Dáil Eireann

22/Mar/2005

Prelude

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Statistics on Farming.

Computerisation Programme.

Tourism Industry.

Priority Questions.

Abbey Theatre.

Tourism Industry.

Performing Arts.

National Aquatic Centre.

Tourism Industry.

Other Questions.

National Conference Centre.

Abbey Theatre.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Introduction of New Members.

Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Bilateral Convention on Social Security: Motion.

Rotterdam Convention: Motion.

National Development Plan: Statements.

Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004: Second Stage.

Adjournment Debate.

Deportation Orders.

Written Answers

Culture Ireland.

Athens Review.

Sports Capital Programme.

Proposed Legislation.

Sports Capital Programme.

Arts Policy.

Arts Funding.

Sporting Events.

Stadium Development.

National Stadium.

Football Association of Ireland.

Tourism Promotion.

Conservation Costs.

Sports Facilities.

Tourism Industry.

Sporting Accidents.

National Concert Hall.

Departmental Transport.

Official Languages Act.

Departmental Appointments.

Employment Statistics.

Departmental Transport.

Health Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Publication Costs.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Medical Cards.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospital Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospital Accommodation.

Departmental Expenses.

Health Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Mumps Outbreak.

Nursing Home Charges.

Medical Cards.

Health Services.

Child Abuse.

Health Services.

Influenza Outbreak.

Health Services.

Official Languages Act.

Compensation Scheme.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Departmental Funding.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Nursing Home Inspections.

Nursing Home Provision.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Medical Cards.

Prescription Drugs.

Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Labour Court Recommendation.

Hospital Services.

Consultant Appointments.

Health Services.

Irish Psychiatric Association Survey.

Legal Advice.

Hospital Services.

MRSA Incidence.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Proposed Regulation.

Mental Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

National Repayment Scheme.

Health Services.

Departmental Appointments.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Services.

Hospital Staff.

Nursing Home Charges.

Child Care Services.

State Property.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Health Services.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Charges.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Mental Health Services.

Hospital Accommodation.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Medical Cards.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Departmental Appointments.

Health Services.

Departmental Transport.

National Drugs Strategy.

Hospital Accommodation.

Hospital Staff.

Mental Health Services.

Hospital Services.

Medical Cards.

Assisted Human Reproduction.

Medicinal Guidelines.

Asthma Incidence.

Mental Health Services.

Hospital Equipment.

Tax Code.

Fiscal Policy.

Departmental Transport.

Tax Code.

Departmental Expenditure.

Fiscal Policy.

Public Service Staff.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Staff.

Tax Code.

Departmental Appointments.

State Property.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Tax Code.

Communications Masts.

Job Creation.

Salmon Management Report.

Official Engagements.

Departmental Transport.

Fisheries Protection.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Energy Resources.

Gas Terminal Safety.

Departmental Advertising.

EU Directives.

Fisheries Protection.

Telecommunications Services.

Harbours and Piers.

Ministerial Appointments.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Departmental Staff.

Search and Rescue Service.

Departmental Staff.

Passenger Boat Licences.

Departmental Expenditure.

Prisoner Transfers.

Human Rights Abuses.

Departmental Transport.

Foreign Conflicts.

Irish Language.

Departmental Appointments.

Unification of Cyprus.

Departmental Staff.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Departmental Transport.

Sports Capital Programme.

Departmental Advertising.

Departmental Correspondence.

Sports Capital Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Departmental Transport.

National Aquatic Centre.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Access to Sporting Facilities.

Arts Plan.

Tourism Industry.

Newspaper Industry.

Departmental Transport.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Local Employment Service.

Proposed Legislation.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Advertising.

Unsolicited Goods.

Community Employment Schemes.

Grant Payments.

Consumer Protection.

Departmental Appointments.

Work Permits.

Enterprise Centre Occupancy.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Industrial Development.

Departmental Transport.

Late Payments Legislation.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Transport.

Departmental Records.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Costs.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Funds.

Departmental Appointments.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Insurance.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Consultancy Contracts.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Transport.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Tax Code.

Departmental Transport.

Public Transport.

Driving Tests.

Public Transport.

National Car Test.

Road Network.

Rail Network.

Rural Transport Services.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Driving Tests.

Public Transport.

Pension Provisions.

Proposed Legislation.

Departmental Advertising.

Airport Development Projects.

Railway Stations.

Air Services.

Road Network.

Road Classification.

Traffic Management.

Departmental Correspondence.

Air Services.

Driving Licences.

Public Transport.

Departmental Appointments.

National Car Test.

Road Network.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Public Transport.

Road Network.

Driving Tests.

Departmental Staff.

Taxi Regulations.

Departmental Transport.

Driving Tests.

Departmental Staff.

Road Network.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Travel.

Community Development.

Departmental Advertising.

Rural Social Scheme.

Offshore Islands.

Departmental Appointments.

Irish Language.

Departmental Staff.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Transport.

Inland Waterways.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Transport.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Correspondence.

Meat and Bonemeal Disposal.

EU Directives.

Grant Payments.

Milk Quota.

Land Annuities.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Advertising.

Grant Payments.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Agricultural Policy.

Land Commission Trusts.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Grant Payments.

Land Sales.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Departmental Bodies.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Company Grant Aid.

Land Certificates.

Milk Quota.

Grant Payments.

Waste Management.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Appointments.

EU Directives.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Flood Relief.

Departmental Transport.

Animal Diseases.

Ministerial Staff.

Citizenship Applications.

Visa Applications.

Equal Opportunities Employment.

Citizenship Applications.

Departmental Transport.

Departmental Staff.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Traffic Corps.

Accommodation for Ex-prisoners.

Child Care Services.

Visa Applications.

Garda Deployment.

Public Order Offences.

Crime Prevention.

Garda Resources.

Road Traffic Offences.

Treatment of Prisoners.

Garda Investigations.

Garda Compensation.

Asylum Applications.

Garda Resources.

Garda Deployment.

Proposed Legislation.

Garda Resources.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Visa Applications.

Deportation Orders.

Child Care Services.

Registration of Title.

Departmental Advertising.

Departmental Programmes.

Asylum Applications.

National Age Cards.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Stations.

Garda Training.

Prison Accommodation.

Garda Stations.

Proposed Legislation.

Residency Permits.

Visa Applications.

Prisoner Transfers.

Registration of Title.

Citizenship Applications.

Departmental Appointments.

Public Order Offences

Child Care Services.

Citizenship Applications.

Departmental Appointments.

Deportation Orders.

Citizenship Applications.

Public Order Offences.

Asylum Support Services.

Registration of Title.

Garda Deployment.

Deportation Orders.

Prison Education Service.

Prisoner Welfare.

Citizenship Applications.

Child Care Services.

Citizenship Applications.

Departmental Transport.

Deportation Orders.

Ministerial Responsibility.

Irish Prison Service.

Deportation Orders.

Residency Permits.

Deportation Orders.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Therapy Training.

Departmental Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

Third Level Fees.

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

Employee Assistance Service.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

School Services Staff.

School Accommodation.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

Schools Refurbishment.

Adult Education.

Departmental Advertising.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

School Accommodation.

Medical Education.

School Staffing.

Disadvantaged Status.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Student Councils.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Private Colleges Regulation.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

School Placement.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Appointments.

Schools Refurbishment.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

Education Schemes.

Educational Disadvantage.

Schools Building Projects.

Free Fees Initiative.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Adult Education.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Staff.

School Accommodation.

Recreational Facilities Scheme.

Special Educational Needs.

School Closures.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

Special Educational Needs.

Departmental Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Transport.

Overseas Missions.

Departmental Advertising.

Overseas Missions.

Departmental Appointments.

Medical Cards.

Departmental Staff.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Transport.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Road Network.

Departmental Transport.

Litter Pollution.

Local Authority Schemes.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Schemes.

Local Authority Housing.

Local Authority Funding.

Local Authority Housing.

Waste Management.

Official Languages Act.

Fire Services.

Environmental Policy.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Departmental Correspondence.

Local Authority Housing.

Building Regulations.

Conservation Areas.

Prisoner Releases.

Departmental Appointments.

Municipal Policy Committee.

Register of Electors.

Waste Disposal.

Departmental Staff.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Local Authority Housing.

Local Authority Housing.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

  1.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if his Department has statistics that indicate the numbers of full-time and part-time farmers in the 1950s, in the early 1990s and in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6985/05]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  Comparable figures are not available on the numbers of full-time and part-time farmers for the full period from the 1950s to 2004.

Up to 1991 the focus was on the land holding, without distinguishing between the holder’s full-time or part-time involvement in farming. In 1950, there were 317,900 agricultural holdings of at least one acre. In 1960, the figure was 290,300. By 1970, there were 279,500 and in 1980, there were 263,600 holdings of more than one acre.

In the 1991 census of agriculture, a new system was introduced which focused on the operational aspects of farming. All farms of more than one hectare, about 2.5 acres, were surveyed. It distinguished whether the farmer was involved full-time, that is, his or her sole occupation was farming, or part-time, that is, farming was a major or subsidiary occupation for him or her. For 1991, the total number of farms was 169,900, of which 124,700 were full-time and 45,200 were part-time.

The most recent available figures are from the 2003 farm structures survey, indicating a total of 135,100 farms — 77,900 full-time and 57,200 part-time. The new system introduced in 1991 would suggest an approximate comparable total of 193,000 farms in 1980, of which 158,000 were full-time and 35,000 were part-time.

Mr. Sargent:  I asked a statistical question on the basis that Teagasc has given figures that I assumed were based on CSO figures. Is the Minister of State in possession of all the facts in regard to Government figures? Perhaps he will need to [1122]give me the reply again when he has had an opportunity to discuss with Teagasc the real situation which I understand has resulted in a couple of thousand farmers moving out of farming every year. Does he have any reason not to give me those figures? Does he recall that Fianna Fáil had a stated objective of retaining a maximum number of people on the land and would he like to say whether that objective has been abandoned in the light of the information——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a question for another Minister. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, this is purely a statistical question.

Mr. Sargent:  I am looking for statistics but I am not getting them.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A policy question is for the line Minister.

Mr. Sargent:  Forgive me for straying into policy, but the statistical question I want answered has not been answered here. The Minister of State has informed me he does not have the figures. The figures are available and he does not have to go very far to obtain them. I would like an explanation as to why he does not have an answer to the question I have asked in the Dáil.

Mr. Kitt:  Obviously, the relevant Minister, in this case the Minister for Agriculture and Food will pass to the Deputy any further information the Deputy requires. In regard to the figures, as I explained in the reply, the modus operandi changed in 1991. I would be pleased to pass to Deputy Sargent any additional information in my possession, such as briefing notes. I have precise figures for all of the years, some of which I have already communicated to him. I have attempted to make comparable figures from 1980 on the basis that the system changed from one acre to one hectare.

The figures for 1991, when the system changed, and later years, are not directly comparable with those for earlier years, as the earlier figures included a significant number of inactive land holdings without cash crops or livestock in addition to smaller or more marginal units. In other words, every possible parcel of land was included in the figures on those occasions. We have more pertinent figures since 1991 when the system changed and these can also be used to make comparisons.

The officials who supplied the figures in the reply have endeavoured to translate the system as it was in 1980 into the updated system. The figure for 1980 was 158,000 full-time farmers and 35,000 part-time farmers. The figures clearly show that the number of people on the land has declined. I have no difficulty in sharing with the Deputy any of the information contained in the back-up material. If Deputy Sargent wishes to have additional information I am sure the Mini[1123]ster for Agriculture and Food will be pleased to supply it to him.

Mr. Wall:  Has the Minister of State any further breakdown on a provincial, county or constituency basis of the numbers he has just given?

Mr. Kitt:  I do not have such information in this file. However, if it is available, I will be happy to pass it on to the Deputy. I presume information of that nature is available. I will ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to take note of the Deputy’s comments and the information will be passed on.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Has the Minister of State statistical information, not only on the numbers actively engaged in agriculture, but also the number of people, including children, dependent on it as the primary source of income provision? How many citizens are wholly or in part dependent on agriculture as a primary source of income and provision for life’s needs? Will the Minister of State indicate whether that degree of detail is available from the CSO figures——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is going outside the scope of this particular question.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  With respect to the Ceann Comhairle, I am within the scope of the question and want to know if that information is available. Any evaluation of this type is valuable only when we appreciate the number of people dependent on agriculture to provide for life’s needs. It would be outside the scope of the question to recognise the significant——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy please ask a question?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——and dramatic decline. It would be interesting to know whether the Government has any strategies to arrest that decline. I will probably be told that this is not the responsibility of the Minister of State.

Mr. Kitt:  The Deputy is indeed straying into new territory. I am conscious from my involvement in the World Trade Organisation talks, for example, and discussions on the Common Agricultural Policy reforms etc. that a wealth of information is required and must be examined in terms of what happens to these farms. Many of them are changing to alternative usage as a result of the CAP reforms. The Deputy’s question obviously relates to the number of farms. I do not have data on the number of dependants except to say that we are talking about family run, not commercial farms. I understand that approximately 200 commercial concerns were excluded from the figures supplied to me on this occasion. There is also the distinction between full-time and part-time agriculture. As I said in my answer, full-time means farming is the sole occupation of [1124]a farmer, whether male or female. The part-time figure relates to where a farmer has a major or subsidiary occupation from that source.

Even though I do not come from a farming family, I am fully aware of the dramatic changes in agriculture over the years in places such as my native east Galway, and that numbers have decreased substantially. I have witnessed that taking place over decades. The information I have is substantial, but if there is anything additional which the Deputy requires, he should let me know. Questions have been raised in the House and I can follow up on those.

Ms Enright:  The Minister of State mentioned the difference between part-time and full-time farmers. Is a proportion of income taken into account in terms of what constitutes part-time versus full-time? As regards the 200 commercial concerns, perhaps the Minister of State will explain the basis on which this is measured. Are families still involved in some of those commercial concerns, as I imagine they are? Has the Minister of State the figures for the ratio of full-time to part-time farmers from the 1980s in comparison with the statistics available for 2004?

Mr. Kitt:  On that last question, the full-time figure for the 1980s was 188,000 with 35,000 the part-time number. If that is added to the list, obviously there has been a fall in numbers between 1991 and 2003.

The Deputy asked about the proportion of income involved but my information refers to farming being the sole occupation or a major or subsidiary occupation on a part-time basis. The figures for those in farming on a part-time basis were 45,200 in 1991, 52,900 in 1993, 51,800 in 1995, 49,300 in 1997, 62,600 in 2000 and 57,200 in 2003. With the exception of 1997 and 2000, there has been an increase in part-time farming.

In response to the question on commercial farms, I am talking about family-run farms, excluding commercial concerns and institutions such as agricultural colleges. Commercial farms are those where a company produces mushrooms or other products on an intensive basis on farms that are not family-run. There are only 200 such farms so it is clear what we are talking about in that regard. If the Deputy would like more information, I will pass it on.

Mr. Sargent:  That answer was so convoluted as to be meaningless, with talk of changes in systems and the collection of figures. Does the Minister of State accept that if the figures were presented clearly, they would indicate an exodus of thousands of people from the land and farming as a way of life every year? The figures exist and the Minister for Agriculture and Food gives them to me from time to time on the acreage of any crop or on any farming enterprise.

The Minister of State indicated 1980 as the change-over point but in 1970, 57,000 hectares of land were used to grow potatoes and this fell to [1125]12,500 hectares by 2004. In the past five years, 20% of growers have left the business and more are leaving this year. That is a pattern.

Will the Minister of State come back and give us clear figures that are not confused by references to family farms and commercial farms? Since when is a family farm not commercial? It would not last long if it did not operate on a commercial basis. We must cut through the statistical jargon and tell people the truth, that the Government has done a huge disservice and stood over an amazing exodus from the land.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is making a statement. He should ask a simple question related to the question he initially asked.

Mr. Sargent:  I am asking for an answer and I am not getting one. I will ask this question again on another day and I want to receive clear figures that are not confused by dates or differences between family-run and commercial farms. We want to know how many people are dependent on agriculture each year.

Mr. Kitt:  Does the Deputy want the CSO to transfer the old figures into the new system, where acres were measured but now hectares are used? I stated in my reply that inactive farms were measured. It is a fair point. If it can translate that information into the new regime, as it were, it should be done. I will take the matter up with the CSO.

Mr. Sargent:  Livelihoods.

Mr. Kitt:  I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade for five years and I was involved in the World Trade Organisation talks in which we tried to deal not only with the developing world but also with our own agricultural requirements. I worked closely with the Minister for Agriculture and Food in that context. The Government has consistently been conscious of the need to protect small farmers. Part of that agenda was trying to deal with——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister of State is going well outside the scope of the question.

Mr. Kitt:  Yes, but the Deputy has suggested that the Government has been negligent about small farms. One of the many initiatives was to try to promote agritourism and so forth. There was and is a consistent effort by the Government to deal with that aspect of farming.

I will be glad to take up the Deputy’s point with the CSO to see if anything can be done to draw better parallels between the situation in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and the current regime. I will refer back to the Deputy.

Mr. P. Breen:  Does the Minister of State have statistics on the number of full-time and part-time farmers who have applied for the rural environment protection scheme? Is there a greater [1126]take-up of the scheme on the part of full-time farmers or part-time farmers? Has the Minister of State statistics to show that full-time farmers are expanding their farms by purchasing more land? Are there statistics to show that part-time farmers are reducing stock, particularly those in the beef sector? Obviously, part-time farmers would not be involved in dairying if they were working. The reduction in stock would have an adverse effect on the beef industry.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will allow the Minister of State to answer the questions on statistics but some of the Deputy’s questions are more appropriate for the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Mr. Kitt:  They are. I do not have figures on the REPS or on the expansion of farms. They are not part of my remit. The questions are quite technical and would have to be referred to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. However, one can glean from the figures that farms are being expanded given that the numbers are reducing incrementally each year in the case of full-time farmers. Obviously, amalgamation of farms must be taking place. The questions should be referred to the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Mr. Wall:  Does the Minister of State have information on employees who are employed on farms? If there is a dramatic reduction in the number of farmers, it must be 100% greater with regard to the number of people employed on farms. Does the Minister of State have statistics on that?

Mr. Kitt:  I do not. The question was about full-time and part-time farmers. I do not have figures about other people employed in the sector. I can try to get them for the Deputy. According to my officials, a farm is defined as a single unit both technically and economically which has a single management and which produces agricultural products. These questions were asked previously of my predecessor. Any items which have been raised and on which we can be of assistance, I will be glad to pursue.

  2.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Taoiseach    his views on the recently expressed aspiration of a key leader of the Irish computer industry (details supplied) that every home in Ireland should have a PC and be on-line; if he is considering strategies to achieve this laudable and essential ambition for Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8202/05]

Mr. Kitt:  In 1999 the Government published its action plan for the implementation of the information society in Ireland. In 2002, a further plan, New Connections, was published. Both plans were aimed at stimulating greater participation in the information society through the creation of infrastructures, raising awareness and promoting engagement by business, the public service, the [1127]public and organisations that could benefit from exploiting the Internet and its related technologies. Our strategy in this context has also reflected trends and policies articulated at European level in e-Europe 2002 and e-Europe 2005.

The Central Statistics Office published its second set of statistics on the information society in December 2004. It contains statistics on how information and communication technologies are being used in Ireland today. The main highlights included an estimated 1,489,200 people aged between 16 and 74 years have used a computer at some time, while 1,198,800 have used the Internet; 649,400 homes have a computer, an increase of 420,100 on the 1998 figure; the number of homes with Internet connections grew from 61,200 in 1998 to 537,000 in 2004; and broadband customers have now risen to 120,000 compared with just 1,000 in May 2003.

The CSO report is particularly encouraging as it shows continued growth in engagement with the information society as reflected in the figures for computer ownership and broadband access. The figures bear testimony to the success of the Government’s strategy. However, a significant aspect of the statistics is in regard to the use of the Internet. The most popular use of the Internet is e-mail, which is followed by information searching and on-line services, of which travel and accommodation is a significant element; buying and selling and e-government. With respect to the latter, we are continuing to put services on-line and to make it easier for people to access services and related information using the Internet.

The situation has matured over the lifetime of the two action plans and we have continued to make progress. However, it is not enough to see the situation purely from a technical perspective and in terms of PCs in homes. The uses to which people can put technology are perhaps more significant factors in promoting greater engagement. Meaningful and useful content provides the genesis of demand, which is what ultimately attracts people.

While the aspiration that every home should have a PC and be on-line is very laudable, the real issue concerns the purposes for which it may be used — the value to people in making the investment and engaging in the information society. Government policy is about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity and reason to access the technologies so they can participate in the emerging knowledge economy and society. The statistics reveal that quite a number of people do not have an interest in using technology or accessing the Internet. Of the 848,000 households that do not have access to the Internet, more than 120,000 have access elsewhere and 326,000 do not want access to the Internet. Cost of equipment and access was an issue for around 190,000 households, while the lack of skills was an issue for almost 162,000 people.

[1128]While the cost of PCs was cited as an issue, the reason to use PCs is a bigger issue. This is what we need to address, because the issue of affordability has to be seen in the context of usefulness as reflected in the demand. Indeed, the cost of technology continues to drop, especially in comparison to such things as televisions and entertainment centres. Simply focusing on PCs as an access tool is narrow. There are other devices such as mobile phones, which have almost 80% penetration, and which will continue to grow in sophistication with the potential to play an ever-increasing role in people’s lives.

In my role as Minister of State with responsibility for the information society, I want to concentrate on the vulnerable sectors of society, including the elderly, the disabled and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I propose to ensure that these people get greater access to relevant technology and meaningful and useful content, so they can realise their potential as full members of society. To that end, I have created an e-inclusion fund of €1.025 million which I will be distributing this year to assist the categories outlined above. My Department is currently working on the criteria and mechanisms to ensure that we get maximum impact from the fund.

Mr. Wall:  Will that fund be aimed at community centres, schools and libraries? Has the Minister any details on the availability of the relevant services for the most vulnerable in society?

Mr. Kitt:  I have asked my officials to look at the areas I have mentioned and to see how best that fund can be used under the e-inclusion approach. Last year, projects included the Rathkeale homework club and the Empowering Minds Lego Brick initiative, which I saw in a special class in Ballymun national school. That programme was working so well that children from other classes were coming in to see what these children were doing. One part of last year’s fund was used in six public libraries to promote e-government and e-inclusion.

  3 o’clock

Elderly people could do with some support in this area. We heard from some studies that there is much loneliness among elderly people. Technology is not an answer in itself because there are many other things that we all need to do in society to assist in alleviating the plight of elderly people, but it might be part of a response from the Government to promote communication with elderly people. From my experience, many elderly people are using technology in a productive way and we should try to encourage that. I will be happy to listen to Deputies’ ideas under those particular categories.

Ms Enright:  The Minister of State referred to one report but he may not have seen another report that was published in Britain yesterday. That concerned whether or not there is something to be gained by everybody having com[1129]puters. Statistics in that report may belie some of the assumptions made in this regard. Perhaps the Minister of State could examine that report and consider its findings.

Will he examine the area of ICT in schools? There was a good programme in place until 2003 but it has not been continued. Did his Department have any involvement in that programme and will he consider resuming it?

The Minister of State referred to mobile phones but will he consider legislation to protect those under 18 years of age from receiving abusive text messages? The issue is current and statistics show that bullying via mobile phones is on the increase. We need to examine that matter so I ask the Minister of State to consider it.

Mr. Kitt:  I will certainly examine the UK report to which Deputy Enright referred. I agree with her that we must concentrate on the use of technology in schools and I have mentioned one particular aspect of this concerning schools in disadvantaged areas. The ICT proofing of the post-primary syllabus and the national digital learning repository, which is a collaborative proposal from all universities led by TCD, are important steps to ensure the development of a knowledge-based economy that will help us to grow to our full potential. We must concentrate on schools, therefore, and I am aware that Deputy Enright has been forthright in promoting that.

Personal computers are not the only means of obtaining the best possible access to new technology. One can now do many new things with mobile phones. For example, I understand from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources that people can get tests done on various fish products and thanks to texting, they can now receive test results quickly and get the products on to the market. It is all about being efficient and effective, and if it is easier to do business by mobile phone rather than via a PC, why not do so?

I agree with the Deputy, however, that there is a worrying development with regard to bullying in schools via mobile phones. Nowadays, we all feel we cannot live without our mobile phones and to a certain extent that is true. It is also true for politicians, especially if they are out canvassing, whether in Kildare North or Meath, and one is trying to find people from the local organisation, if they are there.

Mr. P. Breen:  They were turned off.

Mr. Kitt:  We should all be conscious of the misuse of mobile phones and if anything can be done at departmental level I will be happy to address it. I will mention the matter to my officials. I presume there are technological ways of dealing with this matter but parents, teachers and school principals have a responsibility to examine it also.

[1130]Mr. Sargent:  De réir an fhreagra a thug an tAire Stáit, má fhanfaimid fada go leor, ní bheidh gá leis an infrastruchtúr atá riachtanach don teicneolaíocht atá i gceist. Does the Minister of State expect people to invest in personal computers when the infrastructural environment in which those expensive pieces of technology perform best — in other words, broadband — is not fully in place? Does he accept that the Government has been partly responsible for the slow transformation to an e-technology environment? Does the Minister accept the slow roll-out of broadband has been partly responsible for discouraging people from engaging in the new technology? If technology is purchased but does not work to its specified performance level, this discourages people from depending on it. Will we simply wait until mobile telephones do everything?

Mr. Kitt:  The Deputy will be aware that the issue of broadband has been raised on a number of occasions since I took up my role in regard to the information society. I am pleased progress has been made.

Mr. Sargent:  Some.

Mr. Kitt:  Some progress has been made. Following European studies and the Cap Gemini Ernst and Young report, it is important we have some European system watching over us to ascertain the progress being made because, as the Deputy noted, these studies suggested we were lagging behind on broadband. However, to be fair to the Minister and his predecessor, they worked hard on this and some of the figures I have seen suggest we are catching up, and are ahead in many other categories dealt with by the Cap Gemini report.

The Deputy is correct that technology is changing rapidly. I do not accept we will need to radically change the systems we are using. The PC is now part and parcel of our lives. However, there are new technologies such as hand-held computers and mobile telephones and we should be open to considering any of the new technologies coming on stream. It is important that Ireland, which has a significant reputation in this area, keeps ahead with regard to technological innovation.

The Information Society Commission made two points, that we should renew and reorient our e-strategy priorities and deepen our commitment to the knowledge society foresight initiative to stay ahead. It is not simply a matter of supplying technology hardware and infrastructure. There needs to be strong emphasis on the meaningful use of the technology. We should begin with the basics, find where the gaps are and make progress in regard to the elderly and disadvantaged. However, we must ask what we want to do with technology and how we can enhance society. If we look at the issue on that basis, we will do the right thing.

[1131]Deputy Enright referred to some of the negative aspects of technology. However, there is a strong symbiosis between economic activity and society. If we can get this right, we will do good service for those we represent.

Mr. P. Breen:  The question is appropriate to a Member from Clare given that Ennis was the first information age town, although the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, may not like this as Ennis beat Killarney to the record. Ennis was the first information age town and every home in Ennis received a PC and instructions on how to use them. Has the Government surveyed or does it propose to survey the benefits of PCs for towns such as Ennis? Ennis has become a kind of dormitory town but not many new IT industries have set up there despite it having the advantage of being the first information age town.

Mr. Kitt:  I do not have the relevant statistics available but I presume many would be available for a town like Ennis. It was a good idea to consider particular towns in regard to the use of IT, especially in western seaboard and BMW areas. I am sure data are available and I would be glad to share it with the Deputy.

The current approach is to develop the metropolitan area networks, MANs, project and to roll out broadband to various towns and villages throughout the country. This is being extended with the group broadband scheme. A series of policies are in place which will ensure we will reach out to those areas that have not benefited from technological innovation. There are also a series of policy directions from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to ComReg, focused on the delivery of competitive broadband pricing and the shaping of a telecommunications industry-supported programme to deliver broadband to 4,000 schools by September. There is a focus on the peripheral regions. Ennis has clearly benefited greatly from that project in the past and there is a continuum of similar projects in the pipeline in an effort to reach out to peripheral areas.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Over recent days, concerns have been expressed on the national airwaves regarding the capacity of broadband roll-out in terms of speed. The concerns are that the capacity of the new system being introduced falls significantly behind that of other European players. What is the Government’s position and what view does it take? Has the Government responded to the criticisms aired by the national radio broadcaster?

Mr. Kitt:  Progress on broadband has been made in recent times. Some of the relevant figures were mentioned in my reply.

The €25 million county and group broadband scheme offers small towns and rural communities the chance to come together with the service pro[1132]vider to obtain broadband connectivity for their areas with funding assistance from Government. The scheme is open to smaller towns and rural communities of fewer than 1,500 people. It is modelled on the group water scheme and will enable local communities to draw up and implement their own broadband plans in partnership with industry. The Government will provide funding of up to 55%, the maximum allowable under EU rules. The group broadband schemes have already been launched using a combination of DSL, satellite and wireless technologies.

The Government is conscious of the need to ensure equal broadband access throughout the country, especially in remoter parts, and is making a strong effort in that regard. Broadband take-up continues to rise. In May 2003 there were 1,000 customers. This figure has now risen to almost 120,000 and in the last six months of 2004 there was a customer increase of 69%. That is a marked increase and we will continue to press for further increases. The area is specifically the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, but we work closely together on these matters.

  3.  Mr. Wall    asked the Taoiseach    the number of visitors to Ireland for the first two months of 2005; the way in which this compares with the same period in 2003 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9172/05]

Mr. Kitt:  We are back to tourism. I could easily refer this question to my good colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  Deputy Kitt may carry on. He is doing well.

Mr. Kitt:  The CSO introduced a new monthly release on overseas travel in January 2004. This release gives summary monthly figures in addition to the CSO’s more detailed quarterly figures on tourism. The monthly release shows the total number of overseas trips into and out of the Republic of Ireland classified by area of residence.

The latest figures available are for December 2004. They show that there were slightly more than 436,000 overseas trips to Ireland in that month, an increase of 8.9% on the number in December 2003. In 2004 there were almost 6.6 million overseas trips to Ireland, an increase of 3.2% on 2003. It is expected that the January 2005 release will be published before the end of April.

Mr. Wall:  Regarding the figures for December 2004, are there comparable figures for 2003? Although estimating procedures have changed, are there figures available for US visitors, English visitors and visitors from the rest of Europe? [1133]Regarding destinations in Ireland, are there figures for visitors travelling to Dublin or the provinces, for example?

Mr. Kitt:  Before coming in here I got figures on the number of trips to Ireland. These are the December 2004 CSO figures on overseas travel. There were 436,200 overseas trips to Ireland in December 2004, an increase of 8.9% on the 400,400 in the same month of 2003. I already gave the Deputy the figure of 6.6 million for 2004.

The figures for visitors from Great Britain may be of interest to the Deputy as we have often talked about the figures for those coming here from the United Kingdom. The number of trips to Ireland in December 2004 by residents of Great Britain increased by 2.4% compared with the same month in 2003. In 2004 the number is down 1% on 2003. That is a one-month figure and hopefully is a good sign of what is to come.

In December 2004, trips to Ireland by residents of other European countries increased by 27.8% to 100,600 on the corresponding December 2003 figure of 78,700. Trips to Ireland by residents of North America in December 2004 increased by 15.7% when compared with December 2003. In 2004, the number was up 8% on 2003. There were 22,400 trips to Ireland by residents of other areas in December 2004, an increase of 600 on the same month in 2003.

The Deputy did not ask me about the trips made by Irish residents, but I will give him the figures. Irish residents made 348,200 trips in December 2004, an increase of 8% on the figure of 322,500 in December 2003. That is the most up-to-date information we have. We will get more information on the following months for the Deputy.

  4.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he has completed his trawl of city centre locations for the proposed relocation of the Abbey Theatre; if a suitable location has been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9238/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I previously informed the House on a number of occasions, I was authorised by Government to invite expressions of interest by way of public invitation from the private sector in participating, on the basis of a PPP, in the capital redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre in and-or around the vicinity of the site of the existing theatre.

The accommodation brief for the new theatre, which was drawn up in consultation with and agreed by the Abbey board, specified the following requirements: to be a signature development, representative of a national theatre in the 21st [1134]century; to be in an appropriate civic setting and form part of the overall urban regeneration represented by the O’Connell Street integrated area plan and north-east inner city plan; three significant enlarged auditoria, Abbey, Peacock and a third multipurpose space; a dedicated education and outreach facility; a publicly accessible archive; a restaurant-bar; improved public areas; disabled access for audiences and artists; and best practice theatre production facilities.

My preference would have been to redevelop the theatre at its present location. However, taking into consideration the requirements which I have outlined, when it became apparent that costly additions to the existing footprint and that the timeframe for the acquisition of the additional properties necessary to render the existing location suitable was indeterminate, I arranged for a trawl of other available city centre locations. That trawl has not yet reached a conclusion.

As I previously informed the House, late last year a site was identified at Coláiste Mhuire on Parnell Square which it appeared might, with an adjacent building, have provided the necessary footprint to meet the accommodation requirements of the redeveloped Abbey Theatre. Unfortunately, the owner of the adjacent premises was not prepared to sell them to the State for what my advisers considered a fair market price. In the circumstances, there was no option but to withdraw from the negotiations. The Office of Public Works has recently confirmed to me that the Coláiste Mhuire site on its own is not an option.

The former Carlton cinema site was also in the frame as a possibility. I am aware there was a High Court judgment with regard to the compulsory purchase order on this site. However, it is for the parties to that judgment, which do not include my Department or the Office of Public Works, to evaluate the implications of the judgment. I understand that a judicial review on the decision of Dublin City Council’s agreement with the selected developer of the site is also outstanding. Until such time as all legal issues, to which neither my Department nor the OPW is party, are resolved, it would be premature for my Department of the OPW to engage in negotiations on the Carlton site. I assure the Deputy that I view redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre at this location as a real option which I intend to explore further as soon as issues around the CPO have been resolved.

Recently the Dublin Docklands Development Authority offered a site at George’s Dock and I have asked the OPW to explore the options for this site with the DDDA without a commitment on either side. Exploratory discussions are ongoing.

I assure the Deputy of my unrelenting efforts to identify a suitable location and I am in constant contact with the Office of Public Works to that end. I remain confident that a suitable site will be identified and acquired in due course.

[1135]Mr. Deenihan:  The Minister’s reply is like a long playing record. Will he define what is “due course”? Will a national theatre be built during the Government’s term or is there a timeframe for it? Does the Minister still propose to provide the theatre through the public private partnership model? Has the present site been ruled out completely, given recent articles in the national media?

Has the OPW gone back to the owner of the property adjacent to Coláiste Mhuire, where there was a problem regarding the price, to renegotiate the purchase of the site? Given the recent High Court judgment, which upheld Dublin City Council’s compulsory purchase order, the Carlton Cinema site must be back on the agenda. How long will it take to resolve outstanding matters relating to that site? Is the OPW involved in this regard? Does the Minister think a decision will be made on the relocation of the national theatre during the Government’s term?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  The short answer is I do. I am reluctant to give timeframes because we were unable, for reasons beyond our control, to announce a new site for the Abbey Theatre during its centenary last year.

The Carlton site is subject to a judicial review. There is the possibility of a developer going to the Supreme Court following a recent High Court decision. It is impossible to give a timeframe in respect of these proceedings.

We did not return to the Coláiste Mhuire site because there was no way agreement could be reached with the owners of the portion of the site in question, which is in private hands.

With regard to the present location of the Abbey Theatre, I have pointed out on a number of occasions that time and expense rule out the possibility of a new theatre on that site. The OPW is in consultation with the Dublin Docklands Development Authority regarding a site at George’s Quay, which has entered the frame. No hard and fast decision has been made because none can be at this time. However, everything is being done to resolve the situation.

Mr. Deenihan:  The Lord Mayor suggested at a recent Dublin City Council meeting that an opinion poll should be conducted on the use of the Carlton Cinema as the new site for the Abbey Theatre. Does the Minister agree with this proposal? Would this be a good way to proceed?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I do not understand what impact it would have on the legal position. I cannot see how it could change the situation in any way. It might indicate a preference on the part of those polled regarding where they believe the theatre should be located but it would not resolve the legal difficulties because people have property rights under the Constitution, which they have a right to pursue in the courts.

  5.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    his views on the implication for tourism of price increases by some public houses and accommodation providers on the weekends of soccer and rugby internationals and on other weekends of public holidays or events, particularly in view of a number of surveys showing that this is a deterrent to tourists returning to Ireland; if he has had discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9237/05]

Mr. O’Donoghue:  Last year, we had a record number of foreign visitors. Visitor attitude surveys continue to record a high level of satisfaction with the overall visitor experience, although there have been significant declines in satisfaction regarding value for money. The Government, the tourism agencies and the industry, by and large, have been addressing this competitiveness challenge. Actions that undermine our efforts in this regard are not welcome.

On the question raised by the Deputy, we live in a free market and traders are, subject to a few exceptions, entitled to charge what they want. The price of drink, for example, is a commercial issue outside my remit. No legislation prevents publicans from increasing their prices prior to or during an event. One statutory instrument that protects consumers, however, is the Retail Price (Beverages in Licensed Premises) Display Order 1999, which obliges all premises, where alcohol is sold, to display the price of alcohol and soft drinks both inside and outside the premises. This gives consumers the information they need to decide whether to accept the prices displayed.

I do not believe in adding to existing regulation. The consumer is the ultimate regulator and consumer power can be influential. The problem is that Ireland tends to have a weak consumer culture. We tend to be reluctant to complain about price, service or quality even when we have legitimate grounds for so doing.

The Director of Consumer Affairs has been proactive on the drinks pricing issue lately. Her office carried out a number of price surveys of pub prices in the past few months with a view to facilitating consumer choice when attending sporting and other events. The results of these surveys are available on the director’s website, www.odca.ie. It is encouraging that surveys of prices by the director have shown that the problem of sharp increases in drink prices at the time of these events is not as marked as in previous years. The overall impression from the surveys carried out by the director’s office over the past 12 months suggests that the extent of the practice of increasing drink prices around special events may have been exaggerated and it is important for the House to note that.

No legislation governs rates charged by accommodation providers. There is, however, one limit on hoteliers. All hotels must be registered in the [1137]register of hotels maintained by Fáilte Ireland. Under the registration system, hoteliers are required to have a notice stating the maximum prices they charge for accommodation and they are not supposed to exceed those prices. If consumers are asked for more than the stated maximum, they should take this up with management. If they find they have paid more and can prove that, they should report the matter to Fáilte Ireland or its agents who can take the matter up with the hotel concerned.

Excessive profiteering around special events may be legal. It may be capable of being rationalised from a narrow, short-term economic perspective. However, this practice by a tiny segment of the trade is not helpful to the reputation of a tourism destination. We only have to think of our own reaction if confronted by these practices at foreign destinations. A few operators might ask themselves whether the short-term profit is worth killing the goose that lays the golden egg. At the same time, however, it is unfair to tar the entire sector with the same brush.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I have not discussed this issue with my colleague the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment but I have noted that the recent price surveys of the Director of Consumer Affairs, allied to increased consumer vigilance, can have a positive effect. The director said recently, following the latest rugby international in Lansdowne Road:

I am glad to note that only two out of the 26 premises surveyed raised their prices on Saturday for the rugby match. I would regard this a positive response to public awareness.

This is welcome news and confirms my view that the best and ultimate regulator is the consumer.

Mr. Wall:  I welcome the Minister’s reply. I also welcome the survey carried out by the Director of Consumer Affairs because it highlighted that a number of licensed premises in the vicinity of the venues of major events had retained regular prices, probably as a result of public pressure. Despite the success of the director’s initiative, headlines such as “Money Mad Culture Turn Off for Thousands of Dutch Tourists” have still appeared in newspapers. This headline will have been reciprocated in Holland. However, the reporter only spoke to four or five tourists, yet a damaging headline, which portrays a money mad culture, was used. What can the Department do to address recent negative publicity, particularly in light of the success of the Director of Consumer Affairs on the drink prices issue? Perhaps we might also see what we can do to rectify the bad media we are getting — the “Battle for Britain” returns. The Minister urged the tourism industry to review its prices. Tourists are rejecting “rip-off Ireland”. We could go on, but when one gets into the detail of the reporter’s presentation, [1138]one finds that we may only be talking about individuals. The entire tourism sector is being branded, although, as the Minister stated, the problem may be limited to a few individuals. What can we do to rectify that? Is there anything within the Minister’s remit, that of the Director of Consumer Affairs, or that of another Department? We must do something to alleviate that problem. The reporters want to make something of it, but that is of no benefit to us, since there are no figures in support of the headlines.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I certainly agree with Deputy Wall that there has been a great deal of very bad publicity that has reflected poorly on the industry at large, especially over the past year or so. Shortly after I entered office, I pointed out that we had a problem with competitiveness and that we would have to address the issue. Various measures to do so have been undertaken since. We now have more special offers in the tourism industry. The Restaurants Association of Ireland and the IHF came forward with a very innovative tourism menu that meant that visitors could obtain lower prices in restaurants at certain times. In fairness, the contribution of the office of the Director of Consumer Affairs has been significant. We should all appreciate that we will not remove the media glare unless the underlying problem is addressed. I agree with Deputy Wall that a small number of people in the drinks, accommodation and food industry are giving the remainder a bad name.

To address that, I was pleased that the Director of Consumer Affairs undertook surveys, for example, last March, in and around Lansdowne Road. He found that six in every ten publicans raised prices during special events and sporting occasions. I was also very pleased to note that the Director of Consumer Affairs subsequently took up the practice of advertising the results. Afterwards, the media comment proved extremely positive for the industry. People became worried that the office of the Director of Consumer Affairs would advertise their practices in the media, and we saw an immediate reluctance to increase prices. The media can do the industry a good service by pointing out where people are engaged in practices that make our economy, and especially our tourism industry, appear unattractive or uncompetitive. Those who increase prices for the sake of the occasion to take advantage of the punter do a grave disservice to the industry and nation at large, and especially their colleagues. It is very important that this House continues to say to all comers that such practices are simply not acceptable and that we will not tolerate them.

  6.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will make a statement on the Ballybunion cultural village project. [9512/05]

[1139]Mr. O’Donoghue:  I presume the Deputy is referring to the Tinteán Theatre, Ballybunion, which was awarded grant support totalling €825,235 by my Department in 2001.

To satisfy the conditions attaching to the grant, the promoters were required to provide evidence that the balance of the capital funding required to complete the project and bring it to operational status was available. That was done in 2002, when confirmation was received that the total project cost would be approximately €2,500,000, to be financed by a contribution of approximately €1,500,000 from the promoters, borrowings of €200,000, and my Department’s grant of €825,000. The position was further assessed in 2003, and although costs had risen to approximately €3 million, the continued availability of the necessary finance was confirmed.

At this point the project financing comprises a contribution from the promoters in the region of €1.2 million, borrowings of €1 million, my Department’s grant of €825,000 and €60,000 from Kerry County Enterprise Board. The aim of the project submitted for funding, which I understand represents phase 1 of a planned larger development, is to provide a 250-seat contemporary Irish dance theatre in Ballybunion for the development of contemporary Irish dance. The proposal also entails the provision of space for performance, training, administrative and teaching facilities.

Some €675,000 of the total grant of €825,000 has been drawn down, and as yet there has been no information from the promoters on when they envisage the draw-down of the balance of the funding.

Mr. Ferris:  The project is of great importance to the entire community in the Ballybunion area of north Kerry, and there are currently outstanding debts of approximately €750,000. I am told there have been various grants from Departments but that the respective sums of €709,000 and €120,000 have yet to be drawn down. Does the Minister accept that completion of the Tinteán Theatre is dependent on all outstanding grants being delivered? Does he agree that the construction, which is phase 2 of a cultural village, will benefit the Tinteán project itself and the Ballybunion area, both economically and from a tourism perspective?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I accept the facility will be of enormous benefit to the entire Ballybunion region, and I acknowledge the importance of phase 2. In doing so, I must say regarding the possibility of further funding from my Department for phase 1 that I currently do not have any more funds available that might enable me to allocate a further grant to the Tinteán project. However, I hope it will be possible in the not too distant future to formulate a new access scheme that would enable me to grant aid developments of the kind envisaged for phase 2 at Ballybunion. I acknowledge the interest of Deputies Ferris, [1140]McEllistrim, and Deenihan in the Tinteán Centre, Ballybunion. All I can say is that grant aid and co-operation on the building of the project has been forthcoming to the limit of my Department’s capacities hitherto. We will certainly examine whether it is possible to help regarding phase 2.

  7.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    when the National Aquatic Centre will reopen; the reason for the delay in re-opening the centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9239/05]

Mr. O’Donoghue:  During the severe weather conditions experienced in the west Dublin area on New Year’s Day 2005, damage was caused to the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown. The roof of the 50 metre pool and diving pool and the roof of the leisure water area were both damaged and, in addition, damage occurred to lights and fittings around the complex. This has resulted in the National Aquatic Centre being closed to the public while the building was being made safe, the damage assessed and repairs undertaken. Fortunately, nobody was hurt as the centre was closed for the holiday period.

On 2 January, Rohcon Ltd., the company responsible for the design and construction of the National Aquatic Centre, carried out some initial repair work to make the building safe. During the days immediately afterwards, Campus Stadium Ireland Development Ltd. was at hand to manage and oversee the response to the situation. CSID’s first priority was to ensure the safety of the general public and anybody using or working in the facility. They were also focused on ensuring that the damage was accurately assessed by the insurance assessors, that liability for the repair work was established, that repairs would be carried out as quickly as possible and that the debris in the facility, and in its vicinity, was safely removed. Because of the weather conditions, in particular the high winds experienced during January, it was not safe to access the roof until towards the end of the month and this delayed the work of the engineers who examined and reported on it.

At the request of my Department and in consultation with CSID, the Office of Public Works engaged Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners, Consulting and Structural Engineers, to provide an independent, expert opinion. They were requested to examine the damage and to provide a report. In addition to this independent report, a separate report was prepared by engineers on behalf of the company carrying the insurance cover on the NAC.

Following the presentation of their report, Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners were appointed by CSID in regard to the development and implementation of the appropriate remedial works for the storm damage. A copy of the independent report has been given to Rohcon Ltd. and a [1141]schedule of remedial works has been prepared on behalf of Rohcon and submitted to CSID. This will ensure the centre is restored to the highest standards. The costs of the storm damage will not accrue to the State. Detailed discussions have been taking place with the various parties involved to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. CSID has confirmed to me that remedial works to the National Aquatic Centre effectively commenced yesterday, Monday, 21 March, when Rohcon, its roofing sub-contractors and consulting engineers responsible for the work were on the roof. These parties are now finalising, in consultation with CSID’s engineers, the details of the schedule of works to be undertaken to repair the damage. While it is difficult to be precise about how long the work will take, my best information as of now is that it should be completed in six to eight weeks. The contractors have promised a firm estimate for completion of the repair work later this week.

Additional information not supplied on the floor of the House

I wish to reiterate that I want to see the National Aquatic Centre reopened at the earliest possible date. Although I fully understand the frustration of the staff and the general public, including members of facility clubs, at the continued closure of the centre, the alternative scenario, that of opening the centre while there was a risk to people using the facilities, is not an option that anybody would be prepared to contemplate. Therefore, the inconvenience of the centre being out of commission is, in my opinion, the lesser of two evils. Over the past months, CSID has put a considerable effort into working with the various parties to have the centre reopened as quickly as is feasible in the context of finding a safe solution. I am satisfied that this will be achieved.

Mr. Deenihan:  Who is liable for the damage and who will pay for it? Also, who will compensate Dublin Waterworld Ltd. for the loss of approximately €100,000 per week while the centre is closed? The centre has been closed for so long because of health and safety issues. Will the Minister clarify the precise health and safety issues involved? Has the Government offered to compensate unsuccessful bidders for the National Aquatic Centre to run the centre? Perhaps the Minister will clarify that matter.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I am not aware of any issue regarding compensating underbidders. With regard to the actual repairs to the facility, CSID’s first priority was to make the building safe and that work, together with the weather proofing, was undertaken straight away. At that point Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners, Consulting Structural and Civil Engineers, were commissioned to provide an independent report to examine the damage and provide a preliminary report as a matter of priority. The loss adjustor for the insurer also commissioned engineers to [1142]examine the damage but because of the weather conditions, in particular the high winds experienced during January, access to the roof proved to be very difficulty and that delayed the work of the engineers.

The Kavanagh Mansfield report was received on 28 January. Rohcon Limited, the company responsible for the design and construction of the centre, was supplied with a copy of that report on 4 February and it was asked to supply its proposals for immediate works. Rohcon, in turn, required some time to study the findings of the Kavanagh Mansfield report, including consultations with the roofing contractors who were based in England, and to do its own investigations before it could bring forward acceptable proposals for remedial works, which it did on 22 February. Discussions between the various parties, in particular between Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners and CSID on the one hand and Rohcon Limited and its sub-contractors on the other, and also involving the insurance company and its assessors, have taken place over the past three weeks and a schedule of remedial works was discussed at a meeting on 15 March between CSID’s engineers and the contractors and their engineers and architects.

Work has commenced. Some further discussions are necessary to finalise the schedule of remedial works. Following finalisation of these discussions, the contractors expect to advise CSID tomorrow as to when the remedial works will be completed and of the consequent reopening of the centre. As I said, the best information available to me at this point is that the work will be completed within a six to eight week period.

I should explain to Deputy Deenihan and the House that there are many parties involved in this process, which is part of the reason it has taken so long, but the health and safety of the members, staff and general public has been CSID’s primary concern in dealing with this unfortunate event.

As far as I am concerned, the State and the taxpayer will not be responsible for restoring the National Aquatic Centre to its former state. This is an issue for the contractors and their insurers to resolve. That is the manner in which I am approaching the issue at this point.

With regard to Dublin Waterworld Ltd., I would have hoped that it would have employment insurance cover in respect of its own staff. I have no plans whatsoever to compensate Dublin Waterworld Ltd. In fact, I do not have plans in regard to this matter which will cost the taxpayer any money.

Mr. Deenihan:  Will the Minister accept that it has taken an unacceptable length of time to carry out repairs on the centre, taking into consideration the process that had to be gone through? This centre was built in little more than a year but it appears it will take almost five months to repair a 25 sq m hole in the roof. Will the Minister agree that this issue has got bogged down [1143]in bureaucracy and that there has not been any urgency in ensuring that the centre should be open for use sooner? Will he agree also that the centre could be opened on a phased basis? The recreational part of the centre could have been opened before now because that was not as severely damaged in the storm and the pool could be opened at a later stage. Also, the Minister may be aware that a number of important international swimming events have been cancelled because of the delay in reopening the centre.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I reiterate that I want to see the National Aquatic Centre reopen at the earliest possible date. Although I fully understand the frustration of the staff and the general public, including members of facility clubs, at the continued closure of the centre, the alternative scenario, that of opening the centre while there was a risk to people using the facilities, is not an option that anybody would be prepared to contemplate. Therefore, the inconvenience of the centre being out of commission is the lesser of two evils.

To be fair, Campus Stadium Ireland has, over the past months, put a considerable effort into working with the various parties to have the centre reopened as quickly as is feasible in the context of finding a safe solution. Naturally, I am also concerned to ensure the taxpayer’s interest is protected to the best of my ability. That is my duty and, more particularly in this instance, it is the delegated function of Campus Stadium Ireland.

It is a matter for the contractors and-or their insurers to ensure that the aquatic centre is reopened at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not foresee an eventuality whereby the taxpayer will be obliged to foot the bill for that. Unfortunately, there has been a lapse of time between the commencement of work and the damage which occurred but much of that was down to weather constraints and the necessary steps which had to be taken to ensure reports were available to identify the cause of the problem and who should be liable for it. It took some time to resolve such issues. I do not accept there has been an inordinate delay. The time that has passed has been used constructively by Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited and its agents. While it is regrettable that the centre will not be reopened at an earlier time than that now envisaged, we had to ensure that all the necessary steps were taken to safeguard the health and safety of the facility’s users, to protect the interests of taxpayers and to ensure that due process was applied throughout.

  8.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    his views on whether the importance of tourism as a driver for economic survival is not being adequately recognised by Government and is reflected in the struggle for survival being experienced by tourism providers, [1144]especially in the west and in areas of Mayo which are heavily dependent on tourism; the steps he will take to rectify the desperate situation which exists at present; his further views on whether there should be a dedicated Minister for tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9278/05]

Mr. O’Donoghue:  The importance of tourism as an instrument of national and regional development has been recognised by the Government for a long time. The need to achieve as wide as possible a distribution of visitor numbers throughout the regions, with an associated spread of tourism revenue, is similarly recognised as a major objective and challenge in tourism policy. Various factors have conspired to exacerbate regional growth problems in recent years. The increasing international trend towards shorter and more frequent breaks favours urban destinations because they are more easily accessible. That has driven significantly the more robust growth in Dublin and the eastern region.

At a time of overall national tourism growth, the need to spread the growth across all regions should be addressed proactively and energetically. The programmes and initiatives operated by the State tourism agencies and the action plan set out in the tourism policy review group’s report reflect that objective fully. I would like to highlight some of the many actions proposed by the tourism policy review group that will have a positive impact on the regional distribution of tourism numbers and revenue. I refer, for example, to those actions relating to product development, tourism promotion, transport access and appropriate infrastructure and the arrangements for the delivery of tourism policy at regional level.

The lack of high-quality direct access has been a major impediment to growth in certain regions, particularly the western seaboard and the north west, and from certain key source markets such as the United States. Recent developments, including Ryanair’s announcement of its plans to develop Shannon Airport as a European hub, American Airlines’ announcement of new services from Boston and Chicago and Continental Airlines’ plans for a new direct service to Belfast, provide a welcome boost to the regions at the start of the 2005 season. Such developments build on the significant expansion by Aer Lingus of its route network since 2001. Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, which have been active in their pursuit of access improvements, will help to promote the routes to optimise their inbound tourism potential.

Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland will adopt some innovative approaches which should heighten the regional impact of Ireland’s marketing activities, nationally and overseas, in 2005. All regions will feature prominently in the full range of marketing activities. A dedicated marketing fund for tactical co-operative initiatives by the regional tourism authorities and their members will be established. A region-to-region approach will be adopted in Britain to capitalise on the [1145]direct access links to the regions. Specific campaigns promoting the western seaboard will be mounted in North America. An approach of sponsoring regions will be adopted in Europe with each market office focusing attention alternately on particular Irish regions to enhance the awareness of the local trade of what each region has to offer. An enhanced consumer website, which will have increased functionality and a strong regional input, will provide for dynamic and up-to-the minute packages to entice domestic travellers. A strong focus on event-based holidays will be complemented by a festivals and cultural events fund that will be more streamlined and targeted and will continue to favour less developed regions.

The House is aware that I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. Such actions or measures are day-to-day functions of the tourism agencies.

Dr. Cowley:  I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Given that one in 12 people is employed in the tourism sector, tourism is not a part of the economic debate in the same way as farming and fishing, for example, as it should be. Places like Swinford, Kilkelly, Achill, Mulranny, Newport, Blacksod and Charlestown depend on tourism, but they are not getting their fair share of the visitors to the west. As the Minister said, the poor access to such places is caused by a lack of proper infrastructure. Difficulties have been caused by the failure to develop Knock Airport which is predicted to receive 400,000 visitors this year. By contrast, Dublin and Cork airports, which are totally congested, receive millions of visitors each year. Perhaps one could solve many problems by building the proposed second terminal at Knock Airport.

The west is not getting enough visitors because of bad roads and poor air access. The tourism operational programmes have taken account of the massive problem of seasonality in the west, but they have not worked because of the poor access to that region. There is a vicious circle of poor access, increasing seasonality and a decrease in bed nights.

I am sure the Minister agrees that the west is very suitable for major tourism products such as angling, walking, golfing and other outdoor activities, but there has been a decline of 20% in the number of bed nights accruing from such product areas since 1999. People have been unable to invest in tourism products for that reason. We cannot be competitive in the tourism market because there has been a lack of investment. We have failed to develop the tourism product to the extent we should have because of the problem of seasonality. We cannot compete for that reason. The vicious circle continues to exist.

Many tourism businesses in the west, other than in Westport, have been forced to close. [1146]Many others are hanging on but may have to go out of business. They face the same insurance expenses, wage costs and heating bills as businesses on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Tourism is not sustainable in the west. Will the Minister outline what can be done? Many tourism providers were unable to apply for the earlier form of the current national product development scheme because the bar was set too high.

What can the Minister do? He can lobby the Minister for Finance for a review of the VAT obligation on small tourism operators. Such a review would be a step in the right direction. I favour the introduction of some form of tax incentive scheme, which would benefit people who want to reinvest in the tourism product they offer. Will the Minister lobby the Minister for Finance for such a scheme which is needed if we are to prevent businesses from closing? Some 900 of the approximately 4,000 manufacturing jobs in County Mayo are provided by Allergan in Westport, but 300 of them have been lost. What is left? We are depending on tourism because farming is in decline. Will the Minister examine the VAT obligation and the possibility of introducing a tax relief scheme?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  It is obvious that tourism is treated extremely seriously by the Government. As this country’s largest international indigenous service industry, it is of enormous importance to the economy. When one includes carriage costs, it generates approximately €4.2 billion per annum. The largest number of visitors to visit Ireland in a single year visited Ireland last year. All the sectors and regions did not benefit equally, however. The increasing tendency among tourists to take shorter breaks has meant that tourism growth in the Dublin region has been greater than that in the western region, for example. Most, although not all, regions experienced some tourism growth last year.

  4 o’clock

It is clear that the main problem that needs to be addressed is the lack of access to the western region. When I visited the United States last autumn, I had fruitful discussions with representatives of American Airlines, which is the largest airline in the world. Deputy Cowley is aware that the airline proposes to fly into Shannon Airport from May. It will be the first time that it will have flown into Ireland. That the airline operates direct routes to 42 locations in the United States gives an indication of its size. Ryanair’s decision to develop Shannon Airport as a European hub will assist the western region, as will the funding to be allocated by the Government to Knock Airport, which was announced by the Minister for Transport recently.

If we continue to improve access to the western region, we will continue to increase the number of people visiting it. That is not the only way to resolve the problem raised by the Deputy, however. We also need to examine how we market the regions. As I said in my initial [1147]response, the way in which that is done by the State agencies has been entirely changed. It is necessary to examine the relationship between the regional tourism authorities and the State agencies. While we established the new statutory body, Tourism Ireland, we did not redefine the relationships between it and regional tourism authorities or between those authorities and Fáilte Ireland, the former Bord Fáilte. In this context, Fáilte Ireland is finalising proposals arising from the report it commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers. It must be decided whether the integration of regional tourism authorities and State agencies would result in better services locally and facilitate more focused marketing mechanisms to attract a greater number of visitors to the west.

I acknowledge the problems involved and appreciate the level of difficulty they imply. We are taking stringent measures to resolve them.

  9.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of tenderers being considered for the procurement of a national conference centre in Dublin; when a preferred tenderer will be selected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9200/05]

  17.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding the construction of a national conference centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9185/05]

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 17 together.

On 17 February 2005, I informed the House that detailed tender documentation for the procurement of a national conference centre in Dublin was issued on 10 December 2004 by the Office of Public Works to each of the three previously short-listed consortia. I said also that one of the three candidate consortia had indicated it would not, in all probability, proceed. The candidate in question has now informed the Office of Public Works that it does not intend to submit a tender for the project. Accordingly, the competition for the provision of the centre is proceeding with two tender candidates.

As I informed the House previously, the national conference centre project team, which is headed by the Office of Public Works, is engaged in a process of consultation with the tender candidates. The process is intended, inter alia, to enable the OPW to provide clarification and, where appropriate, take account of issues raised by the candidates to ensure the submission of good quality, robust tenders. Allowing for the provision of sufficient time for engagement with [1148]the candidates, it is hoped a provisional preferred tenderer will be selected by mid-year. The contract will be awarded on receipt of Government approval.

The provision of a national conference centre is a necessary precursor to the expansion of the business tourism sector which is worth €250 million a year. While I must accept the grinding complexity and necessarily time-consuming nature of the procurement process, the provision of a national conference centre remains a priority.

Mr. Deenihan:  Is the Minister aware that the number of business tourists fell from 890,0000 per annum to 750,000 per annum between 1999 and 2003? Business tourism has fallen from 15% to 12% as a proportion of overall tourism figures. Is the Minister aware that during his or her stay, a business visitor spends approximately 70% more than an ordinary holidaymaker? A national conference centre sited in Dublin would boost the economy by approximately €50 million and create approximately 3,000 jobs.

With the exception of Dublin, every European capital has a dedicated conference centre. Dublin does not have an opera house and its national theatre is outdated. Despite the wealth and the economy we have created over the last ten years, Ireland’s infrastructure remains inadequate. I would like the Minister to be more specific about when he will decide on a preferred candidate. The term “mid-year” is not very clear and is implicitly flexible.

Representatives of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport and Tourism recently. Does the Minister agree with it that the private sector experience of the bureaucratic tendering process represents a case study in inefficiency and indecision? This issue has been ongoing since 1994. Surely, it is time for completion. While the matter has not always been in the Minister’s hands and I acknowledge that he has made some progress, he must now make a decision. Can he be more specific?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  While I appreciate the kind comments Deputy Deenihan made towards the end of his contribution, he could have been kinder.

Mr. Gogarty:  What does Kerry think?

Mr. Hogan:  The horse that does the work should get the oats.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  We have made more progress in recent years than was made for many years previously. Deputy Deenihan will be well aware that successive Governments have made several attempts to provide a national conference centre in Dublin without result. Given that we should be in a position sometime in mid-year to declare a preferred candidate, we are doing pretty well.

[1149]As I have acknowledged at all times, we are necessarily involved in a very complex procurement process. The procedures involved in a public private partnership arrangement are not only complex but require to be undertaken in accordance with very strict guidelines on the provision of infrastructural capital investments. For example, as part of the procedural requirements of the process, a public sector benchmarking exercise and benefits assessment had to be carried out before the detailed proposal stage could even be initiated. In addition, the preparation of the detailed project contract documentation required was demanding and, to say the least, time consuming. The details required very careful scrutiny and consideration.

Deputy Deenihan will be aware that it is essential to ensure the procedures and guidelines pertaining to the process continue to be observed. Nothing should be done which jeopardises a successful outcome. A mid-year objective is reasonable in the context of the complexities I have mentioned. I cannot be any more definitive.

Mr. Wall:  Does the withdrawal of one of the consortia imply a problematic legal scenario involving only two candidates? How many candidates were there originally? Is it clear that it is legitimate to declare a preferred candidate from the current two thereby facilitating a mid-year conclusion? Have all legal questions arising from the withdrawal of a candidate been investigated and settled?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  When the documentation issued to candidates in December 2004, the date set by the OPW for receipt of tenders was 18 March 2005. The clarification and consultation process engaged in by the national conference centre project team and the candidates has resulted, as expected, in a number of changes to the tender requirements. In other words, Deputy Wall is correct and we have had to be extremely careful.

In light of the changes and to facilitate the submission of good quality, robust tenders, the national conference centre steering committee which is responsible for the procurement process, considered it appropriate and reasonable to provide candidates with additional time to consider and, if necessary, amend their proposals. Accordingly, the deadline for receipt of proposals has been extended to 22 April 2005. The objective, however, remains to ensure the selection of a preferred candidate by mid-year. It was necessary to undergo the process outlined to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

This is a serious project which has the potential to stimulate significant growth in tourism in the Dublin region. Given that business tourism is already worth approximately €250 million to the State, Deputy Deenihan was correct to state that the provision of a dedicated national conference centre could be worth approximately €50 million.

[1150]Mr. Deenihan:  Why does the Minister not simplify the procedures? Does he set down the procedures?

Has the National Treasury Management Agency approved the project? I am sure it has, but it is no harm to clarify if that is the case. If a successful tenderer were to be approved by May, what schedule would the Minister envisage for the possible commencement of work on this important project?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I always said it was hoped we would have a national conference centre in place some time during the year 2007. With regard to the procedures being followed, to the best of my knowledge, all of the procedures we are obliged to follow have been followed to date. Every effort has been made to try to ensure there can be no criticism in that regard at the end of the process.

It is difficult for me to be definitive with Deputy Deenihan on precise dates. However, it is not possible for me to change the procurement process when it is a public private partnership for the reason that I am subject to the Department of Finance interim guidelines for the provision of infrastructure and capital investments through public private partnerships. Anybody familiar with the Department of Finance — no offence intended — will be well aware that it does not exactly cheer when people try to unilaterally amend its guidelines.

Mr. Deenihan:  What about the National Treasury Management Agency?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  As I said, whatever procedures we are required to fulfil will have been fulfilled.

  10.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if there has been a study into the viability of upgrading the Abbey Theatre at its present location through the purchase of adjacent buildings; if the Government has considered re-erecting the original entrance foyer or vestibule in view of the fact that the numbered stones are still available to the State in good condition, free of charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9165/05]

  25.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position in regard to the proposed relocation of the Abbey Theatre; the recent discussions he has had with the board and director of the theatre in this respect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9168/05]

Mr. O’Donoghue:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 25 together.

I refer the Deputies to my answer to Priority Question No. 4.

Mr. Gogarty:  I noted the Minister’s comments to Deputy Deenihan in response to his priority [1151]question. Given that he alluded to possible Supreme Court action in regard to the Carlton site which may delay proceedings further, when the Minister said the existing Abbey Theatre location would not be suitable for a new facility for various reasons which included cost and time, would that not bring the existing site back into the running if a timeframe could be agreed? Is the Minister following up that possibility as well as exploring the site at the docks and sites in other areas to provide a definite site for the new Abbey Theatre during the lifetime of the Government? Is it possible at this stage or will the Minister have to consider expanding the existing site as the best of all the available options?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  We will have a site for the new national theatre during the lifetime of the Government. Four sites are in play at present. While the existing Abbey Theatre is on a very good site, were we in a position to acquire the necessary footprint, the reality of the position is that the expense of doing that and the possible delays involved do not make it a viable proposition. We ran into difficulty with the Parnell Square site because we could not buy the property we required at a market value or a reasonable amount. We could not subject taxpayers to paying an inordinate amount of money for a site that was not worth what the prospective vendors were seeking.

The Carlton site is subject to a possible judicial review and there is also the possibility of a Supreme Court appeal. This brings us back to the Dublin Docklands Authority site located at George’s Dock, with which Deputy Gogarty is familiar. As of now, the position is that preliminary consultations have been entered into between the Office of Public Works and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. These negotiations are taking place without any commitment by either side.

In truth, every effort is being made to acquire the site. I accept that it is a frustrating experience but I hope we will be able to resolve it in the not too distant future.

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) Deputies Burton and Costello — the need to discuss the plight of a young student, formerly here as a minor, deported from Ireland to Nigeria last week as he was preparing for his leaving certificate at Pobalscoil Iosolde, Palmerstown, Dublin 20 and whether the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Department of Foreign Affairs have made inquiries as to his welfare in Lagos, Nigeria, the place to [1152]where he was deported; (2) Deputy Curran — the need to discuss the circumstances and manner in which a student (details supplied) living in Palmerstown, Dublin 20, was deported to Nigeria last week; (3) Deputies Joe Higgins and Cuffe — the concern surrounding the deportation of a leaving certificate student (details supplied) from Pobalscoil Iosolde in Palmerstown, Dublin 20; (4) Deputy Crawford — the need to examine the wholly unsatisfactory situation where a Nigerian mother and her three children were deported from Castleblaney having lived there and integrated with the population for the past five years, and the further urgent need for an amnesty for such people who wish to work and provide for themselves and who do not wish to be a burden to the State, especially at a time when so many companies are going abroad to seek workers; (5) Deputy Sargent — the need for the Minister for Education and Science to change Government policy which has resulted in so many special needs education teaching posts being filled by unrecognised and untrained personnel, as defined by the Department, and if she will look anew at recognising the specialist qualifications from the UK and elsewhere as well as experience in special needs education so that qualified teachers can take up special education posts without restrictions; (6) Deputy Gormley — the need for the Government to implement its commitment in the programme for Government to reduce class sizes; (7) Deputy Hogan — the need for the Minister to intervene with the Office of Public Works to acquire the old Garda barracks site on behalf of Castlecomer community school, County Kilkenny, in order to provide for additional recreational facilities for students; (8) Deputy Pat Breen — the need for the Minister for Education and Science to take steps in line with the Government manifesto to reduce class sizes in primary schools throughout County Clare as teachers are finding it difficult to teach children under the new curriculum because of large class numbers; (9) Deputy Neville — the need for the construction of a new national school at Kilfinane, County Limerick; (10) Deputy Allen — the situation following a decision the Irish Medicines Board made instructing the Mercy University Hospital, Cork, to suspend all clinical trial related activities for the treatment of leukaemia with effect from Tuesday, 15 March, the serious implications this will have for the treatment of sick children in the greater Cork area who will be forced to travel to Dublin several times a week in some cases, and the failure of the Department of Health and Children to advertise for a replacement consultant paediatrician for the children’s leukaemia unit, Mercy Hospital, Cork to replace the present consultant paediatrician who retires in May 2005; (11) Deputy Keaveney — the need for the Minister to discuss the possibility of introducing the stingray system into the Republic for the detection of motor tax offences.

[1153]The matters raised by Deputies Burton and Costello, Curran, Joe Higgins and Cuffe, and Crawford have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Kenny:  In 2002, 15 million passengers used Dublin Airport. That figure rose to 18 million passengers by the end of last year. It is estimated that in ten years’ time, 30 million passengers will want to use Dublin Airport. The Tánaiste is aware that, especially during the summer months, millions of passengers have to put up with congestion, delay and overcrowding. I recently heard Mr. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Secretary, say that Dublin Airport is the only airport in the world in which he had to queue to get out.

The Government promised in its programme for Government that this matter would be dealt with, that a low cost terminal would be constructed at Dublin Airport to cope with growing numbers and to develop competition so that the travelling consumer could get best value. In March 2003, the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, received 13 expressions of interest in building a new terminal. However, three years on there has been no movement. In the meantime we have witnessed the debacle of how the Aer Lingus situation was handled. The then chief executive has been lost to British Airways. The Government always appears to be one more report away from action.

Some sections of the media now report that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, brought a report to Cabinet this morning in which he briefed his colleagues on a proposal which he considered to be in the best interest of aviation and the consumer. Did the Minister for Transport give a briefing to the Cabinet today? What is the Tánaiste’s preference as the leader of her party and as a member of Government as to the ownership and management of any such terminal? When does the Government propose to deal with the matter of providing extra capacity at Dublin Airport?

The Tánaiste:  As the Deputy is aware, the Government gave a commitment in the programme for Government to examine the feasibility of an additional terminal at Dublin Airport. The Deputy has confirmed that there were 13 expressions of interest in respect of that new terminal. The Minister briefed his Cabinet colleagues about aviation matters but no decision was sought from the Government and no decision was made. The Government is to revert to this matter again shortly.

Mr. Kenny:  Is there division within the Cabinet on this matter? The front pages of some of this morning’s newspapers state that the Progressive Democrats will not stand for this second terminal being built and managed by the Dublin Airport Authority. Does the Tánaiste share my view that the ownership is not the significant issue, that what is important is the element of competition, the location and future capacity of the second terminal? As the leader of the Progressive Demo[1154]crats and a member of the Cabinet, which is her view? Does she agree with a briefing which the Minister for Transport is reported to have given the Cabinet to the effect that it would be better for the Dublin Airport Authority to build and manage a second terminal? How may that be reconciled with the requirement to have competition which would be in the best interests of the aviation industry and the consumer? Given that a decision was not sought today, when will the matter be dealt with by Cabinet? Was there agreement that the Minister for Transport would make a further report and recommendations upon which the Cabinet would make a decision? Are we to be another summer away from action by the Government, which promised this as a specific part of its programme three years ago, but nothing has been done since?

The Tánaiste:  I understand the Minister for Transport will bring a memorandum before the Government after Easter. The only issues that are important are capacity and competition. I share Deputy Kenny’s view that ownership of such a facility is not the issue, but rather competition which will drive efficiency for consumers and capacity so that the long delays experienced by passengers may be eliminated.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Will the Tánaiste refer to what she told the House about long-stay charges in nursing homes and other institutions of the State, that there was “systemic maladministration”? On 3 March, when queried about this, she said specifically that maladministration did not relate only to officials. Subsequently, in the abridged and inadequate debate we had, Government Deputies argued, one after the other, that there was systemic maladministration relating to officials only. Will the Tánaiste tell the House to whom she was referring if it was not officials only? Will she name the Ministers who had knowledge and who were responsible? In particular, I wish to ask her about her colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment? Why, on the night before the meeting in the Gresham Hotel, were briefing documents despatched to him, his officials and the two Ministers of State at that Department? Legal opinion secured by the then South Eastern Health Board was referred to in those documents as well as a memorandum explaining the view on it and that was discussed at the next meeting. We know that even if it is true that the Minister was absent, the two Ministers of State were there, as were his officials and advisers. We know that the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, told Mr. Travers he understood the full legal, financial and political implications of what he had read. This probably shows that the Minister, Deputy Tim O’Malley, should be considered for promotion in that at least he reads his documents.

The Minister of State, Deputy Callely, briefed the Taoiseach, thereby taking out a very important insurance policy for him. He has now implicated the Taoiseach, who cannot sack him because he told him all about it. Will the Tánaiste explain why the Minister, Deputy Martin, is the [1155]only Member who knows nothing about what was going on? The information advanced to the House is simply unbelievable. The Tánaiste’s decision not to release the documents from the Gresham Hotel meeting is surely calculated to protect her Cabinet colleague. Why will she not release the document from the then South Eastern Health Board? That is not her decision. Property, in that legal opinion, had been transferred to the HSE, following the establishment of that agency. Why should those documents not be made available in full to this House and to the committee examining the Travers report? It can be concealed for no other reason than to protect a culpable and incompetent Minister?

The Tánaiste:  To deal with the last issue first, I gave an undertaking that the briefing document would be made available. There were four elements to that briefing document. Two of them are published in the Travers report and the other two relate to the South Eastern Health Board legal advice. That contains advice other than in relation to long-term charges. It contains advice on matters that are about to come before the courts. Cases are pending as regards other issues which are dealt with in those legal opinions. For that reason the Attorney General has strongly advised that I would prejudice the position of the State if I released those documents. They are, as the Deputy knows, subject to client and professional confidentiality. All those documents were available to Mr. Travers, who quoted from them in his report.

Maladministration may refer not only to public servants but also politicians. The Travers report was clear on where blame lay. While Mr. Travers said there were misgivings on the part of Ministers over the years for not probing more deeply, he said, I think the words were, on the scale of comparison, “it was nothing in comparison to the fault that lay in the corporate public administration of the Department of Health and Children”. He went on to instance why he believed that to be the case. Those were Mr. Travers’s findings. He is a reputable former public servant and head of a State organisation, and I accept his findings — I see Deputy McManus has the report. He said he could find no evidence of any Minister having been appropriately briefed by the Department of Health and Children. I am sure that was among the reasons he came to the conclusions outlined.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Mr. Travers said there was no written evidence. Surely, if the Tánaiste believes that the documents refer to other matters, she can excise these and still put the documents that relate to this particular issue in the full possession of Members of this House. It simply is not credible. The Tánaiste gave a commitment to the House that she would make these documents available. She subsequently made contact, presumably with Deputy Kenny and certainly with [1156]me, to the effect that on the eve of the bank holiday she was not making public two of those documents. If there is a separate matter involved, that should be excised and the documents should be made available. Is the Tánaiste saying that Mr. Travers had full access to all the documents in question? Does she have any explanation as to why a man who was the head of such an important Department can claim never to have read his documents or talked to the Ministers of State at the Department? One Minister of State felt the matter was so serious that he had to talk to the Taoiseach about it, but not to the Minister. Can the Tánaiste offer any rational explanation for that situation? Will she say if the Government committee, established to examine what form redress might take, has met and, if so, how many times and when is it likely that information will be published on what scheme of redress the Government is committed to?

The Tánaiste:  The Government committee met this morning and I will bring a memorandum to the Government at our first meeting after the Easter recess, on 6 April. We examined the possibility of deleting references to the other issues in the legal opinion, but as the matters are all intertwined that would have been impossible. It would not have made sense. A number of cases are pending, as I am sure the Deputy is aware, where we would jeopardise the position of the State and particularly that of the HSE. It is not traditional that legal advice that could prejudice the outcome from the taxpayers’ viewpoint would be put into the public domain at this point. Above all else, we all have to be professional in the manner in which we handle this issue. All the advice was available to Mr. Travers. He saw the entire legal opinion and the memorandum in relation to it compiled by the South Eastern Health Board. Essentially, the two documents——

Mr. Rabbitte:  Fumbling along blindfold in the Department is not being professional.

The Tánaiste:  ——are the legal advice, extending to more than 80 pages, and a shortened version of it in the form of a memorandum. The other two documents are in the report. Mr. Travers found that no Minister had been appropriately briefed. I went to the Department of Health and Children on 30 September and was not briefed about this matter. It was only after the intervention by Deputy Kenny that I sought the legal advice of the Attorney General. I felt that I should have been briefed, as the new Minister, on issues as serious as this, but that did not happen.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This morning in my constituency, along with Deputy Crawford and local councillors, I visited Iorball Sionnaigh national school in Scotstown, County Monaghan. We witnessed no less than six classes with in excess of 30 pupils. In the pre-secondary year, in [1157]sixth class, we found 36 pupils. Does the Tánaiste recognise this is the reality which many of our young people, particularly in the primary school sector, contend with as they endeavour to learn in what we regard as a so-called knowledge economy?

Does the Tánaiste recognise that the single greatest difficulty that pupils and teachers will face in the coming academic year of 2005-06 is the unacceptably large numbers in classes? Is she aware that in this State we have the second highest average class size in the European Union? Does she recall that in the agreed programme between her party and Fianna Fáil in preparation for Government, she committed to reducing the class sizes to below the international best practice of 20:1, yet the current numbers are 24:1 and, as in the instance that I cited at the outset of my question, the reality in many classes in many schools is much higher? Did the Tánaiste get feedback on this from her own canvassers in Meath and north Kildare where the average in both counties runs well above the national average and is recorded at 26:1 and 27:1 respectively?

Will the Government act decisively to reduce the unacceptably high class sizes in real terms in the coming year? Will the Tánaiste commence the recruitment of additional teachers to alleviate the distress, particularly of teachers but also of pupils, arising from this situation? Is she aware that the INTO has indicated that there are in excess of 1,000 trained teachers available if the system will open its doors and accept them?

The Tánaiste:  A substantial investment has been made in education in recent years. The priorities have been resource teachers, special needs teachers and areas of disadvantage. When all those teachers are included, the overall national average has fallen from 22.2:1 in 1996-7 to 17.44:1. If a school has a class of more than 30 pupils, it means it has many fewer——

Mr. Gogarty:  There are some in the Tánaiste’s constituency.

The Tánaiste:  Yes, but overall in the school there cannot be those averages. It means there are low numbers in some classes. That is how some schools——

Mr. Gormley:  We have all seen the schools and that is not true.

The Tánaiste:  The Department of Education and Science appoints and pays for a teacher for 29 students; that is a fact. We must do more but we must have a sense of priority.

Mr. Stagg:  Why does the Government not do it? It has a great deal of money.

The Tánaiste:  Over the last seven years, 4,000 extra teachers have been employed.

[1158]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Tánaiste knows there is a significant difference between the pupil-teacher ratio and the average class size but she and her colleagues continue to refer to it almost as a crutch for their own failures to address the real need in the education system. She should make no mistake. It is like saying there are 166 Members in the Dáil and seven political parties and, therefore, we can say the average representation of each of the parties is 23.7. It is absolutely ludicrous, meaningless, false and misleading.

When the Tánaiste cites those figures, she includes non-teaching principals, special needs teachers and resource teachers who work on a one-to-one basis and do not take classes. We are talking about teachers dealing with classes with in excess of 30 pupils. It is an outrage and no teacher can possibly give the time necessary to the needs of each pupil.

We need to know what action the Government proposes taking to address this serious situation. Will the Tánaiste lift the embargo on the creation of new teaching posts? Will she act to ease the burden on teachers who must teach in multiple classes, a reality in many small rural schools?

What is the position with the revised system for the allocation of special needs teachers? We have seen the terrible tragedy and the travesty of the treatment of the O’Hara family in the last two weeks and we need to know exactly what the Tánaiste and her Government colleagues will do.

The Tánaiste:  Contrary to what the Deputy said, there is no embargo on teacher recruitment. If we did not have multiple classes, many of the rural schools would close. We will strive to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio for all students but the priorities will clearly continue to be special needs and areas of disadvantage.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The average class size is the important figure.

The Tánaiste:  There are students in classes of 15 and apparently the literacy levels are no different so it is not just about more teachers, it is about new teaching methods.

The Clerk of the Dáil made the following announcement:

I gcomhlíonadh Bhuan-Ordú Céad Seasca hOcht de na Buan-Orduithe i dtaobh Gnó Phoiblí, tá orm a chraoladh go ndearnadh, ins na Corrthoghcháin a bhí ann ar an aonú lá déag de Mhárta, dhá mhíle agus a cúig, de chionn na Teachtaí Cathal Mac Riabhaigh agus John Bruton d’éirí as, na comhaltaí seo a leanas a thoghadh don Dáil:—

[1159]

In compliance with Standing Order 168 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, I have to announce that at the By-Elections held on 11th March, 2005, consequent on the resignation of Deputies Charlie McCreevy and John Bruton, the following members have been elected to the Dáil:—

Dáilcheantar Chill Dara Thuaidh

Constituency of Kildare North Catherine Murphy

Dáilcheantar na Mí

Constituency of Meath Shane McEntee

Tá Rolla na gComhaltaí sínithe ag na Teachtaí de réir Bhuan-Ordú 1.

The Deputies have signed the Roll of Members in accordance with Standing Order 1.

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

Mr. Crawford:  I have withdrawn the notice.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Gogarty.

Mr. Gogarty:  I would first like to wish the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform a speedy recovery from the case of foot and mouth disease that he displayed last night.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is well aware that he is only entitled to read out the notice submitted to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

Mr. Gogarty:  I seek the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 31 to debate the following issue of national importance, namely, the general treatment of deportees by the State and, specifically and most urgently, the case of my constituent, Olunkunle Eluhanla, a student at Palmerstown community school, who was last week forced onto a flight to Nigeria while still in his school uniform, with less than three months to his leaving certificate examination and without any documentation. The Minister is not present today.

Mr. Healy:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of national importance, namely, the urgent need for [1160]the Government to introduce maximum class size guidelines, which will ensure that average class sizes for children under nine years of age will be below the international best practice guidelines of 1:20, as promised in the programme for Government, and to ask the Minister for Education and Science to make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Allen:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a decision made by the Irish Medicines Board instructing the Mercy University Hospital, Cork, to suspend all clinical trial related activities for the treatment of childhood leukemia with effect from last Tuesday because consultants at Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, are unwilling to sign a document outlining the hospital’s responsibilities under a share care programme forwarded by the Mercy Hospital, Cork.

Mr. Morgan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of urgent concern, namely, the unacceptable fact that cutbacks in health services at Louth County Hospital, Dundalk, are forcing patients to travel to Newry in County Down to avail of basic services, such as accident and emergency treatment; the necessity to address this situation as a matter of urgency and the need for the Minister for Health and Children to explain how she proposes to do so. She is not having much success so far.

Mr. J. Breen:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of local and national importance, namely, the unprecedented stand by consultants at Ennis General Hospital. Deeply frustrated over the lack of resources to provide a proper standard of treatment, the seven medical specialists insist that they cannot continue the unacceptable level of admissions of elective patients due to chronic overcrowding and poor working conditions. They are deeply disillusioned by the empty promises of this and the last Government and the former Minister during the general, European and local elections, when he committed €20.9 million for the upgrading of Ennis General Hospital. The abysmal failure of this Government to provide——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy——

Mr. J. Breen:  ——a proper health service for the people of Clare can no longer be tolerated.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Mr. J. Breen:  On a point of order, a Cheann Chomhairle, why did you not let me finish my contribution?

An Ceann Comhairle:  You had concluded the statement submitted to my office.

[1161]Mr. J. Breen:  It was wrong.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The statement approved by my office——

Mr. J. Breen:  On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy has a problem——

Mr. J. Breen:  That is not what I submitted to your office.

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——I suggest he call to my office and I will be glad to discuss it with him. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Mr. J. Breen:  I will not resume my seat. That is not what I submitted to your office. I amended what I submitted to your office and I want to say what I submitted.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat——

Mr. J. Breen:  I will not resume my seat——

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——while the Chair is on his feet.

Mr. J. Breen:  ——until you clarify what I submitted.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, it is only appropriate to read the statement that is submitted and approved by my office.

Mr. J. Breen:  That is what I submitted to your office. Why did you not tell me earlier? That is what I submitted.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, Deputy.

Mr. J. Breen:  A Cheann Comhairle, I will not resume my seat.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, we cannot have a special rule for you and another for other Members.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Let him finish.

Mr. J. Breen:  A Cheann Comhairle, this is taking advantage of the minorities in this House. I amended what I submitted to your office.

An Ceann Comhairle:  All other Deputies accept the ruling of the Chair on this matter. Where the statement is too long, the Chair rules that it should be abbreviated——

Mr. J. Breen:  I amended it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——to comply with the Standing Order.

[1162]Mr. J. Breen:  I did that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy does not like the Standing Order, he should find a way of having it amended.

Mr. J. Breen:  A Cheann Comhairle, I did what you asked but you did not allow me to finish my statement.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It appears to the Chair that the Deputy wishes to leave the House.

Mr. J. Breen:  No, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Then I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Mr. J. Breen:  I amended what you asked me to amend but you did not allow me to finish. I amended the statement.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have the amendment.

Mr. J. Breen:  I have it too, as it was submitted. Here it is and you can see what I took out of it.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Let him finish, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr. J. Breen:  A Cheann Comhairle, this is not right. What I wished to say is that the abysmal failure of this Government to provide a proper health service for the people of Clare can no longer be tolerated. You would not let me finish it, a Cheann Comhairle, but now I have done so.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter which requires urgent consideration, namely, the need for the Government to immediately cease its ruthless policy of forceful mass deportation, which violates the prohibition on collective expulsions in Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights——

Mr. J. Brady:  You know a lot about that.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  ——and upon which the Government suppressed debate by refusing Sinn Féin’s demands for a full debate on the policy in this House in November 2003.

Mr. Gormley:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss an issue of urgent public importance, namely, the impending decision of the Government to approve a contract between Dublin City Council and Elsim Ireland Ltd. to design, build and operate an incinerator in Ringsend and the need for the Minister, Deputy McDowell, to reject this proposal in line with his election promises.

Mr. Sargent:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to ensure the Government clarifies reports that it has again sided with [1163]the genetically modified food industry to prevent Irish citizens and non-governmental organisations from exercising a legal right to invoke the Arhaus Convention regarding public participation in decision making on GMOs and to ascertain if the Government will instead support the European Environmental Bureau proposal of a new mandate to protect the rights of citizens in the face of pressure from the GMO food industry.

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

The Tánaiste:  It is proposed to take No. 7, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Convention on Social Security between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; No. 8, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the accession by Ireland to the Rotterdam Convention; No. 17, statements on the national development plan; and No. 18, Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 7 and 8 shall be decided without debate and the proceedings on No. 17 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply — the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, Members may share time and the Minister for Finance shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 39, Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004 — Second Stage, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 March 2005.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 7 and 8 agreed to?

Mr. Boyle:  It is not agreed. The Rotterdam Convention should be discussed by the House in full session. It relates to two Departments. It refers to dangerous and toxic chemicals that can or cannot be accepted by third countries and this has implications for this country’s policy on the incineration of waste. A motion of this type should not be nodded through on the Order of Business to be sent to a committee and nodded [1164]through again on a subsequent Order of Business. On those grounds, we oppose the proposal and ask that there be a proper debate on this issue.

The Tánaiste:  There would be a more in-depth and thorough discussion in the committee.

Question put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 17 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 39 agreed to? Agreed.

The Tánaiste:  On behalf of the Government, it gives me great pleasure to welcome our two new Deputies to Dáil Éireann. Although I do not anticipate that either of them will be supporters of the Government, I wish them well. It is a great day for them and their families. In the case of Deputy McEntee, it is a great day for his party, Fine Gael. It is always refreshing to have another female Member of this House. We still have not got the critical mass that would lead to more objective decision making, but I congratulate——

Mr. G. Mitchell:  The Tánaiste should give them some leadership.

The Tánaiste:  I genuinely congratulate Deputy Murphy on her election in Kildare North. I hope she enjoys her time in Leinster House. We will not always be as civil to them as we are today. We should remember the two Deputies whose resignation from the House caused the by-elections. Former Deputy John Bruton is now the EU ambassador in Washington, while former Deputy Charlie McCreevy is the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market. They were both outstanding Members of this House over the years and will be a hard act to follow. We look forward to the engagement of the new Deputies with the Government and the Opposition during the remaining life of this Dáil and beyond.

Mr. Kenny:  Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún comhghairdeais atá ráite ag an Tánaiste as ucht togha Caitríona Ní Mhurchú don Teach agus togha Shane Mac an tSaoi don Teach mar bhall de pháirtí Fine Gael. I associate myself with the remarks made by the Tánaiste. I am a product of a by-election. I remember coming down the steps of the House to rapturous applause when the late Denis Jones was in the Chair.

The same words were said then that things would not be the same as they were on that day. It seems the same crowd was in the gallery, in the bar and outside. I welcome both Deputies to Dáil Éireann. They have been sent here by the people to represent them in their views without fear or favour. I did not have much interaction with Deputy Murphy in Kildare North, but she fought a great campaign and credit is due to her and her supporters.

I am particularly happy with the election of Deputy Shane McEntee to the Dáil to fill the seat [1165]vacated by former Deputy John Bruton. I compliment the people of Meath on making that decision. In 2002, the people of Meath gave 47% of the vote to Fianna Fáil and 25% to Fine Gael. I am very happy to see Deputy McEntee’s parents and family in the gallery as well as his supporters. For them, this is a signal honour. It is a great honour for someone to be elected by secret ballot by their peers. I wish Deputy McEntee a long sojourn in this House championing the rights of the people of Meath.

I have cut out the statement made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, which I might produce again in due course. I know the Minister personally and I know he did not mean any personal vindictiveness by the comments he made in County Meath. This was a very intense, tribal conflict in the royal county and I am happy that for the first time since 1927, the supporters of the Fine Gael Party have something to crow about in the county.

I wish both Deputies every success in the Dáil. They may be more successful in getting answers to the representations they make than many of us have been in the past few years. I hope they enjoy the experience of being public representatives as it is an honour to represent the people. I wish them good fortune and health in the times ahead.

Mr. Rabbitte:  On behalf of the Labour Party, I join the Tánaiste and Deputy Kenny in offering our congratulations to Deputies McEntee and Murphy. It is not the first time that I have had to stand on the sidelines and watch Meathmen whoop it up as I have suffered defeat before at the hands of Meathmen. In this case, I am very happy to congratulate Deputy McEntee and wish him a long stay in the House.

I know better than most how hard Catherine Murphy has laboured in the vineyard, as well as the effort and the number of times she has attempted to secure the prize that she won on by-election day. I am delighted for her and her family and I wish her well on her achievement.

Mr. Sargent:  Thar ceann an Chomhaontais Glais, ba mhaith liomsa comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Murphy as toghchán a bhuachaint. Is mór an onóir é teacht anseo go Dáil Éireann do dhuine ar bith. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé tuilte go maith aici tar éis an méid oibre atá déanta aici thar na blianta fada. I extend my congratulations to Deputy Murphy, her family and her supporters in Kildare North, as well as to my party colleague, Councillor J. J. Power. In Meath, Deputy McEntee was a worthy winner in a hard fought contest. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis siúd chomh maith. Tá mé cinnte go bhfuil Fine Gael an-bhródúil as an mbua sin. Tá a fhios agam gur Teachta Dála maith a bheidh ann amach anseo. I thank my colleague Fergal O’Byrne for the valiant campaign that he ran on behalf of the Green Party in Meath.

[1166]I thank all the candidates involved for raising the vital issues which are there for us all to grapple with. These issues have clearly shown how the Government is pursuing a very damaging and unsustainable course. It makes family life more difficult, makes workers more car dependent and makes Ireland more oil dependent in the face of rising energy costs. Apart from giving us two hard-working TDs, the by-elections will hopefully set a clear agenda which will be addressed before the Government gets an even bigger fright in the next general election. It is certainly cruising for a bruising at this stage. The people of Meath and Kildare North have spoken loud and clear.

  5 o’clock

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Ba mhaith liom ar son Sinn Féin comhghairdeas a ghabháil don bheirt Teachtaí nua. On behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I congratulate Deputy Catherine Murphy and Deputy Shane McEntee on their achievement in their respective by-election contests. I agree, not often but certainly on this occasion, with Deputy Kenny that it is a signal honour to be returned from any constituency to represent your community and your people in this House. I wish both Deputies every success in the years ahead. I also wish my colleague, Councillor Joe Reilly, who performed magnificently in County Meath, every success in a future divided Meath contest. Many commentators and pundits would suggest that Joe has run his race, but time will prove otherwise. Beidh lá eile ag Ó Raghallaigh.

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Ar mo shon féin agus ar son Fianna Fáil, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a chur in iúl do Catherine Murphy agus Shane McEntee as ucht a bheith tofa. I congratulate both Deputies on their election to the House. It is a very proud day for them and their families and supporters.

I am delighted Deputy Kenny did not take personally any of my remarks during the course of the campaign.

Mr. Hogan:  Or seriously.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We never do.

Mr. N. Dempsey:  He has been long enough in politics to be able to accept political remarks one way or the other. As Deputy Ó Caoláin said, beidh lá eile againn freisin. On a personal note, I congratulate Deputy McEntee whom I have known for a long time through the GAA. The Dempseys and McEntees crossed swords on the GAA field for many years.

Mr. Hayes:  The McEntees won.

Mr. N. Dempsey:  From now on we will cross swords politically but I am sure both of us will be united in working together for County Meath. I acknowledge that Deputy McEntee’s family were [1167]particularly kind to us at a time of tragedy in our family. Despite the fact that he is in a different political party, I share his joy in his being here with us.

Mr. English:  I missed a few Irish lessons during the campaign, so I will make my contribution in English for today. It is an honour to welcome Deputy McEntee to the House. He was an excellent candidate, ran an excellent campaign and he will be an excellent Deputy. The McEntee family has been involved in politics for years and has served Meath in many different respects. It is through the family’s hard work over a long time that Deputy McEntee has now become a Member of the House. That same hard work will keep him as a Deputy for a long time to come. His family and other supporters are here today but many are missing from the Public Gallery because they could not all fit in there. While the Fine Gael Party was behind him, Deputy McEntee’s supporters, including his family and friends, did an excellent job also. Without their help, he would not have been elected. It is great that his family and friends are here. It was teamwork that got the job done. He is a proud Meath man who will do a great job.

The Tánaiste said the exchanges in the House will not always be as civil as they are today. Having watched the McEntees over the years, I can assure her that they also know how to be uncivil when the issue demands it. There will be serious times ahead. Politics is a serious business and there will be nothing shy about Deputy McEntee. I have often said he is a gentleman but he can be a hard man too. He is here to do a hard job well for the people of Meath. He will do an excellent job.

I wish Deputy Catherine Murphy the best of luck. While I did not follow her campaign as closely as the one in Meath, the fact that she is here today proves she is an outstanding person who will make an excellent Deputy.

I look forward to working with Deputy McEntee and Deputy Catherine Murphy in the coming years. Meath is a large county. We only had four Deputies for a while but we now have five. We actually need six Deputies to represent Meath because of its size. There is a great deal of work involved in representing the area in the Oireachtas, which represents a heavy burden for the sitting Deputies.

The candidates in both constituencies were excellent and the turnout was no reflection on them. All Members of the House have a serious job to do. Politics is a serious business and we must make people realise how important it is. We need to increase the turnout in elections for the sake of democracy. It behoves all of us — including you, a Cheann Comhairle, as the person in charge of the House — to make that happen. Dáil reform is part of that and we have much work to do in that regard. The two new Deputies will perform their duties excellently. We should do all [1168]we can to make it as easy as possible for them to represent their constituencies. I look forward to the months ahead.

Mr. S. Power:  While acknowledging the contributions of former Deputies John Bruton and Charlie McCreevy, I congratulate the new Deputies, Shane McEntee and Catherine Murphy, on their success. It was only fitting that the candidate in Kildare North, with policies most similar to the outgoing Member, should have been elected.

Dr. Twomey:  That is a bridge too far.

Mr. S. Power:  I worked on Kildare County Council with Deputy Catherine Murphy. Kildare has not had a finer councillor than her. If she is as successful in Leinster House as she was in Kildare County Council she will do a very good job for her constituents. I wish her well and look forward to working with her in the years ahead.

Mr. Durkan:  I join other speakers in welcoming Deputy Catherine Murphy from my own constituency, with whom I served on Kildare County Council for many years. I wish her the best in this House. I also wish my colleague from across the county boundary, Deputy McEntee, well. It is a great honour for someone to be elected but it is always that little bit more spectacular in a by-election. Their election will give each of the new Deputies first hand experience, at close quarters, of what happens in the Houses of the Oireachtas. As Members of the House who have been here for some time know, it is not always as easy as it appears from the outside. I wish Deputy Catherine Murphy every success and good fortune.

When the writs were moved for both by-elections, I welcomed the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, along with his cohort of colleagues, into both constituencies to examine at first hand all the flaws in the veneer.

Mr. Mulcahy:  What flaws?

Mr. Durkan:  Flaws such as pot-holed roads, dilapidated and inadequate schools, and the high pupil-teacher ratios shocked them.

Mr. Mulcahy:  What about the new schools?

Mr. Durkan:  The Deputy obviously did not recognise these flaws because he was not there.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please allow Deputy Durkan to continue without interruption. I suggest that Deputy Mulcahy should not provoke Deputy Durkan.

Mr. Durkan:  They came, they saw but they did not conquer. It is no harm to remind the Government that those issues remain to be resolved. [1169]They have not gone away. There are serious issues facing people in constituencies adjacent to Dublin and throughout the country.

Mr. N. Dempsey:  The Deputy made sure he had his Fine Gael colleagues there to help him.

Mr. Durkan:  I am glad that my party leader did not take too seriously the musings of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. We never do. The Minister can rest assured that in future we will take anything he says in kind.

Ms M. Wallace:  I join other speakers in congratulating both new Deputies but in particular Deputy McEntee from County Meath. My family and his have known each other for a long time. Deputy McEntee’s father, Mr. Tony McEntee, welcomed me to the County Meath Committee of Agriculture many years ago when I was the first woman member of that committee and its youngest chairperson. He was very helpful to me at that time. Deputy McEntee will find support here among his fellow Deputies from County Meath. As the Meath team, we will work hard together to deliver for our constituents. I welcome him to the House. It is a great day for him and for his family and supporters generally. I congratulate him and wish him every happiness.

I also congratulate Deputy Catherine Murphy whom I have also known for a long time. It is good to see another woman joining the few females in Leinster House. I welcome her and wish her success in representing Kildare North.

As other Deputies from Meath have pointed out, it is an important day for us to be joined by a new colleague. I wish him every success.

Mr. J. Brady:  I wish to be associated with the remarks of previous speakers in welcoming the two new Deputies and wishing them well. I have known Deputy McEntee for more than 30 years when I started to ramble around Nobber for reasons other than political ones. I got to know him then and we have been good friends since. I also know his father, Mr. Tony McEntee, very well. He represented the Irish Farmers’ Association in County Meath for many years and I always had a great relationship with him when attending IFA meetings. This is a great day for Deputy McEntee’s parents and the rest of his family.

Deputy McEntee has a difficult task ahead of him in filling the shoes of John Bruton who served County Meath for almost 36 years. It will not be easy but, given his determination both on and off the football field, I know he is capable of doing so. I wish him, his family and friends well. He has many relations in my part of the county and it is a great day for them also.

Ms C. Murphy:  I thank Members for their generous welcome. I extend thanks and a welcome to those who accompanied me to the Dáil today [1170]— my family, friends and, most particularly, my campaign group, who provided an involuntary fitness programme for the past month or so. They have not just supported me in the past weeks but over a number of years and I pay tribute to them. I also thank those who voted for me. In a democracy, one’s vote is one’s most important possession. We need to consider the turnouts to understand why they were so low in both constituencies.

I have always had an interest in history and it has not escaped my notice that I am making history today in that neither a woman nor an Independent has been elected from Kildare to the Dáil before. These are two important historical notes.

I am filling the vacancy left by Charlie McCreevy. While I differ from Mr. McCreevy in many respects, we have one thing in common, namely, we have always had an independent streak. One could not say anything other of Mr. McCreevy. The independent streak is, of course, on the other side of the House on this occasion.

I am told that the literal meaning of the phrase Teachta Dála is “messenger to the Dáil”. I told the people I canvassed in the past month that there would be no confusion about their message if they sent an Independent Deputy to the Dáil and that what would come centre-stage would be the issues of concern to the people of Kildare North. Today, I want to commence my delivery of that message.

In a nutshell, we cannot just keep building houses without providing facilities and services, which is a message Members have been made aware of in the past month or so. My message is about planning the delivery of facilities and services that allow strong healthy communities to emerge, adequate school places with reasonable pupil-teacher ratios, a comprehensive public transport choice, facilities such as parks, playgrounds and community centres and affordable child care — there are many issues. I am not just handing out a shopping list but focusing on the tools required to build a society. My message is not negative but very positive; it is what I am for, not what I am against.

I have a great advantage in coming to the House in that most Deputies and Senators, including Ministers and even the Tánaiste and Taoiseach, visited north Kildare in the past month and heard many of the issues firsthand. I met many Members in housing estates, at church gates and at supermarket doors. Those I canvassed for votes were not shy in telling me what they believed the issues were. It would be helpful if there was an open door to push — I hope this will be the case — in trying to resolve many issues because Members are fully briefed on the issues about which people expressed concern. My 17 years as a public representative at local level taught me to interpret legislation from the delivery end. That experience will help me to more fully contribute to the shaping of legislation.

[1171]I thank the Independent Members who formally backed my campaign and were enormously helpful to me during that campaign and since I was elected. I look forward to working with them and others in the Technical Group in the coming years. I am delighted to have been returned to the Dáil to serve the people of Kildare North. I hope it will be the beginning of many years of such service.

Mr. McEntee:  It is a fantastic honour to represent the people of Meath. I thank my party leader, Deputy Kenny, for giving me this chance. I thank Deputy Hayes for running a fantastic campaign in Meath and the rest of our Deputies for their help with the campaign. I thank my supporters and all my party members in Meath. I thank my colleagues from County Meath for their kind words. It is my intention to work with everybody for the people of Meath and Ireland.

Mr. J. Higgins:  On the Order of Business-——

An Ceann Comhairle:  On the Order of Business, I call Deputy Kenny.

Mr. Kenny:  I wished to ask about the Order of Business but Deputy Joe Higgins was quick off the mark, like all good Kerry men.

With regard to the tribunal of inquiry (amendment) Bill, will the Tánaiste provide up-to-date information on the Dunne inquiry? If it is the Government’s intention to wind up that inquiry, will the information and evidence given to the chairperson be retained by her in her legal ownership and perhaps be difficult to dislodge? There is concern on this and the Tánaiste might like to clear the matter up.

The Tánaiste:  The inquiry has been given until 31 March to complete its work. I have been assured that I will have a report on that date. Clearly, if further work is required, I hope the information made available to the tribunal of inquiry could be made available to some other forum. That would be the intention, if necessary.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Does the Tánaiste intend to exercise restraint on her colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with regard to the practice of snatching schoolchildren from classrooms and deporting them without a shred of human compassion or decency?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

Mr. Rabbitte:  It is a matter that is scandalising our country.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The matter has already been raised in the House and six Members have it on the Adjournment for tonight. To be fair to them——

[1172]Mr. Rabbitte:  If the Ceann Comhairle were to rule out a matter on the basis that it has already been raised in the House, we would have no agenda at all. I will not labour the point. Will the Tánaiste state that there will in future be some element of compassion demonstrated in a matter that is at the discretion of the Minister?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise at this stage. There are other ways the Deputy can raise the matter. We can not go all over the place on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Sargent.

Mr. Rabbitte:  A Cheann Comhairle, you should at least permit the Tánaiste to state——

An Ceann Comhairle:  To be fair to the Deputies who submitted the matter on the Adjournment, it would not be appropriate for the Chair to allow it as it would be outside standing orders. I call Deputy Sargent.

Mr. Sargent:  The Tánaiste might like an opportunity to speak but I have promised legislation to raise. It relates to a future cost on the taxpayer and to the building control Bill promised since 2003. As the Tánaiste may know, every tonne of cement produced creates approximately one tonne of CO emissions. The Bill was promised in 2003. It is now down for late 2005. Is there any urgency in Government in regard to introducing the building control Bill so EU directives on the energy performance of buildings can be given effect?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Tánaiste should answer on the building control Bill.

The Tánaiste:  It will be dealt with at the end of this year.

Mr. Hogan:  Given that we enacted the Companies (Audit and Accounting) Bill almost one and a half years ago, will the Tánaiste state when the Act will be in operation? Second, despite the expectation that an EU directive will be transposed tomorrow, the information and consultation of employees Bill is not published yet. Why does it take so long to publish such Bills given the deadlines for EU directives to be transposed?

The Tánaiste:  On the Companies (Audit and Accounting) Act, many of the provisions must be done by way of regulations. I understand the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is currently considering the matter. The information and consultation of employees Bill will be taken in the middle of this year.

Mr. Hogan:  The EU directive will be transposed tomorrow.

The Tánaiste:  I know. Unfortunately, we are not always on time.

[1173]Mr. Hogan:  Will we take another opportunity to breach EU directives?

Mr. Gilmore:  Two weeks ago, the House passed Second Stage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2005, the purpose of which is to address the problem of unfinished housing estates. The House agreed to refer the Bill to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government. Will the Tánaiste assure the House that the Government will co-operate with and facilitate an early examination of that Bill by the select committee?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the select committee.

Mr. Gilmore:  Is that a ruling? The last time I was involved with a Bill before the committee, the Government insisted on telling it what to do.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The committee decides how it carries out its business. It is not a matter for this House.

Mr. Gilmore:  I am glad to be reassured of that and I hope it means the Government will not try again to direct the business of the committee.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Regarding legislation to be introduced by the Department of Finance which seeks to update the legislative basis of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, namely the Revenue Bill, no date has been posited so far in the programme of legislation for this year. Will the Tánaiste clarify if a date has now been determined for the publication of this Bill and will she clarify to the House, with regard to updating the legislative basis of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, if there is any question as to its current legislative basis?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The last part of the question does not arise.

The Tánaiste:  It is not possible to say at this stage when the Bill is to be published. Its point is simply to modernise the legislation concerning the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  The House will be aware that the Secret Service Vote is not accounted for in the normal way pertaining to all other Votes. Vote No. 12 on the Order Paper today provides for an estimate of €786,000 for the Secret Service Vote. I watched “The Late Late Show” last Saturday where allegations were made about the abuse of this fund. Will the Tánaiste consider referring this matter to the relevant committee or bringing it before the House, updating the guidelines to ensure that full transparency applies to the use of this fund because those allegations should not be allowed stand?

[1174]The Tánaiste:  An advertisement used to say “It happened on the Late Late Show” or words to that effect. I did not see the show but I will bring the Deputy’s concern to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Sherlock:  Will the Tánaiste say if it is proposed to bring in the electricity Bill to convert the ESB into a plc under the Companies Act, and also, when the third level student supports Bill will be introduced? In my county, students at the end of their first session have not yet been paid their grants.

The Tánaiste:  The electricity Bill will be brought in next year. I do not know if legislation is promised regarding the third level sector.

Mr. Sherlock:  It is referred to in No. 43.

The Tánaiste:  I am sorry but it is not possible to say when the legislation will be introduced.

Mr. J. Higgins:  When will the investment funds and miscellaneous company law provisions Bill be brought forward? Will it be amended to restrain the naked corporate greed of Bank of Ireland, which wants to sack 2,000 workers?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The content of the Bill cannot be discussed.

The Tánaiste:  That legislation was cleared by the Cabinet this morning.

Mr. Sherlock:  What of the sacking of 2,000 workers by Bank of Ireland, which made €1.3 billion profit last year? Has the Tánaiste anything to say on that?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan has been called.

Mr. J. Higgins:  This is a matter which has rocked——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy knows there are ways of raising it in the House, of which he can avail.

Mr. Durkan:  Since the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has returned from his endeavours in the constituency, would it now be opportune to inquire about progress on the electronic communications Bill which has been promised for a considerable time? Many things were promised over the past couple of weeks and now might be a good time to deliver on some of them.

The energy Bill is also pertinent and has been awaited for some time. It could well do with an energetic boost from the Minister if it were available.

Mr. N. Dempsey:  The Minister is always available. Was Deputy Durkan in the House for ques[1175]tions on the Thursday before the by-election? I do not think he was.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should not have bothered being in the House.

Mr. N. Dempsey:  It was not because of the efforts of the Deputy in trying to get his colleague elected.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I request the Minister and Deputy Durkan to restrain themselves and allow the Tánaiste to answer Deputy Durkan’s quite legitimate question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Tánaiste is a woman of few words these days.

The Tánaiste:  There is a reason for that. The electronic communications Bill will be published later this year, as will the energy Bill.

Ms Burton:  Has the Government had time to consider the fact that as the Revenue Commissioners announced today, the former Deputy Dennis Foley has paid them €580,000? On the record of this House, Deputy Foley said at the time that he hoped against hope that his account was not an Ansbacher one. It now seems to have been a very large Ansbacher account.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

Ms Burton:  Yes. Regarding the proposed legislation relating to the Revenue Commissioners, what provision will be made to correct the records of the House with regard to former Deputy Foley’s tax evasion?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Will the Tánaiste outline the position with regard to the immigration and residents Bill, No. 72 on the legislative programme? Does she accept it should be brought before the House urgently in light of the recent Pontius Pilate-like actions of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

Mr. Durkan:  Rambo.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to discuss what might be in the Bill.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  It is obvious what will be in the Bill, with the Minister carrying on as he is.

The Tánaiste:  The legislation will arrive later this year.

Ms McManus:  The Tánaiste has a lot on her mind with regard to health, but could she indicate when the heads of the medical practitioners Bill will be published?

[1176]The Tánaiste:  We hope to circulate them to Deputies soon after Easter.

Mr. Boyle:  When will legislation related to employment permits come before the House? There is uncertainty regarding work permits coming to an end and those which have run out.

The Tánaiste:  After Easter.

Mr. Bruton:  It must be three years since the Mental Health Act was passed and we still have no mental health tribunals established under that Act. When does the Tánaiste intend to bring forward, under secondary legislation, the necessary orders to have mental health tribunals? It is one of the rights of people in State care to have grievances heard and such a long wait in implementation is intolerable.

The Tánaiste:  I fully agree with the Deputy. Part of the problem arose from the Irish hospital consultants dispute. I recently met the Mental Health Commission regarding this matter and we hope to bring forward the necessary orders very shortly. We need approximately 50 to 60 psychiatrists available for the panels to look at the 600 or so involuntary detentions. Now that the dispute is over we intend to establish the panels quickly.

Mr. Howlin:  In her time in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Tánaiste announced a review of the Groceries Order. Will she say if it is proposed to bring in amending secondary legislation on that matter or is that review concluded?

The Tánaiste:  We established a group to look at consumer issues, chaired by Anne Fitzgerald. I understand the group has given a report to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I hope the Tánaiste has read it.

The Tánaiste:  I have not seen the report. If my memory is correct, the Groceries Order can be amended only by primary legislation and not by secondary legislation.

Mr. Howlin:  Is such legislation promised?

The Tánaiste:  No.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Tánaiste lost that one herself.

Mr. Hayes:  Will the Tánaiste say if there is any proposal to amend the law with regard to the publishing of opinion polls before election days?

The Tánaiste:  Proposals were advanced a couple of years ago by my colleague, the then Minister, Deputy Molloy, which had much support initially. Unfortunately, as the days moved on the support waned and the proposal that an [1177]opinion poll could not be carried out within a certain number of days from polling day failed. The initial support for the proposal evaporated and it was subsequently withdrawn.

Mr. Durkan:  That was because of inaccurate opinion polls.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  Because of the extraordinary length of the Order of Business today, will the Tánaiste say if it would be possible by agreement to extend by 15 or 20 minutes the time for statements on the national development plan which were due to follow?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter has already been dealt with by the House and the House made a decision on it.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  If the Tánaiste——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy may not raise the matter. It was already raised by means of a proposal to the House. Members had an opportunity to speak on it at that stage.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I am not happy with the length of time being allocated to the debate.

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

That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Convention on Social Security between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was signed at Dublin on 14 December 2004 and was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 March 2005, be referred to the Select Committee on Social and Family Affairs, in accordance with paragraph (1) of the Orders of Reference of that committee, which, not later than 19 April 2005, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 85, and Standing Order 84(2) shall accordingly apply.

Question put and agreed to.

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

That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves in accordance with Article 29.5.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann the accession by Ireland to the Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade, be referred to the Select Committee on Agriculture and Food, in accordance with paragraph (1) of the Orders of Reference of that committee, which, not later than 19 [1178]April 2005, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 85, and Standing Order 84(2) shall accordingly apply.

Question put and declared carried.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  I welcome the opportunity to open this debate. The focus of these statements is on progress in the Border, midlands and west region rather than on the wider, excellent progress being achieved nationally under the national development plan. Therefore, I will concentrate on the BMW region.

It is essential that we do not forget the economic strides the country as a whole has made in recent years or the transformation that can be seen in employment and the infrastructure of the State. The BMW region has shared, and is sharing, in this progress. A thriving economic climate has been created in Ireland over the past decade and we have recorded one of the best economic performances in the world. From 1997 to 2003, Irish gross domestic product, GDP, grew by an average of over 7.5% compared with an average of just over 2% in the European Union. The fruits of this economic success have been put to good use and have benefited people throughout the country.

The unprecedented growth rates of the past decade could not have been maintained indefinitely. We are now moving toward a more sustainable level of annual growth of 4% to 5%, more than twice the EU average. We must manage the transition to these lower rates of growth and tailor our expectations accordingly. This is of key importance in the context of this debate.

I am in no doubt that arguments will be made for higher levels of investment in the BMW region. However, when considering this, Deputies should reflect on two issues. First, if economic progress is to be sustained, we must remain competitive. We must focus on competitiveness and enhance our capacity to grow in the medium term, both nationally and regionally. In particular we must keep our labour costs competitive. This has implications not just for the level of pay increases but also for the level of payroll taxes which can be levied. Second, we must maintain public finances on a sound footing. Ireland faces many demands for improvements in public services while, at the same time, lower growth rates mean lower tax revenue growth. Our low debt to GDP ratio must be maintained and we must be vigilant to ensure that we continue to enjoy stable public finances.

These realities require us to continue to pursue prudent economic policies. We must be able to create the resources at national level for investment throughout the country. We also need to [1179]prioritise investment where the best economic return can be gained while taking account of overall Government policy objectives. The key point is that investment in the BMW region or elsewhere cannot take place in a vacuum. It must be built on the foundations of solid and stable national economic and fiscal policies.

The National Development Plan 2000-2006 built on the regionalisation approach adopted by the Government in the Agenda 2000 negotiations. It set out an unprecedented level of national investment —€51 billion in 1999 prices — in key economic and social areas. A particular focus of the NDP was a major enhancement of the economic and social infrastructure of the country, involving an investment of €22 billion over the period, of which €6 billion related to the BMW region. This constituted a massive step up in investment in the region over previous levels in key areas such as transport, social and affordable housing, environmental services, education and health.

The Government viewed the initial allocations in the NDP published in November 1999 as indicative in nature and this was clearly stated at the time of publication. Deputies will appreciate the difficulties in setting out precisely seven years in advance the yearly outturns for the many different areas of investment in the NDP.

By reference to the initial investment profile, investment in the BMW region at mid 2004 in the key area of economic and social infrastructure was around €660 million behind the target set out in the plan, although Exchequer funded investment in infrastructure in the region was just €240 million below profile.

I assure the House that it is the objective of the Government to see a significant increase in investment in economic and social infrastructure in the BMW region in the next two years. I would like to give some examples of what has already been achieved in the area of infrastructure of the BMW region.

In transport infrastructure, almost €2 billion has been spent in the BMW region since 2000. Projects completed or continuing are leading to major improvements to key road routes in the region such as the M1 Dundalk western bypass, N2 Carrickmacross bypass, N4 Sligo inner relief road and N5 Strokestown-Longford road. The key rail lines into the region were completely upgraded by 2003 and significant assistance has been given to the regional airports in the region. More than €749 million has been invested to date in non-national roads projects in the BMW region contributing to the improvement of almost 20,000 km of non-national roads.

The second and third phase of the broadband metropolitan area networks, MAN, is being rolled out and this will cover all towns with populations of 1,500 and over in the region by the end of 2006. This is an important initiative in the context of the future economic development of the [1180]region. Almost 8,000 child care places have been created, with significant further investment planned before the end of 2006.

In the area of environmental services, much progress has been made with expenditure to date of €634 million in the economic and social infrastructure operational programme. Expenditure on the rural water measure in the BMW regional operational programme is more than €100 million and 103,000 people in the region benefit from improved group water supplies.

These examples of major outputs arising from capital investment are replicated in other key areas such as housing, health and education. The Exchequer also heavily subsidises the operation of certain services in the region. For example, there is significant subvention of passenger rail and air services into the region.

Progress has been made at a macro-economic level in the BMW region since 2000. Employment has grown by 33% in the past six years, an average annual growth rate of 5%. In early 2004, 120,000 more people were employed and living in the region compared with the beginning of 1998. By any standard that is a phenomenal rate of employment growth and is well ahead of the national employment growth rate. Unemployment in the region is about 4.5%, which is close to full employment. Output per capita, measured in terms of GDP, was 88.5% of the EU-15 average in 2001, the latest date of published data, compared with 79.3% in 1998. I have no doubt that the region has since converged with the EU average. The BMW region is now the second wealthiest Objective One region in the European Union.

Representatives in the region have been critical of the pace of investment in transport in particular when compared with the south and east region. It is important, however, to point out that the BMW region benefits from investment in transport, especially investment in roads in other parts of the country. An example of this relates to having good and efficient transport links to key ports, all of which are located in the south and east region. These are the ports that businesses in the BMW region use to route their products to the UK, Europe and beyond. Transport costs are a key cost determinant in improving competitiveness.

Both the Ministers for Finance and Transport have indicated their objective is to see increased levels of investment in infrastructure in the BMW region for the remainder of the NDP and beyond. Public investment in infrastructure is now governed by the five-year capital envelopes programme launched in the budget for 2004 and rolled over for another five years in the most recent budget. When account is taken of the provisions in the capital envelopes for 2005 and 2006, Exchequer resources for infrastructure will be well in excess of those originally planned for under the NDP. Accordingly, there is scope for [1181]investment in the BMW region in these years in excess of that initially projected.

As Deputies will realise, it is Ministers and Departments who make decisions on projects under delegated sanction from the Minister for Finance and in a manner consistent with Government priorities. Ministers are acutely aware of the need to increase the level of investment in the BMW region between now and the end of 2006. As the recent announcement of the National Roads Authority 2005 national roads programme shows, a concerted focus can be seen on the BMW region. Four of the ten major projects completed in 2004 and eight of the 19 projects due to start in 2005 are either fully or partially in the BMW region.

The Government has made no decision yet whether there will be a successor to the current NDP and, if there is, what it should encompass. A medium-term capital investment envelope is in place which sets the financial framework and programme prioritisation out to 2009. As Deputies are aware, the Minister for Finance announced in the budget for 2005 agreement in principle for a for a ten-year capital envelope for transport. Proposals in this respect are expected to be submitted by the Minister for Transport for Government consideration soon.

Deputies will also be aware of the Government’s commitment to maintaining the current high levels of capital investment at approximately twice the EU average for the next five years and perhaps for a number of years beyond this. It will consider if and how this commitment needs to be given greater expression through the articulation of sectoral policy priorities going forward through, for example, a new national development plan.

Whatever the post-2006 scenario, the BMW region will lay claim to significant investment in infrastructure in the coming years. However, investment proposals must be characterised by two key necessities — an economic return for the programme or project and prioritisation within programmes and between projects. Given the demand for improved public services nationally, there will never be sufficient resources to satisfy all needs. Ministers and the Government must prioritise by reference to what yields the best economic and social returns. For example, they must avoid wasteful investment on the same routes across all transport modes unless there is a strong economic case for such duplication.

I refer to the issue of balanced regional development. Over the period of the current NDP, the BMW region made rapid economic strides but there has been little progress on narrowing the gap between it and the other region, as that region has also benefited from the prosperity of the country. It must, however, be borne in mind that the southern and eastern region contains significant areas of deprivation, including in the larger urban centres. Simple comparisons [1182]between the two regions do not tell the entire story.

The major new factor in balanced regional development is the template provided by the national spatial strategy. The NSS does not focus on a two region approach and it has designated a number of new gateway towns and development hubs through which to drive greater balance in regional development. Four of these gateway towns-centres are in the BMW region. The NSS has a 20 year horizon to beyond 2020. It will be important for the future, especially post-2006, that investment choices at national and regional level take full account of the NSS framework.

The country and the BMW region have benefited significantly under the current NDP. The BMW region has made strong economic progress across many headings while the infrastructure needs of the region mean it has legitimate claims to increased investment over the medium term. The national spatial strategy provides the template for promoting better balance in regional development in all parts of the country. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members.

Mr. McGinley:  I wish to share time with Deputy Ring.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about the non-implementation of the national development plan in the Border, midland and western region. I will be the first of many speakers to express utter disappointment with the roll-out of the NDP in the BMW region. The plan promised much but it has failed to deliver on its commitments. The NDP was unveiled by the previous Government in 1999 and it involves an investment of more than €52 billion in public, private and EU funds between 2000 and 2006. The plan promised significant investment in health services, social housing, education, roads, public transport, rural development, industry and water services.

It was hailed as a programme that would generate great improvements for those living and working in the BMW region and, more importantly, that would seek to close the gap with the higher levels of development and prosperity experienced in the east over the BMW region. However, instead, like many other promises made by the Government parties, balanced regional development has not resulted.

The current Dublin-centred Government has not delivered on equitable development between Ireland’s regions. The gap between east and west has not been closed and, instead, the Government has allowed it to persist. The Government, through its ill-thought out and short-term focus, is the major obstacle to the realisation of parity between the regions. At its heart is the failure of the Government to fulfil the commitments set out in the NDP. Almost every pledge relating to the BMW region has been broken. The list of broken commitments is numerous and covers every area including road, rail and aviation development, job creation and social measures such as child care [1183]and community services. The Government has failed to recognise that the region is at a considerable disadvantage to other parts of Ireland and it needs the Government to focus its attention on bringing it up to par with other regions. It also defies logic that the Government has served only to make the problem worse.

A report produced by the economic consultants, Indecon, highlighted that spending under the NDP on the BMW region was well below target at its mid-point. For example, it found that less than half the projected funding, 48%, promised under the roads programme was spent. The Government has adopted a stop-start approach to the implementation of the plan in the region. It failed to prioritise the development of even one major road project in the west in 2003. The disparity between east and west is clearer when one examines the spending on infrastructure under the NDP. In 2003, €445 million was spent on road projects in Dublin local authority areas while Connacht received only €68 million or less than one eighth of that given to Dublin.

The Government may argue a comprehensive roads programme is being implemented in the BMW region but it is too little too late. The Government’s inaction will mean the NDP will be delivered years behind schedule, if at all. Road schemes, particularly vital arteries to the west and north west, are years behind schedule and have ever changing completion dates. No one can credibly state they will be completed by the conclusion of the NDP in 2006.

The mid-term evaluation of the NDP in the BMW region concluded there had been an underspend of €640 million. How did the Government react? Did it swing into action and seek to rapidly remedy this? Not a chance, it sought to carry on as before and it promoted more ring roads around the capital such as the multi-million euro ring road proposal bandied about by the Minster for Transport and his Minister of State recently. I do not oppose the development of our capital city and I recognise its infrastructural needs. However, I utterly oppose the short-sighted decision taken by the Government, which is unable to recognise that the failure to generate balanced regional development and adequately funded development outside Dublin is fuelling the traffic and infrastructural problems and deficiencies in the greater Dublin area.

The failure of the Government’s policy is further reflected in the spread and type of employment opportunities available in the BMW region. The Government is negligent in this regard. One reaps what one sows and that is the case in the region. It has suffered significant job losses because of a lack of Government investment in the region. My county, Donegal, has suffered hugely in this regard, particularly through major job losses in manufacturing industries.

The BMW region is falling further behind in job creation and is losing out on inward invest[1184]ment both domestic and international. Companies, time and again, choose to locate in Dublin and along the east coast because services and infrastructure are better developed. Figures released by the ESRI in 2004 do not paint a pretty picture and raise the possibility that the disparity in employment growth between east and west will continue to increase. Between 1991 and 2001, the annual rate of employment growth in the south and east region was approximately 5% while it was between 2% and 3% in the BMW region. The ESRI also predicted this disparity will continue until 2010 and beyond. The Government must act to reduce such imbalances. In the past it committed itself to having 50% of all new green-field industrial sites located in the BMW region, and that target must be reached. The plan is to be implemented by 2006 and the west is very much lagging behind the rest of the country. Infrastructure and other services have been ignored. Unemployment in the west and Donegal stands at 17%, while in the rest of the country it is 4%. The figures are screaming at us, but the Government seems paralysed when it comes to addressing our difficulties in the west.

There is to be a major road between Dublin and Belfast, and a dual carriageway between Dublin and Cork and Limerick and Waterford. However, the roads to Sligo, Donegal and Galway will only be upgraded. That is an indication of the Government’s priorities. The west is suffering again, and the vast majority of money is spent in the east, which is already bursting at the seams. We do not have balanced regional development. I appeal to the Government at this late stage to redress that balance.

Mr. Ring:  The motion has been tabled because of the way this Government in particular has let down the west of Ireland. The buzz word a year ago was “decentralisation”, but the only decentralisation was when we got rid of the Minister for Finance, former Deputy McCreevy, and moved him from Kildare to Europe, even taking his seat and giving it to an independent candidate. That shows what the people thought of that Minister for Finance and the Government.

Regarding the BMW region, people from this House, particularly Ministers, went to Europe seeking funding. They used the people of the west of Ireland as an example of why we should receive funding to be spent in that region. However, it was spent on the east coast. There is over population on the east coast and over development. There are wonderful roads, but one cannot drive on them owing to there being too much traffic. The west is under developed, with no proper road infrastructure. We fight for small amounts of money for roads every year, although this Government and its predecessors secured European funding for the west of Ireland. A public inquiry should be held into why Ministers went to Europe and sold a message to win funding, yet let down the people where the money was [1185]to be spent. That is wrong, and something must be done to redress that.

Let us take the airport in Knock. Ministers talk, and people say what should be done for the west. If the Government were serious about the west, it would give a major grant to extend Knock Airport and give us the necessary infrastructure to move people in and out of the region. The Government instead spends more money on saving Aer Lingus. It does not mind doing that, but it will not allocate money for the airport badly needed for the infrastructure of the west. The road from Westport to Castlebar was in the national plan as the next project to be completed, but it is now third or fourth. Westport must be one of the greatest tourism centres in the west, attracting thousands every year, and the single complaint that we have in the town is the infrastructure, since it takes tourists so long to get in and out. The roads are blocked because we have not received a fair slice of the national cake. That is wrong and should be dealt with, since we want to sell the west as a region.

I will give a simple example of how the two-faced Government operates. It tells us it wishes to keep rural post offices open — such is the plea of every Minister. Yet the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, writes to every social welfare recipient and asks him or her to please deal with the banks in case they are not already making enough money. By closing down post offices, he wants to give the banks and their paymasters more for foreign holidays, and he will not keep those small, rural post offices open.

The Minister, a Deputy from the west, should get in there. One of our greatest disadvantages in Mayo is that we now have neither a Minister nor a Minister of State. It had never happened since the foundation of the State that we were without someone at the Cabinet table. When responding will the Minister say what has happened with decentralisation? What is the up-to-date position? Is it over, dead or gone, and will it never happen? Deputy Cooper-Flynn was in the council chamber when the county manager and everyone else welcomed decentralisation. I told the county manager that he would be 90 before it happened and that I would no longer be a Member, since the people would probably have made a different decision on me by that stage. Decentralisation is not happening, and neither will it, since it is another promise broken by the Government. We thought that it was our first chance to achieve some regional balance regarding the west.

The Minister is from the west. As he knows, we were glad to bring Clare into the BMW region when we went to Europe. He was glad that we were able to take it on. There is no point in our having it on board if we do not get the spend from it. We want that funding in place for infrastructure badly needed in the west. We need money for roads, the airports, and water and sewerage schemes to attract industry. Instead we have several IDA factories, for example, one in [1186]Ballinrobe, which has been paid for by the taxpayer. More than €130,000 per year has been paid to someone for a factory that has been empty for the past 20 years.

That is what is happening with taxpayers’ money, but we do not want that. We desire real jobs and infrastructure and a real chance like the rest of the country. I love to see Dublin developing. It is our capital, and it is right that it should develop. However, there is no point in having over development. We need regional balance. We want to see more jobs in the west and a fair slice of the national cake, particularly since we went to Europe and sold the message that we needed this funding for the west.

The motion is before the House tonight simply because we have not received our fair share of the national cake. That cannot go on. We need our infrastructure. Gas from north Mayo will be extracted and brought to the rest of the country and even farther afield. The west will get only headaches and trouble from it. We want the gas supplied to towns such as Castlebar, Ballina and Westport, giving them a real prospect of attracting industry to the west.

Ms Burton:  Our consideration of the national development plan today gives us the opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and the delivery of the Government’s promises. Recently Forfás produced its annual competitiveness report for 2004. Although Ireland is now supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world, this is what it said about our infrastructure. We were 15th out of 16 countries for overall infrastructure, transport infrastructure, port development, communications infrastructure and energy infrastructure. We were 14th for broadband access, and although we are improving, Forfás says there is a deficit of approximately 360,000 connections. The national development programme was published and a great deal promised, but not much has been delivered. We are still living off those promises, in part owing to the incompetence and failure of the Government and its Ministers to manage anything other than the commissioning of consultants’ reports. The Government does not seem able to manage projects; it can only spend money on endless, repetitive reports telling it what it ought to think. What started as a €5.6 billion roads plan in the national development plan escalated into a €16 billion roads plan as detailed by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In other words, we spent almost four times the money but got less road than was promised in the original plan. If that is not incompetence, I do not know what is.

We had a range of post-election cuts. The former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, famously inflated Government spending in the run up to the 2002 general election by a figure of almost 18%. There was money available to spend on everything but as soon as the election was safely won, the brakes were re-applied and the [1187]most savage cutbacks were imposed. Capital spending has fallen by 18% in real terms over the period since the last general election, on which Davy Stockbrokers reported recently. In 2002 terms, capital expenditure is down by €1 billion over what was actually forecast. Deputies in the House will be familiar with that.

  6 o’clock

People will be aware that the capital side of the schools budget has been significantly under spent. In his first budget the Minister promised the new device would be the rolling over of capital envelopes to allow money to be spent in later years if it was not spent in earlier years. As a result, the Government is now telling us it is spending more. That is a trick. It has not been able to manage the spending of the money in any coherent way that offers reasonable value for money to the taxpayer in terms of the infrastructure promised.

In terms of the 2004 budget, there was an under-spend of €364 million, €237 million of which the Government has told us will be carried over into 2005. The terminology “multi-annual envelopes” is being used as an excuse for not delivering. It is promising jam tomorrow for the jam that was not delivered yesterday.

There was a current budget surplus last year of €5.6 billion, most of which was used to finance capital spending. The overall budget was in surplus. That means we are funding capital spending entirely from current resources. The many groups and organisations in towns which petition Members of this Dáil for funding on worthwhile projects cannot be told there is no money. There is plenty of money but we have a Government that has grown incompetent and lazy and lacks all will to spend the people’s money on the infrastructure that is desperately needed.

Ireland has one of the lowest levels of indebtedness in the European Union. When the National Treasury Management Agency adds in the National Pension Reserve Fund, the actual level is only 22% of GNP. It must be remembered that the National Pension Reserve Fund, which now holds almost €10 billion in its accounts, has still not found a way of investing in a single Irish project. I listened to what the Minister said about the Border, midlands and west region and to what Deputies McGinley and Ring said about the west, Donegal and Mayo in particular, yet we have this money in the National Pension Reserve Fund which is being invested in Hong Kong, in hotels around the world, in Halliburton and in cigarette companies. The only area in which it is not being invested is this country’s infrastructure. In terms of competence, I do not know whether this Government is simply arrogant or exhausted or both but it has lost its confidence to manage projects effectively.

Those Members who had the opportunity, as most of us did, of visiting both Kildare and Meath in the course of the recent by-elections, and those in my own constituency of Dublin West, which is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, [1188]will be aware that in key infrastructure areas this Government has failed to deliver. We have a dearth of child care facilities. The answer of the former Minister, Mr. McCreevy, to the child care problem was that if we introduce tax breaks the private sector will provide. The private sector has not provided and young families are now faced not just with an extraordinarily high mortgage to buy a house but with costs for child care that are the equivalent of a second mortgage, particularly if they have two or more children.

I spoke previously about the situation regarding primary schools. The annual teachers’ conferences will take place next week. Many Members will be aware that primary school children throughout the country, which are our future wealth and resource, are enduring class sizes that are simply not seen in the rest of Europe.

During the by-election, in my constituency, and this must be a new low in ministerial PR, the Minister for Education and Science had the nerve to publish on a list of proposed capital expenditures — good news announcements for constituencies — a proposed national school in my constituency in Castaheaney, but guess what? A second-hand prefab would be given to the school. In the run up to the by-election this was part of a set of good news announcements. I did not know that the second richest country in Europe, or perhaps in the world, can employ PR consultants to publish in the national newspapers the fact that a school will get a second-hand prefab of uncertain age as a way for that school to start its life on a site that still has not been acquired by this Government seven years after 6,000 homes were built in one part of Dublin West. The national development plan is a little like the slogan the Taoiseach adopted in the last general election — not very much done and unfortunately a lot more left to do. This Government has not been able to do it. It should move over and let other people do it.

On the Government’s public private partnership programme, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, was fond of lecturing us all as to how this would be the golden solution. Since then time has shown, particularly in respect of Jarvis in the United Kingdom, that the PPP process is an expensive one, very often much more expensive from an Exchequer point of view than the traditional method of direct financing by Government or the design, build and operate method which has been occasionally used.

It is worth asking about the current status of PPPs in terms of this Government’s programme. It has delivered remarkably little that could not have been delivered at a cheaper price and with fewer ongoing costs than the traditional method of Government finance. We have had a series of infrastructural decisions that this Government continues to long-finger.

Earlier this year, the Government walked away from its commitments under the Kyoto proposals. [1189]Dealing with greenhouse gas emissions was one of the items featured in respect of the Government’s general foresight of what would happen to the Irish economy during the period of the national development plan. We have had very little development in respect of that. We have a number of demonstration programmes regarding alternative energy but we are lagging far behind other countries in the European Union in this area. The worry remains that Irish taxpayers will receive a very large bill in years to come because of the Government’s failure to deal with this matter in a coherent way. This country has failed to adhere to legally binding economic commitments it entered into, such as the Kyoto Agreement and EU commitments.

I would like to speak about the National Aquatic Centre, which is in my constituency. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, can provide some answers in this regard, unlike his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, earlier. The Government spent €70 million on the development of the facility, which consists of a fine national water sports centre, a leisure centre and a gym. It is operated by a consortium of designers and builders and a management company, Dublin Waterworld Limited. The roof of the centre was damaged by high winds on 1 January last and the entire facility, which is used by some 60 employees, 6,000 gym users and many water sports organisations, has remained closed ever since. The centre has been successfully used for water sports competitions, such as the Celtic Masters Swim, but such activity is not taking place at present.

The facility was launched on several occasions by the former Minister, Deputy McDaid, the Taoiseach and the current Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, but we have not heard a squeak from any of them since it was closed on 1 January. I appreciate that acts of God, such as high winds, can happen any time. It is astonishing that a complex that was supposed to last for between 50 and 70 years has been lying idle for almost three months, less than two years after its construction was finished in time for the Special Olympics World Summer Games.

I would like to ask the Minister of State about the failure to commence the repair works. We have been told they are starting today, but we have been promised that every three weeks since the centre was closed on 1 January. Have the continuing closure of the centre and the failure to carry out repairs resulted from the Government’s decision to establish a consortium structure for this important capital project? The only shareholders in the company established by the Government, Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited, are the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. There seems to be total confusion about who is responsible for repairing this important national facility, which remains closed. It is clear that the Government has failed to provide for the [1190]coherent, successful and safe management of our infrastructure.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to share time with Deputies McHugh, Cowley and Boyle.

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

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome the opportunity to speak about the national development plan. In the limited time available, I would like to focus on the Border region, the need for a real peace dividend and the need for a truly national all-Ireland development plan that maximises this island’s resources and brings the two parts of the island closer together.

I would like to start, however, by discussing the issue of child care. The promises made in the national development plan in respect of child care have not been delivered. The forum on the workplace of the future recently exposed the reality that child care costs in the State are the highest in the European Union. Irish parents spend almost twice the EU average on child care and it is clear that the problem is getting worse. Children have a right to receive the best possible care and parents, especially mothers, have a right to access the labour market. It should be recognised that no development plan can succeed and no economy can develop if a proper child care network is not put in place by the State. I advise the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, that he might as well bin the national development plan if the issue of child care is not sorted out.

The Government and the EU recognise that counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth comprise a region of special need. That is reflected in the context of the peace process and in a number of programmes which seek to address the social and economic problems of the region. A great deal of progress has been made, but the region I have mentioned continues to suffer significant disadvantages. It has not enjoyed the same level of economic growth and development, including infrastructural development, as other regions. The level of inward investment in the region is lower — it is exceptionally low in some counties — than in the rest of the country. Rates of unemployment are higher in such areas and rates of participation in third level education are lower. It is worrying that the level of such participation in County Monaghan is among the lowest in the State.

There are many poor roads in the region of special need I have mentioned. It suffers from inadequate or non-existent public transport, insufficient energy supply and a lack of broadband facilities. The current roll-out of broadband facilities to some towns is inefficient, patchy and inconsistent. Communities are suffering as a result of the Government’s disastrous privatisation of Telecom Éireann. The State is paying through the nose Eircom and other private com[1191]panies to develop an infrastructure that could and should be in public ownership. Many existing services suffer from a failure to co-ordinate and integrate service provision on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis, thereby hampering the efficient and equitable delivery of services in the Border corridor. The health system is the prime example of that.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, painfully slow progress has been made in redressing the balance and bringing the Border region in from the cold. The national development plan in this jurisdiction and the structural funds plan in Northern Ireland share a common chapter that highlights that areas adjacent to the Border are some of the most disadvantaged areas of the North and South. It makes specific time-bound commitments about cross-Border co-operation and integration of services and infrastructure in the areas of energy, communications and electronic commerce, human resource development, agriculture and rural development, tourism, transport, environment, education and health. It is essential that the common chapter commitments under the headings I have mentioned should not continue to be mere aspirations, as many of them have been until now. It is time to act on and accelerate the commitments, with a focus on delivery, within definite timeframes.

The common chapter states that the EU’s community initiative programme, INTERREG 3, is the primary fund for addressing issues of cross-Border co-operation. The problems of actual delivery that have been identified must be addressed. Little progress has been made in delivering the common chapter commitments to co-operation between the health services. As a result, the health needs of the people of the southern Border counties and their close neighbours north of the Border are not being met as they could and should be.

The reorganisation of health service administration in the Twenty-six Counties has created doubt about the continuation of existing co-operation. It is essential, therefore, that we renew our commitment to the extension and development of the existing mechanisms for co-operation between the western and southern health boards in the Six Counties and the north-western and north-eastern sections of the Health Service Executive in the Twenty-six Counties. That is necessary if we are to improve co-ordination and co-operation in respect of ambulance cover, joint training and the sharing of emergency admissions.

Work should begin immediately on common chapter commitments on planning for major emergencies, the procurement, funding and use of high-tech equipment, collaboration on research into cancer and other matters, participation in multi-centre trials, health promotion and public information and education about matters such as heart disease, cancer and smok[1192]ing. The Government should issue a firm commitment to ensuring there is no further diminution of acute hospital services in the Border region. This jurisdiction’s co-operation with hospital services in the Six Counties should be further developed and enhanced.

I endorse the motion tabled by Deputy Cooper-Flynn about the western rail corridor. In the same vein, the Government should establish a task force for public transport in the Border region. It should set targets of delivery of improved bus services by the end of 2005 throughout the region and across the Border. It should increase the level of funding being made available for the rural transport initiative. It should immediately draw up an action plan for the strategic extension of the rail network within the Border region.

Mr. McHugh:  The national development plan was heralded as the most ambitious investment plan ever drawn up in this country. We were told at the time that it involved significant investment in many areas. The lofty notions attached to it did not impact on the western region, however. The mid-term review of the plan clearly illustrates that a significant portion of the funding earmarked for the BMW region has not been spent. That finding was further amplified by the Western Development Commission, which stated in July 2002 that just 59% of the budget allocated in the national development plan for the BMW region had been spent. In effect, 41% of the funding set aside for investment in the BMW region was not spent there. The total under-spend was €644 million. Various Government spokesmen have pointed to the occasional roads project in the BMW region in an attempt to defend the indefensible. Their approach highlights the real tragedy of the saga, which is that there has not been any investment in roads in the western subset of the BMW region. Not only is investment in the BMW region 41% under budget, it has all taken place in its eastern area while the western area has been starved.

The mid-term review points to the need to address the imbalance and take the national spatial strategy into account in future decisions on the NDP. If the drawing down of funding is slow, the finance should be invested in infrastructural projects that would physically unite the entire western region and link it to the rest of the country. I highlight the need to set aside funding to re-open the western rail corridor, build a new N17 and N18 and provide a new hospital in Tuam. There is room to spend the millions that remain unspent to provide water and sewerage schemes throughout the region and a need to grasp the nettle and deliver natural gas to towns in the west.

The mid-term review of the national development plan points to the need to create critical mass to achieve balanced regional development. It identifies the national spatial strategy as the vehicle to achieve this goal. The NDP must [1193]underpin and support the national spatial strategy to ensure the survival of the west. The Government has an opportunity to provide solid support in place of rhetoric to achieve balanced regional development by ensuring the BMW region, especially its western area, gets its fair share.

Dr. Cowley:  I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. I have spoken in the House many times about the under spending outlined in the mid-term review of the national development plan. It is an utter scandal that a part of the country ignored by successive Governments continues to be ignored. Despite the national development plan and spatial strategy that are supposed to redress regional imbalance, it is being compounded even further. The most scandalous thing of all is that the inequity suffered by a particular region continues unabated.

While there is no point in reiterating as I have many times the figures that prove my case, certain facts stick out like a sore thumb. Under-investment in infrastructure in the west fails the country as a whole. The idea of the national development plan is to improve the State and make it a more equitable place in which to live. Given Dublin’s traffic problems, over-population and the ass-and-cart pace at which people there must travel, it does not make sense that half of graduates from the west must move to Dublin to get their first jobs. Getting in and out of Dublin involves significant hassle and people who must leave home in the early hours of the morning arrive home at all hours of the evening. They should be at home with their families at a reasonable hour. It is unacceptable.

The plan to build a second terminal at Dublin Airport is the most amazing madness ever. Passenger numbers will increase from 18 million to 30 million at an airport that is completely congested. One cannot get in or out of it, which is absolutely disgraceful. We should just look west to Knock Airport through which 400,000 passengers are projected to travel this year and where it would make a great deal more sense to provide the terminal in question. Doing so would ensure more balanced regional development, which is what the national development plan is supposed to be all about. It is ridiculous that while tourist numbers in Ireland have increased by 6%, bed nights in the west have declined by 20%. It is a terrible indictment of the Government. People in the industry are struggling to survive while paying staff, heating and insurance bills at the same level as hotels on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It is unacceptable.

We need balanced regional development now and the provision of a second terminal in Knock not Dublin.

Mr. Boyle:  “BMW” has always been an unfortunate acronym for the less advantaged part of the country we were forced to designate when Ireland as a whole lost its category 1 status within the European Union. “BMW” is the logo of a [1194]very flash motor car which is a status symbol for those most favoured by the Celtic tiger and hardly reflects progress for communities in the Border, midlands and western regions. It is, however, a very apt analogy for what is very much a flashy-car Government that produces sets of documents which often contradict each other.

We have a national development plan allied with a national spatial strategy and an obscenely political decentralisation plan, none of which fits together. The decentralisation plan has nothing to do with decentralisation itself. Unfortunately, the BMW region suffers as a result. The problems in the application of the national development plan in the country as a whole on foot of Government inconsistency have been felt most in the BMW region. In the nation as a whole, the ratio of the imbalance in capital expenditure between roads and public transport is 3:1 and far greater in the BMW region. This is because our transport policy in so far as it exists is a radial policy aimed at getting people in and out of and around Dublin.

According to the motion Deputy Cooper-Flynn submitted, the western rail corridor must be opened as quickly as possible if the BMW region is to even come close to the roads-public transport expenditure ratio for the country as a whole. Unfortunately, the Government uses a longer finger for public transport projects than it does for any proposed roads project. The Government must be taken to task for the imbalance between roads and public transport expenditure and for the way in which it has allowed the roads programme to exceed its budget and time constraints on projects which take place almost exclusively in the south and eastern regions. The BMW region has been made to suffer more for the Government’s indolence and poor management.

Among the other infrastructural shortfalls we face is the failure to roll out broadband. If anything can make the economy more vibrant and effective, it is access to information technology. The Government has been negligent in ensuring the roll-out of broadband as quickly as possible in the country as a whole and especially in the BMW region where the pace of progress has been less than that of a snail. Child care is another area of shortfall. It appears the Government is running the equal opportunities programme down and setting its face against the idea of continued State support for community child care. While we all have problems in our constituencies, the Government’s decision on child care will be felt most sorely in isolated, under populated communities in the BMW region. As usual, the Government is speaking out of two sides of its mouth and making contradictory statements. As a result, the BMW region suffers.

I hope we have a wider debate in the House as soon as possible on how to progress the national development plan. On this occasion, I do not take the opportunity other speakers did to relate defects in the national development plan as it pertains to the southern and eastern regions to prob[1195]lems in their constituencies. While I commend Deputy Cooper-Flynn for submitting notice of a motion on the way the national development plan is failing the BMW region, there is a need for a wider debate on the plan as it affects to the country as a whole.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I thank the Taoiseach for making the time available for this debate in response to a notice of motion I submitted several months ago. Since submitting the notice, I have raised the matter in the House as often as the opportunity to do so presented itself. I record my disappointment, and the disappointment of the people of the west, at the absence of the Taoiseach for today’s debate. We are discussing the crucial matter of the national development plan as it refers to the Border, midlands and west region, yet the Taoiseach did not see fit to arrange the Order of Business to facilitate his presence to deal with the issue. Not only that, but the Minister for Finance, who is responsible for the delivery of the NDP, is not here to engage in this serious and pressing debate.

It is important that I sketch why the motion appeared on the Order Paper in the first place. One of the central objectives of the national development plan was to reduce the economic and social disparities which existed between different parts of the country. To that end, a regionalisation arrangement was put in place for Ireland. The BMW region, which qualified for Objective One status, was to be given the required investment to close the acknowledged gap between it and the south and east region. This was to be done by fostering balanced regional development, promoting social inclusion, improving competitiveness and developing economic and employment growth.

Two important observations can be made regarding the matters that will be discussed during the course of this debate. The first is that we are talking in regional terms, and while much of what I will say pertains to my county, the issues and concerns raised are of regional significance. The problems and deficiencies in opportunity which affect County Mayo apply equally across the BMW region.

Second, I do not wish the debate to be seen as one of the west versus the east or of rural versus urban. Nobody would deny that the problems of Dublin and the south and east region are urgent and that they need to be addressed, but this should not mean that all our efforts and resources should go into one region to the detriment of the other. It is all about equal opportunity. The citizens of Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Donegal are entitled to the same quality of services as their cousins in Dublin, Cork or Waterford.

Four years of the current national development plan have now elapsed. Although substantial progress has been made on a national scale and investment is running at a high level, serious concerns are being raised because far from closing [1196]the gap between the two regions, that gap is growing even wider as the clock ticks down to the end of the national development plan. In global terms, the regional breakdown of NDP spending shows €22.8 billion has been spent in the south and east region while €8.3 billion was spent in the BMW region. However, a more crucial figure than that must be revealed. In the south and east region spending represents 92% of what was forecast, but in the BMW region, the figure falls back to 75% of that forecast.

It is perhaps cold comfort of a sort that this widening underspend between the regions has been publicly acknowledged at Government level by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, when he visited my constituency recently and, more repeatedly, by the Minister for Finance. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, wrote to me in January. In the course of his letter he agreed that investment in the BMW region is behind forecast because major infrastructural projects in the south and east region, especially in the areas of roads and public transport, had to receive priority due to the major pressure on infrastructure in the region, notably in the greater Dublin area. Not content with spelling out where the real priorities lay, the Minister went on with what I can only take to be a flash of dark humour in stating that the BMW region does benefit from investment in transport in the south and east region, because better transport links to the major ports, airports and national markets, especially Dublin, benefit the whole country.

The Minister obviously took a liking to this novel explanation of the spending gap because he returned to the same theme when he addressed the joint meeting of the regional assemblies in Tullamore, once again acknowledging that the BMW region spend has fallen behind. He accepted that the BMW region has to date lagged behind in spending on roads and transport. He stated that the Government is committed to addressing this issue over the remaining life of the plan. He reminded his audience that it was important to note that investment in roads, no matter in what part of the country, is of benefit nationally as well as regionally.

However, another reference in the address by the Minister has set alarm bells ringing with development groups and agencies in the BMW region. Referring to balanced regional development, the Minister appeared to suggest that the new template for investment priorities would not relate to the two region era of old, but to the national spatial strategy. He stated, ominously, that the focus of the strategy would not be on a two-region approach, but rather that development would be delivered through the designated gateways and development hubs.

I hope I am not reading something into this observation which is not there. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to convey my concerns to the Minister for Finance. To my mind there is a whiff of change which I do not like. If there is [1197]any attempt to move the goal posts, blur the line between the regions, or in any way to diminish the entitlement of the BMW region, this will be resisted tooth and nail. What happens after 2006 is for another day.

I return again to the figures given by the Minister in reply to my parliamentary question of 30 November last. No Government could be proud of the progress of the two major operational programmes of the national development plan that are specifically geared towards eliminating the economic and social disparity of which I have spoken. Of the €15,986 million overall spend to date on economic and social infrastructure, 27% has been earmarked for the BMW region and 73% for the south and east region. However, when the figures are calculated, they show that while the BMW spend has fallen back to 22%, that of the south and east region has exceeded its target and reached 78%.

Dealing in percentages might not always give a clear picture so I will translate them into euro and cent. Spending in the BMW region on the Economic and Social Infrastructure Operational Programme alone was €716 million less than promised over the first four years of the NDP. In the vital operational programme for funding of the productive sector, spending in the BMW region over the same four years is a significant €1,095 million less than what was set out. By any yardstick this is a truly significant underspend of what was projected and promised. At best, it means that vital infrastructure, without which industrial or economic progress cannot be made, has been denied to the region most in need of it. At worst, it raises fears that by the end of 2006 when the NDP runs out, a large tranche of unspent BMW funding will either be lost or will be reallocated to projects in other regions.

In addition to all of these, there is the question of the extra expenditure, above and beyond that published in the national development plan, which we are told is soon to be approved. Media reports suggest that Cabinet approval is about to be given for a further €3.2 billion for infrastructure in the greater Dublin area. If this is the case, and in order to preserve the accepted 2:1 funding ratio between the two regions, then the BMW region must be given an equal opportunity by the allocation of pro rata funds of €1.6 billion. The BMW region has infrastructural needs which are every bit as urgent and pressing as those of the Dublin area.

While the spending.gap extends over many sectors, the most pressing need is for immediate and meaningful investment in transport and energy. All of the State agencies, most notably the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, have stated that they continue to experience great difficulty in attracting jobs and enterprise to the west because of the deficiencies in transport and energy infrastructure. If the west is not to be left at a disadvantage in the global and national marketplace and if balanced regional development is to mean any[1198]thing, then the gaps in vital infrastructural capabilities will have to be made good.

Road improvements in recent years have done much to cut journey times and improve accessibility but, again, performance is lagging well behind projection. The figure for NDP expenditure on national roads to the end of 2004 tells its own story. Only 54% of the figure forecast has been spent in the BMW region compared to 121% in the south and east region. The N5, the main artery from Dublin to Mayo, is severely deficient for over 25 miles. The portion of road from Ballaghadereen to Strokestown is unfit and unsafe to accommodate heavy traffic. The N5 from Castlebar to Westport needs to be rerouted immediately to take account of traffic demand.

While every national road in the country — Dublin to Waterford, Dublin to Cork, Dublin to Limerick and Dublin to Galway — reflect the importance to a modern road network, the national route from Dublin to Mayo is a Third World trackway and Third World utility. It is ludicrous to talk of regional upgrading when the national road into and out of the west is incapable of accommodating two streams of heavy vehicles without risk to road users. The N59 from Ballina to Belmullet is seriously neglected. Although welcome progress has been made on the N26, it is still far behind what is required. The road network serving the more distant areas, which have significant tourism potential, is unable to take the volume of traffic we need to attract.

A high quality, reliable energy supply is crucial to the development of the region, yet the entire northern half of the BMW region is dependent on an electricity supply which is third rate, unreliable and constantly subject to a high risk of outage. For example, one of Mayo’s biggest health care industries lost €50,000 in a two-day period over Christmas because of the collapse of the electricity supply. We are crying out for industry but the truth is, as the IDA points out, that we cannot attract any energy intensive operation to the west because of the lack of necessary infrastructure.

There is an urgent need to extend the 220 kV line from Galway to Castlebar and on to Sligo through Ballina, to close the loop and adequately deal with the power needs of the region. It is ironic that the power deficiency has not been addressed due to a lack of funding but rather a lack of political will. The ESB has both the technical and financial resources to increase the power supply, but to do so ahead of demand requires specific Government approval through the granting of a public service order. I urge the Government to immediately put in train the procedures required to enable the ESB to lay an effective power line to the region.

A cost efficient energy supply is vital to the competitiveness of industry and commerce in the BMW region. The Corrib gas pipeline is due to come on stream within a matter of two years. It would be a gross negation of the concept of [1199]regional development if this gas supply was simply piped through onto the national grid without being utilised for the benefit of the region it passes through. There is widespread support in the west for linking the Corrib gasline through Knock Airport, Ballaghadereen, Carrick on Shannon, Boyle and Sligo, as well as serving the towns directly on the route of the pipeline. Westport Chamber of Commerce has already made a persuasive and detailed case to Bord Gáis for an extension of the pipeline to serve industry, hotels and facilities in the town. Equally for towns like Ballaghadereen, whose industries are already struggling with the challenge of being on the periphery, access to gas supply is vital to survival.

The Joint Committee on Transport recently heard a submission from Knock Airport on its need for meaningful investment. Knock Airport is a key asset as a point of access and as a catalyst for economic revival in this area. It occupies a strategically central location in the BMW.region in terms of the national spatial strategy, and is at the axis of planned development. Independent market analysis shows that the airport has the potential to expand the passenger base in the UK, Europe and North America, with a conservative target of 1 million passengers by 2009.

Knock Airport is a proven driver for economic development in the region. Its ability to promote tourism and to drive inward investment is recognised by all the main regional statutory bodies. In 2004, the airport supported 500,000 bed nights and €37 million in tourism spend alone. No adequate funding mechanism is currently in place outside the normal safety and security funding set for Irish regional airports in general. I call for the recognition of the special status of Knock Airport as the key to economic regeneration of the area, and I fully support the call for special provision to be made to enable the airport achieve its full potential as a driving force for the creation of new industry. In particular, I ask that consideration be given to a new mechanism of funding which would meet the needs of Knock Airport in fulfilling its development potential.

Finally there is the long sought proposal to reopen the western rail corridor, from Sligo to Limerick. The Taoiseach has already indicated his support for this particular project, and this is warmly welcomed. I understand the preliminary report of the working group appointed to examine the case for the reopening of the line will be with the Government inside the next few weeks. Following that will be the announcement of the ten year envelope of rail expansion projects by the Government, within which we expect the western rail corridor to be included.

However, before this happens, I want to put down a marker on behalf of the people of this region, as well as on behalf of every local government and statutory agency from Sligo to Ennis which are fully behind this plan and the community groups, development agencies, chambers [1200]of commerce and representative bodies which support it. The western rail corridor in its entirety must be included in the first five years of this rail plan, and that the required investment of €365 million be ringfenced securely and unalterably within the programme.

If, as it says, the Government is truly serious about balanced regional development, then here is the golden opportunity to put that ideal into practical application. The western rail corridor will be one of the most significant developments in infrastructure ever put in place in the west. It will be the priming pump for development. It will, at a stroke, help eliminate the inadequacies, which have plagued the region for so long. It will represent equality of opportunity for our people, economic competitiveness for our industries and most of all will be self-sustaining.

There is no need for me to revisit the cogent, persuasive arguments which, after 26 years of campaigning, have finally brought the western rail corridor onto the national agenda for development. It meets perfectly all the criteria against which investment in this region is measured. It is totally consistent with the national spatial strategy, linking as it does the three gateways of Sligo, Galway and Limerick, and the four designated hub towns of Ballina, Castlebar, Tuam and Ennis-Shannon. In turn it connects to the 20 towns in the region already served by main line rail routes.

The annual running cost of the western rail corridor will be met by generated income. It has enormous rail freight potential. The route is already in the ownership of the State. larnród Éireann has the required capacity to complete the entire route within five years. It will open vital tourism connections to Knock and Shannon Airports. Commuter services within the region will be accommodated with huge savings in time, traffic congestion and road maintenance. Third level students will be facilitated by easy access to their colleges. All of the hospitals in the west and midwest region will be accessible by rail and the major centres for medical treatment in Limerick, Galway and Sligo will all be served by the rail corridor.

I want to say something in support of those communities that may not be on the main radar screen for attention but which nonetheless are what the national development plan and its benefits are meant to serve. All across the west region there are small towns and villages struggling to survive. They are the heart of rural Ireland, but in spite of the prosperity and economic advances, find survival just as difficult now as in the days prior to the Celtic tiger.

Balanced regional development is not only about gateways and hubs. We must not lose sight of the needs and aspirations of those smaller local centres, villages and parishes, where people are proud of their own identity, with church, school, football club and community hall at their heart. We will be returning to these issues many times [1201]in the future and I assure the House of my intention to vigorously pursue the claims of the BMW region to fair and equitable treatment.

Mr. Connaughton:  I want to share my time with Deputy Perry.

I thank Deputy Cooper-Flynn for being instrumental in bringing this debate onto the floor of the House. I believe the Government still loves her, which is perhaps the reason this was granted. In any event it serves a useful purpose in highlighting the inadequacies of the national development plan as it affects the west. I would need 45 rather than five minutes to cover all I want to say. However, as I have said on a number of occasions the census of 2002 showed there are 3.9 million living in the country, of which 2.2 million live in the greater Dublin area. It also showed that there are 18 counties with a decreasing rural population. Straightaway, it is obvious that there is an enormous imbalance.

I had understood when the Government had decided on the national development plan, followed by the national spatial strategy and the decentralisation plan, that what it had in mind was to reverse the engines as best it could and to somehow level out the lopsidedness that has developed in the country. That has not been done for the specific reason that the Government has allowed the forces on the ground to dictate where the money will be spent, on the basis of fire brigade necessity. Situations crop up in and around Dublin to which money is allocated and once that happens it cannot be spent anywhere else. That is a simple way of explaining a very complex matter, but that is exactly what is happening. This Government has been particularly bad in this respect.

I have not time to go through the figures, but just take the M6 from Dublin to Galway. That was supposed to be completed in 2006, yet the land for it is only now being acquired. I reckon it will be 2010 before I can drive from Ballinasloe by dual carriageway to Dublin. As for the M17 and M18 feeding into the M6, into Galway city, that will take another ten years. Some people will cynically say that the situation is much better than what it was and that the roads will be built sometime at least. This is true, but while we are waiting for this to happen, imagine the scale of development at the opposite end of the country. Every time I hear of another €1 billion being spent on the new M50, or M51 radial road around Dublin, that means €1 billion less available for development in the west. That is how it works out because of the scarcity of financial resources. I have been arguing the case for over 20 years that unless the spending is ringfenced in order to bring hope and prosperity to the disadvantaged areas, the gap will not be narrowed. This Government and its immediate predecessor gave the impression that such spending would be ringfenced. They did not ringfence it. Unless something dramatic is done we will lose out further in [1202]the future, no matter how the figures are massaged.

Mr. Perry:  I thank Deputy Cooper-Flynn for bringing this issue to the floor of the House.

The figures in the national development plan speak for themselves. I represent Sligo and Leitrim, two western counties that regularly bear the brunt of decisions taken by a Government that is orientated towards the east. We get lip-service, and plenty of it, but little else from this Government. Promises are made to be broken when it comes to spending. Marginalised regions feel there is a danger the Government’s lack of action will further widen the gap, with the west having an even poorer standard of infrastructure, and will force more of its children to move away.

It may only take two or three hours to drive from Dublin to Sligo or Castlebar but there is a world of difference when it comes to Government priorities. There is currently a gap of 13% between the south and east region and the BMW region, even though we are a small country. Despite much talk, that figure of 13% has only fallen 0.7% since 2000, not much to boast about when we live in an Ireland that has seen unprecedented growth and wealth. While figures released by the CSO indicate that the growth of the gap between the rich and poor regions in the State has not widened since 2000, it has also not narrowed.

Output in the Dublin region grew from more than €35 billion in 2000 to more than €39 billion in 2001 and output for the southern and eastern region as a whole grew by more than €9 billion, three times more than the BMW region. That is incredible. This Government cannot say it is prioritising the BMW region and then stand by such figures.

The most dispiriting thing is that this situation will continue under this Government. Infrastructure in the poorer regions is not being prioritised, it is being left on a shelf while projects deemed more urgent by the Government are pushed through. Faced with delays to the roads building programme, the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, directed that priority be given to building motorways to the cities of Galway and Limerick, two cities which are already doing well.

This inaction on the part of the Government will lead to deeper divides. It is not that these projects should not be fast-tracked but their high priority pushes roads to Sligo and Kerry and other deprived regions further down the list, widening the regional prosperity gap. There is a direct relationship between disposable income and the level of infrastructure in the regions. The cities and large towns served by good roads, ports, railways and airports are doing best. Those regions doing worst have a lower level of these services, lower access to high-speed technology communications and lower disposable incomes.

There is a definite link between prosperity and infrastructure. The failure to acknowledge this and to act on it further implicates this Govern[1203]ment in failing the BMW region. It is not doing what it can for those regions which are falling behind in terms of growth. Instead of focusing on these counties, the Government is turning a blind eye and allowing them to have poorer infrastructure and a poorer economy than those in the east.

The underspend in the BMW region is particularly worrying. Road investment in the region is well below target and the western rail corridor has been put on the back-burner when it should be prioritised. There has been an underspend of €223 million on public transport in the region. The Taoiseach should allocate part of the remaining funding to the rail corridor, which would revolutionise transport in the area.

We are losing our graduates. Only 9% of those with primary degrees found their first employment in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Galway in 2001. This compares with 55.4% of graduates finding their first point of employment in the east. The west must be prioritised but it is not being done because the Government continues to look to the east in terms of spreading growth. This is not good enough and I hope this debate will help change that.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  I thank Deputies for their contributions on this important issue. The Taoiseach is attending a summit of EU Heads of State and Government and the Minister for Finance is attending a meeting of EU Finance Ministers in Brussels.

I pointed out in my opening statement that good progress has been made in the BMW region in recent years. Notwithstanding this performance, there is wide acceptance that efforts must be made to close the gap in investment under the national development plan. The Minister for Finance has already stated that he will seek to prioritise expenditure in the BMW region in 2005-06.

I mentioned already the positive and welcome announcement by the Minister for Transport on the national road investment programme for 2005. Four of ten major projects completed last year were in the BMW region and of the 19 to begin this year, eight are in the BMW region.

Overall, progress on the national development plan is impressive and we are currently spending 5% of GNP on capital investment, double the European average. All structural funds allocated to the BMW region must be spent in that region and cannot be used elsewhere, which is the impression some Deputies have. The employment growth rate in the BMW region was double that of the south and east region over the past five years and the unemployment rate is 4.5%, only marginally above that of the south and east region.

In the last few days I have had reason to note regional disparity in areas as far apart as Wales and New York state. In both areas, people were hugely impressed by our relative success in [1204]regional development, particularly in job creation. In some of those regions, 80% of people who became unemployed ten years ago have failed to get a job in the interim.

I should point out to Deputy Ring that County Clare is not in the BMW region and that Knock Airport has enjoyed a massive increase in passenger numbers in the last two years and is making enormous progress. Also, sites are being acquired for decentralisation and Departments are working on staff relocation, with several BMW sites in the first tranche.

Investment in education is paying dividends. I strongly support reduced class sizes, particularly at primary level which bring enormous benefits to the BMW and other regions. The programme for research in third level colleges is moving apace with third level campuses in NUIG, the GMIT dual campus, Athlone, Sligo and Dundalk institutes of technology and the fledgling Cavan campus. The BMW region is doing well in this regard.

Deputy Burton referred to the Forfás competitiveness report on infrastructure. We should remind ourselves that in 1987 our GDP to debt ratio was 125% and in 2004 it was 30%. Then, 1 million people were employed and there are now 1.9 million in work. Employment has increased by 33% in the last six years in the BMW region, with 120,000 more people employed in the area in 2004 than in 1998, an extraordinary performance.

The cumulative national development plan expenditure until the end of June 2004 is €31 million, representing 87% of the total forecast national development plan expenditure of the period. Over €8 billion was spent on the BMW region, with €23 billion spent on the south and east region. For the period 2000 until June 2004, over €16 billion, 62% of the national development plan spend, was spent on economic and social infrastructure measures, including national roads, public transport, health facilities, social and affordable housing and environmental infrastructure. Almost €9 billion of national development plan expenditure has been spent in the employment and human resource programme in areas such as adult education, initiatives for early school leavers, literacy and numeracy programmes, training for employment across a range of sectors, investment in lifelong learning and apprenticeship schemes.

Our economic conditions are not as buoyant as when the national development plan was prepared and we must be careful in our management of the transition to lower rates of growth if we are to sustain our economic progress and continue to invest. We must keep our labour costs competitive and ensure the employment growth achieved can be maintained. That is the challenge we face and we are taking action through a number of initiatives to ensure we continue to achieve outstanding growth. We note the Lisbon strategy and recent developments focusing on the need for improved growth and employment rates. Chal[1205]lenges exist for other European states as they do for us and our colleagues across the EU are envious of the enormous strides we have made, particularly in employment.

Investment will be prioritised where the best economic return can be gained while taking account of overall Government policy objectives. I am confident the BMW region will benefit greatly from the refocus of investment for the remainder of the national development plan.

Mr. Boyle:  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

This is an Act to prohibit the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. I wish to share time with Deputies Eamon Ryan, Cuffe, Ferris, Finian McGrath and Cowley.

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

Mr. Boyle:  Private Members’ time performs an important function in the House. It gives the Opposition an opportunity to do many things. Mainly, it is used to keep the Government in check by raising motions of concern and making the Government answer for the policies it pursues. However, it has a secondary and more important aspect in that it allows Opposition Members to present legislation which they would present if they had the opportunity to do so in Government. The House has the opportunity to give full consideration to such legislation.

More often than not the Green Party has chosen to introduce legislation when it has had Private Members’ time in the House. This is the eighth occasion it has had this opportunity since the general election in 2002. On only one occasion did we choose not to present a Bill in the House and on that occasion we moved a most justified vote of no confidence in the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He remains in the Cabinet and is now wreaking havoc in another Department, which we also oppose.

Nevertheless, a putative legislative programme from the Green Party and what it would like to implement should it be given the opportunity after the next election of participating in Government is seen in the seven Bills it has presented to date. There was a waste management Bill, a national transport authority Bill, a planning and development Bill relating to social housing, a broadcasting Bill which dealt with children’s advertising, another planning and development Bill which dealt with open spaces and rights of way and a community development Bill.

[1206]The Bill before the House seeks to put into law the important principle that the practice of fur farming is inconsistent with ethical agricultural behaviour. It is presented now because, fortunately, fur farming remains a nascent industry in this country. It involves six farms that breed mink and one farm that also breeds arctic foxes for no other reason than the animals should be killed and their pelts sold.

The Bill does not seek any prohibition on the sale or distribution of fur. Consumers make those choices and, generally, they do not choose fur. Several chain stores have already made a decision not to stock such products. There was an incident in Dublin Airport a number of weeks ago where two such garments were made available for sale. They were immediately withdrawn because of public reaction. The most recent opinion poll conducted in Ireland showed that almost two thirds of voters believe fur farming is a practice which is inconsistent with normal agricultural practices and should be discontinued at the earliest opportunity.

  7 o’clock

As this Bill deals with a point of principle, we hope the Second Stage debate will give all Members an opportunity to accept it as a general principle and allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, where amendments can be made to improve it. There are restraints on Opposition Members to propose legislation that would impose a direct cost on the State. As a result, legislation such as this needs to proceed to Committee Stage, where amendments can be put forward by the Government to strengthen it. Other Members might argue that they agree with the principle of the Bill but would like some form of time mechanism put in place. That is something we are willing to discuss and examine critically on Committee Stage.

One of the stronger selling points of this legislation is that similar legislation is already in force in Britain and Northern Ireland and in countries such as Austria, where public debate and parliamentary representatives have chosen this route. In the past, there has been a reluctance in this House to pass innovative legislation. That stage has now passed, however, with the introduction of the smoking ban. We have shown that we no longer need to wait for hundreds of countries to pass certain legislation before we decide to react. We can be leaders in the global debate on this issue. I hope the Government will look favourably on the Bill.

My colleagues will discuss the economics of this issue. It involves a small number of farms, employing a small number of people. The legislation in the United Kingdom, which was a government Bill, provided for a compensation package to be paid to those who engaged in what was, prior to the legislation being passed, a legitimate business practice. Again, if the Government favours allowing this Bill to proceed to Committee Stage, the Green Party would be prepared to accept such a provision. However, the [1207]economics in terms of the value of fur farming to the Irish economy will be undermined by later contributors.

Another reason for introducing this Bill is the ramifications of the existence of this industry for the practices it facilitates under the wider heading of animal welfare. Huge issues relating to the economy, hunger, poverty and wealth disparity are the bread and butter issues of politics. Animal welfare issues tend to be put on the back burner. However, their importance to the public is often higher than members of the political system are prepared to admit. Animal welfare issues rate highly with the Green Party. That is the reason, on one of the rare opportunities we have to introduce legislation in the House, we have chosen to argue for this Bill.

Animal welfare considerations are the focus of groups which have campaigned long and hard for this legislation. These groups include Compassion in World Farming and the Alliance for Animal Rights. The same debate has taken place in other countries and groups who were successful in those debates are offering their advice on how legislation was passed in those countries and why such legislation should be on the Statute Book in Ireland.

The support we are seeking is an acknowledgement that, in principle, the concept that animals that are not part of the food chain should be kept in cages that are little bigger than their body size is an unacceptable agricultural practice in the 21st century. Not only should we try to get rid of this practice, we should encourage the diversification of agricultural practices, given that there are wider issues to be discussed in the context of CAP reform, under which there is a need to move towards other agricultural practices. The Green Party says they should not include fur farming practices, either now or in the future. We must discuss how those engaged in agriculture can better meet the needs of agriculture itself, the wider needs of the Irish economy and particularly the opinions of Irish society.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  This is not a small Bill. One need only imagine 150,000 creatures. Would they fit in cages in this building? Would they fit into the House as they are about to be slaughtered? These 150,000 untamed creatures are kept in cruel conditions and are killed and sold for roughly €10 each. These creatures are living in what can only be cruel conditions for this supposed economic return. I will be interested to hear the Government’s argument on this — it is a pity the Minister for Agriculture and Food is not here to argue the point; I hope she will be here tomorrow evening. It may well argue that it provides jobs, but it is clear that the number of jobs is limited — maybe about two to three people on each farm and some seasonal workers who have the woeful task of slaughtering these animals. This is not clever, profitable or right. People argue that we can do this in a way that is [1208]less cruel by having larger cages. I am told that in catching a mink or a fox, one can only have a cage as long as one’s arm. If it is bigger than that, it is impossible to catch and kill the animal. That will always be uneconomic and wrong.

This is occurring in those parts of the country that are most economically disadvantaged, thanks to the Government. We have just had a debate about the huge imbalance in the development of this country. We all want to see jobs in farming. The Green Party and farmers will be united in the future in developing our resources. Instead of grabbing into a cage to get an animal, we will be lifting wood off the ground as fuel. We will be using the great tourist resources in the west and will be seen abroad not as an environmental pariah, as is the case at present, but as a country that stands for certain moral and ethical issues.

Green economics are about quality, not quantity. We should not just make economic decisions on the level of profit, on the cost and the sales. Those issues are important, but the green movement believes that economics need to be broadened. We have to make qualitative decisions and put that on the balance sheet. We can look at the issue of fur farming and refer to the cost, the jobs and the balance sheet, but we cannot ignore the fact that this activity is immoral, unethical and wrong. There will be a universal response to the Bill from this side of the House, that this is not moral, ethical or correct. The immorality of the practice outweighs any of the other figures the Minister might have. The Minister may argue that if we do not develop this industry, it will go east where there are poorer standards. That is part of the globalised race to the bottom, where we allow manufacturing on the basis of the lowest regulations.

On this side of the House we do not believe in such a race to the bottom. It is about time we legislated for certain moral and ethical certainties. Sometimes it is very difficult to show where the qualitative line is set, but on this issue, in this Bill it is perfectly simple. The correct decision is to legislate for what the people of this country want. We must take the right line and stop this barbaric practice.

Mr. Cuffe:  This Bill is about compassion and concern for animals. There is a moral duty on humans to speak out for animals. Animals suffer pain, stress and boredom. The green movement has been characterised by concern for wider envrironmental issues. These environmental concerns have their roots in religious thought. That thought is in the preachings of Saint Francis and in the tenets that underlie the practice of Buddhism. In many religions, there is a concern for walking gently on this Earth and showing respect for all living creatures. International movements such as Greenpeace had their roots in concerns about international whaling and the killing of seal cubs in Canada. All these concerns are about having regard to animals that do not have a voice.

[1209]The concerns that have been expressed about mink and foxes are real. These are wild animals that do not have a long history of being kept in captivity and they show that stress and boredom. It appears there is unnecessary cruelty by putting wild animals in cages. There is a trend in Europe towards not allowing animals to be kept in captivity. In Austria, the Netherlands and, more recently, the United Kingdom, the practice of keeping foxes and mink has been outlawed. It is about time we joined the group of nations that have banned such activity.

A 2001 report by the European scientific committee on animal welfare examined the welfare of animals kept for production. It stated that there are serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur. It found deficiencies concerning cages and management methods, the training of farmers and responsible persons, breeding programmes and handling practices. Such concerns are addressed in this Bill. It is crucial that we give voice to those concerns and that we move towards ending this unnecessary and cruel practice.

The farming lobby argues that the animals are fine if one observes the colour and quality of their pelt. However, the animals are usually killed just after molting so the condition of the fur is not a true test of the conditions in which these animals live. The mink and the fox are killed at eight months, just after their first molt. At this time, their first winter coats have appeared and they are in prime condition. Therefore, the condition of the coat is not a fair benchmark of whether the animals are well kept. Due to the breeding and in-breeding among mink, mutations have occurred. Species of mink are being bred and are completely deaf in captivity because we are looking for a particular colour of fur. That is cruel and is unacceptable. We should look carefully at the conditions that apply. It is wrong that we allow these animals to be kept in captivity.

It is time we considered change. There have been periods of change in animal welfare going back to the 19th century in Ireland. What was seen as normal practice then is seen as cruel today. This Bill represents a quantum change in the treatment of animals, and such changes can continue in the future. The legislation in this area stems from 70 years ago. We must give voice to the concerns in this area. There are many campaigning organisations that support us in our efforts.

Mr. Ferris:  I wish to indicate my support, and that of my party, for this Bill. Sinn Féin also supported the extension of the British ban on fur farming when it was voted on in the Northern Assembly. I commend Deputy Boyle and the Green Party for having taken this initiative, which I welcome. It is unacceptable that what are essentially wild animals should be reared and killed simply to supply the demand of a relatively small number of people for clothes made from their hides. Apart from the fact that such items rep[1210]resent an expensive luxury, which is of no benefit to anyone and can easily be replaced by synthetic materials, there is also a question over the treatment of the animals concerned. They are kept in cramped conditions and are killed in a cruel manner to ensure their pelts are not damaged. The common practice is to gas or electrocute them.

A circular on this matter brought home to me the conditions in which mink are held in particular. As Deputy Eamon Ryan said, small cages are employed for breeding and storage. It says an awful lot about society as well as the people who are involved in the fur farming industry. In addition, it says much about the conscience of those who use animal furs for their own status and benefit.

The argument that fur farms provide a valuable economic asset does not stand up. The value of exports is around €1.5 million and few people are employed by such farms. Therefore, the argument that fur farming provides employment or is of great benefit to the economy is false. It is estimated that, worldwide, less than 2,000 people are employed full-time on farms that raise animals as part of the fur industry. The small size of the contribution that sector makes to the economy does not outweigh the negative aspects of the trade, especially when up to 50 animals might be killed to provide enough fur for just one coat to satisfy the insatiable demands of upper class people for status.

When a country such as Sweden, which was one of the leading suppliers of furs, could ban fur farming in 2000, there can be no economic argument in favour of its retention in this country. The higher-value end of the market is obviously in the production of items made from fur. That has been estimated to be worth over £10 billion a year but I am sure the companies involved would have little difficulty in moving to new areas of production involving the use of synthetic materials if that demand existed.

Undoubtedly, there is a demand for animal fur and two or three years ago there was a significant rise in sales in Britain. Fashion commentator, Judith Watt, explained this as the consequence of a backlash against those campaigning to ban fur. According to Ms Watt, such people were buying fur because they were “bored with being politically correct”. That would appear to be a poor excuse, however, and does not speak highly of the mentality of those concerned. It might also go some way towards supporting the feeling of many that people who wear expensive animal furs are more interested in making a statement about their perceived social status, than about anything else.

It is difficult to defend the raising and killing of any animal to contribute to that sort of thinking. Some will argue that the wearing of animal fur is an intrinsic part of human culture and obviously it was at a time when our ancestors had no other choice. However, that is hardly a valid argument in favour of the use of fur for expensive [1211]luxury items that can now be supplied by other materials.

It is also argued that raising animals for their pelts is no different than raising animals for food or the production of leather. The difference, of course, is that in the latter case the animals concerned are domesticated and produce essential items for most people. Fur coats do not serve the same purpose. It is a flawed argument not to make the distinction between animals used in the food chain and others that are used uniquely to cater for a perceived social status.

The conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, claims that objections to fur farming are no different from those made against raising animals for food. There are people who will consistently argue that both are wrong but most of us can make the distinction. Mr. Scruton also claims that objections to fur farming are based on a dislike for the sort of people who are likely to wear furs. Perhaps he is correct but such a dislike is based on weighing the misery of a captive wild animal against the frivolous luxury enjoyed by people who have many other outlets through which to pursue pleasure.

There is substantial evidence that, despite the claims of those involved in the industry, wild species bred in captivity for their fur do not become domesticated. This applies to mink, which is the species that has been used longest for this purpose. Research by a zoologist from Oxford University, Ms Georgia Mason, found that even after 70 generations had been bred in captivity, the offspring of captive mink still have exactly the same instincts as wild mink.

Animals that were, for whatever reason, released from fur farms into the wild in my region, the south west, caused havoc. They have done enormous damage to indigenous species and that damage is continuing. That will be attested to by any fisherman who has witnessed the result of activities of mink that escaped from fur farms or were released into the local habitat by failed fur farms. Yet mink are kept closely confined in small cages where they become extremely aggressive as a result of not being able to enforce their natural territorial limits and being away from the water in which they spend most of their lives in the wild.

I call on all Deputies to support this Bill to bring an end to what is an unnecessary trade in which the harm done to the animals involved far outweighs any economic benefits or any enjoyment of the produce of that misery.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I thank the Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004. I support the legislation because it is based on compassion and care for animals. I commend the Green Party for having brought the Bill before the House and I urge all Deputies to support this important, progressive and caring legislation. Fur farming is already banned in Northern Ireland, Britain and [1212]Austria. It should now be banned here due to the suffering involved for animals. Scientific studies have shown that foxes and mink kept in cages on fur farms do suffer. There are currently six mink farms and one fox fur farm operating in this country. Together they account for the deaths of approximately 153,000 animals annually.

I urge all Deputies to support the Bill. Fur farming is unique in the realm of intensive animal husbandry because foxes and mink are farmed simply to produce a non-essential fashion material. Fur farming is unlike other kinds of farming because foxes and mink are essentially wild animals. While other farm animals, such as cattle and pigs, have been domesticated over thousands of years, mink and foxes have only been bred in captivity for the past century. Moreover, selective breeding has been for fur characteristics, rather than for domestication. Farmed foxes and mink are not herd or flock animals. Unlike other farm animals, mink and foxes are basically solitary creatures, which means they are not well adapted to living on farms in close proximity to hundreds of other mink or foxes.

Fur farming produces a non-essential fashion material. Farming to produce a frivolous fashion material cannot be compared to farming for food. Fur farming raises serious ethical questions. Scientific studies have shown serious welfare problems arising from fur farming. The European Commission’s scientific committee on animal health and animal welfare on the welfare of animals kept for fur production, published a report in 2001, detailing serious welfare problems found on typical fur farms. These include stereotypical behaviour, animals biting their own fur, sometimes to the point of self-mutilation, fox cub infanticide and fox fearfulness of humans. The report concludes that current husbandry systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur.

The Council of Europe standing committee’s recommendation concerning fur animals is outdated and inadequate. In the absence of an EU directive on fur farming, fur breeders generally use the Council of Europe recommendation as a basis for fur farm conditions, for example, cage sizes. However, the recommendation is based on outdated research. In particular, it predates the comprehensive scientific committee report and, therefore, cannot address problems raised in this later report. Adherence to the standards laid down in the recommendation has not resolved and will not resolve the animal welfare problems on fur farms.

There is no economically viable, humane alternative to intensive fur farm conditions. Zoo conditions, which would be the minimum acceptable standard for essentially wild animals, would not be economically competitive and therefore do not represent a practical alternative. Fur farming is not of major value to the Irish economy, nor is it a major employer — that is the real world. Approximately 153,000 pelts are produced annu[1213]ally with an export value of €1.56 million according to Department of Agriculture and Food figures. Each farm employs approximately two or three people full-time with extra staff working during the short slaughter season.

Fur farming is publicly unpopular. Two out of three people are against and support a ban on fur farming. It is illegal in the North of Ireland, Britain and Austria, and is being phased out in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, which I strongly support. It is unlikely the EU will bring in legislation on fur farming for the foreseeable future. However, member states can and have put in place their own national legislation to prohibit fur farming. I ask the Government to stand up and be counted.

Mink farming risks damage to the environment, particularly from escapees that must compete with the relatively stable existing mink population for territories and food. Prohibiting fur farming would represent a major step forward in furthering high animal welfare standards in Ireland.

To consider the detail of the Bill, sections 1(a) and 1(b), which deal with offences relating to fur farming, create the offence of keeping animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding for such slaughter. Section 1(2) makes it an offence for a person to knowingly cause or permit another person to keep animals where the purpose is to do so solely or primarily for the value of their fur. I strongly support these sections.

Serious issues have been raised in this debate. I have outlined my clear opposition to fur farming. I urge all Members to support Deputy Boyle and the Green Party on this important issue and to vote for this important, compassionate, caring and, above all, sensible legislation.

Dr. Cowley:  I congratulate the Green Party, in particular Deputy Boyle, on introducing this important Bill. I also congratulate Compassion in World Farming and Respect for Animals for bringing this issue to the fore. This is the way we should proceed. We have power over dumb animals, which gives us responsibility. While we may choose to close our eyes to many world issues such as deprivation, poverty and famine, we should deal with this issue.

As noted by many speakers, this issue concerns wild animals that are not meant to be confined. Some wild animals are kept in zoos but fur animals are kept for one reason — slaughter for their fur. It is hard to justify how we, as a humane society, could continue to condone this cruel practice. As pointed out, the cages in which these animals are reared are very small, just large enough to take a person’s arm. It must be a very cruel existence for a dumb animal under our control and in our power. It cannot be morally justified.

It was stated that 1,500 arctic foxes were due to be killed this year and 140,000 animals altogether per year will be killed for their fur. There [1214]has been a ban on fur farming in the UK since 2003. As it is said to be a growing industry in Ireland, it is obvious that having been banned in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, the industry has been driven south to this country. Here it will continue to grow and prosper, if one can use that word, so long as it is legal. While departmental regulations exist, they do not hinder what is a horrible industry.

“Morning Ireland” this morning graphically described how the fox is electrocuted by attaching electrodes to both its ends after a lifetime in a tiny cage. This cannot be justified. Given the mental and physical stress these animals suffer, they must live a terrible life. While foxes are electrocuted, mink are suffocated with carbon monoxide gas. These animals are semi-aquatic and used to surviving for some time under water so their death must be particularly cruel and slow.

The majority, some 64% of the Irish population, want to see an end to this cruel practice. Some might say we will drive it elsewhere if we ban it here but, while this may be true, it must be banned altogether. Fur farming is practised in some of the countries that recently joined the EU. However, a ban would spread the message that the practice is cruel and improper. It gives the wrong message to society in that those who are cruel to animals may be cruel to human beings also. Respect for life should be engendered in our children and through our schools. This practice takes away from respect for all animal life. Moreover, it is done in the name of fashion, an unnecessary application because fur can be produced artificially. The false fur industry will prosper if no real fur is available. The justification for fur farming is perverse and something fashion can do without.

The pelts are exported so we do not get any advantage from processing. The owners are probably people who have come to Ireland because they have been hunted from other countries. They escape a clamp down in their own countries to operate here. Serious animal welfare problems are associated with this practice. As was pointed out, there is no way it can be carried out in a more humane fashion because it concerns wild animals. It is good that the UK, including Northern Ireland, banned fur farming in 2003 and I hope we will follow this example, as have Austria and Italy.

The intention on the farms is that mink and foxes would be mated once a year and give birth in spring or summer. The cubs are reared until they are about six months old and then slaughtered.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne):  I wish to share time with Deputies Brady and O’Connor.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

[1215]Mr. Browne:  I congratulate Deputy Catherine Murphy and wish her every success representing the people of Kildare North.

The Government is opposed at this time to the introduction of a ban on fur farming. The Government considers fur farming to be a legitimate farming activity in this country, a view that is shared among the vast majority of member states of the European Union. While there is no specific national legislation in place relating to fox farming, the particular legislation relating to the licensing of mink farms is the Musk Rats Act 1933 and the Musk Rats Act 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965. Under the Musk Rats Act 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965, the keeping of mink is prohibited except under licence from my Department. Licences, which must be renewed annually, are issued under this legislation only if the applicant, following an inspection, is found to be fully compliant with a number of key conditions. In addition, in common with all agricultural enterprises, licensed farms must comply with the animal health and welfare requirements pertaining to their particular sphere of activity.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals through the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2000, SI 127/2000. In addition, the Council of Europe has made recommendations regarding animals kept for fur farming. The regulations for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes make up a general piece of animal welfare legislation and apply to many types of farming systems throughout the country, including cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as the animals kept on fur farms. The on-farm welfare inspections carried out by the Department veterinary inspectors include assessment of the animals, the facilities provided and the management practices employed. It is essential that the animals be cared for by a sufficient number of staff who possess the appropriate ability, knowledge and professional competence. Adequate care and attention must be provided to all animals on farms.

In fur farming husbandry systems, the animals must be inspected frequently to safeguard their welfare. Owners are obliged to keep records of any medicinal treatments given and of the number of mortalities found at each inspection. Buildings and equipment must be safely constructed and comply with certain standards for the animals. Adequate amounts of appropriate food and water must be provided at acceptable intervals. In addition, fur farms are obliged to comply with the methods and conditions for slaughtering fur animals as laid down in the regulations for the protection of animals at time of slaughter.

In June 1999, the standing committee of the European Convention for the protection of ani[1216]mals kept for farming purposes adopted a recommendation concerning fur animals. The recommendation applies to all animals kept primarily for their fur. It sets out guidelines for the stockmanship and inspection of fur animals, the enclosures, housing and equipment, management, breeding, slaughter and minimum space requirements. Licensed fur farms are inspected by the Department to assess compliance with the Council of Europe recommendations concerning fur animals and also Council Directive 98/58/EC concerning the keeping of animals kept for farming purposes. These inspections have to date found that all of the licensed fur farms in this country have been operating in compliance with current legislation. Inspections by the Department have also found that the slaughter methods employed by the licensed fur farms are permitted under the Sixth Schedule of the European Communities (Protection of Animals at time of Slaughter) Regulations 1995.

The six fur farms licensed to operate in this State provide valuable employment in rural areas across the country. I understand that some 80 full-time workers and 85 seasonal workers are employed by the industry. The industry generates significant exports and has invested considerable sums in bringing their facilities up to a standard that satisfies the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Department is satisfied that they meet these requirements.

As regards animal welfare generally, all animals must be treated in an appropriate and responsible manner. Increasingly, consumers and citizens alike want improved animal welfare standards and an appropriate legal framework to ensure their legitimate expectations are honoured. I recognise that animal welfare can be an emotive issue. While there is a broad consensus on the need to ensure that animals are properly cared for, there are divergent views on how this is best done. We have all seen evidence of veterinary, cultural, religious, economic, social and other considerations featuring in the ongoing exchanges. From time to time, we have seen very polarised positions adopted on particular aspects. This is not helpful.

As with most issues, the best prospects for progress and positive development lie in trying to identify as much common ground as possible and building on that. As far as animals kept for farming purposes are concerned, it has consistently been my view that adherence to high standards and commitment to further improvement is best secured by demonstrating to all involved that there is a strong correlation between legitimate economic interests and the welfare of the animals. Moral and ethical considerations are of great importance but to achieve real progress it is necessary to deal realistically also with economic, social and other considerations.

Primary responsibility for the care of all animals rests with farmers and other keepers of animals. In this regard, farmers and keepers are by [1217]and large pragmatists and realise that the best way to remain in business is to ensure their animals are properly treated. Farmers are the traditional custodians of animal welfare conditions and have over the years demonstrated their commitment in this area. Furthermore, they realise that there is little prospect of a long-term future for the business if the general public is not satisfied that legitimate sensitivities in relation to the welfare of animals are not taken into account by operators in the sector. The CAP has long recognised this.

Welfare of animals is governed by a wide range of EU and national legislation, much of which has been enacted in the past 20 years. A number of very important legislative initiatives have been undertaken in this area. These include provisions on animal welfare contained in the protocol annexed to the treaty and provisions concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, as well as measures aimed at improving the welfare conditions of transported animals. Community legislation has also brought about major improvements in the standards governing the rearing of veal calves, specifically the harmonisation within the European Union of the size of the crates used in production of such calves. In 1999, the Community introduced new rules in order to improve the welfare of hens kept in battery cages and other rearing systems. More recently, in 2001, the European Union adopted rules to improve the welfare conditions of pigs, laying down provisions intended to provide them with proper surroundings, facilitating their natural behaviour and social interaction. New tighter animal welfare conditions applying in respect of transporting animals and the granting of export refunds on live animals have also been adopted.

It is also worth noting that the recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy will lead to a strengthening of the position of animal welfare in the agricultural policy of the EU. The cross-compliance requirements of the reform require that farmers respect basic animal welfare rules to benefit from the new single farm payment. Furthermore, the reformed CAP will focus on quality rather than quantity, with even greater emphasis on good animal husbandry. There has therefore been a constant updating in the Community’s rules, which have brought about a significant push for improved animal welfare standards.

Here, we have been particularly proactive regarding animal welfare. In particular we have transposed all welfare legislation into national law and we were to the forefront in developing a regulatory framework for approving seagoing vessels for transporting animals. The livestock trade accepted that strict compliance with these requirements was entirely consistent with its economic interests, on the basis that if the welfare of animals being shipped was compromised during such journeys, the economic return and the future of the trade would be jeopardised. Farm[1218]ing organisations, transporters and shipping companies all bought into this regime because they realise there is little prospect of future business if concerns about animal welfare are not addressed.

We also have in place a farm animal welfare advisory council which includes representatives from farm organisations, animal welfare groups, the veterinary profession, animal transporters and others with an interest in animal welfare. This council provides a forum in which interests with opposing views have the opportunity to meet, discuss each other’s positions and reach consensus on animal welfare issues which can inform public policy in the area. The forum has completed over two years of work and with the commitment of all its participants it is beginning to make a real contribution to progress in this area. The degree of consensus attained would have a bearing on the council’s capacity in influencing the formulation of policy at both national and European level. Included in the work programme of welfare issues for discussion was the subject of fur farming. The council heard a number of submissions from parties who have a particular interest in and knowledge of the area. Following discussions on the subject the chairman concluded that the council could not take an absolute stance on fur farming.

A key aspect of any system of rules is the aspect of enforcement. It is essential that the monitoring arrangements in place are effective. It follows that detecting and dealing with abuses in a timely manner is of paramount importance. It is also important that meaningful sanctions are applied to persons responsible for animals who do not meet the required standards.

I am aware that the UK introduced a ban on fur farming from 2003. Likewise, I am aware of the views of bodies such as Compassion in World Farming and Respect for Animals. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, recently met representatives of both organisations and had detailed presentations and an exchange of views with them on fur farming and other animal welfare issues.

In considering the approach to fur farming, the following considerations arise. While fur farming has been banned in the UK and Austria, most other member states currently allow farming of some animals for fur production, although some ban farming of certain species; fur farming is a legitimate business activity and provides employment in disadvantaged rural areas where alternative employment prospects are minimal; the industry does not receive any State support; the fur industry is fully aware of animal welfare requirements; the Department monitors fur farms to ensure compliance with the relevant standards; the IFBA monitors fur farms; fur farms in Ireland have displayed a willingness to comply with the requirements of the Department; and a ban on fur farming would mean that Ireland’s market share would be taken up by another fur produc[1219]ing country and, therefore, the ban would not serve any practical purpose.

I am aware that the scientific committee on animal health and animal welfare produced a report on the welfare of animals kept for farming purposes in response to a request from the European Commission. The report contains scientifically based recommendations on how the welfare of fur animals can be improved. It presents a list of areas where future research is desirable. While there is a recognition in the European context that there is room for improvement in certain areas of animal welfare in fur farming, ongoing research is required to assist the development of enhanced welfare standards. The Department will fulfil its role in monitoring the implementation of these advances and expects the industry to play its part in moving forward and meeting its obligations.

While I note the points made by the proponents of this Bill, I am not favourable to the approach being adopted in terms of an outright ban. The correct approach is that of appropriate licensing and control procedures. What we are talking about here is an intensive farming activity. The animals farmed on Irish mink farms represent in some cases 80 generations of breeding and accordingly they are not typical of the mink one would find in the wild. The enterprises engaged in mink farming in this country are subject to various inspections carried out by the agricultural inspectorate and the veterinary inspectorate of my Department on an annual basis. The findings of these inspections indicate that these animals are housed in secure conditions, they are well cared for and disease is not a problem. The methods of slaughter employed by these licensed fur farms comply with European requirements.

Whether we like it, fur is a product that is much in demand. It is a product for which a premium price is achievable, depending on the quality of product. The proposed ban would result in an annual loss of almost €2 million in export earnings to the Irish economy. Inevitably, a ban on fur farming in Ireland would mean that Ireland’s market share would be rapidly taken up by another fur producing country, most likely within the European Union. This shows that a prohibition as proposed in this Bill, even if deemed meritorious in its own right, would serve no practical or useful purpose.

In light of the foregoing and given that licensed fur farms operating in this country meet current national and EU requirements, there is no reason that what is a legitimate farming activity, which is permitted in the vast majority of EU member states, should be banned. Accordingly, I am not prepared to proceed to ban fur farming at this time. I am, however, prepared to keep the position under ongoing review in light of developments. In particular, I will consider introducing a provision in the forthcoming legislation on animal health and welfare which would require the [1220]extending of a licensing requirement to all enterprises engaged in farming animals for their fur.

Mr. J. Brady:  I record my strong support for the Minister’s position on this matter. The history of fur farming can be traced back to 1866 in the United States of America. It is a well established and highly regulated industry and gives valuable permanent and casual employment in some of the most disadvantaged areas of this country.

A considerable amount of research has been undertaken into different aspects of fur farming. Research results have in many instances been incorporated into law and farm practices that benefit animals farmed for their fur in areas such as housing, disease prevention, nutrition, husbandry, breeding and selection. Fur farmers are very conscious of the importance of continuing with this scientific research for two key reasons, first, fur farmers wish to ensure that farming systems continue to have a high standard of animal welfare and, second, they want to ensure that any new rules or regulations governing the sector will have a sound scientific basis.

The European Union is not just a producer of fur, but also a leading consumer of high quality finished fur garments which are much in demand in the EU fashion industry. Trade in fur is a truly international industry and the production of fur pelts stretches right across the world. Some 70% of global mink production took place in Europe in 2002. The world’s largest fur auction houses are located in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Seattle and Toronto.

Denmark is by far the world’s largest producer and exporter of mink skins. Fur farming was worth €514 million to Danish farmers in 2002 and fur is that country’s third largest agricultural export product after bacon and cheese. Fur farming is also important in central and eastern European countries such as Latvia, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. In Poland the production figure for mink skins was 600,000 in 2002. I inform the House of these facts so as to show that Irish fur breeders make up merely a small part of a much bigger European and international market.

We must remember that one of the core values of the European Union is the internal market and removal of barriers to trade. I ask Members to consider fur as a product in the same way as they might view beef. For example, if Irish fur farmers are in a position to produce fur for sale on the international market without any subsidy or financial assistance and in compliance with the many and various animal health and welfare requirements, it seems manifestly unfair that they should be prevented from doing so. When one thinks about it, it seems inherently unjust that Irish farmers should not have the same opportunities to earn a living as their counterparts in other EU member states.

The demand for fur is increasing. World production of mink pelts was estimated to be in the region of 40 million in 2004, a considerable [1221]increase over previous years. Ultimately, the finished product is transformed into fur garments and worn by people throughout the world, from New York to Beijing.

Having listened to the various speeches and the business case made in this House, I have no doubt this Bill should be opposed. I will certainly vote against it.

Mr. O’Connor:  I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. We care deeply about animal welfare in Ireland and this is a sensitive and topical subject. Ireland has been to the fore in promoting animal welfare within the European Union. As a nation, we can justifiably take pride in the advances that have been made in animal protection standards.

  8 o’clock

I refer to a number of these initiatives. The European Community has been active on animal welfare for more than 20 years. A number of important initiatives have been undertaken. These include, in particular, the provisions on animal welfare contained in the protocol annexed to the treaty and provisions concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, as well as measures aimed at improving the welfare conditions of transported animals.

The role of the Department of Agriculture and Food in live exports is to promote and maintain an environment in which the trade can continue in an economic and sustainable manner with due regard for the welfare of animals. The key elements in this are the preservation of the animal health status of Ireland, the maintenance of the international reputation of our veterinary certification regime and the application of a welfare regime that protects the welfare of animals being exported. This latter element is manifested through the inspection and approval of vessels for the carriage of livestock at sea, subject to a comprehensive set of statutory requirements introduced in 1995. New tighter animal welfare conditions applying in respect of the granting of export refunds on live animals have also been introduced. These new roles involve reinforced checks at exit points from the EU and at the place of unloading in third countries and the application of severe penalties where breaches are identified.

The questions most frequently raised in the pigmeat sector concern environmental protection and animal welfare. Animal welfare, in particular, has been at the forefront of discussions over the future of this sector, with the result that, in the past few years, our requirements in this respect have been continually upgraded to include measures such as minimum standards for living space and a minimum weaning age to supporting a higher level of training and competence among the stockmen in charge of the animals.

Tribute should be paid to the Minister. She has taken on this job and is impressing many, not only in rural settings but also in urban areas.

[1222]Mr. Naughten:  Including Tallaght.

Mr. O’Connor:  Yes, there are farmers in Tallaght.

Mr. Naughten:  The Minister would look well in pink wellies there.

Mr. O’Connor:  There is a small rural community in Bohernabreena, Tallaght. I would be happy to bring Deputy Naughten to meet the farmers there.

I applaud the work of the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Walsh, whom even Fine Gael admitted was a great Minister. I am also happy to applaud the work of the Minister of State and I am always asking him to visit Tallaght to launch initiatives.

Animal welfare standards are not defined at international level, except in conventions of the Council of Europe. The Council, which has 45 member countries, has been to the forefront of promoting animal welfare within the framework of various conventions and through specific recommendations. The recommendations concerning the keeping of fur animals, with which Ireland fully complies, date from 1999. I welcome that 166 members of the world animal health body based in Paris have signed up to a resolution that animal welfare deserves to be considered as part of the development of international standards and guidelines. I also welcome that the Doha 2001 conclusions of the World Trade Organisation place non-trade concerns, including animal welfare, firmly on the agenda of future agricultural negotiations.

I refer to the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy agreed in Luxemburg in 2003. Under the decoupled support system, the emphasis shifts from quantity towards protection and enhancement of the rural environment and livestock welfare. Instead of being linked to numbers of animals or production levels, as was previously the case, it will be fixed according to a historical reference period and dependent on farmers meeting mandatory standards under cross-compliance. Impact assessments have concluded this system not only encourages more environmentally friendly production with the extensification of beef and sheep production but it also secures basic animal welfare standards and allows a more efficient transfer of funds to farmers.

I admire the work of Deputy Boyle, with whom I laboured in other lives. I am always pleased to welcome his work and I am impressed by some of his efforts. However, the Bill does nothing to improve the lot of animals generally. It will most likely shift production to fur producing countries with little or no statutory controls or welfare standards. We must raise international awareness of the need to treat animals in the most humane way. It is paramount that those contributing to the animal welfare debate participate in a positive and constructive manner rather than point scoring. It behoves all of us to work through existing [1223]international agencies with a view to improving animal welfare standards.

Efforts have been made by a number of organisations to bring legitimate concerns about animal welfare to the attention of Members, which is fair enough. Deputy Boyle referred to the importance of Private Members’ business in providing an opportunity to raise the important issues of the day. The Opposition might wonder at times about the attitude of the Government to such debates but backbench Members of all persuasions have an opportunity to debate the issues of the day.

Fur farming is an important issue. I am always careful with my mail to ensure I look after representations I receive. Deputy Naughten might expect that I only read mail from Tallaght, Greenhills, Templeogue, Brittas and Firhouse.

Mr. Naughten:  Is it Firhouse or Furhouse?

Mr. Hayes:  The Deputy has good rural connections in Doon, County Limerick.

Mr. O’Connor:  I read all my mail every day and when organisations, irrespective of whether they are based in my constituency, go to the trouble of bringing issues to my attention I am happy to examine them and I will continue to do so. We are privileged to be public representatives and we should look at the horizon a little beyond our own constituencies. I am happy to do so.

I appreciate that organisations have gone to the trouble of making representations to us to bring animal welfare concerns to our attention. I am trying to figure out what to do with the little animal I was given but it is sitting on my desk.

Mr. Boyle:  It might prick the Deputy’s conscience.

Mr. O’Connor:  It has helped me to focus on this issue. I am opposed to the mistreatment of animals and I expect the Minister and the Government will examine the legitimate concerns raised in the debate regarding animal welfare. The assurances given by the Minister of State are fair enough.

I compliment Deputy Boyle on his work in this regard. It is important that pressure should be maintained to improve animal welfare standards. It is only in that way that improvements in animal welfare will be secured. That is something to which we would all sign up.

Mr. Naughten:  With the agreement of the House, I wish to share time with Deputies Hayes and Twomey.

I understand that six enterprises are licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Food to keep mink. Based on 2003 figures, data provided by the CSO indicate that the value of exports of raw mink skins from this country is approximately €1.6 million. I understand that there is a single fox-rearing enterprise in the country. I am [1224]glad to acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has stated that he will see this issue regulated. It is unacceptable that it has not been regulated hitherto.

The regulations covering mink farms require the Department of Agriculture and Food to license them. However, the licensing conditions are aimed mainly at protecting the environment from escaped mink rather than at issues regarding the welfare of farmed mink. I will refer to two reports examining mink welfare. In 1997, the University of Cambridge Animal Welfare Information Centre published a comprehensive literature review outlining the welfare of animals raised for their fur. It concluded that there was enough scientific evidence to show that the current level of welfare for mink on fur farms was not adequate. Mink are denied a range of behaviours on farms that would be available to them in the wild. Good welfare may be possible in the context of the captive environment, but there has been no estimation of the economic consequences of such enrichment and the effects that this might have on the feasibility of fur farming. The main thrust of the report is that if mink farming is to continue, a radical rethink of housing is urgently required.

A further report by the EU scientific committee on animal welfare in 2001 examined the extent to which species used for fur production can be regarded as domesticated. It concluded that these species, in comparison with other farm animals, have been subjected to relatively little active selection, except with respect to fur characteristics. Some research would indicate that those animals that have been responsive to breeding programmes are the ones with fearful behaviour rather than the contrary, and that should be looked into. There is a limited amount of selection for tameness and adaptability to captive environments.

Regarding the welfare of mink, the report concludes that there is an average kid mortality rate of 20%. In experimental conditions, farm mink showed strong preferences for the opportunity to swim, something not available to them in the captive environment. The report states that the typical mink cage impairs mink welfare because it does not provide for those important needs.

It is important to put in context, in light of those reports, the number of pelts produced per annum in this country — approximately 140,000 out of a total international production of 40 million. We are, therefore, a minor player in the overall scheme of things. It seems clear that to introduce adequate regulation to address the shortcomings in the current housing conditions would in all probability make fur farming completely uneconomic. Furthermore, the current regulations do not achieve their target of protecting the environment from the potential escape of mink.

Mink farms are a potential reservoir for the release of wild mink into the environment. They [1225]are savage animals, alien to our country, which will kill for the sake of it and not merely to feed. They are vicious and extremely prolific. They cause massive environmental problems and are disastrous to wildlife. They kill fish and waterfowl and prey on smaller mammals. They ravage birds’ nests even though they are high off the ground. They have been reported to have attacked dogs and in one case even humans. They are also said to have attacked lambs, especially when very young. There are great problems in some parts of the country with wild mink. Many of those mink were released by accident, but others deliberately. There have been examples in the UK of alleged animal rights activists releasing mink into the environment, causing massive damage.

Another aspect has been the closure of farms. In 1999 there was a report in a local newspaper that wild mink had been ravaging the Kerry countryside since the closure of two mink farms in Waterville had resulted in the escape of the fast-breeding, ferocious animals. In west Cork, where mink farms also closed, there was an increase in the wild mink population. That population has a massive impact on fish and wildfowl stocks. As a consequence, it could have a substantial effect on the angling and shooting industries, which are a critical element in this country’s tourism sector. We should develop and promote those industries since they bring employment to many of the disadvantaged communities of which the Minister of State spoke that have not benefited from tourism or economic development. I ask the Minister to examine the issue of wild mink. The problem has been ignored to date. If we want to protect and develop our tourism industry, especially in the shooting and fishing areas, we must consider this problem.

Fine Gael is intent on raising the bar when it comes to the politics of farming and food. It is only with fresh vision that Ireland can fully engage with the realities and challenges of making farming viable after decoupling. It must be more commercial and consumer-oriented so that we can compete and win on the global food market. Fur farming, however, is not part of the long-term vision for agriculture. If we want a reputation for high quality food production and high value returns, fur farming is not the way forward.

While we support the broad thrust of this Bill, we want significant changes made on Committee Stage. We are opposed to the immediate outright ban proposed in the Bill. A stay of at least seven to ten years on implementing the measures contained in the Bill should be introduced. It is imperative for several reasons. First, one cannot simply shut down the industry overnight. That could lead to the deliberate release of captive animals, with a disastrous impact on wildlife throughout the country. In the early 1960s, there were 24 fur farms in this country. Regulations were introduced in 1965, after which nine remained in business. At that point, there was a [1226]dramatic increase in the wild mink population. We cannot allow that to happen again. It is important that we adopt a structured approach. We must work with those currently in the business to wind down their operations and develop alternative enterprises that will not only benefit them but also the communities in which they are located.

It must be noted that the Department of Agriculture and Food originally promoted fur farming as an alternative enterprise. There is an onus on it to develop alternative enterprises with Teagasc. There is also a need to provide alternative employment for the staff involved. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, mentioned the 80 full-time and 85 seasonal staff involved, many in unemployment blackspots. One example is the two farms in County Donegal, one in Glenties and one between Ardara and Killybegs. Some 30 full-time jobs are involved in that business. Those people cannot simply be thrown on the scrap heap. While it is important to examine animal welfare regulations, sometimes we forget that humans have rights too. We cannot simply abandon those people. It is critically important that we address that matter.

It is important in the interim that no new licences are issued for mink farming. We must immediately put regulations in place for fox farms because they must come under regulation. I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to consider seriously what has been presented tonight.

Mr. Hayes:  I am very pleased at the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. I admire many of the Green Party’s policies regarding a cleaner environment, recycling, carbon tax and many other areas. Its members certainly stick to their agenda and fight very hard. However, I am extremely concerned about this issue. I come from a rural constituency. I have a love of animals and a love of the land and I am aware of what is important to people living in rural communities. Everybody is opposed to the mistreatment of animals, regardless of the side of the House they are on or the part of the country in which they live. I listened to the many contributions to the debate this evening but my blood boiled when I heard Deputy Ferris talk about mistreatment of animals. I was annoyed to hear Deputy Ferris make those comments because of the parallel to the position of the McCartney sisters and the treatment of their brother in Northern Ireland. I will say no more.

I am extremely concerned about the agenda behind this debate. The live export of animals from this country has created huge buoyancy in our economy. For many years agriculture in rural Ireland depended on the live export of our animals. I heard spokespersons talk about the cruelty inflicted on those animals but on several occasions I visited ports to see the terrible treatment that was supposed to be meted out to them as they left this country. I went to Waterford, [1227]which is 35 or 40 miles from where I live, to see the animals being exported from there which we, as farmers, depended on in the harder times of the 1970s and 1980s. Those cattle, which we reared, fed and sent to the ports when the beef barons would not pay us, were treated in top-class conditions. I hear spokespersons on radio and television talk about conditions and animal welfare, and it makes my blood boil. That is why I question from where this agenda is coming.

In Clonmel, people depend for their livelihood on small farms yet every year there are protesters outside the annual coursing meeting stopping people coming into the area to enjoy a sport which this House and my party were proud to change some years ago under the then Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and the former Minister, Ivan Yates. We brought about changes in coursing. I attended six coursing meetings in the past few months and I did not see one hare killed. I love what is good in rural Ireland, whether it is coursing, hunting hares, beagling or whatever, and I believe there is a strong agenda to stop those sports.

If the Green Party is to make an impact as an Opposition party on the current Administration, it needs to think a little harder and deeper. I campaigned for the past three or four weeks in County Meath where the Green Party got 1,000 votes in the by-election. The green agenda its members were pushing was not strong in that constituency despite them having one of the best candidates in the field.

I am concerned about what is driving this agenda and about the impact it will have on the ordinary people of rural Ireland, for whom my party stands. I am not a spokesman for my party but I represent a constituency that is proud of its heritage in the coursing and animal welfare world. The Dáil should think long and hard before adopting this agenda. There is some merit in what is being proposed by the Green Party but I am seriously concerned about the agenda being followed.

I welcome the opportunity to make these brief comments because I speak on behalf of many people who love rural Ireland, the sports we stand for and, above all, who love the animals and the land of Ireland.

Dr. Twomey:  Some of the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, show a certain lack of knowledge of what is happening in agriculture. I am surprised by his view on agriculture, which is a little narrow-minded. I was expecting a broader debate from the Minister of State.

I grew up on a farm and over the years I learned about the contempt farmers have for people who meddle in their affairs, whether it be bureaucrats or special interest groups. Farmers may get annoyed about that but they are also willing to listen. Not many years ago animals used to be tethered to a wall, something that was com[1228]mon practice in Irish agriculture. It was a practice brought in from Europe and one eventually banned by Europe. Farmers took that ruling on board and stopped the practice of tethering animals. Farmers are willing to listen.

Fur farming is not necessary in modern Ireland. It is something that could be abolished by the Government. I see no reason to continue with fur farming here. It makes little or no contribution to agriculture. Deputy Martin Brady said earlier that in Denmark fur farming was the third largest agricultural export. He made other references to the industry in other European countries but it failed in this country. It may have attempted to start up in Cork, Kerry, Galway or Donegal but by and large it has failed here and we are now seeing the side effects of the failure of that type of industry. Wild mink are running wild across tourist areas and if the problem gets any more out of control it will destroy much of the indigenous environment in which many of our wild animals live, yet the Minister of State made a bland statement to the House that the Government will continue to support the practice of fur farming without examining it in any detail.

In some respects the Minister has treated much of agriculture in the same way. He has done nothing innovative on his own behalf. He does whatever he is told to do by Europe. For instance, the budget of 2003, nearly a year and a half ago, and this is something that relates to the constituency the Minister and I share, introduced the provision regarding rapeseed oil yet the farmers working on that project in our county are still waiting for their commercial licences to allow them get this project operational. They put a huge amount of their own energy and innovation into making something else work in agriculture but they have received little support.

Fur farming was started here as an alternative enterprise but it has failed. That is why we should get rid of it but we should not just throw aside the people who took this chance 15 or 20 years ago. We must establish alternative industries. The Minister indicated that the industry is worth €2 million to Irish agriculture in exports. Our tourism industry is probably worth €2 billion yet we are prepared to play around at the margins of that industry with this Mickey Mouse fur farming industry that the Minister is not prepared to make up his mind on one way or the other. We should show more leadership and the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Government should be prepared to make decisions, stand up and admit we no longer have a need for this industry, that it is something we can abolish and concentrate on aspects that work in agriculture. We should concentrate on the live exports markets which nearly collapsed last year because the Government was afraid to make a decision on it. It was private enterprise supported by farmers which got that industry up and running again.

There are many aspects of Irish farming that are not good but there are many excellent aspects [1229]to it and farmers have the welfare of their animals as their first priority. They always did and they always will but the problem is that we have very poor leadership from Government in terms of agriculture moving forward. This issue will become a major point of contention between certain elements of society and the agricultural community. We will see it broaden into other issues over time, which is totally unnecessary.

Instead of the Minister of State coming into this House and making the sort of bland statement he made about fur farming, he should accept that its time is up and that it is past its sell by date. Perhaps we should protect our environment, tourism and agriculture in a way that shows we have genuine respect. We should not simply pander to the Government’s nonsensical ideas about a matter it does not seem to know much about. It is far more important to consider such matters than to deal with the matter before the House.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As the first three matters selected for the Adjournment are similar, they will be taken together. Deputies Costello and Burton will share five minutes, Deputy Curran will have five minutes and then Deputies Joe Higgins and Cuffe will share a further five minutes.

Mr. Costello:  I am raising an extremely important issue this evening. The deportation of a 19 year old youth to Nigeria raises many other issues, such as the Government’s immigration policy, which deserves to be debated in the House at an early opportunity.

We witnessed last week the spectacle of men, women and children, who had been taken by the Garda while engaged in one area of activity in their lives, arriving at the airport to be deported. Those who were deported were in school uniforms or on their way to work, while others had been asked to turn up at the immigration bureau. They were taken to the airport after being given a brief period of time to collect some clothes. Mobile telephones were taken from those being deported in some cases, so that they could not contact friends, relatives or lawyers. A couple of people who were able to contact lawyers were not deported because they secured a review of the circumstances of their deportation.

Last week’s deportations took place on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, when the Minister, Deputy McDowell, and some of his colleagues were out of the country commemorating the far-flung diaspora of Irish people who went abroad, legally and illegally, to find a better life and to escape per[1230]secution. It is a cruel irony that the deportations took place just as those celebrations were about to begin.

The thrust of my contribution will relate to the cases of unaccompanied minors who have come to this country. Many of them, including the young man in question, are over the age of 18 when they sit the leaving certificate because of their late entry into the education system. Therefore, they come within the terms of reference of the deportation regulations. Many people are eligible for deportation as they prepare to sit the leaving certificate, or even the junior certificate, and are being deported on that basis. I am sure the Minister understands the significant benefits, in terms of their future, of giving such people the opportunity to acquire some qualification from the Irish education system.

None of the humanitarian reasons for deciding not to deport a young person, including that person’s friends and other roots in the community, has been taken into consideration. That is contrary to the spirit of the Geneva Convention and the international laws relating to children. If it is still part of this country’s ethos to be Christian and humane, the least we should do is to allow young people who have come to Ireland in difficult circumstances to stay here until they have finished their schooling. The Minister should suspend any future deportations of this nature. He should provide for a separate assessment when he considers ordering the deportation of a young person on the grounds I have mentioned. In such an assessment, he should consider the degree to which the person has been integrated into Irish society through the education system.

Ms Burton:  The Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform chose to act in a particularly cruel and callous manner when they decided to deport a 19 year old leaving certificate student at Pobalscoil Iosolde in Palmerstown. In such circumstances, what is the logic of the State making relatively generous provision to allow unaccompanied minors to study here? What was the point of preparing a young man to sit his leaving certificate, if the State intended to deport him to a city he does not know, where he has no friends, no family and no money? The State’s actions removed any prospect of him being able to complete his secondary education. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has granted anyone humanitarian leave to stay in this country in recent times, and on what basis he has done so.

I do not doubt that the trafficking of unaccompanied minors is a serious crime and a problem for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There is strong evidence in this case that the young man in question had integrated extraordinarily well into his community and his school. He was working on a part-time basis and paying for his room. He had earned the esteem and friendship of teachers and students at Pobal[1231]scoil Iosolde in Palmerstown. In the circumstances — the young man’s father has been reported dead and his mother lives in another country — it seems to me that the decision to deport him to Nigeria was particularly cruel. If the Minister had allowed the person in question to complete his secondary education, which is an important qualification in Africa, he would have been in a much better position to assist himself economically.

Does the Health Service Executive have any concept of its duty of care to this young man? The health service’s duty of care in respect of a person under the age of 18 who is in care normally continues for a further number of years. The Minister should re-examine the decision he has taken in this case. He should consider the compelling case for humanitarian leave to stay.

Mr. Curran:  I thank the Chair for the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment debate the deportation from Palmerstown of a young Nigerian student, Mr. Olunkunle Eluhanla, commonly known to his friends as “Kunle”. I thank the Minister, Deputy McDowell, for attending in person tonight. It frequently happens that the relevant Minister does not respond on the Adjournment because he or she has been given short notice. It is interesting to note that many Deputies tried to raise this matter, which has created a great deal of tension in many communities.

I understand that an application for refugee status and a subsequent appeal were not upheld in this case and refugee status was not granted. I heard the Minister speaking about this case during a radio interview this morning. He clearly stated that he would not make an order to allow Olunkunle to return to Ireland, as that would lead to a chaotic situation of Ireland having an open door immigration policy, in effect. The Minister may not have used those exact words, but I have outlined what he said, more or less.

While I do not believe the Irish people want an open door immigration policy, I think they would like the Minister to show some sympathy and compassion in this case. Although Olunkunle’s application for refugee status failed, it appears that a number of claims made by him during that process were not disputed. His father and his uncle were murdered in December 1998 and Olunkunle was shot during the incident. Olunkunle and the remaining members of his family moved to Lagos thereafter. The house in which he was living with his family was subsequently destroyed. Olunkunle arrived in Ireland in October 2001, having travelled without his family. I regard him as an orphan because his father is dead and the location of his mother and the rest of his family is unknown. Some media reports have suggested that they might be in the United States or the United Kingdom, but Olunkunle does not know where they are.

[1232]Olunkunle has spent about half of his teenage years in Ireland. He has adapted well during that time, for example by integrating with the local community, studying for his leaving certificate and working in a part-time job. He is a popular student and his deportation has touched the lives of everyone here who knows him. I have received numerous phone calls from people from all walks of life wishing to register their disapproval of the manner in which Olunkunle was dealt with. Less than three months away from his leaving certificate, a student was deported at short notice. I understand that today Olunkunle roams somewhere in Lagos and faces a very uncertain future. I ask the Minister to reconsider his earlier-stated position. I ask him to recognise Olunkunle as an orphan. The State and the Department should have observed a duty of care to Olunkunle when deporting him, but he was deported instead without reference to what lay ahead for him in Nigeria. He came here as a young person without any family. While I accept that we require an immigration policy, the manner in which Olunkunle was deported failed to take into account what he would face.

The Minister will speak factually and eloquently when replying, but that will not help Olunkunle’s situation. I plead with the Minister to at least allow Olunkunle the opportunity to return to Ireland to complete his leaving certificate and, perhaps, to let him apply for leave to remain here on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. The Minister should bear in mind that Olunkunle was here for three and a half years, made a significant number of friends and integrated extremely well. It is grossly unfair that a person who has been studying for a number of years should be deprived at the last minute of the opportunity to receive a qualification.

The Minister is probably the most knowledgeable person in the House on the law. I am sure a way can be found to allow Olunkunle to return to complete his leaving certificate which does not open any door or cause chaos in our immigration system. I plead with the Minister who has the expertise to do it to find that way. It is the minimum the people who have contacted me in significant numbers want me to ask of him. I thank the Minister for attending to reply on this matter.

Mr. Cuffe:  I wish to share time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

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

Mr. Cuffe:  We must consider the facts. Olunkunle Eluhanla arrived in Ireland at the age of 15. His father was shot dead in an attack and his mother may live in America. He has no family left in Nigeria. While a week ago he was preparing for his leaving certificate in Palmerstown, on 15 March he was deported to Nigeria and is now in Lagos with no money or belongings. On his return to Nigeria, he was put in jail but while he [1233]was lucky enough to be released, he was subsequently attacked and molested. I want an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrest, deportation and subsequent treatment in Nigeria of the young man in question. I want the Minister to bring him back to Ireland which has become his home over the last few years.

The Minister stated on “Morning Ireland” this morning that if he were to make allowances for persons who have lost one parent and are not living with the other, our immigration policy would be a shambles. Can the Minister explain what he means by “shambles” in this case? If, as stated on “Morning Ireland” the Government has such high standards in protecting asylum seekers, why was this young man deported without identity papers while still in his school uniform? What protection is the Minister providing to people like Olunkunle? What assurances was the Government able to give him that he was returning to a safe environment? Why did the Minister give the boy false hope by allowing him to study for a leaving certificate examination which he would never be given the opportunity to sit?

Under a repatriation agreement signed with Nigeria in 2001, Ireland committed itself to safeguarding the human rights and dignity of those returned during the deportation process and when repatriation had taken place. I see no evidence that the commitment is being honoured. I call on the Minister to allow Olunkunle to return to Ireland at least to sit his leaving certificate examination. What is the point in providing people like him with good educational facilities and then denying him the opportunity to sit his exams? The problem with the Government’s immigration policy is that it has no room for compassion, humanity and consideration for the people directly affected by it. We want an immigration policy with a human aspect which protects rather than rejects people and is open and transparent in its operations.

While over 4,000 people have been recognised as refugees in Ireland over the last three years, the numbers given leave to remain are extremely low. Only 75 former asylum seekers were successful at this stage last year while the number of deported people was eight times greater. The bar has been set very high and the basis for refusing some especially strong cases is questionable. The total number of aged-out asylum seekers who have applied for leave to remain on humanitarian grounds but not on the basis of being an Irish-born child is relatively small, perhaps 500.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are two and a half minutes remaining for Deputy Joe Higgins.

Mr. Cuffe:  In the 1990s, 48,000 US visas were granted under the Morrison scheme and the Taoiseach was busy in Washington last week attempting to regularise the positions of thou[1234]sands more Irish emigrants. A double standard appears to operate.

I call on the Minister to allow the young man in question and others like him to return to Ireland to sit their leaving certificate examination. Among them is Portia Osadiede, a 19 year old who lived in Dún Laoghaire.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is just one minute left for Deputy Joe Higgins.

Mr. Cuffe:  In a bitter twist of fate, Olunkunle Eluhanla had paid the fee to sit the leaving certificate. I appeal to the Minister to bring him home.

Mr. J. Higgins:  I first heard the name Olunkunle Eluhanla on Monday, 15 March when I saw descending on Leinster House 60 leaving certificate students from Palmerstown community school who were upset, worried and angry that their friend had been snatched from their company without even having time to say goodbye. He was dumped, a term I use advisedly, in Lagos without identity papers, money, family, a place to go or someone on whom to fall back. These circumstances in themselves constitute callous negligence by the State. Lagos is an extremely precarious place for working class and poor people generally and especially for a completely lost young man in the uniform of his school. We are fortunate today that we are not here to mourn Olunkunle as he was assaulted in an attack which could have been even worse.

It beggars belief that a leaving certificate student two months away from his final exams should be deported. I salute the students of Palmerstown community school for their solidarity and loyalty to their friend. They have come in large numbers with their teachers to the Public Gallery hoping the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will exercise compassion. They stand tall in contrast to comments in some media outlets that Irish youth is generally self-centred, cynical and callous. If the Minister will not listen to compassion, though I hope he will, he should at least listen to the voices of people in the community who ask him to set aside the general policy and exercise the discretion he absolutely has to allow the young man in question to return.

Supporters of Olunkunle are examining whether there are legal grounds to challenge his deportation. While they may go to the High Court, people power must be brought to bear on the Government to ensure he is allowed to continue his studies. The Minister must see the howling irony of this callous deportation in the context the Taoiseach’s request to the President of the United States of America to allow thousands of undocumented Irish people to continue their American lives legally. I ask the Minister to end the agony of Olunkunle Eluhanla and the distress of his friends. I ask the Minister to allow Olunkunle to return to his studies and the bosom [1235]of the community which obviously loved him and took him to its heart.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  It is important that I preface my remarks by pointing out that it has been the policy of successive Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not to reveal the personal details of the cases of individual applicants for asylum whose applications are received and treated in confidence. Having said that, I do not wish to shirk the issues Members have raised.

Underlying this case are two fundamental principles. First, the cases of asylum seekers who apply for our protection must be fairly and independently examined. Second, a deportation process must be central to the proper running of any immigration and asylum system. The definition of “refugee” is well known and set out in section 2 of the 1996 Act. In the case of each asylum seeker, the task is to determine whether he or she is deemed to meet the terms of the definition on the basis of all of the information gleaned. I emphasise that all of the information is considered.

Under the Refugee Act 1996, two independent statutory offices were established to consider applications and appeals in respect of refugee status and to make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted. These offices are the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Every asylum applicant is guaranteed an investigation and determination of his or her claim at first instance by the Refugee Applications Commissioner. Every asylum applicant is guaranteed a right of appeal to a statutorily independent and separate body, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Every asylum applicant is also guaranteed access to legal assistance provided by the Refugee Legal Service.

Under the provisions of section 17(1) of the Refugee Act 1996, the final decision in respect of an asylum application is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform based on the recommendation of the commissioner or the decision of the tribunal. However, under the legislative scheme of things I am obliged, save in exceptional circumstances, to accept a recommendation that a person should be given refugee status. Such a decision is made by the Minister as soon as possible following receipt of the relevant papers from the commissioner or the tribunal, as appropriate.

There has been a notable pattern of unaccompanied minors, that is, people under the age of 18, arriving in Ireland claiming refugee status. In the case of Nigerians, of which there were in the region of 105 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers for the past two years, since there are no direct passenger services between Ireland and [1236]Nigeria, these unaccompanied minors must have put in place elaborate travel arrangements involving transit through other safe countries in the European Union. Comprehensive safeguards are provided in the Refugee Act and in relevant procedures in ORAC and RAT for dealing with asylum claims for unaccompanied minors. These include the minor being placed in the care of a health board on arrival in the State pending a decision being made on the making of an asylum application; dealing with such applications as a matter of priority by the Refugee Applications Commissioner; that the processing of cases is in line with child specific procedures having regard in particular to UNHCR guidelines on best practice for dealing with unaccompanied minors; that unaccompanied minors are only interviewed in the presence of a health board representative; and to ensure that the special needs of minors and particularly unaccompanied minors are properly taken into account. A group of experienced ORAC interviewers has received additional specialised training to assist them in working on cases involving unaccompanied minors. This training includes the input of child care experts with a focus on issues such as psychological needs, child specific aspects of the refugee process, the role of the social worker and other issues particular to refugee determination for unaccompanied minors.

In this case, Deputy Cuffe stated that the person in question came here at the age of 15, but that is factually incorrect. In February 2002 the person referred to by the Deputies arrived in Ireland seeking asylum. The date of birth given in the asylum application indicated that he was 17 years of age. On the basis of that date he was by no stretch of the imagination what newspapers have described as a schoolboy but was 20 years of age when he was deported. Moreover, he verbally indicated to the escorting Garda team that he was 21 years of age.

I am constrained by law from making public the exact details of the asylum claim and will not deal here with the credibility or strength of the person’s original claim. The important point to note is that his claim was assessed by the two independent bodies that came to the same conclusion, that he was not entitled to refugee protection.

In October 2003 the person concerned was informed that he was found not be a refugee and was informed of the three options then open to him, first, to leave the State before his case was considered for deportation, to consent to the making of a deportation order in respect of him or to make written representations, within 15 working days, to me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform setting out reasons he should not be deported, that is, why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State.

Representations were made by this person, which included the fact that he was a student. The [1237]case was examined under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 and section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996, prohibition of refoulement, including consideration of all representations received on his behalf and a deportation order was signed for him on 21 January 2005.

Ms Burton:  The Minister did not examine the file.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order.

Mr. McDowell:  The deportation order was sent to the person at his home address and the accompanying letter instructed him to report to the offices of the Garda national immigration bureau on 3 March 2005.

Ms Burton:  The Minister did not examine the file at any stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  This letter was copied to his solicitors. He did not do as requested and was classified as an evader. On 14 March 2005, coincidentally on the day a charter operation to Nigeria was taking place, he arrived at Burgh Quay accompanied by a friend who described himself as his uncle. The person was advised by the Garda to seek immediate legal advice. He was detained and placed in Cloverhill Prison. I wish to make it clear that the Garda offered to escort him to his home to collect his belongings, which he declined. Furthermore, the Garda informed me that he was not wearing clothes which could be described as a school uniform. He was removed on the charter flight to Nigeria, leaving Dublin at 11.40 p.m. that night.

I have seen claims that the person in question was successively mugged and assaulted in Nigeria on his return. It is important to note that the charter flight was preceded by a senior Garda advance party, consisting of a detective inspector and detective sergeant, which situated itself in Lagos a day prior to the charter and remained there for 12 hours after the charter returned. On the flight all adults, including the person who is the subject of this debate, were handed a letter by a member of the Garda team informing each of them, among other things, of the presence of the two officers in the advance party in Lagos and that, upon disembarkation, they could contact them through the Nigerian immigration authorities for necessary assistance.

Mr. Cuffe:  The Minister is living in a dream world.

Mr. J. Higgins:  He was taken to jail.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

[1238]Mr. McDowell:  The person concerned did not seek such assistance.

Ms Burton:  The Minister never examined the file.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  In regard to the substance of this case, Deputy Costello urged that we would not deport——

Ms Burton:  The Minister never examined the file.

Mr. Cuffe:  The Minister is living in a dream world.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  ——the school-going children of non-national parents who are facing deportation while they remain in full-time education, and not to deport the young people who come to Ireland as unaccompanied minors while they also remain in full-time education.

I ask Deputies to consider what would be the consequences of such a policy. In effect, no person in any form of education and, by implication, none of their family members could ever be deported from the State.

Mr. Costello:  That is ridiculous.

Mr. McDowell:  Furthermore, Ireland would send out a message to the world that it is assuming an obligation to provide education to those who have been found not to be in need of international protection and have otherwise no right to be in the State.

A further implication of allowing this person to stay is that, as a matter of policy, a person who has lost one parent and who is not living with the other parent——

Ms Burton:  That is absolute rubbish.

Mr. McDowell:  ——should be allowed to stay and be educated here. Again, this is not a rational proposition and such a policy would lead to a chaotic immigration system.

Mr. Cuffe:  It is chaotic as it is now.

Mr. McDowell:  The suggestion that has come from some sources that I should not deport a person because he or she is a good student, implying that students who are less academically gifted can be deported, is indefensible.

Mr. J. Higgins:  No one said that. That is an outrageous distortion of the facts.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

[1239]Mr. McDowell:  The same applies to athletic prowess and participation in church activities.

Ms Burton:  It has nothing to do with that.

Mr. J. Higgins:  What does that have to do with this case?

Mr. McDowell:  I cannot discriminate against those who are less gifted or on grounds of religious activity.

Ms Burton:  The Minister abdicated his responsibilities.

Mr. McDowell:  All failed asylum seekers and persons illegally in the State are first given the opportunity of going home voluntarily, funded in many cases by the taxpayer. If this is not availed of and a deportation order results, it is carried out with due advance notice to the deportee, which was the case on this occasion.

Since I became Minister I have observed some groups in this country who place themselves on a high moral ground, running to the media with gross exaggerations or misinformation regarding the treatment of individual asylum seekers, including the deportation process.

Mr. J. Higgins:  It is called compassion.

Mr. McDowell:  When the true facts emerge exposing the untruths we are deafened by the silence of these same groups. In particular, a group calling itself Residents Against Racism organised an extensive campaign in respect of a person who claimed she was facing a sentence of death in a Muslim Sharia court in Nigeria. Its campaign involved demonstrations attended by Members of this House and considerable media coverage. It subsequently transpired that the claims on foot of which that extensive campaign was mounted had no shred of truth — Deputy Costello should remember that.

Ms Burton:  That has nothing to do with this case.

Mr. Cuffe:  People are condemned to death by these courts all the time.

Ms Burton:  That is a red herring.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  Despite uninformed criticism of the Irish asylum determination system by a small but vocal minority of groups in our country, our asylum determination system compares with the best in the world in terms of fairness, decision making, determination structures and support services.

[1240]Mr. J. Higgins:  The Minister should tell that to the communities in Palmerstown.

Mr. McDowell:  I believe that the vast majority of people in Ireland recognise this and have faith in our asylum system.

Mr. Cuffe:  Bruce Morrison did not think that.

Mr. McDowell:  Since April 2000, more than 36,000 applicants have been accommodated directly by the State under direct provision arrangements.

Ms Burton:  What about the Minister’s colleagues——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

  9 o’clock

Mr. McDowell:  Nearly 700 staff have been recruited across the asylum system, representing the biggest influx of staff in any area of the public service in decades. The Government has established three offices to deal with the asylum issue. As regards the immigration of non-EU nationals into Ireland, the Government has two basic options. We can operate an open door policy where anyone can come to Ireland without restriction, or we can legislate for procedures to control who can or cannot reside in our country. Since the foundation of the State, successive Irish Governments have chosen to do the latter, and this is in line with international practice in every other country in the world.

Ms Burton:  That is absolute rubbish.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The Minister can exercise his discretion and let him back to do his leaving certificate.

Mr. McDowell:  I will say this if the Deputies will listen to me for a moment. In recent months I have put in place a scheme for parents of Irish born children, which is being availed of by about 10,000 to 20,000 applicants. I do not need a lecture from any of the Deputies opposite about fairness in our system. That is something I was not legally obliged to do, but felt morally compelled to do and it was well received. I do not pretend for one second that our standard of living, whether in education, health or otherwise, is not superior to many of the countries to which we return deportees. On a simple human level it is a difficult decision to send somebody home because one is extinguishing a dream, which was to go to Ireland to better himself or herself. It is not an easy decision to make, but it is one that I have to make in the best interests of immigrants and indigenous people together.

Mr. Cuffe:  What about honouring the agreement that the Government signed in 2001?

[1241]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  I do not know what the Deputy is talking about.

Mr. Cuffe:  The repatriation agreement.

Mr. McDowell:  Is the Deputy referring to Nigeria?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should be allowed to make his statement.

Mr. Cuffe:  Was 12 hours too much time to allow——

Mr. McDowell:  I urge the Deputy to consider in a week’s time when all the facts tumble out on this whether he will not be seriously embarrassed by some of the rhetoric he is employing.

Mr. Costello:  If the Minister has some facts, let us hear them.

Mr. McDowell:  There are some people in politics who appear to believe they can dress up as racist everything they oppose in this area.

Mr. Costello:  Is the Minister allowed to give the Members a lecture?

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy does not have to shout me down. I did not interrupt any of the Deputies.

Mr. J. Higgins:  We did not use the word “racist”.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The time for this question has elapsed.

Mr. McDowell:  It should be clearly understood that the one thing that would play into the hands of racists in Ireland is an immigration law that was seen not to work or to have been circumvented and abused——

Mr. Costello:  One that is fair.

Mr. McDowell:  A fair law is the way to ensure that there are good relations between the immigration population here and the Irish.

Mr. J. Higgins:  They are asking the Minister to let him back. They are the community that——

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy’s theatricals will not work with me. The Deputy is being disorderly and he is interrupting.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The time has expired.

Ms Burton:  The Minister’s predecessors, 40 years ago, condemned people to orphanages in this country.

[1242]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister, to conclude. Order, please.

Ms Burton:  Some 40 years ago——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister is in possession.

Mr. Costello:  One youngster was about to do his leaving certificate.

Mr. McDowell:  A young man, aged 21, was returned to Nigeria after due process was made available to him. The young gentleman was accorded and afforded by the Irish State every reasonable facility while he was here.

Mr. Costello:  The Minister cut him off.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Curran, at least, had the courtesy to note that I was coming to the House in a personal capacity, to address the views of a number of Deputies. I find it sorely disappointing to be shouted down and barracked by a group of people who should not and could not be put in charge of this area of Irish administration.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Crawford.

Mr. Crawford:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. However, I hesitate to even discuss it in the present atmosphere. I refer to the shock deportation from Castleblayney on Tuesday night last of Mrs. Nkechi Okolie and her three children, aged six, ten and 16, which has evoked strong feelings not only in the town, where they lived for up to five years, but throughout the entire community. The community where they lived and went to school is heart-broken and bitter over the fact that this family was allowed to integrate in the schools and churches for a number of years. The mother was not allowed to work and provide for her family, but she managed to work as a volunteer at Dóchas Monaghan, at the Camphill community centre and the First Castleblayney Presbyterian Church holiday club. In the words of the Reverend Nancy Cubitt, minister at the First Castleblayney Presbyterian Church, the church was very sad to lose one of its most committed and popular families. Absolutely everyone at the church signed a petition asking for the family to be returned to Castleblayney.

The members of this family won the hearts of everyone who had the privilege to meet them, whether at church, school or community level. Ike, the 16 year old son, attended Castleblayney College and according to the principal, Mr. Gerry Hand, he was an exceptional all-round student with his exemplary attendance and punctuality. His junior certificate results last September were exceptional. He achieved the title of student of the month at the school on more than one occasion. The principal said: “I cannot praise his [1243]general application to school, curriculum and extra-curricular activities highly enough.” Yet Ike was deported without the opportunity to speak to his friends and while the local Garda treated the family generously, the inhumane manner of the deportation was despicable.

The head of Dóchas Monaghan spoke on local radio about the great voluntary work Mrs. Okolie was doing with the Dóchas group in Monaghan and also spoke on behalf of Camphill. I have a number of letters in my possession which are very sincere and generous in their support for the family. The main issue for most is that these people were allowed to stay here, integrate into society and be part of the community. As Reverend Nancy Cubitt said, these people were an asset to the country and are sorely missed in the church. They were already making a large contribution to the community and it would have been greater, had they been allowed to work. We want to see them back. There are many more suitable cases for deportation than these.

I am old enough and so is the Minister to be able to recall the times when my brother and many others had to leave this country. They went to England and North America. I have been in Canada on many occasions, in places where the Irish there have never returned to Ireland, although their roots are still here. Their families went out there during the Famine era or even 100 years before that. These people were allowed to take up employment. As regards immigrants who are in Ireland for a number of years, is there not some justification for an amnesty? We allow many other people into this country to work. We are actually looking for such people to work. I know of a number of immigrants at St. Patrick’s College, Monaghan, who are sorely aggrieved at their situation. They do not want to be a liability and want to work. I realise there must be immigration laws but matters have tightened up considerably. Not nearly as many immigrants are coming in, for all sorts of reasons. However, at least those who have been here for a number of years and have integrated into society should be allowed, for God’s sake, to remain so that the type of havoc this family has experienced is not replicated.

I have never seen this community so united. These people are not strays or weirdos, they are the genuine, ordinary people of Castleblayney. In the words of the Reverend Nancy Cubitt, absolutely everyone signed the petition. Not one person was against this dark coloured family being there. They had come to know and love them and wanted them to stay. This is a small Presbyterian Church — I am a member of the broader church in the county — and the moderator of the church in County Monaghan has sent a letter to the Minister asking him to reconsider the situation. We do not want an open door policy for crackpots, we want realism and an understanding of what our sons and daughters went through in the [1244]years gone by and to treat these people with Christian generosity.

Mr. McDowell:  I thank Deputy Crawford for raising the issue of this family. I have no doubt that what he says is correct, that the mother and children are decent people who were close to the hearts of the community in which they stayed while here.

I want, however, to put a few facts on record. The person referred to by the Deputy and her three children arrived in Ireland on 28 November 2001 and claimed asylum. I have indicated in the course of the last exchange the procedures that were gone through. The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner considers each case in great detail. If applicants win the right to be considered refugees at that stage, that is the end of the matter. If they lose, they have the right to appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. If they win at that stage, they are given refugee status and I am not in a position to refuse them. Even at that stage, if applicants are not successful, they are given the opportunity to do one of three things, leave the State voluntarily, consent to being the subject of a deportation order, in which case the State will deport them, or apply to me for humanitarian leave to remain. Those are the three options this family was given.

An application for leave to remain in the State was received by my Department on 21 January 2003. The case was examined under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 and section 5 — prohibition of refoulement— of the Refugee Act 1996. It was examined at considerable length and the deportation orders were signed in respect of all four family members on 11 February 2005. The family complied with the relevant reporting requirements and were removed on a charter flight to Lagos on the night of 14-15 March 2005.

The situation for families in these circumstances is that when they come to Ireland from Nigeria, they inevitably pass through other EU member states. It costs a lot to move a family from Nigeria to Ireland so much hope is put into the enterprise that they would be allowed to stay in Ireland. When they come here, however, they bypass the queues of people applying for visas and employment permits and enter the community in circumstances where the State undertakes to look after their material needs while they are here. They also come here on one strict condition — if it is found that they are not entitled to refugee status or humanitarian leave to remain, they undertake by way of legal obligation to the State that they will go home. That is the basis of the 1951 convention.

Mr. Crawford:  They went home.

Mr. McDowell:  In my view — I do not want to be rancorous — this family’s case was examined carefully——

[1245]Ms Burton:  It was not examined by the Minister. Deputy McDowell is Minister and he is supposed to read the cases for humanitarian leave to stay but he does not, he gets his officials to do it.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Crawford will be aware that all I can offer in these cases is to operate a fair system applicable to all people in similar circumstances.

Ms Burton:  The Minister does not deny it, he does not read the files.

Mr. McDowell:  I cannot select one person and say on an arbitrary basis that I will treat him or her differently from others.

Ms Burton:  The Minister does not even read the files.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister has an obligation to read the files under section 3 of the 1999 Act.

Mr. McDowell:  I do not know what point the Deputy is making. I comply with my obligations.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Section 3 obliges the Minister to give consideration to the files of people being deported.

Mr. McDowell:  Yes, so what?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Did the Minister do that?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe is not entitled to intervene.

Ms Burton:  That is the Minister’s job under section 3 but he passes it to others.

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy should acquaint herself with the Carltona principle.

Ms Burton:  The Minister should acquaint himself with the Refugee Act and the Geneva Convention.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This is Deputy Crawford’s matter.

Mr. McDowell:  Dealing with Deputy Crawford’s case, in such cases every leniency is given.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  By whom?

Ms Burton:  By whom? Not by the Minister.

Mr. McDowell:  By the Department, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Ms Burton:  The Minister does not listen to the case.

[1246]Mr. McDowell:  This House is doing itself a singular disservice in criticising a system that is the fairest in the world.

Mr. Costello:  We are not criticising the system, we are criticising the Minister.

Ms Burton:  We are asking the Minister to do his job.

Mr. McDowell:  Our system complies fully with UN guidelines in the manner of its operations.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Is the Minister carrying out his obligations under section 3 of the 1999 Act?

Mr. McDowell:  I ask Deputy Cuffe and others who refer to America to consider for one moment whether a family in these circumstances would have been provided for by the American state for four years, whether education and so on that we have heard about tonight would have been provided by that society for anyone who turned up on the shores of America in similar circumstances.

Mr. Cuffe:  Is the Minister defending the log-jam of applications to remain in the State?

Mr. McDowell:  The answer to that question is a resounding “no”. This country has nothing to be ashamed of in the way it deals with asylum seekers. It deals with them fairly, properly and humanely.

Mr. Cuffe:  Is that why it takes six years to process an application?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  If the Minister has not considered the files, he is not compliant with the law.

Mr. McDowell:  It has a system of reviews, appeals and discretionary arrangements at the end of the process second to none in the world.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Discretionary arrangements exercised by the Minister.

Ms Burton:  He never reads the files.

Mr. McDowell:  : It is fairly operated and there is no country in Europe with a fairer system or which shows more compassion or decency to people in these circumstances than we do.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister is not doing his job if he does not comply with the law.

Mr. McDowell:  In the last analysis, if I do not deport some people we might as well have no law at all.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We accept that.

Mr. Cuffe:  No one in this House is making that argument.

[1247]Mr. McDowell:  Some of the Deputies opposite are proving by their behaviour this evening how unsuited they would be to be entrusted with the difficult task I have to undertake in the name of the Irish people.

[1248]Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister must adhere to his obligations under the law.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 March 2004.

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

Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, answered orally.

  11.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the practical assistance which will be forthcoming from the new Culture Ireland body in 2005; the medium through which Irish writers will be marketed as an Irish entity abroad at international arts and diplomatic events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9174/05]

  12.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the objectives of the new body, Culture Ireland; the role it will have in the promotion of the arts abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9182/05]

  26.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the practical assistance which will be forthcoming from the new Culture Ireland body in 2005; if €2 million is a sufficient budget to fund and facilitate Irish culture and arts abroad; the reason the body and its board membership do not seem geared towards writers who are not poets abroad, unlike comparable bodies in countries such as Canada; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9164/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 12 and 26 together.

On 24 February, I announced the establishment of a new body for the promotion of Irish arts abroad, which will be known as Culture Ireland, and replaces the cultural relations committee. The board’s remit is to promote Irish arts and artists in the international context, utilising the funds made available to it by my Department, in accordance with policy objectives and priorities notified to it by me as Minister. The board’s remit includes all artforms as defined in the Arts Act 2003, which specifically includes literature.

The specific activities of Culture Ireland may include, but are not confined to: grant giving to Irish artists or arts organisations in response to applications received for such assistance and evaluated in accordance with transparent criteria to be determined and published by Culture Ireland; funding and facilitation of Irish participation at strategic international arts events; managing of special emblematic cultural and artistic events and-or activities either in Ireland or abroad as required by the Minister for Arts, Sport, and Tourism; and giving advice to me as Minister on international arts and cultural affairs.

Within 12 months of its establishment Culture Ireland is to submit to me a strategic plan for the [1250]discharging of this remit over the following three years. Culture Ireland has a budget of €2 million for 2005. This represents a very significant increase on the budget of €700,000 which was available to the cultural relations committee in 2004, and will allow Culture Ireland to bring the promotion of Irish arts abroad, in accordance with its terms of reference, to a new level. I understand that the first formal meeting of Culture Ireland is scheduled for 7 April. I look forward with interest to receiving the strategic plan for Culture Ireland in due course.

  13.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the action he intends to take to implement the recommendations of the steering group appointed to carry out the Athens review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9211/05]

  33.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the lessons he has drawn from the recent report on the Irish team’s experience and participation in the Athens Olympics; if he has discussed the findings of the report with the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland; the steps he will be taking on foot of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9183/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 33 together.

In July 2004, the Irish Sports Council in conjunction with the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Paralympic Council of Ireland commissioned the Athens review to produce an objective assessment of the preparation and performance of the Irish teams at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens 2004. The purpose of the review was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of the programmes and structures over the course of the four year cycle leading into the Athens games with a view to making recommendations for the development of programmes for the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic games.

The final report, which was published on 2 March 2005, draws on the lessons of the last four years and on international experience to set out how we can achieve consistent success at Olympic and Paralympic games. It is a timely follow up to the Sydney review which marked a watershed in Ireland’s approach to high performance sport. Some 29 recommendations were made in that review with a view to urgently addressing every aspect of Ireland’s preparation for and participation in major international sports events.

The Athens review, in its assessment of the implementation of those recommendations, makes it clear that a great deal has been achieved over the past four years. It acknowledges that significant improvements were made in the general preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympic and [1251]Paralympic games. In particular, the relationship between the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland has advanced along the lines set out in the Sydney review.

Clear, measurable targets are required for any investment. It is particularly important that, as the review recommends, sustained investment should be focused on the most talented athletes and measured against clearly defined targets. The Athens review has provided those targets for Irish sport. It is reasonable to target between six and nine finalists at the Olympics and between 12 and 15 finalists at the Paralympics.

There is a need for greater focus on sports and athletes that can deliver success at the highest level. The investment decisions taken to date by the Irish Sports Council are endorsed as being in the right direction. There is now a need to sharpen the investment. That will involve some tough decisions. However, if we are to reach the targets set, the hard decisions must be taken and I will support the council in that regard.

In retrospect, it probably was unreasonable to expect a major benefit from the improved investment in the Athens cycle. It was too short a time frame, especially in comparison with major competitors. We have invested substantially in sport but we started behind others and it will take time to catch up. There must be a focus on junior and developing athletes. That is the correct way to go, but it does not produce instant dividends.

It is imperative that all developments in high performance sport must be based on fair and ethical means. The Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme is world class and ensures that we can have confidence that our teams are competing in accordance with the highest ethical standards. WADA is leading the war on doping at international level and is making progress in ensuring that world class sport is clean and fair.

I am currently awaiting the recommendations of the Irish Sports Council on the various measures and interventions required to address the issues raised and recommendations made in the Athens review. I expect to receive the council’s advice within the next few weeks and it is my intention to ensure that its recommendations will inform our preparations for Beijing.

  14.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will give special consideration to the application from a group (details supplied) in County Galway under the sports capital programme. [9141/05]

  238.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will give special consideration to the application from a group (details supplied) in County Galway under the sports capital programme. [9091/05]

[1252]Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 238 together.

The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

The 2005 programme was advertised in the national newspapers on 5 and 6 December 2004. The deadline for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. A total of 1,362 applications were received before that deadline and these applications, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. The assessment process compares applications with the other applications from the same county. In keeping with Government policy, the assessment process gives greater weighting for projects from areas designated as disadvantaged, that is, RAPID, CLÁR and local drugs task force areas.

I intend to announce the provisional grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  15.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he has had discussions with the sporting organisations in regard to ticket touting and ticket forgeries; his views on whether legislation to address this issue is necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9161/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  While my Department has no statutory or regulatory responsibility in the area of ticket touting and ticket forgery, the three main national governing bodies of sport, the GAA, IRFU and FAI, were consulted by departmental officials on the issue some time ago.

These consultations revealed a strong commitment on the part of the governing bodies to the elimination of ticket touting in respect of the sporting events under their control and they have systems in place to deal with ticket touting which enables them to trace any touted ticket to the person to whom it was issued and to take any action considered appropriate.

In addition, a number of organisations have sophisticated systems in place aimed at eliminating ticket forgery which can be experienced at major sporting events and which prevent forged ticket holders from gaining entry to events.

Legal advice obtained by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in 2001 indicated that responsibility for arrangements to ensure the availability of tickets on a fair basis and the enforcing of such arrangements is primarily a matter for the event organisers themselves.

The question of whether legislation is necessary to address the issue in question is one for [1253]consideration in the context of policing, pricing and consumer protection, areas which are outside the remit of my Department.

  16.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the financial support being provided to Shamrock Rovers Football Club to allow it to complete its new stadium; the discussions he has had recently with the club in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9187/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  My Department allocated capital grants totalling €2.57 million over the three years 2000 to 2002 in respect of the Shamrock Rovers stadium in Tallaght. This funding was allocated under the sports capital programme, which is administered by this Department to assist projects directly related to the provision of sports and recreational facilities.

So far, €2.44 million of this amount has been paid out in respect of works certified by invoices to the value of €3.3 million. While responsibility for the delivery of the projects rests entirely with the grantee in all cases of grants allocated under the sports capital programme, nevertheless, the Department has attempted to obtain assurances from the club and the FAI that work on the stadium would recommence and the stadium be completed.

My Department remains in contact with both South Dublin County Council and the Football Association of Ireland with a view to supporting plans for completion of the stadium. As the Deputy is aware, in December 2004 the county council turned down a request from the club for a further extension of 18 months to the duration of the planning permission for the development of the stadium. Arising from that decision, the council initiated a series of discussions with interested parties with a view to the repossession of the property stating that it is the ultimate objective of the council that the proposed stadium be completed and that Shamrock Rovers will play there on completion.

These contacts are continuing and it is to be hoped that they will deliver an outcome which will enable the stadium to be completed. In the event of a satisfactory outcome, South Dublin County Council will consult with my Department on how best to ensure the completion of a sporting facility on the property. In this connection, it would be my intention to support South Dublin County Council in putting together a financial package which would ensure the completion of the stadium. Discussions on the parameters of any such financial assistance will take place when the council has succeeded in regaining ownership of the site.

Question No. 17 answered with Question
No. 9.

  18.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    his policy in respect of the arts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9159/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  My policy on the arts is to promote and strengthen the arts in all its forms, increase access to and participation in the arts, and make the arts an integral and valued part of our national life.

The main channel for State support for the arts is the Arts Council, which receives a global allocation from my Department, and has statutory independence regarding its disbursement. In 2005, the council has received an allocation of €61 million, which is an increase of 16% on the total amount provided in the Book of Estimates for 2004. At the end of 2004 the Dáil passed a Supplementary Estimate, including €2 million for the Arts Council which the council had sought to specifically address the position of the Abbey Theatre.

I have recently announced a successor to the cultural relations committee, which was responsible for supporting Irish artists who wished to work or exhibit abroad. This new body, entitled Culture Ireland, has a broader, more proactive remit, and has an amount of €2 million at its disposal in 2005, to carry out its functions in accordance with its terms of reference.

My Department has provided capital grants to a broad range of arts and culture venues in recent years. For example, the ACCESS scheme provided funding of €45.7 million to 44 projects all around the country.

During 2004, my Department organised a very successful culture programme for Presidency of the European Union and a successful cultural exchange between Ireland and China.

  19.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the details of the annual budgets expended by the cities designated as European City of Culture since the instigation of this designation; the way in which such budgets compare with the money allocated in 2005 to allow Cork to be European City of Culture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9180/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I understand that last year the European Commission engaged a consultant, Palmer-Rae, to carry out an analysis and synthesis of the European capital city events from 1995 to 2004 and that this report, which is on the European Commission’s website and contains details of the operational budgets for the cities which were designated over that period. The scale of city and the variety in the programmes offered make meaningful comparisons very difficult, if not impossible.

[1255]The Government support of €7.85 million together with other sponsorship in cash and in kind is allowing Cork 2005 to present an exciting programme of international standard this year. I understand that the audience figures to date are well above those anticipated.

  20.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the GAA will open up Croke Park for international sporting events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9148/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I have indicated in this House previously, the question of the use of Croke Park is one for consideration by the GAA alone and it has always been my position not to interfere in this matter. Accordingly, I have at no stage sought to dictate, or prescribe to the association what approach it should take on the question of access.

The Deputy is probably aware that at the end of last year, the Government provided €40 million to the GAA to alleviate the debt burden arising from the redevelopment of Croke Park, bringing the level of Exchequer contribution to this project to €110 million.

  21.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding the development of the Lansdowne Road stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9175/05]

  28.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the design team and a project management team have been appointed by the Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company Limited; when a planning application will be lodged; the likely date for the commencement of work on the new stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9208/05]

  31.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the provision being made to allow the IRFU and the FAI to play home games here for the duration of the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9169/05]

  245.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he has had discussions with the various sporting bodies or organisations in regard to the way in which it is intended to cater for international rugby matches during the refurbishment of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9456/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 28, 31 and 245 together.

[1256]The Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company Limited, which was established by the IRFU and FAI to develop the stadium at Lansdowne Road, is responsible for all matters relating to the procurement of the stadium. Currently, the company, with the assistance of the Office of Public Works, is evaluating tenders received in connection with the appointment of a design team and a project management team for the project. It is expected that both teams will be selected by the end of March 2005. The company intends that the preparatory work leading to a submission for planning application will be pursued as soon as these teams have been appointed. It is expected that enabling works will happen during 2006 and the actual main construction work will commence in 2007 with an estimated building time of 29 months.

Once the construction work gets under way the stadium will be unavailable for use for a considerable period of time. I am aware that the IRFU and FAI have considered a number of contingency options for rugby and soccer matches during the period when the existing pitch will be unavailable. It is a matter for these autonomous sporting bodies to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that their match commitments are met. My Department is in regular liaison with both bodies through the Lansdowne Road stadium steering group.

  22.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    his proposals for the future use of the National Stadium Ireland site at Abbotstown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9160/05]

  27.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the Government has approved proposals for the development of a sports campus at Abbotstown; the likely commencement date of construction; the amount of funding allocated for the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9199/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 27 together.

In January 2004 the Government decided to proceed with the development of a sports campus on the State owned lands at Abbotstown. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, was requested to put forward proposals for the development of a sports campus and I have received from CSID a development control plan for a sports campus there.

It is my intention to present proposals to the Government shortly on the development of a sports campus at Abbotstown. The funding to be allocated to the project will be decided by Government at that time. In the meantime, I do not intend to make any further statement or go into detail on this matter until I have presented [1257]my proposals and secured the agreement of my Cabinet colleagues.

  23.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he has met the new chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland since his appointment; if so, the nature and content of any discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9162/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As the Deputy will be aware, interviews for the post of chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, were held on Wednesday, 9 March 2005. Due to the short time that has elapsed and the number of other commitments already in place, I have not yet had the opportunity to meet the new CEO since his formal appointment on Friday, 11 March 2005. However, I assure the Deputy that I will meet the CEO to discuss matters relating to the development of soccer in Ireland.

I would also like to point out that my Department officials are in regular, ongoing contact with the FAI in relation to such issues as the provision of playing and training facilities and the implementation of the FAI’s technical development plan.

In addition, a senior official of the Department is a member of the Irish Sports Council’s liaison group with the FAI on the implementation of the Genesis report. The official in question was also a member of the interview board, which was established to select the new chief executive officer of the FAI.

The Secretary General of my Department had a meeting with the CEO of the FAI on Wednesday, 16 March last at which the various projects and programmes with which the Department is involved with the FAI were discussed.

  24.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the progress being made on the programme for Government commitment to encourage special interest tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9189/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  In keeping with the commitment in the programme for Government to encourage special interest tourism, the Deputy might note that, in 2005, Fáilte Ireland will spend over €6 million on promoting special interest tourism. I understand that this funding is being made available primarily to promote those special interest tourism products which hold the greatest appeal to overseas consumers such as heritage and culture, walking, golf, English as a foreign language, EFL, angling, inland cruising, equestrian and cycling. Other special interest sectors such as sailing and wellness also benefit.

The Deputy might also note that Fáilte Ireland actively seeks to promote special interest tourism [1258]through the international sports tourism initiative which was established by the Government in 2000 with the objective of attracting prestigious major international sporting events to Ireland. From its commencement, the initiative has supported a total of 74 international events to the end of 2004 with a funding allocation of €29 million.

In addition, up to €50 million in grant aid is provided under the European Regional Development Fund to support investment in tourism product, including special interest pursuits, over the period of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 through Fáilte Ireland’s tourism product development scheme. The scheme is funded under the local enterprise development priority sub-programme of the two regional operational programmes and is administered by Fáilte Ireland. Last December, I agreed to Fáilte Ireland inviting a second round of investment proposals specifically under the special interest pursuits category of the scheme. Decisions in respect of grant allocations to individual projects are a matter for the independent product management boards specifically set up for this purpose.

Question No. 25 answered with Question
No. 10.

Question No. 26 answered with Question
No. 11.

Question No. 27 answered with Question
No. 22.

Question No. 28 answered with Question
No. 21.

  29.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    further to Parliamentary Question No. 82 of 17 February 2005, the estimated overall cost of the conservation programme for the Asgard and the resources available to his Department to carry out this work. [9142/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I indicated previously, the National Museum of Ireland, NMI, has requested the OPW to examine the feasibility of developing a permanent exhibition facility for the Asgard within the NMI Collins Barracks complex. OPW has identified a number of possible locations within Collins Barracks and is currently working on a feasibility study regarding this matter. It is envisaged that a feasibility report will be finalised by the end of June of this year. When this feasibility study is available to me further progress will depend on the resources available to my Department.

  30.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if progress has been [1259]made on the commitment in the programme for Government to complete a national audit of local sports facilities around the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9170/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  An Agreed Programme for Government contains a commitment to complete a national audit of local sports facilities and put in place a long-term strategic plan to ensure the development of such necessary facilities throughout the country.

It is my intention to immediately establish an inter-agency steering group to begin work on the development of a sports facilities strategy and to oversee the commencement of the audit of sports facilities. The proposed strategy will aim to ensure that an agreed and integrated approach is adopted to planning, funding, provision and management of sports facilities by the current main funding bodies in this area.

It is envisaged that the audit of sports facilities will be an important part in developing such a strategic approach to future facility provision in terms of establishing the level of need that still exists in the sports sector and in helping to determine future priorities.

Given the large numbers of facilities to be included in such an audit, the proposed steering group will have to make critical decisions on the methodology to be used to record and classify the facilities to be included.

Once completed, the audit will enable policy makers to map the location of the various sports facilities throughout the country, leading to a more effective targeting of new or additional facilities which will complement rather than duplicate what is already available. In this way, a more efficient use of financial resources can be achieved and a fostering of greater co-operation between complementary facility providers can be encouraged.

Question No. 31 answered with Question
No. 21.

  32.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the progress on the commitment in the programme for Government to foster expansion and competition on air and sea routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9188/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  One of the specific commitments in An Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats — June 2002 — was that we would foster expansion and competition on air and sea routes. Progress in relation to the implementation of this, and other commitments, is set out in detail in the formal annual progress reports produced by [1260]Government, the most recent of which was published in August 2004.

This area is primarily the responsibility of the Minister for Transport but I can give the following update from the tourism perspective. The number of overseas visitors to Ireland in 2004 was 6.574 million — an increase of 3.2% on the previous year. The latest capacity figures for summer 2005 air schedules indicate that capacity to the island of Ireland will increase by 16% from Britain, 38% from Europe and 17% from the United States on the 2004 levels. Tourism Ireland’s tourism marketing programme for 2005 will support new route development and will be co-ordinated with the marketing activities of the air and sea carriers. There are ongoing discussions with major air carriers to encourage new route development. Tourism Ireland has expanded its access marketing programme. In terms of continental Europe, Ryanair has designated Shannon Airport as a hub for European flights, it announced six new routes from Europe to Dublin and other leading European airlines have been attracted into Ireland.

Sea access is also critical to Irish tourism and the significant investment by carriers, in recent years, in improving and updating capacity has been welcomed by the tourism industry — car business makes a significant contribution to tourism in terms of delivering high yield visitors, who generally stay longer and have a greater impact as regards regional dispersion throughout the country.

The response to last year’s drop in the number of visitors travelling by sea has been to offer more attractive packages to Ireland and I am certain that the industry can only benefit from such a marketing approach.

Air and sea access was one of the areas reviewed in 2003 by the tourism policy review group. It recommended a number of specific actions that required to be implemented if we are to successfully develop the tourism industry. As outlined earlier, a number of these actions have been delivered while implementation of others is ongoing. I appointed a high level implementation group to monitor the implementation of the tourism action plan and to keep me, and the industry, informed of developments.

Question No. 33 answered with Question
No. 13.

  34.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if, in view of the tragic death of a young boy in August 2004 involving a collapsing goalpost, he has had discussions with sporting organisations in a bid to curb such incidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9184/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The protection and safety of players as well as the standards, types and specifi[1261]cations of sports equipment, are matters in the first instance for the national sports organisations and international sports federations as appropriate. The safety of sports equipment is also subject to the various health and safety regulations in force in this country. My Department does not have a formal regulatory role in relation to these matters.

However, the tragic deaths and injuries sustained by a number of young players are of serious concern to me. Officials of my Department have been in contact with relevant governing bodies on a number of occasions in relation to the safety of goalposts, and had discussions with the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, on the matter.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the FAI has taken a series of measures to ensure the sport of soccer has a robust policy and the highest standards of safety in relation to the use of goalposts. The FAI has produced two draft documents which have now been circulated for attention and consideration within the association. These comprehensive and detailed documents cover both specific technical guidelines on the provision of goalposts as well as extensive safety guidelines on the design, construction, installation and the ongoing useage and maintenance of goalposts.

In addition, the association has produced a general information leaflet, Make Safety your Goal, for wide distribution throughout the sport in order to bring the greatest possible awareness of goalpost safety to the football community at all levels of the sport.

The Deputy may also be aware that the National Standards Authority of Ireland has established a committee to advise on the drawing up of an Irish standard for goalposts. The committee, which met for the first time yesterday comprises representatives of manufacturers and sport organisations as well as the technical and engineering sectors.

I have arranged for my Department to be represented on that committee with a view to being kept informed of developments and to explore ways in which the Department and the Irish Sports Council can assist in the promulgation of standards of good practice in relation to the safety of goalposts.

  35.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding the proposed redevelopment of the National Concert Hall; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9186/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I refer the Deputy to my answer to Questions Nos. 8 and 9 of Thursday, 17 February 2005. My Department and the Department of Education and Science are currently engaged in discussions to clarify the financial [1262]implications of completing the move of UCD from Earlsfort Terrace to Belfield, a consequence of which would be to free up the site at Earlsfort Terrace for redevelopment as a modern Concert Hall.

  36.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Taoiseach    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8585/05]

The Taoiseach:  The amounts paid by my Department in 2004 for car mileage, rail and bus ticket expenses are as follows:

Expense Total Amount paid in 2004
Car Mileage Expenses 88,660*
Rail Ticket Expenses 3,871
Bus Ticket Expenses 2,699

  37.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the total, or expected total cost to his Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8828/05]

The Taoiseach:  My Department published a notice on 2 December 2004 under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003 inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme from any interested parties. The cost of the publication was €6,862. Some 12 submissions were received from a range of Irish language organisations and from private individuals. My Department is in the process of finalising our scheme and the submissions received were taken into account at drafting stage.

  38.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made for the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9102/05]

The Taoiseach:  The number of appointments made by me to public boards and bodies under the aegis of my Department for the past three years and salaries, where applicable, are set out in the following table:

Organisation and Position Name Date of Appointment Salary
Law Reform Commission
President Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness Judge of the Supreme Court 22 February 2005 The President of the Commission is a Judge of the Supreme Court and continues to receive her salary as normal
Commissioner (Full-time) Patricia T. Rickard-Clarke Solicitor 1 October 2001 Reappointed 30 September 2004 €161,476
Commissioner (Part-time) Dr. Hilary A Delaney BL Senior Lecture in Law TCD 15 April 1997 Reappointed 15 April 2002 €19,046.07
Commissioner (Part-time) Professor Finbarr McAuley BCL, LLB, MPhil, LLD, Jean Monnet Professor of European Criminal Justice UCD 1 September 1999 Reappointed 1 September 2004 €19,046.07
Commissioner (Part-Time) Marian Shanley Solicitor 13 November 2001 Reappointed 13 November 2004 €19,046.07
National Statistics Board
Professor Brendan Walsh Chairperson February 2004 There are no salaries paid to members of the NSB
Mr. Frank Cunneen Member February 2004
Mr. Ciaran Dolan Member February 2004
Ms Paula Carey Member February 2004
Ms Mary Doyle Member February 2004
Ms Helen Nic Fhlannchadha Ended July 2003 Mar. 2002
Dr. Pat O’Hara Member February 2004
Mr. Derek Moran Member July 2003 February 2004
National Economic & Social Council
Chairperson Dermot McCarthy Secretary General Department of the Taoiseach September 2003 There are no salaries paid to members of NESC
Deputy Chairperson Mary Doyle Assistant Secretary Department of the Taoiseach September 2003
Trade Union Pillar Nominees David Begg General Secretary ICTU September 2003
Peter McLoone General Secretary IMPACT September 2003
Manus O’Riordan SIPTU September 2003
Joan Carmichael ICTU September 2003
Jack O’Connor SIPTU September 2003
Business and Employer or Organisation Pillar Nominees
Brian Geoghegan IBEC September 2003
John Dunne CCI September 2003
Liam Kelleher CIF September 2003
Brendan Butler IBEC September 2003
Aileen O’Donoghue IBEC September 2003
Agricultural and Farming Organisation Pillar Nominees
Seamus O’Donohue Irish Co-operative Organisation Society September 2003
Ciaran Dolan ICMSA September 2003
Michael Berkery General Secretary, IFA September 2003
Con Lucey Chief Economist, IFA September 2003
Damian McDonald Macra na Feirme September 2003
Community and Voluntary Pillar Nominees
Fr. Sean Healy CORI September 2003
Donal Geoghegan National Youth Council September 2003
Deirdre Garvey The Wheel September 2003
John Mark McCafferty Saint Vincent de Paul September 2003
John Dolan Disability Federation of Ireland September 2003
Government Department Nominees
Tom Considine Secretary General Dept. of Finance September 2003
Paul Haran Secretary General Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Employment September 2003 (Retired 2004)
John Hynes Secretary General, Dept. of Social and Family Affairs September 2003
Brendan Tuohy Secretary General, Dept. of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources September 2003
Niall Callan Department Environment, Heritage & Local Government September 2003
Sean Gorman Secretary General, Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Oct. 2004
Independent Nominees
John Fitzgerald ESRI September 2003
Colin Hunt Goodbody Stockbrokers September 2003 (Resigned 2004)
Brigid Laffan UCD September 2003
Eithne McLaughlin Queens University September 2003
Peter Bacon Economic Consultant September 2003
Dr. Sean Barrett Economic Consultant Jan. 2005
National Centre for Partnership & Performance John Walsh Assistant Secretary, Dept. of Enterprise, Trade & Employment Replaced Mr. Maurice Cashell in June 2002 There are no salaries paid to members of the Council of the NCPP
Fergus Whelan Industrial Officer ICTU Replaced Mr. Tom Wall in October 2003
Morgan Nolan Industrial Relations Executive CIF Replaced Mr. Terry McEvoy in January 2004
Des Geraghty Member of Executive Council ICTU Replaced Mr. John Tierney in September 2004
Angela Kirk IMPACT Replaced Ms Marie Levis in September 2004
National Economic and Social Forum
Chair Dr. Maureen Gaffney January 2003 €91,994.40 (The Chair is the only post in the NESF which is salaried)
Deputy Chair Mary Doyle Asst. Secretary Dept. of Taoiseach January 2003
Independent Nominees Dr. Mary P Corcoran NUI Maynooth January 2003
Cáit Keane South Dublin County Council January 2003
Dr. Colm Harmon UCD January 2003
Dr. Brian Nolan ESRI January 2003
Paul Tansey Economist January 2003

  39.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Taoiseach    the number and percentage of all companies in the State which employ fewer than 50 persons. [9294/05]

  40.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Taoiseach    the number and percentage of all companies in the State which employ fewer than ten persons. [9295/05]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 40 together.

The latest relevant statistics from the census of industrial production and the annual services inquiry in 2002 are set out in the following table:

Total Persons Engaged Industry Services
No. of enterprises % No. of enterprises %
1-9 1,962 39.3 67,025 87.8
10-49 2,082 41.6 7,716 10.1
50 or over 952 19.1 1,571 2.1
Total 4,996 100.0 76,312 100.0

  41.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Taoiseach    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9356/05]

The Taoiseach:  The amount paid by my Department in 2004 in respect of car mileage to employees of the Department was €47,896. The total mileage covered by these claims was 53,586 miles.

  42.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste [1268]and Minister for Health and Children    her views on the resignation of a person (details supplied); the consequences of same for patient care; if an advertisement for a replacement has been issued; if she will address the issues raised by the resignation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8534/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the issues raised by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the southern area of the executive to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  43.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of health professionals by grade, and the number of front line support staff who are employed in the disability services of the HSE, north-east area; the number who work in the early intervention teams for children up to six years and children between six and 18 years, and in the adult disability services in each county; and the number of persons with disabilities in each county. [8535/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the employment of health professionals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north-east area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

  44.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if County Louth is [1269]classed as a deprived county in relation to disability services; the extra resources which have been allocated to County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8536/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for disability services.

As the Deputy may be aware my colleague, the Minister for Finance in his 2005 budget made available additional funding in the sum of €55 million for services to persons with an intellectual, physical or sensory disability and those with autism. Additional capital funding of €34 million has also been provided in 2005.

Furthermore, when launching the national disability strategy, the Taoiseach announced the Government’s commitment to a multi-annual investment programme for disability specific [1270]services over the next five years, details of which were announced on budget day. The investment programme for disability specific services will have a total cumulative value of €900 million for the period 2006-09. It will be a matter for the Health Service Executive to allocate this funding.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north-east area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  45.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the total cost of all publications launched in 2004 by the North Eastern Health Board on an individual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8537/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The total cost, including the preparation and publication cost, of all publications launched in 2004 by the North Eastern Health Board was €212,165. The cost of each publication is as follows:

Publication
History of the North Eastern Health Board 1971-2004 44,078
Leaps and Bounds — A Strategy for Children and Family services in the North East 82,000
Management of Violence in the Workplace 9,000
Men’s Health Action Plan 2004-2009 1,350
Regional Guidelines for Wound Management 16,350
Together We Can — Statement of Strategy and Development Plan for Physical and Sensory Disability Services in the North-East 2005 to 2007 59,387
Total 212,165

  46.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department has ceased the recruitment of health professionals within the disability services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8538/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  No instruction has issued from my Department in relation to the cessation of the recruitment of health professionals within the disability services or in any other area of the health service. Responsibility for achieving compliance with approved employment ceilings in the health sector now rests with the Health Service Executive, and I would expect the executive, in discharging that responsibility, to protect front line services.

  47.  Dr. Upton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person whose sole income is an invalidity pension will not lose their entitlement to the medical card, despite the fact that their full pension is €1.20 above the medical card income guideline for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8539/05]

[1270]Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the assessment of applications for medical cards.

Applicants, whose weekly incomes are derived solely from social welfare or Health Service Executive payments, which are in excess of the chief officers financial guidelines, either at first application or on renewal, will be granted medical cards. If the Deputy is aware of a particular case he could forward details and I would be happy to investigate the case with the Health Service Executive.

  48.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which the home of a person is calculated in relation to subvention assessment; the situation when the house is signed over to another member of the family before the subvention application; if she will provide any other relevant information with [1271]regard to the use of the house when calculating subvention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8550/05]

  103.  Mr. Cregan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the assessment of income and assets for nursing home subvention; if there are standard rules on this assessment country-wide or if each region of the HSE has its own rules; the way in which property in the Dublin region is assessed, if at all, when the spouse of elderly person lives at home; when an adult son with no other property lives at home and has done so for five and six years and on occasions since age 25; and if the value of house would be excluded. [9053/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 103 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 and the Nursing Homes Regulations 1993 provide for the payment of subvention for private nursing home care for applicants who qualify on both medical and means grounds.

Under the regulations the Health Service Executive when considering an application for subvention carries out a means test which takes into account the means of the applicant and his or her spouse-cohabiting partner, where appropriate and the assets of the applicant. The means test is usually carried out by the local community welfare officer and involves looking at the applicant’s income for the previous 12 months. Income from all sources is taken into account, including wages, salary, pension, allowances, payments for part-time and seasonal work, income from rentals, investments and savings and all contributions from all sources. Income is assessed net of PRSI, income tax and the health contribution and the income of a married or cohabiting person is taken to be half the total income of the couple. In assessing an applicant’s assets the first €7,618 of such assets is disregarded and if their assets, excluding their principal residence exceed €25,740, an application may be refused.

An application for subvention may be refused under section 22 of the Second Schedule of the Nursing Homes (Subvention) Regulations 1993 if the value of the applicant’s principal residence is in excess of €95,230 and the residence is not occupied by a spouse, a son or daughter aged less than 21 years or in full-time education or a relative in receipt of the disabled person’s maintenance allowance, blind person’s pension, disability benefit, invalidity pension, or old age non-contributory pension and the person’s income is greater than €6,350 per annum. If the house is not occupied by one of the above listed, then the HSE may impute an annual income equivalent to 5% of the estimated market value of the principal residence. If an applicant’s spouse is still resident in their home at the time of application, then that [1272]house may not be assessed for subvention purposes.

In the case of the HSE, eastern area, the practice is to carry out a full financial assessment on the applicant and to assess the value of the property as part of this assessment. If an adult son or daughter aged 21 years or more and not in full-time education only is resident in the house at the time of application and is not in receipt of one of the above listed payments from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, then the house may be assessed for subvention purposes. The HSE may assess the value of any asset or assets transferred from the ownership of the person in the five years prior to the application in assessing the means of the person.

  49.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if, in view of the exceptional circumstances (details supplied) an enhanced nursing home subvention will be granted to a person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8551/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in County Dublin. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  50.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon will be called for treatment in Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8553/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Roscommon, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  51.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) will be called for their appointment on 31 March 2005 in St. James’s Hospital. [8554/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was estab[1273]lished on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Sligo, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive’s north-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  52.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans for the redevelopment of the Brú Caoímhín nursing home on Cork Street in Dublin. [8559/05]

  53.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the Health Services Executive or her Department is proposing to sell part of the grounds and buildings of the Brú Caoímhín nursing home on Cork Street in Dublin to private developers so that they may build on the site; if it is hoped to realise about €17 million from this sale; if three of the five existing buildings on the site are to be demolished; if there will be a significant reduction in both the total green space on the site, and the green space available to residents of Brú Caoímhín, should this plan go ahead; and if the plans for nursing homes involves a reduction in the number of beds from 140, of which about 120 are now occupied, to 60. [8560/05]

  54.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if it is intended to sell off part of the Brú Caoímhín site and reduce bed numbers there; the rationale for this proposal, in view of the increased demand for nursing home beds for older people, and in view of the likelihood that reducing the number of publicly-provided beds in this way is likely to increase the need for the State to subvent the provision of beds in private nursing homes for those who cannot themselves afford to pay for such beds. [8561/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 to 54, inclusive, together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for Brú Caoímhín. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  55.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the empty beds at the Curragh Camp Hospital will be used to provide extra capacity for Naas Hospital in view [1274]of the need for additional step down hospital beds in the Naas area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8576/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for services at Naas General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  56.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the amount her Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8586/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The information requested is being collated by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  57.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the policy which is applied by a health board in cases in which a health board psychiatrist refuses to continue to treat a person to ensure that the patient is offered ongoing care with another doctor; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8604/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  It is the responsibility of health service providers to ensure that appropriate care and treatment is provided to any person suffering mental illness. Where it is not possible for a particular psychiatrist to continue to provide such care and treatment for a patient, the patient is referred to another psychiatrist within the same catchment area.

  58.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason children with autism and other disabilities can be taken into care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8618/05]

  125.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on the circumstances of a case (details supplied), in which children were taken into care and later released by order of the court; her further views on the circumstances that led to the decision to take these children into respite care and on whether this decision was justified; if she has satisfied herself with the treatment and condition of the chil[1275]dren during the weekend in question; and if she will make a statement in relation to the future arrangements and facilities to be provided for these children in the care of their parents. [9233/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 125 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for services for the welfare and protection of children and for disability services.

While it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an individual case I would like to state the following. Under the Child Care Act 1991, as amended by the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive has a duty to act in relation to any child who requires care or protection. On the application of the Health Service Executive care orders are made in the District Court, only where the judge is satisfied that this is an appropriate course of action.

  59.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will be transferred from Cork to Dublin; if the Health Service Executive will work on this case; and if this person will be given the maximum support. [8619/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in the Cork area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  60.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a subvented bed will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8635/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. [1276]This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in the Naas area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  61.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the extent of the recent steep rise in reported cases of mumps in County Cavan; the strategies in place to ensure the protection of all children and young persons up to the age of 23 against mumps; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8697/05]

  62.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the extent of the current outbreak of mumps; the strategies that are in place to combat it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8698/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 62 together.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella and, in accordance with the recommendations of the immunisation advisory committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, can be administered to children between 12 to 15 months of age. A vaccine uptake rate of 95% is required in order to protect children from the diseases concerned and to stop the spread of the diseases in the community.

Mumps data provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre of the Health Service Executive, formerly the National Disease Surveillance Centre, indicate that 190 mumps cases were reported for weeks one to ten of 2005, that is, up until 12 March 2005. Six cases were reported for the same period in 2004. There has been increased mumps activity throughout the country since October 2004.

A national outbreak control team, OCT, was convened at the beginning of the outbreak on 3 November 2004. Members of the OCT include representatives from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre — HPSC — Health Service Executive — HSE areas, department of public health and the programme for action for children — PAC; and my Department. The strategies agreed by the OCT to ensure the protection of all children and young persons up to the age of 23 years against mumps are as follows: to raise awareness and improve case reporting by laboratories and clinicians; to improve information available on reported mumps cases through enhanced reporting — laboratory confirmation, hospitalisation data, complications, vaccinations status, contract with a case; and to provide bi-weekly detailed reports on the extent of the outbreak, number of cases reported, risk factors for infection, vaccination status, and laboratory confirmation of disease. This information is disseminated to all HSE areas, members of OCT and my [1277]Department. To encourage vaccination against mumps among all children as part of routine immunisation programme, two doses of MMR are recommended at ages 12-15 months and four to five years of all children. In areas where mumps cases are identified contract tracing is undertaken by local HSE area staff. Identified contacts of mumps cases, who are considered likely to be at risk of infection due to age of non-vaccination, are recommended MMR vaccine. Dependent on HSE area, when mumps cases are linked to educational settings, local strategies for vaccination of at risk students are identified, either through vaccination teams, GPs or student health services. Students in schools, or colleges where outbreaks occur are informed about the risk of mumps if they are non-immunised or incompletely immunised and are recommended MMR vaccine. HSE area staff work with the involved institutions to provide information and advice to the student population. Additional MMR has been provided to services requiring it for vaccination programmes.

In Cavan, ten cases of mumps have been reported since the beginning of 2005 — weeks one to ten. This compares with zero cases reported for the same period in 2004. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended for all children as part of the routine immunisation programme at 12 to 15 months and at four to five years of age. The department of public health and community care public health staff of the HSE north-eastern area manage the contract tracing, provision of advice and vaccination recommendations for contacts considered to be at risk of mumps infection, particularly those less than 24 years of age.

I take this opportunity to again urge all parents to have their children immunised against the diseases covered by the childhood immunisation programme in order to ensure that both their children and the population generally have maximum protection against the diseases concerned.

  63.  Dr. Upton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the entitlements of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 following the nursing home charges illegally imposed on this person’s late mother; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8735/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department is currently studying the Supreme Court judgment in relation to repayment of charges for publicly funded long-term residential care in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgement. Full [1278]details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

Any person who considers that he or she or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register his or her interest in advance with the Health Service Executive by writing to the national refund scheme, HSE, midland area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly, by e-mailing refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

  64.  Ms Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    further to previous replies on the practice of chiropodists charging medical card holders over 65 for their services, if she will report on the reference in Sustaining Progress that precludes her Department from adjusting the rate at which chiropodists are paid; further to Parliamentary Question No. 75 of 22 February 2005, the date on which her Department wrote to the HSE on this matter; and if she will further report on the response she has had from the HSE to her Department’s letter. [8750/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Sustaining Progress agreement provides for the payment of general round increases and increases recommended by the benchmarking body to public service workers, subject to a performance verification process in respect of each increase. No other cost increasing claims may be made or processed during the currency of the agreement. While the general round increases under Sustaining Progress have, in line with previous practice, been applied to the fees paid to chiropodists providing services under the chiropody scheme, the benchmarking increases have not been applied to those fees on the basis that the chiropodists participating in the scheme are private practitioners.

Generally speaking, fees paid to private health care practitioners for the provision of services to public patients are reviewed periodically and in that context I will ask my Department, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, to look specifically at the current levels of fees paid to chiropodists participating in the chiropody scheme. In the meantime, I reiterate that it is inappropriate for chiropodists to charge a top up fee to elderly public patients who have been deemed eligible for services under the scheme. My Department wrote to the Health Service Executive on 26 January 2005 regarding the inappropriateness of these additional charges.

  65.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether it is best practice that a patient visiting the Doc-on-call service should also be required to pay an additional €2 parking charge when this [1279]service is located on hospital grounds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8753/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for doctor on call services and parking charges at hospitals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  66.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if there has been a change in policy in relation to the north-east Doc-on-call service, whereby patients who telephone to make an appointment are requested to bring €50 or a medical card when coming to visit the doctor on call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8754/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for doctor on call services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  67.  Mr. Costello    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which a child care worker who was abusing children at a school (details supplied) in Kilkenny was allowed by the health authorities to foster two children, who were also abused by them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8779/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of foster care services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for executive’s southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  68.  Ms Fox    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a decision to suspend [1280]speech and language therapy assessments until 2006 at the earliest has been issued from Greystones clinic as a result of an accommodation problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8785/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of speech and language therapy, for people with a physical and-or sensory disability. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised and reply to the Deputy.

  69.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has assessed the reports of the risk of a serious outbreak of flu affecting this country; her appraisal of the risk; the measures she is taking to minimise the risk to people here; and if her Department has procured sufficient supplies of antibiotics and vaccines to pre-empt a possible outbreak. [8805/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I presume the Deputy is referring to the threat of an influenza pandemic. An influenza pandemic would have very serious effects in terms of mortality and morbidity. Services such as acute hospitals and general practice would experience greatly increased workloads, well in excess of those seen during more regular outbreaks of influenza.

The World Health Organisation published an assessment of the pandemic threat in January 2005. This concluded that: the avian influenza, H5N1, virus has demonstrated considerable pandemic potential; the world has moved closer to a pandemic than at any time since 1968; the ecology of the virus has changed in ways that increase opportunities for a pandemic virus to emerge; and based on the recurring patterns of past pandemics, the next one is overdue.

Influenza experts therefore consider that another influenza pandemic will occur; however, it is impossible to predict when it will occur. The ongoing outbreaks of avian influenza in Asia highlight the need for vigilance and preparedness.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is an infectious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally affect only birds. While all bird species are thought to be susceptible to infection with avian influenza, domestic poultry flocks are especially vulnerable to infections that can rapidly reach epidemic proportions. There have been a number of outbreaks in poultry in Asia since late 2003. In 1997, avian influenza A, H5N1, was responsible for 18 cases of severe respiratory disease and six deaths in humans in Hong Kong. Prior to this out[1281]break, H5N1 was not known to infect humans. It is now recognised that highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks pose a significant threat to human health, with H5N1 infections in humans causing severe illness and having a high case fatality rate.

In January 2004, Thailand and Vietnam reported their first human cases of H5N1 avian influenza infection. According to the World Health Organisation, there were 69 laboratory confirmed cases in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia between 28 January 2004 and 11 March 2005. Some 46 of these cases were fatal.

Recent media reports have indicated that two Vietnamese nurses had contracted avian flu from a patient. However, the Vietnam Health Ministry is reported in local media on 12 March as stating that all people infected with the H5NI virus in Vietnam have had contact with infected birds. The World Health Organisation is closely monitoring the situation and there is as yet no evidence of efficient and sustained human to human transmission.

The greatest concern for human health is that the avian influenza, H5N1, virus will remain endemic in Asia and that continued transmission of the virus to humans and other animals will provide opportunities for human and avian viruses to exchange genes — re-assortment — to produce a virus that can replicate in humans, is highly pathogenic and is easily transmissible between humans. In a human population with no pre-existing immunity, such a virus could trigger a global influenza pandemic.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, plays a key role in relation to the prevention and management of infectious diseases, including influenza, in this country. The Irish approach to infectious diseases outbreaks is based on sound internationally accepted principles such as: preventative measures; early identification of cases; effective clinical care including good hospital infection control; appropriate surveillance; contact tracing and management of contacts.

The HPSC monitors the avian influenza situation in Asia on an ongoing basis through the World Health Organisation. There are no restrictions on travel to any country currently experiencing outbreaks of H5N1 avian infection in poultry flocks, including countries which have also reported cases in humans. However, in line with advice from WHO, it is recommended that Irish travellers to areas experiencing outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza infection should avoid contact with live animal markets and poultry farms. In addition, the following actions have been undertaken: interim Irish guidelines on the investigation and management of suspected human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza, influenza A/H5, have been circulated to all health care professionals and are also posted on the HPSC website; guidance in the form of a SARS and avian influenza clinical management algorithm [1282]has been circulated to hospitals and clinicians on the appropriate management of travellers with an influenza-like illness who have returned from east or south east Asia, that is, areas where avian influenza outbreaks are occurring. This will assist in early detection of any influenza A/H5 cases.

The overall aims of pandemic influenza preparedness planning are to reduce morbidity and mortality, and to minimise the resulting disruption to society. However, the consequences of a global pandemic are still likely to be serious. Pandemic planning can only mitigate the effects.

The influenza pandemic expert group is reviewing and updating Ireland’s 2002 influenza pandemic preparedness plan. Once finalised the updated plan will be published. The 2002 plan was based on the World Health Organisation, WHO, blueprint for an influenza pandemic plan published in 1999. It addresses a range of issues including prevention strategies, scientific and medical issues, and communications. The WHO plan is currently being updated to incorporate new scientific data and experience obtained during recent outbreaks. Our pandemic plan will be modified in line with these recommendations once they are agreed and published by the World Health Organisation.

Vaccination is the principal measure for preventing influenza and reducing the impact of epidemics. It will be the primary public health intervention in the event of an influenza pandemic. However, the production of a vaccine tailored to a pandemic influenza strain could take six to nine months. Developments are underway at international level seeking to expedite this process.

Pending the availability of virus specific vaccines, antiviral drugs will be the only influenza specific medical intervention available for use in a pandemic. Antivirals can be used for prophylaxis — prevention — and for treatment. The Government has decided that antiviral drugs should be stockpiled. The expert group reviewed recommendations for the use of antivirals in line with international guidance at its meeting on 24 February 2005. Following consideration of the expert group’s advice, I have directed that 1 million treatment packs of oseltamivir — Tamiflu — should be stockpiled. This quantity is sufficient to treat 25% of the population and is in line with international trends. The Health Service Executive has been so advised and procurement arrangements have been put in train. I am confident that 600,000 packs will have been delivered by the end of this year. This is sufficient to treat 15% of the population. The remaining 400,000 packs will be delivered in 2006.

A national antiviral stockpile would be used to treat priority groups. Prioritisation is essential if both morbidity and mortality are to be reduced, and essential services are to be maintained thereby minimising as far as possible the disruption to society which might result from a pandemic. The priority groups include, for example, [1283]individuals who are hospitalised with influenza, people who may be more vulnerable to the virus, and key workers in essential services.

It should be noted, however, that pandemic planning is a dynamic process and the definition of risk is likely to change over time. This means that the recommendations for use of antivirals must be kept under review. In particular, the expert group will need to review the epidemiological data before final recommendations are decided in the setting of an imminent pandemic. The decision making process will be guided at all times by relevant expert advice from the European Commission and the World Health Organisation.

  70.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if persons (details supplied) in County Meath will be admitted to Harbour View, Maynooth, County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8809/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in the Meath area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north eastern area to investigate the cases raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  71.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the total, or expected total cost to her Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8829/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department has not yet been asked to prepare a draft scheme under section 11 of the Official Languages Act by the Minister of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is expected that the total cost of publication of the notice under section 13 of the Act will be less than €10,000.

  72.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a written commitment given by her predecessor to establish a no fault compensation scheme for psychiatric nurses [1284]will be fulfilled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8848/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The report of the task force on assaults on psychiatric nurses was completed in 2003. In addition to quantifying the level of assaults and making recommendations in relation to prevention, the report contained proposals for a scheme of compensation for psychiatric nurses who have been seriously injured as a result of an assault by a patient in the workplace.

Government approval would be required for the introduction of any new State compensation scheme, which would be additional to the existing serious physical assaults scheme last revised in 2001. The serious physical assaults scheme provides enhanced sick pay arrangements for nurses assaulted at work. Medical expenses are also refunded. In circumstances where a nurse is certified permanently unfit to resume duty they may be paid five sixths of full salary until retirement.

In late 2003 a draft memorandum for Government was circulated and, during the consultation process, complex legal and financial issues emerged in relation to aspects of the scheme proposed by the task force and their implications for the health service and the wider public service.

In March 2004 the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association and SIPTU were advised that particular concerns that had been raised in relation to the proposed scheme. In the meantime officials from my Department have been in consultation with the Department of Finance and the Office of the Attorney General. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that the issues involved are very complex and have far reaching implications for the health service. I intend to consult with my colleagues in Cabinet about this matter and I expect to be in a position to provide more definite information shortly.

  73.  Mr. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will respond to correspondence (details supplied) regarding the concerns of a person about poor infection control at a hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8849/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in Dublin, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  74.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she [1285]intends to publish the HSE national service plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8850/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  On 16 March I approved the 2005 national service plan for the Health Service Executive. Under section 31(13) of the Health Act 2004, I am obliged to ensure that a copy of an approved service plan is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas within 21 days of my approving the plan. I have asked the chairman of the executive to provide some additional information before 1 April in regard to the plan and I will lay the plan before the Oireachtas as soon as possible after 1 April and, in any event, before 7 April as required by the Health Act 2004.

  75.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an application for assistance under the housing aid for the elderly scheme in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be approved; if an occupational therapist’s report has been completed in the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8858/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services and the housing aid scheme on behalf of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in County Kilkenny. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  76.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if adequate and stable funding and the maximum support and assistance will be given to an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [8874/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in the Dublin 5 area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  77.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a bed will be made available in Beaumont Hospital for a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8884/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Galway, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  78.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of nursing homes in each health board region on a county basis for the year 2004; the number, name and location of these nursing homes which have been inspected once only, twice only and three or more times in 2004; if there have been any adverse reports following these inspections; if so, the names and locations of the homes; the number of homes which have been refused registration and the reasons therefore; the names and location of same; the number, name and location of each which has had partial registration only granted; the action that has been taken by health boards, including legal action, and the names and locations of such homes; the result of such cases; the number of cases pending; and if any nursing home has been closed in 2004. [8888/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  As the Deputy will be aware, the Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January, 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for nursing homes. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director of primary, community and continuing care of the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply direct to the Deputy.

  79.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason nursing homes in provincial areas were not considered by the HSE after tendering through the HSE for the provision of intermediate care for older persons (details supplied); if such tenders were only considered on the basis of geographical location; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8889/05]

[1287]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the administration of the tender process for the provision of intermediate care beds for the elderly. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  80.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of intellectually disabled persons in psychiatric hospitals. [8899/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The data from the national intellectual disability database committee’s annual report for 2004 which was published on 26 November 2004 identify 474 individuals with intellectual disability all aged 20 years or over accommodated in psychiatric hospitals, 315 of whom have service requirements.

  81.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a medical card was not renewed for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [8903/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the assessment of applications for medical cards. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  82.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the policy in relation to the use of cannabis by prescription for medicinal purposes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8913/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  Cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984. It is also one of the controlled drugs which has been designated for the purpose of section 13 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.

The nature of the controls provided under the Misuse of Drugs Acts are those which according to current UN conventions on narcotic drugs and [1288]psychotropic substances, must be applied to substances, for which there is no current recognised medical or scientific use. Under these laws, the manufacture, possession, supply, and prescription and use of the drug are prohibited, except under licence from the Minister for Health and Children.

By virtue of the designation under section 13 of the Act, licences may be only granted for the purpose of research, forensic analysis, or in respect of the use of the drug as an essential intermediate or starting material in an industrial manufacturing process. Licences may also be granted in the case of certain low tetrahydrocannabinol plant varieties of cannabis for the growing of hemp.

Claims have been made in respect of cannabis about the possible benefits for patients suffering from certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. The Irish Medicines Board under the Control of Clinical Trials Acts 1987 and 1990, has granted permission to a UK based pharmaceutical company to conduct a clinical research trial in Ireland to determine the effectiveness of a cannabis based medicinal extract in controlling cancer related pain. This sponsoring company is already involved in similar clinical trials in the UK. The Department has granted the appropriate licences to enable the research to be carried out.

  83.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 did not receive speech and language services for their child; and if she will give them support and assistance. [8940/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of speech and language therapy, for people with a physical and-or sensory disability. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised and reply to the Deputy.

  84.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will receive support and advice on a medical card. [8941/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, [1289]health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the assessment of applications for medical cards. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s northern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  85.  Mr. J. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the Labour Court recommendation (details supplied) will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8942/05]

  101.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the 32 public health nurses will be refunded payment in the near future following a resolution of the Labour Court on 29 November 2004 (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9031/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 and 101 together.

The Labour Court recommendation, LRC 18030, referred to by the Deputy is in relation to 32 student public health nurses, represented by the Irish Nurses Organisation, INO, who undertook the public health post-graduate training programme in 2003 but had not secured sponsorship for the programme. The recommendation was issued on 29 November 2004.

The recommendation of the court has quite significant implications in relation to future sponsorship arrangements and employment of public health nurses. The Health Service Executive, employer representative division, formerly HSEA, sought clarification from the Labour Court in relation to the recommendation. A response has now been received from the court and I understand that the HSE is in the process of setting up a meeting with the INO to agree arrangements as to how the court’s recommendations will be implemented.

  86.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will make funding available towards the cost of installing and maintaining a CAT scanner in Bantry hospital. [8979/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of services at Bantry General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s southern area to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the matter.

  87.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the plans she has to appoint an oral maximal facial surgeon in the western region; the reason the region is without such a post at present; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8982/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the appointment of staff in the western area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  88.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    further to Parliamentary Question No. 678 of 27 January 2004, if she will provide an update on the development of rheumatology services in the west; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8986/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

The expansion of existing rheumatology services is now a matter for the Health Service Executive. In December 2004, my Department issued financial clearance to the Western Health Board for an additional consultant physician with a special interest in rheumatology and provided additional funding to develop rheumatology services during 2005. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to provide the Deputy with information on the current position in relation to the development of rheumatology services in the western area.

  89.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients in County Roscommon awaiting the services of an audiologist; the average waiting time for the service; the action which is being taken to appoint an audiologist; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8987/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, [1291]health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for audiology services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  90.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps she will take to deal with the findings of the survey by the Irish Psychiatric Association carried out by persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8991/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I understand that the full details of the survey referred to by the Deputy have yet to be published. From the limited information available at this time, it appears that this survey highlights operational issues relating to the timing of appointments to key posts in the mental health services.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes the appointment of consultant psychiatrists and multi-disciplinary mental health teams. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  91.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of requests for legal advice made by her Department to the Attorney General in respect of each of the years 2002, 2003 and 2004; the subject matter of each of these requests; if advice was subsequently furnished; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8993/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department has sought and obtained legal advice on a wide range of issues from the Office of the Attorney General over the period in question. Many issues require several separate legal advices. In addition, my Department employs its own legal adviser who deals with a wide range of matters requiring legal advice on an ongoing basis. Due to the confidential and privileged nature of legal advice, it would be inappropriate to provide details of the subject matter of the various advices sought. Litigation files are also dealt with by the Office of the Attorney General and are handled appropriately. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel — a constituent part of the Office of the Attorney General — deals with the drafting of Bills for my Department.

  92.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which terminally ill patients throughout Ireland will access radiotherapy for pain relief in the last weeks of their life in view of the fact that they cannot travel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9005/05]

  94.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the nature of the plan for radiotherapy in the south east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9007/05]

  95.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on the fact that cancer patients in Letterkenny, County Donegal, do not have access to a radiation oncologist clinic and that therefore the facility to process patients for radiotherapy is absent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9008/05]

  96.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the sub-committee on radiotherapy continues to deliberate on, and the reason there is a delay for, providing resources for transport measures for patients outside centralised locations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9009/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 94 to 96, inclusive, together.

The Government’s policy on radiation oncology is based on the report on The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland. The Government is determined to ensure access by cancer patients throughout the country to high quality radiation oncology in line with best international standards. Significant progress is being made in implementing the report’s recommendations. The short term developments in Cork and Galway will significantly improve access by cancer patients to radiotherapy treatment, including for palliative purposes.

Two additional linear accelerators are being provided at the supra-regional centre at Cork University Hospital, CUH, at a capital cost of over €4 million. The first of these linear accelerators has been installed and the second is expected to be commissioned by the autumn. Last year, approval issued for the appointment of 29 staff for this unit and additional ongoing revenue funding of €3 million to cater for this expansion. Two additional consultant radiation oncologists will be appointed at CUH with sessional commitments to the south eastern and the mid-western areas. CUH is also in the process of recruiting other key posts required for the commissioning of the new linear accelerators.

The supra-regional centre at University College Hospital Galway commenced treatments for radiotherapy last week. Last year, approval issued for the appointment of 102 staff for this unit, together with ongoing revenue funding of [1293]€12 million to cater for this expansion. Approval issued for the appointment of an additional consultant medical oncologist and three consultant radiation oncologists, two of whom have significant sessional commitments to the north western and the mid-western areas. Key staffing is in place. The first consultant radiation oncologist has already started and the second is due to take up post on 29 March. The report recommends that there should be two radiotherapy treatment centres located in the eastern region, one serving the southern part of the region and adjacent catchment areas and one serving the northern part of the region and adjacent catchment areas. The international panel established to advise on the optimum locations for radiation oncology services in the eastern region submitted its advice to me on 28 January last. I intend to reach an early decision in relation to this matter. While the immediate priority is to provide significantly enhanced services in the major population centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway, I will keep the question of networked satellite locations under active review.

The HSE currently has significant dedicated transport arrangements in place for radiotherapy patients. The remit of the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

  93.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether her Department is breaching its own guidelines for the administration of chemotherapy by failing to provide adequate resources to oncology services and adequate day wards and designated oncology wards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9006/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the delivery of hospital services, including the application of guidelines for the use of cytotoxic medical preparations in the treatment of patients with cancer. The principal element in relation to the implementation of guidelines is the provision of services by medical consultants with appropriate training in cancer chemotherapy.

Since 1997 cumulative additional investment of approximately €720 million in cancer care has led to the appointment of an additional 109 consultants, including 18 medical oncologists, 12 haema[1294]tologists and over 250 cancer nurse specialists. This investment has ensured that there has been a significant improvement in the range and quality of cancer services generally, and in particular in medical oncology and in the provision of oncology drugs.

Questions Nos. 94 to 96, inclusive, answered with Question No. 92.

  97.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether the MRSA epidemic in hospitals here is contributed to by overcrowding and lack of proper facilities for cancer patients; her further views on whether, due to lack of designated resources, it is sufficient to nurse MRSA patients in open wards with the huge risk it presents to other patients on chemotherapy unable to fight infection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9010/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In 1995, a Department of Health committee comprising representatives from the Department of Health, consultant microbiologists, specialists in public health medicine and general practice and a representative from the Association of Infection Control Nurses produced a set of guidelines for the management of MRSA in acute hospital wards, including specialist units. The implementation and operation of these guidelines in acute hospitals is a matter for those hospitals in the first instance.

An infection control sub-committee of the national committee for strategy for the control of antimicrobial resistance in Ireland, SARI, has now prepared a draft revised set of guidelines. These guidelines are still at the consultation stage and cover a number of areas including physical cleanliness of the environment, hand hygiene, antibiotic stewardship programmes, and availability of isolation facilities as well as screening and detection protocols.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The implications of the revised guidelines for the health system and issues around their implementation will be a matter for the HSE to consider.

  98.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the delay in releasing funding for BreastCheck now means that 400 women and their families per year will pay the price with their life; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9011/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Any woman, irrespective of her age [1295]or residence, who has concerns about breast cancer should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area. More than €60 million has been invested in the development of symptomatic breast disease services since 2000. This investment has enabled the appointment of additional surgeons with an interest in breast disease, histopathologists and radiologists to enhance the delivery of breast cancer services nationally.

Data supplied by the National Cancer Registry show that the overall survival rate from cancer has increased between the periods 1995-97 and 1998-2000 with the five year survival rate from breast cancer increasing from 73% to 79% over the period.

The full implementation of BreastCheck requires significant capital and human resources, including two static clinical units, mobile screening units, multi-disciplinary consultant teams and radiographers together with technical and administrative support. A capital investment of €21 million has been approved to construct and equip the two clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway, and to provide for mobile units. The investment will ensure that breast screening and follow up treatment, where appropriate, is available to all women in the target group throughout the country. Additional capital funding of €3 million has been approved for the relocation and development of the symptomatic breast disease unit, in tandem with the BreastCheck development, at University College Hospital Galway.

The design briefs in respect of the capital projects have been completed. It is anticipated that the advertisement for the appointment of a design team will be placed in the EU journal shortly. I am confident that the target date of 2007 for the expansion of BreastCheck nationally will be met.

  99.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will take steps to have a person (details supplied) in County Meath admitted to Beaumont Hospital for an appointment with a consultant surgeon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9013/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Meath, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive’s north eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  100.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Tánaiste and Mini[1296]ster for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to an organisation (details supplied) which runs lifestyle seminars in this country and abroad; if such organisations are subject to any form of regulation by her Department; if she intends to introduce any such regulation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9030/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  While my Department is aware of the organisation referred to by the Deputy, no legal powers are currently available or proposed to regulate such services, in so far as they can be categorised as involving health care provision.

A national working group was established in May 2003 to advise on future measures to strengthen the regulatory environment for complementary therapists. The group is expected to report before the end of 2005. The primary focus of the work of this group is in relation to established complementary therapies such as acupuncture and homoeopathy rather than lifestyle-related training and coaching which extends into a broad range of non-health related areas such as personal and career development and the pursuit of business and financial goals.

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of all services to the public is subject to the supervision of the Director of Consumer Affairs and must conform to the requirements of consumer legislation.

Question No. 101 answered with Question
No. 85.

  102.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of psychiatric patients readmitted to hospital within two weeks of discharge. [9032/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The information requested by the Deputy is not routinely collected by my Department.

The expert group on mental health policy is preparing a national policy framework for further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The expert group has several sub-groups looking at specialist issues in mental health services, including the need for management information. The expert group on mental health policy is expected to report in 2005.

Question No. 103 answered with Question
No. 48.

  104.  Mr. Cregan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding entitlements for people aged over 70 years on medical cards; if the card holder is entitled to a free service for form-filling for a driver’s licence [1297]is it in order to charge the medical card holder €40 for that service; if a person should get a medical check for that €40; if the process can be simplified for people aged over 70 years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9054/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Medical card holders are eligible for a range of treatments and services without charge under the GMS scheme. However, the issue of certificates to any medical card holder, regardless of age, for medical examinations required for a driving licence, may incur charges.

It is a matter for the general practitioner to assess each case individually and decide what is the best course of action for the individual patient.

  105.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the application for special housing aid for the elderly for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; when the application will be processed or works commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9059/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of the housing aid scheme in County Wexford, on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  106.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be assessed for subvention. [9060/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in County Clare. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  107.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Mini[1298]ster for Health and Children    if ambulances and ambulance crews in the Health Service Executive north-east area are covered by insurance to collect employee time sheets at 3 a.m. nightly; and if the terms and conditions of these employees are being breached by carrying out such functions. [9061/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of ambulance services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s north-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  108.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the recent external review of cystic fibrosis facilities here commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9071/05]

  109.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will act upon the recommendations of the recent external review of cystic fibrosis facilities here commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, which calls for the immediate implementation of a national cystic fibrosis service to be achieved by establishing nine specialist cystic fibrosis centres that are properly staffed, funded and accredited; her views on whether this would be a suitable road map for improvements in the area. [9072/05]

  110.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    further to the recent external review of cystic fibrosis facilities here commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, if she will discuss with the Health Service Executive the possibility of establishing a Health Service Executive review board to review the report; the persons she envisages being appointed to such a board; and the envisaged timescale for completing a review of the report. [9073/05]

  115.  Ms Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will respond to correspondence (details supplied) of 30 November 2004 and 6 March 2005; when the new cystic fibrosis unit will be established at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park; if the new unit will have single rooms as recommended for cystic fibrosis infection control purposes; if cystic fibrosis patients with exacerbations of their disease can be admitted directly to the new unit without having to wait for hours in accident and emergency; the plans there are to improve cleaning and hygiene practices in St. Paul’s ward; the other [1299]improved infection control measures which are planned and when they will be introduced; if there are plans to improve staffing ratios within St. Paul’s ward; if so, when they will be implemented; and the plans there are to address properly the additional nutritional requirements of cystic fibrosis patients while in hospital. [9116/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 108, 109, 110 and 115 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for health services for patients with cystic fibrosis.

The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland commissioned Dr. Ronnie Pollock to review the existing hospital services for people with cystic fibrosis in the context of accepted international standards. Dr. Pollock’s report was officially launched earlier this year.

The report provides an assessment of need for current and future cystic fibrosis patients and makes several recommendations with regard to the numbers and categories of staff that are appropriate for a modern, multi-disciplinary cystic fibrosis service. The report concluded that cystic fibrosis care should be provided in fewer units of a more significant size so that viable staffing levels can be maintained and to ensure that staff have a sufficient workload to enable them to maintain their skills level.

Following the publication of the Pollock report the Health Service Executive met with the Cystic Fibrosis Association and agreed to the latter’s request to establish a working group to consider the report’s recommendations.

The group, which includes representatives from the Cystic Fibrosis Association and the Health Service Executive, as well as relevant clinicians, will review the configuration and delivery of services to cystic fibrosis patients, across hospital and community, and make recommendations for improvement and development of services. The group will hold its first meeting in April.

The Health Service Executive is pursuing with St. Vincent’s Hospital, which is designated as the national adult cystic fibrosis centre, proposals for improvement to the physical infrastructure of the centre.

  111.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department will provide the necessary funding to the Health Service Executive western area in order to establish a health centre in Gort, County [1300]Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9088/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health centres. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

  112.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide all the necessary information her Department has for persons to make a claim under the national repayments scheme for nursing home charges. [9089/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department is studying the Supreme Court judgment on repayment of charges for publicly-funded long-term residential care in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment. Full details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

Any person who considers that he or she or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register his or her interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the National Refund Scheme, HSE Midland Area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly; or by e-mail to refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie; or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

  113.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the amount of funding given to Comhar for the south-east region for the past five years; if she will report on the counselling services it provides; and the average waiting time for persons who wish to avail of the counselling services provided by Comhar in the south east. [9090/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. [1301]This includes responsibility for the provision of mental health services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Health Service Executive’s south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  114.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of her Department that she has made for the past three years; if such appointments are [1302]salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9103/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Details of appointments made by the Minister for Health and Children to State boards under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children since 1 January 2002 are as set out in the following table.

My Department is undertaking a review to confirm the current position regarding payments to members of all State boards under its aegis. I will respond to the Deputy about this matter as soon as the review has been completed.

Board Name Date Appointed
Advisory Committee on Human Medicine Bernard Silke 08.07.2003
John Kelly 08.07.2003
An Bord Altranais Aine Enright 10.12.2002
Anna Plunkett 10.12.2002
Anne Carrigy 10.12.2002
Bernadette Macken 10.12.2002
Catherine McTiernan 10.12.2002
Catheryn M. Lee 10.12.2002
Cathy Casey 10.12.2002
Con McCarthy 10.12.2002
Deirdre Forde 10.12.2002
Eileen M. Kelly 10.12.2002
Eileen Weir 10.12.2002
Gonne Barry 10.12.2002
Jean B. McMahon 10.12.2002
Kathy Murphy 10.12.2002
Kenneth Brennan 10.12.2002
Kieran Feely 10.12.2002
Mary B. Durkin 10.12.2002
Mary Ita Walsh 10.12.2002
Mary McCarthy 10.12.2002
Maureen Kington 10.12.2002
Mr. John F. Byrne 10.12.2002
Orla O’Reilly 10.12.2002
Pauline Treanor 10.12.2002
Robert Burns 10.12.2002
Seamus J. Hoye 10.12.2002
Sheila O’Malley 10.12.2002
Tim Kennelly 10.12.2002
Veronica Kow 10.12.2002
William Blunnie 10.12.2002
Simonetta Ryan 19.05.2004
An Bord Uchtala Assumpta Hogan 10.02.2003
Fachtna Whittle 10.02.2003
Jim O’Sullivant 10.12.2002
Margaret Dromey 10.02.2003
Orlaith Traynor 10.02.2003
Sharon O’Driscoll 10.02.2003
Siobhán Keogh 10.02.2003
Terry Lynam Loane 10.02.2003
Valerie O’Brien 10.02.2003
Beaumont Hospital Board Aidan Hampson 31.12.2002
Donal O’Shea 31.12.2002
Dymphna Clune 31.12.2002
Ita Green 31.12.2002
Joseph Walshe 31.12.2002
Matt Merrigan 31.12.2002
Kitty O’Neill 25.02.2003
Liam C. Madden 25.02.2003
Marie Keane 25.02.2003
Shane O’Neill 25.02.2003
Tom Noonan 26.03.2003
Margaret Richardosn 01.04.2003
Mary Cullen 08.04.2003
Cathal Magee 15.04.2003
Mavoureen O’Leary 15.04.2003
Board of the Adelaide and Meath Hospitals Alan Gillis 01.08.2002
Arthur Cronhelm 01.08.2002
Charles O’Connor 01.08.2002
Colm O’Morain 01.08.2002
David Fitzpatrick 01.08.2002
Denis Reardon 01.08.2002
Derry Shanley 01.08.2002
Elizabeth O’Dwyer 01.08.2002
Estelle Feldman 01.08.2002
Fergus O’Farrell 01.08.2002
Gerry Brady 01.08.2002
Gerry Hurley 01.08.2002
Gordon Linney 01.08.2002
Ian Graham 01.08.2002
John Barragry 01.08.2002
Mervyn Taylor 01.08.2002
Philip Berman 01.08.2002
Richard Conroy 01.08.2002
Richard Greene 01.08.2002
Rosemary French 01.08.2002
Ruth Handy 01.08.2002
Tom O’Dowd 01.08.2002
Valerie Beatty 01.08.2002
Board for the Employment of the Blind Brendan Ingoldsby 16.02.2004
Christopher McEvoy 16.02.2004
Des Kenny 16.02.2004
Frank Tracy 16.02.2004
Mary Kelly 16.02.2004
Mary Mooney 16.02.2004
Maureen Windle 16.02.2004
Shira Mehlman 09.03.2004
Bord Na Radharcmhastóirí Geraldine Comer 31.11.2004
Martin Coyne 31.11.2004
Garry Treacy 10.02.2004
Denise McAuliffe 30.11.2004
Mairead Shields 24.02.2005
Consultative Council on Hepatitis C Susan Clarke 27.06.2002
Ann Broekhaven 14.10.2003
Ann McGrane 14.10.2003
Cliona O’Farrelly 14.10.2003
Elizabeth Kenny 14.10.2003
Ian Carter 14.10.2003
John Cullinane 14.10.2003
John Hegarty 14.10.2003
John Murphy 14.10.2003
Margaret Dunne 14.10.2003
Mark Murphy 14.10.2003
Mary Rowe 14.10.2003
Michael Madigan 14.10.2003
Paul O’Donoghue 14.10.2003
Paula Kealy 14.10.2003
Siobhán O’Connor 14.10.2003
Susan Corbett 14.10.2003
Aiden McCormack 31.03.2004
Crisis Pregnancy Agency Peter Finnegan 13.12.2004
Drug Treatment Centre Board Brian Meelough 15.04.2003
Christy Burke 15.04.2003
Ciaran Taaffe 15.04.2003
Daniel McGing 15.04.2003
Declan Bedford 15.04.2003
Denis McCarthy 15.04.2003
Eamon Keenan 15.04.2003
Fionnuala Anderson 15.04.2003
Ide de Largy 15.04.2003
John O’Connor 15.04.2003
Dublin Dental Hospital Board Ann Murphy 19.02.2004
Colette Morrissey 19.02.2004
Colm A. O’Moráin 19.02.2004
Deirdre Sadlier 19.02.2004
Diarmuid B. Shanley 19.02.2004
Eamon Croke 19.02.2004
Edward Cotter 19.02.2004
Jane Davis 19.02.2004
John Clarkson 19.02.2004
Michael Horgan 19.02.2004
Pat Harvey 19.02.2004
William Watts 19.02.2004
Food Safety Authority of Ireland Peter Dargan 20.12.2002
Tom Collins 20.12.2002
Albert Flynn 27.02.2003
Gary Kearney 09.07.2003
Charles Daly 03.02.2004
Daniel O’Hare 03.02.2004
John Daniel Collins 03.02.2004
Michael Gibeny 03.02.2004
Mary Falvey 22.11.2004
Michael Gunn 23.10.2003
Cliona Foley Nolan 01.06.2004
Health Research Board Desmond Fitzgerald 03.05.2002
Dermot Kelleher 03.05.2002
Tom Cotter 03.05.2002
Tim O’Brien 03.05.2002
Dermot Barnes-Holmes 03.05.2002
Tony Pembroke 03.05.2002
Anne Scott 03.05.2002
Kevin Kelleher 03.05.2002
Charlie Hardy 03.05.2002
William Hall 03.05.2002
Niall Daly 03.05.2002
Bob Stout 03.05.2002
Leonie Clarke 03.05.2002
Michael Griffith 03.05.2002
Paul McLoughlin 08.09.2003
Owen I. Corrigan 19.02.2004
Hannah McGee 17.01.2005
Health Services Employers Agency Shiela Treacy 03.07.2002
John Collins 10.07.2002
Stiofan de Burca 10.09.2002
Bernard Carey 06.03.2003
Brian O’Donnell 06.03.2003
Martin Cowley 06.03.2003
Michael Lyons 06.03.2003
Pat Donnelly 06.03.2003
Pat Harvey 06.03.2003
Stiofan de Burca 06.03.2003
William Beausang 06.03.2003
Shiela Treacy 14.03.2003
Health Service Executive Liam Downey 01.01.2005
Anne Scott 01.01.2005
Maureen Gaffney 01.01.2005
Michael McLoone 01.01.2005
Michael Murphy 01.01.2005
Niamh Brennan 01.01.2005
John A. Murray 01.01.2005
Eugene McCague 01.01.2005
P. J. Fitzpatrick 01.01.2005
Donal de Buitleir 01.01.2005
Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal Anthony G. Murphy 10.03.2003
Anne O’Neill 01.08.2003
Bridget Barry, B.L. 01.08.2003
Colm O’hOisín 01.08.2003
David Martin 01.08.2003
Deirdre Hegarty 01.08.2003
James Devlin, B.L. 01.08.2003
Karen Fergus, B.L. 01.08.2003
Leonie Reynolds, B.L. 01.08.2003
Mary Cantrell 01.08.2003
Pádraig Cullinane, B.L. 01.08.2003
Patricia McNamara 01.08.2003
Sheila Cooney 01.08.2003
Úna McGurk, B.L. 01.08.2003
Dara Hayes, B.L. 01.08.2003
Hospitals Trust Board Charlie Hardy 02.08.2002
Helen Minogue 02.08.2002
Cees Van Der Poel 01.12.2002
Elizabeth Keane 20.04.2003
Mary Horgan 01.06.2003
Tony McNamara 01.06.2003
Eamon Keenan 22.09.2003
Maura McGrath 08.10.2003
David Lowe 01.12.2003
Sean Wyse 07.01.2004
Helen Enright 04.11.2004
Jane O’Brien 04.11.2004
Mary Cahill 04.11.2004
Interim Health Service Executive Kevin Kelly 26.11.2003
Donal de Buitleir 26.11.2003
Anne Scott 26.11.2003
Michael McLoone 26.11.2003
Niamh Brennan 26.11.2003
Michael Murphy 26.11.2003
P. J. Fitzpatrick 26.11.2003
Liam Downey 26.11.2003
John A. Murray 26.11.2003
Maureen Gaffney 26.11.2003
Eugene McCague 26.11.2003
Irish Health Services Accreditation Board Anne Marie Ryan 03.09.2002
Austin Leahy 03.09.2002
Cormac Collins 03.09.2002
Elma Heidemann 03.09.2002
John Donohue 03.09.2002
John Lamont 03.09.2002
Paul Armstrong 03.09.2002
Sean Moroney 03.09.2002
Andrea Prothero 01.10.2002
Clare Keenan Daffy 15.10.2002
Dan Byrne 07.03.2004
Leopardstown Park Hospital Board Frank Turvey 20.03.2003
Kevin Dalton 03.09.2003
Alan Aylward 07.07.2004
Sandra Ronayne 03.09.2003
Medical Council Áilis Niacute; Rián 31.08.2004
Kieran Murphy 30.11.2004
Ian Graham 25.04.2004
E. Quigley 26.04.2004
P. A. Carney 28.04.2004
Muiris X. Fitzgerald 27.04.2004
Mental Health Commission Anne Byrne-Lynch 05.04.2003
Annie Ryan 05.04.2003
Deirdre Murphy 05.04.2003
Diarmuid McGuinness 05.04.2003
Diarmuid Ring 05.04.2003
Finbarr O’Leary 05.04.2003
Gerry Coone 05.04.2003
Joe Casey 05.04.2003
John Owens 05.04.2003
Maureen Windle 05.04.2003
Mike Watts 05.04.2003
Padraig Heverin 05.04.2003
Vicki Somers 05.04.2003
Mid Western Health Board David McAvinchey 01.07.2002
John Clifford 01.07.2002
Mary O’Donnell 01.07.2002
Midland Health Board James Coyle 01.07.2002
John Moloney TD 01.07.2002
Sean Keegan 01.07.2002
National Breast Screening Board Sheelagh Ryan 01.01.2005
Olivia O’Leary 01.01.2005
Sean Hurley 01.01.2005
Pat McLoughlin 01.01.2005
Niall O’Higgins 01.01.2005
Edel Moloney 14.02.2005
Peter Dervan 17.02.2005
Aílís Ní Ríain 17.02.2005
Tony Holohan 17.02.2005
National Cancer Registry Board Joseph Moran 26.03.2002
Bernadette Herity 26.03.2002
Tony Holohan 26.03.2002
Mary Hynes 26.03.2002
Margaret Codd 26.03.2002
David Fennelly 26.03.2002
Tom Crotty 06.10.2003
Helen Enright 26.03.2002
Elizabety Keane 26.03.2002
Elaine Kay 26.03.2002
Ivan Perry 26.03.2002
Nat. Council for the Prof. Dev. of Nursing and Midwifery Anne Carrigy 08.04.2003
Simonetta Ryan 01.06.2004
Kieran Feely 08.04.2003
National Council on Ageing and Older People Ciaran Donegan 22.05.2003
Eamon Kane 22.05.2003
Eddie Wade 22.05.2003
Eibhlin Byrne 22.05.2003
James Flanagan 22.05.2003
Jim Cousins 22.05.2003
Martha Sullivan 22.05.2003
Mary Nally 22.05.2003
Michael Dineen 22.05.2003
Michael Loftus 22.05.2003
Michael Murphy 22.05.2003
Pat O’Toole 22.05.2003

[1311]Question No. 115 answered with Question
No. 108.

  116.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive an appointment from St. John’s Hospital in Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9117/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of services at St. John’s Hospital, Limerick.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  117.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding plans for a general practitioner service on the campus at Tallaght Hospital; if her attention has been drawn to the long established need for this service in the region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9118/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for GMS general practitioner services.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  118.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Tánaiste and Mini[1312]ster for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is still waiting to see a consultant; if she will fast-track the proposed pilot scheme to ensure that this person is called for essential treatment. [9119/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As the person in question resides in County Mayo, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  119.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when an adequate number of staff will be provided at the Celbridge health centre to facilitate the speedy processing of medical card and other applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9140/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the number of staff at health centres.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  120.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding developments at Temple Street Hospital; if parking spaces will be made available for all nursing staff to ensure adequate and stable nursing services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9155/05]

[1313]Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Services at Temple Street Hospital are provided under an arrangement with the executive.

My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to examine the issue raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  121.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, was not held to account for the nursing home charge issue, particularly in view of the fact that his role at the time dealt with the elderly. [9156/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I take it the Deputy is referring to the subject matter of the Travers report, but I believe his question prejudges any answer I may give. It is a function of the Oireachtas to hold Ministers to account. The House considered the report for two hours on 10 March, including a half an hour of questions to me and to my predecessor as Minister for Health and Children. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children has also been asked by Dáil Éireann to consider the report over the next three months.

I have given my views already extensively to the House and I remain fully willing to assist the Oireachtas joint committee in its detailed considerations.

  122.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason persons (details supplied) in County Meath had their children taken into care; and if she will increase the support services to all children with autism. [9157/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January, 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for disability services. As the Deputy may be aware, my colleague, the Minister for Finance, in his 2005 budget made available additional funding in the sum of €55 million for services to persons with an intellectual, physical or sensory disability and those with autism. Additional capital funding of €34 million has also been provided in 2005.

Furthermore, when launching the national disability strategy, the Taoiseach announced the Government’s commitment to a multi-annual [1314]investment programme for disability specific services over the next five years, details of which were announced on budget day. The investment programme for disability specific services will have a total cumulative value of €900 million for the period 2006-09. It will be a matter for the Health Service Executive to allocate this funding.

It is not appropriate to comment on individual cases. The taking of children into care is governed by the Child Care Act 1991 as amended by the Health Act 2004 and is a matter for the HSE.

  123.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the circumstances in which State property under the care of her Department has been disposed of without going to auction or tender; if she will report on the statutory authority for doing so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9222/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that before the 1 January 2005 land and property which formed part of the health estate was vested in the health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority. Under the Health (Amendment) (No. 3) Act 1996, health boards were granted the statutory authority to approve the disposal of land, and property, subject to any general directions given by the Minister for Health and Children with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The subsequent amending legislation passed in June 2004, transferred those powers to the chief executive officers with the consent of the Minister for Health and Children arising out of the dissolution of those health boards and the ERHA. With the passing of the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive was established and commenced on 1 January 2005. Under that Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services which includes the responsibility for management of the health estate held by former health boards and now vested in the executive.

The procedures adopted by former health boards and the new executive in regard to the disposal of State property require that they comply with both the provisions of health legislation and the principles set down under public procurement guidelines. Accordingly, as my Department was not involved in the direct management and day-to-day administration of the health estate, including the specific process by which health boards ultimately disposed of their land and properties, I have requested the interim chief executive officer for the Health Service Executive to investigate the circumstances, if any, under which land or property has been disposed of without auction or tender, the statutory basis for any such disposals and to reply directly to the Deputy on the matter raised.

  124.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway is not entitled to a nursing home subvention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9232/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in County Galway.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 125 answered with Question
No. 58.

  126.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of the full-time beds which are available for persons under 65 years of age who need full-time care and attention in County Offaly; the location of these beds and the plans she has to have further beds available for persons under 65 years of age in County Offaly. [9253/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for addiction services.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  127.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will consider using the Curragh Hospital to relieve the present crisis in the accident and emergency department at Naas General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9257/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for services at Naas General Hospital.

[1316]Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  128.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the maximum grant payable for a hairpiece within each area of the Health Service Executive for holders of medical cards. [9258/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for medical cards.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  129.  Ms M. Wallace    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which her Department will deal with the many inquiries from families whose elderly relatives were in private nursing care, as distinct from public nursing care, and who when they phoned the special helpline open from 28 February to 4 March 2005 were advised that staff would only deal with cases in public health care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9259/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The special helpline referred to by the Deputy was set up to deal with queries arising from the Supreme Court judgment of 16 February which related only to charges in public long-stay institutions and publicly contracted beds in private nursing homes. Issues relating to private nursing homes should be addressed in the usual manner to the HSE in the area where the nursing home in question is situated.

A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, has been established to consider all issues in relation to long-stay care in the light of the judgment.

  130.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will initiate a sworn independent public inquiry as requested by the family of a person (details supplied). [9318/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I am aware that a report in the matter referred to by the Deputy was submitted to the Inspector of Mental Health [1317]Services by the clinical director of the south Lee mental health service. Following receipt of the correspondence referred to by the Deputy, I intend to ask the Mental Health Commission for a report on the matter and will consider the need for any further action in light of the Mental Health Commission’s report.

  131.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Galway in respect of the provision of a Comhairle report on neurosurgery with particular reference to the western neurosurgery campaign; if she has received this report; when the report will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9320/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I have received the correspondence referred to by the Deputy.

Shortly after taking the appointment as Minister for Health and Children I met with members of the western neurosurgery campaign. They outlined their case to me for the establishment of a regional neurosurgical unit in the west. I understand that the western neurosurgery campaign also had an opportunity to put its case to the committee established by Comhairle na nOspidéal to examine the future development of neurosurgical services in Ireland. My Department has been informed that this committee is in the process of completing its report.

  132.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to have qualitative research carried out into the prevalence of ADHD and related conditions (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9332/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The development of services for the management and treatment of attention deficit disorder-attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADD-ADHD, was considered by the working group on child and adolescent psychiatric services established by the Department of Health and Children in June 2000. In its report, presented in March 2001, the working group stated that the prevalence of ADD-ADHD in Ireland can be estimated at somewhere between 1% and 5% of school-age children, that is, aged five to 15 years, which is in line with the research findings in other European countries.

All aspects of the presentation, diagnosis, treatment and management of children suffering from ADD-ADHD were considered by the working group in the course of its deliberations. In its report, the different components of treatment required were set out and the importance of adequate linkages with other services, such as the [1318]education services and the community health services, were emphasised.

The group recommended the enhancement and expansion of the overall child and adolescent psychiatric services as the most effective means of providing the required service for children with mental illness. This has been a priority for my Department in recent years. Since 1997, additional funding of almost €19 million has been provided to allow for the appointment of additional consultants in child and adolescent psychiatry, for the enhancement of existing consultant-led multidisciplinary teams and towards the establishment of further teams. This has resulted in the funding of a further 19 child and adolescent consultant psychiatrists. Nationally, there are now 52 such psychiatrists employed.

The future direction and delivery of all aspects of our mental health services, including child and adolescent psychiatry, will be considered in the context of the work of the expert group on mental health policy which is due to report in 2005.

  133.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in having a place made available in hospital for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9336/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Donegal, my Department has requested the chief officer of the Executive’s north western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  134.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she is responsible for the performance of the functions of her Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9338/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I, as Minister for Health and Children, have responsibility for the performance of the functions of my Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997.

However, under section 4(1) of the Act, responsibility and accountability may be delegated to the Secretary General or head of the Department to manage the Department’s day to day business, to implement and monitor Government policies appropriate to the Department and deliver outputs as determined with the Minister. In addition, under section 7 of the Act, I may give [1319]directions in writing to the Secretary General or head of the Department in connection with the obligations of the Secretary General or head under sections 4 to 6 other than sections 4(1)(h).

  135.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has satisfied herself that the decision to make medical cards available to all persons aged 70 and over received the analytical input commensurate with the policy and operational importance of the decisions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9339/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As a general rule, I am anxious that all policy proposals are thoroughly researched and evaluated before decisions are taken. However, the Government remains free on occasions, and taking account of all relevant factors, to arrive at policy decisions without necessarily having received a detailed analysis.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, I understand that the decision to make medical cards available to all persons aged 70 and over was only notified to my Department a matter of days before the announcement was made. This, in part, led to a serious underestimation of the costs involved. However, as the policy has now been fully implemented I have no plans to change it.

  136.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she expects the development and implementation of the national standards for disability services as recommended by the National Disability Authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9341/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  My Department, in partnership with the National Disability Authority, NDA, has developed draft national standards for disability services, NSDS, in consultation with people with disabilities, their families, carers, service providers, the health boards-authority and other stakeholders. These standards are designed to ensure that services are provided to an agreed level of quality and that the level of quality is consistent on a national basis. It is proposed that the standards will apply to a range of services for people with disabilities as funded by the Health Service Executive.

The draft NSDS have been considered within the framework of the health services reform programme. A critical element in this process is the establishment of the health information and quality authority, HIQA. The chairman and board of the interim HIQA have been recently appointed.

Consequently, the draft NSDS have been forwarded to the interim HIQA for its consideration. The implementation process for the NSDS will necessarily involve an incremental process of [1320]planning, training and implementation over the coming years.

  137.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of paediatric occupational therapists employed in each Health Service Executive area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9342/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The health service personnel census collects employment information on the basis of grade and employing agency and not on the basis of care group or speciality as sought by the Deputy. The total number of occupational therapists employed on 31 December 2004, in whole-time equivalent terms, was 704. The Health Service Executive, HSE, which was established on 1 January 2005 under the Health Act 2004, is responsible for the recruitment and deployment of staff including occupational therapists.

My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer of each HSE area to provide the detailed information in respect of the number of paediatric occupational therapists employed in each HSE area and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  138.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if cutbacks in capital or current spending or in services will result from the need to repay residents in nursing homes following the recent Supreme Court judgment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9345/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  No cutbacks in capital or current spending or in services will result from the need to repay residents. The Revised Estimates Volume, REV, sets out the detail of Vote 40: Health Service Executive, HSE, for 2005. This represents the level of funding, both capital and non-capital, available for health and children’s services in the current year. The board of the HSE has approved a service plan, which reflects this level of funding, and submitted it to me for approval. I have now approved the HSE service plan and, therefore, spending in 2005 will be fully consistent with the level approved in REV 2005.

With regard to the repayment of nursing home charges, I have already indicated to the Dáil that the Government will deal with this issue by way of a Supplementary Estimate.

  139.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the services available to young and disabled children, who have a long-term illness card, when they are out of hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9349/05]

[1321]Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Children with the following diseases or disabilities: mental handicap, mental illness, phenylketyonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, haemophilia and cerebal palsy are exempt from hospital inpatient charges.

Outside of hospital, people with a long-term illness may be entitled to free drugs and medicines. Under the 1970 Health Act, the Health Service Executive 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 through the long term-illness scheme, LTI. 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. Parkinsonism, acute leukaemia, muscular dystrophies and multiple sclerosis were added to the scheme in 1975.

  140.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the roles and functions carried out by special advisers attached to her Department; if circulars or instructions have been issued within her Department concerning special advisers; if so, if she will provide a copy of any such circular; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9350/05]

  141.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the special advisers attached to her Department are part of the line management system of the Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9351/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 140 and 141 together.

The provisions for the appointment and role of special advisers are clearly set out in section 11 of the Public Sector Management Act 1997.

In accordance with that Act, the special advisers in my Department are appointed, inter alia, to assist me in the discharge of my functions as Minister for Health and Children. They are also available to assist me with regard to my role in government as Tánaiste.

It is clear from the Public Service Management Act 1997 that special advisers are not part of the Civil Service line management. In his report, Mr. John Travers confirms this. He states that, “the briefing of Special Advisors by Department officials and the fact that Special Advisors attend particular meetings should not be considered, and should not be accepted as, an alternative to the direct briefing of the Minister on important areas of policy and operation.”

Mr. Travers is precise in using the term “an alternative” to the direct briefing of the Minister [1322]on important areas of policy and operation. He did not recommend against the briefing of special advisers in conjunction with the direct briefing of the Minister.

A circular on the role of special advisers was issued on 23 March 2000 by the Secretary General of the Department to members of the management advisory committee and to each principal officer and their staff. The following is a copy of that circular.

To:

Each Member of MAC

Each Principal Officer and your staff

From:

Michael Kelly

1. As you may know, two advisors have been appointed by the Minister to work with him in his role here in the Department. They are Special Advisor (A) and Policy Advisor (B). Both are located on the sixth floor and we will circulate details of phone numbers etc. later.

2. The Minister has now agreed with the two advisors the respective policy areas in which each will have a particular interest (see attached). Also, I have agreed with the Minister and the advisors the general lines of the roles they will play and their interaction with the rest of the Department. Overall, the intention is that the Minister will have ongoing contact with significant issues, developments, documents etc. throughout the Department through the relationship between the advisors and the relevant Divisions/Units in the Department.

3. In general, the relationship will work as follows:

—Any policy documents being submitted to the Minister should be copied to the relevant advisor.

—The relevant advisor should be made aware of and invited to key meetings concerning either a policy change or high profile topic/incident.

—Circulation of relevant documents to the advisors; and

—Participation of advisors at MAC meetings.

4. As a general rule, it will be a matter for each Principal Officer to decide on which issues should involve the advisors. Alternatively, the advisors may ask to be involved in a particular topic or issue in the Department.

5. This memo is intended to clarify the position and role of the advisors. In practice, the working relationships, are likely to develop on an informal and constructive basis.

6. None of the above precludes direct contact between the Minister and members of staff of [1323]the Department, in accordance with normal practice.

23 March 2000

Policy Advisor (B) Special Advisor (A)
Industrial Relations/Unions Health Boards
Acute Hospitals/Waiting Lists T.D.’s
Press-PR Lottery Funds
Paramedics Blood
Secondary Care Mental Health
Women’s Health Policy Services for Older People
Mental Handicap Health Promotion
GPs/G.M.S. Cardiovascular
Medicines Unit Health Insurance
Maternity/Family Planning Environmental Health
Infectious Diseases Food Safety
Cervical Screening Public Health
Ophthalmic Community Health
Physical Disability Advisors Meetings
Nursing Policy Unit Carers
Drugs and Aids Services National Cancer Strategy
Dental Travellers
Tobacco Control

  142.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in having home subvention sanctioned for applicants; and if she will make a statement on the general matter and on the case of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [9352/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in County Donegal. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Executive’s north western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  143.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in her Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9357/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Information on mileage paid to State employees is not routinely collected by my Department. Therefore, I have requested the [1324]chief officer of each of the Health Service Executive’s regional areas and the chief executive officers of other statutory health agencies to forward the requested information to the Deputy in respect of the year ended 31 December 2004.

  144.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of licences existing that permit doctors or agencies to offer methadone treatment here, outlining the geographical spread and location of such licences. [9372/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for drug treatment services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  145.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether access to methadone treatment in the southern region exists at the same level as in other parts of the country; and if additional resources will be made available to upgrade this service. [9373/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for drug treatment services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  146.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a bed for the long term care of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be provided; if a decision in the case will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9374/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of [1325]health services in County Kilkenny. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  147.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the nursing positions will be offered to the successful candidates who applied to St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny city; the number of posts available and the timeframe for filling each or all of them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9375/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for employment of staff. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  148.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if arrangements will be made to restore visiting rights to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a response will be expedited. [9376/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of mental health services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Health Service Executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  149.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if rehab care will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9377/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the [1326]executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person referred to by the Deputy resides in County Kilkenny, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

  150.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has provided the necessary funding through the Health Service Executive to facilitate the opening of all the facilities at Naas General Hospital with particular reference to the appointment of the full complement of all the required staff, the commissioning of all theatres and ancillary facilities or back up to enable the hospital to provide the full range of services for which it is intended; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9474/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for services at Naas General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive’s eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  151.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the doctor only medical cards will be authorised; the extent of the income thresholds; the number of families and persons estimated to qualify for these cards; if agreement has been reached with the IMO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9527/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  It is estimated that 200,000 persons will become eligible for free general practitioner services under this initiative. The additional 200,000 “doctor visit” cards will be introduced progressively from April 2005, once the administrative arrangements are in place.

My Department has informed the Irish Medical Organisation of the legal basis for the introduction of the new “doctor visit” cards and the policy objective underlying it. The Health Service Executive is putting in place the necessary administrative arrangements to give effect to this policy decision and is available for discussions with the Irish Medical Organisation on these arrangements. Income guidelines are estimated to be as shown in the following table:

Medical Cards
2005 Weekly
Doctor Visit Cards
2005 Weekly
Single person living alone (under 66) 153.50 191.87
Single person living alone (66-69 years) 168.00 210.00
Single person living with family (under 66) 136.50 170.63
Single person living with family (66-69 years) 144.50 180.63
Married couple (under 66) 222.00 277.50
Married couple (66-69 years) 248.50 310.63
Married couple (70-79 years) 497.00 621.25
Married couple (80 and over ) 522.50 653.13
Allowance for first 2 children under 16 financially dependent on applicant 31.50 39.38
Allowance for 3rd and subsequent children under 16 financially dependent on applicant 34.00 42.50
Allowance for first 2 children over 16 years financially dependent on applicant 32.50 40.63
Allowance for 3rd and subsequent children over 16 years financially dependent on applicant 35.50 44.38
Allowance for a dependent over 16 years who is in full-time third level education and not grant aided 65.00 81.25
Out-goings on house: rent-mortgage in excess of 26.00 32.50
Reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in travelling to work (in excess of) 23.00 28.75

  152.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the findings of the national commission on human assisted reproduction; if she intends to act upon those findings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9530/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The commission on assisted human reproduction has not yet reported its findings; it is in the end stages of preparing its report and I expect it will be presented to me in the near future.

  153.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she plans to review and draw up guidelines for the prescription of cox-2 inhibitors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9531/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  These products are licensed via the European Union’s mutual recognition procedure and are currently under review by the European Medicines Agency. It is anticipated that this review will be completed by the end of April. This review will include the prescribing and patient information and will take account of new safety information.

  154.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she intends to establish an interdepartmental task force on childhood asthma, in view of the fact that one in five Irish children has the disorder and that Ireland has the fourth highest rate of asthma in the world. [9532/05]

[1328]Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The causation and treatment of asthma are very complex issues involving a combination of environmental, physiological, psychological, metabolic and other factors. It is generally accepted, not only in Ireland but in the western world in general, that there is a requirement for further research on the many causes of asthma, in particular those relating to genetics and the environment.

There are no plans at present to establish a task force on childhood asthma but I will keep the matter under review.

  155.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if there are plans to move the acute psychiatric unit at St. Senan’s Hospital, Enniscorthy to the general hospital at Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9533/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of mental health services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Health Service Executive’s south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  156.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason many general hospitals do not have 24/7 CAT scanner [1329]facilities; the hospitals which do not; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9534/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of CAT scanning services in hospitals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive, National Hospitals Office, to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  157.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn fact that a cohabiting couple with only one earner is treated for tax purposes as a single person even if they have several dependant children; and if he has proposals to allow such families to receive tax equity. [8549/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Generally speaking, the tax system treats members of cohabiting couples as separate and unconnected individuals. Each partner is a separate entity for tax purposes and credits, and bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. There are no special favourable tax arrangements for cohabiting couples with dependent children.

The working group examining the treatment of married, cohabiting and one-parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, which reported in August 1999, was sympathetic, in principle, to changes in the tax legislation to address the issues raised relating to cohabiting couples and reported that the options that it set out should be considered further. However, it acknowledged in regard to the tax treatment of cohabiting couples that a key issue is whether tax law should proceed ahead of changes in the general law.

The Law Reform Commission published a consultation paper on the rights and duties of cohabitees in April 2004. That paper indicated that in the light of the current policy with regard to individualisation of the tax bands, the commission was not recommending any change to the income tax treatment of cohabiting couples.

As a matter of policy, child benefit is the main instrument through which support is provided to parents with children and this is available to all parents whether single, cohabiting or married. The Government has substantially increased child benefit since coming into office in 1997. Overall expenditure on child benefit has increased by 279% from €506 million in 1997 to an estimated €1,916 million in 2005.

As I have indicated previously, I do not believe that changes to the tax code should set a headline in advance of developments in other relevant [1330]areas of public policy, for example, in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships. I remain of that view.

  158.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Finance    if he plans to offer tax relief to working parents for child care; the steps which have been taken to address the issue of affordability of child care with the average costs ranging from €130-€150 for a full day child care place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8555/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no plans to introduce additional measures at this time. Any such decisions would be a matter for budget time, in any case.

  159.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on plans for an EU-wide tax on aviation fuel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8577/05]

  160.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on calls for an excise tax on aviation fuel, in view of the fact that airline fuel is the only fuel not to be subject to tax and in view of its adverse effects on the environment. [8578/05]

  162.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    the contact his Department has had with the Departments of Transport and Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the issue of an EU-wide aviation fuel tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8580/05]

  181.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the position of the Department, and the reasons therefor, in respect of the European Parliament’s efforts to introduce an aviation fuel tax in the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9086/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 159, 160, 162 and 181, together.

At a recent meeting of EU Finance Ministers on 17 February, there was a lunchtime discussion about exploring the possibility of introducing a tax on aviation fuel or a levy on airline tickets for the purpose of raising revenue for development aid. Opinions differed on the wisdom of such an approach.

Following this discussion, the European Commission was asked to examine the pros and cons of possible approaches for the financing of development aid, including the suggestions referred to above. After this examination, we will be in a position to better assess the impact of any such proposal from an Irish perspective taking account of all the policy issues involved.

  161.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on alteration of the tax system to encourage travellers to use eco-friendly modes [1331]of travel, that is, the incentivisation of such travel through reduced costs and tax breaks. [8579/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  As the Deputy may be aware, there are a number of tax incentives in place to encourage the use of public transport as follows. A scheme was introduced in the Finance Act 1999 which provides exemptions from benefit-in-kind taxation for employer-provided bus and rail passes. This has since been extended to cover travel on the Luas and, in this year’s Finance Bill, I am proposing to extend it to cover passes on commuter ferry services operating within the State. Under the park and ride scheme, various capital allowances are available in respect of qualifying expenditure incurred on park and ride facilities in the larger urban areas. The scheme commenced on 1 July 1999 and is due to terminate on 31 July 2006. Diesel trains and certain passenger road services benefit from lower rates of excise.

Other recent eco-friendly initiatives in the transport area include: an excise differential for sulphur free fuel proposed in Finance Bill 2005; the extension until end-2006 of the scheme which provides a 50% refund on vehicle registration tax on the purchase of ‘hybrid’ vehicles, which have lower emissions than standard vehicles; a scheme of excise relief for biofuels in pilot projects, including testing of biofuels for use as motor fuel.

As regards reduced costs, the Deputy may be aware that the subvention for public transport in 2005 is expected to be €284 million, while proposed capital investment in public transport in 2005 amounts to €426 million.

Question No. 162 answered with Question
No. 159.

  163.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8587/05]

  172.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees of his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [8939/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 172 together.

The total payments in 2004 from my Department’s Vote in relation to mileage expenses and bus and rail tickets are as follows: payment for car mileage expenses in 2004 was €108,832.62 and the total mileage relating to this amount was 107,721 miles; payment to cover rail and bus ticket expenses in 2004 was €5,877.98.

  164.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Fin[1332]ance    the procedure to be followed by way of application for charity status by an organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8628/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Any body of persons may apply for charitable tax exemption under tax law and this may be granted by the Revenue Commissioners where the applicant body fulfils the criteria in either one or more of the following activities: the relief of poverty; the advancement of religion; the advancement of education; or certain other works of a charitable nature beneficial to the community.

In addition, the body must be legally established in the State and have its centre of management and control in the State; ensure that its objects and powers are so framed that every object to which its income or property can be applied is charitable; and be bound, as to its main objects and the application of its income or property, by a governing instrument, for example, memorandum and articles of association in the case of an incorporated body, deed of trust, constitution or rules in the case of an unincorporated body.

The procedure for applying for charitable tax exemption consists of the completion of an application form that must be sent with supporting documentation to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Charities Section, Government Offices, Nenagh, County Tipperary. Full details in relation to the application process, including the application form, are set out in information booklet CHY1, Applying for Relief from Tax on the Income and Property of Charities, which can be found on the Revenue website: www.revenue.ie.

  165.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    when VAT exemption will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8633/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have repaid VRT and VAT on the vehicle in question and VAT on the adaptations carried out to the vehicle in accordance with the Disabled Drivers and the Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. The repayment cheque issued on 16 November 2004.

  166.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will extend the ability to reclaim VAT to all boat owners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8724/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The position is that fishermen who are registered for VAT are entitled to claim a refund for all VAT charged to them in respect of equipment used for their business. Fishermen who are not registered for VAT are entitled to claim back VAT charged to them as follows: under section 29, remission or repayment of tax on fishing vessels and equipment, of the 1979 VAT regulations; VAT charged [1333]on the purchase, intra-community acquisition, importation, hire, maintenance and repair of seafishing vessels of a gross tonnage of not more than 15 tons, provided the vessel concerned has been the subject of a grant or loan from An Bord Iascaigh Mhara; VAT charged on the purchase of certain equipment related to the operation of a vessel which would include: anchors, autopilots, bilge and deck pumps, buoys, floats, compasses, life boats and life rafts, marine lights, radar apparatus, radio navigational aid apparatus, radio telephones, provided the vessel concerned has been the subject of a grant or loan from An Bord Iascaigh Mhara. There is no provision for relief on equipment for boat owners, other than in the circumstances set out above. I have no plans to amend the VAT regulations that apply to unregistered fishermen.

  167.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Finance    the total, or expected total cost to his Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8830/05]

[1334]Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003 by my Department, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties, was placed in three national daily newspapers on 12 November 2004. It was also placed in and Foinse, and put on the Department’s website. The cost of placing the notice in the media was €8,246.78.

  168.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of imported used cars registered here from Japan, the UK and the European Community in each year from 1993 to 2005. [8885/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In my earlier reply to the Deputy on 2 February 2005, as advised by the Revenue Commissioners, I stated that accurate data in relation to the country of origin of imported used vehicles are not available. However, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information on country of origin is entered by customers on VRT form 4 at the time of registration on a voluntary basis but may not be correct as regards the country of origin in all cases. A breakdown of the numbers of imported used cars by country of origin, as entered by customers, is set out in the following table. The earliest year for which the information is available is 1996.

Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Japan 10,663 15,465 23,043 18,660 10,927 4,787 3,267 3,593 5,808
UK 21,726 15,503 10,557 8,692 5,180 3,461 3,290 4,089 8,796
Other EU 9,021 6,060 3,895 3,074 2,016 1,425 1,623 1,950 3,486
Other non EU 120 416 113 124 97 95 82 123 189
Total 41,530 37,444 37,608 30,550 18,220 9,768 8,262 9,755 18,279

[1333]

  169.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Finance    if tax relief for the purchase of travel tickets is available to commuters who use non State-owned forms of public transport, such as private bus operators; if he will consider extending this relief to cover such commuters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8915/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the position in relation to travel tickets is that where an employer provides an employee with an annual or monthly bus or train pass, the cost of such a pass is not taxable. In addition, where an employee foregoes salary, and such salary foregone is used by the employee to purchase an annual or monthly bus or train pass, then the salary foregone is not taxable. Both of these instances are subject to certain conditions.

The relevant provisions are not confined to State-owned forms of public transport. At present, the requirement is that the bus or train pass must be issued by an “approved transport provider”, defined as: CIE, any of its subsidiaries [1334]or a person who provides a passenger transport service under an arrangement entered into by CIE in accordance with section 13(1) of the Transport Act 1950; or a private bus operator holding a passenger licence under section 7 of the Road Transport Act 1932; or the Railway Procurement Agency, any of its subsidiaries or a person who has entered into an arrangement with the agency in accordance with section 43(6) of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 to operate a railway.

The Deputy will be aware that the Finance Bill 2005, which is currently before the Seanad, proposes to add the operators of certain ferry services to the list of approved transport providers.

  170.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Finance    if a general embargo is in place on the recruitment of staff other than to fill existing vacancies by local authorities. [8936/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In December 2002, in order to control public service [1335]numbers, the Government decided to cap numbers at the existing authorised level and to reduce numbers by 5,000 across all sectors by the end of 2005. Numbers in the local authorities are to be reduced by 1,000 over that period.

I am satisfied with the progress being made in regard to the reduction in public service numbers since the announcement of the measure in December 2002. Details of how effect is to be given to this policy in individual Departments and sectors of the public service is a matter for the relevant Minister in each case.

  171.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of claims by non-Irish nationals of the tax relief afforded to creative artists in each of the income range bands given in the reply to a parliamentary question on 23 November 2004. [8937/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that applicants seeking the exemption of certain earnings of writers, composers and artists prior to 6 September 2004 were not requested to declare their nationality. A newly designed claim form containing a question on nationality must be completed by all applicants who seek the exemption on or after 6 September 2004.

As the information provided in the reply given on 23 November 2004 to Parliamentary Question 30205/04 pre-dates 6 September 2004, there is no basis on which to provide the figures requested by the Deputy.

Question No. 172 answered with Question
No. 163.

  173.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) has received all due payments in regard to his or her tax repayments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8975/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the person in question ceased employment on 28 February 2005 but did not submit a claim for repayment due to unemployment to this office. The necessary details have now been received from the person in question and from the taxpayer’s former employer. A repayment due to unemployment was processed on 15 March 2005. A cheque for the amount due issued to the taxpayer on 18 March 2005.

  174.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    if agri-contractors have been charged rates through the Valuation Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8994/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The Valuation Office has no function in levying rates. Rating authorities alone exercise this function. All [1336]lands developed for any purpose, which include buildings, are rateable as relevant property under Schedule 3, section 1(b) of the Valuation Act 2001. Excluded from this are all relevant properties which are specified in Schedule 4. Farm buildings are excluded under Schedule 4. Farm buildings have been held by case law such as Nixon v. Commissioner, International Mushrooms v. Commissioner, etc. to be those which are used in association with the agricultural or horticultural use of land. The connection between the buildings and the direct use of the land is critical.

Agricultural contractors are by definition commercial operators of agricultural machinery for third parties. These machines require storage and maintenance and the buildings in which these activities take place are rateable as relevant property under Schedule 3 and are not farm buildings. The buildings may also be part of a farm where the contractor is himself or herself a farmer and uses the machines on his or her land. The question of degree of use then has to be considered and if the buildings are commercially used for work outside the farm to a significant extent they are not farm buildings.

  175.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which a person (details supplied) will obtain a refund of tax paid during their term as a sub-contractor; the procedures they must follow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8995/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that payments made to a sub-contractor by a principal contractor in the construction, forestry and meat processing industries are subject to a 35% relevant contracts tax deducted at source, unless the sub-contractor is a current holder of a certificate of authorisation entitling him to receive payments without deduction of tax. A certificate of relevant contracts tax deducted, form RCTDC, is given by the principal contractor to the sub-contractor where relevant contracts tax has been deducted from a payment.

To apply for a refund of the relevant contracts tax deducted, the sub-contractor must complete the appropriate section of the original form RCTDC given to him by the principal contractor and send it to his tax office. In the event of no other tax liabilities arising a full refund of relevant contracts tax will be made. Where other tax liabilities arise, the tax deducted will be credited accordingly and the balance, if any, refunded to the sub-contractor. An individual engaged in such a contract must be registered as a self-employed person with the Revenue Commissioners and to this end must complete a form, TR1, and return it to his local tax office.

If the individual was an employee of the company and tax was deducted under the PAYE system, he should submit his P45 form together with an application for repayment, P50 form, to [1337]the Wexford tax district. If the person in question requires any further assistance with this matter, he should contact the Wexford revenue district at telephone number, 053-49305.

  176.  Mr. N. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    when payment of moneys will issue to persons (details supplied) in County Cork whose premises were damaged by flood waters and who have been waiting for a number of months for such payment. [9034/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The humanitarian aid scheme approved by the Government following the serious flooding which affected various locations in late October 2004 was for the relief of hardship arising from the flooding of people’s homes. The cases to which the Deputy refers are among a small number of outstanding cases which are the subject of ongoing consultation with the Irish Red Cross Society.

  177.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the length of time it took for the Office of Public Works to identify a suitable site for a new school development in Ballygarvan, County Cork. [9067/05]

  178.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the length of time it took for the Office of Public Works, having identified a suitable site for a new school development in Ballygarvan, County Cork, to have subsequently inspected it. [9068/05]

  179.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason an alternative site for a new school development was deemed unsuitable by the Office of Public Works. [9069/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 to 179, inclusive, together.

The Commissioners of Public Works act as agent on behalf of the Department of Education and Science in the acquisition of sites for new school facilities. The Department initially requested the Office of Public Works to acquire a site for the above purpose on 23 May 2000. Normally the Commissioners of Public Works advertise publicly for suitable site options. However, in this case the Department forwarded a number of site options with the request. These were assessed in terms of their technical suitability. On foot of that assessment, a configuration of three sites was identified as the most suitable option in July 2001.

Due to a lack of funding availability, negotiations for the acquisitions were put on hold in February 2003. The Department instructed my office to recommence negotiations in May 2004, which are ongoing. It is expected to finalise the matter at an early date should agreement on price be achievable.

  180.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will report on the policy on the payment of members of statutory boards in the non-commercial area; the rates of payment; the degree of delegation to line Departments; if the sanction of his Department is required in each case; and the statutory boards which do not make payments to its members. [9074/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The level of fees payable to the non-executive chairpersons and members of statutory boards of State bodies was determined by the Government in May 2001. Fees are divided into four categories depending on the size and complexity of the body. Category one: chairperson, €19,046.07; director, €12,697.38. Category two: chairperson, €15,236.86; director, €10,157.90. Category three: chairperson, €10,157.90; director, €6,348.69. Category four: chairperson, €7,618.43; director, €5,078.95

For the boards of non-commercial State bodies, the basic criterion used for determining the rates payable was the recommendations in review body report No. 38 on the remuneration of the chief executives. This provides the best available objective assessment of the relative importance and complexity of the bodies concerned.

In general, for fees to be payable to the chairperson or members of a board requires an enabling provision in the legislation governing the State body concerned. Such a provision typically specifies that members may be paid such remuneration, if any, which the sponsor Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may determine. The question of delegation does not arise.

In some cases, only the chairperson receives a fee, usually reflecting the situation where the ordinary members’ and directors’ duties are not considered sufficiently onerous or that the members carry out their functions on a pro bono basis. For public servants who are members of such boards, the “one person, one salary” rule applies and fees are not generally payable to them.

The Deputy should consult with relevant Ministers for specific information on the boards of statutory bodies under their aegis where fees are not paid to members. I will provide the information on bodies under my Department, as soon as it has been collated.

Question No. 181 answered with Question
No. 159.

  182.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) is tax compliant. [9099/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The Revenue Commissioners are unable to provide any information regarding the tax affairs of an individual, other than when the Deputy asks the [1339]question on behalf of the person concerned. The tax affairs of individuals are confidential between them and the Revenue Commissioners. As it appears the question has been asked without the consent of the person mentioned, the Revenue Commissioners cannot provide the information sought. However, if the Deputy has information to suggest the person has undisclosed income, he should contact the Revenue Commissioners with that information so that further inquiries can be made.

  183.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made in the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9104/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The information requested is being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded directly to the Deputy.

  184.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    if, when being disposed of, all State property must be auctioned or put to tender; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9219/05]

  185.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the procedures which must be complied with when the State wishes to dispose of property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9220/05]

  186.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the circumstances in which State property may be disposed of without going to auction or tender; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9221/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 184 to 186, inclusive, together.

The procedures which must be followed when the Office of Public Works disposes of property are set down in the State Property Act 1954 and also a number of delegated or specific financial sanctions. The State Property Act S10(2) states: “A State authority may, in respect of any State land for the time being vested in that State authority, do all or any of the following things— (a) sell such State land or any part thereof, (b) exchange, on such terms (including payment or receipt of money for equality of exchange) as such State authority may determine, such State land or any part thereof for any other land, (c) make a grant gratuitously of such State land or any part thereof for any specified purpose, (d) make a lease of such State land or any part thereof for any term.” The Act further states in sections (3) and (4): “(3) Every sale of State land under paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section [1340]shall be made for such consideration in money or money’s worth as the State authority selling it shall determine. (4) (a) Every grant of State land under paragraph (c) of subsection (2) of this section shall contain such covenants, conditions and agreements (including a right of re-entry on breach thereof) as the State authority making the grant shall determine and shall agree upon with the person to whom the grant is made.”

In cases where land or property has been identified as surplus to requirements, the Commissioners of Public Works preferred option is to dispose of same on the open market, by tendering or public auction. In certain circumstances the Office of Public Works may dispose of property by sale or grant to a local authority, by sale to the neighbouring landowners in the case of a landlocked site or sale by private treaty to a sitting tenant.

  187.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if, regarding SSIA accounts, an account holder is obliged to complete a disclosure notice three months prior to the maturity of such accounts or else incur additional tax charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9242/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The special savings incentive accounts scheme commenced in May 2001 and entry to the scheme closed in April 2002. The scheme is a five-year savings scheme in which the Exchequer tops up, by way of a tax credit, subscriptions by an individual to his or her SSIA. The accounts mature at the end of the five-year period and, provided the individual saver complies with certain conditions laid down in the legislation governing the scheme, the only tax liability, which the account will attract, will be a once-off tax at 23% on the profit earned from the investment both of the subscriptions and of the Exchequer tax credit. Where an individual fails to comply with the conditions of the scheme the SSIA is treated as ceasing and all the money in the account is taxed at 23%.

One of the conditions contained in the SSIA legislation is that, in order for an account to be matured, the account holder must make a maturity declaration on form SSIA4 to his or her financial institution at any time within a period of three months ending on the maturity date. These maturity dates will arise at the end of each month during the period from the end of May 2006 to the end of April 2007. The saver must declare that at all times in the period from the date on which his or her SSIA started until the date the declaration is made, he or she: was the beneficial owner of the assets in the SSIA; had only one SSIA; was resident or ordinarily resident in the State; subscribed to the SSIA from funds available to him or her, or his or her spouse without recourse to borrowings, or the deferral of repayment, whether of capital or interest, of sums borrowed when the SSIA started; and did not assign [1341]or otherwise pledge SSIA assets as security for a loan.

The Revenue Commissioners have informed me that they are consulting with financial institutions to ensure that the above maturity arrangements during 2006 and 2007 will be implemented in an efficient and practical manner. They have also advised me that each financial institution will, at the appropriate time, supply the SSIA4 declaration to each of its SSIA holders for completion and return to it within the relevant timeframe.

  188.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider cutting motor taxation on cars, VRT and taxes on motor fuels, in view of the high cost of motoring here; if money collected from these sources is used to improve conditions for motorists; if motoring costs are higher here than in other EU countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9243/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Any changes in taxation are considered in the context of the annual budgetary process. I did not increase VRT, VAT or excise rates on petrol or diesel in the budget for 2005. Motor tax is under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

In respect of comparisons with other EU countries, taxation is a matter for individual member States. For example, while the UK has no VRT in, the level of excise on petrol and diesel is significantly higher than Ireland; in an EU context, at least ten member states have a vehicle registration tax. The Government has prioritised tax reductions on income earned by employees over other areas and this policy has helped create record employment levels. While the Exchequer benefits generally from revenues generated by the motor sector, the motorist has also benefited from the substantial investment in the roads network in recent years through the national development plan. In 2004, spending on national and non-national roads totalled more than €1.65 billion. This is set to increase to approximately €1.8 billion this year. Since 1997 the Government has spent more than €8.8 billion on roads.

  189.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the concern of staff at Sarsfield House in Limerick at a mobile mast (details supplied) being erected on the roof of the premises; if he has consulted with the Minister for Health and Children regarding any possible health hazard that this may present to staff prior to his giving permission for its erection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9314/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  In August 2003 the Commissioners of Public Works appointed a telecommunications [1342]consultancy company to assess the suitability of the State property portfolio for use in the mobile telecommunications sector and to act in an advisory capacity to the commissioners in their dealings with mobile telecommunications operators. As part of this process, a licence to install equipment on Sarsfield House, Limerick has been granted to a mobile operator.

Any mobile phone operator granted a licence to install such equipment on State property is required to strictly comply with all relevant Health and Safety Acts and will operate within current standards and EU regulations and adhere to the guidelines on exposure limits to emissions, issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, ICNIRP. This compliance with health and safety legislation etc., required under the licence agreement, also applies to any future relevant legislation or regulations and ICNIRP guidelines.

  190.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the terms of the Arigna fund and any beneficiaries, including the recipients, the date and the sums so disbursed. [8563/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Arigna Enterprise Fund Company was established to administer funds to assist with the job creation projects identified in the Arigna task force report. The disbursement of funds by the company was an operational matter for the company and not one in which I had a function.

  191.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the total allowable catch of salmon recommended by the National Fisheries Management Executive is almost 50% higher than that recommended by the standard scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission; if the recent trends in salmon catch indicate a serious decline in salmon stocks; his views on whether an invaluable national asset is being depleted by a lack of reliance on long-term scientific evidence to guide policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8565/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I recognise the divergence of advice this year from the National Fisheries Management Executive and the National Salmon Commission in respect of both the total allowable salmon catch and also the question of when full alignment with the scientific advice is to be achieved. I am advised that trends in the salmon catch are not singularly indicative of the health of the stock given the application of quotas since 2001 for both commercial and recreational caught [1343]fish under the tagging scheme. While it is appreciated that the scientific advice for 2005 is based on a revision of the methodology used in previous years and, therefore, results in a much lower proposed total allowable catch, TAC, than would otherwise have been the case, I am still strongly persuaded of the case to move to the national conservation limits sooner rather than later.

On 15 March 2005, I published draft wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations setting a national total allowable commercial catch of wild salmon and sea trout for 2005 at 139,900 fish, which is in line with the recommendations made by the National Salmon Commission. Under the Fisheries Acts, the draft regulations are available for a 30-day consultation period to allow interested parties an opportunity to submit any objections they may have. Following the receipt and consideration of these, I will make a final decision on the terms of the scheme.

The Government recognises that over-exploitation of salmon stocks is a significant threat to the long-term sustainability of this natural resource. In approaching this final decision, therefore, the implications for the health of the salmon resource of setting the national and district TACs at levels other than those recommended by the scientists will be carefully considered. In that context, I will continue to be guided by the fundamental principle adopted, and adhered to, by previous Ministers over the past three years, which is that the national TAC should be progressively aligned over that period on the scientific advice. The Government remains fully committed to this principle as the only sustainable and defensible way forward for salmon management in Ireland.

  192.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the agenda for the preparatory meeting for the UN open-ended informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea dealing with fisheries, sustainable development and marine debris on 16 March 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8573/05]

  193.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if an Irish delegation will raise the issue of longlines and sea turtles at the ICP preparatory meeting in order that it be discussed at the ICP in June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8574/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 192 and 193 together.

The preparatory meeting to which the Deputy refers is an informal one, which is taking place in advance of the meeting of the informal consultative process, ICP, on oceans and the law of the [1344]sea in June 2005. I understand it has been convened by the co-chairs of the ICP with the purpose of consulting states on practical matters surrounding the June meeting, for example, the format of the discussions, and as such does not have a formal agenda. Substantive issues will be dealt with at the June meeting where discussions will be organised on the following areas: fisheries and their contribution to sustainable development; marine debris; and issues discussed at previous meetings of the ICP.

The Presidency, on behalf of the European Union, will make a number of statements on substantive matters at the June meeting and will actively engage in negotiations with other delegations to ensure a successful outcome to that meeting. The EU’s position on all issues of substance arising at the meeting will be the subject of co-ordination among member states between now and June, as well as throughout the meeting itself. The Deputy will be aware that the European Community has exclusive competence in international negotiations for matters in the area of conservation and management of marine living resources and shares competence with member states in the area of the environment. The EU’s position on matters arising in these areas at international conferences is therefore the culmination of consultations and co-ordination between the European Commission and member states, within the relevant working groups in Brussels — the external biodiversity working group, the law of the sea working group and the internal-external working group on fisheries policy.

The matter of longlines and their impact on sea turtle populations was discussed in detail at a recent meeting of the UN Committee on Fisheries, COFI, in Rome. I am pleased to report that agreement was reached on a range of measures to protect sea turtles, including a work programme to redesign long-lining fishing gear. Ireland strongly supported these measures.

  194.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8588/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Due to my Department’s recent conversion to an electronic system for payment of travel and subsistence, the data disaggregated in the form requested by the Deputy are not currently available. Data will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as they are available.

  195.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason 1.5 million sharks have been allowed [1345]to be killed off Irish waters in the past decade by mostly foreign fishermen; if his attention has been drawn to fishing practices (details supplied); if he encourages such practices; the measures he intends to take to prohibit such practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8607/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The issues raised by the Deputy relate to a recent report entitled “A preliminary investigation on Shelf Edge and Deepwater Fixed Net Fisheries to the West and North of Great Britain, Ireland, around Rockall and Hatton Bank”. This report was compiled by representatives of eight fisheries agencies, including Ireland’s Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara as well as representatives from the UK and Norway. The report states that this is a gillnet fishery of up to 50 vessels with a high incidence of “ghost fishing” by unattended or discarded nets on the seabed.

This important report is under consideration by my Department. The occurrence of so-called “ghost-fishing” is in my view a cause for concern and requires remedial attention. During its EU Presidency, Ireland made it a priority to press for more environmentally-friendly fishing methods and I am pleased to say that Ireland succeeded in achieving the adoption of Council conclusions on this important subject. These conclusions were agreed in June 2004 and include provision for the European Commission to develop a pilot project to address the problem of ghost fishing in Community waters, including a retrieval system to remove lost gear. I anticipate progress on this issue during 2005. Catch limitations for deepwater sharks, the main species targeted by the fishery concerned in the report, were introduced at EU level for the first time for 2005 at the December 2004 Agriculture and Fisheries Council. This decision will contribute to an immediate reduction in mortality.

As many of the deepwater fisheries concerned straddle international waters where non-EU vessels are also fishing, the need for a wider international approach to this problem is an important consideration and in that regard I believe that it is important the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEAFC, is fully involved and will hopefully act as a catalyst for remedial management measures in that wider context.

  196.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the details of the recorded sea lice levels in the area of salmon farms in Killary Harbour in each of the months from December 2004 to February 2005, inclusive. [8608/05]

  197.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the details of the recorded sea lice levels in the area of salmon farms in Bertraghboy Bay in Con[1346]nemara in each of the months from December 2004 to February 2005, inclusive. [8609/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 196 and 197 together.

The Marine Institute carries out a comprehensive programme of monitoring and control of sea lice at marine finfish farms, on behalf of the Department. This entails inspections and sampling, at all sites containing fish, 14 times per annum; twice per month during March, April and May and monthly for the remainder of the year except December and January when only one inspection is carried out. Reports showing the results of this monitoring are published. These reports show that, in the case of the fish farm in Killary Harbour, lice levels for December and January averaged 0.27 ovigerous and 6.48 mobile lice per fish and, for February 0.74 ovigerous and 2.45 mobile lice per fish. No salmon were present in Bertraghboy Bay during the period from December to February.

Approximately 5,000 cod were placed in one cage in Bertraghboy Bay in early February, pursuant to a trial licence. Although cod is not a host for the salmon louse, an inspection of the site was carried out by the Marine Institute on 28 February and no sea lice were present.

  198.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his Department will consider offering grant support for growing energy crops and installing biomass boilers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8634/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The issue of offering grant support for growing energy crops is not within the remit of my Department but would be a matter for the Department of Agriculture and Food in the first instance.

My Department, in association with Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, set up a bioenergy strategy group, BSG, in December 2003 to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the penetration of biomass energy in Ireland. The issue of biomass boilers was considered by the group as part of its deliberations. In tandem with this development, my Department launched a consultation process on future development of renewable energy generally in Ireland. Following this consultation process and to ensure future development of our renewable resources, including biomass resources, the renewable energy development group was established on 6 May of last year. The BSG is currently inputting into the renewable energy development group, which is at the end of its current work phase.

[1347]Under the renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme, SEI offers grant support for biomass boiler demonstration plants. SEI has already supported two medium scale biomass boilers, totalling €111,000 in grant aid, producing 250 kW of heat. Two further boiler projects are currently under evaluation by SEI. Under SEI’s house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, €940,000 has been provided in support for domestic wood pellet boilers as primary heating in up to 83 dwellings, which account for a total estimated heat output of approximately 900 kW. The funding for these projects is not exclusively provided for biomass boilers but also includes support for a wide range of features and specifications, which aim to reduce energy demand and related CO2 emissions in Irish housing.

  199.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has a copy of the HAZID documents (details supplied) upon which the QRA for the proposed upstream Corrib gas pipeline is based and if he will provide a copy of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8716/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The documents to which the Deputy refers have not been made available to my Department.

  200.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will publish the qualitative risk analysis on the Corrib gas terminal at Bellanaboy, County Mayo. [8728/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I understand Shell has provided the Health and Safety Authority with a qualitative risk analysis on the Corrib gas terminal. However, I have not received a copy of this report.

  201.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the total or expected total cost to his Department in regard to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations on the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8831/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The expected total cost of placing a notice in the media, inviting representations from interested parties in regard to the preparation by my Department of a draft scheme under section 11 [1348]of the Official Languages Act 2003, should not exceed €10,000.

  202.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the EU countries which have the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol in operation; when they were enacted in those countries; the extent to which the protocol has been brought into Ireland; and if it is now mandatory to abide by the protocol. [8844/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  It is mandatory for all EU countries under the EC Council Directive 97/70/EC of 11 December 1997, as amended, to have the protocol in operation. The provisions of the directive lay down harmonised standards for seagoing fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over in so far as the annexe to the Torremolinos Protocol applies. Regulations were put in place in 1998 to implement the directive into Irish law.

These regulations apply to new fishing vessels built on or after 1 January 1999 and have applied for existing vessels since 1 July 1999. Vessels complying with the directive are issued with a certificate of compliance valid for four years subject to annual and bi-annual intermediate surveys. The regulations introduce a survey and certification regime for both new and existing vessels.

  203.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has considered implementing a catch and release fishing policy on the Grand Canal; if he has received any reports of netting and night lining on the canal; the level of inspection carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8965/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Primary responsibility for the management of canals rests with Waterways Ireland, which is a North-South implementation body established under the British-Irish Agreement Acts, and operates under the aegis of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. While I understand that Waterways Ireland and the Central Fisheries Board work together to promote angling along the canals in Ireland, the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board is contracted by Waterways Ireland, under the Canals Act 1986, to look after the fisheries on the Grand Canal. This is an operational matter for the regional fisheries board and is not something over which I, as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, have any control.

  204.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans for the delivery of broadband as a matter of urgency to a hub town (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9019/05]

  205.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the conclusions of the pilot broadband project which has been carried out at a location (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9020/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 205 together.

I understand broadband is generally available in the Tuam area. My Department’s website, www.broadband.gov.ie, lists nine service providers which offer DSL, eight offering satellite-based broadband, and one offering fixed wireless access. The website gives contact details for each of the service providers and comparative prices for the services on offer.

During the latter half of 2004 the ESB, in association with my Department, conducted a technical trial of Powerline Carrier technology in 100 premises in Tuam. A full report on the technical trial is expected shortly.

  206.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the procedures which should be followed in cases in which local authorities appoint members to a [1350]harbour authority; when these procedures commenced; if new procedures are proposed; and when new procedures will come into force. [9092/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Sections 7, 9, as amended by section 81 of the Electoral Act 1963, and 10 of the Harbours Act 1946 govern the holding of harbour elections and the appointment of local authority members to harbour authorities. Section 19 of the Harbours Act 1946 specifies the grounds on which a person shall be disqualified from being appointed to a harbour authority. There are no plans to amend these sections of the Harbours Act 1946.

Government policy in regard to the future of regional harbours operating under the Harbours Act 1946 is set out in the ports policy statement published in January 2005 by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. This policy statement is available to view on the Department’s web site at www.dcmnr.ie.

  207.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made for the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9105/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the following table:

An Post

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Ms Margaret McGinley (Chairperson) 04.02.2003 03.02.2008
Mr. Donal Curtin (Chief Executive) 14.07.2003 13.07.2008
Ms Alice O’Flynn (re-appointed) 27.05.2002 26.05.2007
Mr. John Quinlivan 09.05.2003 08.05.2008
Ms Cathy Herbert 04.02.2003 03.02.2008
Mr. Peter Wyer (re-appointed) 04.02.2003 03.02.2008
Mr. Paul Kavanagh 27.05.2002 26.05.2007
Mr. James Alan Sloane (Postmaster Director) 01.01.2004 31.12.2006
Mr. James Hyland 11.12.2003 10.12.2008
Elected Employee Members
Mr. Jerry Condon 01.11.2004 31.10.2008
Mr. Patrick Compton 01.11.2004 31.10.2008
Mr. Patrick Davoren 01.11.2004 31.10.2008
Mr. Thomas Devlin 01.11.2004 31.10.2008
Mr. Terry Keller 01.11.2004 31.10.2008

Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Mr. Conleth Bradley B.L. (Chairperson) 17.07.03 16.07.08
Mr. Sean Murphy 01.01.05 31.12.07
Mr. Lorcan Ó Cinneide 01.01.05 31.12.07
Mr. Mario J. Minehane 01.01.05 31.12.07
Ms Mary McMahon 01.01.05 31.12.06
Ms Karin Dubsky 01.01.05 31.12.06
Mr. Damian McDonald 01.01.05 31.12.06

Bord Iascaigh Mhara

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Hugh Byrne, Chairman 08.07.03 23.04.06
Patrick Gallagher 06.06.02 23.04.05
Jacqui McConville 06.05.04 23.04.07
Mary Keane 20.05.04 23.04.07
Sean Freeman 20.05.04 23.04.07
Rose McHugh 29.09.04 23.04.07

Bord Gáis Éireann

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Mr. Aidan Eames 03.03.04 02.03.09
Mr. Prionsias J Kitt 17.04.02 16.04.07
Ms Frances Ruane 07.05.02 06.05.07
Mr. Thomas J Donlon 26.03.03 25.03.05
Mr. Michael O’Faolain 19.05.03 18.05.05
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald 13.03.02 12.03.07
Mr. Pearse O’Hanrahan 19.12.02 18.12.07

Bord na Móna

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Fergus McArdle (Chairman) 28.09.04 27.09.09
Rory M. Scanlan 27.05.02 26.05.07
P.J. Coghill 19.05.03 18.05.05
Ms Johanna Downes 13.11.02 12.11.07
Pascal Campbell 13.11.02 12.11.07
Ms Anne Heraty 28.09.04 27.09.09
Elected Employee Members
Pat McEvoy 1.1.2003 31.12.06
P.J. Minogue 1.1.2003 31.12.06
Paddy Rowland 1.1.2003 31.12.06
Paddy Fox 1.1.2003 31.12.06

[1353][1354]Broadcasting Commission of Ireland

Board Member Appointment date Expiry Date
Conor J. Maguire, Chairperson 02.12.03 On foundation of the BAI
Mary Davies 02.12.03
Kay Mc Guinness 02.12.03
Vivienne Jupp 02.12.03
Mary Kerrigan 02.12.03
John Waters 02.12.03
Angela Kerins 02.12.03
Tom Collins 02.12.03
John O’ Brennan 02.12.03
Joe Griffin 02.12.03

Commission for Energy Regulation (CER)

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Tom Reeves 13.10.04
Michael Tutty 13.10.04
Regina Finn 01.02.05

Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg)

Commission Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Ms Isolde Goggin (Chairperson for a term of one year from 01.12.04 ) 01.12.02 30.11.06
Mr. John Doherty 01.12.02 30.11.06
Mr. Mike Byrne 01.12.04 30.11.08

Digital Hub Development Agency

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
William Burgess (Chairman) 21.07.03 21.07.06
Philip Flynn (CEO) 21.07.03 21.07.06
Dan Flinter 21.07.03 21.07.06
Dr. Don Thornhill (HEA) 21.07.03 21.07.06
John Fitzgerald 21.07.03 21.07.06
Paul Kavanagh 21.07.03 21.07.06
Paul McGuinness 21.07.03 21.07.06
Peter Cassells 21.07.03 21.07.06
Sean Dorgan 21.07.03 21.07.06
Jackie Harrisson 21.07.03 21.07.06
Joe Murphy 29.09.04 29.09.07

EirGrid

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Prof Eddie O’Kelly 20.03.01 19.03.06
Ms Emer Daly 20.03.01 19.03.05
Mr. David Mackey 20.03.01 19.03.05
Dr. Eamonn Cahill 20.03.01 19.03.06
Mr. Daniel Tierney 20.03.01 19.03.06
Ms Martina Moloney 15.09.04 15.09.09
Mr. Maurice Holly (staff representative) 21.09.04 21.09.09

ESB

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Padraig McManus 17.07.02 16.07.07
Brendan Byrne 01.09.04 31.08.09
William McKee 30.05.02 29.05.07
Derry O’Donovan 30.05.02 29.05.07
Anne Taylor 30.05.02 29.05.07
Elected Employee Members
Joe LaCumbre (Deputy Chairman) 01.01.03 31.12.06
John McGinley 01.01.03 31.12.06
Pat Smith 01.01.03 31.12.06
Eamonn Connolly 01.01.03 31.12.06

Electronic Communications Appeals Panel

Panel Member Appointment date Expiry date
Hugh Mohan, SC, Chair 21.09.04 21.09.05
Margaret Heneghan, BL 21.09.04 21.09.05
Catherine Woods, BA 21.09.04 21.09.05
Philip O’Brien (resigned Dec 2004) 21.09.04

Fisheries Boards

Northern Regional Fisheries Board

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Billy Grimes July 2003 December 2005

North Western Regional Fisheries Board

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Brendan O’Mahony June 2002 June 2005
Ann Geary June 2002 June 2005
Ann Campbell June 2002 June 2005
Mary Gallagher McBride June 2002 June 2005
Cllr Tony Ferguson June 2002 June 2005
Padraig Traynor June 2002 June 2005
Cllr Jimmy Maloney March 2001 June 2005
Mary Hensey June 2002 June 2005

[1357][1358]Southern Regional Fisheries Board

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Pat Bowe (staff nomination) 14/12/2004 31/12/2005

Irish Maritime Development Office Advisory Group

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Alex Mullin 28.01.04 27.01.06
Capt Kevin Cribbon 28.01.04 27.01.06
John Dundon 28.01.04 27.01.06
Capt Dave Hopkins 28.01.04 27.01.06
Padraic White 28.01.04 27.01.06
Jim Healy 28.01.04 27.01.06
Brian Kerr 28.01.04 27.01.06
Pat Keenan 28.01.04 27.01.06
Dermot McNulty 28.01.04 27.01.06
Sheila Tyrell 28.01.04 27.01.06

Irish National Petroleum Corporation Ltd (INPC)

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Vincent Caffrey 25.09.03 19.05.05
Mary Austin 25.09.03 19.05.06
Aidan Donnelly (Chairman) 01.03.04 01.05.06
Gene Fitzgerald 20.05.04 19.05.06
Seán Fitzgerald 20.05.04 19.05.05

National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA)

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Seán Fitzgerald 25.09.03 19.05.05
Aidan Donnelly (Chairman) 25.03 04 01.05.06

Loughs Agency (North-South Body)

Board Member Appointment Date Expiry Date
Jack Allen 13.12.03 12.12.06
Keith Anderson 13.12.03 12.12.06
Dick Blakiston-Houston 13.12.03 12.12.06
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh 13.12.03 12.12.06
Francis Feely 13.12.03 12.12.06
Patrick J Griffin 13.12.03 12.12.06
Siobhan Logue 13.12.03 12.12.06
Joseph Martin 13.12.03 12.12.06
Peter Savage 13.12.03 12.12.06
Andrew Ward 13.12.03 12.12.06
Jacqui McConville 13.12.03 12.12.06
Tarlach O Crosain 13.12.03 12.12.06

[1359][1360]Marine Ports

Drogheda Harbour Board

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Paddy Traynor (C) (M) 20.12.04 19.12.09
Mr. Paddy Traynor (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Michael Coyle (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Willie Lennon (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Cormac Bohan (M) 29.09.04 28.09.09
Mr. David Prior (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Paul Bell (LA) 04.08.04 03.08.09
Cllr. Jimmy Cudden (LA) 03.03.02 02.03.07
Cllr. Jacqui McConville (LA) 21.12.03 20.12.08
Mr. Tom O’Reilly (M) 24.01.03 23.01.08
Mr. Frank Maher (M) 24.01.03 23.01.08

Dublin Port Company

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Joe Burke (C) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Jerry Kiersey (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Tom Hussey (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Tony Ennis (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Cathy Bryce (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Brian Kerr (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Kevin Humphries (LA) 10.09.04 09.09.09
Cllr. Christy Burke (LA) 10.09.04 09.09.06
Cllr. Paddy Bourke (LA) 10.09.04 09.09.09
Ms Brenda Daly 22.09.02 21.09.07
Mr. Seamus Martin 22.09.02 21.09.07

Dún Laoghaire Harbour

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Paddy McMahon (C) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Sean Costello (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Gerry Nagle (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Victor Boyhan (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Eithne Scott Lennon (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Tony Fox (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Pat Hand (LA) 30.07.04 29.07.09
Cllr. Jane Dillon Byrne (LA) 03.03.02 03.03.07
Cllr. Donal Marren (LA) 03.03.02 03.03.07
Mr. Thomas Quinn 05.12.02 04.12.07
Mr. Dan McManus 05.02.04 04.02.09

Dundalk Port Company

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Pierce Hanrahan (C) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Jim Cousins (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Frank Allen (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Ms Marna Fleming (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Pat McHugh MCC (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Leo McAuley (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Fergus Murphy (M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Michael McCabe(M) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Noel Lennon (LA) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Mr. Sean Kenna (LA) 09.05.02 08.05.07
Cllr. Seamus Keelan (LA) 09.05.02 08.05.07

Galway Harbour Board

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Eamon Bradshaw (C) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Anna O’Coinne (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Raymond Rooney (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Tom McElwain (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Ann McElroy (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Marie Cleary (M) 21.05.02 20.05.07
Cllr. Collette Connolly (LA) 30.07.04 29.07.09
Cllr. Brian Walsh (LA) 30.07.04 29.07.09
Cllr. Joe Tierney (LA) 13.08.04 12.08.09
Mr. Martin Connolly (M) 04.12.03 03.12.08
Mr. Robert Molloy (M) 10.02.03 09.02.08
Mr. Tom O’Neill (ex-officio) 25.04.02 24.04.07

New Ross Port Company

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Mark Minihan (C) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Joan Murphy (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Edward Whelan (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Martin Murphy (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Mr. Paddy Doyle (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Ms Ann Wall (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Larry O’Brien (LA) 26.11.04 25.11.09
Cllr. Ray Lawlor (LA) 23.07.04 22.07.09
Cllr. Dixie Doyle (LA) 03.03.02 02.03.07
Cllr Sean Connick 17.02.04 16.02.09
Rosie Kehoe (M) 17.02.04 16.02.09
Lt. Cdr. Tom Meehan CEO 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Larry O’Brien 26.11.04 25.11.09

Port of Cork Company

Board Member Date of Appointment Expiry Date
Mr. Dermot O’Mahony (C) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Alan Coleman MCC (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Dominic J Daly (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Noelle Canton (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Finbarr Buckley (M) 25.04.02 24.04.07
Cllr. Colm Burke (LA) 03.03.02 02.03.07
Joe Dowling (M) 22.11.00 21.11.05
Cllr. Michael Hegarty (LA) 04.08.04 03.08.09
Paul Millard 15.10.02 14.10.07
David Doolan 15.10.02 14.10.07
Cllr. Tim Falvey (LA) 14.07.02 13.07.07
Brendan Keating (ex officio) 25.04.02 24.04.07

  208.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he is responsible for the performance of the functions of his Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. [9230/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  In accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 I am responsible for the performance of all the functions which have been assigned to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources pursuant to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts.

In the context of my overall responsibility, as Minister of the Government, for all functions assigned to my Department, exercise of the marine functions has been delegated to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher. It is also the case that functions in regard to the licensing and registration of sea-fishing vessels have been statutorily delegated to a senior official in my Department.

  209.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if the special advisers attached to his Department are part of the line management system of his Department. [9231/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The special adviser currently attached to my Department is not part of the line management system of my Department. My officials brief me directly in areas of policy and operation.

My special adviser is required to perform any duties which may be assigned to him from time to time as appropriate to the position of special adviser as set out in section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. These include providing advice to me and monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government [1364]objectives that relate to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as requested by me.

  210.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he intends to publish the completed submission by the Marine Safety Directorate (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9254/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  As I recently advised the House I am reviewing a number of issues in regard to the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority, AASA, in light of the decision made in 2003 to create a single agency responsible for all elements of marine safety and emergency response services.

In making a decision I intend to set out the reasons and the relevant information which informs the process. I expect to complete this review very shortly.

  211.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the roles and functions carried out by special advisers attached to his Department; if circulars or instructions have been issued within his Department concerning special advisers; and if so, if he will provide a copy of any such circular. [9255/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The role and function carried out by the special adviser attached to my Department is to perform any duties which may be assigned to him from time to time as appropriate to the position of special adviser as set out in section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. These include providing advice to me and monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government [1365]objectives that relate to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as requested by me.

  212.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of unlicensed charter boats which were apprehended in 2004; and if he intends implementing measures to catch and prosecute those who operate passenger boats and ferries without appropriate licences and safety equipment. [9334/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  In January 2003 a new licensing regime was introduced for passenger boats that carry 12 passengers or less. This new regime complemented the existing licensing regime for the larger passenger vessels, which carry more than 12 passengers.

Under both of these regimes the Department undertakes a variety of control measures, including detailed vessel surveys and unannounced operational inspections. Licence conditions relating to manning levels, maximum passenger numbers allowed and the continued availability of safety equipment are among the issues on which the inspectors focus. Vessels found in breach of licensing conditions are detained until the reasons for detention have been rectified.

It is the Department’s policy to prosecute any person who operates a passenger vessel for reward without a licence. Since the introduction of the licensing regime for the smaller passenger boats in 2003 a targeted information campaign has been undertaken by the Department to promote compliance with the rules. While no operators were prosecuted in 2004 for not having a license, in a small number of cases where it was suspected that a vessel may have been operating illegally for reward and, where the inspector was unable to prove it, a letter of warning setting out the licensing requirements was issued. All complaints made in 2004 to the Department alleging unlicensed passenger vessel operation or licensed vessels in breach of their licence conditions were followed up and inspections carried out.

  213.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9358/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The latest available data on mileage claims and payments for staff of my Department will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  214.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the Government’s position on US military aircraft flying through Dublin and Shannon airports with prisoners on board who are on the way to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and if he will request the Garda and Army to investigate this matter. [8546/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 152 of 2 February 2005 and Question No. 94 of 8 March 2005 regarding this matter.

This matter has been raised in discussions with the US authorities. They have confirmed that they do not use Irish airports for this purpose and that they would not seek to use Irish airports for prisoner transit without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

  215.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will raise the recent attacks on ethnic Hungarians in the Serbian province of Vojvodina at EU and UN level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8547/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Ethnic Hungarians form the largest minority community in Vojvodina, which is an autonomous province of Serbia. It is estimated that some 15% of the total population of 2 million is of ethnic Hungarian background. Vojvodina is an ethnically mixed province, which historically has had a Serb majority. In recent years, however, the size of the ethnic Serb population has increased due to the arrival of large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons from the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Political instability since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, aggravated by refugee problems and economic stagnation, has resulted in a general rise in inter-ethnic tensions in Vojvodina. These were particularly evident during the campaigns for parliamentary, presidential and local elections in Serbia in 2003 and 2004. There was a rise in the number of incidents of intimidation of members of the ethnic Hungarian population, and of several other minority communities, including Croats and Slovaks. This intimidation included a number of serious violent incidents.

The situation in Vojvodina has been monitored by the EU, through member states’ embassies in Belgrade and in Budapest, and the EU monitoring mission in Serbia. The Foreign Minister of Hungary drew attention to the violent incidents in the area at the meeting of the External Relations Council in Brussels on 13 September 2004, and the Council reviewed the situation at the meeting I attended in Luxembourg on 11 October 2004. The Council welcomed the commitment given by the Government of Serbia to intensify dialogue with all ethnic communities, and agreed that the EU would continue to monitor the situation. The EU is also providing assist[1367]ance for the promotion of inter-ethnic relations and for the strengthening of the media in Vojvodina and throughout Serbia.

The primary responsibility for action to end violence and intimidation lies with the authorities in Serbia. I welcome the personal involvement, to promote inter-ethnic dialogue, by President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica. The most significant step was the establishment on 17 September 2004 of a national council for minorities, which brings together the Prime Minister, leaders of the ethnic minority communities and relevant Government Ministries. The number of inter-ethnic incidents has fallen sharply since the end of the local election campaign last October. The EU is continuing to monitor developments.

The EU has given a commitment that the future of Serbia and Montenegro and of the other countries of the western Balkans lies in integration into European structures. The EU will continue to work with the authorities in Belgrade to encourage the implementation of the wide-ranging political, administrative and economic reforms required for progress in the development of a closer institutional relationship with the Union. The political upheavals of recent years have resulted in slower progress by Serbia in the development of its relations with the EU than by some of its neighbours. I expect that the Commission will soon finalise its feasibility study on the prospects for negotiating a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro. The assessment of the human rights situation, including the protection of the security and the rights of minority communities, will form a central element in the decision which the Council will then make on whether negotiations should begin with Serbia and Montenegro.

  216.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8589/05]

  224.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9359/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 216 and 224 together.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for two Votes: Vote 28, foreign affairs, and Vote 29, international co-operation. Under Vote 28, in 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs paid mileage expenses of €266,892.11 in respect of claims for 256,120 miles and €115,624.26 to cover rail and bus ticket expenses.

For the same period, expenditure under Vote 29 on car mileage expenses was €35,370 in respect [1368]of 40,382. Bus and rail fares are not analysed separately under Vote 29 but expenditure is estimated to amount to approximately €5,000. These amounts represent all mileage and bus or rail fares paid both at headquarters and at our 67 missions abroad and include travel costs associated with hosting the EU Presidency in 2004.

  217.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if, in the context of his recent visit to the USA, the matter of China’s recently published anti-secession law and the possible effect this may have for Taiwan and its 23 million inhabitants and for peace in that region was discussed with President Bush. [8756/05]

  218.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his attention has been drawn to the Chinese proposals to introduce an anti-secession law which could have serious implications for peace in that region and also have dire consequences for the 23 million people of Taiwan; if he will raise this matter for discussion at the next EU Foreign Ministers meeting; and if he will ask the EU to postpone any decision on the lifting of the embargo on the sale of arms to China. [8757/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 217 and 218 together.

Since 1971, when Ireland voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, we have recognised the Government of the People’s Republic of China, PRC, as the sole legitimate government of China. Ireland, together with our EU partners, adheres to the “One-China” policy and therefore accepts that Taiwan is part of China. As a consequence of this policy, which has been pursued by successive Governments, Ireland does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

On 14 March 2005, the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, which convenes once a year to adopt legislation and constitutional amendments, debated and approved an anti-secession law designed to oppose any move towards Taiwanese independence. There are a number of positive elements in the law. These include an assertion that, “to reunify the country through peaceful means best serves the fundamental interests of the compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits”; a list of measures to be taken to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits and promote cross-straits relations; a stated readiness to achieve peaceful reunification through negotiations on an equal footing, and a willingness to maintain different systems within a united China.

However, the law also provides that in the event of Taiwan’s secession from China or the prospects for peaceful unification having been exhausted, non-peaceful means shall be used to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integ[1369]rity. While the threat of the use of force by the Beijing authorities to prevent Taiwanese independence is not new, its restatement in this manner gives rise to concern.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, believes that it is important that both Beijing and Taiwan avoid actions which could serve to exacerbate existing tensions, and we continue to emphasise the importance of dialogue between the two sides so a peaceful solution may be found. We will continue to convey this message in all our contacts with the Chinese authorities.

On 14 March 2005, the EU issued a declaration on the law, in which it expressed its continued adherence to the One-China policy and the resolution of differences between China and Taiwan by peaceful means, and its opposition to the use of force. The declaration also called on all parties to avoid any unilateral action that might aggravate tensions across the Taiwan Straits, and expressed the concern that the legislation might impact negatively on the recent improvement in links between China and Taiwan, including the inauguration of flights between China and Taiwan at the time of the Chinese New Year. These concerns were also conveyed to the Chinese authorities by a Troika of EU Heads of Mission at Beijing on 12 March 2005 and 14 March 2005.

The Government continues to examine these issues with our EU partners in the context of our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context.

The question of the anti-secession law did not arise during the meeting on 17 March between President Bush and the Taoiseach in Washington. However, during discussions with the Taoiseach, the President did express concern about the possibility of the EU deciding to lift its arms embargo against China.

  219.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the total, or expected total cost to his Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8832/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Publication by the Department of Foreign Affairs of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003 will be arranged when the Department is formally requested by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to prepare a draft scheme specifying the services the Department will provide through Irish or English only, and those which will be provided through both languages. The notice will invite submissions from the public, and a draft scheme will then be prepared and submitted for approval to the Mini[1370]ster for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The cost of publishing the notice is estimated as being between €12,000 and €15,000.

  220.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made for the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9106/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  My predecessor or I made appointments to the following bodies under the aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs over the past three years: the advisory board for Development Cooperation Ireland, formerly the advisory board of Ireland Aid; the Development Education Advisory Committee; the Agency for Personal Services Overseas, APSO; the board of the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, Fulbright Commission, and the DION Committee. Apart from board members who are also officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, all appointees serve in a voluntary capacity.

The advisory board for Development Cooperation Ireland which, until September 2003, was called the advisory board of Ireland Aid, was established in August 2002 and operates under the aegis of Department of Foreign Affairs with a board of directors appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The following were appointed to the board on 1 August 2002: Mr. Desmond O'Malley, chairperson, resigned August 2003; Mr. David Andrews, chairperson of the executive committee of the Irish Red Cross Society - former Minister for Foreign Affairs; Fr. Gerard O'Connor, Redemptorist priest - worked with GOAL in Africa; Mr. Larry O'Loughlin, chief agricultural officer with Teagasc, board member of Self Help Development International; Mr. Jerry Liston, executive chairman of the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business; Ms Morina O'Neill, development education officer with Comhlámh, Development Workers in Global Solidarity, Ireland - worked as a development worker in Belize; Mr. Howard Dalzell, Concern Worldwide director of policy development and evaluation unit; Mr. David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, formerly chief executive of Concern Worldwide; and Ms Sally O'Neill, Trócaire's regional director for Central America, based in Honduras.

On 6 March 2003, Mr. Padraig McManus, chief executive, Electricity Supply Board of Ireland, who has experience of working in west Africa for a number of years, was appointed to the board. Following the resignation of Mr. Desmond O’Malley as chairperson, Mr. Chris Flood, former Minister of State at the Departments of Health and Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Irish representative to the European Commission Against [1371]Racism and Intolerance, was appointed chairperson on 4 September 2003. Development Education Advisory Committee The following members were appointed to the Development Education Advisory Committee, DEAC, for a two-year period with effect from 1 January 2003: Mr. Peadar Cremin, chairperson, president of Mary Immaculate College; Ms June Barry, education officer, Ógra Chorcaí, a Cork-based youth organisation; Mr. Michael Doorly, development education manager, Concern; Fr. P. J. Gormley, superior, SMA Fathers; Ms Jacqui Harrison, IBEC; Ms Annette Honan, independent consultant, former head of education department, Trócaire; Ms Alisa Keane, ICTU; Ms Frances Leahy, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA; Mr. Hugh O’Neill, Department of Education and Science; and Rev. Sahr Yambasu, Methodist minister from Sierra Leone.

On 28 March 2003, Ms Annette Honan resigned and was replaced by Ms Morina O’Neill, development education officer with Comhlámh, on 8 May 2003. Also in May, Mr. Hugh O’Neill was replaced by Mr. Robert Kirkpatrick, Department of Education and Science. Ms Frances Leahy resigned from DEAC on 12 August 2003 and was replaced by Mr. Peter Johnson, NCCA, on 24 October 2003 for a two-year period. Appointments or re-appointments for 2005 and 2006 are in the process of being made. Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO.

The following were appointed to the board of the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO, during the period referred to by the Deputy, 1 August 2002: Mr. Joe O’Hara, lecturer, and Mr. John Murphy, financial consultant. 20 January 2003: Ms Catherine Boylan, staff nominee. 29 April 2003: Ms Helen Browne, Department of Foreign Affairs. 1 August 2003: Mr. Aidan O’Connor, engineer. 12 September 2003: Mr. Pat Bourne, Department of Foreign Affairs, replaced Ms Helen Browne. The board of APSO met for the last time on 6 July 2004. The activities of APSO are now integrated in Development Cooperation Ireland. The board of the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, Fulbright Commission. In 2002, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, appointed the following individuals to the Fulbright Commission for a two-year term: Professor Pat Fottrell, former president, NUI Galway; Professor Brian Hillery, emeritus professor, Graduate School of Business, UCD; Dr. Don Thornhill, then chairperson, Higher Education Authority; and Mrs. Joyce O’Connor, president, National College of Ireland.

In late 2004, I appointed the following to the Fulbright Commission, also for a two-year term: Dr. Don Thornhill, former chairperson, Higher Education Authority; Mrs Joyce O’Connor, president, National College of Ireland; and Ms Una Halligan, government and public affairs director, Hewlett Packard Ireland.

[1372]I expect to appoint a fourth member shortly. The DÍON Committee, an advisory committee to the Government established in 1984 in response to concern about the situation of Irish emigrants in Britain. The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, reappointed the following members to the Díon Committee with effect from 1 September 2004: Mr. Michael Forde, chairman, Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester; Dr. Breda Gray, lecturer in social policy, University of Limerick; Dr. Theresa Joyce, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust; Mr. Jim O’Hara, Irish Youth Foundation, UK; and Ms Catherine Quinn, former member of Eastern Regional Health Authority and County Dublin Vocational Education Committee. The following members were newly appointed, also with effect from 1 September 2004: Mr. Seamus McGarry, former chair of the Federation of Irish Societies and member of the Ireland Fund; Mr. Michael Lonergan, first secretary, Embassy of Ireland, London — chairman; and Ms Amanda Bane, third secretary, Embassy of Ireland, London — secretary.

  221.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on his efforts to support the unification of Cyprus, particularly in the context of the application by Turkey for EU membership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9127/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The United Nations has the lead role in the search for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. However, the EU enlargement process provided the impetus for the most recent efforts towards a settlement, which were undertaken by the UN Secretary General last year, during Ireland’s EU Presidency. The Government gave its full support to the Secretary General in his mission of good offices. Ireland, while it held the Presidency of the EU, also maintained close contact with the various parties concerned to encourage their commitment to the negotiating process and to the achievement of an agreed outcome.

As a result of the referendums in Cyprus on 24 April 2004, the accession to the EU of a united Cyprus on 1 May 2004 was not possible. On 28 May, the UN Secretary General submitted a comprehensive report to the Security Council on his mission of good offices. He noted that the unsuccessful outcome represented another missed opportunity to resolve the Cyprus problem, and concluded that there was no apparent basis for resuming the good offices effort while the current stalemate continues. The process remains under consideration in the UN Security Council.

Following last year’s referendums, the General Affairs Council reviewed the situation on 26 April 2004 and adopted conclusions expressing the determination of the EU to ensure that the people of Cyprus would soon achieve their shared destiny as citizens of a united Cyprus in the Euro[1373]pean Union. The Council also agreed on the need to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging its economic development. Responding to the request of the Council, the Commission subsequently brought forward proposals aimed at the economic integration of the island and improving contact between the two communities and with the EU. These proposals remain under active consideration by the member states.

Since 1 May 2004, the Republic of Cyprus has been a member state of the EU, and, in the absence of a comprehensive settlement, the application of the laws and regulations of the Union to the northern part of the island is suspended. Under the Irish Presidency, agreement was reached on a Council regulation on the movement of persons and trade across the dividing line in Cyprus, including measures to allow trade in certain goods across the line. In the light of the experience of the application of this regulation, member states adopted a further Council regulation on 17 February 2005 to improve the facilities for persons crossing the line and to facilitate trade in certain agricultural goods.

The issue of Turkey’s attitude to the Republic of Cyprus received considerable attention in the context of the decision by the European Council in Brussels on 16 December 2004 and 17 December 2004 on the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. Turkey made a positive contribution to last year’s efforts by the UN Secretary General to achieve an agreed settlement of the Cyprus problem. However, it still does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus. In our contacts with the Turkish Government, including discussions between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Erdogan during the European Council, we conveyed clearly the Government’s view that, in order to enable agreement on accession negotiations, Turkey should move to start a process leading to the normalisation of its relations with Cyprus. The European Council welcomed Turkey’s decision to sign the Protocol on the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement of association with the EU to take account of the accession of the new member states, including Cyprus. It also welcomed the important declaration by the Turkish Government that it would do so before the actual start of negotiations on 3 October 2005. Following discussions between the EU ministerial Troika and Foreign Minister Gul in Ankara on 7 March, I look forward to Turkey’s early implementation of this commitment.

  222.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the special advisers attached to his Department are part of the line management system of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9321/05]

  223.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the roles and functions carried out by special advisers attached to his Department; if circulars or instructions have been issued within his Department concerning special advisers; if so, if he will provide a copy of any such circular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9322/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 and 223 together.

The appointment of special advisers to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for the European constitution, Mr. Treacy, was approved by the Government on 14 December 2004. Two appointments were subsequently made under the terms of section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997.

My special adviser assists me by providing me with advice on a range of issues, including the achievement of Government objectives as they relate to the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Minister of State’s special adviser assists and advises him with regard to matters that relate to the European Union and, in particular, the EU constitution.

The special advisers are not part of the line management structure of the Department of Foreign Affairs. They report directly to the relevant Minister. In addition to creating the two positions above, which were, as I have indicated, subject to appointment by the Government, I have also appointed a press adviser. While my press adviser reports directly to me, given the nature of the job he also has regular contact with the departmental spokesperson.

No circulars or instructions concerning special advisers have been issued within the Department.

Question No. 224 answered with Question
No. 216.

  225.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he is responsible for the performance of the functions of his Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9398/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The principal legislative provisions relating to the powers of Ministers and Departments are the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 1995 and the Public Service Management Act 1997.

Section 2(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 provides that each Minister as head of a Department of State shall be a corporation sole and shall have perpetual succession, an official seal, may sue and be sued and may acquire, hold and dispose of land for the purposes of the functions, powers or duties of the Department of [1375]State of which he or she is head or of any branch thereof.

Under section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am responsible for the performance of functions that are assigned to the Department of Foreign Affairs pursuant to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts.

  226.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8590/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The total amounts of expenditure paid by my Department in respect of car mileage, rail and bus tickets during 2004 are as follows: mileage, €73,691.25; bus, €440.98; and rail, €6,920.47. These figures represent the expenditure incurred by employees of my Department, including the National Museum, National Library and National Archives, while travelling on official duties, and takes account of rail and bus tickets purchased for travel outside the State.

  227.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding an application by a club (details supplied) in County Galway for capital lottery funding; when a decision will be made in regard to the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8719/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 December and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  228.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    when a decision will be made on the sports capital grant for the Geevagh community resource group in County Sligo; the amount that will be granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8740/05]

[1376]Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  229.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the total, or expected total cost to his Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under Section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under Section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8833/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The total cost to my Department of publishing a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003 was €6,387.78 inclusive of VAT.

  230.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will provide this Deputy with copies of any correspondence between his Department and the Director of the National Museum and the Chief State Archaeologist since 1 January 2005.. [8920/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I understand that there has been some correspondence between the Director of the National Museum and the Chief State Archaeologist regarding archaeological matters since 1 January 2005. I am advised that the correspondence relates to the consultative process set down in the National Monuments Amendment Act 2004 required to take place between the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Director of the National Museum relating to directions to be issued by that Minister on the approach to be taken to archaeological works along the proposed route of the M3. This legal consultative process is ongoing and accordingly I am not in a position to provide the Deputy with a copy of the correspondence.

  231.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will allocate a grant under the sports capital programme to a project (details attached); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8977/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  232.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will approve a sports capital grant for a group (details supplied); when he intends to announce the 2005 allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8981/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  233.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will allocate a grant under the sports capital programme to a project (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8990/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and [1378]national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  234.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will confirm having received an application from an organisation (details supplied) in County Longford, under the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9014/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  235.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding an application under the sports capital programme by a group (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this club caters for 120 adults and 200 major players, both male and female; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9051/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are out[1379]lined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  236.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the position regarding an application under the sports capital programme by a group (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9052/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was February 4 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

  237.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will allocate a grant under the sports capital programme to a project (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9062/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. All applications received before the deadline, including one from the organisation in question, are currently being evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Question No. 238 answered with Question
No. 14.

  239.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the special advisors attached [1380]to his Department are part of the line management system of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9310/05]

  240.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the roles and functions carried out by special advisors attached to his Department; if circulars or instructions have been issued within his Department concerning special advisors; if so, if he will provide a copy of any such circular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9346/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 239 and 240 together.

In line with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act 1997, the role and functions of my special advisor are to provide me with advice, to monitor, facilitate and secure the achievement of Government objectives that relate to my Department and to perform other functions as directed by me. In the performance of his functions, the special advisor is accountable to me.

No specific circulars or instructions have been issued within my Department in regard to the special adviser. However, staff in my Department are fully aware of the role of the special adviser and are familiar with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act in this regard. The special adviser is not a part of the line management system in my Department.

  241.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he is responsible for the performance of the functions of his Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9347/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 and the Public Service Management Act 1997 set out the legal position of Government Ministers and Departments. Section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 restates the responsibility of Ministers for the performance of functions which are assigned to their Departments. The functions assigned to my Department are covered by Statutory Instruments Nos. 297, 302, 309 and 328 of 2002.

  242.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9360/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The total amount of mileage expenses paid by my Department during 2004 was €73,691.25 in respect of claims for a total of 76,615 miles undertaken by employees in the [1381]course of official duties. These figures include mileage costs incurred by staff in the National Museum, National Library and National Archives.

  243.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the extent to which the roof structures at the National Aquatic Centre have been examined with a view to the prevention of any reoccurrence of storm damage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9453/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I refer the Deputy to my answer to Priority Question No. 7 earlier today.

  244.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the amount of funding allocated by his Department under the sporting, recreation or community grant schemes in the year to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9454/05]

  248.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he expects that his Department’s policy can best be directed to assist growing communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9461/05]

  251.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the extent to which his policy is directed to encourage the development of local community support facilities such as community centres or theatres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9470/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 244, 248 and 251 together.

My Department provides funding for the provision of sporting, recreational, arts and cultural facilities throughout the country.

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, is the major source of funding available for the provision of sporting facilities for sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The types of projects funded include indoor sports halls, community sport facilities and sports playing surfaces, changing rooms and shower facilities available for the usage of individual clubs and community organisations.

The programme is advertised on an annual basis. A total of over €331 million in sports capital grants have been allocated to 4,273 projects under the programme since 1998. No allocations have yet been made in respect of the 2005 sports capital programme, for which applications for funding were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. A total of 1,362 applications were received and are currently being evaluated against the [1382]programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce grant allocations under the 2005 programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, which is administered in conjunction with the local authorities, €3.8 million has been allocated in 2005 towards the construction of a public swimming pool in county Monaghan.

No funding has been allocated in 2005 in respect of the ACCESS scheme for arts and cultural facilities. However, a total of €45.7 million has been allocated to 44 projects since the inception of the scheme to provide for arts and cultural facilities, including theatres.

All the funding provided by my Department is aimed at the development of sports, arts and cultural facilities by clubs, local communities and volunteer groups. In the case of the sports capital programme, priority is given to the development of facilities in disadvantaged areas. The criteria under which projects are assessed take account of local demand and are aimed at achieving a balanced geographical spread of funds to benefit all types of eligible projects in all categories. They also take account of the need for an integrated approach to the provision of facilities at local level. In the allocation of funding under the local authority swimming pool programme and the ACCESS programme, the focus is also on the provision of facilities for local communities.

I am satisfied that under the programmes referred to in the reply, which are targeted primarily at local communities, opportunities exist for community groups to develop facilities which contribute to a vibrant community ethos.

Question No. 245 answered with Question
No. 21.

  246.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the stadium capacity in the country at present; the extent to which various sporting organisations can be accommodated within such capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9457/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  Croke Park has a capacity of 82,300 now that the redevelopment of the stadium has been completed. Lansdowne Road stadium at present has a capacity of 49,000 for rugby matches and 36,000 for UEFA and FIFA soccer matches and 44,100 for friendly international soccer matches. The capacity of Lansdowne Road stadium will increase to 50,000 following its redevelopment and as the Deputy will be aware, the Government has decided to provide funding of €191 million for this project.

In addition, there are numerous sports stadia around the country in use by the three main sporting bodies — the GAA, the IRFU and the [1383]FAI — in addition to stadia operated by other sporting organisations, e.g., the national boxing stadium and the national hockey stadium, not to mention greyhound and horseracing stadia. Information relating to the capacity of any of these facilities is not readily available to the Department.

  247.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the extent to which he directs policy on the arts; the way in which such direction is transmitted to the relevant body or bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9459/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  Part 2 of the Arts Act, 2003 defines the role and functions of the Minister of the day regarding arts policy.

Querstion No. 248 answered with Question
No. 244.

  249.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    his plans for the expansion of the tourism industry in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9464/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I mentioned in my reply to a similar question by the Deputy on 17 February 2005, one of my key objectives in 2005 is to see continued progress in the implementation of the actions recommended in the report of the tourism policy review group, New Horizons for Irish Tourism.

The implementation group set up to drive forward the New Horizons agenda, has identified ten priority actions which it considered vital to sustaining future growth. Of these, the restoration of Ireland’s competitive position remains the most important and the most challenging. Another priority identified in the report, and a particular priority for myself, is the provision of a national conference centre in Dublin. I expect to see continued progress on this project in 2005.

Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland have developed a comprehensive set of plans and programmes aimed at assisting the industry to respond to the key challenges ahead and at facilitating its continued development in 2005. Some of the initiatives contained in those programmes are set out below.

The key market priority for Tourism Ireland in 2005 is to reinvigorate Ireland’s position in the British market. We have set very ambitious growth targets for Irish tourism in the new horizons report but, without volume growth from Britain, these will be difficult to achieve.

Tourism Ireland has completed its overall strategic review of the British market and has commissioned the most comprehensive consumer [1384]research which it has ever carried out in any market. The results of that work are being fed into its campaigns in Britain for the rest of the year. Last week, I attended a number of functions in the British market to help with Tourism Ireland’s promotional campaign.

Another key challenge for tourism — the growing disparity in the performance of the regions — is being addressed by both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland with specific initiatives to heighten the regional impact of Ireland’s marketing activities, both internationally and at home. Happily, recent access developments hold good promise in this regard, in particular the announcements by Ryanair regarding its plans to develop Shannon Airport as a European hub, American Airlines’ announcement regarding new services from Boston and Chicago, and Continental Airlines’ plans for a new direct service to Belfast. These developments build on a significant expansion by Aer Lingus of its European route network in recent years. Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland will work to optimise the inbound tourism potential of these new routes.

All regions will be featuring prominently in the full range of marketing activities and a dedicated marketing fund for tactical co-operative initiatives with the regional tourism authorities and their members has been established for 2005. In Britain, a region-to-region approach is being adopted to capitalise on direct access links to the regions. In north America, specific campaigns promoting the western seaboard are being mounted. In continental Europe, a sponsor a region approach is being adopted in which each market office will focus attention, alternately, on a particular Irish region in order to enhance the awareness of the local trade of what that region has to offer.

On the domestic front, an enhanced consumer website with increased functionality and a strong regional input has been launched which will provide for more dynamic and up-to-the minute packages. There will be a strong focus on event-based holidays which will be complemented by a more streamlined and targeted festivals and cultural events fund, which will continue to favour the less developed regions.

Strategic investment in capital projects in under-performing areas through the tourism product development scheme will continue in an effort to match the quality of the product available on the ground with more demanding consumer expectations. In order to further encourage the development of new projects under the scheme, I requested Fáilte Ireland last year to invite further investment proposals for financial assistance under the special interest pursuits category of the scheme.

With an indicative grant fund of €12 million to be allocated between the Border, midlands and western, BMW, and southern and eastern regions, I look forward to seeing increased investment in pursuits such as equestrian, cycling, walk[1385]ing, great gardens, specialist outdoor activities, water-based tourism and health tourism. At enterprise level, a range of new initiatives has been developed to address competitiveness, including a new online facility to help individual enterprises benchmark their financial performance against similar enterprises and to highlight areas for improvement.

  250.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the extent to which cost factors which may be a deterrent to the tourism industry have been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9466/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  Cost factors are undoubtedly a significant influence on Ireland’s competitive position as a tourist destination. This has been identified as a key issue that needs to be addressed if we are to grow overseas tourist numbers.

The impact of high costs on Ireland’s competitiveness has been identified through a number of on-going studies, including the major exit surveys conducted by Fáilte Ireland, as well as benchmarking studies. These studies have shown that, from an industry perspective, overall running costs — including overheads such as heating, electricity, waste management, water, etc., — the cost of labour and cost of insurance are key issues.

Progress has been made, particularly in respect of insurance costs, and Ireland’s overall inflation level is approaching EU averages. However, given the extraordinary growth in the Irish economy, it is likely that a number of the cost factors, such as labour availability and cost, will continue to present a challenge for the industry.

The industry needs to do whatever it can to best manage costs and, like most other businesses, to see what it can do to improve overall productivity. Fáilte Ireland is rolling out programmes to help individual tourism enterprises to better manage costs and also to benchmark performance against competition both national and international. Examples include performance plus, the business solutions toolkit and a legal and financial advice platform.

Performance plus is basically an online facility for hoteliers which allows individual operators to assess their performance in the financial, environmental and productivity areas against that of comparable businesses. Depending on the outcome of that assessment, the facility gives guidance about next-steps and also provides case-studies aimed at helping to improve performance.

The business solutions toolkit is an interactive CD-ROM which offers practical advice on cost controls and business systems to smaller tourism businesses. The legal and financial advice platforms is a free first-consultation-service for tourism businesses. It allows tourism business to access the type of financial and legal advice on key business decisions, which are normally the preserve of larger enterprises.

[1386]These are some of the initiatives by the tourism agencies which are designed to help our tourism sector to cope a bit better with some elements of the competitiveness challenge.

Question No. 251 answered with Question
No. 244.

  252.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the legislation, existing or planned, to protect the public interest in an independent press, in particular to prevent a single press group controlling an unacceptable proportion of media here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8543/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The Competition Act 2002 contains special provisions for mergers and acquisitions involving media businesses. In this context the term “media” includes newspapers, periodicals, broadcasting services and broadcasting services platforms. This special regime for media mergers is considered necessary to ensure that the public interest is served by a diverse and strong media sector.

The media provisions in the Act require that every merger or acquisition in the media sector, regardless of the turnover of the parties involved, be notified in advance to the Competition Authority for regulatory clearance. A public interest role in the decision making process is also provided for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The public interest criteria to which the Minister has regard in deciding on a media merger are as follows: first, the strength and competitiveness of media businesses indigenous to the State; second, the extent to which ownership or control of media businesses in the State is spread amongst individuals and other undertakings; third, the extent to which ownership and control of particular types of media business in the State is spread amongst individuals and other undertakings; forth, the extent to which the diversity of views prevalent in Irish society is reflected through the activities of the various media businesses in the State; and fifth, the share in the market in the State of one or more of the types of business activity falling within the definition of “media business” that is held by any of the undertakings involved in the media merger concerned, or by any individual or other undertaking who or which has an interest in such an undertaking.

Under the Competition Act, therefore, a merger or acquisition in the media sector must surmount two separate hurdles — a competition test and a public interest test. Where the Competition Authority decides that a media merger does not raise competition concerns, I ultimately decide whether it can be concluded having regard to the public policy criteria listed in the Act.

  253.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8591/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The amount paid by my Department for car mileage expenses in 2004 was €717,135. In addition, a total of €54,920 was paid in respect other modes of transport such as taxis, bus or rail.

  254.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when he will publish his Department’s report on bullying in the workplace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8695/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  I understand that the expert advisory group on bullying in the workplace will finalise its report shortly and then submit it to me. I am committed to publishing the report after I receive it.

  255.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the situation with regard to the re-establishment of the County Clare Local Employment Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8791/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Following the closure of the Clare LES, FÁS undertook a review of the labour market needs of the Clare region. On foot of this review discussions took place between FÁS and the board of management of Eire Corca Baiscinn, an ADM funded group, regarding the establishment of a new service.

I am informed by FÁS that Eiri Corca Baiscinn announced recently that it did not intend to proceed with this project. While FÁS is currently examining alternatives, the needs of the long-term unemployed in the Clare area are being catered for by FÁS employment services which provides a comprehensive guidance and referral system to all LES clients.

  256.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if there are plans to change the Redundancy Payments Act 1979 to remove the age limit in order that there be no discrimination on grounds of age; if not, the reason persons over 66 are excluded from the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8792/05]

[1388]Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  Traditionally, the upper age limit for eligibility for redundancy payment was the same as the pensionable age within the meaning of the Social Welfare Acts. In 1971 the upper age limit was 70, in line with the then old age pension age of 70. This was revised downwards by the Redundancy Payments Act 1979 to 66 years, which was the new pensionable age set out in the Social Welfare Act.

The redundancy review group report of July 2002, which produced recommendations for the updating of statutory redundancy legislation, considered that increasing the upper age limit of 66 for redundancy qualification purposes would not be a priority in the short term if resources were scarce. It could be argued, therefore, that the age cap should remain unchanged to maintain consistency with the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2001 and the Employment Equality Act 1998.

The group recognised, however, that the labour force is becoming older and that participation in the labour force by older people should be facilitated if desired. Accordingly, it was recommended that consideration should be given in the medium term to removing the age cap or raising the age cap in conjunction with similar changes to Unfair Dismissals, Equality and Social and Family Acts as recommended by the Equality Authority.

On 18 July 2004, the upper age limit of 66 for bringing claims under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2001 was removed by the Equality Act 2004. However, the Unfair Dismissals Acts will still not apply to dismissed employees who, at the date of dismissal, had reached the normal retirement age in that employment, for example if it is the policy in an employment to retire employees at a certain age, then the new provisions would not apply.

There are no plans at present to remove the upper age limit in respect of statutory redundancy. However, in the light of the evolution of age-related legislative provisions, it will be necessary to review the age-related provisions of the Redundancy Payments Acts. This will have to be done prior to making legislative proposals for submission to Government.

  257.  Mr. N. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if grant aid will be available to an organisation (details supplied) who propose to employ full time staff. [8793/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The 35 City and County Enterprise Boards, CEBs, which were established nationally in 1993, provide a source of support for small businesses with ten or fewer employees. The function of the boards is to develop indigen[1389]ous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity at regional 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 primarily in the form of capital and feasibility grants. Direct financial intervention by a CEB in the form of employment grants is available in limited circumstances, is more selective and must be targeted at areas of greatest potential. However, regardless of the type of grant assistance being sought, priority must be given to projects in manufacturing or internationally-traded services which, in time, can graduate to the Enterprise Ireland portfolio. In addition, due regard must be given to issues of deadweight and displacement.

As well as direct forms of financial assistance, 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 would suggest that the person concerned should, in the first instance, make direct contact with North Cork County Enterprise Board, 26 Davis Street, Mallow, County Cork, telephone number 022 43235, fax number 022 43247, and explore what level of assistance, if any, would be available to them.

  258.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the total, or expected total cost to his Department for the publication, through the media, of a notice under Section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under Section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8834/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  My Department has incurred no costs to date in this matter. The estimated cost to my Department for a notice under Section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003 is €6,500.

  259.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if his attention has been drawn to the practice causing widespread difficulty for retailers throughout Ireland, whereby they have been supplied with unsolicited publications; if this matter will be addressed by the Director of Consumer Affairs in the context of the supply of unsolicited goods; if his attention has further been drawn to the additional problems this is causing for small businesses in terms of additional administrative and waste charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8846/05]

[1390]Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The practice referred to was brought to my attention recently. However, I understand that it relates to “business to business” transactions rather than dealings between businesses and consumers. Accordingly, the Director of Consumer Affairs would have no role in the matter. It would appear, however, that the issues referred to may be matters of contract law. Aggrieved retailers might, therefore, wish to consult their legal representatives on how best to proceed.

Should retailers feel that there are any issues arising of an anti-competitive nature, they should contact the Competition Authority on the matter. The Authority is an independent body charged with enforcing the Competition Act, 2002 which prohibits anti-competitive practices and the abuse of a dominant position in the market.

  260.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 163 and 170 of 1 December 2004, if he is stating in the final paragraph of the reply that community employment scheme funding and rent funding will be available to the County Kildare centre for the unemployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8851/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I am informed by FÁS that they provide funding directly to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions centre for the unemployed in Kildare through the Community Employment Programme. This enables the centre to provide places for persons who are unemployed and disadvantaged in order to assist them in re-entry to the labour market.

The County Kildare centre for the unemployed has two community employment projects. The Leixlip community employment project has 15 participants and one supervisor. The Newbridge community employment project has 28 participants and two supervisors and is operated jointly from Newbridge and Athy. The total grant aid from FÁS in respect of the two community employment projects for 2005 is of the order of €600,000.

In addition to the community employment grant, FÁS provides grant aid to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Congress has sole responsibility regarding the internal distribution and the purposes for which this money is used within the centres. FÁS has no role in the administration of these grants.

  261.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Question No. 47 of 16 December [1391]2004, the grant aid returned to the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8984/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The position on the return of grant aid is unchanged from the information provided to the Deputy on 16 December, 2004. To date, no grant aid has been returned to Enterprise Ireland.

Discussions between Enterprise Ireland and the company in question about grant aid are still continuing. The issues are complex and are being considered in conjunction with other investment plans by the company. It is expected that the negotiations will be concluded in the near future.

  262.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if his attention has been drawn to an organisation (details supplied) which runs lifestyle seminars in this country and abroad; the measures he will take to protect consumers against this form of exploitation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9028/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I understand that the situation referred to in the Deputy’s question relates to instances where individual consumers agree to pay certain sums to attend lifestyle seminars in domestic and foreign locations. While I am advised that the fees charged for these seminars can sometimes be as high as €60,000, I am not aware that in charging such fees the organisation is breaching any specific consumer law. When purchasing goods or services it is generally the consumer’s own responsibility to ensure that they get value for money, particularly so where the cost of the good or service in question involves significant amounts of money. It is not the function of the State to dictate to consumers what value they place on any particular good or service. It is a matter for the consumer to determine whether the fee being charged to attend a particular event represents value for money.

If the Deputy has any evidence that any law has been breached in regard to the provision of this service, I would be happy to review such evidence and to have the matter examined in more detail.

  263.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made for the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9107/05]

[1392]Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The information sought is as follows:

National Standards Authority of Ireland

Persons Appointed (15) Salary Details
13 Board Members €6,348.69 (3 No Fee)
2 Staff Rep €6,348.69

FÁS

Persons Appointed (1) Salary Details
1 Board Member €10,157.90

Shannon Development

Persons Appointed (7) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €15,236.86 p.a.
6 Board Members €10,157.90 × 5 (1 × No Fee)

Enterprise Ireland

Persons Appointed (9) Salary Details
1 Chairperson (re-appointed) €15,236.86 Remuneration for Services
8 Members (5 re-appointed) €10,157.90 Remuneration for Services

Crafts Council of Ireland

Persons Appointed (5) Salary Details
1 Chairperson (re-appointed) No Salary applicable
4 Board Members (3 re-appointed)

IDA Ireland

Persons Appointed (7) Salary Details
7 Board Members (3 re-appointed) €10,158 p.a. Annual Remuneration

Discover Science & Engineering

Persons Appointed (15) Salary Details
1 Chairman €7,618.43 p.a.
14 Board Members No salary applicable

[1393]Forfás

Persons Appointed (10) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €15,236.86 p.a.
9 Board Members (3 re-appointed) €10,157.90 p.a. (3 No Fee)

Labour Court

Persons Appointed (13) Salary Details
1 Chairman €134,948 p.a.
2 Deputy Chairpersons €99,605-€104,424
10 Members (inc 6 re-appointments) €85,653 p.a.

Labour Relations Commission

Persons Appointed (8) Salary Details
1 Chairperson No Salary applicable
7 Members No Salary applicable

National Competitiveness Council

Persons Appointed (20) Salary Details
20 Members No Salary applicable

Science Foundation of Ireland

Persons Appointed (12) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €15,236.86 (Board Fee)
11 Board Members 9 ×€10,157.90 (Board Fee) 2 × No Fee

Motor Insurance Advisory Board

Persons Appointed (18) Salary Details
1 Chairperson No Salary applicable
17 Board Members No Salary applicable

Personal Injuries Assessment Board

Persons Appointed (11) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €15,236.86 p.a.
10 Members €10,157.90 p.a.

InterTrade Ireland

Persons Appointed (12) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €10,157.90 p.a.
1 Vice Chairperson €7,500 p.a.
10 Board Members 5 ×€5,768, 5 ×€6,348.70 p.a.

Competition Authority

Persons Appointed (2) Salary Details
2 Members €101,648, €105,714 p.a.

Company Law Review Group

Persons Appointed (1) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €7,618 p.a.

Company Law Administration

Persons Appointed (1) Salary Details
1 Registrar of Friendly Societies No Salary applicable

Health & Safety Authority

Persons Appointed (11) Salary Details
1 Chairperson €10,157.90 Fee
10 Board Members €6,348.69 Fee

Taskforce on Workplace Bullying

Persons Appointed (16) Salary Details
1 Chairperson No Salary applicable
15 Board Members No Salary applicable

Employment Appeals Tribunal

Persons Appointed (32 by Minister) Salary Details
1 Chairperson (re-appointed) No Salary applicable
31 Vice-Chair No Salary applicable
72 Ordinary Members nominated by the Social Partners

The previous Employment Appeals Tribunal members were appointed in January 2001 to cover the three year period running to January 2004. The membership was then composed of one chairman and 23 vice-chairmen, also undertaken through ministerial appointment, and 60 ordinary members who were nominees of the social partners.

  264.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if a work per[1395]mit will issue to a person (details supplied). [9153/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  There is no record of a work permit application in this case. Applications, which are incomplete or incorrect, are returned to the employer for completion. I should add that, in the aftermath of EU enlargement, it is Government policy that employers should be able to source nearly all of their workforce needs from within the EU. Accordingly, only in cases where exceptional levels of skill and qualifications are needed for the job and the employer has made meaningful attempts to find EEA nationals first will my Department now consider granting work permits.

  265.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if a person (details supplied) has to be resident outside the State to apply for a work permit [9284/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Employment permits to work in the State take a number of forms including work permits, work authorisation, work visas and inter-company transfers. These permits are in respect of non-nationals of the European Economic Area, which comprises the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Work permits, which are granted to the employer, may be in respect of would be employees who may or may not be resident in the State. Work authorisations-work visas and inter-company transfers are given only to non-residents. Full details in relation to employment permits are contained in my Department’s website at www.entemp.ie.

  266.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the percentage occupancy of enterprise centres across the State and in each local authority area. [9293/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I assume the question refers to Community Enterprise Centres, CECs, under Enterprise Ireland’s CEC schemes. Under the schemes Enterprise Ireland, along with local authorities, city and county enterprise boards and other regional players part fund community groups for the purpose of construction, expansion and development of Community Enterprise Centres.

The construction and day-to-day operation of CECs is managed by the local community groups. Enterprise Ireland has funded 97 completed construction and expansions projects — 90 construction and seven expansion — and funding is approved for an additional 28 projects, which are at various stages of planning and construction. In [1396]total, €23m has been paid to community groups by Enterprise Ireland in respect of CECs to date.

Currently, Enterprise Ireland is conducting a survey of the CECs it has funded and expects to be in possession of detailed information, including occupancy percentages, by May 2005. I will arrange for the relevant information to be passed to the Deputy when it is available.

  267.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he is responsible for the performance of the functions of his Department in accordance with section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. [9311/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The Public Service Management Act 1997 provides that I, a Minister of the Government having charge of a Department, shall be responsible for the performance of functions assigned to the Department pursuant to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 1995.

  268.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding violence and abuse in the retail sector; and the recommendations which are being put in place to deal with this problem in the workplace. [9330/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  Violence and abuse in any sector of the economy is a matter for reporting to the Garda for investigation and prosecution where an offence has been committed. Where violence and abuse is identified as a hazard at the workplace, employers are required under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 to include a provision in their safety statement to deal with the problem.

  269.  Mr. Cregan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the efforts being made by the IDA to attract inward investment with a view to utilising advanced and vacant factories and facilities in west Limerick under the remit of Shannon Development; and if he will give an inventory of same in west Limerick. [9331/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland, including its regions and areas. Through its overseas offices and project divisions, IDA Ireland actively promotes property solutions provided in the mid-western region, which includes west Limerick, by its sister agency Shannon Development.

[1397]A central goal for IDA Ireland is the achievement of balanced regional development. The national spatial strategy provides a framework for the achievement of this goal through the prioritisation of development and investment in the linked gateway of Limerick-Shannon and hub locations of Ennis and Tralee to allow Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, needs to be met.

IDA Ireland is committed to the development of Limerick City and County and is actively pro[1398]moting all available property solutions in both areas for new foreign investment. In 2004, there were 19 first time site visits to Limerick City and County while to date in 2005 there have been four first time visits. As will be seen from the attached inventory of Shannon Development-owned land and property in west Limerick, less than 5% is unoccupied. An inventory of Shannon Development-owned land and buildings in west Limerick as on 28 February 2005 is set out
as follows:

Town Total Building Space Sq. Ft Occupied Building Space Sq. Ft Vacant Building Space Sq. Ft Land Holding acres
Newcastle West 49,495 47,222 2,273 20
Askeaton 2,160 2,160 0 233
Abbeyfeale 27,440 27,440 0 6
Kilfinane 7,230 5,224 2,006 1
Patrickswell 2,015 2,015 0 4
Shanagolden 8,918 8,918 0 5
Glin 2,400 2,400 0 0
Dromcollogher 0 0 0 7
99,658 95,379 4,279 276

  270.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the way in which the Government supports and encourages existing small and medium indigenous Irish businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9340/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Small and medium enterprises are generally recognised as firms which employ between ten and 250 employees. Enterprise Ireland is the national development agency with primary responsibility for assisting the development of indigenous SMEs in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector. Both Shannon Development and Údarás na Gaeltachta carry out EI’s functions in their respective regions.

Enterprise Ireland assists its clients across all business functions through the business development model process. The BDM ensures that support is applied to critical business functions, namely, strategy, finance, research and development, marketing, human resources and production. EI’s assistance is delivered by way of both financial and non-financial supports.

Financial supports are designed to encourage development and growth at key stages in a client’s development, for example start-up or early stage, expansions etc. Financial support consists of both grants and equity finance.

Non-financial support is a cornerstone of EI’s client development focus. EI provides expertise to its clients not only in relation to the business functions listed previously but also with regard to the crucial endeavor of developing exports. EI [1398]has a network of over 30 overseas offices positioned to provide clients with market information and assisting client contact with potential
buyers.

EI also has a role in developing future SMEs through its support of those micro-enterprises, employing less than ten staff, that are regarded as high potential start ups. Furthermore, it has a close working relationship with the city and county enterprise boards thus facilitating transition of those clients of the CEBs who are growing to a scale where they would benefit from becoming EI clients. Finally, Enterprise Ireland is directly involved in supporting certain programmes aimed at building infrastructure for businesses, for example community enterprise centres.

A full outline and more detailed outline of EI’s specific supports to clients is available on its website at www.enterprise-ireland.com.

  271.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount paid out, and the total mileage registered in mileage allowances claimed by employees in his Department in the last period for which figures are available. [9361/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The total amount paid by my Department in 2004 for car mileage expenses was €717,135. Figures in respect of the total mileage registered, are not immediately available from the Department’s systems. I will furnish this information to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  272.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he has considered the extension of the late payments legislation to the private sector; and the recent assessment he has undertaken of the extent of the payment of accounts within the private sector. [9536/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The issue of late payments in the private sector is already addressed by the European Communities (Late Payment in Commercial Transactions) Regulations 2002, SI 388 of 2002. These regulations, which came into operation on 7 August 2002, apply to all commercial transactions with the following exceptions:

· Contracts made before 7 August 2002

· Claims for payment of late interest of less than €5

· Transactions with consumers

· Debts that may be subject to legislation other than these Regulations.

In accordance with these regulations, it is an implied term of every commercial transaction that where a purchaser does not pay for goods or services by the relevant payment date, the supplier shall be entitled to interest, “late payment interest”, on the amount outstanding. The current interest rate applicable is 9% per annum or 0.0247% per day. This rate is set as at 1 January and 1 July each year at a rate of 7% above the European Central Bank interest rate on its most recent main refinancing operation. In the absence of any agreed payment date between the parties, late payment interest falls due after 30 days has elapsed.

In addition, the use of terms that are grossly unfair may be unenforceable and such terms may be challenged in court on the basis of criteria specified in the Regulations. Organisations representing small and medium sized enterprises may also challenge any terms that they feel breach the Regulations.

In June 2003, my Department conducted a survey in relation to the late payment in commercial transaction regulations. The survey questionnaire was sent to 1,107 randomly selected companies covered all regions of the country, all sectors and all sizes of enterprises and there was a response rate of 41%. Even though the regulations had been in force for a relatively short period at the time of the survey, it still showed that there was a very high level of awareness of the regulations among businesses with 82% of respondents being aware of the regulations. The survey also indicated that there had been a 7% improvement in the number of businesses paying their bills within 30 days.

Information in relation to the regulations is contained on my Department’s website and the Department provides advice and information to [1400]purchasers and suppliers in relation to the operation of the regulations on an ongoing basis.

  273.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the way in which his Department procured a breakdown of the income of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if an appeal for the carer’s allowance for this person will be opened. [8545/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  One of the conditions for receiving a carer’s allowance is that the person must satisfy a means test. All income is assessable as means but in the case of carer’s allowance a weekly income disregard of €250 for a single person and €500 for a married or cohabiting couple apply. Any means in excess of the disregards are assessable.

The means of the person concerned were established following an interview by an investigative officer of my Department. The income assessed as means consists of €302.40 per week from farm income and €143.77 derived from €64,504.77 capital. The €250 income disregard was applied to his total income of €446 giving him weekly means equate of €196.17.

The income disregards were improved in the 2005 budget and these become effective from April 2005. The new income disregards were applied to his total income and these gave him weekly means of €160.41. His means still exceed the statutory limit for receipt of the allowance. The person concerned is employed also for more than ten hours per week which is in excess of the amount prescribed in regulations. Accordingly, his claim for carer’s allowance was refused.

He was notified of the original decision the reasons for it and of his right to appeal the social welfare appeals office on 2 February 2005. Notification of the revised decision, issued to him on 9 March 2005, together with form SWA01 for completion, should he wish to appeal the decision. A breakdown of how his means were assessed has also issued.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  274.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the amount his Department paid in 2004 for car mileage expenses; the amount paid to cover rail and bus ticket expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8592/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  There is a significant level of travel expenditure in my Department’s budget, arising from the dispersed nature of my Department’s services and, inter alia, the fact that a considerable level of investigative work must be carried [1401]out in the course of delivering the Department’s services. The total amount paid out in 2004 by my Department in respect of home travel expenses was €2,142,217.85. This amount includes car mileage, bus and train fares, and miscellaneous costs; these expenses are not recorded separately.

  275.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of full-time staff in his Department’s treatment benefit section; the number of full-time staff in the section in 1997; the average number of claims received by the section each month; the average number of claims dealt with each month; the number of claims received and dealt with in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8611/05]

  276.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the average length of time it takes to deal with a claim at his Department’s treatment benefit section; the average length of time it took to deal with a claim in 1997; if his Department has set targets for dealing with claims within a particular timeframe; if these targets are being met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8612/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 275 and 276 together.

Under the treatment benefits scheme administered by my Department, persons insured under the Social Welfare Acts and their dependent spouses can avail of benefit in respect of a certain range of dental, optical and aural services subject to satisfying certain contribution conditions.

The recommended staffing level in 1997 was 89.5 posts in treatment benefit. A review of the workload in the treatment benefit area and the staff required to manage this work was carried out by the management services unit of the Department in 2003. The report recommended that 88 staff were required and assignments were made in 2004 to bring the staff numbers up to the required level. On 7 March 2005 all of these posts were occupied.

There were 641,798 treatment benefit claims received in 1997 which is an average of 53,483 per month. There were 821,770 claims received in 2004 an average of 68,480.83 per month. The average number of claims processed monthly in 2004 was exceptionally high due to a carry over of 70,484 claims from 2003, when a dispute with the Irish Dental Association lead to a delay in claims being made to my Department.

The published processing target, based on a monthly average of 57,000 claims received is that 90% of claims will be processed in a two week period. The average target met for 2004 was 72% but this increased towards the end of the year as staffing levels rose. The average target met in 2005 to date is 85% of claims processed in the two week period.

  277.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved for the free schemes. [8624/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned applied for the household benefits package on 3 February 2005.

On 11 March, following confirmation that both the electricity and telephone accounts were in the customer’s name, she was awarded an electricity allowance and a telephone allowance on 11 March 2005, effective from 11 November 2004.

Both the ESB and SMART telecom will be notified as soon as possible to apply the allowances to her account. A lifetime free television licence will also be issued to her as soon as possible and will take effect from her next renewal licence after 11 November 2004.

  278.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of contributory pensioners on reduced rate pensions, the plans he has to apply annual budget pension increases to all pensioners at the same level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8682/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  There are some 73,270 people on reduced rate old age contributory pensions and 20,620 on reduced rate retirement pensions. These include pro-rata and mixed rate pensions where entitlement is based on a combination of Irish contributions and contributions made in other countries or at different rates of insurance.

Reduced rate or pro-rata pensions are paid at a fixed percentage of the full rate payment and, in order to ensure that the differential between the various rates is maintained, budgetary increases are also applied on a pro-rata basis. For example, a person receiving a payment of 50% of the maximum rate receives 50% of any budget increase applied to the full rate pension.

  279.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the position regarding an application for the carer’s allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [8737/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned applied for Carer’s Allowance on 5 October 2004. The principal conditions for receipt of the allowance are that full-time care and attention are required and being provided and that the means test that applies is satisfied.

An investigation by an investigative officer of my Department established that the person concerned satisfies the means test. The person concerned supplied the medical evidence in support of his application. This was forwarded to the chief medical advisor of my Department for consider[1403]ation of medical eligibility. He decided that a medical examination by a medical assessor of my Department was required to determine medical eligibility.

Due to an administrative error, there was a delay in scheduling the medical examination. Arrangements have now been made for the care recipient to attend for medical examination by a medical assessor of my Department. The examination is scheduled for the week of 11 April 2005.

His entitlement to carer’s allowance will be immediately considered in light of the medical adviser’s reports and he will be notified directly of the outcome. The delay is processing this case is regretted.

Under Social Welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These Officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  280.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if a date has been set for the introduction of concessionary travel for pensioners on an all-Ireland basis. [8748/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Special cross-Border arrangements have been in place since 1995 which allow Southern and Northern free travel pass holders to undertake cross-Border journeys free of charge.

The introduction of free travel on an all-Ireland basis would enhance these existing arrangements by enabling Southern pass holders to make free journeys within the North. Similarly, Northern Ireland pass holders would be able to make internal journeys within the South free of charge to them.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a system of all-Ireland free travel for pensioners and other eligible social welfare customer categories. However, there is a number of technical and financial issues to be resolved in order to implement an enhanced all-Ireland free travel system. These issues require co-operation between my Department and the Northern Ireland department with responsibility for transport policy, as well as the relevant Northern and Southern transport operators.

  281.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for an oral hearing in relation to unemployment benefit. [8786/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned applied for unemployment benefit on 10 January 2005. His claim was disallowed by the deciding officer on the grounds that he was not available for full-time work and not genuinely seeking employment.

[1404]The person appealed against this decision to the social welfare appeals office and an appeals officer is of the opinion that an oral hearing is required. He will be advised of the date and venue for the hearing when the necessary arrangements have been made. Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  282.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when persons who only have mobile phones can use their free telephone allowance. [8820/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  I am committed to the development of the telephone allowance scheme to respond to the expanding telecommunications market and to facilitate greater social welfare client choice of telephone services. My Department is in contact with the communications regulator, ComReg, regarding the technical and administrative requirements for mobile phone, as well as land-line, services. To date three mobile phone companies, Meteor, O2 and Vodaphone, have expressed an interest in participating in the telephone allowance scheme. These companies are in discussions with my Department and the telecommunications regulator.

My Department is carrying out a fundamental review of the household benefits available to our customers and arrangements which we have with service providers. As part of this review the communications regulator, interest groups and other entities will be consulted as required. It is expected that this review will be completed during the first half of the year. When this review has been finalised, I will be in a position to make decisions on the expansion of the telephone allowance scheme to include mobile phones.

  283.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the total, or expected total cost to his Department in relation to the publication, through the media, of a notice under section 13 of the Official Languages Act 2003, inviting representations in relation to the preparation of the draft scheme under section 11 of the Act from any interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8835/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Under the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003 my Department is required to prepare a draft scheme specifying the services proposed to be provided exclusively through Irish, exclusively through English, through both Irish and English, and the measures proposed to ensure that any services not provided through Irish will be so provided. As part of this process, under section 13 of the Act, my Department was [1405]required to publish notice of its intention to prepare a draft scheme and invite representations from any interested parties. The total cost to the Department of publishing the notice in Irish and in English was €13,304.

  284.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of housing units for which the supplementary rent allowance was awarded in 2003 and 2004 in each health board area respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8868/05]

  285.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the outturn for the supplementary welfare scheme for 2003 and 2004 in each health board area in respect of supplementary rent, supplementary basic and supplementary special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8869/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 284 and 285 together.

The details sought by the Deputy are set out in the following tables. It should be noted that rent supplement is normally payable directly to the tenants concerned, not to their landlords. The statistics shown in tables one and two relate to the number of applicants and recipients, and do not necessarily equate to a number of housing units as recipients may move location during the period.

Expenditure on rent supplement in 2004, at nearly €354 million, was some 7% higher than in 2003, notwithstanding the adjustments made to the scheme conditions at the start of last year. By comparison, expenditure on basic supplementary welfare allowances and exceptional needs respectively was lower in the corresponding periods.

TABLE 1

Number of recipients of rent supplement by health board at end 2003 and end 2004 respectively.

Rent Supplement

2003 2004
ERHA 25,523 25,711
Midland 2,319 2,090
Mid-Western 4,348 4,163
North Eastern 3,374 2,876
North Western 2,738 2,535
South Eastern 6,190 6,018
Southern 8,985 8,539
Western 6,499 5,942
Total 59,976 57,874

TABLE 2

Total number of rent supplements awarded in 2003 and 2004 by health board.

Rent Supplement

2003 2004
ERHA 21,036 16,611
Midland 2,432 1,841
Mid-Western 4,208 3,466
North Eastern 3,202 2,019
North Western 2,964 2,164
South Eastern 5,866 4,809
Southern 7,900 6,598
Western 6,142 4,330
Total 53,750 41,838

TABLE 3

Gross expenditure on basic SWA, rent supplement and exceptional and urgent needs payments by health board in 2003

Basic SWA* Rent Supplement Exceptional and urgent needs payments
€000 €000 €000
ERHA 98,738 176,497 24,896
Midland 10,102 11,158 1,652
Mid-Western 13,719 18,767 4,647
North Eastern 17,981 15,962 1,889
North Western 8,189 9,364 2,574
South Eastern 20,637 28,553 6,731
Southern 25,169 41,531 8,304
Western 20,626 29,638 4,736
Total 215,161 331,470 55,429

TABLE 4

Gross expenditure on basic SWA, rent supplement and exceptional and urgent needs payments, 2004 (provisional).

Basic SWA* Rent Supplement Exceptional/ urgent needs payments
€000 €000 €000
Total 209,211 353,778 51,328

  286.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if his Department’s attention has been drawn to the abuse of personal public service numbers; if so, the nature and extent of [1407]such abuse; the steps he is taking to address or prevent such abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8870/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The personal public service number, PPSN, is the individual’s unique reference number for dealings with Departments and public bodies. Prior to June 2000, allocation of PPSNs was a shared function between my Department and Revenue. Since then, my Department has sole responsibility for the registration process. A PPSN issues automatically to children born in Ireland. In all other cases application must be made at one of the Department’s local offices. When applying for a PPSN, individuals are asked to complete an application form and supply documentation to establish their identity. They are usually informed of their PPSN by post within five days.

My Department has identified various types of abuse including the presentation of forged or altered identity documentation, usually passports or national identity cards, and identity hijacking. In response to this various actions have been implemented to prevent abuse at the time of registration or subsequently. Staff in my Department have been assigned to deal exclusively with identity fraud work. These staff have received training in the area of document fraud from a number of sources, including the relevant issuing authorities, via their embassies, and from the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB. They provide training and support to staff in the offices registering individuals for PPSNs. In addition, my Department employed a document fraud expert on a contract basis for a period to assist with the training of Departmental staff.

Equipment was installed in each of my Departments’ local and branch offices to assist in the identification of forged or altered documentation. Cases of forged or altered documentation being presented in support of a PPSN application are referred to the Gardaí for action through the courts. So far this year 18 cases have been dealt with through the courts and a further 66 forged or altered documents have been identified by staff in my offices.

To further improve the security around the PPSN my Department is preparing plans to limit the offices where people can register for these numbers to one office per county. This will also ensure that the staff in these offices become more expert in addressing identity fraud issues and it will limit the possibilities for people to supply fraudulent identities. With regard to the swapping or hijacking of identities, identity checks are carried out as part of employer inspections and further checks are also made to authenticate identity at the time of claim application and to ensure that eligibility for payment has been correctly established. As well as providing support to areas within the Department, staff in the client identity services section of my Department main[1408]tain communication on these issues with all the appropriate authorities in this area, including Revenue, the GNIB and the relevant embassies. Procedures in relation to abuses of the PPSN are under constant review and I am committed to maintaining the strictest controls possible around the registration for, and usage of, personal public service numbers.

  287.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will consider expanding the back to education allowance to include part-time courses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8871/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force.

To qualify for participation in the BTEA scheme an applicant must, inter alia, be pursuing a course of study at a recognised second or third level institution. The course must be a full-time day course of study which is approved by the Department of Education and Science or have Further Education Training and Awards Council, FETAC, or Higher Education Training and Awards Council, HETAC, recognition.

The back to education programme operated by my Department already takes cognizance of the fact that many people wish to pursue part-time courses of education as an alternative to the more structured full-time courses. Persons who wish to pursue a part-time course of study may do so and retain their social welfare payment.

Applicants for the part-time education option do not have to satisfy any specific eligibility criteria. The applicant may be of any age and may be in receipt of a social welfare payment for any length of time prior to commencing a part-time course of study. Part-time courses of education are adequately catered for under my Department’s back to education programme.

  288.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the categories of persons who will be eligible for the €1,000 respite grant awarded to a person caring full-time for a person in need of care; if there will be a more relaxed means test to qualify for this grant; and if persons who are disqualified for the carer’s allowance due to their having another social welfare payment will be eligible to receive the grant. [8883/05]

  290.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the progress made in regard to the commitment in Budget 2005 to extend the respite care grant to all carers providing full time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of means, subject to certain employment related conditions; the number of carers who have benefited from this [1409]initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8895/05]

  291.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the progress made in regard to the commitment in the Budget 2005 to increase the respite care grant to €1,000 to benefit 9,000 carers; the number of carers who have benefited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8896/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 288, 290 and 291 together.

Persons in receipt of a carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit receive a respite care grant in June each year. The grant is also payable to carers who are caring for recipients of a constant attendance or prescribed relative’s allowance.

The conditions for receipt of the extended respite care grant are set out in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005. The following conditions will apply: the carer must be providing full time care to a person who is in need of such care; as is the case with recipients of carer’s allowance, a full-time carer must not be engaged in employment for more than ten hours per week; those who are on unemployment payments will be excluded since they are required to be available for and actively seeking full-time work.

This means that subject to these conditions, the respite care grant is being extended to include all carers who are providing full-time care and who are either in receipt of a social welfare payment, other than carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit, for example, widow’s pensions, old age pensions, one parent family payment, disability benefit and invalidity pension, or who are not currently receiving a weekly social welfare payment from my Department. Under Budget 2005, the respite grant is payable for each care recipient, and is payable without a means test. This measure will benefit over 9,000 carers who are not currently in receipt of carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit. Overall, some 33,000 full-time carers will receive the grant at a cost of €7.24 million. Full details of the conditions for receipt of the extended respite care grant will be set out in regulations and will be widely publicised before the scheme commences in June 2005.

  289.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when the regulations were changed whereby applicants for unemployment assistance have to sign on at their local Garda station; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that as a result of this change, some applicants will have to make a 20 to 30-mile round trip, which in the absence of their own transport, or public transport necessitates the expenditure of moneys on taxis and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8886/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Up to November 2004, recipients of unemployment payments who reside more than [1410]six miles from their nearest social welfare local or branch office signed a declaration at their local Garda Station for the purpose of proving unemployment. This service was instituted, as a service to customers, at a time when transport was less frequent and travel was more difficult than today.

My Department is currently implementing a modernisation action plan aimed at improving customer service and at enhancing control. In this context the role of signing at Garda Stations has been reviewed and it has been concluded that the service has long since ceased to be appropriate and is taking from, rather than adding to quality customer service. The new signing arrangements, which balance customer service requirements with effective control measures, began in January 2005. The following are the revised signing arrangements: customers residing up to ten miles or 16 km from their social welfare local or branch office attend that office once every four weeks for certification purposes; customers residing over ten miles from their local or branch office self-certify every four weeks and attend that office every 12 weeks. These customers have been offered the flexibility to attend at the office on any day in a designated week; a flexible approach to certification has been adopted for customers on offshore islands and other remote areas of the country and they will not, as a general rule, be required to attend their local or branch office.

These changes represent a significant improvement in customer service by enabling all unemployed customers have direct contact with their social welfare local or branch office where they can be directed to the many educational and work supports available to the unemployed.

To qualify for unemployment payments a person must show that he or she is available for and genuinely seeking work. In the normal course my Department would expect unemployed customers to take up offers of employment within a reasonable distance of their residence and to travel there on a daily basis. In these circumstances it is not unreasonable to require a customer who is actively seeking work, to travel to his social welfare local office for certification purposes once every twelve weeks. If however, any customer has particular difficulties with the revised arrangements, my officials in the local office will be glad to consider these and make whatever adjustments are considered appropriate.

Questions Nos. 290 and 291 answered with Question No. 288.

  292.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if it is the practice of his Department to ask persons for one parent family payment to provide baptismal certificates in additional to birth certificates; if this practice is in order and constitutional; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8966/05]

[1411]Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Under social welfare legislation, claimants may be requested to furnish such documents and certificates as deemed necessary to determine entitlement to payment. It is in this context that birth, marriage and other certificates are requested.

In the case of one parent family payment, in particular where a question of cohabitation arises, the baptismal certificate may be requested where the investigating officer deems this necessary. Where this arises, the need for the certificate would be explained to the person concerned and, without same, sufficient information may not be available to enable a deciding officer to determine entitlement.

For all social assistance payments, the onus is on the claimant to prove that his or her circumstances are as declared on applying for the payment. In these circumstances, it is not unreasonable for my Department to seek whatever information is required to ensure that those who most require State support are those who receive it.

  293.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved for and awarded a one parent family payment. [9002/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  There is a statutory obligation on all claimants of one parent family payment to satisfy, and continue to satisfy, the conditions for entitlement to the payment.

The person concerned applied for one parent family payment on 7 September 2004. Her claim was investigated by an inspector of my Department and following this investigation she submitted some additional documentation. She has now been requested to provide documentation regarding her means. On receipt of the documentation, a decision will be made on her claim and she will be notified of the outcome.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  294.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason for the restriction on the borrowing powers of pension funds; if he is considering the setting up of any thresholds in order that self-employed persons providing pension cover on a limited scale may continue to avail of this facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9093/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005, which was recently passed by both Houses, provides for amendments to the Pensions Act [1412]1990 to implement the EU Directive 2003/41/EC on the activities and supervision of the institutions for occupational retirement provision, known as the IORPs directive. The directive bans borrowing, except for liquidity purposes or on a temporary basis, for schemes with 100 members or more. In line with the principle of the directive, section 36 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2005 as published prohibited direct borrowing for all pension schemes, although it contained a regulatory power to allow borrowing for liquidity purposes. Following the publication of the Bill I received many representations and there was much media comment on this issue.

The broad thrust of the comment to date is that I should allow borrowing for investment purposes for certain small schemes, mainly single member schemes. The rationale being put forward is that the individuals involved know what they are doing and are aware of the potential pitfalls. There have been suggestions that doing otherwise could adversely affect pension coverage. I would like to explore the issues involved more thoroughly before coming to any final decision. I want to ensure that the borrowing issue is examined in the context of the other investment rules applying under the IORPs directive and which may, in any event, impact indirectly on any facility to borrow. Also, while I do not want to interfere in the proper running of pension schemes, I am conscious of the advice I received from the Pensions Board and of the fact that complex prudential concerns and taxation issues arise. Therefore, to allow time for reflection and further discussion, I introduced an amendment on Report Stage of the Bill, the effect of which is that I could, by regulations, allow direct borrowing for investment purposes subject to any appropriate restrictions and conditions.

For clarity, I point out that any change to the existing arrangements regarding direct borrowing by pension schemes would only apply to borrowing effected after a future implementation date. Section 36 of the Act will not be brought into force until the position on the regulations has been finalised. In making any regulations under this provision, I intend to consult with the Department of Finance, the Revenue Commissioners, the Pensions Board and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority and I am in the process of establishing a working group comprising these bodies for that purpose. All of the views and comments received on this issue will feed into this process.

  295.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of appointments to public boards and bodies under the aegis of his Department that he has made for the past three years; if such appointments are salaried; if so, the salary details for each category of appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9108/05]

[1413]Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The five statutory agencies operating under the aegis of my Department are the Pensions Board, the Combat Poverty Agency, Comhairle, the Social Welfare Tribunal, and the Family Support Agency. In addition, the Pensions Ombudsman comes under the remit of my Department. Pensions Board There were three appointments to the Pensions Board from 1 March 2002. Fees, which are governed by the first schedule of the Pensions Act 1990 as amended are paid to members, excluding civil servants, as follows: The chairperson’s fee amounts to €10,160 per annum and each board member receives €6,349 per annum. Combat Poverty Agency, CPA There were 17 appointments to the Combat Poverty Agency board from 1 March 2002 to date. No appointments are salaried. The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002 amended the Combat Poverty Agency Act 1986 to provide for the payment of fees to Combat Poverty Agency board members. This provision of the Act came into effect from 9 August 2002 and the following fee levels, approved by the Department of Finance, have been effective from that date to the present. The chairperson’s fee amounts to €7,618.43 per annum and each board member receives €5,078.95 per annum. Fees are payable to all members of the board, excluding civil servants. Fee payments are calculated on the basis of the period of time served as a board member. Comhairle There were 17 appointments to the Comhairle board from 1 March 2002 to date. No appointments to the board are salaried. The Social Welfare Tribunal There were five appointments to the Social Welfare Tribunal from 1 March 2002 to date. Members of the tribunal are not salaried. The policy in relation to remuneration of tribunal members is that a fee per hearing is payable to each member: the chairman receives €418.76 per sitting day and €63.00 per conference or meeting. Members receive €117.29 per sitting day and €58.64 per conference or meeting. Fees are payable as per sanction and approval from the Department of Finance. Family Support Agency There were 12 appointments to the inaugural board of the Family Support Agency on 6 May 2003. One member of the inaugural board has been replaced since 6 May 2003. No appointments are salaried. However, board members receive fees on a quarterly basis. The chairperson’s fee amounts to €1,904.64 per quarter. Eight other board members each receive €1,269.74 per quarter. Three board members do not receive fees as they are serving civil servants.

  296.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason rent support has been terminated in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9134/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The Dublin Mid-Leinster region of the [1414]Health Service Executive has advised that payment of rent supplement to the person concerned was terminated as she had not provided the necessary clarification sought by the executive about her household circumstances to order to determine her continued eligibility. The person concerned has appealed against this decision to the executive’s area appeals officer, who will determine her entitlements as soon as possible.

  297.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will explain the legislative base for charging PRSI on unearned income to self-employed persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9146/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The primary legislative provisions underlying the social welfare system generally and the social insurance system in particular are contained in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 1993 and its subsequent amendments. Section 17, subsection (1)(a) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 1993 provides that every person over 16 years and under pensionable age who has reckonable income or reckonable emoluments shall be a self-employed contributor for the purposes of the Act regardless of whether they are an employed contributor or not.

Section 18, subsection (1)(a) provides for the payment of self-employment social insurance contributions by self-employed contributors in any contribution year where a self-employed contributor has reckonable income in accordance with a percentage of that income, currently 3 per cent, and subject to a minimum payment, currently €253. Reckonable income is defined in the legislation in relation to a self-employed contributor as meaning aggregate income, with exclusions for reckonable earnings and emoluments, from all sources for the contribution year as estimated in accordance with the provisions of the income tax Acts. In effect, reckonable income for self-employed purposes includes income from the following sources: benefits-in-kind; income from a trade or profession; interest, annuities and income from foreign property such as investments; rent from any premises in Ireland; income from which tax has been deducted at source such as annuities, bank interest or building society interest, maintenance payments and other miscellaneous sources of income not included in the above; income from dividends and other distributions received from Irish resident companies; certain income from employment which is subject to PAYE, reduced by the amount of any allowable superannuation contributions paid. Examples of people with this type of income are certain company directors and motor-cycle couriers. The PRSI contribution is levied on both earned and unearned income.

If unearned income were not liable as reckonable income for social insurance purposes, many persons whose only source of income is unearned [1415]would be denied social insurance coverage. For instance, income from rents and certain forms of investment may be dependent on the activity of the person concerned and may be at risk with the onset of old age or death. This would be contrary to the principal objective of the extension of social insurance coverage to the self-employed which is to extend the coverage of social risks in the population. Furthermore, if unearned income were excluded from the income base, this could be used to limit liability for social insurance contributions through “tax efficient” income payment arrangements. A change in the definition of reckonable income used for the purposes of self-employed social insurance calculations would require a change in primary social welfare legislation to narrow the definition of reckonable income in social welfare legislation from that used in the income tax Acts. It could also have implications for the efficient collection of PRSI collections through the tax system if the definitions of reckonable income for tax purposes were to differ considerably from that used for social insurance purposes. Such a measure would also have financial implications which would have to be decided upon in a budgetary context. My Department has no plans to narrow the PRSI definition of reckonable income at this time.

  298.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason PRSI credit is not available to self-employed persons on the same basis as it is to employed persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9147/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  PRSI contributions are paid by employees on a weekly basis. The main rates of employee contribution are 4% standard rate, largely class A, and 0.9% modified rate, public service employees employed before 1995. There is a threshold of €287 below which social insurance employee contributions are not payable and there is a ceiling on the annual employee contribution. Employed contributors are also entitled to a non-cumulative PRSI-free allowance of €127 or €26 per week for standard and modified PRSI employees respectively. PRSI contributions are paid by self-employed persons on an annual basis. The self-employed contribution rate is 3% of reckonable income. There is an annual threshold of €3,147 below which social insurance self-employed contributions are not payable and a minimum annual contribution of €253.

Self-employed contributors are not currently entitled to a PRSI-free allowance. The “PRSI-free” allowance was introduced in Budget 1995 at the then rate of £50 per week for class A employees. At that time, an annual allowance of €520 per annum was introduced for self-employed contributors. In Budget 2001, the Minister for Finance announced a number of changes to the structure of PRSI for self-employed persons. These measures had the capacity to increase [1416]or reduce a self-employed person’s PRSI contribution depending on their circumstances. The former included the abolition of the self-employed income ceiling and an abolition of the PRSI free allowance which had by then risen to £1,040 per annum. The latter included a reduction in the contribution rate from 5% to its now current level of 3% and a reduction in the minimum payment. The cumulative result of these changes is that for some gross income levels, the self-employment contribution is higher than the employee equivalent,while for others it is lower reflecting the fact that the self-employed rate of 3% is lower than the class A employee contribution rate of 4%. At all gross income levels however, the combined employer and employee class A rate is higher than the self-employed rate reflecting access to a wider range of benefits for employees. There are no plans to re-introduce this particular element of self-employed social insurance system. However, the system is reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that its objectives are met.

  299.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason refugee and asylum seekers granted residency status are required to serve a further period of at least six months before they can avail of other benefits such as the back to education scheme, despite the length of time they have already spent in the country being prohibited from gaining employment. [9212/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. At present, to qualify for participation in the scheme an applicant must be, inter alia, in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for at least six months if pursuing a second level course of study. The qualifying period for third level courses of study was increased from six months to 15 months for new applicants from September 2004. When I became Minister I had a review of the scheme carried out. As a result of this review I announced that the qualifying period is to be reduced from 15 months to 12 months from September 2005.

The requirement to be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for a minimum period of time has always been a feature of the back to education allowance scheme and is considered necessary in order to ensure that limited resources are targeted at those who are most in need of second chance education. The scheme is intended to assist people with a history of long-term dependence on social welfare and is a recognition of the special difficulties which such persons can face when attempting to equip themselves for the [1417]modern labour force. Asylum seekers are ordinarily paid a direct provision allowance by the health boards pending a decision on their right of residency. This allowance is not considered to be a relevant qualifying payment, nor can it count towards a relevant qualifying period for the back to education allowance scheme. The BTEA scheme is being reviewed at present as part of Government’s programme evaluation process. The final report of the working group, including recommendations for the future of the scheme, will be available later this year. I am continuing to keep the eligibility criteria for this scheme under regular review to ensure that those in greatest need of assistance under the BTEA scheme are protected and will continue to be protected.

  300.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    further to the announcement in Budget 2005 that the respite care grant extended to all carers providing full-time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of means, subject to certain employment conditions, the way in which a carer who is not in receipt of the carer’s or domiciliary care allowance can make an application for the respite care grant; when application forms will be available and the Department from which; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9283/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  In Budget 2005, I announced that the respite care grant scheme would be extended to all carers providing full-time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of means but subject to certain employment related conditions. The grant will be payable from 2 June 2005. Application forms and information leaflets are currently being drawn up and these will be available from early May. The forms and leaflets will be distributed throughout my Department’s network of local offices and will also be available from community information centres. In addition, they may be requested by phone from my Department or by downloading them from my Department’s web site. My Department is preparing an extensive publicity campaign to ensure that all those eligible for the grant will avail of it.

The publicity campaign will include advertisements in both provincial and national newspapers as well as posters in various centres and offices. Officials of my Department have already briefed representatives of carers’ organisations about the scheme. These organisations will in turn be providing information to their members. My Department is setting up a special section to deal with this scheme. Arrangements are being put in place to ensure applications are processed efficiently and in a timely manner. As part of these arrangements a dedicated free-phone helpline will be operated to coincide with the publicity campaign.

[1418]

  301.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if a discretionary payment exists for parents with children in hospital; the circumstances under which this payment is made; if the payment is made on medical or financial grounds; the body which administers this payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9348/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive, provides for payment of a basic weekly allowance to eligible people who have little or no income. An assessment of a person’s means and needs must be carried out to determine entitlement to an allowance. Where there is a shortfall in a person’s weekly income a payment may be made to bring the income up to the appropriate supplementary welfare allowance rate. Alternatively, a single payment can also be made under the scheme to meet an unforeseen exceptional or urgent need. Such payments are made at the discretion of the executive taking into account the circumstances of a case, in particular the financial capacity of the person concerned to meet the need in question from the resources available to him or her.

This would be the most appropriate kind of financial support available in the situation referred to by the Deputy, depending on the particular circumstances of the case. If a parent in the situation described needs financial assistance, he or she should contact a community welfare officer at the local health centre who will assess the situation and determine whether either a basic allowance or an exceptional needs payment is warranted. Neither I nor my Department has any function in relation to individual supplementary welfare allowance decisions.

  302.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the amount paid to respective consultancy firms for consultancy services in 2004; the amount he expects to spend in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9353/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The amount of money paid out by my Department on consultancy services in 2004 was €3,009,247. This expenditure is broken down in three main strands: support for a number of strategic multi-annual programmes aimed at enhancing the delivery of the Department’s services such as the service delivery modernisation programme; technical consultancies relating to the ongoing development of information technology systems; consultancy assistance in other areas including policy development. Details of the amounts paid [1419]in 2004 and the consultancy firms involved are set out as follows. A sum of €8,000,000 has been allocated for consultancy services on a similar basis in 2005.

Appendix

Supplier Name Amount
Bearing Point Ireland Ltd 1,799,082
Hewlett Packard Ireland Limited 396,971
Accourt Ltd 148,686
Fujitsu Consulting Ltd. 72,771
Nexus Europe Ireland Limited 69,031
Gartner Ireland Limited 56,000
CPL Solutions Ltd. 49,432
Propylon Ltd. 42,380
IBM Ireland Ltd. 36,300
Lansdowne Market Research Ltd 34,364
John Naughten Services Ltd. 31,545
Similarity Systems Ltd. 30,855