000, the latest year for which complete data are available. Preliminary data for 2001, 2002 and 2003 indicate that there were 2,018, 2,232 and 2,088 cases respectively.

The roll-out of the national breast screening programme to the remaining counties is a major priority in the development of cancer services. This will ensure that all women in the 50 to 64 age group throughout the country have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where required. A capital investment of approximately €20 million has been approved to construct and equip two static clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway. This investment will also ensure that mobile units are available to screen women in the relevant age group throughout the country. BreastCheck and my Department are fully committed to an expeditious approach to the national roll-out of the programme and representatives have met recently to progress the design process. A design brief will be completed shortly and a selection process for the appointment of a design team will follow.

BreastCheck estimates that the full year revenue costs of the roll-out to the remaining counties will be approximately €15 million. Discussions will take place between BreastCheck and my Department to ensure a timely roll out aligned to the capital investment programme. Any woman, irrespective of her age or residence, who has immediate concerns or symptoms should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her region.

  137.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when post mortem results will be released to the family of a deceased person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28726/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I can inform the Deputy that in accordance with the provisions of the Coroners Act 1962, a coroner is a statutory officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions, in relation to which he or she is independent. However, my Department has been informed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that a report has recently been received from the State Laboratory by the pathologist who performed the post mortem in the case referred to and it is understood that this will enable the pathologist to complete the post mortem report and forward it to the coroner.

  138.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if, according to recent reports, health boards in some cases have charged for the cost of long-term nursing home care when they should not have done so; if persons with medical cards should not have been charged; if refunds will be paid in these cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28788/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Eligibility for health services in Ireland 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, central to our system of publicly funded long-term care is 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. 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 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.

Under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, health boards may pay a subvention to assist a person in meeting the cost of private nursing home care. The Department of Health and Children has established a working group to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme.

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 which will [1072]inform the approach to the drafting of new legislation in this area. As part of this exercise, my Department will be attempting to resolve the current differences in approach in the consideration of individuals’ ability to pay under the various regulations in this area.

Arising from concerns in relation to the current practice of charging for long-stay care in health board institutions, this matter is being examined having regard to advice from the Office of the Attorney General with a view to clarification of the situation at an early date.

  139.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if, in view of the increase of inflammatory bowel disease in children, she will consider listing it as a notifiable illness; if information leaflets on IBD awareness in children, symptoms and so on, will be supplied to general practitioners and health centres as well as information on Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28790/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the 1970 Health Act, a health board may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition under the long-term illness scheme. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness — for people under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions.

Other schemes provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. In determining eligibility, the CEO has regard to the applicant’s financial circumstances. Health boards use income guidelines to assist in determining eligibility. However, where a person’s income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may be awarded if the CEO considers that the person’s medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis.

Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €78 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

[1073]Notifiable illnesses under the regulations in place only refer to communicable diseases such as TB, hepatitis, meningitis, etc., and this is done for reasons of public health protection from transmission of those diseases. No such consideration would be relevant in the case of irritable bowel disease. My Department has no plans with regard to the preparation or distribution of information leaflets on irritable bowel disease to general practitioners. It is a matter for the GP in consultation with the patient to decide on the most appropriate course of treatment.

  140.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork is only receiving €80.71 per week subvention from 30 July 2004; and if the law will be applied in their case and the full fee for the nursing home paid. [28792/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in County Cork is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Southern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the issue raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

  141.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the State will pay for a person (details supplied) with a serious illness to obtain treatment outside this country; and if there is a scheme within the health boards or her Department by which persons can make applications for funding. [28793/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The position is that it is a matter for the health board to determine if the treatment is to be authorised in such circumstances as described by the Deputy. EU Regulations 1408/71 and 574/72 set out the general position for EU-EEA citizens with regard to their health care entitlements in another member state or Switzerland. The regulations outline that persons covered — in Ireland, persons ordinarily resident — are entitled to health care through the public system of another EU-EEA country or Switzerland as though he or she were a resident or insured person of that country where such care becomes necessary during a temporary stay in that country, taking into account the nature of the care and the expected length of stay.

In instances where a person not travelling requires specific necessary treatment, which is not available in the country in which he or she resides, the local health authority may make arrangements to send him or her to another EU member state for treatment under the E112 liaison agreement. Public health care systems vary [1074]from country to country such that co-payments may be required in some countries, which are not reimbursable, while health service provision is subject to the same restraints of capacity etc. as for ordinary residents.

In Ireland, the form E112 as issued by a health board, may cover such cases requiring necessary treatment. It is essential for the health board to establish that the patient’s requirements cannot be met locally or in any other centre within the State prior to issuing the form. Where an individual requires specific treatment which is necessary and which is not available in Ireland, a health board may authorise the provision of treatment in another member state.

Before any patient is referred abroad for treatment a health board ensures that the following procedures are adhered to: the application to refer a patient abroad must be assessed before the patient goes abroad except in cases of extreme urgency; medical evidence must be provided by a hospital consultant giving details of the condition from which the patient suffers and of the type of treatment envisaged; it must be certified by the consultant that the treatment is not available in this country, there is an urgent medical necessity for the treatment, there is a reasonable medical prognosis, the treatment is regarded as a proven form of medical treatment and the treatment abroad is in a recognised hospital or other institution and is under the control of a registered medical practitioner.

In normal circumstances, it is a matter for the local health board to determine if such treatment is to be authorised. The issue of the E112 form involves a commitment by the health board to pay the cost of treatment. In issuing the form the health board should specify the nature and extent of treatment to be covered. In the case where a person’s E112 application has been approved a health board may provide assistance towards the cost of travel and subsistence expenses. The decision in relation to the provision of such assistance is a matter for the relevant health board.

Arrangements which are made privately for the treatment of a patient in any country abroad, must be regarded as outside the terms of the EU regulations and health boards have no obligation to meet any part of the cost involved. In the first instance the individual concerned should be advised to contact their local health board for further advice and guidance on this matter, and in order not to delay a decision on their optimum treatment.

  142.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding additional beds for the elderly at a hospital (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28794/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in the [1075]Cork area rests with the Southern Health Board in the first instance. A design team comprising representatives of the board and my Department has been appointed for this project and it is proceeding with the detailed design of phase 2 of the development. The development will consist of a new 30 bed unit to replace existing patient accommodation at the hospital and ensure that the environment for both patients and staff is improved.

  143.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding additional beds for the elderly at a hospital (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28795/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to the proposed 50 bed community nursing unit, CNU, at Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mallow, which is one of the locations identified by the Southern Health Board, SHB, for the pilot public private partnership, PPP, project. The CNU will provide respite, convalescence, long stay and rehabilitation services, to elderly patients in the north Cork area.

It is a priority to increase the availability of community nursing and other units that would meet the needs of people who need care that could not be adequately provided at home. There have been discussions between my Department and the Department of Finance in the development of this PPP scheme, as is normal and entirely appropriate with a PPP project. As PPPs are complex schemes 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 proposed facility will greatly help people make the transition from an acute hospital setting to care matched to their needs.

  144.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of births at Kerry General Hospital each year between 1994 and 2003. [28798/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The information requested by the Deputy is provided in the table below:

Kerry General Hospital: Number of Live Births 1994 to 2003.

Year Number
1994 1,010
1995 964
1996 1,080
1997 1,153
1998 1,132
1999 1,152
2000 1,174
2001 1,248
2002 1,449
2003 1,446

  145.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be made on an application made by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [28800/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The medical assessment for the purpose of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is carried out by the senior area medical officer in the relevant health board. This function is to assist the Department of Finance who have statutory responsibility for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Accordingly, my Department has asked the chief executive officer, Southern Health Board, to investigate this case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Question No. 146 withdrawn.

  147.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been called to Merlin Park Hospital in Galway for a hip operation; if not, the reason therefore. [28863/04]

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 in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  148.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the various charges that persons who are not medical card holders have to pay in the event of their having to attend an accident and emergency unit of a hospital; the amount they would have to pay if they were admitted into the hospital ward; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28864/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means rather than income. Any person who is accepted by the health boards as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility — category 1, that is, medical card holders — or limited eligibility — category 2 — for health services. Persons in category 1 are medical card [1077]holders and are entitled to a full range of services including all outpatient public hospital services without charge. Persons in category 2 are those who do not hold medical cards, and they are entitled, subject to certain charges, to outpatient public hospital services including consultants services.

With regard to an attendance at accident and emergency departments, the Health (Out-Patient Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2002, provide for a statutory charge of €45 per visit. This charge is levied only on persons who attend at accident and emergency departments without a referral note from their doctor and applies only for the first visit of any episode of care. Other than this charge which refers only to visits to an accident and emergency department, there are no other charges for public patients attending outpatient public hospital clinics.

There are a number of people who are exempt from this charge, including medical card holders, women receiving services in respect of motherhood, children up to the age of six weeks, children referred for treatment from child health clinics and school health examinations and persons whose attendance results in admission as an inpatient. Also exempt from these charges, in respect of treatment for the particular condition, are children suffering from prescribed diseases, i.e. mental handicap, mental illness, phenylketo[1078]nuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, haemophilia and cerebral palsy.

On admission, a person is designated an in-patient and charges are applicable subject to eligibility status. The Health (In-Patient Charges) Regulations 1987, specify categories of persons exempted from public hospital statutory in-patient charges, which currently stand at €45 per night up to a maximum of €450 in any 12 consecutive months for those with category 2 eligibility status — that is, non-medical card holders. Persons with category 1 eligibility status, i.e. those covered by the medical card scheme, are amongst the categories exempted.

As with the accident and emergency charge, the 1987 regulations provide that, pursuant to section 45 (7) of the Health Act 1970, a person may also be exempted from public hospital charges on hardship grounds if deemed so by the chief executive officer of a health board. Alternatively, one can opt to be the private patient of both the consultant and the hospital. Any patient, whether a medical card holder or not, who opts for treatment in a private hospital or as a private patient in a public hospital is liable for the costs relating to such treatment. Charges set by my Department in respect of private and semi-private rooms in public hospitals are additional to the statutory inpatient charge and are a contribution towards overall hospital running costs. These charges, effective from 1 January 2004, are outlined in the table below.

Hospital Category Private Accommodation Semi-Private Accommodation Day-care
Health Board Regional Hospitals Voluntary and Joint Board Teaching Hospitals 401 314 289
Health Board County Hospitals Voluntary Non-Teaching Hospitals 334 269 239
Health Board District Hospitals 179 153 133

[1077]Where exemptions do not apply, the public charge may be waived if, in the opinion of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, payment would cause undue hardship. Under the Health Act, 1970, the determination of eligibility for health services is primarily the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board.

  149.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding a mobility allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28865/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The assessment of entitlement to and payment of the mobility allowance in any individual case is a matter for the relevant health board. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer, Mid-[1078]Western Health Board, to investigate the issues raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of extreme urgency.

  150.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans to relocate the 230 residents of a service (details supplied) in County Dublin; if the proposals which involve separate developments on the grounds of sites (details supplied) are still actively being developed; and when she expects each of these proposals to commence. [28866/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The location and construction of the developments referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

  151.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be given the maximum support and assistance when leaving hospital; and the position regarding the case of this person. [28867/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Responsibility for the provision of care and treatment of the named individual rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

  152.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of persons that are on panels in the NWHB; the length of time they are on these panels without being appointed to their substantive posts in view of the fact that the NWHB will no longer exist at the end of 2004 with some employees very anxious that they are being used to do the work of a higher grade but may not get appointed to that grade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28944/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for recruitment of personnel rests in this instance with the North Western Health Board. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer to investigate the matters raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

  153.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress of the working group who are reviewing the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme; the progress made to date in relation to this report; and when it is expected that the final report will be published. [29013/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The review is taking into account issues arising from the interpretation of certain aspects of the 1990 Act and the subvention regulations which have arisen over the years, the Ombudsman’s comments on the operation of the nursing home subvention scheme, the recommendations in the O’Shea and Mercer reports, and the views of clients and service providers on the operation of the nursing home subvention scheme.

The aims and objectives of the review are to recommend any changes necessary in the light of Professor O’Shea’s recommendations; to make recommendations on an equitable means assessment test for subvention; to make recommendations on the development of a standardised dependency test; to examine alternative care set[1080]tings such as home care and to make recommendations for the funding of such care settings as an alternative to long-term residential care; to make recommendations on the development and implementation of quality care standards in institutional settings; to make recommendations on such other matters as the group considers appropriate within the broad parameters of its mandate; and the ultimate aim of the review will be the development of a system which will be transparent, provide equity, be less discretionary and 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. These include Departments, health agencies, voluntary and professional groups and the private nursing home sector. The group has been hearing submissions from interested parties and has also benefited from hearing presentations from the authors of the above mentioned reports. Most recently, the group has been considering issues such as the broad principles which should underpin any revisions to the nursing home subvention scheme as well as the themes on which it might be possible to make progress in the short or longer term. One of the key matters to be discussed and considered will be the need to maintain synergy between the group’s work and deliberations elsewhere in relation to the Mercer report. For these reasons it is not possible at this stage to be precise about the date on which the group will report.

  154.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she intends to provide funding to a centre (details supplied) in order that the Realtin scheme, which provides care and support to school going children of troubled families in the area, can be maintained; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29014/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  Funding for services of the type referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the relevant health board — in this case the South Western Area Health Board. I understand from the area board that a grant is currently in place for the centre. The centre should liaise with the Area Board in relation to the continuation of this funding.

  155.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which she will implement the promise given recently that no hospital consultant will be without insurance cover and no patient without redress. [29015/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The precise means whereby claims [1081]alleging medical malpractice on the part of consultants who may be left without assistance by the Medical Defence Union will be managed is currently the subject of discussions between my Department, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.

During my recent attendance at the Irish Hospital Consultants Association annual conference I assured members that arising out of the situation with the Medical Defence Union and cover for historic liabilities of consultants, in particular obstetric claims, no Irish person who has suffered from a medical mishap would be left without compensation and no consultant would be left without cover in all reasonable circumstances and in accordance with law. This is the principle guiding the Governments’ approach to the MDU’s entirely unjustified withdrawal of cover for obstetricians for liabilities before 1 February 2004.

  156.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she proposes to increase funding for localised research on suicide in order to improve the effectiveness of suicide prevention strategies. [29016/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Since the publication of the report of the national task force on suicide in 1998, my Department has given special attention to the resourcing of suicide prevention initiatives. A cumulative total of more than €17.5 million has now been provided towards suicide prevention programmes and for research activity at local and national level involving various agencies including the health boards, the national suicide review group, the Irish Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Research Foundation. Further resourcing of suicide prevention initiatives will be considered in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

As the Deputy may be aware, work is now well underway on the preparation of a strategic action plan for suicide reduction which involves the Health Boards Executive in partnership with the national suicide review group and supported by the Department of Health and Children. This strategy, which will be based on extensive national and international consultation and evidence based research, will build on existing policy and on the recommendations contained in the report of the national task force. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the preparation of this strategy, which will be completed in 2005.

  157.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of claims presently before the State Claims Agency; and the number that relate to allegations that a patient fatality was the result of a medical error. [29017/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The State Claims Agency which operates the clinical indemnity scheme on behalf of my Department is currently managing 763 claims under the scheme. While it is feasible to identify claims initiated by the relatives of patients who have died, it is not possible to determine the contribution, if any, of alleged negligence to the death until the claim is disposed of by way of settlement or court judgement.

  158.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will make a statement on the matter of concerns in relation to a drug (details supplied) that were identified at a meeting in Tunisia in 2002; if her attention has been drawn to these concerns; and the actions that were taken. [29018/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The safety of this product has been closely monitored, both nationally and at European level, since its first authorisation in the EU in 1999. The potential for the development of cardiovascular adverse effects has been known for some time and these effects were highlighted in the patient information leaflet that accompanied the product. On 1 October 2004, the manufacturer voluntarily withdrew the product from the market worldwide: this withdrawal was undertaken on the basis of data from one new clinical trial which indicated that refecoxib, the active ingredient in the product, was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular side effects. The Irish Medicines Board, in conjunction with the company concerned, notified health care professionals in this country and co-ordinated the recall of stocks.

  159.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of primary care buildings funded by her to date under the primary care strategy. [29019/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The primary care strategy, Primary Care, A New Direction, recognises that the provision of modern, well-equipped, accessible premises will be central to the effective functioning of the integrated multidisciplinary primary care team and network model as envisaged in the strategy. A range of different approaches to the financing and provision of these facilities will be explored in the course of implementing the new model of service provision.

Capital funding has been provided under the strategy to facilitate the provision of appropriate facilities for the initial ten primary care teams approved in October 2002. In 2004 capital funding of €450,000 has been provided to the Southern Health Board to enable the construction of a new primary care centre in Annascaul, County Kerry. Along with existing centres in Dingle and Castlegregory, this centre will be one of three premises delivering services as part of the west Kerry primary care team. The provision of a pri[1083]mary care centre in this instance is being financed jointly by the State and the general practitioner who will operate from the centre. The provision of the new centre will enable additional services to be delivered in a single centre and will assist in the delivery of integrated services to the population in this area.

Capital funding of €275,000 has been provided to the East Coast Area Health Board in 2004 for the provision of a new high specification modular unit adjacent to the health centre in Castle Park for the Arklow primary care team. The provision of this new unit will enable health board-employed members of the team to be based in a single centre. This will assist in the delivery of integrated services to the population in this area.

Further capital funding has been provided for premises renovation, refurbishment and equipping for the initial primary care teams. In 2002, minor capital funding totalling €2 million was provided across the ten locations for this purpose. This included renovation by the South Western Area Health Board of an existing building on the site of the Meath Hospital which now accommodates the Liberties primary care team.

One of the Government’s key objectives is to facilitate and encourage the development, where appropriate, of modern, well-equipped, user-friendly buildings in which the broad range of primary care services can be delivered and to fully exploit any opportunities for public-private partnerships in implementing the development programme. I am committed to developing policy in such a way as to maximise the opportunities to attract private sector interests into the provision of facilities to support delivery of primary care service in accordance with the new interdisciplinary model.

  160.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has received a communication from the Medical Council expressing concerns over the resources needed to implement the proposed changes to the Medical Practitioners Act and the holding of fitness to practice hearings in public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29020/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Officials from my Department have met the Medical Council on many occasions to discuss a broad range of issues relating to the preparation of the general scheme of the new Medical Practitioners Bill. In recent weeks, a further meeting took place in order to update the council on progress in relation to the drafting of the Bill and on future consultations with the council on the development of the Bill’s provisions. Contact between my Department and the council will continue on a regular basis during the drafting process.

The president of the council has recently written to me regarding the current work of the council and the future system of regulation of the medical profession in Ireland. I have arranged to meet with a delegation from the council on [1084]Thursday, 25 November and I expect that the issues raised in the Deputy’s question will be among the topics for discussion.

  161.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost of patient treatment under the national treatment purchase fund; the way in which this compares with patient care administered in the normal manner; the average cost of treatment and the total cost of treatment received to date by residents of north Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29079/04]

  162.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the current state of waiting lists and the uptake of the national treatment purchase fund including detailed levels of usage; the number of persons that have been treated in north Tipperary; the number in north Tipperary that are still on waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29080/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 161 and 162 together.

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times now falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the acting chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with the information requested.

  163.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether a patient who has been referred by their dentist to the dental hospital in a case in which the dentist deems it necessary for the person to receive specialist intervention, sometimes urgently, should have the facility to be treated in an accident and emergency clinic at the dental hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29081/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of dental services to eligible persons is a matter for the health boards or authority in the first instance. The Eastern Regional Health Authority has raised the matter with the Dublin Dental Hospital and is advised that the accident and emergency department in the Dublin Dental Hospital operates on a triage basis. This year to the end of September 2004, 15,409 patients have been seen by accident and emergency staff, of which 11,626 have received treatment. The remaining patients were referred to their own general dental practitioner. The dental hospital has emphasised that its accident and emergency service is for the treatment of pain relief, serious infection, visible swelling in and around the mouth, injuries — as a result of trauma or accident — bleeding or haemorrhage.

The authority is further advised that where a dentist feels a specialist referral is necessary and [1085]urgent, he or she is best advised to both telephone the appropriate specialist or consultant in the dental hospital, discuss the case and forward a letter outlining the particulars with the patient to the hospital. Such cases will be addressed by the appropriate consultant on the basis of need and urgency. The Dublin Dental Hospital points out that it cannot accept specialist referrals to its accident and emergency service as that department can only accommodate pain relief, serious infection, visible swelling in and around the mouth, injuries — as a result of trauma or accident — bleeding or haemorrhage.

The authority understands that urgent specialist referrals in oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral surgery, oral medicine, paediatric dentistry, etc., will be addressed by consultants in these areas separately to the accident and emergency service within the dental hospital. The Deputy should be aware that the authority regularly meets with the Dublin Dental Hospital to discuss issues such as the operation of its accident and emergency service and other services.

  164.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the SWAHB has met all of its obligations in regard to outstanding or other payments to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in relation to the change of job description, subsequent rates of pay and pension rights; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29082/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the implementation of pay scales and related personnel issues rests in this instance with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matters raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

  165.  Mr. McGuinness     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the status of the Comhairle report on medical assessment units; if the report will be published and debated by Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29097/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Comhairle na nOspidéal report on acute medical units has been completed. The report has been published by Comhairle na nOspidéal and is available to the public from today.

  166.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the action she intends to take to reduce the unacceptably high risk of contracting cancer in County Louth as revealed in a recent NEHB health report; and if [1086]she will make a statement on the matter. [29098/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The report, Cancer in County Louth, prepared by the national cancer registry, concludes that the excess risk of cancer in County Louth appears to be due to a small number of risk factors such as smoking, diet and sun-exposure. There is no evidence according to the report that residence in County Louth is in itself an independent risk factor for cancer.

The information in the report covers periods between 1994 to 2001. Significant developments in cancer services have taken place in recent years. In the north eastern region, additional cumulative funding of approximately €28 million has been made available since 1997 for the development of treatment and care services for patients suffering from cancer. This funding has enabled the appointment of an additional ten consultants, together with support staff in key areas such as medical oncology, haematology, breast surgery and palliative care. The funding has also enabled the appointment of an additional 20 cancer care nurse specialists across the region.

Smoking is a causative factor in the majority of lung cancer deaths and my Department continues to tackle this problem through legislative, environmental and health promotion measures. Smoking tends to be most prevalent in urban and particularly deprived urban areas. The prohibition of smoking in all places of work, which was introduced earlier this year, will help protect the health and safety of workers and the public from the toxic affect of tobacco smoke and is expected to have a significant impact on the incidences of lung cancer in the coming years.

There is strong evidence that diet and obesity increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions including some forms of cancer. In response to this the national task force on obesity was established by my Department. The task force is charged with addressing this serious issue as a matter of priority and will develop a strategy which aims to impact positively on the health of people throughout the country.

  167.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the details of the guidelines for making a complaint of negligence to the Medical Council; the number of cases dealt with each year for the past ten years; the number which resulted in favour of the petitioner; and if there are other complaint mechanisms available to persons who have suffered medical neglect. [29099/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the Medical Practitioners Act 1978, the Medical Council was established as the body with the statutory responsibility for the registration of medical practitioners in Ireland and the regulation of their professional activities. Pursuant to Part V of the Act, the Medical Council, through its fitness to practise committee, considers complaints against registered medical [1087]practitioners on the grounds of alleged professional misconduct or fitness to engage in the practice of medicine by reason of physical or mental disability.

I am informed by the Medical Council, that if any individual chooses to make a complaint, he or she should write to the professional standards section of the council stating the name and address of the doctor concerned and giving full details of the complaint. Information on how complaints are handled and the procedures followed by the Medical Council on receipt of a complaint are sent out in leaflet form with all acknowledgements to complaints. The details are also available on the council’s website, www.medicalcouncil.ie.

The fitness to practise committee considers any complaints received. If the committee considers that a prima facie case exists, an inquiry is held pursuant to section 45(3) of the Medical Practitioners Act. On completion of the inquiry, if the committee makes a finding of professional misconduct and-or unfitness to practise medicine by reason of physical or mental disability, the sanctions available to the Council are: erasure of the practitioner’s name from the register; suspension of registration for a specified period; attachment of conditions to registration; and the issue of advice, admonishment or censure to the medical practitioner.

The Medical Council has informed me that since 1994, 175 inquiries have been held. Of this number, 106 findings of professional misconduct and-or unfitness to engage in the practice of medicine by reason of mental or physical disability were made. This resulted in 35 erasures from the register, 38 cases where conditions were attached to registration and 33 cases where the medical practitioner was advised, admonished or censured by the council. More detailed statistics on the number of cases which have been considered from 1994 to date are contained in the table attached.

It should be noted, however, that in no case is the fitness to practise committee empowered to make a finding in favour of the complainant. The committee may only consider the professional conduct or fitness to practise by reason of physical or mental disability of the particular medical practitioner, and, if such person is found guilty, the council may apply a sanction as detailed above. The Medical Council is not responsible for the consideration of complaints concerning professional or medical negligence. It is, however, open to any individual patient to pursue such a complaint of negligence through the courts, if he or she so wishes.

A significant amendment to the Medical Practitioners Act is currently being drafted in my Department with the assistance of parliamentary counsel. Among the changes proposed in the new Medical Practitioners Bill are measures to improve the efficiency of the fitness to practise process. In addition, provisions to ensure that the complainant is kept fully informed at all stages are planned, along with other changes which [1088]should assist the council in performing its functions in the most effective way.

  168.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by her since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29117/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I have appointed one additional adviser with effect from 29 September 2004. The rate of pay for this adviser is €107,102 per annum. The appointment is to a temporary unestablished position in the Department and will terminate not later than the date on which I will cease to hold office as Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.

  169.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will be reinstated to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29142/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board or authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  170.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has plans to allow additional funds to be allocated through the North Eastern Health Board for a hospital (details supplied) in County Meath in order that increased supervision of the patients can take place to ensure additional care and to alleviate the night-time care of same; if this will include funding for closed circuit television within the hospital and additional night-time nursing care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29173/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot at this stage give specific commitments in relation to level 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.

  171.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason information was not given by the Western Health Board in [1089]response to Parliamentary Question No. 144 of 9 November 2004. [29238/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In relation to Parliamentary Question No. 144 of 9 November 2004, the Western Health Board has advised my Department that it wrote to the Deputy on 8 November 2004 in relation to the particular case raised by him. The board has further advised my Department that as client files are confidential it can only notify clients or their next of kin of the outcome of meetings pertaining to the client’s case for confidentiality reasons.

  172.  Mr. English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Meath will receive speech and language therapy; the reason they have been waiting for two years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29239/04]

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 North Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the matter raised and reply directly to him, as a matter of urgency.

  173.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of persons who have been treated for injuries as a result of fireworks during the eight years since 1996; the breakdown of the figures in terms of age profile and the county origins of the persons injured; and the type of injuries sustained. [29253/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the tables below. Data are derived from the hospital inpatient enquiry, HIPE, system which records information on each episode of hospitalisation in publicly funded acute hospitals. The primary aim of HIPE is to provide measures of hospital activity for specific diagnostic and procedure categories. There is provision in HIPE for coding of underlying external causes of types of injuries, such as fireworks, but this information may not always be available to the coder and significant under-reporting is therefore possible. National statistics are not available on injuries from fireworks which do not result in hospitalisation.

Table 1 provides figures for each year from 1996 to 2003 and separately for Dublin residents and the rest of the country. Numbers of cases are too small to provide a breakdown by individual county of residence. Table 2 shows an age and gender breakdown for all years combined. Over [1090]70% of injuries are to males under the age of 20. Table 3, again for all years combined, indicates the principal types of injuries sustained. Over 40% of all principal diagnoses are burn injuries.

Table 1: Hospitalisations due to accidents involving fireworks — 1996 to 2003.

Area of Residence
Year Dublin Rest of Ireland Total
1996 16 11 27
1997 1 5 6
1998 4 6 10
1999 1 2 3
2000 4 7 11
2001 13 9 22
2002 6 3 9
2003 14 12 26
Total 59 55 114

Table 2: All hospitalisations due to accidents involving fireworks 1996 to 2003 by age group and gender.

Age Group Male Female Total
0 — 9 Years 19 3 22
10 — 19 Years 63 8 71
20 — 29 Years 8 2 10
30+ Years 9 2 11
All Ages 99 15 114

Table 3: Types of injuries from fireworks 1996 to 2003.

Injury Number
Burns of Face/Neck/Head 19
Burns of Wrist/Hand 18
Burns of Eye & Adnexa 7
All Other Burns 6
Open Wound of Upper Limb 20
Open Wound of Head, Neck & Trunk 8
Fractures 8
Contusion with Intact Skin Surface 9
Other Injuries 19
Total 114

Question No. 174 answered with Question
No. 118.

  175.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the full complement of beds are in use at the Maynooth community care unit; if not, the number in use; the reason for the delay in bringing the unit to full capacity; and if [1091]she will make a statement on the matter. [29303/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Kildare area is a matter for the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority in the first instance. The authority has advised my Department that following recruitment of staff, an additional six beds have been opened at the Maynooth community nursing unit giving a current total bed complement of 36 beds currently in use. The authority has further advised that the process for recruiting additional nurses is still underway, that additional beds will be opened at the unit as soon as sufficient staff are in place and that there will be a total bed complement of 44 beds when all the additional staff have been recruited.

  176.  Dr. Upton     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the application to register with the nursing board by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [29404/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The registration and regulation of the nursing profession in Ireland is the statutory responsibility of An Bord Altranais. However, I have made inquiries with An Bord Altranais and have been informed that a letter issued to the individual concerned on 13 August advising that documentation was outstanding on the application. An Bord Altranais will assess the application on receipt of all documents listed in their correspondence of 13 August 2004.

  177.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to introduce the national standards for disability services; if she will commit funding for the application of these standards (details supplied) in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29410/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The draft national standards for disability services were recently received from the National Disability Authority and are currently under consideration by the Department, within the framework of the health services reform programme.

  178.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she will sell lands adjoining hospitals across the country; the areas the proceeds will go towards; and if the proceeds will remain in each county. [29411/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy will be aware that fol[1092]lowing the enactment of the Health (Amendment) Act 2004, my consent is now required before health boards can sell or otherwise dispose of lands. The responsibility for the management and utilisation of the health board estate, including lands adjoining State hospitals, is however still vested in the chief executive officer of the health board.

Earlier this year, following requests from my Department, health boards provided some information regarding plans or proposals they have to dispose of lands between now and the coming into force of the new Health Service Executive. The information received from the health boards in relation to these proposed disposals are currently being examined by my Department.

The Deputy will be aware that I am concerned that the proceeds from the sale of any particular land or properties in the health area will be applied and used for health purposes, with the exception of contributions of land to the social and affordable housing initiatives. In addition I am concerned that we now establish the extent of the total surplus land and properties available in the health service and this will require a professional assessment and evaluation of the entire health estate to be performed. In the context of future decisions regarding the locations where sales proceeds may be re-invested or applied, it would be inappropriate to make predictions on such matters in advance of that evaluation exercise.

  179.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the Medical Council will be included under the Freedom of Information Act; the reason for the delay in including the Medical Council under the Act; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29413/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  It is planned that the Medical Council will be included under the Freedom of Information Act on the occasion of the next substantial extension of the Act within the health sector. Preparations are in hand with a view to extending the Act to a number of additional health bodies early in 2005, including the Medical Council.

  180.  Mr. G. Mitchell     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the SWAHB will provide dental treatment urgently for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; if the SWAHB cannot provide this service, if the hospital payment fund will be made available in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29414/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of dental treatment to eligible persons in Dublin 12 [1093]rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  181.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason information promised in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 861 of 29 September 2004 has not yet been supplied by the Western Health Board; and when this information will be provided. [29415/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Due to problems experienced by the Western Health Board with their computer system, all of the information requested by the Deputy was not easily accessible. The board has advised my Department that it is in the process of securing the information and it will be forwarded to the Deputy upon receipt.

  182.  Mr. Deasy     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will investigate the matter. [29416/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy may wish to note that under the EU directive on the mutual recognition of qualifications, the qualifications of certain grades of health service staff, including radiographers, holding non-national qualifications must be validated in order that they may be employed in the public health service. The directive states that the procedure for examining an application shall be completed as soon as possible and the outcome communicated not later than four months after presentation of all the documents.

The person referred to by the Deputy submitted a completed application to the Northern Area Health Board, NAHB, which administers the system of validation on behalf of my Department. The documents were received by the NAHB on 26 October last and were forwarded on the same day to the relevant professional body which acts as advisers in this regard. My Department has been advised that this application will be processed within the next few weeks.

  183.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the work done by the SIMI in regard to the overall net effect of a VRT reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29051/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A pre-budget submission from SIMI has been received which like all other pre-budget submissions will be considered in the context of preparations for the forthcoming budget and Finance Bill. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Fin[1094]ance not to comment at this time on what may, or may not, be contained in a forthcoming budget and I do not intend to depart from this approach.

  184.  Mr. O’Donovan     asked the Minister for Finance    the delay in the progress for the planned refurbishment of a Garda station (details supplied) in County Cork; the reasons for the delay; when it is proposed that the work will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29155/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  There are no plans to refurbish the Garda station at Schull, County Cork. It is proposed to demolish the existing station and build a new Garda area headquarters on the existing site. Planning consultation in relation to the new development is completed. The project will be scheduled for commencement in 2005 subject to available funding.

  185.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether the average number of persons visiting Maynooth Castle, Maynooth, County Kildare, which works out at 14 per day is extremely disappointing; his further views on whether the development of phase two of the restoration works to the castle would enable the castle to achieve a better potential in respect of tourist numbers visiting the castle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29287/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The obligation of the Office of Public Works, OPW, with regard to the national monuments in its care is to ensure their preservation and protection. The OPW’s role also extends to ensuring that sites are accessible to the public and are presented in an appropriate manner. In the case of Maynooth Castle I am satisfied that the OPW fully meets all the obligations with regard to the preservation, protection and presentation of the monument. I fully accept, given the level of investment in the conservation of the site, that the visitor numbers at Maynooth Castle are somewhat low. This office is currently looking at a number of options for increasing the number of visitors to this site for 2005.

It is not possible for me to estimate if visitor numbers would increase if further development of the castle were undertaken. I should point out that the final decision on any future development at Maynooth Castle is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  186.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will give consideration to the pre-budget 2005 submission of organisations (details [1095]supplied) and give them his maximum support. [28654/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have received pre-budget submissions from the organisations concerned and the contents will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget and Finance Bill. As Deputies are aware it would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

  187.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 258 of 2 November 2004, if the agreement with the company (details supplied) took account of the recommended guidelines which state that only as a last resort should free standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools; and if this means that the company is precluded from using Garda masts in such locations for its antennae. [28660/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  Under the terms of the 1997 agreement between the State and the company referred to, the company is required to comply with all relevant planning and development legislation and all other legal requirements pertaining to the use of mobile telephony antennae and ancillary equipment in the State, and in particular to any requirements imposed by or pursuant to the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Acts, the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act and the Radiological Protection Act. In addition, the company is required to conform with all relevant guidelines which may be set down from time to time by the International Radiation Protection Association. The company is not precluded from using Garda masts, provided the use is in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement currently in place.

  188.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost of tax relief on pension contributions; the aggregate value of contributions on which relief is provided; the value granted at the 20% rate; the value granted at the 42% rate; and the average value of pension relief given to tax-payers in different income ranges. [28680/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The cost of tax relief for private pension funding for the short tax year 2001 has been estimated by the Revenue Commissioners at €1.8 billion. This was a short transitional tax year running from 6 April to 31 December 2001. This cost covers tax relief on contributions by employers, employees and self employed and the exemption from income and gains in the pension fund. It should be noted that these costs are very tentative and that efforts are being made to improve information on the cost of tax relief for pensions.

Information on the aggregate value of contributions on which relief is provided and on the value granted at different rates of tax is not available in relation to occupational pension schemes. Information is available from the Revenue Commissioners in respect to income tax relief allowed for contributions to retirement annuity contracts for the short income tax year 2001, which are available to the self-employed and to employees not in occupational pension schemes. Income tax relief at an estimated cost of €170 million was allowed in the short income tax year 2001 on such pension contributions amounting to €450 million. The value of contributions allowed at the 20% and 42% tax rates is estimated at €78 million and €368 million respectively, amounting to €446 million. A further €4 million in contributions had the effect of reducing the total income of claimants below the exemption thresholds.

A distribution by income ranges of the claim amounts, amounts of tax relief and average deductions for tax relief for retirement annuity contracts is contained in the table below:

INCOME TAX 2001 (short “year”).

Retirement Annuity — by range of Gross Income.

Range of Gross Income Totals
From To Number of cases Amount of deduction Reduction in tax Average deduction
6,000 1,258 1,301,889 76,588 1,035
6,000 8,000 1,217 1,131,858 159,747 930
8,000 10,000 1,976 2,066,245 318,130 1,046
10,000 12,000 2,779 3,131,978 538,747 1,127
12,000 15,000 5,489 6,725,589 1,228,558 1,225
15,000 17,000 4,446 5,613,493 1,067,199 1,263
17,000 20,000 7,513 10,476,115 2,039,761 1,394
20,000 25,000 12,222 19,723,266 4,505,791 1,614
25,000 27,000 4,567 8,276,351 2,214,991 1,812
27,000 30,000 6,350 12,331,704 3,457,396 1,942
30,000 35,000 9,441 20,838,925 6,506,746 2,207
35,000 40,000 7,942 20,490,572 7,354,258 2,580
40,000 50,000 11,247 37,038,299 14,847,501 3,241
50,000 60,000 6,807 29,985,541 12,417,840 4,405
60,000 75,000 5,741 35,653,618 14,883,125 6,210
75,000 100,000 4,543 41,479,867 17,310,850 9,131
100,000 150,000 3,951 56,115,725 23,514,956 14,203
150,000 200,000 1,753 38,561,305 16,149,432 21,997
Over 200,000 2,635 98,693,919 41,399,977 37,455
Totals 102,057 449,636,259 169,991,594 4,406

  189.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will indicate the number of jobs that will be earmarked for County Monaghan in the context of the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28877/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  There are 85 staff from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to be located in Carrickmacross and 25 from the Combat Poverty Agency to be located in Monaghan town under the decentralisation programme.

  190.  Mr. P. Power    asked the Minister for Finance    his intentions regarding the planned level of Exchequer and PPP funded investment in 2005 included in the multi-annual capital investment framework published in the 2004 budget. [28936/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The rolling five year multi-annual capital envelopes announced in budget 2004 set out a total capital provision for 2005 of Exchequer funded investment, €5,715 million, and an estimate for PPP, €585 million, capital to be funded by annual payments from the Exchequer.

The 2005 AEV which I will be publishing tomorrow presents a breakdown of the 2005 Exchequer provisions included in the multi-annual investment framework published in the 2004 budget as well as the original estimates for PPP investment in 2005 included in that framework. The Deputy might wish to note that based on the latest information available from Departments there will be a major shortfall on the PPP estimate in 2005. I will be reviewing the position between now and the budget and I will be announcing a new capital envelope for the period 2005-09 on budget day. The new capital envelope will take account of the PPP shortfall, overall investment priorities and the wider expenditure and budgetary position.

  191.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Finance    the tax concessions for persons who have mobility difficulties; the exact concession available under the motorised transport scheme; the persons that might qualify; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28937/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is open to people with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate. The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them.

An individual who obtains a primary medical certificate qualifies for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed. The motorised transport grant referred to in the question is a means tested grant administered by the health boards and does not fall within the remit of my Department.

  192.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will support the request from the Irish Deaf Society for a capital investment of €10 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28938/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  At this time of the year I receive a large number of pre-budget submissions requesting funding for a wide range [1099]of issues. Each one will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget.

  193.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the threshold for registration for VAT in manufacturing and in the service sector; when these thresholds were set; the amount they would need to be increased in order to keep pace with the index of consumer prices in the intervening period; his estimate of the cost to the Exchequer of doubling these thresholds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28939/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Traders making supplies in the State are obliged to register for VAT where certain turnover thresholds are exceeded or are likely to be exceeded in any continuous period of 12 months. The current threshold, which was enacted by the Finance Act 1994 with effect from 1 July 1994, is €25,500 in the case of a person supplying services. This threshold also applies to persons supplying a combination of goods and services or goods chargeable at the 13.5% or 21% VAT rates which are produced from zero-rated materials; the threshold is €51,000 for persons supplying goods. Businesses with turnover below these thresholds can of course register for VAT and those in the service sector in particular frequently choose to do so for business reasons.

If thresholds were increased in line with the consumer price index since 1994, the €25,500 threshold would need to be increased by €15,515 to €41,015 and the €51,000 threshold would need to be increased by €31,030 to €82,030.

With regard to the estimated cost of doubling the current thresholds, the position is that under the EU sixth VAT directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply, member states may only increase thresholds in line with inflation.

It is not customary for me to comment on any possible changes to thresholds which may, or may not, arise in the context of the forthcoming budget.

  194.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of VRT collected in each of the past seven years. [28949/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VRT collected in each of the past seven years is set out in the table below:

Year € million
1997 502.6
1998 615.1
1999 771.1
2000 1001.3
2001 788.0
2002 792.6
2003 819.4

  195.  Mr. P. McGrath     asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of VAT collected in each of the past seven years on the purchase of new motor vehicles. [28950/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VAT collected in each of the past seven years on the purchase of new motor vehicles is as follows:

Year € million
1997 278
1998 354
1999 402
2000 548
2001 416
2002 425
2003 425

It should be noted that these figures are estimates as VAT returns do not identify the yields from particular goods and services.

  196.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of tax collected in each of the past seven years on motor fuels. [28951/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the period for which data is available is 1997-2003 inclusive. The relevant figures are shown in the table below.

Estimated Excise and VAT collected on Motor Fuels 1997-2003.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Petrol: Excise 601.7 676.8 720.4 754.8 725.3 854.2 853.8
Estimated VAT 195.5 207.0 223.5 288.2 264.1 286.1 289.8
Total 797.3 883.7 943.9 1,043.1 989.4 1,140.3 1,143.6
Auto Diesel: Excise 428.7 509.2 583.3 624.0 519.5 660.2 731.5
Estimated VAT 16.5 19.0 21.6 29.2 26.7 30.2 32.4
Total 445.2 528.3 604.9 653.2 546.2 690.4 763.8
Auto LPG: Excise 1.0 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.4 0.3 0.2
Estimated VAT 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.1
Total 1.5 1.1 1.0 0.9 0.7 0.6 0.3
Total 1,244.0 1,413.1 1,549.8 1,697.1 1,536.2 1,831.3 1,907.7

[1101]The figures for VAT collected are estimates. VAT returns are not required to be completed in a manner that identifies the yield from particular goods and services.

  197.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the various taxes that are collected on the sale of a new car and to compare these to the corresponding taxes in the UK. [28952/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In Ireland a new vehicle is liable to vehicle registration tax, VRT, value added tax, VAT, and in the case of a vehicle imported from outside the European Union, common customs tariff duty, CCT.

VRT is calculated on the open market selling price, OMSP, of a vehicle, which is the retail price, inclusive of all taxes and duties, that a vehicle may reasonably be expected to fetch on a first arm’s length sale on the open market in the State. The rates of VRT chargeable on an individual vehicle are determined by its engine size. The following table shows the engine size bands and the corresponding VRT rate.

Private Cars — Category A.

Category
Cars up to 1,400 ccs (A1) 22.5% of OMSP
Cars 1,401 to 1,900 ccs (A2) 25% of OMSP
Cars 1,901 + (A3) 30% of OMSP

[1102]VAT is chargeable at 21% of the retail price exclusive of VRT and VAT. CCT is charged at
10% of the cost of the vehicle inclusive of charges for freight and insurance. I understand that in the UK all new cars are liable to VAT at 17.5%, and if imported from outside the EU, CCT duty at 10%. VRT or an equivalent is not payable on cars in the UK.

  198.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of tax levied on a new car below 1.9 L retailing at €12,000, €15,000, €18,000, €21,000 and €25,000; and the tax levied on a new vehicle over 1.9 L retailing at €30,000, €40,000 and €50,000. [28953/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  VRT is applied on the open market selling price, OMSP, of the vehicle which is the price, inclusive of all taxes and duties, which the vehicle would be reasonably expected to fetch on a first arm’s length retail sale in the State. The information requested is as follows:

Category A1 — Engine cc less than or equal to 1400 cc

OMSP 12,000.00 15,000.00 18,000.00 21,000.00 25,000.00
VRT Rate 22.5% 22.5% 22.5% 22.5% 22.5%
VRT Amount 2,700.00 3,375.00 4,050.00 4,725.00 5,625.00
VAT Amount 1,614.05 2,017.56 2,421.07 2,824.59 3,362.60
Total Tax 4,314.05 5,392.56 6,471.07 7,549.59 8,987.60

Category A2 — Engine cc exceeding 1400 cc and not exceeding 1900 cc

OMSP 12,000.00 15,000.00 18,000.00 21,000.00 25,000.00
VRT Rate 25.0% 25.0% 25.0% 25.0% 25.0%
VRT Amount 3,000.00 3,750.00 4,500.00 5,250.00 6,250.00
VAT Amount 1,561.98 1,952.48 2,342.98 2,733.48 3,254.13
Total Tax 4,561.98 5,702.48 6,842.98 7,983.47 9,504.13

Category A3 — Engine cc exceeding 1900 cc

OMSP 30,000.00 40,000.00 50,000.00
VRT Rate 30.0% 30.0% 30.0%
VRT Amount 9,000.00 12,000.00 15,000.00
VAT Amount 3,644.63 4,859.50 6,074.38
Total Tax 12,644.63 16,859.50 21,074.38

[1103][1103]

  199.  Mr. P. McGrath     asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the 57% increase in the importation of second hand vehicle with engine size over 1.9 litre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28954/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that over 170,000 cars have been registered in the State up to the end of October 2004, including cars which are exempt from VRT. Of these, 7,242, or some 48% more than the same period last year, were second hand imports, with engine sizes over 1.9 litres. While it is impossible to determine with any certainty, it is reasonable to speculate that personal choice as to make and model and normal market forces have contributed to the increase. Data are not captured by the Revenue Commissioners in relation to the engine size of commercial vehicles.

  200.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the surplus that has been put into the social welfare fund in each of the past seven years; the cumulative fund for each of those years; and the details of the withdrawals from the fund in the same periods for items that were
not covered within the terms of the fund. [29009/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  As Minister for Finance, I have overall responsibility for the control and management of the social insurance fund investment account while my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has responsibility for the social insurance fund current account. The extent to which the annual income of the social insurance fund is not required to meet benefit payments and administration costs in that year represents the annual surplus of the fund. The only payment from the social insurance fund other than that to meet benefit payments or administration costs was the amount of €635 million paid out of the fund into the Exchequer in 2002 as provided for by the Social Welfare (No. 2) Act 2001.

The annual and cumulative surplus on the social insurance fund in the period in question is as follows:

Annual Surplus (€M) Cumulative Surplus (€M)
1997 10 10
1998 69 79
1999 341 420
2000 435 855
2001 631 1,486
2002 422 1,273*
2003 255 1,528

  201.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the profits achieved from the investment of the social welfare fund in each of the past five years. [29010/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  As Minister for Finance, I have overall responsibility for the control and management of the social insurance fund investment account while my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has responsibility for the social insurance fund current account. The receipts from investment of the accumulated surplus of the social insurance fund for each of the last five years are as follows:

Year €M
1999 3.447
2000 26.590
2001 45.754
2002 51.015
2003 40.718

These figures do not of course reflect the carrying cost of the significant deficits in the fund subsidised by the Exchequer until the mid-1990s.

  202.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if plans exist for alleviation measures in respect of serious flooding of the River Pil at Piltown, County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29060/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  My officials are currently undertaking a pre-feasibility study to investigate the relevant issues with regard to reducing the risk of flooding in Piltown. It is expected that this report will be completed early in the new year and until such a time as the recommendations of this study are available, it is not possible to say what, if any, [1105]flood alleviation works might be identified for Piltown. Any decision will also be contingent on existing commitments to advancing flood relief projects currently on the OPW work programme.

  203.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships in relation to public work contracts; his views on whether the approach is cost effective; and his policy in relation to public-private partnerships in the future. [29061/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Public private partnerships have a continuing role to play in helping to address the infrastructure needs of this country. The advantages and disadvantages of using the PPP route are dependent, in particular, on achieving optimal risk transfer to the private sector over the lifetime of a project and the efficiencies gained from integrating design and construction of public infrastructure with operation and maintenance and, where appropriate, private finance.

The Government established the National Development Finance Agency in 2003 to provide advice to those procuring major public capital projects on the optimal means of financing such projects in order to achieve value for money and on all aspects of the financing, refinancing and insurance of public investment projects. With regard to the policy on PPPs in the future, the overall context is set by the multi-annual investment framework first announced in budget 2004, including estimates for PPP investment.

The Deputy may wish to note that, based on the latest information available from Departments in respect of PPPs funded by unitary payments, there will be a shortfall in PPP projects at construction stage in 2005 relative to the estimates announced in 2004. There are a number of reasons for this, including the lead time of 18 months to two years involved in bringing PPP projects to construction. I will be reviewing the position between now and the budget and I will be announcing a new multi-annual capital envelope for the period 2005-09 on budget day. The new capital envelope will take account of the PPP shortfall in 2005, overall investment priorities and the wider expenditure and budgetary position.

  204.  Mr. Noonan     asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of single premium insurance written by the industry in each year from 1988 to 2001 inclusive; the reason for the variation in amounts from year to year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29062/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The insurance annual reports — blue books — as published in the years in question by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, show that the net amount of single premium life insurance [1106]written in Ireland in the years 1988 to 2001 was as follows:

Euro 000’s
1988 708,544
1989 954,144
1990 707,147
1991 662,157
1992 438,893
1993 686,920
1994 750,906
1995 732,456
1996 1,182,035
1997 1,868,511
1998 3,261,874
1999 5,211,852
2000 7,556,644
2001 8,803,823

The insurance annual reports show that business written by companies based in Ireland into other, mainly EU, countries increased substantially during the period, rising from 2% of the total in 1988 to 53% in 2001. There may be other reasons for the year-to-year variations but these are not deducible from the information in the reports.

  205.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in budget 2005; the mechanism available to them to address their concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29063/04]

  206.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Finance    if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in budget 2005; the mechanism available to them to address their concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29064/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 206 together.

Capital Gains Tax, CGT, is a tax on a capital gain arising on the disposal of assets. A 20% rate of CGT now applies on the gains arising on the disposal of assets, including land which is the subject of a compulsory purchase order, CPO. This is the lowest rate of CGT in recent history. Where compensation is received for land that is compulsorily acquired, any gains arising from the amount paid for the acquisition of land are chargeable to tax. In other words, if there is a sum paid by an authority for the compulsory acquisition of land, then irrespective of its components, for example, disturbance, injurious affection, etc., that total sum will be the amount to be assessed for tax. The CGT due on a disposal of land under a CPO is calculated in the same way as any other disposal of land. The consideration for the disposal will be the sum received for the land.

[1107]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.

  207.  Mr. Gregory     asked the Minister for Finance    if he will review the amount of capital gains tax demanded from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7. [29075/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A charge to capital gains tax 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.

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that as many shareholders might not ordinarily be expected to be familiar with capital gains tax provisions, they have written to First Active members who received payment from the Royal Bank of Scotland in respect of its acquisition of First Active. Revenue informed them of a potential CGT liability arising from the disposal of the shares and how to make a payment of any CGT liability. This was to ensure that people do not inadvertently incur interest which could arise if payment was not made on time. Any CGT liability on disposal of these shares was due for payment on or before 31 October 2004.

From the information supplied to the Revenue Commissioners, the person referred to by the Deputy received a payment of €3,069 from Royal Bank of Scotland and, provided she had no other gain or loss, her CGT liability is calculated as follows:

Cash Received €3,069
Allowable Costs Nil (as the shares were acquired at no cost they have a nil base)
Chargeable Gain €3,069
Less Personal Exemption (€1,270)
Net Chargeable Gain €1,799 @ 20% = €359.80

The chargeable gain above can be reduced by any allowable losses arising in 2004 together with any unused allowable losses from disposals of assets chargeable to capital gains tax in any previous year. This is the standard method and was used in other disbursements of free shares in the past few years.

I have also been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Revenue documentation that the person received includes a computation sheet and a payslip. The payslip and payment should be sent to the Collector General’s office. The documentation issued also includes a special Revenue helpline number for any further assistance required by the person referred to by the Deputy.

  208.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Finance    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29118/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Since my appointment as Minister for Finance, in accordance with the provisions of section 11 (1) of the Public Service Management Act 1997, the Government has appointed at my request, one special adviser to my Department. My predecessor did not have a special adviser. The annual salary is €67,305 and an allowance of 10% of salary is also paid. My adviser is an assistant principal officer on secondment from the Department of Health and Children for the duration of my appointment.

  209.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of refunds in respect of PRSI contributions paid in respect of off payroll payments made to PRSAs and other personal pensions for which claims have been made to Revenue Commissioners; when he expects to be able to repay this money; the amount involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29153/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Refund of PRSI in respect of PRSAs and other personal pensions is governed by the Social Welfare (Consolidated Contributions and Insurability) (Amendment No. 1) (Refunds) Regulations 2003, SI No. 698 of 2003. These regulations were made by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on 17 December 2003.

I understand from the Revenue Commissioners that the matter of devising a mechanism for dealing with these cases has been raised by the Department of Social and Family Affairs with the Revenue Commissioners and discussions are ongoing. In the meantime, persons seeking refunds have been advised to contact the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

  210.  Mr. Gregory     asked the Minister for Finance    if tax relief can be claimed for the parents’ costs of incurring travelling expenses to visit their children in an intensive care unit who are not oncology patients or children with a permanent disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29255/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Section 469 Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for tax relief in respect of health expenses, as defined in the section, incurred in respect of health care which is also defined in the section. The Revenue Commissioners information leaflet IT 6 on health-medical expenses relief which is available on their website www.revenue.ie provides full [1109]details of the expenses for which tax relief is available.

Section 469 provides for tax relief in respect of the cost of travelling to and from hospital either by a patient or by the parents of a patient where this is by ambulance only and not by any other means. However, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they have a long-standing and published administrative practice to grant tax relief on the cost of travelling, other than by ambulance, to and from hospital in the special circumstances which pertain to child oncology patients and children with a permanent disability where such trips are shown to be essential to the treatment of the child. The Revenue Commissioners’ practice does not extend to covering the cost of travelling by parents to visit their children in hospital in the normal course, including children in intensive care.

If the Deputy has a specific case to which special circumstances attach, he may wish to contact the Revenue Commissioners outlining full details of the case including the special circumstances, if any.

  211.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Finance    if the revised schedule of works for Lucan Demesne has been submitted and agreed; the details of same; the amount of grant aid being applied; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29292/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I wish to confirm that the current position remains unchanged from that outlined in my response to the Deputy’s most recent question on this issue, Parliamentary Question No. 322.

  212.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Minister for Finance    his proposals to implement the ten recommendations of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme independent review group; in particular the making of legislative change to repeal the current stringent medical based on lack of limbs with a more general mobility-focused medical assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29421/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is open to people with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate.

The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows: persons who are wholly or almost wholly [1110]without the use of both legs; persons who are wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; persons without both hands or without both arms; persons without one or both legs; persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and who have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

An individual who qualifies under the medical criteria as set out above is issued with a primary medical certificate. Possession of a primary medical certificate qualifies the holder for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, a repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed.

An interdepartmental review group was established to review the disabled drivers’ and disabled passengers’ (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme including the qualifying medical criteria. The report was published on my Department’s website in early July and copies have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

As agreed by Government in June, I will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

  213.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Minister for Finance    his proposals to extend tax relief for home carers to widows and widowers or lone parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29422/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  As the Deputy will be aware, the home carer tax credit, formerly an allowance, was introduced in the Finance Act 2000 and is designed to cover situations where a spouse working in the home has forfeited a second income to care for dependants in the home. It is available only to married couples who are jointly assessed for tax.

While the home carer credit is generally not available to married two earner couples, there is an income disregard whereby the home carer may have some income in their own right without affecting their spouse’s eligibility for the tax credit. In addition, there is a taper system, which means the tax credit is not lost at once when income exceeds the amount of the disregard.

Special treatment within the tax system is afforded to widows, widowers and lone parents. In the case of widowed persons, in the year of bereavement a widowed person may receive a personal tax credit of €3,040, which is equivalent in value to the married person’s tax credit. Following the year of bereavement, a widowed parent with a qualifying child or children may qualify for the one-parent family tax credit of €1,520 in [1111]addition to the personal tax credit of €1,520. A further tax credit, the widowed parent tax credit, is available on a sliding scale for the first five tax years following the year of bereavement as follows:

Year
Year 1 2,600
Year 2 2,100
Year 3 1,600
Year 4 1,100
Year 5 600

Therefore, in the first year following bereavement, a widowed parent is entitled to aggregate tax credits of €5,640, comprising a single personal credit of €1,520, a one-parent family credit of €1,520 and a widowed parent credit of €2,600. For widowed persons with no dependent children, a tax credit of €300, which is additional to the basic personal tax credit, is available after the year of bereavement. Such widowed persons would therefore receive aggregate basic tax credits of €1,820, comprising €300 plus the personal tax credit of €1,520, in addition to the employee credit, if applicable.

In the case of lone parents, as well as the single personal credit of €1,520, a lone parent also receives the one parent family credit of €1,520 giving total personal credits equivalent to the married credit of €3,040. The standard rate band for a lone-widowed parent is extended to €32,000 which is €4,000 more than the standard rate band for a single person. Finally, as the Deputy will be aware, it has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment on what may or may not be contained in upcoming budgets. I do not intend to depart from that approach.

  214.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Finance    if, during discussions on decentralisation, consideration was given to moving the section of the Revenue Commissioners which is due to go to Athy, County Kildare to Wicklow Town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29424/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A wide range of factors were taken into account and measured against each other in selecting locations for the new decentralised offices. For example, the need to achieve a fit with the national spatial strategy, in terms of the gateways, hubs and their respective catchments as well as the location of existing decentralised offices was considered. The importance of respecting the scale and character of locations in terms of their capacity to absorb the number of new jobs involved was also a factor. In addition, the desirability of clustering a Department’s decentralised units within a region and the existence of good transport links by road, rail and/or air, and the general infrastructural capacity in the areas, were also considered.

[1112]

  215.  Ms Enright     asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Birr; if Birr will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Birr; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29462/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The number of persons who applied to be decentralised to Birr is 69. I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves. Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

The evaluation of property proposals for most locations is currently at an advanced stage and a number of possible property proposal solutions have been identified.

  216.  Ms Enright     asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Edenderry; if Edenderry will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Edenderry; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29464/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The number of persons who applied to be decentralised to Edenderry is 53. I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves.

Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

The evaluation of property proposals for most locations is currently at an advanced stage and a number of possible property proposal solutions have been identified.

  217.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    if Port Laoise will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29465/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves.

Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

  218.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Tullamore; if Tullamore will be [1113]included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Tullamore; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29466/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  As the Deputy is aware, the data from the central applications facility, CAF, published in September showed that a total of 116 persons have applied for decentralisation to Tullamore as their first choice.

The next stage of the decentralisation process is the selection of organisations for inclusion in the first phase of moves and the sequencing and timing of such moves. An analysis of the figures emerging from the CAF and any relevant property and business aspects is being undertaken by the decentralisation implementation group. Pending completion of this work it is not possible to state if Tullamore will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation or to give an estimated time for completion of the programme to Tullamore.

My Department has provided its accommodation requirements for Tullamore to the Office of Public Works, OPW, which is co-ordinating the procurement of property for all Departments and offices.

  219.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the provision of broadband to the Ballymore Eustace area of Kildare; the timescale in regard to the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29031/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation.

The Government set aside an indicative €200 million under the NDP 2000-2006 for broadband infrastructure investment will enable the provision of broadband services regionally by the private sector.

Metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities, in association with the local authorities. These are being managed for the State on an open access basis, and offer a wide range of broadband services on a wholesale basis to the service providers. In the second phase of the programme MANs will be built in a further 92 towns with a population of 1,500 and over.

For smaller towns and rural communities, such as Ballymore Eustace, I have introduced the group broadband scheme, under which funding is available to assist the community to come together and, with the service providers, to obtain broadband for their area using the technology that best suits the location, such as wireless, satellite or fibre.

My Department’s website www.broadband.
gov.ie
gives full details of the companies offering [1114]broadband in all parts of the country, and lists five companies offering satellite-based broadband services in west Wicklow.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and the group broadband scheme can be found on my Department’s websites www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.ie.

  220.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in regard to the proposed coastal barrage for Clonakilty; and his views on whether there is now an urgent case to have the barrage completed in view of further recent flooding in the town. [29056/04]

  228.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in regard to the application for a foreshore licence for the proposed coastal barrage in Clonakilty; when the application was lodged; the reason it has not been completed; and if his attention has been drawn to the urgency of the situation in view of further recent flooding in the town. [29029/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 and 228 together.

The Department received an application from Clonakilty Town Council in October 2003 for a foreshore licence for the construction of a tidal barrage at Clonakilty.

Preliminary examination of the application has been undertaken in the Department. The engineering division has had discussions with the parties to the application and a number of issues which arose are being clarified. A comprehensive report on the development is being finalised by the Department’s engineering division and the issue of the foreshore licence will be determined in that context.

In view of the importance of the project, I have directed that consideration of the application is to be progressed as a matter of priority.

  221.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the extent to which he provides coastal air-sea rescue facilities; if adequate resources and personnel are available from or through his Department for these operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29272/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for the provision of Ireland’s coastal air-sea search and rescue service. The coastal area lies within the Ireland search and rescue region, SRR.

Search and rescue services in Ireland are provided through a combination of Irish Coast Guard emergency services and services provided by a number of charitable and voluntary organisations dedicated to SAR.

[1115]The principal air and sea rescue resources in Ireland are Coast Guard 24-hour all-weather helicopters based at Dublin, Waterford and Shannon Airports and a 12-hour helicopter at Sligo Airport, which will become 24-hour early in 2005, the coast-wide Coast Guard units, RNLI Lifeboats and the Community Inshore Rescue Service.

The Coast Guard co-ordinates search and rescue operations, including those services provided by charitable and voluntary bodies. It also ensures that appropriate personnel, training, equipment and facilities are in place among its many declared resources. Coast Guard rescue co-ordination centres at Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia and a nationwide communications network are positioned and equipped to receive distress calls and co-ordinate response to incidents on land, around the coastline and sea areas within its areas of responsibility for search and rescue and casualty and pollution response.

While the challenges facing the Coast Guard continue to change and recognising the fact that the Coast Guard undertakes ongoing training and re-equipping, I am satisfied that the Coast Guard has adequate resources available to it to deal with its expected challenges.

  222.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will provide him with a copy of the environmental management plan for the upstream pipeline for the proposed Corrib gas terminal in Bellanaboy including agreed programmes, construction methodology and the construction constraints schedule; and if he will provide a copy of the detailed construction method statements as agreed between EEI and Dúchas, copies of all agreed monitoring programmes and the traffic management plan approved by Mayo County Council relating to the development. [28643/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  While the initial environmental management plan was drawn up in 2002 by the developers of the Corrib Gas pipeline based on its construction plan proposals at the time, this has always been classified as an organic and evolving document. As the development work progresses the plan will be updated in discussion with my Department, other Departments and the Corrib gas field environment monitoring group set up by the then Minister as a condition of the plan of development approval and the consent to construct pipeline. I will have a copy of the original environmental management plan forwarded to the Deputy directly.

The pipeline construction method statements in so far as they relate to issues that fall within the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government are matters between Shell E&P Ireland Limited and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, formerly Dúchas, of that Department and my Department is not aware of what has been approved between them.

[1116]The condition relating to monitoring programmes states that prior to construction commencing, the developer shall provide to the satisfaction of the Minister, details of monitoring programmes to be undertaken. With the project moving to development stage, officials of my Department are in discussion with the developers, in regard to the various monitoring plans and programmes required.

As regards the traffic management plan, a copy of the construction traffic management plan, as included in the environmental management plan, was provided to Mayo County Council on 9 July 2003. A revised traffic management plan is to issue shortly for 2004-05. This will be subject to review by Mayo County Council before it is submitted to my Department.

  223.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when the condition 1 commencement of commercial production operations in January 2004 (details supplied) was amended with regard to the development of the Corrib gas field. [28644/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The original date of January 2004 for the commencement of commercial gas production from Corrib gas field as stated in the then Minister’s approval for the development of the field has not yet been changed. The matter is under consideration by the developers in the context of ongoing discussion with my Department and the recent planning approval given by An Bord Pleanála for the terminal at Bellanaboy, County Mayo.

  224.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the criteria used to determine the various towns and villages throughout the country selected for broadband access; if this service is likely to be made available to households and companies in Urlingford, County Kilkenny using the satellite link; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28875/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation.

The Government set aside an indicative €200 million under the NDP 2000-06 for broadband infrastructure investment that will, in turn, enable the provision of broadband services regionally by the private sector.

The principal aim of the regional broadband programme is to provide open-access broadband infrastructure in all towns of 1,500 population and over that do not already have broadband on offer from the service providers, or where the medium to long-term broadband infrastructure is deficient from a regional development standpoint.

[1117]In the first phase of the programme metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities, in association with the local authorities. In the second phase, MANs will be built in a further 92 towns. All of the infrastructure will remain in public ownership, and will be managed for the State by the management services company E-Net, which has been awarded the services concession contract following a public tender process.

For smaller towns and rural communities, such as Urlingford, I have introduced the group broadband scheme, under which funding is available to assist the community to come together and, with the service providers, to obtain broadband for their area using the technology that best suits the location, such as wireless, DSL, satellite or fibre.

My Department’s website www.broadband.
gov.ie
gives full details of the companies offering broadband in all parts of the country, and lists five companies offering satellite broadband services in the Urlingford area.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and the group broadband scheme can be found on my Department’s websites www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.ie.

  225.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his proposals for the continued development of the Moy River and fishery; the expenditure on this work for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28876/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the conservation, protection and development of Inland fisheries rests with the local fisheries board, in this case the North Western Regional Fisheries Board.

I am advised by the chief executive officer of the board that a strategic development plan was published by the board in 2002 setting out the board’s proposals for the development of the various fisheries on the Moy system in the period 2002-06. I have asked the chief executive officer to forward a copy of this plan directly to the Deputy.

The chief executive officer also advises me that the board has an ongoing development programme on the River Moy system with a range of development activities taking place throughout the catchment each year. I am further advised by the chief executive officer that it has not been possible however, in the time available, to compile precise details of expenditure on all the development projects carried out over the last five years. In this regard I have asked the chief executive officer to prepare a report and forward this information directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  226.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    [1118]his proposals to open up roads for Northern Ireland broadband companies to establish cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28880/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I have no function in this matter.

  227.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in regard to a decommissioning scheme for the Irish fishing fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29028/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The biggest challenge facing the fishing industry and its ancillary businesses at the present time is the pressure faced by many of the key whitefish species. The industry accepts that measures must be put in place for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of these stocks. The debate at national level centres around the appropriate mechanisms for achieving this objective.

In this regard, I have received requests from industry representatives for the introduction of a decommissioning scheme to provide for the restructuring of the whitefish fleet and I am currently examining these requests taking account of all relevant issues.

Question No. 228 answered with Question
No. 220.

  229.  Mr. Broughan     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he agreed to the sale of Sligo Harbour Board land to a company (details supplied) in 1992; if his attention had been drawn to the fact that this land could be required for the development of the MID block road through Sligo within a few years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29034/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  On 30 July 1992, the then Minister’s consent in principle was given under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, to the Sligo Harbour Commissioners for the sale of a site at the Ballast Quay, Sligo, to a company. However, the sale did not proceed at that time.

In April 1994, the Department was informed that a director of the same company now wished to take up the title to the site at Ballast Quay. The then Minister gave his consent to that proposal under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, on 27 April 1994, and the sale was completed.

The Department has no record indicating that the attention of the Department was drawn to any issues involving the MID block road through Sligo mentioned in the Deputy’s question.

  230.  Mr. Lowry     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on whether the 1 November start date for Christmas advertising for children is too early, as set out in the children’s advertising code issued by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland; if, in view of the extreme financial pressures faced by parents at Christmas, he will review the code with a view to asking the BCI to amend the earliest possible advertising start date to 1 December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29104/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Section 19(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 2001, provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, prepare a code specifying standards to be complied with, and rules and practices to be observed, in respect of advertising which relate to matters likely to be of direct or indirect interest to children.

The BCI has published a children’s advertising code, which will come into effect on 1 January 2005. Section 10 of the Act provides that the BCI review the effect of the code after three years and prepare a report in regard to that review and present it to me.

The drafting, monitoring and review of the code, are functions which the Oireachtas has provided the BCI with statutory responsibility for and in respect of which I have no role.

  231.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29119/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The press officer appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science has been re-appointed by me in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The special adviser appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science has been reassigned to me at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with effect from 30 September 2004 and the requisite statutory order under the Public Service Management Act is being finalised.

  232.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will fund the Bantry Bay coastal zone charter; if the reason for withdrawal of funding in [1120]2003 was failure to gain funding from Government agencies due in part to the national economic downturn in 2003, lack of commitment from Government agencies to implement the charter agreement, the highly centralised nature of Government, making it hard to gain recognition and support for small scale local initiatives and his failure to bring forward the Coastal Zone Management Bill; and his plans to re-establish this fund. [29133/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Bantry Bay charter was a demonstration project in the field of integrated coastal zone management that was funded under the EU’s life programme. It was one of a number of similar projects across the EU that contributed to the process leading to the adoption in May 2002 of the EU recommendation on the implementation of integrated coastal zone management in Europe.

I understand that EU funding for the charter ended in 2000 and that Cork County Council agreed to meet the cost of continuing the exercise in 2001 and 2002. The local authority advised the charter, however, that it would not be in a position to meet the full costs of the charter office beyond February 2003.

Against this background, the charter put forward a proposal that its costs be met by a number of public bodies. In addition to my Department, I understand that it also sought funding from the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture and Food, as well as Cork County Council and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.

The charter was advised at the time that no funds were available to my Department to support the further continuation of the pilot project. This remains the case, and there are no proposals for the Department to become involved in the funding of individual coastal zone management projects.

  233.  Mr. Perry     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the proposed closure of a service (details supplied) to France from Rosslare due to the apparent unfair subsidy given to a company (details supplied) by the French Government; his action to date to safe guard the jobs; the meetings that have taken place dealing with this issue; and the results of same. [29134/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Irish Continental Group announced on 20 October 2004, that it is restructuring, not ending, its Ireland-France ferry service.

I understand that the current service will end on 30 November 2004, and that a new service will [1121]be introduced in March 2005. I have met both with local public representatives and with union representatives to consider the company’s announcement and I have also spoken with the company.

Irish Continental Group alerted the Department in 2002 to their concerns that another shipping company planning to operate an Ireland-France ferry service may have received inappropriate State aid.

My predecessor as Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, raised the matter with the European Commission, which investigated Irish Continental Group’s complaint. I understand that its investigation did not lead to any further action being taken by the Commission. I have written to the Commissioner designate for competition, seeking a meeting with her at an appropriate time to discuss ferry operations on the Ireland to France route.

The availability of a year-round ferry service to France is a valuable element in our trade and tourism links with the Continent. It is a means of avoiding the UK land bridge, through affording cost effective alternatives to our importers and exporters, and the Government is supportive of its retention.

  234.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason over a third of all fish sold in retail supermarkets are farmed and the figure is increasing; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that fish farming is replacing the catching sector. [29143/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. P. Gallagher):  The quantities of fishery products from aquaculture are increasing on a global level. This trend derives from improving aquaculture techniques, a rising demand for fish and fishery products and an appreciation of the health benefits of consuming fish.

There are concerns about the state of some of the wild fish stocks; current policy at EU level involves restrictions on fish catches in order to rebuild stocks so that, in the medium to long term, sustainable fishing will support and grow the economies of coastal communities dependent on fishing. In contrast, aquaculture production continues to provide excellent opportunities for growth in seafood production. Starting from an insignificant amount, global aquaculture production has significantly grown and has increased by some 10% per year since 1990. In the Irish context, during this period there has been substantial growth in farmed salmon production and in the extensive and intensive cultivation of mussels and oysters.

  235.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of aquaculture operations here; the [1122]value of fish production; the number of persons employed in the sector; the level of support given to small companies in creating jobs; and the incentive which is given to the industry to develop new enterprises. [29144/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The number of licensed aquaculture operations at present is 1,159 of whom 10% are for finfish farming, the remainder are for shellfish farming operations. The first sale value of the fish produced in 2003 is estimated at €106,301 million. The number of people directly employed in the farm production element of the sector, on a full and part-time basis in 2003 was 2,637.

The level of support given to the sector is generally set at 40% of qualifying expenditure. The principal source of development funding is the aquaculture measure of the NDP 2000-2006. This FIFG co-funded instrument is complimented by an integrated suite of support programmes in the areas of marketing, quality assurance, environmental compliance, technology transfer, training and business skills provided by BIM. Local Leader groups may also assist new start-up companies with general mentoring and coaching as appropriate.

  236.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the salmon research agency roles; the benefit the information is to the salmon industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29145/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  A number of State agencies are involved in salmon research work under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the conservation, protection and management of inland fisheries stocks rests with the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. With regard to salmon research, the remit of the Central Fisheries Board is to carry out such research or experimental work as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions. As part of its remit, the board undertakes applied research and development in response to sectoral demands, the demands of the regional fisheries boards and as it sees fit itself. All the research carried out is of direct benefit to the fish and their ecology and to the stakeholders.

The Marine Institute was established in 1991 to support existing marine research, technology, development and innovation activity and to underpin future innovation and growth in the marine sector. The institute’s salmon management services provide an integrated service in relation to sustainable salmon management, aquaculture, sea trout, eels, aspects of inshore [1123]fisheries, as well as commercial fishing and angling.

In July 1999, the Salmon Research Agency, SRA, was transferred to the Marine Institute and since then, the institute’s salmon research effort has been concentrated at the former SRA research facility in Newport on the Burrishoole system in County Mayo. The Burrishoole system is one of the most important salmon index rivers in the North Atlantic and is one of only two in the island of Ireland. The Marine Institute carries out extensive research on a wide range of aspects of the Burrishoole system including stock dynamics of salmon, salmonid genetics; environmental and hydrological studies; catchment management studies as well as extensive research into the rearing of salmonids for stock enhancement, ranching and fish farming.

The Marine Institute’s facilities comprise of a laboratory and administration block, freshwater hatchery and fish-rearing facilities, fish census trapping stations, a salmonid angling fishery and a comprehensively monitored freshwater lake and river catchment. The Newport research facility hosts a wide range of the institute’s freshwater and inshore fisheries-based programmes and is also the centre for many national and international co-operative research and development programmes.

The National Salmon Commission, NSC, is a statutory advisory body established under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999 to assist and advise the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the management of the national salmon resource. The commission includes representatives of the commercial fishing sector, the angling sector and other relevant stake holders and is advised in its work by its standing scientific committee. In recent years, its most important function has been to provide the Minister with the latest scientific advice on the level of wild salmon stocks and to advise him on the setting of a national total allowable catch, TAC, and quotas for the taking of salmon.

The salmon data gathered by all of these agencies is pivotal in the management of the species and in the setting of conservation limits and fishery targets aimed at ensuring the sustainable development of salmon as a commercial and recreational fishing resource. The salmon research work and advice provided by these agencies is extremely important in assisting the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to implement the overriding objective of the Government which is to preserve the salmon resource in its own right and for the coastal and rural communities that it helps to support.

In this regard, it is the Government’s belief that the current strategy of developing a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery through aligning catches on the scientific advice holds out the strong prospect of a recovery of [1124]stocks and of a long term sustainable fishery for both sectors.

  237.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the plans he has to re-introduce the marine and natural resources tourism programme; if the 15 applications out of 60 evaluation which was carried out previously were approved; if he will fast track for redevelopment; if the €25 million fund be reinstated; and if he has brought the project to Government. [29146/04]

  248.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans for marine tourism in the west, around the coasts of Clare, Galway, Mayo and Sligo; if he will consider the economic benefits of marine tourism and the potential for developing this industry; and his further plans for involvement of west and north-west key tourism stake holders in a joint venture to develop this huge industry. [29177/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 237 and 248 together.

Tourism development generally is a matter for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and is supported under the tourism measure of the national development plan, which is administered by Fáilte Ireland. The national development plan also includes separate measures to assist rural development, culture and co-operation with Northern Ireland, all of which include provision for tourism-related development.

Due to this Department’s expertise in marine access infrastructure through its responsibility for harbours and ports, it was decided that it would be appropriate for this Department to administer the sub-measure of the overall tourism measure that was aimed specifically at supporting tourism-related marine — estuarine access infrastructure, such as marinas. The scheme was launched in February, 2002 and as a result of the first call, 60 applications for funding were received. Of these, 15 were identified as eligible to go forward for further evaluation which would have been carried out by a project assessment committee with the assistance of consultants. This committee would have scored and ranked the eligible projects which would then have been submitted to the tourism product management board for approval or rejection.

The selection process had reached only the initial stage of assessment of eligibility when it became clear that, due to budgetary constraints, the necessary funding for the scheme would not be available in 2003. This resulted in the suspension of the scheme, and all applicants under the call were notified of the position in December 2002. The assessment of the first set of appli[1125]cations was not completed, and no second call has taken place.

Apart from the balance of the limited funding —€5.7 million in total — that was committed as a budget day adjustment to a small number of marine tourism projects outside the grant scheme, there are currently no plans to make available any direct funding for marine access infrastructure and it is unlikely at this stage that the marine tourism grant scheme will be reactivated within the term of the national development plan.

However, the Department contributes to the development of marine tourism by supporting the activities of the Marine Institute which undertakes a programme of research and development on the marine tourism and leisure sector. The institute, in collaboration with key agencies, has undertaken a number of marine tourism and leisure development initiatives at local and county level in the west and north west of Ireland. For example, development strategies have been prepared for Counties Donegal and Galway and at local level for the west Clare peninsula. These frameworks provide a blueprint for development which can be applied on a national scale.

As a result of framework for the development of tourism and leisure on the marine and inland waters of County Donegal, the institute supported the appointment of a full-time co-ordinator to develop the marine tourism and leisure sector in Donegal over a three year period. Water-based Tourism — A Strategic Vision for Galway, provided a strategic overview of Galway’s current resources and identified the potential of a number of pilot water-based tourism and leisure development initiatives and included over 40 recommendations to enhance the potential of marine tourism development in County Galway. Special Interest Marine Tourism in the West Clare Peninsula presents a framework for development of the marine resource on a localised basis.

The Marine Institute is currently in the process of preparing a national strategy for the development of marine tourism and leisure 2005-10. This strategy will be developed following an extensive consultative process with Government, agencies, representative bodies and stake holders.

  238.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will report on his main responsibilities. [29147/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I am responsible for the performance of the functions that have been assigned to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources pursuant to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 1995. In addition to the communications, marine and natural resources [1126]functions, I am responsible for the energy and broadcasting portfolios.

Marine functions have been delegated to my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in accordance with the Marine (Delegation of Ministerial Functions) (No. 2) Order 2004. The Minister of State and I are working closely together to deliver on the policy objectives and programme for government commitments set for the Department’s sectoral areas. I have arranged for copies of the Department’s current statement of strategy 2003-05 and annual report 2003 to be forwarded to the Deputy. Work is underway on the preparation of the new statement of strategy which will set out the strategic challenges and goals up to 2007.

  239.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the plans he has for improved maritime safety; the most recent marine regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29148/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The maritime safety directorate in the Department was established in 2002. Since then a number of important initiatives have been taken, or are being taken to strengthen the maritime safety regime. A maritime safety Bill to provide the necessary powers to assist local authorities in adopting regulations against the improper use of certain fast powered craft such as jet skis in waters within their jurisdiction, is at an advanced stage. Work is currently underway on developing competency standards for skippers of domestic passenger ships and passenger boats with a view to introducing the necessary regulations in 2005.

The maritime safety directorate is also developing a registration system to enhance the safety of recreational craft. This new system will form part of an overhaul of the vessel registration process generally by the directorate, which will put safety at the centre of the process. A new safety code of practice on recreational craft has been recently published for consultation and I expect to introduce this code in 2005. In the fishing sector, the introduction of a safety code of practice for fishing vessels less than 15 m which is tied in to the licensing of fishing vessels by the sea fisheries administration division, is an important development in addressing the safety risks associated with this occupation.

There is ongoing development and monitoring of the maritime security regime to ensure that Irish vessels and port facilities remain fully compliant with the new security measures adopted in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, thus ensuring the safety of passengers using Irish ports and vessels. Standards for all commercial sea-going vessels are developed and adopted at international level and the enforcement of all regulations governing the safety of vessels is a [1127]priority. My focus will be to continue to develop the maritime safety regime through a mixture of regulation and enforcement. A list of the most recent legislation introduced follows.

List of most recent statutory instruments for 2004 by SI number and title: SI 34 of 2004 European Communities (Passenger Ship) (Amendment) Regulations; SI 126 of 2004 European Communities (Merchant Shipping) (Training and Certification) (Amendment) Regulations 2004; SI 81 of 2004 European Communities (Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Information System) Regulations 2004; SI 259 of 2004 Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004; SI 422 of 2004 European Communities (Recreational Craft) (Amendment) Regulations 2004; SI 413 of 2004 European Communities (Ship and Port Facilities) Regulations 2004; and SI 709 of 2004 Merchant Shipping (Ro-Ro Passenger Ship Survivability) (Amendment) Rules 2004.

  240.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason for the slow uptake on the aquaculture development funding estimate provided on 31 December 2003 (details supplied); where funds were allocated; the present position of the fund; the plans he has to promote the fund. [29149/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The overall allocation of funding in the aquaculture development measures of the two regional operational programmes of the National Development Plan, NDP, 2000-2006 was €30.69 million on planned investment of €72.6 million. In the southern and eastern regional operational programme, 31 aquaculture projects have been approved for grant assistance of €10.4 million since the commencement of the programme on total investment of €23.36 million. These commitments were entered into in September 2001, April 2002, April and September 2003 and July 2004.

In the Border, midland and western regional operational programme, 66 aquaculture projects have been approved for grant assistance of €18.45 million since the commencement of the programme on total investment of €44.3 million. These commitments were entered into in October 2001, April 2002, April and September 2003 and July 2004.

The total commitments of public funding in the aquaculture development measure at national level is, allowing for de-commitments, estimated to be in the region of 83% in the southern and eastern region and 90% in the Border, midland and western region. The next call for aquaculture project applications will be made in early 2005. The total payments of NDP grants to aquaculture [1128]projects in 2003 amounted to €3.620 million. Payment of grants in any year depends on actual expenditure incurred by final beneficiaries.

  241.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans for a public health campaign promoting the benefits of eating fish and of a healthy lifestyle in view of a study by Norwegian scientists which has shown that eating farmed salmon brings immeasurable benefits to persons who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29163/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Specific responsibility for health promotion rests with the Department of Health and Children, specifically the health promotion unit of that Department.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara is the State body with responsibility for fish marketing and promotion of seafood generally. BIM currently promotes the health benefits of fish consumption as part of its ongoing consumer education programme. In order to further the consumption of seafood in Ireland, BIM is undertaking a promotional programme focusing primarily on the health benefits of fish consumption, which will be officially launched by the Minister of State in January 2005.

  242.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans to combat the spread of invasive water borne species that are damaging water environments, mainly in lakes and rivers in the west, and which are having a massive negative effect on tourism and angling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29164/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I presume the Deputy’s question relates to the spread of the invasive exotic species more commonly known as the zebra mussel.

I understand that the zebra mussel is a small shellfish shaped like a marine mussel which grows to about two inches in length, lives in freshwater, is spread primarily by boats and can cause undesirable ecological effects which have potentially serious consequences for native species, fauna and flora.

I am advised that the lead in co-ordinating and introducing measures to deal with the threat posed by this particular species is being taken by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. As part of this approach, I understand that at the request of this Department, the Marine Institute has been carrying out a monitoring survey on the distribution of zebra [1129]mussels in Ireland in recent years. I am advised that the results of this survey have been made widely available and I have asked the Marine Institute to forward a copy of these results directly to the Deputy.

I am advised by the chief executive officer of the Western Regional Fisheries Board that the board has recently launched a zebra mussel control initiative in conjunction with Galway County Council. This initiative involves a major education drive to educate anglers of the risk posed by the possible introduction of this pest to western lakes and rivers from the waters already infested such as the Shannon and Erne systems.

While this initiative is welcome, it is clear that there is a greater need for the message to be publicised wider to ensure all water users clearly understand that boats and other equipment used on waters with zebra mussels should not on any account be used in un-infested waters. I can assure the Deputy that the State agencies under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will continue to work with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the relevant local authorities in dealing with the threat posed by this species.

  243.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when he will grant funding to the Bantry Harbour Board for much needed development of the pier and harbour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29165/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I refer the Deputy to the reply to Question No. 137 on 13 October 2004 and the reply to Question No. 95 on 21 October 2004 giving the up-to-date position in relation to the pier development proposed by Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, which I will now outline again.

On 6 September 2004 a meeting took place between the commissioners and the former Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Browne. Following the meeting, the Minister of State wrote to the commissioners setting out his understanding of the outcome of the meeting and of how to ensure that the dialogue between the Department and the commissioners can be progressed in the future on a positive basis. The letter reiterated that the interruption in the dialogue between the Department and the commissioners and the referral of the matter to the Attorney General was a direct consequence of the unilateral decision by the commissioners to sign a contract in March 2002 for the construction of the pier. This occurred while discussions with the Department on the viability of the project were ongoing.

The Department has received advice from the Attorney General in regard to the proposed pier [1130]development. However, no decisions have been taken by the Department on foot of this advice in relation to the contract entered into by the commissioners. The former Minister of State’s letter further indicated that from the discussions which had taken place, it appeared that the commissioners believed that the business environment for the project had shifted from that originally envisaged. The projected costs had escalated since the consideration of Exchequer support of €1.9 million by the former Minister, Deputy Fahey. Furthermore, no progress appeared to have been made on the conditions contained in the former Minister’s letter of 15 May 2002 which expressly instructed the commissioners not to enter into any contractual commitments pending a report on progress in relation to two stipulated conditions. These conditions relate to negotiations with the terminal operator.

The former Minister of State proposed in his letter to the commissioners that the project be reviewed in terms of its viability, the financial implications for the commissioners of increased borrowings for the project due to its escalated cost and the risks to the project posed by the dominant position of the terminal operator. To this end, the Department has invited the commissioners to submit for consideration a fully detailed updated proposal for the project, including a business plan with financial tables. I believe that the proposed course set out is a sound basis for progressing the matter and I look forward to the Department receiving for consideration the updated proposal from the commissioners in due course.

  244.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will reconsider the decision to close the marine rescue co-ordination centre in Dublin; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the British Commons Select Committee on Transport recently blamed continuing high marine casualty death rates on the closure of three UK marine rescue co-ordination centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29166/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The decision to transfer the services of the marine rescue co-ordination centre from Dublin was taken on foot of a study of the coast guard undertaken by independent consultants, Deloitte & Touche. Reflecting advances in modern communications technologies, the consultants recommended that the coast guard should operate two control centres as opposed to the three centres that exist at present. This approach will have the effect of achieving significant cost savings, thus enabling other elements of the coast guard service to be developed, which in turn will lead to further improvements in our marine emergency response services nationally.

[1131]Coast guard management is continuing to examine all issues relating to the operation of the two centres going forward, including establishing what measures will be necessary to effect a smooth transfer from Dublin to the other two centres while ensuring that full co-ordination capability is maintained at all time. In this regard, the report of the House of Commons Transport Committee on the work of the maritime and coast guard agency, MCA, will inform the Department’s consideration of the issues, including the observations of the MCA to the committee, together with relevant experience in this country and best practice elsewhere.

The objective is that the remaining two centres at Valentia and Malin Head will be developed to handle all emergencies around our coast on inland waters and in relation to mountain, cliff and cave rescue. Communications technology today is such that the geographical location of the co-ordination centres is less important now than in the past and, in this context, Government policies on decentralisation from Dublin are also relevant.

It is also a key objective that the capability of the coast guard to co-ordinate and manage incidents will not be diminished as a result of the closure of the Dublin rather than the Valentia or Malin Head centres, nor will the decision affect the very significant emergency response resources on the ground, which will remain available to the coast guard on a year-round 24-hour basis.

  245.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans for increased funding of the processing fish sector; his further plans to develop, promote and fund processing packaging and preservation which is much needed to increase sales in the home market and to abroad; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is not easy to distinguish between fish processed from farmed stock and fish from catches made at sea; and his plans for proper labelling in this regard. [29167/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  A total of €1.5 million has been provided in the Estimates for 2004 in respect of seafood processing. This funding will assist a range of developments such as increased production, enhanced product quality, optimum use of raw material and improve competitiveness both nationally and abroad. I have ensured that a further significant allocation of funding in respect of this sector will be provided in the 2005 Estimates.

Since July 2003, in accordance with the requirements of Council Regulation No. 104/2000 (EC), a labelling system giving traceability information in respect of a wide range of seafood and aquaculture products has been in operation in Ireland under [1132]the terms of SI No. 320 of 2003. I presume the Deputy is referring to further developments in Community legislation in this area. Regulation (EC) 178/2002, which comes into effect on 1 January 2005, provides in broad terms for the introduction of a mandatory traceability system in respect of animal food and feed in general. A further five related regulations and directives, the most relevant of which come into effect on 1 January 2006, set out detailed requirements in this regard.

The precise implications of these new requirements for the various food sectors are currently under examination. My Department is liaising with the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Health and Children so as to ensure that the necessary arrangements in respect of the seafood sector are developed and introduced on a co-ordinated basis within the comprehensive legal and practical framework that will apply to food in general.

  246.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason for the delay in the seaports measure of the NDP in respect of the seaport infrastructure and capacity development submeasure and the disengagement submeasure; the further reason for under-spending the Estimate provision of €3,140,000 and for the out turn of €473,000 in the year to 31 December 2003; and the position at November 2004. [29175/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The delay in the issue of letters of offer of grant aid under the seaport infrastructure and capacity development submeasure arose primarily due to lack of clarity regarding the availability of Exchequer funding over the duration of the regional operational programmes. To date, letters of offer have issued under this submeasure in respect of 12 projects with a total project cost of €81 million and grant aid of some €25 million. All but two of these projects relate to State port companies operating under the aegis of the Department. Exchequer funding in respect of these projects is allocated from the central fund rather than from the Vote of this Department.

To date, no letters of offer of grant aid have issued in respect of the disengagement submeasure which was targeted at harbour authorities operating under the aegis of this Department. The allocation of Exchequer funding to harbour authorities by the Department was reviewed in 2004. The engineering division of this Department prepared a schedule of priority works on the basis of public safety and maintenance of navigation criteria. To date, in 2004, approximately €1.4 million from the Vote of the Department has been allocated for these priority works which are currently underway.

[1133]In light of the significant time lapse since the original applications for grant aid under the disengagement submeasure and the need to allocate the scarce Exchequer resources available on the Vote of this Department to the priority works referred to above, it has not proved possible to issue any letters of offer of grant aid under the submeasure.

The saving in 2003, to which the Deputy refers, arose on the relevant subhead of the Vote of the Department due to the lack of progress on two projects approved under the infrastructure and capacity development submeasure and the absence of any projects approved under the disengagement submeasure. However, in 2003, more than €1.3 million was paid from the central fund in respect of infrastructure and capacity development projects related to State port companies.

  247.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason horse mackerel or scad can only be landed at two ports here; the further reason for the statutory instrument which makes it illegal to land at any port other than Rathmullen and Killybegs in Donegal; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 400 tonnes of scad had been landed at Dingle port and that to bring scad by road from Donegal means a loss in quality and condition during transportation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29176/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The EU introduced new arrangements for the control of certain pelagic fisheries, namely, horse mackerel, mackerel and north west herring fisheries, in December 2003 which came into effect on 1 January 2004. The rules are set down in annex IV of Council Regulation 2287/03. These arrangements include the weighing in the presence of a controller of all quantities in excess of ten tonnes landed of each of these species.

The annex is implemented in Irish law by means of statutory instrument. During the course of the year, extensive consultations took place with industry representatives. The statutory instrument currently in place — SI No. 530 of 2004 — provides for landings at five designated ports, namely, Killybegs, Rathmullen, Dingle, Rossaveal and Castletownbere. All landings in these ports must be weighed by means of weigh-bridges located in the ports. Weigh-bridges have been installed in Killybegs, Rathmullen and Rossaveal. Work is near completion on the construction of a weigh-bridge in Castletownbere and I understand that work is also advanced on the installation of a weigh-bridge in Dingle. In implementing these new EU regulations, the Department has at all times consulted with the industry and has at all times attempted to deal in a practical manner with the difficulties raised by the annex. Together with the Department’s officials, [1134]I will continue to work closely with the industry and the Commission in addressing the problems associated with the implementation of EU regulations.

Question No. 248 answered with Question
No. 237.

  249.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the action he is taking to stop mobile phone antennae being built or placed adjacent to primary, secondary and third level education centres; his plans for future guidelines on the regulation of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29263/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Deputy has asked if I am taking specific action to stop certain installations. I am not taking such action, but am endeavouring to ensure that the public is not exposed to any significant risks due to the presence of such installations.

Ireland participates in a number of international bodies which undertake detailed programmes of research into interactions between electromagnetic energy and people. The latest reports from this work were tabled at a meeting in Slovenia earlier this month. These reports conclude that, notwithstanding many years of investigation, no adverse health effects have been demonstrated to be caused by electromagnetic energy emitted by telecommunication masts. I appreciate that some people still maintain that these facilities are responsible for various symptoms and illnesses that they suffer. I sympathise with those people.

The overwhelming weight of evidence is that facilities such as mobile base stations are not responsible for their condition. Focused research is continuing and my Department will monitor this area closely. Ireland also participates in the relevant bodies that monitor and set guidelines for limiting exposure to electromagnetic energy from such installations. These bodies continuously review the relevant research already referred to and periodically meet to decide whether or not the guidelines continue to be appropriate in the light of the most up-to-date reports. I can report that my Department has endorsed these guidelines as continuing to offer protection to the public. These guidelines are utilised as operating limits in the licences issued to the operators of telecommunications facilities and measurements carried out on behalf of ComReg, the telecommunications regulator, have shown total compliance with the limits. I have no plans to alter this approach to the utilisation of guidelines for the purpose of regulation.

Therefore, I am advised that there is no reason due to adverse health effects for me to act in terms of taking action to stop mobile phone antennae being built or placed adjacent to edu[1135]cation centres. In general, issues relating to the physical siting of telecommunication masts are not a matter for me but for the relevant local authorities under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  250.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the details of the availability of broadband, for both data and voice lines, for each of the exchanges and areas in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29264/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The provision of telecommunications services, including voice and broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation. The information requested should be sought directly from Eircom. The Deputy should also refer to www.broadband.
gov.ie
regarding the availability of broadband generally in County Meath.

  251.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if undertakings have at any stage been given to companies involved in petroleum exploration that the terms and conditions and fiscal regime introduced in 1992 will never be altered. [29433/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I can categorically state that I am not aware and can find no evidence of any such undertaking given either by my predecessors in this job or by officials of the Department.

I refer the Deputy to a speech given by my predecessor, Deputy Fahey, at the annual dinner of the Institute of Petroleum in November 2000 when he undertook to keep the licensing terms and conditions under continuing review. While I may decide on the payment and level of royalties, the level of taxation to be applied to this sector is a matter for the Minister for Finance. I would point out that the Finance Act 1992, provided for a tax rate for the upstream petroleum sector, after allowances, of 25% when the general rate for corporation tax was at least 40%. Today the general rate for corporation tax is 12.5% while the rate for the upstream petroleum sector remains at 25%.

  252.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the discussions he has had with his British counterpart with a view to obtaining a pardon for Irish persons who were executed in [1136]the First World War as members of the British Forces for alleged breach of military law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29425/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  My officials met with the British Ministry of Defence in London on 6 February 2004 to discuss the 26 Irish born soldiers who were executed by the British Army during the First World War for alleged breaches of military law. At that meeting it was agreed that the British side would forward the courts martial case files for the Irish men in question and that in response we would formally set out our position in writing.

Following a thorough evaluation of the case files, which we received in April, and the consideration of extensive supplementary information provided by a number of sources, the Embassy of Ireland, London, submitted a report on this matter on 27 October 2004 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on my behalf.

None of the men was charged with what would be viewed as the most serious of military crimes, such as treacherously deserting to the enemy, or mutiny. In fact, public and parliamentary dissatisfaction with the number and manner of military executions during World War I was such that the death penalty was repealed for the military offences under which each execution took place only ten years after the war had ended. In addition, there is evidence to suggest a disparity in the treatment of lower ranks in comparison to officers, statistical evidence that highlights a harsher disciplinary regime faced by men from Ireland in comparison to men from other countries and numerous references to the need for an example to be made when sentencing was being considered. The report concludes that the cumulative effect of the issues raised therein casts serious doubt on the safety of these courts martial convictions and subsequent executions.

We have, therefore, asked the British Government to consider our report with a view to granting these men retrospective pardons. The British response in this regard is awaited.

  253.  Mr. O’Connor     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on his recent meeting with the Minister for Finance of Lesotho; the plans for further aid to the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28746/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  Lesotho is the longest established of Development Co-operation Ireland’s bilateral country programmes. As in other countries where Ireland operates a bilateral programme, the primary focus of our development efforts in Lesotho is on improving services which directly benefit the poor — basic education, primary health care, HIV/AIDS, rural access, rural water and sanitation. We are also engaged in strengthening the quality of govern[1137]ance in Lesotho and in supporting the public sector reform programme. A recent external evaluation of the country programme highlighted the positive impact that support from Development Co-operation Ireland has had in Lesotho.

Development Co-operation Ireland works in close partnership with government ministries and civil society organisations in the implementation of the Lesotho country programme. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is a key partner ministry. The Minister for Finance and Development Planning, Dr. Tim Thahane, visited Ireland on 7 to 9 October 2004. My meeting with him on 7 October provided an opportunity for an exchange of views on a range of issues central to our development partnership. In particular, we discussed our future support for Lesotho’s reform and modernisation programme and considered how best Ireland can help the government to lead a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis which is causing such suffering in Lesotho.

Dr. Thahane used his visit to explore Ireland’s recent economic success and examine the possible lessons for a small country like Lesotho seeking to make itself more attractive to international business as a target for foreign direct investment. Meetings were held with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, IBEC and the International Financial Services Centre. The Minister, Dr. Thahane, also met the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts and discussed the potential for closer contact between it and its counterpart in Lesotho. The visit enhanced the good relations which exist between our two countries and built on the successful visit to Lesotho by a delegation from the Oireachtas at the end of last year.

  254.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he is monitoring the developing crisis in Palestine; the contacts with interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28747/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I am, of course, monitoring the developing situation in the region and, in concert with Ireland’s partners in the European Union, maintaining contact with the parties. I expect to meet representatives of both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments at the EuroMed ministerial meeting in the Hague on 29 November. I will continue to press upon both parties our view that the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict can best be pursued through the quartet road map, based on two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security.

  255.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the Government’s position regarding the settlement of Palestinian areas by Israel and the erection of a dividing wall in the occupied territories; the position that Ireland has taken at the UN in respect of resolutions to restrict the activities of Israel; the status of these resolutions; the [1138]Government’s position on proposals by Israel for limited withdrawal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28849/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government has consistently taken the view that the settlements established in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli authorities are illegal. Any changes to the pre-1967 borders must be agreed by the parties.

As regards the Israeli separation barrier, Ireland acknowledges the right, indeed the responsibility, of the Israeli Government to protect its people, including, if it so wishes, by a security fence. Our objection to the fence is to the line that it takes. The construction of the fence within the occupied Palestinian territories is contrary to international law. In the short term, the current line of the fence divides Palestinian communities and creates severe hardship for them. Equally troubling is the long-term impact, which tends to perpetuate facts on the ground and make it more difficult to reach a final settlement. The Israeli authorities are well aware of the Government’s views on this matter.

With regard to the proposed Israeli withdrawal, the EU has identified criteria that are essential to make such a withdrawal acceptable to the international community. It must take place in the context of the road map, it must be a step towards a two state solution, it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank, there must be an organised and negotiated handover of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

Ireland and the EU have repeatedly reaffirmed these positions, including in our statements at the United Nations and most recently through my predecessor’s address to the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2004, as well as during our time on the Security Council. The UN has adopted a large number of resolutions on these issues over the years and Ireland has consistently supported those resolutions which reflected the positions I have set out. I note, in particular, our support for the UN General Assembly resolution adopted in July this year by an overwhelming majority in response to the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the separation barrier.

  256.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if Ireland is a signatory to the international covenant on migrants’ rights; the requirement it must meet to fulfil its commitment thereunder; if Ireland is not a signatory, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28850/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Ireland is not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all [1139]Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1990 and it entered into force on 1 July 2003, following ratification by the requisite number of states, that is, 20. The convention on migrant workers has been open for signature and ratification since December 1990 but, to date, only 27 states have ratified it. No European Union member state has as yet signed or ratified the convention, nor has any indicated an intention to do so.

Where Ireland wishes to ratify an international instrument, the Government must first ensure that our domestic law is in conformity with the agreement in question. The Government must, therefore, make any necessary legislative changes, or be satisfied that none is required, before ratification takes place. As signature of an instrument is an indication of an intention to ratify it, the Government would consequently also have to have a firm intention to ratify, and be taking steps to do so, before signing an international instrument.

The convention on the rights of migrant workers has been examined by my Department. It would appear that in order for Ireland to ratify the convention, significant changes would have to be made across a wide range of existing legislation, including legislation addressing employment, social welfare provision, education, taxation and electoral law. These changes would also have implications for our relations with our EU partners, none of whom has signed or ratified the convention, and possibly for the operation of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. There are no plans at present to introduce the changes in the areas above which would be necessary before Ireland could ratify or consider signing the convention.

Moreover, the convention on the rights of migrant workers has not acquired universal recognition as a standard for the protection of the human rights of migrant workers. It should also be noted that the rights of migrant workers and their families are already comprehensively protected under existing national legislation and under the Irish Constitution. In addition, the rights of migrant workers and their families are addressed by Ireland’s commitments under international human rights instruments to which the State is already a party. These international instruments include, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

  257.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Iran. [28851/04]

  258.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Iraq. [28852/04]

  259.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Sudan. [28853/04]

  260.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Burma. [28854/04]

  261.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Israel. [28855/04]

  262.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Palestine. [28856/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I will take Questions Nos. 257 to 262, inclusive, together.

While my Department continually monitors the overall human rights situation in certain countries we do not maintain national registers of individual violations of human rights. We do, however, pay particular attention to the human rights records of all the countries mentioned by the Deputy.

In common with our EU partners, the Government has tabled resolutions at the third committee of the UN General Assembly and at the UN Commission for Human Rights on several of the countries mentioned and, in the context of EU common foreign and security policy, has strongly promoted the advancement of human rights policies in those countries. In addition, we pursue a vigorous policy in defence of human rights defenders. Through this policy, we seek to create a space in which those best placed to advance human rights on the ground can work to best effect.

My Department, through the Government’s overseas development aid programme, also supports human rights and democratisation programmes globally through various funding schemes. The main funding mechanism is our human rights and democratisation scheme, which has the broad objective of assisting the development of democratic processes and institutions and the promotion and protection of human rights in developing countries outside of our priority programme countries. In 2004, our total allocation for this purpose was €3 million.

In the case of the countries mentioned by the Deputy, Ireland has been funding, on a regular [1141]basis, human rights and democratisation NGOs in Palestine, Israel, Burma and Sudan.

  263.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the steps he has taken to secure the release of a person (details supplied). [29076/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government has been doing everything possible in response to Annetta Flanigan’s abduction on 28 October last. We are in active ongoing contact with the United Nations, both in New York and Kabul, and, of course, with Annetta’s family. We have also discussed the situation on a number of occasions with Archbishop Eames, who is a great source of support to the family.

  264.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on Ireland’s attitude to the treatment of members of the Falun Gong in China; if this attitude has been made clear to the Government of China; and the steps that have been taken through the EU, the UN and otherwise regarding the treatment of members of the Falun Gong by the Government of China. [29078/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government takes seriously concerns about human rights in China, including those of practitioners of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. The issue of the treatment in China of practitioners of Falun Dafa has been raised both bilaterally and through the formal framework of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which was established in 1996.

This matter is also addressed at the UN level. At the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2004 during Ireland’s EU Presidency, the EU made a statement on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world. In this statement, while reaffirming its commitment to the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, the EU raised issues of particular concern, including ongoing violations in China of the human rights of Falun Dafa practitioners.

During the EU Presidency and since, we have had several meetings with China at which we also raised the issue of the human rights situation. The Chinese Premier, Mr. Wen Jiabao, accompanied by Foreign Minister, Mr. Li Zhaoxing, visited Ireland on 11-12 May 2004, as part of his first official visit to Europe. On 11 May, official talks led by the Taoiseach took place in Dublin.

At this meeting, both sides expressed their ongoing commitment to the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. The Human Rights Dialogue is the formal framework through which the EU raises its concerns about individual human rights cases, including those of Falun Gong practitioners, and more general issues, such as the [1142]protection of freedom of religion and expression, which have a particular impact on practitioners of Falun Gong. We emphasised that Ireland is willing to share our experience and expertise with China on human rights. The premier also reported on the measures his government is taking in the field of human rights, which included the addition of an express provision on human rights to China’s constitution earlier this year.

Since the Presidency, the Government continues to examine this question with our EU partners, considering our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This approach was conveyed to the Chinese authorities by the Taoiseach during his bilateral discussions with Premier Wen when they met in the margins of the ASEM summit in Hanoi, on 9 October 2004 and, most recently, to Chinese Vice-Premier, Mr. Huang Ju, during his current visit to Ireland, from 16 to 18 November 2004. During our meeting with the Vice-Premier, we reiterated Ireland’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and again emphasised Ireland’s willingness to share its experience and expertise with China in the human rights area.

Overall, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in China since 1989, which is reflected in the increasing frequency of EU-China meetings, the regular EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and by the first joint seminar which took place in Beijing in June 2004 on China’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. The early ratification of the ICCPR would be an important development in the legal protection of the civil and political freedoms of Chinese citizens, including followers of Falun Gong. A further seminar on ICCPR ratification took place in The Hague on 8-9 November 2004.

Nevertheless, legitimate concerns persist in Europe and there is ample scope for the Chinese authorities to further demonstrate their stated commitments on improving respect for human rights.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to encourage the Chinese authorities to respect fully the human rights of all citizens. There will be further discussion of these matters during the EU-China summit, scheduled to take place in The Hague on 8 December 2004.

  265.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29120/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  In my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs I [1143]have appointed a special adviser and a press adviser, both of whom were attached to my office in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The terms and conditions of employment of advisers are set by the Minister for Finance. The contracts of my special adviser and press adviser will terminate no later than the date on which I cease to hold the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs. My special adviser is paid an annual salary of €76,544 and my press adviser is paid €84,684. These are, respectively, the third point and the first long service increment point of the principal officer standard salary scale.

  266.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the representations he has made to the British Government regarding the recent abuse of CS gas by the PSNI in Derry and elsewhere. [29139/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  On each occasion in which CS spray is deployed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the matter is automatically referred to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for investigation under regulation 55(4) of the 1998 Police Act. This practice was voluntarily instigated by the PSNI in an effort to ensure that CS spray, in its initial period of use, is open to independent scrutiny and analysis in terms of the actions of individual officers when deploying the spray.

At present, there are a number of cases of CS spray use by the PSNI under consideration by the Ombudsman’s office, at differing stages of investigation. I am confident that the Police Ombudsman is conducting a thorough investigation of the instances of CS spray use in Northern Ireland and I await her conclusions with interest. My officials are closely monitoring the outcome of these investigations, paying particular attention to any recommendations or concerns highlighted by the Police Ombudsman, for follow up with the British Government as and when it is appropriate to do so.

  267.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 177 of 10 November 2004 and in view of the fact that the incident in question was discussed publicly in the media, if he has received assurances from the UK authorities which adequately clear up the incident; if an indication has been given regarding whether the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 is likely to similarly affect other Irish persons travelling to the UK; if he has had discussions with the UK authorities with a view to establishing accepted practices and procedures to deal with such cases; if, as is indicated by his reply, such matters will be dealt with on a confidential basis by the Irish and British authorities; [1144]if, in such circumstances, he has satisfied himself that the public interest is best served and that the interests and rights of Irish citizens will be observed and borne in mind in the event of any recurrence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29275/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As I indicated in my reply to Question No. 177 of 10 November, the case to which the Deputy referred is under discussion with the British authorities. Following a meeting with that individual, my officials have reverted to the British authorities and have sought a meeting to discuss this case and the broader issues of concern to which it gives rise.

With regard to the more general question as to whether the Terrorism Act 2000 is likely to similarly affect other Irish citizens travelling to the UK, the Deputy is aware that the Act does allow for all travellers from any country entering the UK to be stopped, searched and examined. In monitoring the application of these provisions what we are seeking to establish is that the powers are exercised in a way which reflects the fact that the vast majority of travellers have no connection whatsoever with terrorism and as such are entitled to expect that any inconvenience to them and disruption to their travel will be kept to the absolute minimum. Travellers also have a right to expect that all stops and searches are carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect for the person concerned.

From time to time my Department receives correspondence from people who wish to complain at their treatment under the Terrorism Act. It is normal practice that each case is followed up with the British authorities and the official response is conveyed to the person concerned. My officials note and analyse any trends or recurrence of problems. As and when appropriate, these are taken up separately with the British authorities as part of the general overview maintained on the operation of the Act.

  268.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on whether it is fair and in order to produce and make available brochures on the European Constitution when there will be a referendum in this regard; his further views on whether this will create an imbalance in the information given out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29426/04]

  269.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the total cost of producing and circulating the brochure, The European Constitution, Explanatory Guide in both Irish and English. [29427/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 268 and 269 together.

It is entirely appropriate for the Government to publish information material on the European [1145]Constitution and to distribute it widely. Equivalent factual material has been produced about every previous major EU treaty. We have a duty to do all we can to promote public awareness of the European Constitution and of its provisions. This is a quite separate question from the public funding of advocacy campaigns during a referendum, which is of course prohibited.

While final details are not yet available, printing, design and translation costs in regard both to the explanatory guide to the European Constitution and the related pamphlet are estimated at €37,000; advertisements in all national daily and Sunday newspapers advising the public of their availability are estimated at €25,000; and postage costs are estimated at €9,000.

  270.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will reply to correspondence to his office from a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath. [29256/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  A comprehensive reply, which set out the position in respect of coursing, including the annual monitoring arrangement in place for coursing, was issued to the person in question on 15 January 2004.

  271.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of persons with disabilities regarding the lack of adequate facilities for disabled persons at the newly opened national aquatic centre (details supplied); if he has satisfied himself that the centre conforms with all aspects of the Equal Status Act 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29025/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I have been made aware of the concerns regarding facilities for people with disabilities at the National Aquatic Centre. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, the company responsible for overseeing the National Aquatic Centre, has confirmed that all requirements under disability legislation were met in the course of the provision of this facility. I understand consultation took place between the providers and certain representatives of disability groups at the outset of the project. I am anxious to ensure that access to these splendid facilities is available to all. I have recently requested the board of CSID to investigate what further work could be carried out to meet the requirements of the group that have raised concerns regarding accessibility to the National Aquatic Centre.

  272.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of meetings he has had with the FAI in regard to the implemen[1146]tation of the Genesis report; the results of such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29026/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I outlined to the Deputy in reply to a previous parliamentary question on 10 November 2004, I met officials of the Football Association of Ireland on 3 November 2004 arising from the recent developments within the organisation which resulted in the departure of its chief executive officer. I have had no further meetings with the FAI since then.

I fully support the delivery of the reform agenda mapped out in the Genesis report and I have indicated to the FAI that the positions of chief executive and director of finance and administration should be publicly advertised by the end of this year and that the terms of reference for both these posts be agreed beforehand by the joint Sports Council-FAI group which oversees the implementation of the Genesis report. The FAI has stated that it now intends to advertise these positions by year end. I have appointed my own representative to the joint Irish Sports Council- FAI liaison group which is overseeing the reform process. I look forward to working closely with the FAI in the many infrastructural projects which are being developed and which will have a major positive impact on Irish soccer.

  273.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29121/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  There have been no new advisers or consultants appointed by me since the Government reshuffle in September 2004.

  274.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding the approval of contract documents for the replacement of a swimming pool (details supplied) in County Kildare. [29290/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  In the context of its application for grant aid under the local authority swimming pool programme, Kildare County Council has submitted contract documents for both the replacement swimming pool in Naas and the refurbishment of the swimming pool in Athy. These documents are under consideration in my Department. These projects are two of 33 swimming pool projects yet to be completed under the [1147]programme. A total of 22 projects have been completed or are currently under construction.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, projects are considered on a case-by-case basis and consideration is given to such issues as to the number and geographical spread of projects within and between counties, whether the area is classified as disadvantaged, the viability of the project, particularly in respect of operational and maintenance issues, overall funding package for the project and technical details. The Department’s annual estimates provision for the programme also has a significant influence on the flow of projects through the approval process.

  275.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when a decision will be given on a new work permit application for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29240/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  There is no record in my Department of a valid work permit application in this case. Work permit applications, which are incorrect or incomplete, are not regarded as valid applications and are returned to the employer for completion.

  276.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if his attention has been drawn to allegations that a charitable organisation (details supplied) filed false and incomplete documentation in the Companies Registration Office for two successive accounting years, 1998 and 1999; the reason it was decided to take no action on the matter; and his views on whether the statutory obligation to seek proper and complete documentation from the charitable organisation and to institute prosecutions when considered necessary appears to have been ignored by agencies under his aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28646/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern):  I understand that the matters referred to by the Deputy concern compliance with company law. Since 28 November 2001, the Director of Corporate Enforcement has been responsible for enforcing and for securing compliance with the Companies Acts. He is required under the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 to be independent in performing those functions. He is also obliged, as a general principle, to keep confidential any information obtained by him in that context. I am not in a position to say, therefore, whether or not any investigation has been or is being carried out by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in regard to this organisation.

  277.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will mainstream the community employment scheme for an association (details supplied); if he will increase the number of community employment posts from the current number of 341 to 417; the number agreed with the association in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28704/04]

  283.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the plans he has to ring-fence community employment numbers agreed in 2002 in the health sector; and the progress that has been made in this matter to date. [28931/04]

  284.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when the commitment to mainstream the IWA community employment scheme posts, as included in the programme for Government in June 2002 will be honoured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28932/04]

  285.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the plans he has to ensure that all IWA community employment posts are graded and paid similar to other health care workers such as home helps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28933/04]

  286.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the proposal he has regarding the concerns of a movement (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28934/04]

  288.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    his views in respect of a submission (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29049/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 277, 283 to 286, inclusive, and 288 together.

Following consultation with the social partners and key stakeholders, I undertook a review of the current policy on the operation of FÁS employment schemes, which comprise community employment, CE, schemes jobs initiative, JI, and social economy programmes, SEPs. On foot of this review, I announced on 10 November 2004 that: in 2005 there will be 25,000 places on CES, JI and SEPs; that the three-year cap will be removed for CE participants aged over 55 — this category of participants will be eligible to participate on CE for a maximum of six years and in the case of people advancing beyond 55 years during their normal period of service on CE, participation can be extended for up to a maximum of six years; and that the current ring-fencing of essential services particularly health related services will be maintained. These arrangements will be of particular benefit to the Irish Wheelchair [1149]Association and the Grow Community Mental Health Movement as regards the provision of carers.

Whereas I have no plans to mainstream health related CE services, the continuance of ring-fencing and the extended participation on CE by older workers will help to secure the continuity of community services generally and will ensure that the existing community service support framework will be maintained.

  278.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the grants that are available to a person looking to start a small business in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28711/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The 35 city and county enterprise boards which were established nationally in 1993 provide a source of support for small businesses with ten employees or fewer. The function of the boards is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity at local level. The boards provide a single point of contact at local level for new and established small businesses. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, enterprises may qualify for support from the CEBs in the form of feasibility, employment and capital grants. In addition, the CEBs deliver a comprehensive range of development and support programmes designed to help new and existing enterprises to operate effectively and efficiently so as to last and grow.

I suggest that the person concerned should, in the first instance, contact Wexford County Enterprise Board, 16-17 Mallin Street, Cornmarket, Wexford — telephone, 053-22965, or fax, 053-24944 — and explore what level of assistance may be available to them.

  279.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if, following consideration of the appeal lodged, a work permit will be granted to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28727/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  A work permit issued to the employer on 11 November, 2004.

  280.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the latest employment figures for Tallaght; the comparison with the same month ten years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28743/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Forfás, the enterprise, science and innovation policy advisory agency under my Department, undertakes an annual survey to [1150]monitor full and part-term employment in companies assisted by the enterprise development agencies. As this data is published on a county basis, no information is available at sub-county level such as city or town. However data from the 2002 census indicates that in Tallaght, 27,620 citizens were recorded in employment. The corresponding figure from the 1991 census for Tallaght was 17,280.

The Dublin operations of the enterprise support agencies are actively working to promote inward investment to enterprise parks around Tallaght and to encourage indigenous enterprise grow their businesses and expand employment opportunities. The Tallaght area has a large reservoir of talent and human resources. My Department’s agencies will maintain their emphasis on supporting companies in the area in order to maximise the enterprise and job opportunities that economic growth can deliver.

To help address some specific social disadvantages experienced around Tallaght, Enterprise Ireland has provided grant assistance to encourage local enterprise through four community enterprise centres, that is, at Main Road, Bolbrook, Brookfield and Killinarden. In addition, the south Dublin county enterprise board has approved €125,300 to seven Tallaght based clients with a potential for 25 additional jobs in these projects. The south Dublin board has a priority in helping and advising enterprise promoters and the unemployed from disadvantaged areas both in Tallaght and Clondalkin.

Increasing the rate of technology adoption in small and medium enterprises is essential to increase productivity and give small firms the edge in competitiveness. To this end, Enterprise Ireland is also working with Tallaght Institute of Technology to develop industry-third level partnerships.

  281.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding a new IDA Ireland industry for Mitchelstown, County Cork, as an alternative to job losses at a company (details supplied); if he has requested IDA Ireland to become involved in presenting a case for the Mitchelstown region; the progress being made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28796/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The importance of Dairygold as an employer in Mitchelstown and the entire north Cork area is recognised by me and IDA Ireland. We are conscious of the implications of the job cuts announced recently by the company in line with the company’s restructuring plans. My recent visit to Mitchelstown is testament to my very real interest in the situation in the town.

A new BES building, 2,072 sq. m. in size, has been completed in Mitchelstown and IDA Ireland has been marketing it through its network of overseas offices and project divisions, partic[1151]ularly engineering, ICT and international services. There have been two site visits to date, the most recent being in August 2004. However, no client interest has been expressed in the facility as yet. IDA Ireland will continue to actively market the BES facility in Mitchelstown to potential clients from a complete range of IDA Ireland target sectors in either manufacturing or international services through its project divisions and overseas offices. However, it is always the client company that makes the final decision on where it will locate.

For operational reasons, IDA Ireland markets north Cork as one area which includes Charleville, Newmarket, Kanturk, Mallow, Millstreet, Fermoy and Mitchelstown. In this context, IDA Ireland is developing a new business and technology park in Fermoy, some ten miles from Mitchelstown. IDA Ireland has purchased a 20 acre site on the outskirts of Fermoy where site development works and landscaping have been completed at a cost of approximately €1.5 million. It is IDA Ireland’s intention to seek proposals from private developers for the construction of a suitable office building on the park. It is intended that this building will be available mainly for inward investment purposes by qualifying manufacturing and internationally trading services companies. In addition, IDA Ireland is also actively marketing the Fermoy business and technology park as a suitable location for potential greenfield projects. It is anticipated that the future employment opportunities generated at the business and technology park in Fermoy will also benefit the Mitchelstown area and north Cork.

From an inward investment perspective Mitchelstown, due to its proximity to Cork city, also stands to benefit from the continued development in the Cork area where, during the past ten years, direct employment in IDA Ireland supported companies in Cork city and county grew from 10,345 in 1993 to 18,162 in 2003. The sectors contributing to this growth are ICT, pharmaceuticals-health care and international services. This growth is expected to continue into the future, with IDA Ireland announcing in 2003 11 new projects for Cork with the potential to create up to 800 new jobs. To date in 2004, three new projects, Altera, Ecora and Centocor, have been announced with a job creation potential in excess of 400.

I have asked IDA Ireland, as well as the other State agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, to work together to finds solutions to the problems being faced in Mitchelstown following the recent announcements there. I am confident that their combined efforts will bear fruit in due course.

  282.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will sup[1152]port the business community and local authorities in County Monaghan in developing industrial opportunities at Knockconny, Monaghan; the proposals he has to encourage IDA Ireland to implement a more RAPID programme of regional development in the context of stated policy for a number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28930/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Support for job creation in Monaghan is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies. IDA Ireland actively markets County Monaghan as a location for foreign direct investment through its network of overseas offices in order to secure new investment and jobs for the area, while Enterprise Ireland is unrelenting in its support for indigenous companies that want to expand and develop their competitiveness, innovation and export potential.

Work is underway to realise the county’s potential through development objectives such as those set out in the national spatial strategy. This includes the selection of Monaghan as a hub town. Nationwide, we are accelerating delivery of economic infrastructure for businesses including broadband, roads, etc. One of the infrastructure areas of greatest importance to enterprise development nationally is telecommunications-broadband connectivity. This is an essential component of a knowledge-based economy and is of particular importance to business in locations with lower population density. Under the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, MANs — metropolitan area networks — programme, construction of the Monaghan MAN is due to commence in January 2005, with a completion date of September 2005. In addition, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are currently working with the Armagh Monaghan digital corridor project committee. The objective of this committee is to develop the Armagh and Monaghan areas into a cluster of ICT related industries.

The M-Tek building, located at Knockaconny, has been developed as a high technology enterprise centre which links, through the digital corridor, to the A-Tek building in Armagh. The county enterprise board, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland assisted the Monaghan county enterprise fund to build the M-Tek building at Knockaconny. Enterprise Ireland contributed €126,974 towards its construction. Furthermore, the Knockaconny enterprise centre has to date attracted seven companies employing over 70 people. Space for further advance office building and technology units has been granted planning permission at the site. In the context of a new bypass for Monaghan town, potential business park sites for IDA Ireland acquisition are being investigated.

The work of IDA Ireland in attracting FDI and encouraging new rounds of investment from within the existing population of overseas firms in [1153]Ireland is just one component of an interlocking network of activities being undertaken to expand employment opportunities and the capacity of the county to derive tangible benefits from local and regional development. The national development plan, EU operational programmes for which my Department is managing authority, the national spatial strategy and other strategic policies and investments all have an important role in this process.

I am satisfied that the continuing and intensive efforts of the agencies, the modification of enterprise policies to reflect the reality of the global marketplace and the ongoing commitment of the Government to regional development are positive supports to help stimulate further employment opportunities in the County Monaghan and the wider BMW region.

Questions Nos. 283 to 286, inclusive, answered with Question No. 277.

  287.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if, having regard to cuts imposed by the Government in the Estimates 2004 which resulted in the discontinuation of large numbers of FÁS schemes throughout the country, he expects to restore funding in the Estimates 2005 to facilitate the restoration of all such schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter [28935/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Details of funding in support of employment and training schemes delivered through agencies under the remit of my Department will be contained in the Abridged Estimates Volume which is to be published later this week.

Question No. 288 answered with Question
No. 277.

  289.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if, in regard to the abuse by employers of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2001 which denies the right of an employee with less than 12 months’ service to take a case for unfair dismissal under the Acts, he intends to remove the time barrier and to make the law more in keeping with the principles of natural justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29050/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  The Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2001, as they stand, do not apply to a person who has been in the continuous service of the same employer for less than one year, and there are no proposals in place at present to amend this provision. However the requirement of one year’s continuous service does not apply where the dismissal results from: an employee’s pregnancy, [1154]giving birth or breastfeeding or any matters connected therewith; the exercise or proposed exercise by an employee of a right under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004; the exercise or contemplated exercise by an employee of the right to adoptive leave, or additional adoptive leave under the Adoptive Leave Act 1995; the exercise or proposed exercise by the employee of the right to parental leave or force majeure leave under and in accordance with the Parental Leave Act 1998; an employee’s entitlements, future entitlements, exercise or proposed exercise of rights under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000; an employee’s trade union membership or activities; the exercise or proposed exercise by the employee of the right to carer’s leave under and in accordance with the Carer’s Leave Act 2001.

When determining if an employee has the necessary service to qualify under the Acts, a Rights Commissioner, the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Circuit Court, as the case may be, may consider whether the employment of a person on a series of two or more contracts of employment, between which there were no more than 26 weeks of a break, was wholly or partly for or connected with the avoidance of liability by the employer under the Acts. Where it is so found, the length of the various contracts may be added together to assess the length of service of an employee for eligibility under the Acts.

  290.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if any new advisors or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29122/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Following my appointment as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on 29 September 2004, I have appointed Mr. Christopher Mannion as special adviser, Ms Deirdre Gillane as policy adviser and Ms Caitriona Meehan as press adviser. Each transferred from the Department of Health and Children with the Tánaiste’s advisers moving to that Department. The terms and conditions of their employment have not yet been finalised and will require the formal approval of the Minister for Finance.

  291.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if his attention has been drawn to the job losses at a company (details supplied) in Rosslare; if he has been contacted by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding [1155]same; the action he has taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29138/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  I understand from the company in question that it intends to cease its Rosslare-France service no later than 30 November, 2004. The company informed its staff on the MV Normandy on 20 October, 2004. I understand that in making the announcement, the company proposed an enhanced voluntary redundancy-early retirement package or the opportunity to redeploy to ships on its three Ireland-UK routes. I further understand that these options were proposed in order to avoid compulsory redundancies. However, these options were subject to co-operation with the company’s full proposals which also include restarting the French route with a lower crew cost and new crew from March 2005.

The company has advised me that in the event of consultations with the unions being unsuccessful, it will be operating a collective redundancy of 125 permanent staff, 25 long-term temporary staff, and upwards of 48 seasonal short term staff, at the end of the month.

The Government has an interest in maintaining in operation Irish Continental Group’s Ireland to France service, manned if possible by Irish seafarers. Its endeavours will be directed at encouraging the maintenance of the service. Primary responsibility for this area rests with the Minister and Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, both of whom are keeping in touch with events.

  292.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if, and the basis on which, an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 2 was encouraged by Enterprise Ireland to invest heavily in targeting students from eastern Europe at a time when the Enterprise Ireland and his Department had no mechanism in place to facilitate the students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29158/04]

  293.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will examine the circumstances in which an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 2 was encouraged to invest moneys which subsequently gave rise to a substantial loss; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29159/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 292 and 293 together.

Enterprise Ireland had meetings with the company in question in 2002. The purpose of the meetings was to have initial discussions in relation to the possible provision of support for the company’s business plans. The company’s last meeting with Enterprise Ireland took place on 20 December 2002, and at that meeting it was agreed [1156]that the company would send further information to Enterprise Ireland regarding its business which would be used to support any subsequent application to Enterprise Ireland. On 27 January 2003 the company notified Enterprise Ireland that it was not pursuing an application for support. Enterprise Ireland has not received any additional information or any application for assistance from the company since then. The issuing of visas for study in Ireland is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Enterprise Ireland is the only agency within the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which has responsibility for the promotion of the education sector and in the absence of any additional information concerning the company an investigation is not warranted.

  294.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the date on which the high supports process of the employment acti