Dáil Eireann

14/Jun/2005

Prelude

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Freedom of Information.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Priority Questions.

School Transport.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Multi-Denominational Schools.

Other Questions.

Higher Education Grants.

Third Level Funding.

School Transport.

School Accommodation.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Defence (Amendment) Act 1993 Report: Referral to Select Committee.

Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004: Order for Report Stage.

Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004: Report Stage.

Estimates for Public Services 2005: Message from Select Committee.

Private Members’ Business.

Liquor Licensing Laws: Motion.

Adjournment Debate.

MRSA Incidence.

Child Care Services.

Special Educational Needs.

Hazardous Substances.

Written Answers.

Special Educational Needs.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Higher Education Sector.

Schools Building Projects.

Vetting Procedures.

School Staffing.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Early Childhood Education.

School Accommodation.

Literacy Levels.

Schools Funding.

Standardised Testing.

School Curriculum.

Higher Education Grants.

Psychological Service.

School Transport.

Vetting Procedures.

School Transport.

National Adult Literacy Council.

School Transport.

Educational Disadvantage.

Schools Building Projects.

State Examinations.

Teaching Profession.

State Examinations.

School Accommodation.

Children Act 2001.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

School Books.

Early School Leavers.

School Curriculum.

Áiseanna Scoile.

Grangegorman Development Authority.

Special Educational Needs.

School Inspection Reports.

School Accommodation.

Psychological Service.

Schools Funding.

Education Welfare Service.

Special Educational Needs.

School Curriculum.

Educational Projects.

Student Councils.

Joint Managerial Bodies.

Teaching Profession.

Psychological Service.

Education Welfare Service.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

University Post.

State Examinations.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

School Transport.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Transport.

School Staffing.

School Placement.

School Accommodation.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Special Educational Needs.

Computerisation Programme.

School Inspections.

Third Level Sector.

Register of Courses.

State Examinations.

Departmental Expenditure.

School Enrolments.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Mobile Telephony.

Education Welfare Service.

Student Population Increase.

Special Educational Needs.

Languages Programme.

Education Places.

Research Funding.

Special Educational Needs.

Population Figures.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Decentralisation Programme.

Official Travel.

Helpline Service.

EU Directives.

Services for People with Disabilities.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Health Services.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Care of the Elderly.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Hospital Accommodation.

Medical Cards.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospital Charges.

Health Services.

Health Promotion.

Psychological Service.

Mental Health Statistics.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Water Fluoridation.

Suicide Statistics.

Services for People with Disabilities.

National Lottery Funding.

Nursing Allowances.

Nursing Education.

Medical Records.

National Children’s Strategy.

Ministerial Travel.

Nursing Home Inspections.

Hospital Accommodation.

Nursing Home Charges.

Health Insurance.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Grant Payments.

Hospital Staff.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Health Service Staff.

Medical Cards.

Mental Health Services.

Hospital Staff.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Nursing Homes.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Medical Cards.

Pension Provisions.

Nursing Homes.

Health Services.

Grant Payments.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Departmental Correspondence.

Health Services.

Public Private Partnership.

Health Services.

Disability Bill 2004.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Funding.

Foster Care.

Health Services.

Hanly Report.

Health Service Executive.

Rehabilitation Services.

Health Services.

Benchmarking Awards.

Health Service Funding.

Health Act 1970.

Health Services.

Mental Health Services.

Voluntary Sector Funding.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Services.

Hospital Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Tobacco Controls.

Health Service Staff.

Ambulance Service.

Hospital Services.

Hospital Staff.

Hospital Services.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Community Care.

Adoption Services.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Iodine Tablets.

Hospital Acquired Infections.

Suicide Prevention.

Health Service Staff.

Rights of the Child.

Disabled Drivers.

Computerisation Programme.

Planning Issues.

Pub Licences.

Disabled Drivers.

Tax Refund.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Tax Code.

Public Private Partnerships.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Tax Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Tax Code.

Ministerial Travel.

Freedom of Information.

Disabled Drivers.

Tax Code.

State Property.

Debt Cancellation.

Tax Yield.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Tax Collection.

Pension Provisions.

Tax Code.

National Development Plan.

Tax Collection.

Tax Yield.

Decentralisation Programme.

National Development Plan.

National Minimum Wage.

Harbours and Piers.

Fisheries Protection.

Offshore Exploration.

Telecommunications Services.

Television Reception.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Ministerial Travel.

Offshore Exploration.

Consultancy Contracts.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Offshore Exploration.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Fisheries Protection.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Natural Gas Grid.

Harbours and Piers.

Tax Code.

Harbours and Piers.

Foreshore Licences.

Marine Safety.

ESB Conservation Measures.

Wild Salmon Stocks.

Harbours and Piers.

Land Reclamation.

Port Development.

Coastal Erosion.

Common Fisheries Policy.

Fisheries Offences.

Pelagic Fisheries.

Fishing Vessels Decommissioning.

British Government Honours List.

International Conventions.

European Constitution.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Ministerial Travel.

Visa Applications.

Overseas Development Aid.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Overseas Development Aid.

European Constitution.

Overseas Development Aid.

Authorised Bookmakers Regulation.

Ministerial Travel.

Sports Capital Programme.

Sports Funding.

Swimming Pool Projects.

EU Directives.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Decentralisation Programme.

Economic Partnership Agreements.

Industrial Relations.

Small Claims Procedure.

Industrial Development.

Decentralisation Programme.

Company Investigation.

Ministerial Travel.

Health and Safety Authority Investigations.

Community Employment Schemes.

Enterprise Policy.

Company Closures.

Industrial Grants.

Labour Inspectorate.

Work Permits.

Farm Safety.

Consumer Protection.

Work Permits.

Industrial Grants.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Industrial Grants.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Code.

Ministerial Travel.

Social Welfare Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Departmental Funding.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Driving Tests.

Foreign Military Aircraft.

Road Traffic Offences.

Driving Tests.

School Transport.

State Airline.

Road Safety.

Road Tolling.

Planning Issues.

State Airports.

Planning Issues.

Driving Tests.

Decentralisation Programme.

Traffic Management.

National Car Test.

Ministerial Travel.

Traffic Management.

EU Legislation.

International Agreements.

Driving Tests.

Road Network.

Taxi Regulations.

Driving Tests.

Rail Network.

Taxi Hardship Panel.

Road Safety.

Traffic Management.

Driving Tests.

Road Traffic Offences.

Regional Airports.

Rail Services.

Regional Airports.

Security of the Elderly.

Irish Language.

Departmental Correspondence.

Rural Development.

Ministerial Travel.

Rural Social Scheme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Grant Payments.

Security of the Elderly.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Live Exports.

International Agreements.

Bovine Diseases.

Food Labelling.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Direct Payment Schemes.

Official Engagements.

Grant Payments.

Direct Payment Schemes.

Grant Payments.

Forestry Sector.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Grant Payments.

EU Audits.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Suckler Cow Quota.

Grant Payments.

Milk Quota.

Grant Payments.

Direct Payment Schemes.

EU Directives.

Grant Payments.

Organic Farming.

Animal Diseases.

Organic Farming.

Grant Payments.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

EU Directives.

Grant Payments.

National Forestry Strategy.

Grant Payments.

Work Permits.

Garda Stations.

Residency Permits.

Crime Levels.

Departmental Correspondence.

Garda Vetting Procedures.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Compensation Tribunal.

Registration of Title.

Internet Regulation.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Deportation Orders.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Crime Levels.

Human Rights Issues.

Probation and Welfare Service.

Garda Deployment.

Registration of Title.

Computerisation Programme.

Asylum Applications.

Crime Levels.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

EU Directives.

Garda Deployment.

Crime Levels.

Child Care Services.

Ministerial Travel.

Visa Applications.

Private Security Authority.

Crime Levels.

Equality Tribunal.

Garda Stations.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Asylum Applications.

Parental Leave.

Visa Applications.

Criminal Assets Bureau.

Garda Operations.

Courts Service.

Citizenship Applications.

Crime Levels.

Asylum Applications.

Crime Prevention.

Asylum Applications.

Registration of Title.

Crime Levels.

Human Rights Issues.

Registration of Title.

Inquiry into Child Abuse.

Citizenship Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Crime Levels.

Garda Deployment.

Prisoner Transfers.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Visa Applications.

Child Care Services.

Citizenship Applications.

Work Permits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Garda Deployment.

Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Asylum Applications.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Residency Permits.

Visa Applications.

Community Policing.

Citizenship Applications.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Proposed Legislation.

Residency Permits.

Deportation Orders.

Adult Education.

Weight of Schoolbags.

Adult Education.

Education Welfare Service.

Special Educational Needs.

University Post.

Educational Disadvantage.

School Transport.

School Staffing.

Disadvantaged Status.

School Placement.

School Enrolments.

Special Educational Needs.

State Examinations.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Vocational Education Committees.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

School Services Staff.

School Staffing.

Youth Services.

School Staffing.

School Surveys.

Ministerial Travel.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

Special Educational Needs.

Juvenile Offenders.

School Transport.

School Staffing.

Traveller Education.

Standardised School Year.

Capitation Grants.

School Staffing.

Adult Education.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Departmental Correspondence.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Staffing.

Disadvantaged Status.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Refurbishment.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Schools Amalgamation.

School Staffing.

Grant Payments.

School Transport.

Teaching Qualifications.

In-service Training.

State Examinations.

School Enrolments.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Amalgamation.

School Status.

School Closures.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Placement.

Schools Building Projects.

Psychological Service.

School Accommodation.

Special Educational Needs.

Tax Collection.

Military Inquiries.

Ministerial Travel.

Airspace Infringements.

Official Engagements.

Tax Code.

National Spatial Strategy.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

House Prices.

Housing Grants.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Housing.

Professional Qualifications.

Register of Electors.

Breaches of Legislation.

Housing Grants.

Planning Issues.

Local Authority Housing.

Planning Issues.

Ministerial Travel.

Conservation of Buildings.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Funding.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Waste Management.

Grant Payments.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Water Quality.

Environmental Policy.

EU Directives.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Planning Issues.

Hazardous Substances.

EU Directives.

Water Pollution.

Site Development.

National Parks.

Coastal Erosion.

Local Authority Housing.

Waste Disposal.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 2.30 p.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

  1.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the number of freedom of information requests received by his Department during April 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15904/05]

  2.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the number of freedom of information requests received by his Department during May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19038/05]

  3.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the number of freedom of information requests received by his Department during April and May 2005; the way in which this number compares with the comparable periods in 2003 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19366/05]

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

Two freedom of information requests were received in my Department during April 2005. During April 2004 four requests were received and ten requests were received during April 2003. During May 2005 two requests were received. During May 2004 one request was received and 11 requests were received in May 2003.

All freedom of information applications to my Department are processed by statutorily designated officials in accordance with the 1997 and 2003 Acts and, in accordance with those statutes, I have no role in relation to the processing of individual applications.

Mr. Kenny:  I suppose the Taoiseach has to try to find a different form of words to deal with these questions which come up on a regular basis, no more than supplementary questions. When a case for a claim under the Freedom of Information Act is referred to the Taoiseach’s Department and refused, an applicant may appeal to the Information Commissioner at a cost of €150. [1414]Where the appeal is allowed, no refund is given to the person who made the request of, for instance, the Department of the Taoiseach. Does the Taoiseach think that adheres to the principle of fair play and fair administration? Will he consider looking at this aspect where if someone makes a request of the Department of the Taoiseach and it is refused but subsequently awarded on appeal to the Information Commissioner——

An Ceann Comhairle:  This question would be more appropriate for the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Kenny:  This question is for the Taoiseach, and the Ceann Comhairle knows that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The costs involved are a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Kenny:  No, the question relates to the principle of fair play and fair administration.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, it is for the Minister for Finance, even when the costs relate to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr. Kenny:  The Chair is starting very early today. There are only three weeks left.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is concerned because there are many questions on Northern Ireland and the Deputy is going outside the Taoiseach’s remit.

Mr. Kenny:  The Taoiseach is on his feet and he wants to answer. He is well able to answer the question.

The Taoiseach:  This question arose last year and the Information Commissioner highlighted it previously in a special report on the operation of the Act, which she published. I understand the Information Commissioner is more concerned about the cost of the appeal to her office than the original fee. That is the point Deputy Kenny is making. None of the changes made affected this. The cost of an appeal is approximately €150 and is similar to that in other jurisdictions. It does not seem unreasonable but it has been raised in the report of the commissioner. All these matters are examined carefully in the Department of Finance and by an interdepartmental team and this matter was also examined during the course of the year.

Mr. Sargent:  Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the reduction in the number of freedom of information requests to his Department have allowed him to bring about the 4% reduction in staff? Is the work related to the reduction in staff?

There were 80 freedom of information inquiries in the first quarter of 2003 but the number of requests is now in single figures. Does the Taoiseach see a need to amend the Act on the [1415]basis of the experience in his Department? It is supposed to underpin openness in government but it does not seem transparent to many people.

In his reply in April, the Taoiseach stated there were no records in respect of one of the six freedom of information requests. Was there a problem with information going missing or is there another reason that no information existed for the request?

Cuirim fáilte roimh stádas oifigiúil don Ghaeilge. An bhfuil an Taoiseach in ann a rá go bhfuil na hacmhainní Gaeilge ina Roinn le ceisteanna a fhreagairt faoin Acht agus an mbeidh sé ag súil le tuilleadh ceisteanna as Gaeilge?

The Taoiseach:  Normally if there is no information, it means there is no file in the Department, not that anything is lost. If that happened, I would specifically say so, but as far as I can recall, that has not happened since the Act was introduced.

On amendment of the legislation, each year the Department of Finance looks at the reports of the Information Commissioner and the interdepartmental group, and neither group has recommended changes this year.

My Department, in correspondence by way of telephone calls, e-mails and freedom of information requests, communicates in Irish when necessary. No extra staff were allocated to the Department for the additional work involved in freedom of information requests. It was taken on by approximately 18 people across the Department. It was divided out among key decision makers across departmental divisions. This is still the position but I assume it helps that less work is now involved. However, when one looks back over the records in my Department, many of them were in the early period where people wanted information. When personal information is involved, no fee is charged and people can still get that information. There has been a major reduction in the number of cases in the last 18 months.

  4.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    the position regarding recent developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17790/05]

  5.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the British-Irish Council meeting in the Isle of Man on 20 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17792/05]

  6.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18374/05]

  7.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions [1416]reached at the seventh British-Irish Council summit in the Isle of Man. [18926/05]

  8.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    when he will meet the President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18927/05]

  9.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [18928/05]

  10.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [18929/05]

  11.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19034/05]

  12.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19035/05]

  13.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting with former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19041/05]

  14.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on progress in the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19094/05]

  15.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19096/05]

  16.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    if the issue of Irish unity is ever on the table at talks on Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19244/05]

  17.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting with former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton. [19245/05]

  18.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the British-Irish Council meeting on 20 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19359/05]

  19.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the position regarding developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19360/05]

  20.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the conference on North-South bodies organised by the Institute for British-Irish Studies in Dublin on 22 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19361/05]

  21.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the position regarding developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19708/05]

[1417]

  22.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19709/05]

  23.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the number of occasions on which he has met representatives of Sinn Féin since the beginning of 2005; the figure for meetings with the SDLP, DUP, UUP and Alliance Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19710/05]

  24.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his recent meetings with Sinn Féin. [19711/05]

  25.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of the British-Irish Council meeting on the Isle of Man on 20 May 2005. [19712/05]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 25, inclusive, together.

Discussions in recent weeks have focused on overall political developments in the aftermath of the British elections, with an emphasis on the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement, a complete ending of IRA paramilitary and criminal activity and capability and the continued partnership between both Governments. The Good Friday Agreement is the centrepiece of our policy and its implementation in all its dimensions remains our priority.

I have not met the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, since his re-election, but I spoke with him shortly after his success to extend my best wishes for his third term in office. I will, however, meet him in London tomorrow. While our discussions, in view of the imminent and crucially important European Council meeting, will mainly address EU matters, we will also have an opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland. Later this month, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I will chair a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference at which we will discuss the peace process in more detail as well as our co-operation across a range of issues of mutual concern.

I understand the internal consultation process is continuing within the IRA. At this point I cannot say when we can expect this process to be completed. Like every Member, I hope that it will not take much longer. When it does come, it must be clear and decisive and embrace an end to all paramilitarism and criminality as well as the completion of decommissioning. If that happens, and recognising that regaining confidence and trust will inevitably take some time, both Governments will expect Unionists to participate in fully inclusive partnership politics in Northern Ireland.

I have had ongoing contacts with all the political parties. Tomorrow, I will meet the Democratic Unionist Party in London, my first opportunity to meet with it for some time. As the need for an open and constructive relationship between the Democratic Unionist Party and the [1418]Government is self-evident, I welcome this opportunity to renew our dialogue. I have met representatives of the SDLP on four occasions and the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance once since the start of 2005. I have met Sinn Féin representatives on several occasions since the beginning of the year. In addition to the meeting in late January, I met them in Washington on 16 March. I also had several private meetings with Gerry Adams.

Notwithstanding the many difficulties of recent months, I have made it clear that we would maintain contacts with Sinn Féin. Through this engagement, the party can be in no doubt as to the Government’s concerns and the need for a clear and decisive response from the IRA which will enable the process to move forward again.

I attended a summit meeting of the British-Irish Council, one of the institutions established under the Agreement, on 20 May in the Isle of Man. The summit had representatives of all eight British-Irish Council members at senior political level from Ireland, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The Tánaiste also attended as the main item on the agenda was telemedicine, the delivery of health care information and services using information technology. A programme of work was agreed, which identified a number of other areas where progress can be made on issues of common interest. The British delegation was headed by the British Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Prescott, and included the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Hain. I had brief discussions with them about the situation in Northern Ireland.

I met the former US President, Mr. Clinton, in Government Buildings on 23 May. We discussed a wide range of issues, including the situation in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the British elections, the importance of a positive response from the IRA and the other challenges to the peace process, such as the murder of Robert McCartney. Mr. Clinton maintains a strong interest in the peace process, as he does in other matters that arose in our discussions, including the battle against HIV-AIDS globally and the Asian tsunami relief effort. I have no immediate plans to meet the US President, Mr. Bush.

I addressed the Institute for British-Irish Studies conference in University College Dublin on 27 May. The conference’s particular focus was North-South co-operation and the implementation bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. As these issues are a vital dimension to the agreement, I welcomed the opportunity to profile the ongoing commitment of the Government to pursue progress in every way possible.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I commend the Taoiseach for the meetings which he has held over recent weeks. Does he share my frustration at the lack of positive movement from most of the parties directly involved in the peace process? Moreover, [1419]does he share the concerns of many citizens that movement is slow? Many people are becoming frustrated and are concerned that a vacuum could remain there? Where vacuums exist, there is a potential for violence.

On Question No. 16 on the issue of Irish unity, the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland support Irish unity, as do most people in Wales, Scotland and England, according to a recent opinion poll. However, this positive view of Irish unity and independence is not reflected at the talks on the Northern issue or frequently in the Dáil. Will the Taoiseach advance this noble, positive ideal on the broader political spectrum? It is an issue to which most people in this House appear to be turning a blind eye.

On the Taoiseach’s meeting with Bill Clinton, had the former President any fresh ideas or new radical proposals to break the deadlock in the peace process in the North?

The Taoiseach:  As far as the vacuum is concerned, in the period up to the election it was not possible to make progress and everyone reluctantly accepted that. In the past few weeks, we have been trying to regain momentum on the basis of progress. As I noted in my reply, that is based on a decision to embrace the issues which we did not succeed in completing on 8 December last year. These are the ending of paramilitarism and criminality as well as the completion of decommissioning, followed by an attempt to rebuild trust and confidence. As the House is aware, it will take some time, I hope not too much time, to regain confidence in the process. Thereafter we hope that everyone, particularly the Unionists, will re-engage in an inclusive process. As Deputy Finian McGrath is aware, whether we can genuinely make progress in the way we wish is predicated on the quality of the response to the initiative currently under discussion. We await that response and hope we will not have too long to wait.

On the question of new initiatives by former President Clinton, that is not his function, but he regularly keeps in touch with all sides, both here and in the United States, and receives briefings from our embassy in the United States. He keeps in touch on any matters that arise. He is generally supportive of the Administration and President Bush on the basis of a bipartisan relationship, which he is anxious to see continue on Capitol Hill. It is not his function to propose new initiatives but clearly he supports what is happening and wants to see it work in the period ahead. He is committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the avoidance of attempts to go down any other road.

On the question of statements on Irish unity, this matter was discussed in the multi-party talks and the Good Friday Agreement and, as was very clear at that time, it is two-fold. The issue is dealt with on the basis of consent and any decision to [1420]change the position will be made by a vote of the people in Northern Ireland. It was considered that after perhaps a decade of the working of the Good Friday Agreement, there would be polls from time to time, the first one taking place towards the end of this decade, in 2008.

The Good Friday Agreement has not been working as it was envisaged at that time. Hence, the reason this matter is not on the agenda or being discussed is that it has not formed the part which we wished, and that remains the position. It would be neither productive nor helpful to press the issue because it would be contrary to that to which we agreed and signed up. That is why it is not being discussed.

I assure Deputy Finian McGrath that while the issue is at times slow and painstaking, the reality is an enormous effort was made three times during 2003 and 2004. Each of those initiatives moved the process on and made substantial progress, but not enough. That is the issue. It is clear what might work. That is what we are endeavouring to do.

Mr. Kenny:  I read the Taoiseach’s reply of 24 May this year to a series of questions about meetings. In the course of his reply, the Taoiseach said he would shortly meet representatives of Sinn Féin on a formal basis but that he did not have a date. Recently the national newspapers reported a number of so-called secret meetings the Taoiseach had with Sinn Féin representatives. Having had a very straightforward and unambiguous meeting with representatives of Sinn Féin after the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank raid, the Taoiseach sent the party away with a flea in its ear to come back with a clear and unambiguous report. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether this report of secret meetings is true? If so, was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform present, what was the issue for discussion and where did these meetings take place?

If these meetings took place, does the Taoiseach not run the risk of creating a perception that the Government is tough on these matters in public but quite prepared to negotiate in private? Did the Taoiseach have formal meetings with the representatives of the Sinn Féin Party and secret meetings as well? Was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform present and what was the purpose of these discussions?

The Taoiseach:  I do not consider that I had any secret meetings. I am not responsible for headline writers. The content of that article was absolutely correct where I said I had a number of meetings. However, I had no secret meetings. As far as I am concerned, the meetings I have had are all on the record and are formal meetings. The fact press conferences are not held does not mean they are not formal meetings. I have such meetings with several leaders in Northern Ireland when they are here perhaps on other business. [1421]Nine times out of ten I meet them but we would not highlight the meetings. However, they are certainly not secret meetings.

The formal meeting in January attracted much publicity as did the meeting on 16 March. I had meetings prior, during and after the elections in the North attended only by Gerry Adams and me. They were by no means secret meetings. I would also have talked to senior members of the SDLP on the same basis.

The content of all my discussions with Sinn Féin has very much focused on the clarity we require if we are to bring issues forward. I am very clear that is the only way we can make progress and get the institutions back up and running. My primary concern in the coming months is to get the institutions back up and running.

While I do not formally meet Dr. Paisley all the time, we have ongoing contacts with the DUP through officials. At all times, we are very clear about what we are trying to achieve. All my efforts on both sides have been to try to reach a position whereby we get a certain set of circumstances with which we can run, otherwise the type of stalemate and dilemma about which Deputy Finian McGrath talked will persist. The response we await from the IRA and the type of issues that did not allow us to complete matters last December are very clear and clearly understood. It will be of little benefit having anything other than that to bring matters forward. I will discuss these issues again tomorrow with all the senior people in the DUP. My position is quite clear. I know what I hope to get in response. Whether we get that response, we will have to wait for the outcome of the IRA engagement. Equally, if we get such a response, we will have to tease out where we will go with the DUP. They are the two crucial elements for the next period.

I want to mention the secondary issues in particular because we are at the beginning of the difficult phase of the marching season. We can get confused as to when the marching season starts. It was months ago but we face the difficult phase of it this weekend beginning on Friday night. I emphasise the importance of all political leaders working to assist everybody to avoid some of the difficult issues around the marching season this year in particular. We need people’s help and support on that. There are quite difficult issues facing us this weekend.

Mr. Sargent:  As Deputies Kenny and Finian McGrath said, there is a sense of a drift in the Northern peace process. Can the Taoiseach reassure us that drift will not continue into the summer? Has the Government a contingency plan to involve all the parties which need to be involved to make a breakthrough over the summer months, or will we have to wait into the autumn for that and would such a delay replicate the long delay in this regard during the UK election campaign period?

[1422]Is it not time and does the Taoiseach not consider there is potential to reclaim the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement which was entered into by all parties in this House? Does he not consider there is a need to involve the Opposition parties more directly given that under the Constitution, the Good Friday Agreement belongs to all the people and that such involvement would represent an initiative which has not been tried since the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was stood down?

When the Taoiseach spoke at the Institute for British-Irish Studies conference in UCD he mentioned the need for co-operation North and South to tackle the global challenges this island faces. In that context, is he saying we need the institutions to be up and running and can do nothing before that, is he saying there is potential for interim arrangements, whether on the basis of civic society or any other initiative he might like to mention, or is he saying we can do nothing until the institutions are up and running again?

The Taoiseach:  I will take the Deputy’s questions in reverse order. On the last point, that particular meeting, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting due to be held, the meetings that have taken place on east-west arrangements, including the one that took place two weeks ago and the one held in the Isle of Man, as well as the one to take place Monday week show the number of issues and degree of co-operation that is ongoing in spite of the limitations that exist. The Deputy is correct in pointing out there is a limitation. That exists because of the care and maintenance agreement we put in place to keep the North-South bodies operating after the institutions suspended. There are some sensitivities connected with that which we have done our best to work around.

  3 o’clock

Notwithstanding that, there is a great deal of co-operation, effort and dialogue from trade unions to business to agriculture to cultural bodies and that is positive. I have no doubt that if the institutions were up and running, such co-operation could be greatly fast-tracked because of its potential and the people engaged. While we would have to be sensitive about their particular perspectives, I know that if the institutions were up and running, they would do much more. That is not to say they are not doing their best. I understand their difficulties. It is a very positive programme.

On the question of the new initiatives, in recent weeks the Minister for Finance made a speech about infrastructure and the co-operation that could take place in the areas of energy, tourism, and inter-trade, all of which are good programmes. I commend all involved including the officials on our secretariat.

The difficulties in regard to the marching season are the worry. As always, everybody is needed in the engagement. Sometimes we forget the marching season is always very difficult and [1423]requires much effort by many people. As I have said time and again the effort is hugely appreciated but, particularly in the South sometimes, we do not appreciate just how difficult these situations are and much of the time they are not covered. If there is not a huge level of trouble nobody takes too much notice of them. There are huge sensitivities. There is much concern this year in Derry about the proposal by the Orange Order to have its main 12 July celebration in the city for the first time in 13 years which will attract enormous crowds. This is a matter to which I and others have devoted much time. The order is continuing to refuse to engage in direct talks with the residents in Derry, in contrast to the Apprentice Boys who continue to seek agreement on an annual basis. That is a very difficult issue.

We will not get any progress on Drumcree as there is a stalemate this year. We have had a number of meetings on that issue but, frankly, we have got nowhere this year. The Ardoyne area remains the kernel of the difficulties for the marching season this year. The Tour of the North parade takes place on Friday. That is one of the reasons for the meetings tomorrow and we need much co-operation to avoid difficulties. I have had representations from many communities in the North on this issue and how it runs into the whole shopping area and into the Crumlin Road. As the Deputy will recall we were fortunate in the Ardoyne on 12 July last year in that a dangerous situation was avoided. This is the first engagement since that time. I appreciate the efforts of those who worked hard to avoid such a dangerous situation. We have to get over that period and quickly progress the dialogue. I do not see us getting it sorted out this side of 12 July, but sometime around then or afterwards we have to progress the dialogue. We are entering a difficult position between now and 12 July.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Has the Government any information which the Taoiseach can give to the House on the involvement of the IRA in the money laundering activities that were the subject of much Garda activity and publicity last February? Will the Taoiseach refer back to the business of secret meetings with Mr. Adams? Does he accept there is a thin line as to whether these meetings were secret or private? Does he accept there may be questions about the wisdom of such meetings given the belief in other quarters that such meetings can lead to various deals on the side, understandings and so on that may give rise to difficulties later? Can the Taoiseach point to anything on the record of the House, before that particular story appeared in the Irish Independent, where he advised the House about what he calls private meetings and what the Irish Independent calls secret meetings? I have not been able to put my finger on an instance of the Taoiseach advising the House of these meetings. Have there been similar meetings with any of the [1424]other parties to the peace process or is Mr. Adams the only one who has had these private or secret meetings with the Taoiseach?

Has the Taoiseach raised the recent report of the Independent Monitoring Commission with Mr. Adams at any of these meetings? I presume I can take it the Taoiseach accepts the report of the IMC which suggests the IRA is still training, recruiting, gathering intelligence, engaging in punishment attacks and so on. Did the Taoiseach ask Mr. Adams to reconcile this with his other public statements? Will the Taoiseach indicate what is his bottom line in terms of the anticipated imminent statement from the IRA? Is he satisfied that as a result of these meetings with Mr. Adams, it is clearly understood that this is make or break time for the Agreement and that either the republican movement understands that it takes the final steps into the democratic arena or it does not and that a halfway house will not provide any opportunity for the institutions in Northern Ireland to be revived and refurbished?

The Taoiseach:  I will try to answer all those questions. The investigations into money laundering are ongoing. The Garda Síochána is pursuing a number of lines of investigation but obviously it is not appropriate for me to give further details and quite a number of people are involved in that operation.

I have had no secret meetings with Gerry Adams. I have said in the House many times that despite all the difficulties, I have made it absolutely clear that the Government will maintain dialogue with Sinn Féin and this is what I have continued to do. My meetings with Gerry Adams were consistent with this. On balance these meetings were better conducted when away from the glare of publicity. There is no need for a press conference after every meeting, particularly when awaiting the consultative process. There would not be much to be said to the press.

If one were holding secret meetings, one would not meet an eminent and senior member of Independent Newspapers to inform them of the fact. The text of the article is what I said. I wish I could influence the people who write newspaper headlines because the headlines would be very different if I had any say but as the world knows, unfortunately I have no say in headlines.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach does not do too badly.

The Taoiseach:  If I ever have the power to influence them I would be very glad to avail of Deputy Rabbitte’s assistance in trying to alter them.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I am only in the ha’penny place.

The Taoiseach:  The issues we discussed were very straightforward and have been well rehearsed in the public domain. Deputy Rabbitte [1425]is correct that at all times I try to give an absolutely clear position as to what the Irish Government requires before we believe we can get the institutions up and running again, even though there will be many difficulties with Unionism in doing that. The issues for moving forward are the total end of paramilitarism, the end of related criminality, as we see it, and the issue of decommissioning being properly and adequately dealt with. It is only on that basis that we can move forward. In all my discussions we have discussed those matters. Obviously it is for me to put forward my view and for Gerry Adams to give me his views on the deliberation and other issues that are going on. However, he is in the same position as I am on these issues. He is waiting for these matters to be brought to an end.

We have talked about the IMC report and the issues involved. I have always accepted the conclusions of these reports and I consider that the IMC is worried about these issues. As I have said the paramilitary organisations continue to recruit and train. The police service and the Independent Monitoring Commission share that view. I have said this in the House on a number of occasions recently. However, I know that is also the nature of those organisations, which is why we need a definitive end to their activities. They will continue to follow this system as long as they are there, which is the difficulty. This activity places an unacceptable burden on ordinary people who just want to get on and live their lives and it also poses a broader threat to the peace process and to all our hopes for a prosperous future. In reply to Deputy Rabbitte, I have been very clear since January. I have not had that many meetings since January. I mentioned one in January, one in Washington and possibly three or four since March. I have been very consistent in my position.

In terms of other parties, on a very regular basis I deal with all kinds of people from all kinds of organisations in the North. I do not report every meeting to the House because of the difficulties for the people involved. They meet me on a private basis with the agreement of their organisations but do not want the meetings made public. In the political sphere I continue to meet politicians from different parties at different levels who are in Dublin and have something they wish to say. I do that regularly at short notice and at weekends when people are in town for other business. I continue to do that, as while it is time consuming, it is a very helpful part of the process.

Mr. Ferris:  What was the purpose of the meeting between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the British Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Hain, in Dublin yesterday? Does this signal an increased role for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the peace process? Does the Taoiseach know that such a development would be unwelcomed by people within the republican and Nationalist [1426]community throughout the island of Ireland and also by some if not many members of his party?

Is the Taoiseach aware that the DUP is openly boasting in briefings internally to its members and to the wider Unionist community that it has successfully divided Irish nationalism? Does the Taoiseach view this as a welcome or positive development? Despite Sinn Féin’s increased mandate at both the local and Westminster elections, is the Taoiseach aware that the DUP is calling for the British Government to impose further sanctions against Sinn Féin and is also pursuing a policy of exclusion regarding Sinn Féin in any future Executive? When meeting its representatives next week, will the Taoiseach impress on the DUP that the proposed voluntary coalition is a non-runner and that progress can only be made if the DUP clearly shows a willingness to embrace democratic principles and to accept the mandate of all parties as equal?

The Taoiseach:  I will start at the end. Obviously I have been endeavouring to convince Dr. Paisley that there is only one way forward. The only plan is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions created by it. That has been our consistent agenda. Deputy Ferris knows that successive Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been involved in all peace talks since 1991. The current Minister is no different to any other. That is the way it will continue, whether or not people like that. I am sure that will continue into the distant future.

I read an interview given by the DUP in today’s Belfast Newsletter and I do not note anything in it suggested by the Deputy. He claimed that in briefings to its party members, it has been boasting of dividing Irish nationalism. The DUP is only in that position if circumstances allow it and the Deputy should know what those circumstances are. The only thing that puts me on the back foot is when I must explain the unexplainable, which is difficult. When everyone from a nationalist background is following the rule of law and democracy I have no difficulty explaining things. If I have clear answers to the questions I have been asking for the last six months, I will be in a far better position and there will be no divisions within Irish nationalism.

  49.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when all students using the school transport service will have their own seats; her views on calls for the introduction of seat belts on all buses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19937/05]

  50.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the review of safety standards [1427]on school buses which has been undertaken since the recent County Meath crash in which five persons died; if a decision has been made on the fitting of seat belts in school buses; if the Government will consider the provision of funds to allow for the replacement of old buses with custom built school buses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19804/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Miss de Valera):  I propose to take questions Question Nos. 49 and 50 together.

The safety of the school transport service is constantly under review in my Department. In January 2005, I initiated a warning flashing light pilot scheme on school buses. These lights reduce the risk of accidents in the vicinity of the school bus as pupils descend where safety research has shown the majority of accidents occur. It is planned to roll out the scheme on a phased basis to other parts of the country following a successful evaluation of the pilot project. The question of introducing legislation to require motorists to stop on approaching a school bus showing flashing lights is being examined actively.

An older bus does not mean an unsafe bus. All vehicles operating under the school transport scheme are required to meet the statutory regulations as laid down by the Department of Transport. Where vehicles have over eight adult seats and are more than one year old, they are required to pass that Department’s annual roadworthiness test. No bus which is unsafe or dangerous is allowed onto the road to carry children. About 20% of the vehicles used for school transport are owned by Bus Éireann and the remaining 80% are owned by private operators on contract to Bus Éireann. The average age of the Bus Éireann large capacity bus fleet is 16 years. The average age of all vehicles used is 11.5 years.

Since 1999, Bus Éireann has purchased a large number of vehicles as part of an ongoing school bus fleet replacement programme, in order to improve the age profile and condition of its school bus fleet. The Bus Éireann school bus fleet currently has around 400 large capacity buses that were transferred from the general service fleet into the dedicated school transport bus fleet. Over 250 of these buses were transferred in the period 1999-2003, and they represent another valuable source of replacement buses over this period. This investment has produced an improvement in the condition of the fleet generally and this fleet replacement programme, aimed at replacing older buses with more modern vehicles, is continuing.

The loading of all school buses is determined by the relevant sections of the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations laid down by the Department of Transport. In accordance with relevant legislation, the licensed carrying capacity of all vehicles engaged in school transport is based on [1428]a ratio of three pupils for every two adult seats. My Department has been in discussions with Bus Éireann with a view to phasing out the three for two arrangements. The discussions have been advanced to a stage at which I can confirm that the necessary steps are being taken to commence the general phasing out of three for two seating arrangements over two to three years from next September.

The wearing of seat belts and the three for two rule are intrinsically linked, in the context of which no legal requirement to wear seat belts in buses, including school buses, obtains. However, EU Directive 2003/20, which requires seat belts to be used where they are fitted, must be transposed into national law by 9 May 2006. Proposals to extend the requirement to fit seat belts in all new vehicles, except city buses used in stage-stop routes, have been developed separately at EU level. Once the directive has been adopted, all school buses being registered from a future date, which is yet to be determined, will be required to be fitted with seat belts. The directive is not expected to provide for the mandatory retrofitting of seat belts in existing buses.

Seat belts on school buses would have to be introduced on a phased basis having regard to the logistical difficulties of sourcing seat-belt equipped right-hand drive buses. The type or types of seat belt to be fitted must be determined with regard to the differing sizes of the student passengers being carried. My Department is working closely with the Department of Transport and Bus Éireann on these matters and meetings with international safety experts will begin very soon to facilitate progress. A phased programme of retrofitting of seat belts on some buses to a high specification may also be possible depending on safety research. I will consider which proposals should be brought to Government having regard to the advice of safety experts when it becomes available.

Ms Enright:  I am not especially interested in whether the EU will ask us to retrofit school buses as it is a decision we should take ourselves. The Minister of State has overseen an ongoing review of school transport for over a year which is separate from the review initiated to consider the awful accident in Meath. When will the original review be published and has it taken into account the various issues which have been raised in recent weeks, including the three for two rule? While I welcome the Minister of State’s progress on the rule, I would prefer to see it phased out in full from next September rather than over a longer timeframe. Is the failure to phase out current seating arrangements in the short term related to shortages in funding and resources?

What will be the timescale for the phased roll-out of the flashing light pilot scheme? The Minister of State will understand my questioning of pilot schemes given that Youthreach has existed on a pilot scheme footing for 17 years. I would [1429]like to know when the flashing light scheme will be rolled out across the country. The Minister of State failed to refer to supervision on school buses. Is supervision on school buses being considered as part of the review process and will the Minister of State consider making it mandatory?

Seat belts represent a fundamental issue for parents. I have spoken to many bus drivers who say that whether they are transporting school children or sports teams, parents are asking actively at the moment whether there are seat belts on their buses. A significant number of private vehicles under contract are equipped with seat belts and use them. It is the buses provided by the State’s Bus Éireann fleet that are not so equipped. Will the Minister of State tell the House what exactly she intends to do and whether she has a process in train to consider retrofitting or whether it forms part of the review that is already taking place?

Miss de Valera:  The Deputy is perfectly right that the directive will not come into force under the position I outlined in my initial answer. I wish to proceed ahead of transposition of the directive because our interest is to ensure every possible safety mechanism exists within the school transport system. The process has been ongoing which is why we have actively considered the phasing out of three for two seating arrangements. Many references have been made to the report of the Oireachtas committee which considered school transport and made two very interesting findings. The committee recommended the phasing out of three for two seating arrangements for primary school pupils whereas I wish to phase them out completely on all school buses. While the committee referred to the provision of seat belts in new buses only, we intend to ensure all buses in the school transport fleet are so equipped.

Ms Enright:  I did not refer to the Oireachtas committee.

Miss de Valera:  We acknowledge up front that the introduction of seat belts will be phased due to difficulties of which we have been made aware through the research the Department has gathered over some time on the abolition of three for two seating arrangements and the provision of new equipment.

The Deputy referred in her question to the flashing light pilot scheme. The scheme was initiated on a pilot basis to allow us to evaluate it. While I await the official report, I am pleased that anecdotal evidence suggests the scheme has had positive effects and ensured a slowing down of buses. I wish to go further, however, as the issue is not simply one of having buses slow down. I want to roll out the flashing light scheme nationally and to ensure that motorists not only slow down but stop in the vicinity of school buses. Research has consistently demonstrated that the most significant safety concerns involve what [1430]occurs in the vicinity of school buses rather than on them.

In response to Deputy Enright’s request for figures on the number of buses already fitted with seat belts, it is estimated that 80% of the 1,200 minibuses owned by private contractors are so equipped. Only 20% of the remaining 1,560 large and medium-sized buses, of which Bus Éireann owns 650, are fitted with seat belts. None of the Bus Éireann buses is fitted with seat belts. All cars and taxis, of which there are 255 in the scheme, are fitted with seat belts.

Ms Enright:  I did not ask for that information, I asked when the seat belts would be fitted.

Ms O’Sullivan:  What we need the Minister of State to say and what the public and parents of children travelling on school buses would like to hear is that there is an urgency, plan and timescale for implementation. I did not detect in her reply evidence that anything has changed in the Department since the school bus crash in Meath. Is there a plan and a timescale for its implementation? Has the Minister of State carried out costings to assess the level of funding required to replace the fleet with seat belt fitted buses? Has it been determined in the Department whether there are buses suitable for retrofitting and, if so, how many such buses are in the fleet and what will it cost to equip them with seat belts?

While we appreciate there are constraints, we need to see that there is a sense of determination and purpose to ensure action is taken as quickly as possible. In a reply from the Department to the Joint Committee on Education and Science on 4 April 2005 following a discussion on school transport, it was indicated that a discussion document, Safer School Buses, was circulated in April 2002 by the vehicle standards section of the then Department of the Environment and Local Government, which subsequently transferred to the Department of Transport. The discussion document addressed many of the issues being considered, including the retrofitting of seat belts to buses. Does the Minister of State need to wait for further information? Is there not enough information in the Department to allow work to commence on the oldest, least safe buses and speed up the phasing out of three for two seating arrangements? The answer was known before the Meath crash which indicates a need for greater urgency.

Miss de Valera:  I assure the Deputy that there is a sense of urgency which does not relate simply to the very sad deaths of five students in Meath. The circumstances of the crash were very difficult for everybody, but the general safety of buses is and must be the subject of ongoing review in the Department. Deputy O’Sullivan admits rightly that three for two seating arrangements have been considered in the Department for some time, which is why we are able to say they will be [1431]completely abolished within two to three years. The Deputy can rest assured that if we can, we will do it sooner than that.

In terms of the retrofitting of seat belts, as I explained in the debate a couple of weeks ago in this House, I was informed by the experts that retrofitting must be done in a specialised way so as to ensure that any adaptation would be completely safe. I will meet again with the experts who will provide further information to me and the Department. I have been told there may be some buses already in the fleet that can be retrofitted with seat belts. The matter is a not simple one as we are talking about a number of different types of seat belts. It will be for the experts to advise us on the type of seat belts that would be most applicable in terms of safety on these buses.

We have been looking at different types of buses on an ongoing basis. We have looked at three different types of new buses, a Turkish made bus, a bus made in Donegal and a bus made in Britain. All these new buses are fitted with seat belts. I emphasise that it is not a question of equating old buses with a lack of safety. There are strict road worthiness criteria for all school buses. Replacement and additional buses are to be equipped with seat belts. I made a statement to that effect on 25 May and the Taoiseach reiterated this statement on 27 May in an RTE television debate.

We will be phasing in seat belts for the entire transport fleet, but as I stated, there are logistical problems in trying to acquire right-hand buses. We are doing our utmost to ensure that will happen but it will take time. That is the overall position.

  51.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason her Department is continuing in its failure to provide a site and to grant aid a new school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the further reason her Department is willing to jeopardise the future education of the children at this school by not providing them with a permanent site and building; when pupils, teachers and parents can expect an end to this ongoing saga; when the OPW will announce the location of the new site; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19801/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school referred to by the Deputy opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition. Having met the criteria for recognition and proven its viability, the school was granted permanent recognition in 2000. It is standard practice that the school authorities are responsible for the securing of interim accommodation which is grant aided by the Department, pending the securing of permanent recognition. On being granted permanent recognition, a school becomes eligible for capital funding. The [1432]rate of progress towards a permanent accommodation solution depends on a number of factors including availability of sites and the Department’s budgetary capacity to meet the level of demand.

The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a 0.75 acre site in the town. The rental costs of the site and classroom accommodation are grant aided by my Department at the rate of 95%. My Department is advised that the lease on the site is due to expire in June 2006. I assure the Deputy that we are acutely aware of the urgent need for an accommodation solution for this school, particularly given the limitations on the existing arrangement.

My Department is doing its utmost to achieve a satisfactory outcome at the earliest possible date. To that end, the property management section of the Office of Public Works has been actively engaged in seeking a suitable site for a new school building. Soil sampling is being undertaken to verify the suitability of a particular site. The result of the tests and final assessment of site suitability is expected to be concluded and with my Department in a week or two.

Dr. Cowley:  I thank the Minister for her reply. The people of Westport took to the streets recently because they could not wait any longer. They have been waiting since 2001. A promise was made in February 2002 by the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, that the Department would provide a site and permanent accommodation for this school, but that has not happened.

As the Minister stated, the lease will expire next May and a new school must be built. I have consistently raised this matter and have been informed by the Minister that the OPW is dealing with the matter and that a site had been chosen from the seven which had been identified. The board of management has been told that the work of the OPW has been completed and the report has been handed to the Minister. We have heard nothing from the Minister. The people concerned are anxious to know what is happening.

It is two weeks from the end of the school term. A safe environment cannot be provided at the school. A damning health and safety report has shown that those five tarpaulin structures are dangerous as they are falling down around the children. The playground is also hazardous as cars must turn in the playground. Currently there are 185 pupils with a further 30 due to enrol next year. The parents want to know what is the future for the school and what type of building will be provided on the site. More tarpaulin structures would not be acceptable. The parents also wish to know if the school will be built once the site is acquired. Something must be done. There is a window of opportunity and unless something is done now the opportunity will be missed. This matter has been ongoing since 2001.

[1433]People have taken to the streets. A significant number of people attended the march in Westport and they are considering marching on the Dáil. Why should they have to do this? The Minister has the report. Can she not state when the matter will be dealt with, what kind of building will be constructed on the site and when the project will go ahead? The people concerned must be informed.

Ms Hanafin:  The building will be a school building and it will be available on a site in Mayo. People are very welcome to march on the Dáil but no site is available in Leinster House.

Dr. Cowley:  Will it be a prefab or a permanent building?

Ms Hanafin:  A particular site has been identified by the OPW and soil sampling is currently being carried out there. As soon as that is complete it will be able to conclude its assessment of the site and will then be able to provide me with the details in regard to that. The lease on the school does not expire for another 12 months which provides the school with extra time to deal with its new intake of pupils.

Dr. Cowley:  A new school must be built.

Ms Hanafin:  I recognise that as a developing school it is on a very tight site. A commitment was given that a site would be provided and a school built and that will happen.

Dr. Cowley:  Will it go straight to the building programme once a site has been provided? We have been told that the OPW’s work has concluded on the site but the Minister stated it is still ongoing. The OPW stated the matter is in the Minister’s hands. The money has not been provided due to a fudging of the issue. The people need to know what is happening. The new school must be constructed and ready within a year because the lease will expire next May. The pupils must have somewhere to go. People also want an assurance that they will get more than just tarpaulin structures. Can the Minister assure me a permanent bricks and mortar school will be built instead of five more tarpaulin structures and that the building programme will commence as soon as a site becomes available?

Ms Hanafin:  There is absolutely no prospect of a school being built within 12 months.

Dr. Cowley:  They did it in Ballinasloe, County Galway.

Ms Hanafin:  I would not like the Deputy to leave with the impression that a commitment has been given that a school in bricks and mortar could be built on a site which has not yet even been acquired.

[1434]Dr. Cowley:  Where there is a will, there is a way.

Ms Hanafin:  In the first instance a site must be acquired.

Dr. Cowley:  It has been done in Ballinasloe.

Ms Hanafin:  My information is that soil sampling is being undertaken. Given the difficulties that have been experienced in Mayo in recent years regarding soil it might be very wise of the OPW to carry out soil sampling before we would even consider putting a building on a site. I recognise the needs of the school. The building programme for the next five years has a capital allocation of €3.5 billion. A number of school projects are ongoing. Once a site has been acquired in this case, it is my intention to add this school to the building programme.

  52.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the details regarding the new allocation system for resources for children with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19938/05]

Ms Hanafin:  As the Deputy is aware, a new scheme for allocating resource teachers to schools to cater for the needs of children with high incidence special needs and learning support needs was announced last month. The reason for the new scheme is simple. Children with special needs such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties are found in almost every school. It makes sense then that every school should have a number of resource teaching hours based on the number of pupils in the school.

This is a major improvement on the previous system, under which children with high incidence special needs required a psychological assessment before they were given resource teaching hours by the Department. This was a time consuming process that often led to delays in children getting the support they needed. Resource teachers will now be in place in the school from the start of the school year, so children who need their assistance can get it straight away. Under the new arrangement, disadvantaged schools, boys’ schools and mixed schools get extra resources as research shows that pupils in these schools are more likely to have learning difficulties. To ensure that every school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of its pupils, an extra 660 resource teaching posts are being put in place for next September. Some 340 of these are permanent posts and 320 are temporary posts being provided to ensure that children who had been given an individual allocation of resource teaching hours by my Department will keep these in circumstances where the general allocation to the school would not be sufficient to allow the [1435]school to provide these hours from within its general allocation.

Provision of these temporary posts will ensure that no child for whom my Department has allocated a specific number of hours with a resource teacher will lose these under these new arrangements. The majority of schools are gaining resource teaching hours under the new scheme.

As the Deputy will be aware, the need to address the concerns of small and rural schools was the reason I initiated a review of the original general allocation model announced last year, to come into effect in the 2005-06 school year. Following this review, a special improved ratio for small schools has been introduced to ensure that they are given resource teaching hours on a more favourable basis.

I stress that despite misleading claims to the contrary, the new scheme does not prevent schools from giving one to one time with a resource teacher to any child who needs such support. Rather, it ensures that each school has enough resources to ensure that each child gets a level of support appropriate to his or her individual needs. The school can then use its professional judgment to decide how to divide these hours between different children in the school to ensure that all their needs are met.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Research shows that some children with special needs will respond better with one to one tuition. Others, however, do better when taught in small groups. Often it is best for resource teachers to work with children in the classroom rather than taking them away to a separate room, as the children then have to catch up on work done by the rest of the class in their absence. The point is that the type of response needed depends on the child. While the new scheme will not prevent schools from allowing one to one time with the resource teacher to children who need it, it is important to note that one to one teaching is not the best option for every child.

I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place. As of next September there will be more than 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government is deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. In addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.

[1436]Ms Enright:  Have the students or their parents been notified that they have lost resource teaching hours in recent months? Will these hours be reallocated from September in light of the fact that the Minister just stated no pupil will lose out under the new system? Many pupils have been contacted recently to tell them they will lose resource teaching hours.

What is the number of appeals in the new system? Is the Minister aware that her Department, based in Athlone, has been giving advice to principals not to bother appealing because the system will not be changed? I am disappointed the allocations were made at such short notice and so close to the end of the school year.

Does the Minister intend to make any changes to the system? Can she explain to me the position on a boys’ school and girls’ school in the same town, both of which are classified as disadvantaged and taking students from the same catchment area?

The boys’ school was originally told a ratio of 1:80 would apply to it but it has now been told the ratio will be 1:135. It has lost out severely under the new system, yet the girls’ school has gained and has a greater allocation than the boys’ school. This seems to contradict the original intention behind the weighted system. Will these individual cases be considered?

Can the Minister change the system concerning circumstances where a school has a general allocation model with associated figures of 0.7 or 0.71 and 14 low-incidence hours, for example? If one combines these figures, one is dealing with more than one full teaching post, yet many schools have lost a teaching post and are receiving a temporary teaching post instead. It would be far more beneficial for such schools to have a permanent teacher.

I am also concerned that children with special needs under this system, especially those in the low-incidence category, are more likely to be taught by temporary teachers than permanent teachers. How long will temporary teachers be in the system? Is there a definite timeframe?

Ms Hanafin:  I will start with the final question. The temporary teachers will be in the system as long as the individual child who has the individual allocation is in the primary school. Only when the child leaves will the hours be lost to the school.

The children in the low-incidence category, that is, those with a more severe disability, are dealt with through a process that is entirely separate to this scheme. They will continue to be assessed separately and will continue to be allocated their hours separately. Since those allocations are given to individual children, it would not be appropriate to link them to the high-incidence children for the purpose of creating permanent posts. The advantage of the high-incidence allocation is that the posts in question will exist irrespective of who the individual children are. Even when the low-incidence children, that is, [1437]those with a more severe disability, move to secondary school, the high-incidence allocation will remain on a permanent basis. This is why it is not possible to link the two categories.

Boys and girls are being treated differently. I do not know of individual circumstances but there is a different allocation for boys in recognition of the fact that, for some reason, the incidence of learning difficulties is much higher among boys than girls. We have also made a different allocation to the disadvantaged schools.

I appreciate that short notice was given coming up to the end of the school year. However, it was important to make the correct decision. An allocation of 660 teachers was worth waiting for in respect of both the transitional and permanent posts. I am conscious that the allocation was made at the same time as the allocation of the mainstream teachers. Many of the phone calls received from schools throughout the country have related to all of these factors. The mainstream allocation, the resource teacher allocation and the clustering arrangements all came together. The Department has been very flexible regarding the clustering arrangements.

Some schools came up with their own solutions and ideas. These are being worked through in conjunction with the INTO. There were a number of difficulties at the outset but, from all our information, they are being sorted out. The process is settling down. The Department is working very closely with those concerned.

There is not an appeals system per se because the allocations are based on school numbers. However, we are seeking to ensure that the allocations of developing schools, for example, will be considered from September. Where schools might be redesignated under the new DEIS programme or where they fall under the disadvantaged category, we will ensure their needs are met immediately under that scheme.

The only reason children would lose resource teaching hours would be if the special educational needs organiser determined over the preceding months that they no longer needed them. However, it is still open to schools to make a one to one allocation or an allocation to small groups. Research shows that where some children do better on a one to one basis, others do better in groups. It is up to the individual school to use its resources. Knowing that the resources are available on a permanent basis is a great reassurance for a school because it knows it will be able to identify the children with special educational needs very quickly and allocate resources to them according to need.

  53.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her views on the concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its judgment of 10 March 2005 on the obligation of the Irish [1438]State to promote the establishment of multi-denominational schools; if she will provide adequate funding, estimated at €500,000 per annum, to Educate Together to carry out that function on behalf of the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19805/05]

Ms Hanafin:  On 10 March last, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination did not issue a judgment imposing an obligation on the Irish State to promote the establishment of multi-denominational schools. Rather, the committee encouraged Ireland to promote the establishment of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools.

The committee recommended that this matter be addressed along with all other observations made when Ireland submits its third and fourth periodic reports by January 2008. The Department will furnish its response on this specific observation as part of that wider reporting by Ireland requested by the committee.

On the establishment of new multi-denominational schools in recent years, it should be noted that of the 24 new schools granted provisional recognition in the past three years, 12 are under Educate Together patronage. Of the other 12 schools granted provisional recognition, six are Gaelscoileanna, five are under Catholic patronage and one is under the patronage of the Church of Ireland.

The procedures for establishing new schools are extremely fair and transparent. All potential sponsors of schools, whether the patron be one of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jewish faith or one such as Educate Together or the Gaelscoileanna movement, are treated on an equal basis. The criteria and procedures for the recognition of new primary schools were revised in 2002, based on the recommendations of a report of the Commission on School Accommodation, on which Educate Together was represented.

Applications for the recognition of new schools are assessed by an independent advisory board on the basis of the facts provided by the patron body in support of the case for the new school and the likely demand for places. Schools are granted provisional recognition and permanent recognition follows when long-term viability has been established on actual enrolments over a period.

The Department has made a number of changes in recent years which have made the provision of accommodation for new schools much easier. One of these changes, which was strongly welcomed by Educate Together, was the abolition of the local contribution to the building costs for State-owned school buildings, which had cost up to €63,500 per school. Other innovations include the development of the design-and-build model to provide permanent accommodation much faster, as in the case of the new Educate Together school in Griffeen Valley, Lucan, which was designed and built in under 13 months.

[1439]The position on annual funding is that my Department is engaged in discussions with Educate Together. The provision of some additional funding in 2005, to meet the immediate issues of concern to Educate Together, is under discussion along with its longer-term needs. The level of funding my Department provides to Educate Together as a school management body is on a par with that provided to Foras Patrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, the Church of Ireland Board of Education, the Islamic Board of Education and the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I thank the Minister and welcome the fact that she is engaged in talks with Educate Together. The organisation is genuinely in crisis in terms of its being able to run the service it offers to multi-denominational schools. It receives only €39,800 per annum. It is estimated it will spend €500,000 alone this year. The point the Minister makes that many of the new schools are Educate Together emphasises the growing costs on that sector and the fact that parents are choosing this option more and more. The second biggest religious grouping in the 2002 census is people of no religion. Obviously, Educate Together schools cater not just for this category but for people of particular religious denominations as well. Will the Minister address the crisis in their funding at this time? Will she acknowledge that it suited the State and the churches as well that until relatively recent times the vast majority of schools were denominational? However, we live in a changing society. There is a demand from parents for this type of education. Will the Minister accept that there is an obligation, if not under the UN’s decision, at least under Article 42.3.1° of the Constitution, that the State needs to provide for parental choice in this area? Will she treat this as a matter of urgency in terms of addressing the genuine needs of people who choose this type of education for their children?

Ms Hanafin:  Of course I recognise the changing face of Ireland and the trends as indicated in the census in terms of multi-denominational and multi-ethnic considerations. Obviously there is a demand for diversity in education. Despite the fact that we have had multi-denominational education in this country for a number of years, there is no evidence that any of these children are being excluded from the schools. It is important to state that, as well. In any school one may visit, particularly around the city areas in Dublin, there are children of all creeds and backgrounds being welcomed everywhere. There is no evidence to the contrary. Obviously there is a demand for a particular type of diversity in education as well-——

Ms O’Sullivan:  This is guaranteed under the Education Act as well.

[1440]Ms Hanafin:  I accept that. I suppose that is why multi-denominational education is one of the fastest growing sectors and why all of the applications from Educate Together have been accepted and promoted. The reality, however, is that Educate Together as a body, was funded by philanthropists for a number of years to the tune of €500.000. There is absolutely no prospect that the Department will be able to pick up that bill, when it is looked at in the context of the other management bodies. I mentioned, for example, that Educate Together gets the same amount as the gaelscoileanna, which is also a fast growing sector.

Ms O’Sullivan:  Gaelscoileanna get funding from a different source.

Ms Hanafin:  Perhaps Educate Together might be able to get it from a different source as well. From the viewpoint of my Department they are all being treated on an equitable basis. The only sector to get a greater amount of money is the Catholic management area, which accounts for move than 2,900 schools, while Educate Together will have 35 in the coming months. While I naturally acknowledge the demand and see that diversity is a growth area in schools, there is no prospect of being able to match that type of funding, as regards the other bodies as well. However, I am examining the position to see what extra support may be given.

Ms O’Sullivan:  As regards religious and ethical education etc., they have devised their own programme whereas in the training colleges for the denominational schools, that is State funded. I would like to highlight this area of inequality for the Minister.

Ms Hanafin:  In brief informal discussions which I had with the presidents of the training colleges, they both advised me that they are cognisant of the fact that a number of their graduates will go on to work in Educate Together schools, in multi-denominational situations. They are taking that on board in the training of their students as well as preparing others for the gaelscoileanna. They are particularly conscious of the fact, however, that they will be dealing with multi-denominational situations in the training of students.

———

  54.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the current position regarding discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners regarding the introduction of a new higher education grants scheme; the steps being taken to [1441]bring these discussions to a conclusion; when she expects the new system will be in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19677/05]

Ms Hanafin:  As I indicated in my reply of 26 April 2005 to Parliamentary Question No. 70, the administration of student support schemes is complex and resource intensive involving the processing and assessment of applications and resulting in the payment of grants to more than 56,000 students annually. Expenditure in 2004 was almost €203 million.

Student support is provided through three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third-level students. The higher education grants scheme operates on a statutory basis, while the vocational education committees’ scholarship scheme and the third-level maintenance grants scheme for trainees operate on an administrative basis. The statutory framework for maintenance grants under the higher education grants scheme is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992.

In accordance with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government it is planned to have a single unified scheme of maintenance grants for students in higher education in place for the academic year, 2006-07. This will provide for a more coherent administration system that will facilitate consistency of application and improved client accessibility. This is necessary if we are to ensure public confidence in the awards system and the timely delivery of grants to those who need them most.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department has been engaged in ongoing consultations with the key stakeholders such as the Irish Vocational Education Association, the County and City Managers’ Association, various social partners and other relevant Departments to map the most logical and effective arrangements for the future structure and administration of the student support schemes. Discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners have related to their possible contribution to the future shape and administration of the student support schemes.

These discussions have substantially clarified the positions of the stakeholders in the future administration possibilities for the schemes and their possible role therein. I expect to be in a position before the autumn to determine the best strategy to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to the payment of the maintenance grants through a unified and flexible payment scheme.

Whatever new arrangements are eventually decided upon will be provided for in new statutory arrangements through a new student support Bill. This Bill, that will provide statutory underpinning for the schemes, will have as a key objective the promotion of equality of access. I also envisage that the Bill will provide for an independent appeals system. The timescale for publi[1442]cation of the Bill is contingent on the range of issues, the subject of the consultations already referred to.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I welcome the fact that there is a Bill on the proposed legislative programme and that the Minister hopes to have some proposals in place by the autumn. I say this in the context of a press statement, dated 10 September 1997, when the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, said he hoped to have a system in place from late 1998 to early 1999. This has obviously been going on for a long time. Undoubtedly, it throws up inequalities.

Has the Minister any timescale in mind from September onwards when she expects to be able to implement the proposals? I sought information through parliamentary questions, as did my colleague, Deputy Burton, on the socio-economic breakdown of grant recipients and the latest data we have is from 2002, which is relatively old. Is there any attempt within the Department to collate that information on a more up to date basis?

Ms Hanafin:  I do not have a more recent socio-economic breakdown. It would be much easier to get that type of information if one body was responsible for collating it. However, that there are so many different groups with so many different schemes and grants makes it very difficult to collate such information. That is why I am determined to move ahead with this. We have already discussed in the House the whole capital allocation basis. If I am to wait for that to be sorted out, we will never get the unified scheme, which I believe is more important. Given the discussions we have had with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, we are now in a position whereby they will be able to help us as regards verification and anti-fraud considerations, data protection etc. As the Deputy says, the talks have been going on for some time. However, in terms of IT systems, some bodies seem to be more capable of dealing efficiently with such matters than others. We have to ensure there is improved compliance and that people have confidence in the system. I am reasonably satisfied we have made sufficient progress to be able to make proposals. I hope to have a unified scheme in place for the 2006-07 academic year.

Ms Enright:  I know the legislation has not yet been published, but does the Minister expect to retain control of this system within the Department of Education and Science or is it proposed to move it to the Department of Social and Family Affairs?

Ms Hanafin:  Our discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs would indicate that it will not end up there. It is important, anyway, that it should be closely linked to the Department of Education and Science. At this [1443]stage, I do not envisage the Department taking responsibility for it. Other groups such as the IVEA and the local authorities, are currently responsible for some of the schemes. However, the input of the Department of Social and Family Affairs will be crucial.

  4 o’clock

Mr. Crowe:  Has the Minister proposals in hand to increase the age limits for those who may apply under the vocational scheme? The current age is 23 and there are strong rumours to the effect that this will be increased to 25. Even with the age 23 limit, both parents’ incomes must be taken into account. Some of those with whom I have spoken are mothers of two or three children who left their family homes a long time ago, yet they must track down their parents or get them to fill in a form as part of their applications. Is the Minister examining this issue in terms of the accessibility of the scheme? While the age threshold may have been sensible eight years ago, it appears antiquated given new types of family formation and so forth. We should encourage, rather than discourage, this group of people to enter education.

Ms Hanafin:  The legislation will provide for the unification of the scheme. Obviously, it would not be appropriate to be too prescriptive in legislation as it would need to be amended each time one wanted to change limits, ages and so forth. It is not envisaged, therefore, that such issues will be part of the legislation. We are conscious, however, that times are changing and different needs must be addressed. The Higher Education Authority and National Office of Equity of Access to Higher Education are also examining this issue.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I have been told of students queuing in colleges to collect grants for long periods only to find their grant is not available. Will the Minister consider the possibility of providing for money to be transferred directly from local authorities or vocational education committees into students’ bank accounts?

Ms Hanafin:  There is no doubt that some councils and VECs are much better than others in this regard. Students have been left waiting even beyond Christmas for the initial grant. When I told one student president that I was aware of a student who, in years gone by, survived in Letterkenny on porridge from October to Christmas, he told me students are surviving on pasta which one can now buy for €5 for five kilos.

The current position is outrageous because some counties are slow to transfer grants. A unified scheme will mean a specific body will have responsibility which can then be overseen in the proper manner. I am anxious in the interests of students to have an accountable and fair system, particularly given the number of students — 56,000 — affected. It is important, therefore, that [1444]the €203 million spent on grants each year is properly spent and students receive them when they need them.

  55.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the main points of third level funding proposals announced on 25 April 2005 under which third level colleges will be required to compete for additional funding; the persons who will decide the way in which the money is to be allocated; the measures which will be put in place to protect independent thought and research; the assurances she will provide that disciplines important to society as well as those important to the economy will be funded; the weighting which will be given to those who promote wider access for lower socio-economic groups; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19650/05]

Ms Hanafin:  As I announced in April, the Government has approved the establishment of a strategic innovation fund which aims to encourage reform and capacity building in the higher education sector in accordance with the recent recommendations of the OECD review of higher education. The fund will promote inter-institutional collaboration to achieve a system-wide approach to supporting wider national goals; incentivise and reward internal restructuring and rationalisation efforts; provide for improved performance management systems; meet staff training and support requirements associated with the reform of structures and the implementation of new processes; implement improved management information systems; introduce teaching and learning reforms, including enhanced teaching methods, programme restructuring, modularisation and e-learning; support quality improvement initiatives aimed at excellence; and promote access, transfer and progression and incentivise stronger inter-institutional collaboration in the development and delivery of programmes.

It is intended that the fund will be competitively awarded on the basis of an independent external evaluation of the quality of proposals, with a requirement for excellence. This draws on the successful principles established for the awarding of funding under the programme for research in third level institutions. Where the PRTLI supports the development of an infrastructure for excellence in research, this fund will support enhanced capacity in the core teaching and learning function in all areas of the remit of the higher education institutions. The fund will only be allocated to institutions to the extent that the proposals received meet the standard required and achieve the outcomes committed to.

The fund will be created on a multi-annual basis. I have asked the Higher Education Authority to proceed immediately with developing detailed criteria and launching a competitive process for the approval of funding awards with a [1445]view to the drawdown of awards commencing in 2006.

The fund will be structured to ensure current national objectives are adequately reflected. I have previously identified these objectives as including the need to safeguard and reinforce the many roles of higher education and the full diversity of disciplines within it in driving economic development, providing independent intellectual insights and contributing to our broader social and cultural understanding.

The Deputy is aware that access and social inclusion in all areas of education are priorities for the Government. I have stated my belief that the economy and society cannot prosper to their full potential at the expense of any of our citizens. We need as full a participation as we can achieve in third level education. The National Office of Equity of Access to Higher Education has a specific remit to contribute to the formulation of policy in this regard and it is important that the necessary structures within the institutions are in place to facilitate the process of widening access to third level education to all.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I thank the Minister for her answer. While I do not doubt her dedication to equality of access or her concern with regard to the inclusion of the many different disciplines, many in the third level sector fear certain disciplines, namely, those more attuned to the economy than society, could benefit more from the fund. Who will make funding decisions? What type of background will they have? Will the decision-making process factor in institutions which have good equality of access programmes and ensure opportunities to participate in programmes are available to people from less well-off backgrounds?

Ms Hanafin:  The Higher Education Authority has established the process of attracting and seeking submissions. It will be for the authority, bearing in mind Government priorities and the priorities I have set out, to allocate the funding. I am satisfied that different faculties were included in the distribution of funding for the PRTLI and that there was no question of any social element being excluded. This approach will carry through in the distribution of the new fund.

  56.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the system of evaluation, which is operational to ascertain the roadworthiness of the school transport fleet, both public and private; and if she has satisfied herself that all buses being used are roadworthy and safe. [19243/05]

Miss de Valera:  All vehicles operating under the school transport scheme are required to meet the statutory regulations as laid down by the Department of Transport. Where vehicles have [1446]more than eight adult seats and are more than one year old, they are required to pass the Department of Transport’s annual roadworthiness test. In addition, Bus Éireann vehicles are subject to a programme of scheduled servicing under specified maintenance procedures to ensure the highest safety standards are achieved.

Contractors employed by Bus Éireann are contractually obliged to keep their nominated vehicle in a safe and roadworthy condition at all times. I am satisfied from information available to me from Bus Éireann which administers the scheme that these regulations are being adhered to and that, in consequence, the school bus fleet is roadworthy and safe.

Ms Enright:  Given that the Minister answered three questions I did not ask when I raised this matter during Priority Questions, I will repeat my question. When will the original review end? Was it already examining the issues of seat belts and supervision on school buses? What are the timescales for the retrospective fitting of seat belts, bringing on stream the new buses which will be required and arriving at a decision on supervision?

Miss de Valera:  With regard to the review to which the Deputy referred, we look forward to receiving the results of the three specific investigations taking place. No doubt any recommendations which may be made in the reports or anything we can learn from the reports will be part of the review. The review was only examining the three for two rule pertaining to seating arrangements with regard to costings because we wanted to determine the exact position in order to phase out the rule. This is the reason we were able to state that the timescale for the abolition of the rule will be within a three-year period. We hope it will be completed sooner than this and will do our utmost to move the issue along.

I have already explained the position with regard to retrofitting. Although the experts must advise us on the issue, the Department has been informed that some buses may be suitable for retrofitting. As I stated with regard to replacement or additional buses, our objective is to ensure they would be fitted with seat belts.

Mr. English:  This issue has been discussed for years and reviews have been taking place since 1998, yet no changes have been implemented. As part of this review, which will examine the three for two rule and the use of seat belts and so forth, is consideration being given to the possibility of using brand new, specifically designed school buses? I understand Bus Éireann tested such buses in Navan long before the recent tragedy in County Meath. The buses in question are similar to those used in the United States where it is clear that the school buses are specifically designed for schoolchildren rather than being ordinary buses with a sticker on the back. Such buses give chil[1447]dren the respect they deserve. Is the review examining the entire issue of school transport and not only seat belts? When can we expect changes? The tragedy in my home town a few weeks ago has made it urgent that we act on this. It is time to stop passing the buck, with review after review, to start doing things and make changes. What plans are there?

Miss de Valera:  Unfortunately, the Deputy was not present when I answered the first and second priority questions.

Mr. English:  The Minister of State did not mention special buses, and that is why I am asking the question.

Miss de Valera:  I did, I mentioned that we are looking at three different types of buses, as I will say a second time in my reply.

The Deputy referred to reviews. The references to different reviews and reports on the issue are erroneous. The only reference I am aware of to the three for two seating policy and to seat belts was in the report of the Oireachtas committee and we are going further than the recommendations in that report. That committee referred to the three for two policy for primary schools only, but we want to abolish the three for two system for everyone. The Oireachtas committee recommended that seat belts would only be fitted to new buses but we are considering fitting seat belts to the full school bus fleet in the long term. It is our target to ensure that replacement and additional buses will be fitted with seat belts.

We have looked at three types of bus, one of which is built in Donegal, one in Turkey and one in Britain. All these are new school buses that are fitted with seat belts and we are seeking to incorporate them in the school bus fleet.

Mr. English:  We should change all school buses to that type. There is no point fitting seat belts in the existing fleet if the Government is going to buy the buses from Donegal or Turkey, which have been very popular with drivers.

Miss de Valera:  We want to ensure seat belts are provided for all the school bus fleet in the long term. We are considering retrofitting where applicable and acquiring replacement buses with seat belts and new buses to complement the specific school bus fleet.

  57.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the amount spent by her Department on the provision of prefabricated buildings at primary level for the 2004-05 academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19739/05]

Ms Hanafin:  My Department’s records are held on a calendar year basis rather than by academic [1448]year and the information which I am providing reflects that position.

Since the start of 2004, my Department has spent €9.9 million on the purchase of prefabricated buildings at primary level. This expenditure was for the supply and installation of prefabricated buildings, including associated site works and other related costs such as compliance with planning permission conditions, professional fees and connections for water, electricity and sewage. The expenditure represents 2.3% of the total expenditure on school buildings for 2004-05. The total expenditure for 2004-05 on primary school buildings is €441 million.

The demand for additional accommodation in schools has risen significantly in recent years, mainly due to the rapid expansion in teacher numbers, particularly in the area of special needs, the growth in the school-going population in rapidly developing areas and the demands to cater for diversity through the recognition of new gaelscoileanna and educate together schools.

My Department also provides for the rental of accommodation where this is appropriate, such as in the case of newly established schools with provisional recognition, while long-term enrolment viability is being established. The outturn on the relevant subhead in 2004 was €11.3 million. This expenditure is not categorised by accommodation type and I cannot therefore readily identify for the Deputy the portion of that expenditure that may relate to prefabricated buildings.

The current focus within my Department is to empower schools to resolve their accommodation needs, wherever possible, in a permanent manner rather than relying on temporary accommodation. To reduce the amount of temporary accommodation at primary level a new initiative was launched in 2003. The purpose of this initiative is to allow primary schools to undertake a permanent solution to their classroom accommodation needs and to achieve the best value for money. The feedback from the 20 schools in that pilot of the initiative was positive and the initiative was expanded to include 44 additional primary schools in 2004. Over 70 schools have been invited to participate in this initiative in 2005.

My Department has also used other innovative solutions to deliver urgently required permanent accommodation for schools in rapidly developing areas quickly rather than rely on temporary solutions. An example of this is the new 16 classroom primary school for Griffeen Valley Educate Together national school, Lucan, which was delivered through the use of a design and build contract within 13 months.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of [1449]which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Cowley — to ask the Minister the reason the HSA is not investigating the circumstances of a fatal accident in which a person (details supplied) was killed on 22 December 2004 in County Mayo; (2) Deputy Breeda Moynihan-Cronin — the need for funding to provide child care centres in Ballyferriter, Lispole and Ventry in County Kerry; (3) Deputy Boyle — the need for the Minister to address the crisis in the provision of health services in the Cork region caused by the second resignation of a consultant from Cork City Hospital; (4) Deputy McGuinness — the urgent need to discuss the MRSA crisis; (5) Deputy Finian McGrath — the victimisation of the staff employed by the company GMV; (6) Deputy Michael Moynihan — the lack of progress on the acquisition of a site from the Department of Defence for a school (details supplied) and the reasons for this delay; (7) Deputy Seán Ryan — the need for resources to be made available in a school (details supplied) to provide a language class in September; (8) Deputy Cooper-Flynn — to discuss the reduction by Iarnród Éireann of its freight container business and the implications for the development of industry in the BMW region; (9) Deputy Morgan — that the Minister make a statement on reports of discoveries of asbestos in housing built here in the 1970s and early 1980s; and (10) Deputy Eamon Ryan — if the Minister will outline whether his Department has entered discussions with Iarnród Éireann on the future of rail freight in Ireland.

The matters raised by Deputies McGuinness, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Seán Ryan and Morgan have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Kenny:  The revelations in the second report of the Morris tribunal about the handling by gardaí of the tragic and, as yet, unsolved death of Richie Barron raise serious questions. I welcome the fact that there will be a debate on the report in the House this week. The report raises serious systems issues about the operation of gardaí at senior level and the relationship between the gardaí and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Today, the chairman of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board complained that a wall of silence met investigations into complaints.

Fine Gael believes in a strong, effective and accountable Garda Síochána. The people want to have confidence in the police force, want to see it on the streets and want to know that it is responsive to their needs so that when they call on the force, it will deal with them fairly and speedily, but all recent experiences, unfortunately, suggest the public cannot have that level of confidence.

[1450]The Garda Bill, which is awaiting Report Stage in the House, contains a number of measures that could bring about reasonable reform but the Government has failed to convince the Opposition that the contents of the Bill will meet the challenges laid out by Mr. Justice Morris. The Minister promoting this Bill, and the senior gardaí advising him, are intrinsically linked with the issues dealt with by the Morris tribunal. The decision by the Garda Commissioner to transfer five gardaí, who are criticised in the report, to Dublin on full salary has done nothing to bolster confidence that the lessons of the Morris tribunal have been learned.

Public confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has never been lower, not least because of his handling of the recent issue of café bars or his reported remarks that Fianna Fáil is a party of cowards and ruthless people, but also because of the general perception of his inability to handle this sensitive brief effectively.

I will make a constructive suggestion that the Taoiseach might consider. Everyone here wants to see a Garda Bill and a force in which the people can have absolute confidence. Will the Taoiseach be prepared to stall the Bill before Report Stage, invite a three person committee, chaired by someone with the experience of Mr. Chris Patten, to look at the Bill in terms of the Morris recommendations and fully address those recommendations and assess whether the structures for handling complaints against the gardaí are in line with best international practice? We all want to see a force that is exemplary in its standards and effective in its methods and that enjoys the full and absolute confidence of all people.

The Taoiseach:  The Government takes a serious view of the second report of the Morris tribunal, as it did with the first one. It is a serious concern for everyone that the Garda is properly administered and accountable. We look forward to the debate on the Morris report in the House on Friday. We accept the findings of the report and we will act upon them.

Last year, following the publication of the first report of the Morris tribunal, the Government dismissed a Garda superintendent while another superintendent and a chief superintendent retired. The Garda Commissioner dismissed several members of the force of the rank of garda. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated clearly the response to this report must go far beyond implications for individual members of the force and that substantial reform is required. I also agree with Deputy Kenny that reforms are required. These are contained in the Garda Síochána Bill which is on its final Stages after much debate.

The Bill provides for the establishment of a Garda Síochána ombudsman commission to investigate complaints against the force indepen[1451]dently. It will also establish a Garda Síochána inspectorate to examine and report on the effectiveness and efficiency of the force. These provisions were introduced in response to the first report of the Morris tribunal. It is also in response to the garda complaints report that also asked for such provisions.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform strongly believes that the establishment of these two bodies, together with the general reform of the Garda Síochána and its relationship with the Government, will transform the system of accountability and oversight of the force. He has appointed a committee chaired by Senator Maurice Hayes to oversee the implementation of the Bill as soon as it is enacted. The Minister will introduce an amendment to the Bill to require gardaí to account for their actions as members of the force. This new duty was identified in the report of the tribunal as an additional measure that should be introduced. The Garda Commissioner will soon outline a comprehensive package of management reform within the Garda Síochána in response to the first report of the tribunal.

There has been much comment in recent days on the disciplinary implications for those members concerned below the rank of superintendent. I have been advised that the matter is being examined by the Garda Commissioner. The transfer of Garda members from Donegal is a separate matter from any disciplinary action that may be taken against them. These transfers do not mean that the Director of Public Prosecutions may not decide to prosecute any Garda member involved. This is a separate matter from disciplinary action. We should not prejudge any decision the DPP may take.

Mr. Kenny:  I made the suggestion on the basis that if the recommendations of the second report of the Morris tribunal and the extent of the Garda Síochána Bill were examined by a three person committee with international experience, it could report by the end of September which would allow the Government to enact an effective, modern and acceptable Garda Bill by the end of the year. The Taoiseach claims repeatedly that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is convinced that his Garda Síochána Bill will work. However, Mr. Justice Morris made recommendations that are not contained in it. Given that the Minister, a former Attorney General, and the gardaí advising him are intrinsically linked with the seriousness of the Morris tribunal, is the Taoiseach convinced that the Garda Síochána Bill will be effective? Is the Government happy that the Bill will work?

Does the Taoiseach wish to put paid to rumours circulating that he had a serious row with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the continuation in office of senior gardaí? People are concerned that another [1452]McBrearty case may occur. They are worried that structures will not change sufficiently to have accountability, transparency and professionalism in the Garda. Morale in the force is down. Those men and women who do their best for the State in their public service as gardaí feel somewhat disillusioned by the wooliness that now surrounds this matter.

The Garda Síochána Bill must be suspended on Report Stage so that it can be analysed and the Morris tribunal recommendations taken into account. It can then be brought before the House before the end of September so that an effective Garda Bill can be enacted. It must be removed from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who seems to be gung ho on a range of other issues.

The Taoiseach:  Enormous effort has gone into the Garda Síochána Bill which is on its final Stages. Those key issues all Members want addressed are provided for in the Bill. The ombudsman commission will independently investigate complaints against members of the force. This was a major issue of the second report of the Morris tribunal. Many people will argue that this provision should be in place even if there were no Morris tribunal. The Bill also establishes an inspectorate to examine and report on the effectiveness and efficiency of the force. Other amendments on Report Stage will take account of actions of the force and the issue of when the complaints board meets a wall of silence when investigating, as stated today by Mr. Gordon Holmes. These significant issues will be dealt with in the Bill.

While I wish these events in Donegal did not happen, there are another 120 cases, not just one or two. All Members refer to the McBrearty case. I have met Mr. McBrearty Snr. and I understand the difficulties of the case and that there is a legal case next week. We all have much sympathy for the family. However, there are 120 cases like that one against the State and the Garda starting off against actions in Donegal. How can anyone be happy with this?

The Government wants to see tough action taken. Such events cannot be allowed happen and nobody does anything. This was everyone’s concern. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has reflected this view time and again and I support him strongly on that.

It is important that the Garda Síochána Bill is passed. The Morris tribunal is not going to end, regrettably, as all matters must be fully investigated. While some of it is hearsay, I understand more difficult matters will emerge. It will still have to be monitored. However, it is best that the Garda Síochána Bill is passed to deal with these issues. As time goes on, we will see if other amendments are necessary. I want this Bill to be put in place quickly so that we can get these mechanisms of accountability and transparency up and running.

[1453]Mr. Rabbitte:  How can the Taoiseach repeat this to the House given the facts of this matter? When the second Morris report was published, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform launched it and claimed credit for it. He then stated that the House must facilitate early passage of the Garda Síochána Bill. However, the major recommendation directed to the Oireachtas by Mr. Justice Morris was that we should review the Garda Síochána Bill, not just amend it.

After claiming credit for the report, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform created another distraction by his selective leaking of correspondence to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, seeking to blame, as he darkly thundered, those who had their knees under the Cabinet table in 1997. This is the same man who, when Attorney General, went public to say he was very displeased at the length of time it took him to extract documents from the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne. People who should know better seem to forget that the man did not become Attorney General until 1999. If he could not extract the documents in 1999, how should the members of a previous Government that went out of office in 1997, be aware of this matter? How can this be reconciled with the evidence of his own Secretary General, who gave sworn testimony to the tribunal that the matter was not reported substantially to the management of the Department until 1999? How can the Taoiseach come into the House and state with a straight face that he is honouring Mr. Justice Morris’s report when he is doing the exact opposite? The Taoiseach is betraying the Morris report and the work Mr. Justice Morris put into it by not responding to the single recommendation directed to the Government and to this House. The other recommendations pertain to managerial operational issues but the recommendation to review the Garda Síochána Bill was directed to this House.

The Taoiseach then adduces the support of Senator Maurice Hayes — the man charged with implementing it, who has stated that it is rubbish and is unworkable. How will the commission function? The Department has captured the Minister. He creates distractions all over the place with the odd selective leak, the same old style, muttering deep threats about what the Opposition should fear. The Opposition has nothing to fear on this issue. Will the Taoiseach observe Mr. Justice Morris’s request for a review of the Bill?

The Taoiseach:  Since the first report was published last year, the Minister and his Department have been working on the Bill and on the amendments to the Bill. The Garda Síochána Bill has been passing through the House, and Mr. Justice Morris’s statements have not been ignored. If Deputy Rabbitte had been listening to me, I stated that the Minister is now bringing forward [1454]an amendment to the Bill to require gardaí to account for their actions. This issue and a host of other areas which he is examining has been identified by the tribunal. Clearly, the Minister has tried to follow the contents of both reports and to set up the independent investigations Mr. Justice Morris recommends as well as an inspectorate to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the force.

These are the issues raised as shortcomings in the present system. As recently as today, we heard Mr. Gordon Holmes state in the Garda Síochána Complaints Board report that a wall of silence comes up when one attempts to investigate some of these matters. In this Bill, the Minister addresses these issues. The establishment of an ombudsman commission to investigate independently future complaints about the gardaí, and the establishment of an inspectorate to examine how the Garda works effectively are not insubstantial changes. In addition, the Minister has a host of other amendments the House will debate over the next few weeks. I do not see how he is missing the thrust of the report. The House will have an opportunity to debate the report on Friday and if Members highlight these issues, I am sure the Minister will examine them. Surely however, the kernel of the recommendations is that we must have an ombudsman process and an inspectorate process independent of the Garda to examine issues. This is not dodging the point of independent investigation.

As far as the issue raised about the years 1997 or 1999 is concerned, the Minister has stated that there was a delay in getting some of these files. These relate to matters and details the Minister has dealt with before and are statements of fact as to what happened at that period.

Mr. Rabbitte:  That reply entirely distorts what is happening. One amendment is being brought forward to require gardaí to answer for their actions while on duty. It is beyond belief that one must legislate for this. This is not the issue. Mr. Justice Morris studied and assessed the Bill and concluded that the Bill, not a single paltry routine amendment that should not be necessary in the first place, but the Bill itself should be reviewed. The Taoiseach appears to be covering up by stating that an inspectorate and an ombudsman system are being introduced. Nothing of the kind is being done. The word “ombudsman” has been attached to this commission or committee that will deal with these issues. Specifically, on the matter of what Mr. Justice Morris calls legitimate complaints against the gardaí, he has recommended a review of the Bill and the Taoiseach is avoiding that issue. He is also avoiding the issue about the dispute between himself and the Minister following the publication of the Morris report. The Taoiseach did not answer the question. When two senior gardaí were removed on full pension — one must ask the most serious questions about the discipline being imposed for [1455]the most heinous negligence on duty, and worse — was any garda officer senior to that pair asked to resign?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Rabbitte cannot state at one point that the Government is not doing what Mr. Justice Morris recommended and then state that gardaí are retiring with their full pensions. Mr. Justice Morris himself stated in the first report, of which Deputy Rabbitte asks us to take account, that implicated gardaí should not lose their pension entitlements. In Mr. Justice Morris’s opinion, that would have serious implications for the future investigation.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The two gardaí were not in the first report.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach should be permitted to speak without interruption.

Mr. Finneran:  Deputy Rabbitte had his chance.

The Taoiseach:  The second report will be debated in the House on Friday. However, Mr. Justice Morris made it absolutely clear in the first report that he believes — I am sure the same will apply to the second report and perhaps also the third report — that to take away pension rights from people who are implicated——

Mr. Rabbitte:  This is a diversion. I am sorry that I mentioned it.

The Taoiseach:  No, I am answering the Deputy’s question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It is a complete diversion.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy raised the pension issue and will not——

Mr. Rabbitte:  No, I raised the question as to whether the Bill will be reviewed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Rabbitte to allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  I will return to the Deputy’s other question in a minute. On the issue of pensions, Mr. Justice Morris stated that people should hold on to their pensions as to do otherwise would have serious implications for the future investigation of disciplinary matters in the force.

Since the first report was published last year, the Minister has reviewed the Bill. His amendments now take into account what the Minister and his Department believe would normally happen. They consider that the best way to try to improve the force’s accountability and to have an inspectorate to deal with the force. Perhaps the amendment the Minister proposes to introduce [1456]on Committee Stage should not be necessary but it is necessary that gardaí are obliged to account for themselves.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach is flimflamming. He is filibustering. What is the answer to the question? Will the Bill be reviewed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach should be permitted to speak without interruptions.

The Taoiseach:  The Bill has been reviewed for the past year. The Garda Complaints Act has been around——

Mr. Rabbitte:  The report was published last week.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Rabbitte has had his opportunity.

The Taoiseach:  The first report was published last year.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Government would not agree to a debate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Rabbitte should permit the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  There will be a debate in this House next Friday. However, the first report came out last year and the Minister has taken full account of these issues——

Mr. Rabbitte:  One recommendation.

The Taoiseach:  ——and has taken account of the ombudsman and the inspectorate and a series of other amendments that will be debated in this House before the end of this session.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach support the failure of his Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take any effective action on foot of the Morris tribunal reports? Does the Taoiseach stand over the situation, which I can only describe as adding insult to injury, where we see corrupt gardaí not being at the very least, suspended pending prosecution, but being allowed to resign, perhaps even being invited to do so and being transferred to other divisions including to Garda headquarters? Does the Taoiseach agree that it is a scandal that no one has been held to account for the Garda ill-treatment of both the McBrearty and McConnell families and other families in County Donegal and elsewhere? Does the Taoiseach agree that it is a scandal the assassination of Councillor Eddie Fullerton has been wilfully ignored by his Minister who only reluctantly agreed to allow an examination of the Garda’s own investigation and has now advised this House that he will not allow the findings enter the public arena? Does the [1457]Taoiseach not believe that, with all the evidence pertaining to collusion in the death of Councillor Fullerton and the fact that he was a publicly elected representative, a high-profile case, this is an incredible position for this so-called Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take? Does the Taoiseach back a Minister who is happy to see gardaí avoiding prosecution for framing innocent people, while at the same time this week he will seek the renewal of the Offences Against the State Act, which will see citizens coming before courts and convictions being sought solely on the word of a garda officer? To restore confidence, many issues must be addressed. Is the Taoiseach aware of the Minister’s profound incompetence in regard to justice policy where he continues to employ what can only be described as gimmicks and exhausted exercises which have proved useless in other jurisdictions, such as anti-social behaviour orders, electronic tagging, mandatory drug testing and prison privatisation? Does the Taoiseach not believe that, with all this evidence and much more pointed at the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it is time — this is a constructive proposition — to invite him to hand in his resignation and replace him?

The Taoiseach:  Disciplinary implications for members below the rank of superintendent are being examined by the Commissioner, so it is not the case that there is no disciplinary action. As I said, the transfer of members from Donegal is a completely separate matter from any disciplinary action that might be taken. This does not rule out that the Director of Public Prosecutions may decide to bring a prosecution against any member. The information in the Morris report is available to the DPP who is totally independent of the Minister. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to have any influence over the DPP in these matters. He has no say whatever in bringing prosecutions on these issues. It is incorrect to in any way blame the Minister on these issues.

As I said, last year there were dismissals and resignations from the force when the first report came out. Following the recent report, two members at superintendent level have indicated that they will retire. The Garda Commissioner said that not only will he shortly bring forward disciplinary actions but he will also outline a comprehensive package of management reforms. None of those issues is being ignored.

On the late Councillor Eddie Fullerton from Buncrana, the family has asked the Department to look at the case and I am aware of its long-held views on issues of collusion. I have no doubt those matters will be considered by the Minister.

I repeat that issues of accountability and of appointing an ombudsman were considered at length following the first report as were the options in respect of a complaints procedure. The Government considered all the options and came down in favour of a three-person ombudsman commission because with police ombudsman [1458]institutions there does not have to be a single person in charge and the complaints systems in other states have commissions with more than one person sitting on them — there are nine commissioners in the UK. Having a three-person commission, therefore, increases the chances of having an internal debate, which is welcome, before a decision is taken on matters of complaint. This is a considerable strengthening of the process that is there. It will certainly help matters in the future. The House should, and will, support these proposals.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Taoiseach’s defence of the Minister will rest very uncomfortably with many on the Government backbenches who have clearly flexed themselves in regard to the Minister’s recent kite-flying vis-à-vis café bars. I am sure they feel the same disdain in regard to much of what the Minister says, many of them certainly on his utterances on asylum seekers because those utterances have clearly fuelled bigotry and racism. Does the Taoiseach agree with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform’s statement on last night’s “Questions & Answers” programme that immigration is all about money? Does he not agree it is all about people?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question is about the Morris tribunal and it is not appropriate to raise a second matter.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  If it has not been apparent, my question is about the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I have covered a number of issues in regard to this gentleman’s portfolio and area of responsibility. Is the Taoiseach not also concerned about the deportation of children who are Irish citizens? What will happen when these children come of age——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That question does not arise. The question is about the Morris tribunal.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am sorry, the question is not about the Morris tribunal.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot raise other matters.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am the author of the question during Leaders’ Questions, a Cheann Comhairle, not you, and it is my prerogative to ask a question of my choice.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is clear under Standing Orders that one topical issue may be raised.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  One topical issue is the conduct and suitability of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the fact that the evidence I have highlighted demonstrates he is clearly unfit for that office. Will it not be the case [1459]that we will see young Irish-born citizens taking cases against this State and a future Government will clearly have to face the consequences of the Minister’s actions? How does the Taoiseach explain the Minister’s absence during the course of the entire Disability Bill through the House? He was not even here to participate in a Bill that bore his name——

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

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——nor did he vote.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Your time has concluded.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am concluding.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot go over different topical issues.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am talking about the same issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  You are not.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister did not even vote on a Bill that bore his name.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy raised a question on the Morris tribunal.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This is not about resignation, it is time the Taoiseach had the courage to dismiss him.

Mr. Morgan:  Do not try to defend the Minister, a Cheann Comhairle, he is not worthy of it.

Mr. Howlin:  It should be put to a vote at the parliamentary party meeting.

The Taoiseach:  Many questions were asked and I will give a short answer.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Taoiseach should answer the last question.

The Taoiseach:  It is fairly obvious that Deputy Ó Caoláin does not like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  He has a lot of company. The Taoiseach should look over his shoulder.

The Taoiseach:  I believe that the Minister acted properly in regard to all the matters raised and I fully support him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of notices under Standing Order 31.

[1460]Mr. Crawford:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss an issue of urgent local and national importance, namely, the urgent need for the return of Nkechi Okolie and her three children to Castleblayney, County Monaghan, which was refused in Dáil Éireann on 22 March. The facts highlighted by “Prime Time” last Thursday night show clearly the need to bring this mother and her three children home to Castleblayney.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of national importance and concern, namely, the allegations of victimisation of staff at a company, breaches of basic employee rights, staff being expected to work between eight and ten weeks without payment, allegations of sexual harassment and the urgent need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to investigate these serious complaints and the need for the truth to come out on this important matter.

Mr. Boyle:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise an issue of urgent public importance, namely, that the Minister for Health and Children address the crisis in the provision of health services in the Cork region caused by the second resignation in as many months of a consultant from a Cork city hospital for reasons of inadequate support services.

Mr. Healy:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of urgent national importance, namely, the rip-off of PAYE taxpayers by the cynical reduction of the amount of refuse charge payment allowable against income tax to €195 per annum when refuse charges now run at an average of €350 per annum and to allow the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make a statement on the matter.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss an issue of urgent national importance, namely, the reduction by Iarnród Éireann of its freight container business and of the progressive cut back in its overall freight business and the consequent implications for the development of industry in the Border, midland and west region.

Mr. Morgan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of urgent public concern, namely, the fact that so-called targeted supply subsidies such as sections 23 and 50 tax reliefs are having a serious negative impact on the ability of people, in particular first time buyers, to secure housing in their own communities by contributing to house price inflation by increasing demand from investors and the necessity for the relevant Ministers to explain to the House why they failed to [1461]act once the negative impact of these tax reliefs became evident.

Mr. Neville:  I seek to move the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of urgent national importance, namely the absence of a sexual assault medical unit available in the mid-west region, the consequent need for rape victims from the region to travel to Cork for forensic examination in the aftermath of an attack and the refusal of the Department of Health and Children to finance the unit on a 50:50 basis with the Health Service Executive in the mid-west.

Dr. Cowley:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of major national importance, namely the continuing loss of life on our roads due to the grossly underestimated effect of road conditions and road works on fatal and serious road traffic accidents and to demand that the NRA, the HSA and local authorities properly carry out their statutory responsibilities.

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

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 13, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a report by the Minister for Defence pursuant to section 4 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993; No. 20, Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 21, Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 13 shall be decided without debate. Private Members’ business shall be No. 51, motion re licensing of café bars.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 13, motion re referral to select committee, to be decided without debate, agreed?

Mr. Sargent:  It is not agreed. No. 13, which relates to the involvement of the Irish Army in the United Nations, is a motion which I and the Green Party consider needs to be debated in this House, on the basis of consistency. If the Dáil is required to provide approval for the role of the Irish Army, it seems obvious and logical that we should also debate the role of the Army, taking an interest in its important activities overseas.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 13 without debate be agreed”, put and declared carried.

[1462]Mr. Kenny:  I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions. The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill went through the Seanad last December and it was supposed to be before this House last month. Given that I understand there are only three sitting weeks remaining, is it likely that Bill will arrive here before the summer recess?

I note from newspaper reports the intention of the Government Whip to introduce shortly proposals on Dáil reform. When the Taoiseach answers questions on Leaders’ Questions Ministers have been known to whisper or pass notes to him. It seems the Whip is proposing it will become a Ministers’ question time instead of a Leaders’ question time. When does the Taoiseach propose to introduce proposals for Dáil reform and will they include the Taoiseach’s attendance here on Thursday mornings? He will be absent tomorrow and Thursday, and I understand the reason for that, but he will have only four more appearances here before he will glide off into the sunset of the summer. Now that the Minister for Defence is back from Kosovo I suppose the Taoiseach will be reinforced in the security that surrounds him.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister came by Oola.

The Taoiseach:  On the Deputy’s first question on the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill, it will not be ready before the summer, it will be the autumn before it is completed.

Mr. Stagg:  On the matter of Dáil reform——

The Taoiseach:  On the Dáil reform proposals, I understand they are the subject of discussion between the Whips.

Mr. Stagg:  They are the subject of announcements by the Taoiseach’s Whip.

The Taoiseach:  There were no announcements.

Mr. Stagg:  I read them in a newspaper.

The Taoiseach:  A proposal was put forward that in addition to Leaders’ question time, Ministers would deal with other topical issues. That sounded like a sensible proposal, rather than taking some of these issues on the Adjournment at 11 p.m., but that is a matter for Members to discuss. I will be here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but I will not be here on Thursday.

Mr. Kehoe:  The Taoiseach will not open any café bars.

The Taoiseach:  Not a hope. As long as I can get a drink in a restaurant, I will be happy. What I outlined is the subject of the proposals. It is purely a matter for the House whether it wants to reach agreement on that, otherwise we will continue as at present. There are some good proposals and it would be useful if the Whips could [1463]complete their consideration of them so that in the autumn session we can deal with them. I will not seek parity with that of Prime Ministers in other countries and only come to Parliament every six or seven weeks. I am happy to come in here.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Rabbitte:  That is just as well as a number of them are on very shaky ground.

The Taoiseach will remember telling the House that if the Minister, Deputy Martin, had read his brief it would have saved the country €50 million. The Tánaiste told us on 12 May that failure to sign regulations was costing approximately €12 million a month — that amounts to approximately €144 million a year. If the Minister, Deputy Martin, had read his papers, he would have saved the Taoiseach the best part of two years——

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

Mr. Rabbitte:  I do, Sir. I anticipated the Ceann Comhairle would ask me that. The Tánaiste said on 12 May that she would be signing the regulations next week, but to the best of my knowledge, they have not been signed. When is it proposed to sign them?

The Taoiseach:  I do not have a date. I will have to check with the Tánaiste when the regulations are to be signed.

Mr. Sargent:  Given that the Taoiseach is heading to Brussels for the European Council meeting — he will be absent from the Dáil between now and then effectively — and that the Twenty-Eight Amendment of the Constitution Bill has been published, would it not be logical that the House would have an opportunity——

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

Mr. Sargent:  ——at least to be consulted in advance of the meeting with the other Heads of State? How can he represent this Parliament otherwise?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Crawford.

Mr. Sargent:  Will the Taoiseach allow us that opportunity?

An Ceann Comhairle:  A debate on that matter is not promised.

Mr. Boyle:  The Bill is promised.

Mr. Sargent:  The Bill has been published. Will the Ceann Comhairle facilitate the Taoiseach to answer the question?

[1464]Mr. Boyle:  Will we debate the Bill?

The Taoiseach:  It will be taken this week.

Mr. Sargent:  That is disgraceful.

Mr. Crawford:  In light of the ongoing problems in the health service, when will the health Bill and the nurses amendment Bill be discussed in the Dáil?

Will the Taoiseach congratulate Kevin McBride on beating the odds given in the media?

The Taoiseach:  The health Bill, which is to provide for the establishment of the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Social Services Inspectorate on a statutory basis, will be before the House this year. The nurses amendment Bill is to update the provisions on the regulation of nurses and midwives. I do not have a date for the introduction of that Bill.

Mr. Howlin:  When will a Bill that has been promised by two consecutive Ministers over a period of three years, the work permits Bill, be published and brought before the House? Is there a prospect that it might be debated before the Dáil goes into recess.

The Taoiseach:  It is to be published this session, although I do not know if we will reach it.

Mr. Howlin:  In the next three weeks.

The Taoiseach:  Yes, I understand it is almost ready.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister for Health and Children recently signalled her intention to provide yet further resources for the private health industry, that is, the provision of land adjacent to public hospitals for private hospital facilities. Will this require legislation and, if so, when does the Taoiseach expect it will be introduced?

The Taoiseach:  Not at this stage. When it is formally cleared by Government it may require legislation but at this stage no legislation is promised.

Mr. Durkan:  I was going to ask the Taoiseach for a progress report on the beauty treatment but perhaps we should wait to see how it progresses and I was going to inquire what it entails but it is not promised legislation just yet.

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

Mr. Durkan:  I was wondering what process it followed such as whether it was eyeliner to raise the eyebrows of ministerial colleagues or whatever. I advise the Taoiseach to be careful of the vanishing cream.

  [1465]5 o’clock

In regard to promised legislation, the energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill has been promised for some time with little energy attached to progressing it. The Minister with responsibility for that area, like many other Ministers, is not present. Is it intended to debate it in the House before the recess? Is there any intention to bring the national oil reserves agency Bill before the House as a matter of urgency, energy being a moot subject at present with energy prices rising at an alarming rate?

The Taoiseach:  The energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will be published this session and the national oil reserves agency Bill will be published in the autumn.

Ms Burton:  Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to study the recent comments of the judge who described it as extraordinary that the Government gave a €62 million public asset to——

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

Ms Burton:  I have.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should come to the legislation as time is moving on.

Ms Burton:  This is a €62 million asset.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter does not arise. I call Deputy Cowley.

Ms Burton:  The Government has promised legislation, namely, the Abbotstown sports campus development authority Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach should respond on that Bill.

Ms Burton:  If we do not get an answer on this issue we will think the Taoiseach’s make-up——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to answer her question on the legislation.

The Taoiseach:  The legislation will be published this session.

Dr. Cowley:  People going about their business and breaking no laws are put in mortal danger and many young people have been killed.

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

Dr. Cowley:  I have.

An Ceann Comhairle:  What is the legislation?

[1466]Dr. Cowley:  Many more will be killed because of the failure to implement basic regulations and the failure to investigate these cases.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Gilmore.

Dr. Cowley:  Is there any upcoming legislation to ensure these basic regulations are adhered to by the National Roads Authority, the Health and Safety Authority and the local authorities?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should name the legislation on which he wants an answer.

Mr. Gilmore:  On the previous occasion I asked the Taoiseach about the possibility of a debate on the many reports on housing published in the past two years, he indicated that the Government was preparing some proposals in this area. Has the Government concluded its preparation of these proposals, will they be brought before the House and will we have a debate on the various housing reports before the end of the session?

The Taoiseach:  I hope the Government’s work in this area will be finished before the end of the session but I cannot be certain. I accept I promised the Deputy a debate.

Mr. Gilmore:  Is this a promise the Taoiseach will keep?

The Taoiseach:  I keep them all. We will try to have it finished before the end of the session. As I said previously, I would prefer to have the debate when the proposals have been prepared but if that is not possible, we can debate the reports in any event. I will try to have the proposals prepared before the break.

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

That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approve the report by the Minister for Defence pursuant to section 4 of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 11 November 2004, be referred to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, in accordance with paragraph (1) of the Orders of Reference of that committee, which, not later than 28 June 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 Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Ms Burton:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, line 6, to delete “and Terms of Employment”.

The Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts deal only with notice and no longer deal with terms of employment. Terms of employment are dealt with in a separate Act, the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994. Therefore, we are seeking to amend the collective citation to delete the misleading reference to terms of employment.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  It would appear that the purpose of this amendment is to provide for a change in the name of the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2001. We approached the Attorney General’s office on this matter and were advised that the citation used in section 1(4) of the Bill is correct. While it is the case that sections 9 and 10 of the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973 relating to terms of employment have been repealed by the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994, the Title of the 1973 Act remains unchanged. This is due in part to the fact that there are a number of subsequent pieces of employment legislation containing provisions which directly relate back to the 1973 Act, certain sections of which are to be construed as part of that Act. In any event the Title of legislation cannot be amended retrospectively on the basis that the citation contained in the Bill is correct. Therefore, I cannot accept the Deputy’s proposed amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 1a and 18 are related and may be discussed together.

Mr. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 1a:

“4.—The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following new section after section 4:

‘4A.—The Minister for Finance shall on 31 March 2005 and annually thereafter, cause a report relating to modernisation and human resource management in the public service to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas detailing—

[1468]

(a) the progress in delegating responsibility to local managers,

(b) the targets and accountability systems relating to delegated responsibility,

(c) the performance appraisal systems and associated procedures for promotion, reward or tendering,

(d) the opening up of competition for posts,

(e) the human resource management effects of relocation, and

(f) progress made in the strategic management initiative.’.”.

This amendment goes to the heart of the Civil Service Regulation Bill which sets about modernising the system of management within the public service in order that we will have proper strategic accountability from the public service. Most of us were amazed that the Bill we are debating is designed to implement legislation passed in 1997. Clearly there is a problem with the speed with which the reform process is occurring within Departments. My amendment seeks to have laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas each year a report relating to modernisation and human resource management in the public service that would set out the progress in delegating responsibility to local managers, the targets and accountability systems relating to delegated responsibility, the performance appraisal systems and associated procedures for promotion, reward or tendering, the opening up of competition for posts, the human resource management effects of relocation, and progress made in the strategic management initiative.

The reason it is important to debate the matter again on Report Stage is that the Taoiseach had an assessment conducted by the PA consulting group in March 2002. Even the greatest fans of the public service would say this was a poor report. Right across the board there was damning evidence that the momentum for serious strategic management reform had been lost. Page after page cited a lack of adequate understanding, processes and delegation. There were serious problems. That was in 2002 and undoubtedly things have moved on.

Recently we had before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service those senior public servants dealing with strategic management. Without seeking to put words into people’s mouths, a consensus emerged that the strategic management initiative had not succeeded in putting high level targets in place for which people would be accountable. We were not seeing the level of progress nor was there a level of buy-in in the system nor teeth to make it happen. Against this background the responsibility falls on the Oireachtas to create the momentum for that sort of change and to strengthen the hand of [1469]many in the public service who want to see progress on this front. They want a modern human resource strategy that will promote people on merit, will not restrict positions because it is muggins turn and will not turn away innovation coming from outside the public sector. It is important that this House and also the Minister of State takes its courage in its hands. The Minister comes from a party which has a strong commitment to reform and to breaking the mould, in that party’s own words. Most people agree the mould has not been sufficiently broken to allow a modern approach to public service management, accountability and decisions.

I regard it as alarming that the Government expenditure review process had ground to an ignominious halt. The important issues of delivery of service and giving good value for money had been allowed to be put onto the back burner. To give the Department of Health and Children a complete exemption from any expenditure review is in my view a condemnation of the approach to public spending. This matter was the subject of a good debate and the Minister of State on Committee Stage admitted the need for more momentum in this area. I am hopeful he will accept this amendment which I am sure he has discussed with his colleagues in Government.

At his recent appearance before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service the Taoiseach gave us to believe that his commitment was to see far greater reporting of this nature to the Oireachtas. This is the time for the Minister of State to step up to the plate and accept it is time for change. The acceptance of these amendments is as good a way as any for starting the momentum of change.

Mr. Boyle:  My amendment No. 18 has been grouped for discussion with Deputy Bruton’s amendment No. 1a. While his amendment is comprehensive in its scope, my amendment seeks to address an issue which is at the core of this Bill but also a core means of defining the Civil Service and enabling it to be modernised. One of the many difficulties associated with the reform of the Civil Service is the failure to address the central philosophy that the Civil Service can and should be generalist in its make-up. We live in a fast-changing society where specialisms are required more frequently. My amendment proposes the Minister of State should present an annual report on the proportion of civil servants in specialist grades and who undertake specialist functions on behalf of the State.

This is increasingly a matter of more importance as the Minister of State is probably finding out daily when he surveys the wreck that is the Government’s decentralisation policy. Those who apply for positions outside the Dublin area are hopelessly mismatched against positions requiring to be filled in various locations. Without an effective audit of the specialised and general skills within the Civil Service, the fear is that not only [1470]will the Civil Service be spread-eagled across the country in different locations but it will be quite unbalanced in terms of the skills of the people in Departments and State agencies.

The Minister of State should accept this amendment because it is vital for the future health of the Civil Service to have civil servants in specialised grades. This failure of recognition has caused significant sums of money to be lost in the past. I speak as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. Issues as wide-ranging as residential institutions redress and the failure to properly account for the granting of medical cards to the over-70s show a lack of people with negotiating skills or skills vital to the business of Government. My understanding is there are no more than three people in the whole Civil Service employed in actuarial roles, one of whom works for the Pensions Board, the second in the Department of Social and Family Affairs and I presume the third can be found in the Department of Finance. There does not even seem to be a template in existence of what specialisations are needed in the Civil Service. This Bill does not define which specialisations might be required in the future, nor how they can be accounted and planned for and is therefore flawed legislation unless this amendment is accepted. On those grounds I am anxious to hear the Minister of State’s response and whether he is willing to accept this amendment and avoid future misexpenditure, which is the grammatically incorrect but proper term. Lack of appropriate political leadership has seen money being misspent by the Civil Service in the recent past. There is a need to have people with specialised skills in place to serve the country and the Civil Service in the future.

Ms Burton:  I support the amendments proposed by Deputies Bruton and Boyle. It is fortunate the House is taking Report Stage of this Bill in the aftermath of what we now know as a result of the Morris report, the Travers report, the ongoing information which is slowly but surely emerging about the national aquatic centre and the structures adopted to give a €62 million public asset to a company originally registered in the British Virgin Islands with a share capital of €127. What my two colleagues are asking for in their amendments is perfectly reasonable and sensible. It is particularly so in the context of last week’s report by the Ombudsman which has shown that the Freedom of Information Act has pretty well collapsed, as this Government intended. With the collapse of freedom of information under the Fianna Fáil — PD Government and the closing of the light, it should be remembered the opening of the concept of accountability in freedom of information was a critical feature of this country beginning to prosper from 1994 onwards. This was a period of opening up and of letting in the light.

The Government proposes in this Bill to shift the power of firing significantly to the senior ech[1471]elons of public service management, but — this is significant — there is no corresponding provision for public accountability of the performance of those senior Civil Service managers. By closing off the Freedom of Information Act and the right to information, whether by citizens, journalists or by Members of the Dáil, there is a concentration of power without accountability in the hands of Ministers and in particular in the hands of senior Civil Service managers. I will happily support these amendments.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I also support both amendments. However, along with Deputy Boyle, I am somewhat at a loss in not having a copy of amendment No. 1a. While these amendments may have been placed in our pigeonholes while we were here for earlier business, would it be possible that they could be circulated? Having listened to Deputy Bruton’s contribution I accord with what he said. I also support the proposition of Deputy Boyle.

Without repeating what has been said, we need a greater and clearer profile of all who work within the Civil Service. The proposal for an annual report to indicate the breakdown of those with specialist responsibility would be useful and would better inform Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is critical to have a sense of the number and proportion of the overall Civil Service employment coded as specialists and with specialist responsibility, and the projections for same for future years. I support the amendments as presented and I thank the usher for the distribution of a copy of amendment No. 1a as referred to.

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputies’ proposals seek to introduce an additional system to monitor progress on the agenda for modernisation and human resource management across the Civil Service. As Deputy Bruton said, we had a substantial debate on the issue on Committee Stage at which time I said that we already have a comprehensive and elaborate structure for monitoring progress in these and other areas of the modernisation programme. These have been introduced under the Civil Service modernisation programme, which sets out an accountability framework for Departments and offices. I am satisfied this is appropriate for the structure and nature of Civil Service modernisation.

The framework is set out in the Public Service Management Act 1997 which provides that the Secretary General or head of office must prepare and submit to the Minister a strategy statement in respect of the Department or scheduled office every three years or whenever a new Minister is appointed. Under the Act, annual progress reports on the implementation of the strategy statement must be submitted to the Minister. This system, while providing a legislative framework for monitoring performance, also allows Depart[1472]ments the flexibility to update and change priorities continually in response to specific demands. We clearly already have a well embedded and effective framework for accountability, which is examined and strengthened on an ongoing basis. By specifying the areas where Departments and offices should report on progress, the Deputy’s proposal would constitute an excessively inflexible and bureaucratic reporting mechanism.

I would like to comment briefly on the progress that has been made and the monitoring arrangements in place in respect of some of the areas mentioned in Deputy Bruton’s amendment. The amendment refers to progress in respect of delegation to line managers. The extent of devolution is a matter to be decided by individual organisations as it differs depending on the size and structure of the organisation and the nature of the policy issues involved. Reporting in this area would be particularly burdensome as different levels of delegation are appropriate in the areas of human resource management and financial management.

Similar issues arise with Deputy Boyle’s amendment. The Civil Service employs specialists as and when required. Needs differ from Department to Department and from office to office, and management must have the flexibility to determine the skills required to carry out the business of the organisation on an ongoing basis in line with the devolved reporting structures I have just set out. It would therefore be unduly restrictive to the work of Civil Service organisations to require the Minister for Finance to announce annual targets for the employment of such staff.

The amendment also includes a reference to targets and accountability systems relating to delegated responsibility. Departments and offices have installed management information systems and human resource management systems which are necessary to ensure increased accountability and which will facilitate further delegation. Progress in respect of both these systems is monitored frequently by a number of different bodies, including my Department, and the implementation group of Secretaries General. Additionally, given the high priority of strengthening the financial management information available, each Department makes quarterly reports to departmental management advisory committees and to the central management information framework unit in the Department of Finance as well as biannual reporting to Government.

Strong emphasis is placed on strengthening the accountability framework in place in the Civil Service through improvements to the budgetary process. Following his announcement in the budget for 2005, the Minister for Finance is considering a number of options which will improve the quality of debate and the data available to the House on the budget and the Estimates. Developments in respect of the management information framework, the expenditure review [1473]initiative and the pilot project on resource allocation and business planning will inform this process. The increasing focus on the use of outputs and outcomes in accounting for public expenditure will contribute to strengthening further the accountability framework in the Civil Service.

The amendment also referred to progress on performance appraisal. This is monitored on an ongoing basis centrally by the implementation group. Additionally, a comprehensive report, Evaluation of the PMDS in the Civil Service, was recently published by Mercer Human Resource Consultants, and is available to the public. Following the survey, it has been agreed to link the performance management and development system with other HR processes such as increments, promotion and progression to higher salary scales. This will considerably strengthen the focus on accountability at individual level.

The amendment also suggested that progress regarding opening posts to non-civil servant applicants should be included in an annual report. Progress in this area is already monitored by my Department. Progress has been made since the provision was agreed as part of Sustaining Progress and we continue to work on the matter.

These examples illustrate that sufficient mechanisms are in place to monitor progress in the areas proposed by the Deputies. The accountability framework in place under the strategic management initiative, which includes the Public Service Management Act 1997, strategy statements, annual reports and PMDS, puts in place the framework for assigning accountability at all levels of the organisation. It is more appropriate to build on and strengthen existing arrangements, as we are doing in respect of the budgetary process, for example, than to duplicate them unnecessarily and add to the administrative burden. The proposed amendments would restrict the policy of increasing devolution and accountability which is central to the modernisation programme. For these reasons I do not accept the amendments.

Mr. Bruton:  When he was president of the IFA, did the Minister of State ever think he would come in here and give a “Sir Humphrey” answer of the nature of the one he just read out? He has informed us that being accountable to democratically elected people here would be burdensome and inflexible and would put the public service into a straitjacket. Where is the great zeal he had in the past for demanding results and demanding performance from the public service? Now that he has a chance to do something about it, he says that it cannot be done as it would be too upsetting to many people and that we already have many accountability structures. These are so vast that no one can understand them at any one time.

In reality, spreading accountability through reporting to different bodies and monitoring committees but never to the Dáil means that [1474]elected Members do not have the capacity to hold public servants accountable in any meaningful way. We need to drill down to make those specifically responsible come before us and account for the way in which devolution is occurring and the way in which the SMI is being delivered, which is not happening. On any fair assessment we are not achieving from the public service the sort of pace of reform to deliver value for money and high performance. Public servants need such a system and need the pressure of accountability from the Oireachtas to deliver such performance. The Minister of State is standing with his finger in the dyke claiming it cannot happen. If the Minister of State casts his mind back a few years, could he have believed he would deliver such a reply in the House when the occasion for addressing public service accountability arose?

Mr. Boyle:  Perhaps what the Minister of State has said is based on his own experience in dealing with civil servants in the Department of Agriculture and Food over the years. In his reply he has confirmed the need for my amendment. In saying that civil servants acquire specialised skills as and when they need them, he has exposed a major flaw at the heart of how the Civil Service is organised. Surely the Civil Service requires specialised skills at all times. It also undermines the Government’s obsession in seeking external so-called expertise to fulfil roles that could be played quite adequately by a properly resourced and skilled Civil Service. The Government is willing to use consultants at every opportunity to confirm its own prejudices, rather than having a proper thought out policy conducted through a properly structured Civil Service. In his response, the Minister of State confirmed a prejudice towards a properly resourced and fully functioning Civil Service that is at the heart of this Government. This Bill is not about reforming the Civil Service, but another chapter in an ideological free market approach to how the Government should be involved in services. If the Minister is not willing to examine the specialised skills we have in the Civil Service, those that we need and how we are to monitor them to improve quality, then I wonder if this Government believes in government as it is meant to be.

Mr. Parlon:  Deputies Boyle and Bruton raised the issue of my experience in dealing with the Civil Service. The improvement in the service delivered by the Department of Agriculture and Food in the last six years has been magnificent. The civil servants now deal with individuals and they deliver a superb service. During the recent closing period for applications for the single farm payment, the offices stayed open throughout the weekend and until midnight on Monday.

The administrative burden has been massive and we are trying to strengthen the arrangements we have. What is being proposed in the amendment would only add to the administrative bur[1475]den we are trying to eliminate. We have had SMI, strategy statements, annual reports and PMDS. If we improve on those, we will have a much more efficient Civil Service.

Mr. Bruton:  The Minister’s approach is extremely disappointing. He is praising the systems which were described as not working in a recent report he presented to us. The report stated that the roll out of the management information system is still at a relatively early stage and that the link between financial analysis and decision making remains relatively weak. If we want to support public servants who are advocating change, we must have a system that illustrates that work at this level. All of the systems described by the Minister, such as the strategic management books, are never narrowed down to five simple targets. I asked Ministers what were their top five strategic targets. Not one Minister could name those targets, nor could any of them describe progress for any of their targets. However, the Minister is trying to present this system as perfect. He is unable to display the targets of any Department, nor can he compare one Department with another, nor show the policies put in place to deliver the targets. He claims that is asking too much and that it already has been done, but I do not see it and I try harder than most to disentangle these various strategic management documents.

I do not believe the Minister of State. I do not see any Department offering high level targets to which it is committed. Until we see that, we will not see the sort of change that has been heralded as necessary in the various reports of the SMI. The presentation by senior management of the SMI was extremely disappointing. They had to admit that they were way behind in setting high level targets that would be monitored and delivered.

The Minister of State extolled the expenditure review initiative. I do not know how he has the neck to claim that it is contributing greatly to the improvement of public decision making, when the secretaries told us that less than 20% of reports to be done were actually delivered in the last three year period. The Department of Health and Children, having spent €11 billion, was exempted from any value for money audits because it was too busy carrying out reforms. What sort of a system allows Departments away with that? The Minister of State then claims that we have an exemplary system and anything demanded by the Opposition would be far too burdensome. That is not the case and the Minister of State is deceiving himself. We need a more honest debate about delivering results. We need complete reform on the way the Estimates are presented and a reform of the accountability demanded by senior management in the public service. It is not acceptable that the budget for the Department of Health and Children can be trebled yet no target is set for [1476]what that will achieve. No targets are set and none is delivered. When Ministers are under pressure in this House, they will scramble to find the nuggets that look good and will ignore the rest. That represents the level of accountability we have, which is just cute hoorism. That is not good enough in a modern democratic State.

I do not pretend that this amendment is perfect. However, I am disappointed that the tone of the Minister’s response is very defensive, claiming that everything in the garden is rosy and that the last eight years have been wonderful, unlike the bad old days.

Mr. Parlon:  That has been my experience.

Mr. Bruton:  That is not the experience of someone who deals with the health service. I do not have any farmers in my constituency any more. I used to have one, but the family probably died out, so I do not know what is happening in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I do know it has put much effort into reforming its IT system. However, that is not enough. The Government is accepting too little when demanding accountability. It also offers little accountability to those of us elected to hold the system to account. It is not committed to the change that is needed and I am disappointed with that.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are cognate and may be taken together.

Mr. Parlon:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, lines 39 and 40, to delete “joint staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas” and substitute “staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission”.

Both amendments are technical and were put forward by the Office of the Attorney General. Section 6 of the Bill amends section 2(2) (d) and section 2(2)(e) of the 1956 Act to provide for the appropriate authority in respect of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The proposed amendments change the current reference in the Bill to “joint staff” to read “the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission”, in accordance with section 12(1) of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003, which states that a person who, immediately before the establishment day was a member of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas, or the joint staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas, shall be transferred to and become a member of the staff of the commission on that day.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Parlon:  I move amendment No. 3:

[1477]

In page 8, lines 43 and 44, to delete “joint staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas” and substitute “staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission”.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Parlon:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, lines 35 and 36, to delete “exercisable by the Government” and substitute “of the Government under subsection (1)”.

Amendment No. 4 is a technical amendment put forward by the Office of the Attorney General. Section 7 of the Bill amends the ten-year provisions contained in section 5 of the 1956 Act. The amendment to section 5(3) currently outlined in the Bill provides that the Government may delegate the powers and functions under section 5 to dismiss a civil servant to an appropriate authority other than a Minister. The Office of the Attorney General has advised the Department that to copperfasten the legal authority of an appropriate authority to exercise the powers to dismiss a civil servant under new section 5(3), it should refer back to section 5(1) which provides that every established civil servant shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the Government. Amendment No. 4 makes it clear that the delegation of powers relates specifically to the power to dismiss an established civil servant.

Ms Burton:  I raise a question I have asked the Minister of State before. The phrase “will and pleasure of the Government” is rather old fashioned. While the Minister of State tells us we are in a brave new world of improved management criteria and reporting to the extent that one would never think our hospitals were in chaos or that people’s experience of public transport was so bad, his use of language in the Bill is incredibly old fashioned. The provision has obviously not been subject to a management report, consideration or review. As we raised the matter on Committee Stage, I ask the Minister of State if he has had an opportunity to consider it.

Mr. Parlon:  Deputy Burton has been very selective in some of the crises she recounted from last week’s news. I hope she remembers the CSO figures on which she failed to remark which show that in the 12 months previous to last year, we created over 72,000 jobs. It was an average of 1,400 jobs per week and a very positive development. I wish the Deputy would be more balanced on some issues.

Amendment No. 4 was put forward by the Office of the Attorney General, which I will not challenge on the use of language. While it sounds old fashioned, the phrase in question is very appropriate legally to the measure.

Amendment agreed to.

[1478]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 5 and 5a are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

Mr. Parlon:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 10, to delete lines 9 to 19 and substitute the following:

“5A.—(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a person may initially be appointed to be an established civil servant on the basis of a probationary contract.

(2) Where a civil servant to whom subsection (1) refers completes the probationary period concerned to the satisfaction of the appropriate authority, that civil servant shall be appointed as an established civil servant and subsection (1) shall cease to apply to that appointment.

(3) Where a civil servant to whom subsection (1) refers does not complete the period of the probationary contract to the satisfaction of the appropriate authority, the provisions of section 7 shall apply.

(4) Nothing in this section shall prevent the termination of an appointment under subsection (1) in accordance with the terms and conditions of the probationary contract prior to the expiry of the term of the contract.’.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 5a:

In page 10, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(3) The Minister shall, by regulation, outline procedures which are to be applied where a person is being engaged on contract for a specified time or for the duration of a specified project, and these procedures shall, inter alia, provide for documentation of—

(a) the criteria for deciding whether to engage the person as a civil servant or as a consultant, or otherwise,

(b) the tender procedure chosen for selection and the reason for that choice,

(c) the method of oversight of the selection procedure and the subsequent recording of work done under contract and its quality.”.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On a point of order, is a copy of the groupings of amendments available?

Ms Burton:  As late amendments have just been received, proceedings are quite difficult to follow. The Minister of State has an advantage we do not enjoy.

[1479]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Is it possible to have the groupings provided as normal?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We can arrange that.

Mr. Bruton:  Amendment No. 5a is a direct result of the report of Mr. Quigley on the appointment of a PR person in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Having exposed a number of features of the appointments system as unsatisfactory, the report of the former Revenue Commissioner set out a number of recommendations on how to deal with circumstances where a person is brought in on contract to carry out certain work and single-tendering is used on grounds of urgency. The report identified the need for process auditors to oversee such appointments and contained direct comments on possible risks where a Minister suggests a particular person for a contract. While a great many issues arose at the time which caused considerable public concern, I have seen no initiative or legislative change to address them. While we are told by the Taoiseach that many changes have occurred, my amendment seeks to copperfasten some of the lessons which were learned from the experience outlined in the Quigley report.

Amendment 5a provides that the Minister should, by regulation, outline procedures to be applied where a person is engaged on contract for a specified period or for the duration of a specified project. The procedures should provide for the documenting of the criteria for deciding whether to engage a person as a civil servant or consultant or otherwise, the tender procedure chosen for selection, the reason for the choice and the method of oversight of the selection procedure and subsequent recording of work carried out under the contract and its quality. Apart from generating political debate on the original appointment, of which there was a great deal, the decision exposed a flaw in the system. The House must be assured the flaws have been corrected. If they are not to be corrected in legislation — I have seen no evidence of suggestions from the Taoiseach or Minister of State in this regard — we must be told what procedures have otherwise been put in place. I hope the Minister of State will accept my amendment as a means of putting this episode behind us and ensuring we have learned its lessons to avoid a repeat scenario.

Ms Burton:  I support Deputy Bruton’s amendment. It would be useful in view of all that has happened in recent times, if the Minister of State could outline the exact position on civil servants employed for fixed terms or specified projects as outlined in the Bill. There are a couple of specific examples I want to draw to the Minister of State’s attention. The Taoiseach’s project to develop Abbotstown is being carried out through the medium of a company in which the shares are [1480]held by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. I understand the entire staff of the company are on secondment from the Civil Service. Certainly, that is where they originated. For four years, the Government has promised the House that a Bill would be introduced to deal with Abbotstown, but it has never materialised despite being top of the Government’s list. In the meantime, a judge outlined in court last week that the company gave a €62 million State asset to a €127 company originally registered in the British Virgin Islands. Anyone familiar with the registration of companies in that location will know that it very often gives rise to queries on tax status etc.

Mr. Parlon:  That has nothing to do with the legislation. The Deputy should direct the matter to the appropriate person.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Ms Burton:  The Government appointed civil servants to a company in which the share capital is held by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. While I presume the civil servants are on secondment, I cannot know as freedom of information has been abolished.

Mr. Parlon:  It is not abolished. If the Deputy puts down a question, she will find out.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order.

Ms Burton:  Civil servants on secondment made decisions to give a contract with an accumulated value of €62 million to a company with assets of €127.

Mr. Parlon:  Deputy Burton would prefer to make unsubstantiated claims in the House than put down a question to find out the facts for herself.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. Deputy Burton is in possession.

Ms Burton:  I am a Member of the Opposition and it is completely legitimate for me to put the question to the Minister of State who makes provision in sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Bill to appoint civil servants for fixed terms or special projects. We are absolutely entitled to ask the Minister of State to explain how this would operate. It is a legitimate question for the Opposition in Parliament to ask the Minister of State to account for such matters. In the same way it is completely legitimate to ask the Minister of State to account for how the area he oversees purchased a site for a jail through a committee of civil servants. In that case the price of the land rose from agricultural value by multiples of ten.

[1481]Mr. Parlon:  One would not put a prison on a farm.

Ms Burton:  These are legitimate questions. What are the implications of the Bill for the structure adopted by the Government in regard to the oversight of the National Aquatic Centre? A judge stated last week that what had happened in that regard was unbelievable. The Progressive Democrats Party is never off its high horse about looking after the proper spending of Government money yet a judge has stated in court that this was an extraordinary disclosure of events. These things happened within the remit of the Minister of State. Can he comment——

Mr. Parlon:  Deputy Burton is the Labour Party spokesperson on finance. Why does she not table a question to the Minister for Finance? If the Deputy tables a question she will receive an answer.

Ms Burton:  I have asked about this issue at least 11 times in the House.

Mr. Parlon:  It is hardly appropriate to raise the matter on Report Stage of legislation.

Ms Burton:  The amendment put forward by Deputy Bruton rightly seeks to throw light on this extremely murky area of activity by the Government. I urge the Minister of State to make a statement as to how the events which have been unfolding continuously since last January in regard to a number of such projects relate to this Bill and the proposals put forward by Deputy Bruton. It is a completely reasonable question. If the Minister of State were on this side of the House we would never be done hearing from his friend, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell.

Mr. Parlon:  I would have raised it in the appropriate manner a long time ago.

Mr. Boyle:  This section is closely related to the amendment which I tabled earlier regarding the Minister’s willingness on behalf of the Government to buy in expertise whenever and however necessary. It is incumbent on the Government to put in place the highest standards and safeguards. Deputy Bruton’s amendment is an attempt to do that in regard to short-term appointments. I hope the Minister of State will look on it favourably as it would strengthen a particularly weak aspect of this Bill.

Further questions must be asked about the future reliance on bought in expertise in regard to the Civil Service. Various Governments, particularly those since 1997, have compartmentalised the business of Government and placed it outside the remit of this House in terms of accountability. We cannot ask questions to the line Minister regarding their functions vis-à-vis various State agencies. There is a fear that we will [1482]see more of this, not alone in regard to agencies but also in regard to the work of part-time, temporary civil servants who are working on behalf of the State and will probably not be accountable even in the short tenure foreseen for them by the Minister in future. They will certainly not be accountable once their tenure has finished.

The Minister has clearly not thought through many aspects of this matter. We are entering into dangerous territory in terms of how the business of Government is conducted on a day-to-day basis by people who will not have direct responsibility and who will not have anything approaching the full accountability of elected representatives in this House. I urge the Minister to consider favourably Deputy Bruton’s amendment as one small measure towards addressing this lacuna in what remains a badly flawed Bill.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I support Deputy Bruton’s amendment. It must be acknowledged that what is sought in amendment No. 5a is eminently reasonable, that the Minister shall, by regulation, outline procedures which are to be applied where a person is being engaged on contract for a specified time or for the duration of a specified project. Each of the specifics in regard to what needs to be outlined in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the amendment can hardly be argued against. If anything the amendment would strengthen the Bill and provide more public confidence in the Civil Service. It would also be in the interest of the Civil Service itself. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment and I record my support for it.

Mr. Parlon:  Deputy Burton should table a parliamentary question precisely on the issue to which she referred. I sat beside the Minister, Deputy Cowen, during the last Question Time and Deputy Burton ranted, raved and upset the Minister to a considerable extent.

Ms Burton:  I think he was upset before.

Mr. Parlon:  It might have been the Deputy’s intention to annoy him but no specific questions were asked, which the Deputy evidently wishes to do, as at every opportunity this afternoon she has raised this issue.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Where did the Minister of State take the Minister to comfort him?

Mr. Bruton:  I would have expected the Minister of State to have rallied to the aid of his constituency colleague.

Mr. Parlon:  As the Deputy has a bee in her bonnet about it, I suggest she tables a parliamentary question on it. I look forward to being seated beside the Minister when——

[1483]Ms Burton:  The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, must have been even more under the weather than the Minister.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister of State can bring him to the Dáil bar where he can cry into his beer.

Mr. Parlon:  ——he will give a comprehensive answer.

Ms Burton:  We thought it was an Alan Clarke moment.

Mr. Parlon:  The speaking note I have will show that events which have taken place in regard to the Rights Commissioner have prompted this measure. This legislation has been going through the House for some time.

Section 7 inserts a new section 5A into the 1956 Act which currently provides that both established and unestablished civil servants can be appointed either for a specified period of time or for the duration of a particular project or requirement. The aim of this provision was to enable certain people who were appointed on contracts to hold established status. Its purpose was primarily to resolve a number of administrative difficulties which currently arise in regard to officers who were appointed from open competitions initially on an unestablished basis and who may then acquire established status following a satisfactory period of probation.

The second purpose was to facilitate the extension of one year contracts to all new recruits in the Civil Service as provided for in Sustaining Progress. The section also allowed for other officers on contracts to be appointed on an established basis, thereby creating additional manpower flexibility. However, since Committee Stage of the Bill on 2 February a Rights Commission decision has issued in regard to a number of cases concerning the appointment of people to the Civil Service on fixed term contracts. In the light of the issues raised in these cases, legal advice was sought from the Office of the Attorney General. This advice highlighted the need for clarification so there is no doubt in reconciling the concept of a relationship governed by contract with the legal position contained in the original Act, that is, that all established civil servants hold office at the will and pleasure of the Government under section 5 of the 1956 Act. The Attorney General’s office therefore recommended amending section 7 of the Bill on Report Stage in order to remove any ambiguity. I therefore propose an amendment in order to provide that only an officer on a contract for the purposes of a probationary period may be appointed as an established officer on contract and that all other appointments on a contract will continue to be in an unestablished capacity only. With this text the position of new entrants to the Civil Service is very clear, officers will in future [1484]be appointed initially in an established capacity on contract on probation with a view to being appointed as established officers following satisfactory completion of the period of probation. In future this mechanism will be applied to all new appointments to the Civil Service at all levels in accordance with the commitments made under the current national agreement, Sustaining Progress. This amendment addresses the concerns that Deputy Bruton set out in the proposed amendment that were initially raised on Committee Stage. As the amendment is based on the existing text in section 7 of the Bill, which is to be changed, this amendment will no longer be relevant and on that basis I cannot accept it.

Mr. Bruton:  I am not sure that making contracts probationary addresses some of the issues raised in regard to the procedure for the selection of the person involved — which I was seeking to address — or the decision on whether the person should be engaged as a probationary established public servant rather than an employee in some other capacity. It does not deal with the oversight of people during the making of probationary contracts.

  6 o’clock

My concern relates to the difficulties that were exposed by the appointment of a PR consultant by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which led to much public unease. We need to ensure that the various steps in that chain which were subject to public unease are addressed. I do not believe that the Minister of State’s amendment achieves this. He seems to be addressing a broader issue concerning contracts in the public service rather than the concern that arose in respect of the apparent lack of a proper process audit — that is the phrase that was used — associated with the way in which the tenders were made and the way in which the contracts were set and whether this was in the public interest or whether, as ought to have been the case, it was done on an arm’s-length basis. Those are the areas of concern. I do not believe the Minister of State’s amendment deals with them and I am somewhat puzzled by his reply.

Ms Burton:  Will the Minister of State elaborate further? I am confused by his explanation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Whatever Deputy Burton does, she should not upset the Minister of State.

Ms Burton:  I will soothe him this time rather than upset him.

Mr. Bruton:  Offaly nerves are somewhat frayed at present.

Ms Burton:  It could be that Cinderellas go to the British Virgin Islands. That could be the problem. It may be what is responsible because, [1485]of course, they all have tax connections in this country.

I do not understand what the Minister of State is getting at——

Mr. Parlon:  I do not understand what Deputy Burton is talking about either.

Ms Burton:  The Minister of State said he is dealing with people who are coming into the permanent Civil Service but on a probationary basis. He is also implying that he is dealing with civil servants on contract who are unestablished. Deputy Bruton’s amendment concerns a person who is employed by a Minister as an adviser on contract in that provision is being made for him or her to be in an unestablished position or, as I stated in respect of the National Aquatic Centre, for contracts to be given via a company owned by Ministers. What is the position on Government advisers, be they directly appointed as advisers and, therefore, unestablished civil servants or, as was referred to in the Quigley case, appointed by means of a contract?

The Minister of State referred to unestablished civil servants who are on contract. His reply has not been at all clear on this matter. The question pertaining to civil servants on probation, who are perhaps entering a long-term career as ordinary civil servants, is entirely different to that pertaining to advisers and other such people who may be appointed in a political context but who are unestablished. The Minister of State has not answered this.

My original question — I hope the Minister of State will not become irritated when I refer to it — related to the mechanism whereby a valuable State asset worth €62 million was run through the device of a company being managed by people apparently on leave from the Civil Service, who then contracted their responsibility to operate it out to a consortium. A distinguished judge was incredulous that the State could have done this in the way it had been done. My question was reasonable and deserves a reasoned response rather than a tetchy one.

Mr. Parlon:  When it comes to tetchy responses, I would not hold a candle to Deputy Burton. As regards my comment on her parliamentary question, her attempt to tar everybody in the Government with one brush by implying that they are not fully clear in their tax affairs is what upset Deputy Cowen. He made it clear that he did not take that on board.

Ms Burton:  The Minister of State’s recollection is entirely faulty.

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputy made some references——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. Parlon:  ——on which I did not pick up.

[1486]Ms Burton:  The Minister of State’s recollection is entirely faulty. He does not know what he is talking about.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The matter will have to be clarified some other time.

Ms Burton:  The Minister of State does not know about the Bill and does not remember what he is talking about.

Mr. Parlon:  Deputy Burton more or less accused everybody in the Government of not being compliant in their tax affairs.

Ms Burton:  I want the Minister of State to withdraw that statement because it is factually wrong.

Mr. Parlon:  That is my recollection.

Ms Burton:  If he examines the record of the House, the Minister of State will note that it is factually wrong.

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputy made a reference to the Virgin Islands which was very vague.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. We must return to the amendment.

Mr. Parlon:  What was the reference the Deputy made to the Virgin Islands? I have no idea what that was about.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Could we return to the amendment?

Mr. Parlon:  I do not even know the location of those islands.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Ms Burton:  In a recent court judgment, a judge in this State expressed extreme alarm and concern that a €62 million asset, owned and paid for by the taxpayer, was given to a company with a share capital of €127 and which had its original incarnation in the British Virgin Islands.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Could we return to the amendment? The Minister of State should address——

Ms Burton:  The judge was precise, unlike the Minister of State who has not got a clue about the matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  On the amendment.

Mr. Parlon:  Who is getting tetchy now?

The Government has taken on board the observations of Mr. Quigley. To this end, it is examining the recommendations of the report and taking action in a number of areas. As recom[1487]mended in the Quigley report, the Government has incorporated in the Cabinet handbook guidelines in this area relating to where a Minister is seeking a named person for a consultancy or the contract comprises a significant element of direct service to a Minister. These guidelines apply, in particular, in the PR or communications areas, where there is a significant element of direct service to a Minister or where a Minister is suggesting the name of a person or enterprise for a consultancy or contract. In these circumstances, the Secretary General of the relevant Department is now required to inform the Secretary General to the Government who will arrange, if necessary, for the Cabinet secretariat to inquire into any aspects of the proposed procurement that it considers necessary. Arising from this, the Secretary General will then make recommendations to the Taoiseach as to whether any special conditions should be observed in the procurement process. The guidelines are effective immediately and are being brought to the attention of all relevant Departments and offices.

The Quigley report also recommended that the Department of Finance should review the guidelines dating from 1999 regarding the engagement of consultants, particularly in the context of single tendering arrangements where urgency is stated as the grounds for proceeding. A sub-group of the Government’s contracts committee, including representatives of the Department of Finance, is examining existing guidelines on the engagement of consultants to ascertain what changes might be needed to promote best practice in tendering, avoidance of conflicts of interest, monitoring and recording of work done, estimating costs of projects and observing appropriate reporting requirements. It is expected that the group will complete its work shortly and will publish new consolidated guidelines. The issues raised are being addressed comprehensively in the appropriate manner outside this legislative process.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Parlon:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 11, lines 6 and 7, to delete all words from and including “has” in line 6 down to and including “guilty” in line 7 and substitute the following:

“has, in relation to his official duties, been guilty”.

This is a technical amendment suggested by the Office of the Attorney General, the purpose of which is to amend the current wording of section 15(2) of the Act, set out in section 10 of the Bill, so that it will replicate exactly that which was originally contained in the 1956 Act.

Amendment agreed to.

[1488]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.

Ms Burton:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

“(2) No disciplinary measure may be taken under this Act against a civil servant who in good faith reports a suspicion of illegality or other wrong-doing to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such illegality or other wrong-doing”.

This amendment deals with the question of the position of civil servants who, in good faith, wish to report suspicion of illegality or other wrongdoing to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such illegality or wrongdoing. Its purpose is to provide a minimum protection for whistleblowers. The UK has already enacted such legislation. It means, in effect, that a whistleblower could not be disciplined for reporting impropriety to relevant bodies. However, the amendment does not cover reports made to the media.

The Minister of State’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, wanted to discipline members of the Garda because he believed they had excessive contact with the media at times. This does not deal with the media. However, it is a question of checks and balances.

The Minister of State is introducing, in this and other legislation, extremely powerful and extended powers for the bosses in the Civil Service, namely, the Secretaries General. There is the evidence of tribunals, disclosures, for example, from the Flood tribunal as regards a former manager in the Dublin city and county area. These were shocking revelations, particularly for those who in the past had worked so hard and with such integrity in all the different areas of the public service. There were also the recent stunning revelations from the Morris tribunal as regards what went wrong and how various elements of the Garda Síochána administering the system simply failed. The judge set it out in stunning detail.

Earlier today, Deputy Ó Caoláin raised the issue of the death of Councillor Eddie Fullerton in Donegal some time ago. This is another matter in respect of which there are serious questions to be answered by senior management in the Garda Síochána as well as in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In all of these cases, much of the information was only leaked or seeped out because very brave people were prepared to try to bring them into the public domain.

In giving senior service managers vastly increased powers in terms of firing civil servants, the Labour Party is saying that there is a serious case for the Government to introduce a compensating mechanism to protect people who have [1489]honest and legitimate concerns and who have insight into absolute wrongdoing or the wasting of public money. I am not referring to a cranks’ charter. Senior managers sometimes like to assert that whistleblowing gives some type of licence to cranky people to make complaints that are unjustified. The amendment from the Labour Party is entirely reasonable. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to accept it because it is absolutely essential for the continuing functioning of our democracy.

The Minister of State’s party and colleagues in Government have repeatedly stated, at the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, in respect of the scandals in the Irish banking industry that is necessary for the banks to provide a conduit for employees who become aware of wrongdoing to allow them to safely disclose information without damaging themselves. Politicians from all parties accept that in private business it is absolutely correct, where people hold great positions of trust, power and authority, that there should be a provision for employees who become aware of wrongdoing to enable them, without endangering their jobs, to bring it to the attention of persons with responsibility.

I do not understand why the Government should be reluctant to grant the same protection to civil servants who, for the most part, have served the country with the most enormous integrity since the foundation of the State. However, there are cases of mismanagement, wrongdoing and, in a small number of cases, corruption in the public service. In the context of the Bill, therefore, a whistleblower’s charter is an absolutely essential balancing component to the type of additional powers that the legislation gives to Civil Service bosses.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to speak to amendment No. 8 and in support of amendment No. 7. These amendments are in the domain of the whistleblowers. It would be preferable if we had dedicated legislation as regards this area rather than adopting a piecemeal approach as legislation presents. A dedicated whistleblower’s Bill is what is actually required. Few committees will have the experience the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service has of the role that whistleblowers played in the scandals as regards banks and other financial institutions. Whistleblowers have been the catalysts for a series of inquires and, it is hoped, actions as a consequence of such exposures. Undoubtedly, a very important area has to be addressed. Whistleblowers need legal protection. That is what we want to see and it should apply both in the private and the public sectors.

As Deputy Burton said, the amendments seek to protect people who are bringing their awareness or suspicion of wrongdoing “to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such matters”. That is an important point to emphasise. We have heard Government spokespersons [1490]claim that a new climate exists, following the jailing of the former Minister, Mr. Ray Burke. If that is the case, it is a further argument in support of the adoption of these amendments. They must be adopted in order that legislative effect can be given to this new climate that we wish to see and encourage.

The Morris report shows how a corrupt culture existed in one arm of the State, namely, the Garda Síochána, in Donegal at least. That culture has clearly contributed to the silence of many who would otherwise have had the courage to report what they knew or had observed. I have no doubt that there are many responsible and conscientious members of the Garda who, because of the culture that existed, did not feel at ease in coming forward when they should have done. We need to root out that culture and the only way that this can be done is to offer——

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputy is talking about informers.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No, we are not talking about informers. Even the use of that term in jest is an impediment and discouragement to people who act responsibly as regards matters of such public importance as this legislation addresses, namely, the Civil Service and the abuses that all too sadly take place within its ranks. These people need to be protected and the amendments provide for the introduction of the protection required. This applies not only with regard to the example I gave vis-à-vis the Garda but across the board in the Civil Service.

This is a straightforward amendment which the Minister of State should have no difficulty in accepting. I use this opportunity to commend again a dedicated Bill to address all the issues relevant to whistleblowers. However, in the absence of that intent — the Government has clearly put its face against it — I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendments.

Mr. Bruton:  I support the amendments. If we are extending new powers such as these, it is even more important that we have proper power to protect whistleblowers, as clearly set out in both amendments, when they report to agencies with clear responsibility in the relevant matter. The proposal does not relate to idle whistleblowing for no purpose but to the reporting of concerns to an authority appointed by the Oireachtas to take action in the appropriate area. The amendments propose a minimum provision and I support them.

Mr. Boyle:  I also support the amendments. If we are to believe media reports, which are, unfortunately, the most reliable source of information about this increasingly opaque Government, not only is one of the Minister of State’s senior party colleagues in Cabinet having difficulties introducing the civilising influence of café bars but the [1491]larger party in the coalition is also reluctant to accept his proposals to reform the libel laws. While some degree of discomfort may arise from the tone of questioning taken by the media or the interpretation of reportage, in a democratic society we should make every effort to encourage the release of information into the public domain. Thereafter, we should use our critical faculties to interpret such it correctly. The same applies to information which comes to light through the Civil Service.

These are considered amendments which do not even go as far as to encourage civil servants to adopt the shout it from the roof tops approach common in some other democratic countries. Both amendments specifically provide that the entity to which the concern is reported should be a person or body with a legal function in respect of the presumed illegality which has been exposed. I fail to see how any Administration with a sincere interest in open government would have difficulty with amendments of this type. Unfortunately, however, a slew of legislation, starting with the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003, has shown that we do not have such a Government.

I am not confident that the Minister of State is amenable to accepting the amendments. If, however, he wants to bring about the type of reforms we require, he would do well to start by accepting either amendment, both of which demonstrate a confluence of thinking. If he does so, he will have taken one small step to improve the quality of the Bill.

Mr. Parlon:  I will discuss the amendments together because both propose the inclusion in the Bill of a provision to protect officers who wish to report wrongdoing in the Civil Service.

I am impressed with Deputy Ó Caoláin’s enthusiasm for the proposition that people living along the Border should come forward with information. Previously, his party and organisation would have taken a different view in terms of——

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Good man, deal with the issue.

Mr. Parlon:  Perhaps he will encourage some of his colleagues in the McCartney case to come forward with some information as it could be helpful in terms of a successful prosecution.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I have done so time and again. The Minister of State, on this and all other issues, is not well informed.

Mr. Parlon:  As I indicated on Committee Stage, I agree that it is important to protect officers who wish to report wrongdoing within their organisations in the hope of preventing or stopping such behaviour. To this end, protections are already afforded to civil servants under the [1492]Standards in Public Office Act 2001 and the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour introduced last year in accordance with section 10(3) of the 2001 Act.

As Deputies are aware, the Standards in Public Office Commission oversees compliance with the ethics Acts in so far as they apply to office holders, that is, Ministers and Ministers of State, the Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, the Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, the Attorney General, ministerial special advisers, senior civil servants, etc. The commission is empowered to investigate complaints involving acts or omissions of the powers of these persons where a complainant considers that such person has acted in a manner which is inconsistent with the proper performance of the functions of his or her office or his or her behaviour is contrary to the maintenance of public confidence and the matter in question is one of significant public importance.

The Standards in Public Office Commission is also empowered to investigate complaints about alleged contraventions of the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 to 2001 regarding disclosure of interests and compliance with tax clearance requirements. As far as complaints are made, inter alia, by civil servants against other civil servants, the Act provides at section 5(1) that where a person makes a complaint to the commission in good faith, no cause of action shall lie against the person and no disciplinary action shall be taken against him or her as a result of reporting his or her concerns to the commission. Section 5(4) provides that a person who takes disciplinary action against a complainant in this context will be guilty of an offence and liable to a substantial fine.

In addition, the Act provides at section 5(3) that if a person is dismissed by his or her employer as a disciplinary measure because he or she reported a complaint to the commission, the dismissal will be considered an unfair dismissal for the purposes of the unfair dismissals legislation. This avenue of redress provides an additional protection for civil servants in light of the extension of the unfair dismissals legislation to civil servants, which the Bill effects at section 18.

Further strong protection is offered to civil servants under the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour which applies to all staff in the Civil Service. The code states that no civil servant must ever act in any way which he knows or suspects to be illegal, improper or unethical and that civil servants who have doubts about the legality of a particular action they are required to take in the course of their official duties should refer the matter to their superiors whose responsibility it is to issue a direction on the matter. The superiors in question are bound under the code by the same duties to act within the law as the officers who report to them and are subject to the same sanctions should they breach the instructions set out in the code.

[1493]In addition, as Deputy Burton is aware, a whistleblowers protection Bill is on the Government’s legislative programme and is being dealt with by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Mr. Bruton:  Expeditiously, one might say.

Mr. Parlon:  Given the number of significant and complex issues which have arisen during consultation on the Bill, it would not be appropriate to address this matter in the context of the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill, the aim of which is to enhance the structures in place for managing civil servants. In light of the protection already provided by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 and the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour and the fact that this matter is being dealt with in separate legislation, I cannot accept the proposed amendments.

Ms Burton:  The Minister of State, not for the first time, is a profound disappointment. Does he even know when the Government claimed to accept the notion of a whistleblowers’ charter? At the beginning of this Dáil, the Labour Party succeeded in having the Bill reintroduced in the Government’s legislative programme but that was the last the House heard of it, which is unfortunate.

The Morris tribunal vividly described an atmosphere and a culture which were effectively corrupted within the Garda in County Donegal. From what has been said locally and nationally, many gardaí were concerned and deeply dismayed at the betrayal of the mission of the Garda Síochána evident in the McBrearty case. However, the absence of a powerful structure to encourage people with knowledge of wrongdoing to bring it to the appropriate authority in a responsible manner meant that the gardaí in question were not in a position to act on their concerns. Worse, as knowledge of the circumstances of the case rose through the higher echelons of the Garda administrative system, first in County Donegal and later at regional and national levels, those who had misgivings could not air them. As a result, a wrong became a corruption of the entire police service of a county. When that happens, all parties in this House, whether in Government or not, must look at what the judge recommended in his report to see what lessons we can learn. Clearly, a strong power that enables someone in the lower echelons of the public service to make due representations to an independent authority when he becomes aware of illegality or wrongdoing is necessary. None of the regulations referred to by the Minister of State was capable of addressing the corruption and wrongdoing that arose in Donegal as set out in the Morris report. It is deeply disappointing that the Minister of State is unwilling to address an issue that is so fundamental for our democracy.

[1494]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  These amendments seek to ensure we have a strong and confident public service. That should apply across the board, irrespective of the arm of the State where people are employed. Where there is a strong and confident public service, it is important that its writ runs through every level of the Civil Service, from the first rung to Secretary General.

If people in the public service see or suspect abuses in the carrying out of functions on the part of the public service, or misconduct that undermines either the effectiveness of the system or public confidence in it, it is an imperative that they come forward. The Minister of State’s injudicious jibes at me and my political views, which ill behove him, create associations we do not want to see for the important role that whistleblowers have and must continue to play in ensuring we have a Civil Service of which we can be justly proud. Nodding and winking about it will not change that and my support for our aims here is affirmed by the amendment and my contribution on it.

I take this final opportunity to appeal to the Minister of State to revisit the position he has been given in his script tonight. It is time for imaginative thinking that recognises the important role such people have. I would prefer a dedicated Bill to address this matter but in the absence of such a Bill we can only seek to amend appropriate legislation and this is an opportunity to do that. I urge the Minister of State to support the amendments.

Mr. Parlon:  I am obsessed with the fact that I am a constant source of disappointment to Deputy Burton. Every time she gets up she is disappointed with what I have said or with what I will say.

The Garda Síochána Bill is going through the House and the Taoiseach earlier this evening, in this seat, said the Bill is being reviewed in light of the findings of the Morris report recommendations.

Ms Burton:  No he did not.

Mr. Howlin:  He said no such thing.

Mr. Parlon:  Yes he did.

Ms Burton:  Was the Minister of State listening at all? He said the exact opposite.

Mr. Howlin:  He said it had been reviewed.

Ms Burton:  He said it had been reviewed already.

Mr. Parlon:  Yes.

Ms Burton:  Prior to the judge’s report.

Mr. Parlon:  Yes.

[1495]Mr. Howlin:  Before the judge commented that it should be reviewed.

Mr. Parlon:  In terms of what applies here, we are talking about legislation for civil servants and Deputy Burton insists on talking about the Morris tribunal. The Garda Síochána Bill will deal with that.

Ms Burton:  Are the gardaí not civil servants?

Mr. Parlon:  There is a Garda Síochána Bill going through the House to deal with those particular issues.

Ms Burton:  Are gardaí not public servants?

Mr. Parlon:  Of course they are public servants but there is a Garda Síochána Bill that applies to them that does not apply to the rest of the Civil Service.

Ms Burton:  The judge stated that needs to be reviewed. The Taoiseach said it has been reviewed already.

Mr. Parlon:  In terms of duplication, in my response I have clearly shown that legislation already supports whistleblowers and civil servants who choose to give information. There is no need for provision here. The legislation is on the cards, I heard the Taoiseach not long ago in the House give an answer to say that the whistleblowers Bill is on the programme and I hope it is expedited. Significant and complex issues have arisen during consultation that are delaying it but as soon as they are sorted out, the legislation will be introduced to deal specifically with the issue.

Ms Burton:  The Minister of State is allowing an incredible loss of public confidence in our democracy. It is also a terrible waste of money because when wrongdoing in the public service festers, it poisons activity and often results in another tribunal at huge public cost. The unwillingness of the Minister of State’s party to accept a reform that exists in most European countries is disappointing. When we enter Government, we will ensure the outcome changes.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 8:

In page 11, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

“(2) No disciplinary measures may be taken under this Act against a civil servant who in good faith reports a suspicion of illegality, corruption or other wrong-doing to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such matters.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

[1496]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are related and will be discussed together.

Mr. Howlin:  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 12, line 5, after “offer” to insert the following:

“, and regard shall be had to the civil servant’s right to fair procedures and to any representation made or evidence adduced by the civil servant”.

This issue was raised on Committee Stage. The section is flawed from a constitutional viewpoint. The section and the Bill allow for representations to be made but there is no requirement for anyone to have regard to such representations. The premise is that the mere allowing of representations satisfies the dictates of natural justice but that is not the case. To be constitutionally correct, there should be a requirement not only for representations to be made but any evidence adduced should require a response and be noticed. It is important that this amendment be accepted by the Minister of State and form part of the procedures of the Bill.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  These amendments ensure fair procedures for civil servants. They are a straightforward proposal to write fairness into the legislation. A civil servant should not just be afforded but should also be guaranteed the opportunity of making a representation to the appropriate authority. The place for that guarantee is in the legislation. Civil servants must be guaranteed a fair hearing and it is incumbent on the Minister of State to accept these amendments.

As the Government is not prepared to guarantee fairness in the procedure by its inclusion in a clear and unequivocal statement in the Bill, it sends out a worrying signal to the Civil Service. Members of the Civil Service must be told that what they have to state will be taken into account. This amendment will strengthen the legislation and also confidence within the public service. It will also ensure that any disciplinary measures will be undertaken on a sound basis. The amendment is a protection of the rights of employees in the Civil Service. As it is not reflected elsewhere in the Bill, it is important that it is included at this appropriate juncture and that the guarantee of fairness is there for all to know.

Mr. Bruton:  Fair procedure is essential and I expect it to occur in all cases. These amendments are reasonable and will not do any damage to the Bill. There is the expectation that fair procedure will always be applied in public service decisions. To ensure that these rights are protected, it should be provided, as proposed in these amendments, in law.

Mr. Parlon:  Section 15 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 provides for the imposition [1497]of disciplinary action in respect of civil servants. The Civil Service disciplinary code, which implements the 1956 Act, is set out in a Department of Finance circular. This is being revised in conjunction with the amendment of the 1956 Act. It will be negotiated with the Civil Service unions under the conciliation and arbitration scheme.

The code provides that an officer must be provided with a statement of the allegations made against him or her, all the evidence supporting those allegations and a statement of the proposed penalty if the allegations are substantiated. The officer is given an opportunity to respond to those allegations and may request a meeting with a personnel officer in order to discuss the case. Should the personnel officer subsequently decide that disciplinary action is appropriate, the officer may make written representations to the decision-making authority or request a review of the disciplinary proceedings by an appeals board prior to the imposition of the proposed sanction.

The appeals board comprises a senior counsel, a trade union representative and a Department of Finance representative. Appeals may be lodged on several grounds, including failure of the personnel officer to adhere to the disciplinary code, failure to ascertain all relevant facts of the case or to consider the facts in an unbiased fashion, failure to afford the officer reasonable facilities to answer the allegations against him or her or the punishment proposed is disproportionate to the offence committed.

Where the appeals board considers the case and finds that any of the grounds for appeal are substantiated, it may recommend that no further action be taken or that the personnel officer’s recommendation to the decision-making authority should be amended in a specified manner, such as, for example, in terms of reducing the proposed penalty. Under section 15(5) of the 1956 Act and paragraph 3.7 of the disciplinary code, every officer is given the right to make representations to the appropriate authority before any disciplinary action is implemented.

I am confident that the new code will replicate the strong emphasis which is currently placed on the protection of the rights of the individual officer, particularly in respect to access to fair procedures. I consider the reference in these amendments to a civil servant’s right to fair procedures is not required.

On Committee Stage, Deputy Burton stated that simply providing for officers to make representations to the appropriate authority without imposing upon it a requirement to have regard to those representations is not sufficient to satisfy natural justice dictates. She also stated that the legislation, if so drafted, would not meet reasonable constitutional tests. I have considered the Deputy’s contention and, following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, I cannot accept her reasoning.

[1498]Mr. Howlin:  I am sure the Minister of State has——

Mr. Parlon:  The constitutionality of the current position under section 15(5) of the 1956 Act states an officer shall be “afforded an opportunity of making to the appropriate authority any representations he may wish to offer”. This has not been challenged up to now. It would be a perverse interpretation of the legislation to suggest that the provision of the right for a person to submit representations through a decision-maker does not impose a de facto duty upon the decision-maker to consider such representations.

A basic principle of fair procedure is that a person entrusted with a discretion, in this case whether to impose a disciplinary sanction, must consider all relevant matters and must exclude all irrelevant matters from his or her considerations. To suggest the text of the Bill confers no responsibility upon the appropriate authority to consider representations from the person whom the decision will directly affect is to suggest that the appropriate authority does not have to conform to this basic principle of fair procedure in deciding whether to proceed with disciplinary action. I do not accept this suggestion and, therefore, I consider it unnecessary to insert any further amendment to section 5(3). I do not accept the proposed amendments.

Mr. Howlin:  The code of conduct is all very interesting. However, what is the legal status of the procedure to which the Minister of State referred? Creating laws is what the Oireachtas does. Codes and procedures are interesting, subject to negotiation and amendment, but do not come within the purview of the House. We are setting out the legal basis for the conduct of civil servants in public affairs and how they are disciplined.

Section 10(1)(a) contains serious sanctions that can be taken against a civil servant, such as placing him or her on a lower rate of remuneration, reducing him or her to a specific lower grade or rank or suspending him or her without pay. Section 10(3) states:

Before any action is taken pursuant to paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, the civil servant concerned shall be afforded an opportunity of making to the appropriate authority any representations that the civil servant may wish to offer.

Deputy Burton’s amendment proposes to add “and regard shall be had to the civil servant’s right to fair procedures and to any representation made or evidence adduced by the civil servant”. What is wrong with that? It sits perfectly well with the case made by the Minister of State on the agreed code of procedures.

I can only conclude that the Minister of State is against it because it comes from this side of the House. There are Ministers who take the line that [1499]such amendments are unnecessary as they are covered in some other procedure. I am not interested in it being covered in procedure. We are making a law and it should be done in a fair and encompassing way to ensure that what the Minister of State claims is understood is explicitly stated. If the Minister of State is agreeable to the adherence of a civil servant’s right to fair procedures and that the appropriate authority should have regard to any representation or evidence adduced, then it must be stated in the legislation. The Minister of State has given no coherent reason that this amendment will cause any damage to the Bill. He has not explained how it is counter to the agreed procedures in operation or it is not what is intended. Why is he then opposed to it?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We all have a right to assume that due consideration and a fair hearing will always be adhered to. However, we also seek to guarantee those rights in legislation. This Government appears to be set against guaranteeing rights in legislation — with the recently passed Disability Bill being a case in point — and here we go again. Why is the Minister of State against guaranteeing people’s rights in law? This is a serious matter, as was the Disability Bill. We want all civil servants to be guaranteed a fair hearing when the situation presents. If this is not done and if the amendments and arguments presented are rejected, a worrying signal will be sent.

If I were a civil servant, I would be concerned if the Government refused to enshrine in legislation the simple guarantee — which should be a natural right in any event — to a fair hearing. I again join Deputy Howlin in appealing to the Minister of State to reconsider the position. If he does not disagree with it in principle and expects it to apply in practice, why does he not agree to include it in the text of this legislation? There is no explanation and nothing in his response to the initial arguments presented by either Deputy in any way explains why he would reject these amendments. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider and to accept them.

Mr. Parlon:  As far as Deputy Howlin’s question regarding the legal status of the code is concerned, any circular from the Minister for Finance is given effect by the Civil Service Regulations Act 1956.

Mr. Howlin:  It is a legal instrument.

Mr. Parlon:  Yes. As for the amendments’ purpose in guaranteeing fair procedures, clearly it is important, in terms of fairness, that we have a disciplinary code within the Civil Service. This is accepted by all sides. There are sanctions provided, such as deferral of an increment, which can be applied under the code. Some of the other [1500]issues must be agreed between the Civil Service’s human resources management and the Department of Finance.

In terms of balance, all sorts of mechanisms, such as the appeals board, exist of which people can avail if they have difficulties. As far as the issue of discretion is concerned, someone must make a decision as to whether a disciplinary action should be taken and how discretion should be used when considering relevant issues and representations. The provisions in this legislation are as fair as anyone could expect within any place of employment.

Mr. Howlin:  I accept the Minister of State’s bona fides. I also accept that the procedures in the code are fair. That is why I am at a loss. Since the Minister of State agrees that there should be fair procedure, that regard should be had to representations and that there is a constitutional right to such procedures, why is he so opposed to including this in the statute? He has not given any reason, coherent or otherwise, as to why what he states is the case should not be made explicit in the Bill. Why does he oppose including in the legislation what he asserts has legal effect through a statutory instrument by way of circular from the Minister for Finance? Why should the latter not be placed in the Bill? I have not heard a shred of a coherent reason as to why this is the case.

The Minister of State indicated to the House that he agrees with the principle and with the proposals from this side of the House regarding fair procedures, that he agrees that there is a constitutional right for a civil servant faced with disciplinary proceedings which could — as I indicated in respect of subsection (1) — have serious consequences for him or her and his or her future. Why does he oppose accepting it? In the absence of any reason, coherent or otherwise, that we should not amend the legislation to be explicit in this regard, I must press the matter.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 12, line 5, after “offer” to insert the following:

“having due regard to the civil servant’s right to fair procedures and to a fair hearing for his or her case”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 10a:

In page 12, line 5, after “offer” to insert the following:

“and if the person is dissatisfied with the decision reached, that person may seek independent review of the decision”.

[1501]I suspect that this amendment will suffer the same fate as the previous two amendments. There ought to be a provision that where someone is dissatisfied with a decision, he or she should have the opportunity to seek an independent review. I do not know whether the guidelines which the Minister of State read into the record deal with the issue of an appeal of that nature. Perhaps the he can comment.

Mr. Boyle:  Given the Minister of State’s enthusiasm for buying in expertise and the Government’s enthusiasm for the use of consultants, it would be strange if he were not willing to accept an amendment of this type to the effect that there should be an outside independent position in respect of a principle of natural justice, namely, that people should have the right to independent reviews of disciplinary decisions. On those grounds, Deputy Bruton’s amendment should be accepted.

Mr. Parlon:  This Bill represents a significant step forward in the way in which staff are managed in the Civil Service. The Bill amends section 15 of the 1956 Act to provide, for the first time, that disciplinary action can be taken in cases of under-performance. In addition, this section broadens the range of disciplinary sanctions that are currently available to managers under section 15 of the Act. As a result of these amendments, the Act will deal with disciplinary issues in a more comprehensive manner than was previously the case.

The Deputy’s suggested amendment will duplicate arrangements in place under the disciplinary and grievance procedures in the Civil Service. As stated on Committee Stage, it is normal practice in employment law, and in line with codes of practice issued by the Labour Relations Commission in respect of grievance and discipline, to develop internal procedures and policies in negotiations with staff unions and to give practical effect to legislative provisions. Internal policies provide the detailed procedures which ensure that management maintains satisfactory standards of conduct and performance and that staff are provided with access to procedures whereby alleged failures to comply with these standards may be fairly and sensitively addressed. The Bill does not and should not deal with detailed procedures and arrangements entailed in the disciplinary procedures.

On Committee Stage, the Deputy pointed out that the Bill went a long way towards aligning the rights of civil servants with those of private sector employees. This is a clear and fundamental principle of the Bill, particularly in respect of dismissal, as it provides that civil servants have the same right to appeal in cases of dismissal as a person employed in the private sector through extending the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Act to civil servants. In respect of disciplinary issues, there are already clear and specific arrangements [1502]set out in the disciplinary code which have been agreed under the Civil Service conciliation and arbitration mechanisms.

Debate adjourned.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Social and Family Affairs has concluded its consideration of the Revised Estimate for Public Services for the service of the year ending on 31 December 2005: Vote 38.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann,

concerned by:

—plans by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to increase the number of outlets selling alcohol by providing licences for the opening of café bars;

—the strong opposition to such plans expressed by leading health professionals and their consistent advice and evidence that greater supply of alcohol leads to greater consumption; and

—the lack of clear evidence that café bars will contribute to a reduction in the level of excessive drinking prevalent in Irish society;

calls on the Government to:

—abandon the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform’s plans for licensing café bars;

—put in place a co-ordinated approach at Government level to the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy; and

—provide the necessary resources and direction to the Garda to ensure that existing legislation is enforced and public disorder related to so-called super pubs is tackled in a consistent way throughout the country.

I wish to share time with Deputies Twomey, Hayes, Pat Breen and Kehoe.

In the past few days, we have witnessed a significant and embarrassing public display of division and ineptitude within and between the parties in Government. It is a disgrace that it takes a Fine Gael Private Members’ motion and the [1503]threat of 40 Fianna Fáil backbenchers crossing the floor——

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputy must be joking.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister of State, as messenger for the Minister, should hear it out.

Mr. Parlon:  The Deputy has been gazumped. He is way behind the time.

  7 o’clock

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  It is a disgrace that it takes a Fine Gael Private Members’ motion and the threat of 40 Fianna Fáil backbenchers crossing the floor and voting with us to get the Minister to act. It shows scant regard for the intelligence of the public for the Minister, fresh from his defeat, to tell us that his climb down and adoption of the Licensed Vintners Association’s proposals on restaurants is a more radical plan than the one he started with. To call that radical is ridiculous. At a very minimum, the Minister should learn a little humility at this stage. It would also help if he was a little more honest in his presentation of the situation. The way the Minister has handled this issue is playground politics of the lowest order and shows how tired and weak this Government has become.

Before the absurd events of recent days, Fine Gael put forward this motion on foot of the Minister’s complete dismissal of the professional opinions of many of the country’s most respected public health professionals. Dr. Joe Barry, a member of the strategy task force on alcohol and the former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, who I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will know, said “the Minister has got it wrong if he thinks his Bill is going to improve things. He’s actually going to make matters worse.” Dr. Ann Hope, the national alcohol policy adviser to the Minister’s party and his ministerial colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, warned:

café bars are not going to reduce binge drinking. You cannot parachute a culture from one country into another.

Now that the debate has moved on we have an opportunity to discuss the Government’s attitude to Ireland’s collective drink problem and the complete lack of consistency in its approach. In May 2002, the strategic task force on alcohol, commissioned by the Department of Health and Children, informed us that in the ten years to 1999 alcohol consumption per capita soared by 41%. It informed us that in 2000, we were second only to Luxembourg for alcohol consumption with a rate of 11 litres per head of population compared with an EU average of 9.1 litres.

That same Government commissioned task force produced its second report in September 2004. It stated categorically that the Government should aim to reduce Ireland’s total per capita consumption to the EU average and that in order [1504]to do so it should “Restrict any further increase in the physical availability of alcohol [including] the number of outlets and times of sale.” Could anything be clearer than that? Without equivocation, the recommendation was to restrict any further increase in the physical availability of alcohol, including the number of outlets and times of sale.

Meanwhile, at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Liquor Licensing Commission was busy at its own work. In July 2003, it produced a report. It said the opening of café bars was a possible way forward and flatly contradicted the findings of the strategic task force on alcohol. It said:

It is impossible to see how such outlets would contribute to an increase in the drinking habits of our people. Surely, the contrary is the case.

That is a view which happened to correspond with the Minister’s and as result it became Government policy.

This is not the way to run the country. We cannot and should not have one branch of Government basing its decision on public health and another basing its decision on issues like competition and the principle of liberalisation in complete ignorance of what the other is doing. Worse still, we cannot have one of those opinions being swept under the carpet because the Minister of the day does not share that view. It is astounding that in the same July 2003 report, the Liquor Licensing Commission states that, “The need for a co-ordinated approach to the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy is obvious.” It goes on to state that, “Many Government Departments and agencies have an involvement in this area and the lack of a unified and coordinated approach will inevitably lead to interdepartmental tensions and conflict between competing public policy objectives.”

We have the ludicrous situation that one arm of Government, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is calling for an integrated approach while being guilty of failing to adhere to that integrated approach in its later recommendations. The Minister has been extremely quick in acting on one of the recommendations, that is, café bars, but not so quick on acting on another recommendation, namely the integrated approach.

Lest the Minister put forward the usual old charge that Fine Gael has nothing positive to say, I refer him to the fact Fine Gael produced a policy document in 2003 on alcohol abuse. We are not visiting this issue for the first time. In that policy, Fine Gael called for exactly such a co-ordinated strategy through a Minister for State devoted to implementing Government policy on this. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should imitate what happens in the UK in every respect but at a very minimum, we can learn from its experience. It has the same types of problems and has a co-ordination system through the
[1505]Cabinet office. I am not saying we should follow it exactly but it highlights the fact our neighbouring island confronted similar types of problems and came up with a solution which I understand is working. It is a great shame that in the heat of the absurd debate on café bars this sensible proposal was not adopted. Surely it should have been the first proposal to be adopted, providing as it does, a mechanism through which other measures could flow. A co-ordinated approach would not allow the Minister to follow his every dream, but that is something without which the nation could easily survive.

The Fine Gael motion specifically calls on the Government to put in place a co-ordinated approach at Government level to the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy. As the Minister is present, I might focus on his oft-repeated claim that his intention is to change drinking habits. In all honesty, does he believe café bars or this non-radical proposal of the licensed vintners in regard to restaurants to deregulate the restaurant industry will do that? Will either of those measures have any impact? I question if they will.

From an early stage I indicated my concern on behalf of the Fine Gael Party about the café bars proposal, but I agreed to examine it and I read the overwhelming evidence from health professionals that it would only add to the problem. It might sound fine in theory but in practice it would result in additional outlets and would involve additional drinking and additional problems in terms of alcohol abuse. That was the clear position I adopted and the Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsed it some weeks ago.

The Minister may later spell out the details of the latest proposal from the licensed vintners, that he adopted, but it is not a radical proposal. Its implementation would not change the situation unduly. I can understand the reason the Minister was prepared to adopt it. It enabled him to steer a course between the various rocks jutting out from the parliamentary party and other rocks jutting out from various vested interests. I do not suggest that it is other than a minor proposal but I am prepared to examine the details of it and form a view on it in due course. On the face of it, it will not affect the situation unduly.

In regard to the motion, I emphasise what is far more important is the issue of action on alcohol abuse generally. The strategic task force on alcohol sets us a target of 9 litres of pure alcohol consumption per capita. That is the EU average, but we are way above that target. Has the Minister any proposals on how we will reach that target? Is he preparing legislation, for instance, to ban alcohol company sponsorship of sporting events? Fine Gael called for that two years ago.

The strategic task force advises that: “Alcohol sponsorship links masculinity, alcohol and sport and provides promotional opportunities that go beyond the passive images of alcohol advertisements.” Where are the Minister’s proposals in [1506]this area? Why is he so concerned with, as the Taoiseach put it yesterday, “fellas having a donut and a glass of milk while the fella beside you whacks into the whiskey”? Why is he not more concerned with the deliberate targeting of young people through the branding of every drink under the sun on the sports field? Is this not a serious issue to confront the nation and that should have engaged the Minister’s attention rather than some of the ridiculous proposals with which he has come forward.

Mr. McDowell:  Will we ban Liverpool from displaying the Carlsberg logo on its jerseys?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We will give the Minister a chance. I am not sure whether the Minister got some of that at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.

Mr. Costello:  Was alcohol served at it?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Where are the Government’s proposals on community initiatives designed to curb demand from young people in this area? Why, in 2005, with the country awash with money can we not boast a world-class local sporting infrastructure? The Minister described the Taoiseach’s Abbotstown proposal as being worthy of Ceausescu. Did he think beyond that sound bite to what the money should be spent on? The Government planned to spend €1 billion on the project. Where is the commitment to spend €1 billion on local sports facilities, on simple provisions as basic as goal posts and changing rooms for young people? Does he hope the 15 year olds hanging around street corners will go to their local restaurant and order dinner?

Is the Minister not aware of the Fine Gael proposals, in its comprehensive anti-social behaviour document, which include banning the sale of alcopops in off-licences and the establishment of alcohol-free hang out spots for young people? Is he not aware of the steps that have been taken in this area in other countries? Has he examined what changed the culture in regard to drink driving, to a considerable degree in Australia? It was very much related to random breath testing. The Government there established and advertised that such random breath testing would happen and such testing had a major impact on the driving habits of the Australian population.

Has the Minister examined the question of placing restrictions on the development of super pubs, in terms of their size and so on? Are these not the real issues? Are these not the types of possible solutions we should debate rather than the madcap, theoretical, social engineering idea of café bars on which the Minister has spent such time and energy?

While he is pondering that question, he might also ponder the issue of enforcement. The Fine Gael motion points to the necessity to provide
[1507]resources and direction to the Garda to ensure that existing legislation is enforced and to deal with public disorder, which in many instances relates to super pubs. Is that not the issue that should have engaged the Minister’s interest?

I am sure he will not thank me for reminding him of the famous 2,000 extra gardaí he and his Fianna Fáil partners — if he and they are still partners and can be considered in that capacity — promised before the last election.

Mr. Costello:  Like Christmas, they are on the way.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Deputy Costello is right. The facts speak for themselves. Taking retirements into account, since 2002, the Government has put only an average of 81 extra gardaí per year on the streets. That is roughly three for every county. That is a disgrace. That is the only way to classify that deployment.

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that we can have all the law we want, but without the gardaí to enforce it, we will never have any order. The number of assaults causing harm hovers at around 4,000 a year. There are 54,000 public order offences. The same complaint is heard again and again — where are the gardaí on the beat when they are needed? Why, on a Saturday night in Dublin city, is Garda visibility so low? Faced with that appalling vista perhaps the Minister’s role in this whole sorry mess is slightly easier to understand. Having failed to put gardaí on the streets, to tackle violent disorder and to deliver on many of his promises, which turned out to be empty, he decided to divert national attention away from his record in office. Instead of allowing the focus to centre on his appalling record, as usual, he went for the headlines. Café bars were a convenient headline and, he thought, a convenient cover. He thought wrong.

Dr. Twomey:  I would like to know exactly what happened here in regard to café bars. I would like to know what power the 42 members of the espresso gang has within Fianna Fáil that has led to this debacle for the Minister. Will they take credit in their constituencies for preventing it being overrun by the ravioli and Chianti set or are they exercising a power over Ministers that we have not seen previously?

In the past two months we had a Private Members’ motion on BreastCheck and cervical cancer screening which looked at the number of women who die because their breast cancer or cervical cancer is not diagnosed in time. The same Government backbenchers voted against it not once but twice and even three times by walking through the division lobbies to show they did not care a hoot about women with cancer. A few weeks later we had another Private Members’ motion dealing with the abuse of alcohol within accident and emergency departments. This was a
[1508]specific issue which dealt with how innocent patients and staff are treated and threatened by people who abuse alcohol within accident and emergency departments. It was mocked and jeered by those same people who now have a big issue with café societies and are prepared to drag a Minister before their parliamentary party to make a big issue of it. However, they did not make a big issue about what was happening in accident and emergency departments. A fortnight ago we had a Private Members’ motion on the abuse of the elderly in nursing homes, an extremely disturbing issue for the population, following a “Prime Time” programme. The same people who have such a major problem with drink had nothing to say on those three major issues.

I would like those same people to ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to come before their parliamentary party and explain why young women are dying of cervical cancer because it is not diagnosed in time, why older women are dying of breast cancer because it is not diagnosed in time, why our accident and emergency departments are taking on the appearance of war zones to the detriment of patients and staff and why the elderly who are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives are told by the Taoiseach they will have to wait until the autumn to get an independent inspectorate to protect their rights in nursing homes. Yet there has been such a hullabaloo over an issue that does not matter a damn to the majority of people. Whatever the Minister may feel about it, his café society was not going to come about, certainly not as quickly as he thought.

Too many Ministers within the Government are operating on a damage limitation exercise or on soft focus media interviews. What we notice is a distinct lack of leadership with Ministers behaving more like glamour boys in front of the TV cameras than doing their job and taking it seriously.

The Minister made a big issue of immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, yet it still takes four or five years for all these cases to be checked. Nothing has changed. This is the type of issue on which we would expect more from the Government. Café bars are nonsensical. Nothing has been done about the abuse of alcohol and it seems ridiculous that as a Minister and one who should know better, he sees alcohol as the same commodity as a loaf of bread or a car. Alcohol is totally different, it is a dangerous drug and the way it is dealt with in society is hugely important.

There are other proposals such as the direct selling of alcohol, where a 16 year old with a credit card can contact a company to deliver alcohol to his house. That is absolutely crazy from a medical point of view. The Minister needs to refocus on what he is talking about. Alcohol is a substance that is destroying Irish lives. The alcohol crisis in Irish society is probably as great as the child care crisis that is developing in certain
[1509]areas. Both are major issues, yet the Government has nothing positive to offer. It should be the intention of the Government to deal with those issues rather than continue the silliness that has been going on.

Mr. Hayes:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Government’s proposal in regard to café bars, an issue about which I feel strongly. The serious problem of binge drinking in Ireland is being approached from the wrong angle. The proposal to introduce café bars is a quick-fix solution which assumes that if these venues are opened up all over Ireland people would flock to them to enjoy a slice of pizza or a glass of wine and that would end the uncivilised binge drinking. Perhaps in Dublin 6 where there is a wide variety of social outlets to meet the needs of a sizeable population, café bars would fit neatly into the landscape, but in rural areas attempts to impose a new culture from the top down are unlikely to succeed.

I favour a more long-term systematic approach to tackle the well-documented crisis of binge drinking. We must begin by asking ourselves why people choose to binge drink. I hold the view that alcopops are responsible for the problem. Manufacturers of alcopops target young people by mixing hard liquor with enough sugar and chemicals to make it taste tolerable. These drinks are not only affordable but are fashionable among the young. Advertisements portray alcopops as an important accessory for a cool young person on a night out. These products should be banned as there is nothing to be said in their favour.

The pub as a social scene is part of the cultural fabric of Ireland. For generations, public houses have served as meeting places for communities who wish to relax and socialise after a long day or week’s work. Recently, super pubs have distorted the image and function of the traditional pub and have no place here. Traditional pubs are not to be blamed for the binge drinking culture. Young people binge drink because there is nothing else to do. By their nature, people are sociable and need social outlets. Generally the only social outlet available to a young person, particularly in rural areas, is a public house. Unfortunately, many who know they will not be served in a public house choose to drink in another location and this is often more dangerous as it is not supervised. Providing young people with an alternative to this type of social life is the issue that needs to be addressed. This is where the culture shift needs to take place.

Young people should be educated to the consequences of alcohol abuse. As part of their education at second level they should be fully informed of the health risks associated with alcohol abuse, the effect alcohol abuse has on families and communities and the harrowing consequences of drink driving. Our young people are highly intelligent and should be provided with the
[1510]opportunity while at school to consider in a thoughtful way the effects of alcohol on society. In the long term we need to provide young people with alternative social opportunities. As a country we are sorely in need of youth clubs where young people from a community can come together and socialise. Some argue that the popularity of the pub is helped by the frequent rain. That is why young people need indoor facilities.

There are fine facilities in almost every parish. Unfortunately parish halls remain locked for most of the year due to lack of Government commitment and support to help pay insurance, heating, lighting and supervision costs. Some of the community schools and colleges have fine facilities available to the wider public but far too many schools with excellent facilities remain out of bounds for our young people after hours because of the cost of insurance. With a little effort and commitment to partnership from the Government the facilities of entire communities could be transformed overnight to provide alternative social outlets for our young people. For hundreds of years we have exported our young people. Given that they are staying at home, now is the time to provide facilities for them whether in rural or urban areas.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Fine Gael Party was the first to point out the self-defeating role café bars would play in the Irish drink culture. I am pleased to note the Minister has abandoned these proposals. I am delighted he is back from the meeting with the parliamentary party and perhaps he will elaborate on it later. Both Deputy Hogan and I invited the Vintners Federation of Ireland to address the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business recently, at which the vintners highlighted their concerns. We asked them to address the parliamentary party because we could see the problems associated with the Bill and with the café bar licences. While I do not wish to give in to the pressures from any particular lobby group, the vintners highlighted the issue of the viability of the industry and the dangers of introducing a free for all licensing system. This issue deals with more than simply the type of drink that can be ordered with a meal; it touches the serious and growing problem of alcohol abuse, particularly among young people. Deputy Jim O’Keeffe quoted Dr. Anne Hope, Dr. Colin Drummond and Dr. Joe Barry. The liberalising of restaurant alcohol licences will not reduce binge drinking but neither will it act as an encouragement. It will encourage people to eat and drink sensibly. If people want to drink themselves silly they will do so.

Two issues need to be addressed, namely the ready supply of alcohol and, more important, the thinking behind binge drinking which is the nub of the problem. The implementation of the national alcohol policy in this regard would be a useful step. I remind the Minister, Deputy McDowell, and the Tánaiste and Minister for
[1511]Health and Children that if she examines the shelves in her office she will discover that a national policy on alcohol existed and was drawn up by Deputy Noonan when he was Minister for Health. It is shameful that there have been three Ministers for Health and Children from the Government parties, Deputies Cowen, Martin and Harney, and they have all failed to advance the policy document drafted nine years ago by Deputy Noonan, the then Minister for Health. A decade ago the problems caused by alcohol were all too obvious. The Tánaiste would use her time much better if she consulted this strategy and its recommendations. Deputy Jim O’Keeffe has referred to some of the recommendations, among them the need for an integrated policy aimed at tackling the cause of excessive drinking through health promotion, education and the restriction of alcohol advertising.

I refer to a recently published European school survey project on alcohol. In this survey regular drinking is defined as being drunk ten or more times in the past 12 months. In 2003, Ireland ranked second after Denmark and highest of the 35 ESPAD countries in terms of the number of school going children who engaged in binge drinking three times or more. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks. We have a national crisis which will be all too obvious to see when the exams finish this summer and the students celebrate with binge drinking. We do not have a targeted health promotion or a mandatory identity card scheme.

It has been argued that people will flock to superpubs in their hundreds. I am no fan of superpubs and they should not dominate this debate. As Deputy Hayes said, we should not forget the small, family-run pubs which are the backbone of the Irish hospitality industry and are an attraction for tourists. Every village and town in Ireland has a pub. They play an important role by giving local employment, providing a welcome retreat, offering food, drink, conversation and entertainment. They have played a significant role in the revival of Irish traditional music. Tourists do not come to Ireland to visit superpubs but rather to enjoy our traditional pubs which are becoming an endangered species. I am not a fan of superpubs. Traditional pubs are part of the fabric of society.

In my constituency of County Clare, 26 out of a total of 400 traditional pubs have closed in the past 12 months, a decline of 7.5%. Many of the remaining pubs exist on turnovers earned through long opening hours. Publicans have accepted the smoking ban. It is to be regretted that the Minister’s proposals did not deal with the protection of the traditional industry in the context of sensible drinking. Some publicans have been prosecuted for allowing underage drinking but the majority of publicans are law abiding.

[1512]Mr. Kehoe:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I thank Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, Fine Gael spokesperson, and Deputy English for tabling this motion. It seems strange to be debating a subject which is a climb down for the Minister. In the face of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party he had to say he was wrong. For a long time the Minister has been given a blank cheque by Fianna Fáil to dream up any legislation he wished. They found to their cost that the legislation on café bars was closest to his heart. He pushed his plan against the advice of most professionals and experts in the area until a rebellion on the Government backbenches caused his latest climb down.

The Minister is a very well-educated man but he went against the advice of the leading professionals in the Department of Health and Children and the National Youth Council of Ireland. Fine Gael has recently been organising public meetings across the country on anti-social behaviour. The café bar folly of the Minister would add to the problem of anti-social behaviour even though he argued that this proposal would help stop underage drinking and anti-social behaviour. However, he did not explain how it would stop binge drinking.

On the one hand, the Minister is bringing in the Criminal Justice Bill, with nothing to say on alcohol-related crime while on the other he wanted to dramatically increase the number of liquor licences by way of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. This major confusion at the heart of the Government’s legislation will surely have an effect on the public. They will see that this coalition is at sixes and sevens and is paralysed at the highest level. It seems Fianna Fáil backbenchers are becoming nervous about the plans of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and there has been a rush of Government backbenchers running to the newspapers and calling the Minister’s proposals “daft”. Deputy McGuinness has been quoted as saying he was “fed up of Michael McDowell making pronouncements about everything”. He called these proposals “daft”. The Minister may smirk but he should not forget he is in Government with Fianna Fáil. When people on his side of the House are calling him “daft”, those of us on this side of the House cannot all be wrong.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  With friends like those, who needs enemies?

Mr. Kehoe:  Exactly. I applaud the Fianna Fáil backbenchers for killing the café bar proposal at birth. I admire the manner in which they opposed the Minister. He was like a spoiled child in that he had to get his own way so he decided to turn to the restaurants instead of the café-style bars. It was a case of getting them one way or another.

It took the threat of Fine Gael’s motion to make the backbenchers wake up and see the daftness of proposals being denounced by every [1513]medical organisation in the country. These proposals would have led to a massive strain on our accident and emergency departments as well as causing an upsurge in drink driving incidents.

Deputy Twomey recently tabled a Private Members’ motion on accident and emergency departments. Drink-related incidents create major problems in accident and emergency departments especially from Thursday night through the weekend in the main built-up areas. The strategic task force on alcohol last year recommended the need for a restriction on any further availability of alcohol for underage drinkers. At weekends we see people, especially under the age of 18, the minimum age for purchasing alcohol, falling around the streets. Café-style bars would give under age people another opportunity to readily get drink. If the Minister is really interested in addressing the problems of alcohol, he should consider the issue of under age drinking and tackle the problem head on, which he is completely failing to do.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I move amendment No. 1:

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

“—welcomes the Government’s decision to codify Ireland’s liquor licensing laws into one coherent modern statute;

—welcomes the Government’s decision to seek the views of the public and interested parties on the reform proposals set out in the Government’s consultation paper;

—commends and endorses the policy goal of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to radically liberalise the law relating to alcohol sales in restaurants to give people a better opportunity to responsibly enjoy alcohol in the context of consuming food;

—calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to develop provisions relating to the consumption of alcohol in restaurants which will end arbitrary and outdated distinctions and restrictions, and will give responsible consumers a real choice;

—draws attention to proposed streamlining of the licensing system whereby all applications for retail licences, nightclub permits and exemption orders will be dealt with by the District Court;

—welcomes the establishment of statutory linkages between the Planning and Development Acts and licensing provisions with a view to promoting coherence between the licensing and planning codes and ensuring com[1514]pliance with building control and fire safety standards;

—welcomes the strengthening of provisions designed to combat the sale and supply of alcohol to under age persons and to prevent alcohol-related harm;

—draws attention to proposals to enhance Garda powers in relation to applications for retail licences, nightclub permits and exemption orders and to increase penalties and sanctions for breaches of licensing law; and

—commends the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 to enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences, in particular his proposal to provide for a fixed charge procedure in relation to less serious public order offences.”

Following enactment of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000, which gave effect to certain reforms of licensing law, the Government, in which my predecessor, Deputy O’Donoghue, was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, established the Commission on Liquor Licensing in late 2000 under the chairmanship of Gordon Holmes. Its mandate was to review the liquor licensing system and to make recommendations for a licensing system geared to meeting the needs of consumers in a competitive market economy while taking account of the social, health and economic needs of a modern society.

The commission was a broadly representative body and contained members drawn from licensed trade bodies, employer and trade union groups, consumer and competition interests and from relevant Departments and public bodies. The commission produced four reports during its existence, including the final report, which the chairman presented to me in April 2003. This report contained certain urgent recommendations designed to combat drunkenness and disorderly conduct in and in the vicinity of licensed premises and to tackle the problems of under age and binge drinking. I took decisive action following receipt of the commission’s recommendations and introduced the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. The Government’s urgent response to the commission’s report has been effective in tackling serious problems to which the commission had drawn attention.

The Commission on Liquor Licensing also recommended a codification of the licensing laws in one of its earlier reports. Such a codification of the licensing laws is long overdue. It was first recommended as far back as 1899 when the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing Laws stated “we are strongly of opinion that the Irish Licens[1515]ing Laws should be codified and simplified in the same way that we have already recommended for England and Scotland”. Two subsequent Governments, one under Cumann na nGaedheal in 1925 and one under Fine Gael and others in 1957, appointed commissions, which also recommended that codification of the law in this area should be undertaken as soon as possible. I accepted the commission’s codification recommendation without hesitation and I am pleased the Bill I have brought forward is the first codification of licensing law since the foundation of the State.

The Government’s proposals for a comprehensive codification of our licensing laws and provisions relating to the registration of clubs are set out in the general scheme of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2005 which I published recently and on which I sought the views of the public and interested parties. The main purpose of the Bill is to streamline and modernise the liquor licensing laws. This involves repealing the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004 and the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2004 in their entirety and replacing them with updated provisions more suited to modem conditions. The existing stock of more than 600 licensing and excise provisions that are spread over approximately 100 statutes will be swept away and replaced by a single statute. This will provide a modern regulatory framework for the 21st century.

The new code will clarify the law, streamline the licensing system, improve public participation and improve compliance with and enforcement of licensing law. That in itself will represent a tremendous contribution to the process of regulatory reform, including the repeal of pre-1922 statutes, to which the Government has committed itself. My proposal to codify the law has been broadly welcomed by the licensed trade and drinks industry, the Revenue Commissioners, the Courts Service, the Garda and all the organisations with an interest in this area.

As I said consistently from the outset, the primary objective of these reforms, apart from simplifying and streamlining the licensing system, is to encourage the consumption of food with intoxicating liquor. As I said many times, we need a cultural shift in our approach to alcohol consumption, a shift towards moderate social consumption and away from the excessive consumption patterns and binge drinking that so often result in alcohol-related harm.

The proposed Bill contains a broad range of structural reforms and I want to draw attention to the following aspects in particular. It proposes a new streamlined District Court procedure applicable to all retail liquor licences. It creates a new nightclub permit for nightclub operators that will replace the special exemption orders currently granted by the District Court. It provides for new theatre licence provisions which will require application to the District Court for a cer[1516]tificate and which contain new arrangements for opening hours. It replaces five types of manufacturer’s licence with a single producer licence. It replaces four types of wholesaler’s licence with a single wholesale licence.

Under the proposed new licensing system, all applicants for retail licences will in future need to apply to the District Court for a court certificate. The court will grant this certificate provided that the applicant can demonstrate compliance with the statutory requirements and provided that the court does not allow an objection by a competent objector on one or more of the listed grounds. The other main changes to the application procedure are as follows. In future, proof of planning permission and compliance with planning conditions and fire safety conditions will have to be presented to the District Court. No such statutory requirements apply at present even though some courts already insist on presentation of planning permission. Where the applicant for a licence is a company, the character and fitness of company directors may be taken into account by the District Court in deciding whether to grant a certificate for a licence. The applicant’s knowledge of the licensing laws may also be taken into account.

The current ad interim system for transferring licences, which is open to abuses, will be discontinued. In future a purchaser of licensed premises must apply to the court for a licence. The holding of licences in the names of nominees will be prohibited. The existing “adequacy” ground on which an objection may be made to the grant of a certificate, which is open to being used as an obstacle to prevent new entrants to the licensed trade, will be replaced by a new ground of “an undue risk of either public nuisance or of a threat to public order or safety”. The Health Service Executive will be made a competent objector to new licences. This will allow the Garda, for example, to object to an application on public order or safety grounds.

At present, the planning laws and licensing laws operate as separate codes. The Bill proposes to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 to require planning authorities to include objectives for the location of licensed premises within the zoning provisions in their development plans. This change is in line with the recommendation of the Commission on Liquor Licensing in its final report where it stated, “local authorities rather than the courts are the appropriate bodies to assess the suitability and location of premises for the sale of alcohol”.

The Bill also makes an explicit link with the planning code in the streamlined court procedure for applications for certificates for new retail licences. In future, before granting a certificate, the District Court will require evidence that planning permission has, if required under the planning code, been obtained and that any conditions attached to the planning permission have been complied with. Moreover, certification of compliance with fire safety standards by a suitably [1517]qualified person will also be mandatory. This provision is designed to promote coherence between the planning and licensing codes and to ensure the safety of customers and staff in licensed premises. In the presence of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I should add that he has recently taken steps to make the opening of an off-licence a matter that requires planning permission and not a matter for exemption under the Planning Acts.

The creation of a café bar licence was a recommendation in the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. As stated, the commission was a broadly representative body, which included representatives of the licensed trade and the hospitality sector. It concluded that the historically restrictive nature of the licensing laws had resulted in the development of “super pubs” which, while generally well managed and catering for an important segment of the market, tended to create noise and nuisance for local residents and made compliance with and enforcement of the licensing laws more difficult for licensees and the Garda alike. The commission also considered that large numbers of people emerging from such premises at closing time increased the risk of public disorder.

The commission’s suggested alternative was continental-style café bars, which would be required, as a condition of the licence, to provide food as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and which could provide an atmosphere and ambience that encouraged the moderate consumption of alcohol. The café bar proposal was a delicately crafted, balanced compromise between radically differing alternative views, which sought to balance the interests of those resistant to change and those expecting reform. It is a tribute to the skills of Gordon Holmes that he managed to achieve a sufficient consensus on such a proposal. Like other Deputies, I recently received a submission from the licensed trade which sought to disparage the work of the commission and drew attention to the fact that a significant minority of commission members voted against the café bar proposal, which, while true, is somewhat disingenuous. Half the opposition to café bars came from those opposed to reform while the other half considered that it did not go far enough to satisfy competition requirements and consumer expectations. The latter group included representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Competition Authority, as well as Carmel Foley, the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Despite personal misgivings on my part that the café bar proposal did not go far enough towards broadening consumer choice and that the size limitation might jeopardise their financial viability, I was prepared to take forward the commission’s recommendation and to publish for consultation proposals for the creation of the new café bar licence in the codification Bill. I must [1518]stress that I put it forward on the basis of the commission’s proposals and not my own. The Government was conscious of the likely public controversy concerning the café bar proposal but instructed me to issue the proposal on a consultative basis to advance the public debate.

When I launched the general scheme of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, I made it clear that the decision to introduce the café bar licence would await the outcome of the public consultation process. Based on the outcome of that process and following consultation with the Taoiseach, I propose to replace the café bar concept with a radical reform of the licensing regime for restaurants. In the absence of the commissioner’s report, this would have been my preferred way to proceed.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister is rewriting history.

Mr. McDowell:  The Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 created a special restaurant licence. It may be obtained from the Revenue Commissioners on foot of a Circuit Court certificate and on payment of a fee of €3,805. Despite reforms in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000, many unreasonable and discriminatory restrictions still apply to the special restaurant licence. The so-called declaratory procedure, whereby a person proposing to construct or acquire licensed premises may obtain the necessary court approval in advance, does not apply to applicants for this licence. Instead, an intending applicant is expected to undertake the investment in the restaurant without any guarantee that a Circuit Court certificate will eventually be granted. An applicant for a public house licence can, on the other hand, avail of the declaratory procedure and can secure the certificate before embarking on the project.

Holders of special restaurant licences are restricted from engaging in any other business that is not ancillary to the provision of substantial meals. This prohibits them from providing accommodation for guests, from operating fishing trips or horse riding, from operating a gift shop or from selling local crafts to guests. There are no prohibitions of this nature on vintners. Holders of the special restaurant licence are not allowed to obtain an occasional licence from the court for an event taking place at a location that is not licensed, even if the event for which the licence is being sought is a dinner or meal for a particular organisation or group which a restaurant would be well suited to providing. Intoxicating liquor cannot be served in such a restaurant while a menu is being considered but only when a meal is ordered. The fear presumably has been that guests might have a drink and then leave without having a meal, doing damage to local pubs by giving custom to restaurants. Alcohol served with a meal must be consumed before, during or within 30 minutes of completing a meal. Anybody who wants a drink after this 30 minute period is expected to visit the nearest public house or [1519]hotel. All alcoholic drinks must be paid for at the same time as the meal. This means a guest or member of a group cannot purchase drinks unless these are paid for by the host at the same time as the meal itself.

The fact that, 16 years after the 1988 Act, there are still only about 300 special restaurant licences may be explained by the continued operation of outdated restrictions which are designed to discourage its use and to make life difficult for those who go to the trouble of obtaining it. I propose to sweep away all these arcane restrictions. Most restaurants do not have a special restaurant licence and cannot sell beer or spirits. I reckon that only 10% of restaurants have gone through the process of getting those special certificates because they are so onerous.

As part of the reform package, I intend to retain and adapt the wine retailer’s on-licence which I had originally intended to drop in favour of the café bar licence. In future, it may be obtained from the District Court, subject to payment of a fee, rather than directly from the Revenue Commissioners. On its own, it will be a licence to operate a wine bar and there are no size restrictions on such premises. Combined with a restaurant certificate, which is provided for in the draft Bill, it will continue to provide a basis for operating a restaurant and supplying all types of alcohol to persons consuming a substantial meal. It will still be possible for holders of this licence to apply for special exemption orders.

The reforms I am proposing to the licensing regime for restaurants, as well as the sweeping away of unnecessary and anti-competitive restrictions, will contribute in a practical and meaningful way to the development of a continental café restaurant culture in this country.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister is game to the last.

Mr. McDowell:  It has been suggested recently that the vintners’ organisations have themselves proposed the reform of restaurant licence rules as an alternative to the café bar licence. I welcome their support, but I am quite sure that support would not have been voiced were it not for the decision to hold a public consultation on the café bar licence.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Who is supporting who?

Mr. McDowell:  I defy anyone to contradict that.

The so-called extinguishment requirement is the current rule whereby an applicant for a new licence for a public house or for an off-licence premises must present the court with evidence that an existing licensee has agreed to extinguish a current licence. I had intended to retain this provision, which many regard as restrictive and anti-competitive, as part of an overall package [1520]that included the creation of the new café bar licence. Without the café bar element, its retention will have to be reassessed. A question that now needs to be addressed is whether the decision to replace the café bar licence by a liberalised restaurant licensing system constitutes an obstacle to freedom of movement within the EU and infringes EC treaty rights to establishment and freedom to provide services. For example, if an EU national wishes in future to exercise his or her right of establishment to open a bar in this country, that person will now have no option but to seek to obtain, by whatever means, the agreement of an existing licensee to extinguish a current licence. There is no discrimination involved, as the rule applies to all, but the procedure lacks transparency and certainty.

For example, there is no register of licences available for extinguishment. There are, admittedly, auctioneers and agents who seek to put intending applicants in touch with licensees who may, depending on price, be willing to extinguish a licence, and licences for extinguishment are occasionally advertised in the newspapers. Availability also depends on demand, and as our population increases beyond 4 million and new urban centres are developed, there is a real probability that the price of extinguishment will increase. It has already increased from about €75,000 a few years ago to about €170,000 today.

The major driver behind this phenomenon is the increase in off-licence premises. Those who are concerned about the proliferation of off-licences should remember that the current boom in the value of licences for extinguishment is largely driven by the boom in demand for off-licence premises.

I am conscious that retention of the extinguishment rule without the alternative of a café bar would be construed by the European Commission as a means of discouraging non-nationals from exercising their rights of establishment and freedom to provide services in this country. Currently there are no EU laws relating to the operation of licensed premises and member states remain generally free to operate their own rules. The developing case law of the European Court of Justice suggests, however, that even in non-harmonised areas, member states must have regard to basic EC treaty freedoms. It could be claimed in defence of the extinguishment requirement, as has been argued recently by certain public health interests, that it is a necessary public health measure designed to limit the availability of alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol consumption data suggest otherwise. It might be hard to convince the European Court of Justice of its public health merits given that a licence can be transferred from small uneconomic premises in a rural area to a superpub in some expanding urban centre. Its effectiveness is also doubtful in light of the 41% increase in alcohol consumption per capita which, according to the strategic task force on alcohol, took place [1521]between 1989 and 1999 with no increase in licence numbers. There is also an issue of population growth.

In any event the Court of Justice, while recognising the validity of health arguments, would be likely to question the proportionality of such a requirement and seek to explore whether less restrictive alternatives might not achieve the desired public health objectives. The matter is under consideration in my Department and the advice of the Office of the Attorney General has been sought. Any proposal to retain the extinguishment requirement might yet have to be notified to the European Commission under the so-called transparency directives. These directives are intended to give the Commission, and the other member states, an opportunity to consider member state proposals which might have an adverse impact on the exercise of EC treaty rights in the Internal Market.

In bringing forward proposals to reform the licensing laws, I am conscious of public concerns about alcohol-related harm in our society. For this reason, the proposed Bill contains safeguards that are intended to combat such harm. These include extending the jurisdiction of the courts to all retail licences and nightclub permits and giving specified notice parties and the public the right to object to the grant of a licence or permit, streamlining the system for renewing licences and clarifying the right of members of the public to object to such renewal on stated grounds, strengthening provisions designed to combat sales to under-age persons by requiring all off-licences to have written policies and control procedures, creating a new offence of being in possession of a forged Garda age card, as well as increasing the levels of penalties and sanctions, including a proposal that all temporary closure orders should involve closure for a minimum of two days.

The Bill does not propose any significant changes to existing opening hours. Certain changes recommended by the Commission on Liquor Licensing were introduced in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, such as earlier closing on Thursday night, and no significant changes are proposed in this Bill. A number of relatively minor adjustments are included which relate mainly to the longer opening hours permitted under general exemption orders and exemptions for special events.

  8 o’clock

In all cases, reform is intended to clarify the law with a view to improving compliance and facilitating enforcement by the Garda. The new licensing arrangements set out in the Bill will allow the Garda to object to applications for retail licences, nightclub licences, special exemption orders and club registrations on grounds of undue risk of public nuisance or threat to public order or safety. In addition, the Garda will be able to apply to the District Court to have a nightclub permit revoked on the grounds set out above. Provision is made for offences relating to drunkenness and dis[1522]orderly conduct on licensed premises and under age drinking. Certain provisions will be strengthened to combat under age consumption of intoxicating liquor, in which context a new offence of being in possession of a forged or altered age card is being proposed. In future, a member of the Garda will have the right to arrest a person who refuses to give his or her name and address, which right does not currently exist in all circumstances.

The Bill will provide for a consistent and coherent system of sanctions and replace the current patchwork of penalties which has evolved over time. Increased fines and penalties are proposed, including a minimum closure order of two days. Clarifying and streamlining the licensing code will help to improve compliance by licensees and enforcement by the Garda. The Garda already has extensive powers under the Public Order Acts of 1994 and 2003 to deal with the effects of intoxication and disorderly conduct in public places. The 2003 Act provides that the District Court can make an exclusion order as an additional penalty where a person is convicted of a public order offence under the 1994 Act. An exclusion order prohibits a person from entering or being in the vicinity of specified premises covered by the Act. The Act also allows the Garda to apply to the District Court for a closure order in relation to premises such as pubs, off-licences, nightclubs and food premises where there are disorder or noise problems.

I wish to discuss my fundamental approach in this area. I listened with interest to the contributions of the Deputies opposite which ranged in tone and content. It is interesting that a series of proposals from Government in the form of draft legislation in response to the report of a broadly-based commission has encountered in the House negativity and opportunistic posturing on the part of the proponents of tonight’s motion.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Codology. The Minister should tell us about the scolding he got from Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Mr. McDowell:  We have had the slightly sad spectacle of people saying that alcopops should be banned. What do they mean by that? Should a vodka and orange or Bacardi and Coke not be available?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Fine Gael policy is that alcopops should be banned in off-licences. The Minister should take the trouble to read it.

Mr. McDowell:  Should Baileys Irish cream or anything that sweetens alcohol be banned? I would like to understand the proposition better. Likewise, it has been proposed that alcohol related sponsorship should be prohibited at all sporting events. Are we to allow Liverpool to appear on our television screens with Carlsberg emblazoned on their chests or say that no Irish team can display such sponsorship? Are the Budweiser Derby and the Heineken international [1523]rugby competition to be banned in Ireland? Where are the well thought-out proposals?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Where are they? Who is in Government?

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe is the person who came up with this.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I told the Minister that these are areas to look at, but he has done nothing about them.

Mr. McDowell:  The more I listen to Deputy Jim O’Keeffe’s ponderous vacuity, I realise that none of the thoughts he expressed this evening has been thought through for one minute. None of the implications has been thought through, which was not the case with the intoxicating liquor commission which sat for a number of years.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister should tell us about the scolding he got from Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Mr. D. Wallace:  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe put down the motion.

Mr. McDowell:  I wish it to be very clear to the House that we face in Ireland a number of problems, one of which is the abuse of alcohol by young people. One of the ways in which we must respond is to provide social outlet choices of the kind referred to by Deputy Jim O’Keeffe and other contributors which do not involve the consumption of alcohol.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  It is not happening.

Mr. McDowell:  It is an accepted point of view. However, those people who go drinking should be given the choice to eat and drink in moderation rather than have to go to exclusively drink orientated places which have a monopoly on the sale of spirits and beer. Young people in Ireland deserve the choice and I make no apology for saying I will do my best to bring it to them.

Anyone who opposes choice with a stethoscope round his neck while his hand is on the lever to pull a pint is dressing up economic reasons as health concerns and I have little time for him. While I realise that some Fine Gael speakers spoke from an exclusively health perspective, others stood up behind them and revealed the reality.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister has ignored the health perspective.

Mr. McDowell:  They said rural pubs were under threat and asked me what I proposed to do to safeguard the economic well-being of rural publicans in this statute. One cannot have it both ways.

[1524]Irish society is moving on and changing and it has problems. The alcohol problem derives in large measure from a superabundance of resources in the hands of a young generation in their late teens and early 20s around whom a social structure exists in which entertainment and amusement is centred on the consumption of drink. We live in a society in which off sales are growing and alcohol is available in slabs of cans to be brought home and consumed.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  It is 50% of all sales.

Mr. McDowell:  While we live in a society which has a number of problems——

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We live in a society in which the Government does nothing to address our problems.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe had his opportunity to speak. The House has a duty to legislate to codify the licensing laws.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  That is not a problem.

Mr. McDowell:  No one has a problem with that. The House is also obliged to provide for a modern generation of young Irish people the opportunities to which they are entitled. The House has an obligation to put before those people a real choice. They should not have to choose between beer and food as is currently the case. We have the opportunity to adopt a more continental approach, to be brave and to put our bow into the wind instead of being frightened by vested interests and others and cajoled into doing nothing. We know what the problems are.

It is not an answer to the case for the reform of licensing laws to say we should have sports facilities.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  It is one of the answers.

Mr. McDowell:  It is not an answer to say we should ban all sports-related sponsorship by alcohol producers, it is, rather, impractical and foolish. It would be impossible to achieve on an international level and would put Irish sport at a very serious disadvantage.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Has it been raised at EU level?

Mr. McDowell:  We must be practical and honest.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Exactly. That is what is needed, but we do not get that from the Government.

Mr. McDowell:  I believe most emphatically that the consumption of alcohol with food is part, though, I concede, not the entirety, of the solution. As long as we surrender to vested interests to separate the consumption of Irish produced [1525]alcohol, be it spirits or otherwise, from food and withdraw from most people in Ireland the opportunity to combine the two, we must take moral responsibility for the emergence of superpubs and the binge drinking culture. We cannot have it both ways.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Let us do something practical.

Mr. McDowell:  Posturing, huffing, puffing——

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  No better man.

Mr. McDowell:  ——and presenting naked advocacy of vested interests as a concern for public health does no credit to the people who moved tonight’s motion. The record shows that when Gordon Holmes produced the commission’s report there was not a squeak from Fine Gael. The party’s participants in chat shows postured as advocates of modernisation and reform only to engage——

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister should tell the House about the squeaks from the Fianna Fáil backbenchers and describe how they treated him. The Minister should show us the scars and stop his huffing and puffing.

Mr. McDowell:  ——in the greatest regression away from Civil War politics, with Fine Gael joining the Fianna Fáil backbenchers who have difficulties with all of this tonight.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  He is still firing off shots.

Mr. McDowell:  I was glad to go to a democratically elected group of people and discuss the matter with them. I am always happy to do that.

Dr. Twomey:  The Minister has been greatly humbled.

Mr. McDowell:  I am equally glad to say to this House——

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister went in with his tail between his legs.

Mr. McDowell:  ——that I have and will listen to the expression of public opinion. I advanced the proposal for café bars because my Cabinet colleagues asked me to put it out there for consultation.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister is blaming them now.

Mr. McDowell:  The aim was to test the waters.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  He is thrashing around now.

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy should not let the truth get in the way of his own prejudices.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister never mentioned his Cabinet colleagues.

[1526]Mr. McDowell:  This is the truth. I put it out there and we have had a public debate. I will be the person and the Government will be the Government that has done something about this matter. The waffle, posturing and moralising opposite will be long dead——

Dr. Twomey:  The Minister has done nothing yet.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister will be knocked off his high horse.

Mr. McDowell:  ——when the Bill is law and the people salute a Government that had the moral courage to take on vested interests instead of moralising and blustering about it.

Dr. Twomey:  The Minister should come back when he has something to put to the House.

Mr. Costello:  I wish to share time with Deputy O’Shea.

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

Mr. Costello:  The Labour Party welcomes this timely Fine Gael Private Members’ motion. I also welcome most of the amendments to the motion tabled by the Minister, including the proposal to allow restaurants a full drinks licence, which is both desirable and timely. I further welcome the proposal to give greater powers to local authorities regarding the licensing of premises. I hope that provision will not be watered down.

I am concerned however at some of the Minister’s remarks, especially his representation of Mr. Gordon Holmes of the Commission on Liquor Licensing, to which I will return in a moment. I am also particularly concerned with the proposal the Minister slipped in on page 14, that gardaí may in future arrest without warrant a person who refuses to supply his or her name and address when requested to do so by a garda. There is no reference to suspicion of involvement in any offence or to a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed.

Mr. McDowell:  That is in the Bill.

Mr. Costello:  I consider the stark way it is put undesirable. I do not accept that the Minister’s proposed provisions will combat the sale and supply of alcohol to under age persons, no more than café bars would have contributed to a reduction in under age drinking and binge drinking. The Minister is aware of my opinion on this matter, that the problem cannot be addressed without tackling sales to minors from certain off-licences. This matter has never been addressed. I repeat ad nauseam that the only way to tackle it is to address the identification and labelling of units of alcohol emanating from off-licences, which could be done through the use of bar coding or some other aspect of modern technology.

[1527]The Minister’s coalition colleagues have shafted him and the shafting of a Minister is not a pretty sight under any circumstances. The Dublin based Licensed Vintners Association and the country based Licensed Vintners Federation went into overdrive when the Minister published the general scheme of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2005 a few weeks ago. Local councillors and Oireachtas Members the length and breadth of the country were heavily and intensively canvassed. The powerful Fianna Fáil publican lobby was out of the traps like a shot. More than half of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party spontaneously signed a motion condemning the initiative.

None of the questionable actions and statements by the Minister in the course of the past three years, such as the harsh terrorism and immigration laws, the buying of land for a prison at ten times the market value, the closure of five prisons in a three-year madcap industrial relations dispute with prison officers, the call for a level of inequality in the market place that would exploit workers, his outspoken desire to turn back “bogus” asylum seekers at ports to avoid due process and international obligations to immigrants — elicited a squeak from Fianna Fáil backbenches. However, they squeaked and hollered when a core Fianna Fáil value and a raw Fianna Fáil nerve was tweaked.

The chant from the Fianna Fáil backbenches was that the Minister should keep his hands off their pubs and publicans. The core Fianna Fáil value was to retain the status quo, the cosy cartel of a limited number of licences in expanding urban areas, to restrict competition and maintain high drink prices to the detriment of citizens. The Minister announced tonight that the cost of a licence has gone up to €170,000. Ironically, this Fianna Fáil approach conflicted with the Minister’s and the Progressive Democrats' core value, which is for deregulation, unrestricted competition and free-for-all in the marketplace. Two great ideological beasts squared up to each other in mortal combat. I am afraid the Minister lost the battle.

The gloss the Minister put on the show-down on last night’s “Questions and Answers” where he did not acknowledge there was a show-down, represents one of the great works of fiction, revisionism and U-turns I have ever experienced from a Member of this House. I remember the day three years ago when the Minister climbed the pole in the 2002 election and declared “One-Party Government — No Thanks” and pleaded to a gullible electorate to allow the Progressive Democrats to ride shotgun on Fianna Fáil. That is a very dim memory.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  God help us, there is no ammunition in the shotgun now.

Mr. Costello:  Is it not time to recognise after succumbing to Fianna Fáil over the second ter[1528]minal at Dublin Airport and most recently on the café bars issue that the Progressive Democrats are now lame duck coalition cheerleaders, no longer watchdogs as they purport to be to the public? No matter what way the Minister tries to portray his new proposals for the liberalisation of restaurant alcohol licences, the simple fact remains that the abandonment of his plans for café bars is a total climb down in the face of opposition from the Government backbenchers.

I take issue with the Minister who stated that the café bar proposal came from the report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. By his account, he got Cabinet approval for that report and then entered into a consultation period. The proposal for café bars did not receive support — or so the Minister stated — and he reverted to his original and preferred proposal, the lifting of restrictions on restaurants.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Produced from the conjuror’s hat.

Mr. Costello:  The trouble with this version of history is that it is demonstrably false. Outside of Dáil Éireann one could call it a lie. Inside the House, one is restricted to describing it as a wilful misrepresentation of the facts, promoted in order to conceal the truth and save face. The proposals of the Commission on Liquor Licensing in regard to café bars were designed simply to allow for new small pubs. It said that: “The current requirement to extinguish an existing on-licence should not apply where the premises for which the licence is sought does not exceed a maximum total floor area of 130 sq. m.” Launching the report, the Minister stated:

I very much welcome the commission’s proposal for the creation of a new ‘small premises’ licence for new entrants to the licensed trade. Applicants for such a licence would no longer be required to ‘extinguish’ an existing licence [the Minister is now presenting this to us as a new idea] but rather to pay an appropriate fee to be determined by the Minister. The commission believes that smaller premises which are owner occupied and managed will provide an atmosphere and ambience that encourages moderate social consumption of alcohol rather than the excessive consumption and binge drinking that has become so common in recent years. This accords with my own long-held view that while existing quantitative restrictions have served to control the number of premises, they have contributed to the development of very large drinking establishments which create noise and nuisance for local residents and make compliance with and enforcement of the licensing laws much more difficult.

At no stage in its consideration of the need to facilitate the growth of smaller premises did the commission refer to food. There is one passing reference in its report to the fact that “a person can drink a cup of coffee in such premises along[1529]side other people who are taking alcohol”. Nor did the Minister in his response refer to a mix of food and drink as being definitive of the café bar. It was simply an exotic name for a new, small pub to be contrasted with the superpub.

The report also states:

While the Commission accepts that ‘superpubs’ are generally well managed, and cater for an important segment of the market, they also create noise and nuisance for local residents and make compliance with, as well as enforcement of, the law more difficult for licensees and the Gardaí respectively. Moreover, when large numbers emerge from these premises at closing there is inevitably an increased risk of public disorder.

. . . The Commission, however, feels it incumbent upon it to endeavour to lay down some methods whereby that situation can be improved.

The commission made a specific recommendation, No. 42, that the definition of “bar” should reflect a clear distinction between the services provided at bars and restaurants. However, the Minister now proposes to eliminate that distinction and to combine the two on small premises, while attributing the concept to the commission. The Minister will have to read the report again.

In his address the Minister stated:

As regards the creation of a café bar licence, this was a key recommendation in the Final Report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. That commission ... concluded that the historically restrictive nature of the licensing laws had resulted in the development of superpubs which, while generally well managed and catering for an important segment of the market, tended to create noise and nuisance for local residents and made compliance with and enforcement of the licensing laws more difficult for licensees and the Garda alike.

The reality is that the proposal is the Minister’s and not the commission’s, as he claims. At no stage did the commission recommend that small premises, as a condition of their licence, be required to provide food as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink. The idea was the Minister’s and was promoted by him alone. Having an unfettered, free-for-all environment in which the market rules represents a core value of the Minister and his party, the Progressive Democrats. This idea bites the dust in an abject and embarrassing surrender to 42 Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Mr. O’Shea:  Tááthas orm labhairt ar an díospóireacht thábhachtach seo ar an moladh a bhí ag an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí ceadúnas a chur ar fáil chun “café bars” a oscailt. Tá sé sin curtha ar leataobh agus is é atá i gceist anois go mbeidh cead ag bialann de gach aon sórt alcól a dhíol agus nach mbeidh aon teorann ar líon na mbialann. Molaim [1530]Fine Gael as ucht an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála agus tugaim mo lán-tacaíocht dó.

There is a danger in this debate on the proposed café bars that in the Minister’s manoeuvrings we will effectively lose sight of the real problems surrounding alcohol abuse and its health-related and social consequences. When Deputy Costello published the Labour Party policy document, Alcohol Use and Abuse: New Culture of Responsibility, in May 2003, he gave some background to alcohol use and abuse in Ireland. He stated Ireland had, in 20 years, moved from being a nation of moderate drinkers to being one of the main consumers of alcohol in Europe. There has been a 49% per capita increase in consumption in ten years. Alcohol consumption per adult in Ireland was 56% higher than the EU average.

What was most alarming in the Labour Party document was the description of the patterns of drinking among the young. The changes in this category were even more dramatic than those in other categories. Some 50% of Irish children under 12 were found to have experimented with alcohol and two thirds of 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds were current drinkers. Half of 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds engaged in binge or crash drinking.

A survey by the Department of Health and Children from April 2003 found that one in every four young people between ten and 16 had been drinking alcohol in the previous month. The fallout in regard to alcohol abuse by young and old was extremely depressing. The estimated cost to the Exchequer of alcohol abuse last year was €2.5 billion. Some 40% of traffic deaths and 30% of roadside deaths were found to result from drink driving. A 370% increase in the numbers of teenagers intoxicated in public places was recorded between 1996 and 2002. This is the real problem.

The Private Members’ motion first deals with concerns regarding the plans by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to increase the number of outlets selling alcohol by providing licences for the opening of café bars. My colleague, Deputy Costello, has just dealt with this in some depth. The genesis of this proposal is interesting. The proposal of the Commission on Liquor Licensing regarding café bars was designed simply to allow for new, small pubs. This was very much welcomed by the Minister as a proposal for the creation of new small premises licences for new entrants to the licensed trade. The Minister stated applicants for such a licence would no longer be required to extinguish an existing licence but, rather, to pay an appropriate fee determined by the Minister. I recall the figure of €5,000 per licence. At no stage did the commission refer to the need to serve food in these smaller outlets. This was the Minister’s proposal. Some 55% of public houses already supply food of some sort. This gives rise to the question as to what scientific evidence exists to suggest café bars would in any way influence the level of alcohol consumption in any real or significant way.

[1531]Discussing the proposal on café bars is pretty redundant at this stage. The Minister contends that by taking the route he is now taking, that is, fully licensing restaurants, he is being more radical and comprehensive. He also described it as his preferred route. He has in the past described the need for the Progressive Democrats to be radical to escape becoming redundant. His Progressive Democrats-inspired café bar proposal is well and truly redundant and the party is convincing nobody that its proposal to license fully restaurants is radical. The president of the Progressive Democrats needs to assess how the party stands.

There are problems with the price of drink that need to be addressed but an ideologically inspired and poorly thought-out one-size-fits-all regulation will not bring about real competition. There are very wealthy publicans but there are many others who work hard to make a decent living. There are already regulations in place that need to be implemented fully. The local public house is an important part of the social structure in both urban and rural areas. A distinction must be made between large pubs whose only real motive is to sell as much drink as possible and local pubs which, in many cases, have a very important and worthwhile role.

There needs to be better control over the off-licence trade. The Minister has referred to this. I recall meeting a rehabilitated drug addict who spoke of alcohol being her drug of entry. When I asked her when she started drinking she said, “At 12 years of age.” I asked her how she had access to alcohol. It seems that various children went around to each other’s house and took some of the drink that was available on the basis that the parents might not notice. She also said that with the “bush drinking”, in lonely places, it was always possible to find someone over 18 to purchase drink for them, so that they could drink at that early age. That is a problem which needs to be rooted out.

Debate adjourned.

Mr. McGuinness:  I raise the issue of MRSA in our hospitals and the reaction of the Health Service Executive to that problem. Some weeks ago in Kilkenny, a public meeting was attended by over 150 people, representing individuals and their families who have been affected by MRSA, the hospital superbug. The group was representative of the whole country. People travelled from Galway, Dublin, Cork and Ennis. Deputy James Breen attended and I chaired the meeting.

I was horrified by the cases recounted at the meeting. One of the issues complained of by most [1532]people was that MRSA is not even spoken about in the hospitals. In one case where a lady who had MRSA asked for her file under the Freedom of Information Act, an official stood with her as she looked through it. She noted that the nurse had put a note on the file to the effect that this lady had MRSA and was not to be told.

A wall of silence exists with the Health Service Executive on this issue. I ask the Minister for Health and Children to do what she can to expose this problem, to advise all the frontline operatives and the patients about it, and to ensure that support is given to those who have MRSA and are being cared for at home. One of the unusual requests from those who attended the meeting was that if a person died from MRSA, this should be put on the death certificate. I find all of that quite disturbing.

There were also people there who represented companies which have advised the Health Service Executive of this problem and are selling product into the system that needs to be improved. They say a better alcohol-based hand wash is where one should start. A public awareness campaign needs to be undertaken to advise all patients, or those visiting hospitals, of the problem. We need to put money into the system, so that various handwash points can be provided in wards and isolation units made available. In particular, elderly people who are patients within the hospital system should be advised and cared for in isolation units.

I was horrified when, at a recent Committee of Public Accounts meeting, the Secretary General and officials of the Department of Health and Children could not answer questions when challenged about this issue. The representatives from the Health Service Executive refused, or could not give the information, for which they were asked. The Minister answered a parliamentary question on 1 March this year by saying that full and comprehensive information would be issued by the Health Service Executive. To this date that question has not been answered. Is that any way to treat a Member of this Parliament who was asking about MRSA on behalf of a concerned public? A recent report has shown that MRSA is a serious problem in Ireland. It stated that this is one of the countries which has a problem within its hospitals. All I ask is that the Minister should engage with those who have contracted MRSA in hospital and outline how exactly she intends to deal with the problem.

I spoke to a young woman last week whose uncle had been discharged from Waterford hospital and told that he did not have MRSA. When he turned up to the nursing home he was told he had MRSA and would not be admitted as it was now active in his heel. He went back to Waterford hospital and was not admitted there. He was held for four hours in the waiting room while someone came to deal with him. When I spoke to the young woman who was trying to care for her uncle, she was in tears over problems involved in trying to have him admitted and the [1533]difficulties in dealing with the situation. That is entirely unsatisfactory. The national organisation which represents those people wants the Minister to meet with them, outline a campaign of action and state where the appropriate funding is going. I am told there is funding within the system to deal with this problem. They also want to see a plan within the hospitals for caring for patients who have MRSA.

I ask, too, that the Department respond to the complaints being made by the professionals within the system. They flagged this problem for the Department 12 months ago and to date have not received any response to what they regard as a crisis. These are the people on the frontline of our health services. I urge the Minister to take this seriously, to deal with the families concerned and make an immediate public response to the issue of MRSA.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I thank Deputy McGuinness for raising this matter and I am happy to have the opportunity to respond.

The strategy for the control of antimicrobial resistance in Ireland, SARI — including MRSA — was launched by the Department of Health and Children in June 2001. Since then, approximately €20 million in funding has been made available under the strategy. This SARI funding is in addition to normal hospital funding arrangements for infection control.

In 1995 a committee convened by the Department, comprising consultant microbiologists, specialists in public health medicine, general practitioners and infection control nurses produced guidelines for the management of MRSA in acute hospitals. These guidelines have been widely circulated and include an information leaflet for patients.

The infection control sub-committee of the national SARI committee recently prepared revised guidelines in relation to the control of MRSA in Irish hospitals and community health care settings. They key recommendations cover such areas as environmental cleanliness, bed occupancy levels, isolation facilities, hand hygiene, appropriate antibiotic use and protocols for the screening and detection of MRSA. These draft guidelines are based on the best evidence available internationally. The guidelines are being considered by the Health Service Executive at present and when cleared by the HSE will replace the guidelines issued in 1995.

The Deputy will be aware that responsibility for operational issues in relation to the services provided by acute hospitals now rests with the Health Service Executive. The prevention and control of hospital acquired infections, HAIs, is a priority issue for the HSE. Effective infection control measures, including environmental cleanliness and hand hygiene, are central to the control of HAIs, including drug-resistant organisms such as MRSA. The SARI infection control sub-committee released national guidelines for [1534]hand hygiene in health care settings during 2004. These guidelines have been widely circulated by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and are available on its website.

Improving the standards of cleanliness in hospitals is a priority. One of the specific actions identified by the Minister for Health and Children in the ten point plan to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services refers to the need to address this particular issue.

My Department understands that the director of the National Hospitals Office will have a hygiene audit of hospitals carried out this summer by external consultants. The results of the audit are expected to inform the national standards for infection control and cleaning. The HSE is responsible for the follow-through on the ground of pragmatic and concrete efforts to deal with this challenge and to ensure that patients receive appropriate levels of protection. Standards of hygiene must be upheld and the Minister is committed to ensuring this.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue, namely, the need for capital funding under the equal opportunities childcare programme for child care centres in Ventry, Lispole and Ballyferriter in the Dingle area of County Kerry.

In 2002, the Kerry county child care committee strategic plan 2002 to 2006, which secured approval from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, identified west Kerry as an area in need of substantial development of its child care services. The three areas seeking funding are Lispole, Ventry and Ballyferriter and the child care committees of the three villages have come together under the umbrella of Coiste Curama Leanaí Chorcha Dhuibhne to co-ordinate their campaign for funding. On 16 December last the Department refused funding to Coiste Forbharta Fionn Trá in Ventry, a significant blow to the local community following a major fundraising drive locally.

The locality has a crying need for a child care centre. The existing pre-school facility, which has been in place since 1979, is in a community hall which is neither suitable nor appropriate for such a facility. Coiste Forbharta Fionn Trá has appealed the decision to the Department and I implore the Minister to award it funding.

Lispole and Ballyferriter child care committees await decisions on their applications, which were submitted to the Department in December 2003. Both communities went to great lengths to acquire sites for the construction of child care centres. For 18 months, however, ADM Ltd., which administers the funding, has led them from pillar to post with their applications and there is growing concern that the available sites may be in jeopardy if a positive outcome does not emerge from the Department soon.

[1535]At present, the facilities in Ballyferriter, a pre-school centre which caters for only 16 children, are wholly inadequate in an area of expanding population. In Lispole, the pre-school centre is located in a community hall which is subject to regular flooding.

Between Ventry, Ballyferriter and Lispole the Coiste Curama Lianaí Chorcha Dhuine intended to provide 155 child care places in their communities. The three child care committees in west Kerry, with which I met recently, believe they are being treated unfairly and strung along with questions and queries from the Department. The groups have received letters from ADM Limited. questioning aspects of their application and asking them to submit and resubmit and fill and refill forms. Then, faceless people in the Department who have never seen the position on the ground adjudicate on their applications. They are concerned that, given that the information the Department and ADM Limited. sought has already been provided, the Department is engaged in a time wasting exercise.

The three groups in question estimate it requires up to 1,000 volunteer man-hours to prepare an application for funding for child care facilities and do not believe this effort has been recognised or rewarded. Is the reason for the strict more unfair criteria the Department applied to the administration of funding under the equal opportunities childcare programme due to a decline in the amount of money available under the programme? Groups such as those in west Kerry, which found it difficult to acquire sites when the EOCP funding first became available and was plentiful are suffering now that the pot of money is drying up.

Will the Minister give an assurance that funding will be made available to the child care groups in west Kerry that have done all that was asked of them? If the Government is committed to the provision of child care services, their applications for funding should be approved.

As I have stated in the House on previous occasions when discussing staffing grants the Government attempted to remove from child care centres as of this September, the State must play a role in funding the provision of adequate and appropriate child care services. We cannot in future rely solely on capital funding from the European Union. I appeal to the Minister to fund three vital child care centres in Lispole, Ballyferriter and Ventry. The amount of money involved is relatively small and no less than the communities, parents and children of the area deserve.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to update the House on the important issue of child care. I reject the suggestion that I attempted to withdraw funding from any groups.

[1536]Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  I did not suggest the Minister withdrew it.

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy said I attempted to withdraw it.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  I did not.

Mr. McDowell:  She should check the record.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  The Minister attempted to withdraw staffing grants.

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy just said it again.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  He withdrew funding for staffing and then changed his mind. He did another U-turn under pressure.

Mr. McDowell:  That is not so. The equal opportunities childcare programme is the Government’s key response to the need to develop child care to support the child care needs of parents, with a particular emphasis on those who may be in employment or education or training to prepare for employment. The programme aims to increase the supply of centre based child care places by 55% at its conclusion.

Since the equal opportunities childcare programme was launched in 2000, the funding package has been increased on a number of occasions to match increased demands to develop this important sector. The Government is aware of the importance of providing child care to support the economy and social inclusion through labour market participation. It has made additional capital funding available immediately to build on the momentum generated by the programme in community groups throughout the country, rather than await a follow on programme under a new national development plan.

The original funding package of €318 million allocated for the seven year programme in 2000 has increased to slightly more than €499 million and includes increased provision for capital developments for which €205 million has been allocated. This figure includes part of the additional capital provision of €90 million made available by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, in budget 2005 over the period 2005-09 to develop child care infrastructure. Far from decreasing the amount of funding available, it has been increased as late as the most recent budget.

Since budget 2005, I have announced a record allocation of some €67 million in capital funding for community based not for profit groups in two tranches, one in December 2004 and another on 4 March 2005, bringing the total amount committed under the programme to date to more than €395 million. This funding will lead to the creation of more than 36,000 new child care places, of which 24,600 have already been completed.

I am aware that capital grant applications for funding under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-06 are with my Department from groups in County Kerry, including Aonad [1537]Óige an Fhirtéaraigh, Ballyferriter, Comhlacht Óige Lispóil Teoranta and Coiste Forbharta Fionn Trá from Ventry. The availability of the additional capital funding allocated in budget 2005 will enable me to make further capital grant assistance available to groups that address significant child care service gaps, where the project proposal represents good value for money. In light of this, Aonad Óige an Fhirtéaraigh and Comhlacht Óige Lispóil Teoranta were advised in December 2004 that, while their projects had not been prioritised for immediate funding, they will be reconsidered in future.

I hope to make further capital commitments in 2005 and, thereafter, to child care projects which link clearly with the aims of the programme, are sustainable, offer value for money and can clearly demonstrate that they would fill a clear service gap in their local area.

In December 2004 the programme appraisal committee appraised an application for capital grant assistance from Coiste Forbharta Fionn Trá Teoranta in Ventry. The appraisal process raised concerns about the range of services being offered by the proposed service and its long-term sustainability. As a result, it was not recommended for capital grant assistance. The group has recently appealed this decision. Following receipt of an appeal in the child care directorate of my Department, Area Development Management Ltd., which is engaged to assess all applications for funding on my behalf, is requested to re-assess the application in light of any additional information which may be supplied by the group in support of its application. When this reassessment is complete, the application will then be considered further by the programme appraisal committee chaired by my Department. The group will be informed of the outcome in due course.

Efforts are being made to achieve a good geographical spread through the appraisal and approvals process. Almost € 17.4 million has been approved for County Kerry under the child care programme, with 52 capital grants approved to establish either new or quality enhanced community-based not-for-profit or private child care facilities. The county has also benefited from 47 staffing grants to groups which have a focus on disadvantage. This funding to child care providers in Kerry is leading to the creation of over 1,700 new child care places and to the support of over 1,000 existing places. Kerry County Childcare Committee also receives annual funding to support its developmental work. The levels of support going to County Kerry under the equal opportunities child care programme compare very positively with other counties in the southern and eastern regions.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  There is nothing in west Kerry.

Mr. McDowell:  When the assessments on the outstanding projects in Kerry are completed, the applications will be considered by the programme [1538]appraisal committee, chaired by my Department, before I make a decision on each case.

In addition, the Deputy may be aware that I have recently approved the continuation to the end of December 2007 of staffing grant assistance for all groups whose first three year funding has elapsed unless the level of service being offered has declined significantly below that which they had originally undertaken to deliver. The extension of the duration of funding follows a review of the services in question and is conditional on the services continuing to meet the objectives of the equal opportunities child care programme and the conditions set down within their contracts with ADM.

It is fair to emphasise that the equal opportunities child care programme has been central to the development of child care in Ireland. I hope that Deputy Moynihan-Cronin will acknowledge the progress made to date in Kerry and will be reassured that all possible steps are being taken to further develop the child care service throughout the county to meet local need.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue for three children who live in my constituency. I draw to the attention of the Minister of State my serious concerns about the treatment of these three young children, aged between four and six years, by both the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children. These children have been attending the speech and language therapy department in Swords for the past two years and during that time they have made progress. Unfortunately, however, they have been diagnosed with a significant speech and language disorder and require further assistance.

Their parents were elated when informed by the speech and language therapy section of the Health Service Executive that the special education and speech therapy needs of their children could be catered for in St. Marnock’s national school in Portmarnock. The special needs language class provided in St. Marnock’s is limited to seven children who have significant speech or language difficulties. This class is held in a mainstream primary school where the children follow the national curriculum. The pupils are also seen by a speech and language therapist on an intensive daily basis. They remain in this class for one to two years and, following this, return to the local primary school.

This language class caters for what is known in health board terms as “area 8”, which has a population of 250,000 people. From this population, the Health Service Executive identified five children who require a place in the school. The parents of these five children were dismayed when notified last weekend that only two of the five children were offered places in St. Marnock’s and one of the seven places on offer went to a referral from a private therapist.

[1539]This decision has left three children without a service which was deemed necessary by the Government’s own Department to meet their needs and prepare them for the future. Clinical psychologists have confirmed that without this specialist input, they may become quickly frustrated at school and, as a result, display behaviour management difficulties. This behaviour may have long-term implications resulting in serious psychological problems at a later stage. This can be avoided if the necessary resources are put in place now. The window of opportunity to learn language and address this problem is between four and six years of age. Time is rapidly running out for these children. They are desperately disappointed at not being offered places in St. Marnock’s and are in despair, having been informed that there is no alternative service available to them.

It would be an indictment of our health and education systems if the Minister of State is unable to provide the necessary resources in September 2005 for three children with special needs out of a population of 250,000. Schools will close shortly for the summer break and positive decisions are urgently required.

I have been informed that earlier today the principal of St. Marnock’s national school met the parents and told them that a classroom is available in the school for September. It is now up to the Minister for Education and Science to ensure the additional resources, including an additional teacher and speech therapist, are made available. Nothing less will be acceptable to me or the parents of the children, who are understandably very angry at how their children have been treated.

In the past we have had positive responses from the Minister of State on various issues. This goes to the heart and soul of three children who are looking for the education and health systems that will prepare them for their journey in life. It is up to the Government in these good economic times to provide them for the children. Anything else is unacceptable.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to clarify the position of the Department of Education and Science on the matter referred to by the Deputy.

St. Marnock’s national school in Portmarnock currently has the services of one principal, nine mainstream teachers, one learning support teacher, one resource teacher and one special class teacher. The enrolment of the school stands at 262. Special classes for children with specific speech and language disorders are established where a need has been identified and supported by up-to-date psychological and speech therapy reports in respect of the children in question. Each class caters for a maximum of seven children and each class requires the services of a [1540]speech therapist. The speech therapy service is provided by the Health Service Executive. The school currently has a special class for speech and language disorder. There will be seven pupils enrolled in the class in September 2005 and, therefore, there is no available spare capacity in this class for additional pupils.

I can confirm that correspondence has been received in the Department of Education and Science from the parents of three children with speech and language disorders requesting that an additional class for specific speech and language disorder be established.

The Deputy may be aware that the National Council for Special Education, which became operational on 1 January 2005, processes applications for special educational needs supports, including requests for the establishment of special classes. The council has a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special educational needs, including children with speech and language disorders. The council has a local area presence through a network of 71 special educational needs organisers.

  9 o’clock

I understand from the Department of Education and Science that the council has not received any application for the establishment of an additional class for speech and language disorder from St. Marnock’s national school to date. However, following from the correspondence received from parents, the Department will make contact with the school with a view to ensuring that these children’s needs can be met in St. Marnock’s, if possible, or in other suitable premises.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy and I thank him again for the opportunity to give an update on the current position in regard to the need for a special needs class at St. Marnock’s national school. The school had not sent the application to the proper section. I accept it is a new process that only came into place this year.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The school was not aware of it.

Mr. N. Ahern:  Those people who are part of the system should have been aware of it. I hope matters will be put right.

Mr. Morgan:  I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue with the Minister. Several issues regarding the presence of previously unidentified quantities of asbestos at domestic dwellings have been brought to my attention in recent weeks. Asbestos poses serious health risks. There is an onus on the Minister of State to ensure that all possible measures are taken to protect the people of the State from the health risks connected with exposure to asbestos. I am concerned the instances are indicative of a wider problem in respect of the presence of asbestos and a decline in public awareness of its dangers

South Dublin County Council’s Sinn Féin councillor, Cathal King, recently raised with the [1541]county manager the issue of asbestos sheeting used as the main material in the roofs of all outhouses built between the late 1970s and mid 1980s by Dublin Corporation and County Council. These houses are now in South Dublin County Council’s administrative area. He asked the manager a series of questions regarding the presence of this asbestos, the health risk which it posed, the procedures in place for tenants to have the asbestos sheeting removed and whether the council was prepared to replace the asbestos sheeting for tenants.

The manager confirmed that asbestos carrying material was used in a large proportion of roofs of fuel sheds in former Dublin Corporation Housing stock but claimed it poses little risk. He also claimed the material poses minimal risk to the tenants or workers. The manager continued in his reply that it is advisable not to remove the material. He stated:

However, under the refurbishment programme, the roof covering is being removed by South Dublin County Council staff, where the integrity of the roof is found to be breached, i.e. in poor condition due to leaks. All removal is being carried out in accordance with best practice and current health and safety regulations. Training is in place for all county council operatives involved in this work.

This is not an adequate reply because there is a real risk that some homeowners will interfere with the asbestos sheeting while involved in DIY work on their property, a summer activity for most householders. Some may independently undertake work to dismantle these sheds and become exposed to the asbestos material. An information leaflet from ENFO warns that disturbance of such materials by non-specialists could cause risks to health. Given that this material has to be dealt with at some stage and has a limited lifespan, will the Minister of State agree that it is best to put in place a programme for the removal of all such asbestos material? Has the Minister of State given consideration to introducing a scheme of assistance for householders removing asbestos from their homes? Will the Minister of State instruct all councils to make householders aware where asbestos sheeting is contained in the roofs of sheds of former local authority dwellings?

Another similar case was brought to my attention by Fingal County Council’s Sinn Féin councillor, Felix Gallagher. He was approached by a constituent who, while carrying out some work in his house, discovered asbestos panelling in the ESB circuit board box. When Councillor Gallagher looked into this issue, he was told that every house in the State built between 1974 and 1982 was fitted with this asbestos cement panelling in the ESB circuit board box. Will the Minister direct the ESB to remove this asbestos panelling? The real problem is that people are not aware there is asbestos in their home or on their property. While the information leaflet entitled [1542]Asbestos in Your Home, available from ENFO, refers to the possibility of asbestos in shed roofs in the section, Where Might Asbestos Be Encountered in Homes, it does not refer to asbestos panelling in ESB circuit board boxes. Will the Minister at least ensure this leaflet is amended to make people aware that asbestos is contained in ESB circuit board boxes?

Mr. N. Ahern:  I thank Deputy Morgan for raising this issue. In the past, asbestos-containing materials were used in some roofing materials, as a constituent of some floor tiling and in some fire resistant panels. The extent of usage of asbestos-containing materials in housing construction since the 1970s is not known to my Department. However, the marketing and reuse of asbestos products has been banned since 1 April 2000. While it is a matter for individual authorities responsible for housing maintenance to consider, in particular circumstances, the desirability of removing asbestos-containing materials present in their rented housing stock, it is not considered necessary to instigate a specific programme in this respect. The Department has not been requested by local authorities to do so generally.

In the case of South Dublin County Council, as the county manager outlined to the council some weeks ago, a large percentage of former Dublin Corporation housing stock, now managed by the council, used asbestos-containing material in the roof of fuel sheds. The council employed a company to advise on the health and safety issues arising. This company carried out a risk assessment and advised that the asbestos-containing material used in the construction of these roofs poses little risk. The council has, therefore, concluded there is no requirement from a health or risk perspective to remove the material and it is advisable not to do so.

The council has, however, advised that when they are undertaking improvement works to their rented stock under the refurbishment programme, the roof covering is being removed where the integrity of the roof is found to be breached. All removal is being carried out in line with best practice and current health and safety regulations while training is in place for the operatives involved.

The possible use of asbestos in electricity installations is a matter for the ESB and I have no responsibility in this area. From a general perspective, where risk assessments indicate that asbestos should be removed, the removal and disposal must comply with regulations. An information leaflet entitled, Asbestos in Your Home, is available from ENFO, my Department’s public information service on environmental matters. This includes advice on the maintenance of asbestos materials and their removal and disposal. The leaflet advises the public to contact the Health and Safety Authority to obtain information on the handling and use of asbestos.

The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the preparation of the national [1543]hazardous waste management plan with regard to the prevention and minimisation of hazardous waste, the recovery of hazardous waste, the collection and movement of hazardous waste and the disposal of such hazardous waste as cannot be prevented or recovered. Any proposed form of treatment or disposal of asbestos must be consistent with this plan and subject to stringent Environmental Protection Agency licensing requirements. I emphasise that the regulatory framework and the appropriate advice is available to deal with concerns relating to asbestos-containing materials used in construction in the past, including its safe removal and disposal where necessary.

While asbestos is a dangerous product, materials with a small percentage of asbestos are [1544]not dangerous when it is tightly bound into the cement mix. If it is not disturbed and the fibres are not released into the air, it is of no danger.

Mr. Morgan:  Will the ENFO leaflet be amended to indicate this is present in ESB circuit board boxes?

Mr. N. Ahern:  I am not sure if people will excessively toy with their fuseboards. It is not an asbestos fuseboard but one with a content of asbestos in it. There could only be 0.5% of asbestos in a product. A health and safety consultant employed to examine this matter, recommended there is no need to do anything. When general refurbishment programmes are introduced, these materials will be replaced at that time.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 June 2005.

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

Questions Nos. 1 to 25, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 26 to 48, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 49 to 57, inclusive, answered orally.

  58.  Mr. G. Murphy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason the resource teacher assigned to a school (details supplied) in County Cork is being moved; and if this resource teacher will be allowed to continue working with the children they have been working with in this school. [18937/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, my Department has issued a letter to all primary schools notifying them of their resource teaching allocation under the new general allocation scheme for the 2005-06 school year. The school referred to by the Deputy has been notified that it has a general allocation of 12.5 hours, based on an enrolment of 49 pupils. The letter also included details of the arrangement under which the school will be clustered with another school to enable the creation of a full-time post, rather than just hiring different part-time teachers for both schools.

Clustering facilitates the assignment of experienced teachers as well as allowing for better training of resource teachers on the basis that permanent posts will retain teachers for longer periods. This ultimately benefits the pupils. In this regard, the school in question has been clustered with one other school in the area.

The school was previously in a clustering arrangement with four other schools. As a result of the allocation of additional resources to schools in the cluster it was necessary to revise the clustering arrangements. The revised clustering arrangement means that the school will no longer be clustered with the previous base school. It is a matter for the board of management of the new base school to determine the teacher who will fill the general allocation post to service the revised cluster.

The posts being provided under the new general allocation scheme are designed to ensure that each school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of children with high incidence special needs, such as dyslexia and children with learning support needs. Resource teaching hours for children with low incidence special needs, such as autism, will continue to be provided on [1546]the basis of an individual application for each child.

As regards whether pupils in the school with high incidence special needs and learning support needs will receive support from the resource teacher, it is important to note that this is a decision to be made at school level. Each school will have enough resource teaching hours to provide its pupils with a level of support appropriate to their needs. The school can then use its professional judgment to decide how these hours are divided between different children in the school to ensure that all their needs are met.

Research shows that some children with special needs will respond better with one-to-one tuition. Others, however, do better when taught in small groups. Often it is best for resource teachers to work with children in the classroom rather than taking them away to a separate room, as the children then have to catch up work done by the rest of the class in their absence. The point is that the type of response needed depends on the child. While the new scheme will not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with the resource teacher to children that need it, it is important to note that one-to-one teaching is not the best option for every child. I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place.

As of next September, there will be over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. Indeed, one out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government, and I as Minister for Education and Science, are deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. In addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.

  59.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the arrangements for the clustering of schools for special needs support; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19751/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy may be aware, my Department has issued a letter to all primary schools notifying them of their teaching allocation under the new general allocation model for the 2005-06 school year. The letter also includes details of any clustering arrangements that may apply.

One of the objectives of the general allocation model is to maximise the extent of full-time permanent posts available to support the needs of pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, SEN, and learning support teacher requirements. Clustering facilitates the assign[1547]ment of experienced teachers as well as allowing for better training of resource teachers on the basis that permanent posts will retain teachers for longer periods. This ultimately benefits the pupils. To this end, schools, particularly those with small enrolments, have been grouped in clusters where possible.

Part-time hours have been provided to schools in cases where it was not possible to form a cluster of general allocation hours. Schools that have been allocated part-time permanent hours may be aware of other local schools with part-time permanent hours that, when combined, could form a full-time permanent post. It is open to any such schools wishing to form a cluster by combining these hours to contact my Department’s special education section in writing with details of their proposal. It should be noted that these arrangements apply to staffing associated with the general allocation model only.

Where it is not possible for schools to form permanent posts under the general allocation model, such schools may, for the purposes of creating temporary full-time posts, form clusters to combine permanent part-time hours allocated under the general allocation model with hours allocated for individual children with low incidence disabilities or transitional hours retained for children with high incidence disabilities. Again, any schools wishing to form such temporary full-time posts should contact my Department’s special education section in writing with details of their proposal. This arrangement will apply for the 2005-06 school year only and is being facilitated on the understanding that, as pupils with an individual allocation of hours leave the school at the end of that school year, the full-time temporary posts will be adjusted to the appropriate reduced level of part-time hours.

My Department is also finalising a circular for schools which will contain detailed information on how the new system will operate. It is intended that this circular will issue before the end of the current school year. It is also intended that this circular will address issues that have been raised by schools with my Department since the system was notified to schools in mid-May.

  60.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she intends to provide funding to provide a premises for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that this school has to vacate its current accommodation by June 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19684/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I have already addressed the issue raised here in an earlier question. The school referred to by the Deputy opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition. Having met the criteria for recognition and proven its viability, the school was granted permanent recognition in [1548]2000. Standard practice is that the school authorities are responsible for the securing of interim accommodation which is grant-aided by the Department, pending the securing of permanent recognition. On being granted permanent recognition, a school becomes eligible for capital funding. The rate of progress towards a permanent accommodation solution depends on a number of factors including availability of sites and the Department’s budgetary capacity to meet the level of demand.

The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a three quarter acre site in the town. The rental costs of the site and classroom accommodation is grant-aided by my Department at the rate of 95%. My Department is advised that the lease on the site is due to expire in June 2006.

I want to assure the Deputy that we are acutely aware of the urgent need for an accommodation solution for this school particularly given the limitations on the existing arrangement and my Department is doing its utmost to achieve a satisfactory outcome at the earliest possible date.

To that end, the property management section of the Office of Public Works has been actively engaged in seeking a suitable site for a new school building. Soil sampling is being undertaken to verify the suitability of a particular site. The result of the tests and final assessment of site suitability is expected to be concluded and with my Department in a week or two.

  61.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding plans for an extension at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 20. [19761/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have included the building project for the school in question in my recently announced list of school projects to be progressed through architectural planning in 2005. The building project is at an early stage of architectural planning — stage 1-2-3, detail plans-costs. The stage submission for this project has recently been examined by my Department’s technical staff. A revised submission has been sought from the school authority to reflect changes to the school building since the original plans were prepared.

A decision on which school building projects will advance to tender and construction as part of the 2006 schools building and modernisation programme will be taken later in the year.

The school in question will also be receiving grant aid from my Department for security works, including CCTV, under this year’s summer works scheme.

  62.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of OECD report recommendations which have been [1549]implemented at third level to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19742/05]

  72.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her Department’s opinion on the OECD report on third level education institutions here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18996/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 72 together.

The OECD review of Irish higher education makes a series of far-reaching recommendations for reform and development of the sector, against the backdrop of the crucial role which has been identified for it in helping to achieve the broad strategic national goal of becoming a leading knowledge-based society. The Government has approved the broad reform agenda outlined by the OECD and also the early bringing forward of legislative proposals to transfer responsibility for management of the institutes of technology from my Department to the Higher Education Authority.

The OECD proposed that research and development issues should be looked at across Government within unified structures. The appointment of the chief science adviser to the Government and the establishment of the Cabinet committee on science technology and innovation, which is supported by a high level interdepartmental committee, will help to fulfil this function and ensure that national objectives are pursued and achieved within a joined up strategy.

In April of this year, I outlined a detailed response to the overall OECD recommendations. I announced my intention to create a strategic innovation fund to incentivise reform and modernisation in the sector. I also signalled a number of other priority actions on which work will now be progressed through the Higher Education Authority and on which further proposals will be developed. These include reform of the funding allocation model, review of a number of human resource issues and the development of a model of new programme approval. I have signalled my intention to develop comprehensive new legislation to give effect to those OECD recommendations that will involve legislative change. I have also made it quite clear that the final shape of future policy proposals for the sector will take account of the views of those working in and with it. To this end, I and my Department have been engaging in an extensive consultation process with stakeholders. I convened a colloquium in January with the HEA, CHIU, DIT and the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology. At the end of May, my Department organised and chaired a consultative forum on future strategy for research and development which was attended by all relevant bodies in this area. In identifying priority areas for action and for the development of more detailed proposals, it is my [1550]intention to continue to consider all relevant inputs.

  63.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the impending crisis at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; when a decision will be made on the matter; and the projected timeframe for availability of additional classrooms. [19770/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  School building projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need using published criteria. In this regard, an application from the school to which the Deputy refers was received in the planning section of my Department on Thursday last, 9 June 2005, seeking additional accommodation for the 2006-07 school year onwards. There is no indication in the application that the school has any requirement for the coming 2005-06 school year.

The application will be assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation referred to. The project will be assigned a band rating and its progress will be considered in the context of the school buildings and modernisation programme from 2005 onwards. The school authority will be notified when the assessment is completed.

  64.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her plans for the introduction of vetting for all teachers, both full and part-time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19689/05]

  128.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if vetting will be extended to third level students who require placements with agencies as part of their studies which may give them substantial unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19691/05]

  147.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when all ancillary school staff will be vetted prior to taking up employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19690/05]

  674.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the timescale for the introduction of vetting in the education sector; if vetting processes will be extended to certain third level students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19939/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 64, 128, 147 and 674 together.

The central vetting unit is run by the Garda Síochána and it is therefore the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has primary responsibility in this area. The vetting [1551]unit is responsible for vetting requests in relation to prospective employees of designated agencies who would have substantial unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults. The designated agencies comprise over 900 organisations. At present in the education sector, vetting is available in respect of requests for clearance from my Department in relation to bus escorts and special needs assistants provided to children with special educational needs, and to staff working in children detention schools.

A cross-governmental working group, established to put forward proposals for reform of vetting by the central vetting unit, recommended in March 2004 the expansion of its services to include all people working with children and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has announced a major increase in the resources to be provided to the Garda vetting unit to improve the level of vetting available to employers who employ people to work with children and vulnerable adults. The initiative includes the more than doubling of staff resources for the unit.

Among the working group’s recommendations was the proposal that my Department and the Department of Health and Children explore the possibility of developing an employment history register, similar to the PECS system in Northern Ireland. An implementation group has been established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and discussions between my Department and the Department of Health and Children are ongoing in that context. Although considerable preparatory work examining the issues relating to a PECS system has been undertaken by my Department, given that substantial further work needs to be undertaken it is not possible at this time to provide a timetable for the introduction of a PECS system.

The implementation group is also examining issues relating to the introduction of legislation to ensure the maintenance of a national criminal records system within the Garda Síochána, the disclosure of not just ‘hard’ facts but also ‘softer’ information, and access to information about — and proof of — criminal convictions for the purposes of litigation. In addition, Part 4 of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 obliges convicted sex offenders, which includes persons convicted abroad as well as in this jurisdiction and before as well as after the commencement of the Act, when seeking or accepting employment or a voluntary position involving unsupervised access to children, to inform their prospective employer of the fact of the conviction. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

The Teaching Council also has a role here. When it is established, the council will provide the teaching profession, both primary and post-primary, with the means to self-regulate and its functions will include maintaining a register of teachers and if necessary removing the names of [1552]those shown to be unfit to teach, including those unfit to teach by reason of the fact that they pose a threat to children.

  65.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has received a submission from the board of management and the parents’ association of a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow requesting that the school not lose a teacher for 2005-06; if she will grant this request; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19775/05]

  780.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will sanction the retention of the current number of teachers for a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19873/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 780 together.

I am aware of the submission of the parents’ association of the school referred to by the Deputies and of the board of management’s appeal in respect of the loss of a mainstream teaching post.

The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year, and by reference to a staffing schedule. The staffing schedule is outlined in primary Circular 15/05, which issued to all primary schools recently.

In the current school year the mainstream staffing of the school in question consists of a principal and 17 class teachers. This is based on an enrolment of 494 pupils at 30 September 2003. In addition, the school has two learning support teachers, one special class teacher, three resource teachers, one home school community liaison teacher and one resource teacher for Travellers.

The mainstream staffing of the school for the 2005-06 school year will consist of a principal teacher and 16 class teachers. This is based on an enrolment of 468 pupils at 30 September 2004. The board of management of the school referred to by the Deputy has appealed the loss of a mainstream staffing post for the 2005-06 school year.

To ensure openness and transparency in the system, such appeals are considered by an independent primary staffing appeals board. The board will meet on the 14 June 2005. This school’s appeal will be considered at that meeting and the decision of the appeals board will be conveyed to the board of management of the school shortly thereafter.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board.

  66.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her proposals to bring pupil-[1553]teacher ratios into line with previous commitments and in accordance with best practice throughout the EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19773/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio and in average class size in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil-teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.44:1 in 2003-04. Over 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. In allocating teaching posts regard has been had to the commitments of the Government to reduce class size, tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for pupils with special educational needs. The additional teaching posts created since 1997 have been deployed to address all of these priorities.

The Deputy will be aware that a review of the allocation system of teaching support for pupils with special educational needs was recently completed. Arising from that review a new model has been introduced to replace that which was notified to schools in June 2004. The introduction of this new system will involve the provision of an estimated additional 340 permanent posts in primary schools from September next. A further 320 posts are being provided on a temporary basis to facilitate the transition to the new system and to ensure continuity of service for children who have previously been given an individual allocation until those children leave the primary school system. The new system will greatly benefit schools and the children in schools that need additional support.

The Deputy will also be aware of the new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools — which I launched recently. This action plan will result in reduce class sizes in schools serving the most disadvantaged communities to 24:1 at senior level and 20:1 at junior level. In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio within available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and those in junior classes.

  67.  Mr. McEntee    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of early education places currently available in the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19753/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Early education in Ireland covers the period from birth to six years. Almost all five year olds and half of four year olds attend junior infant and senior infant classes in primary schools. Pro[1554]vision for children below the age of four is targeted at specific groups.

Outside of junior classes in primary schools, my Department’s main role in the area of early childhood education encompasses pre-school provision for children from disadvantaged areas, Traveller children and those with special needs.

The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk during 1994 and 1995. There are a total of 1,680 places in Early Start centres.

The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — Delivering Equality Of Opportunity In Schools — which I launched on 30 May, provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage.

The action plan aims to concentrate early childhood education actions on those children, aged from three up to school enrolment, who will subsequently attend the 150 urban-town primary schools, participating in the new school support programme, and identified as serving the most disadvantaged communities. The early childhood education actions under the new plan will be well targeted and my Department will work in partnership with other Departments and agencies with a view to meeting the overall care and education needs of the children involved in an integrated way. A strong emphasis will be placed on adding value to the work of other providers by embedding quality early learning within child care provision.

The future direction of the Early Start programme will be considered in rolling out the new action plan.

A survey to assess levels of disadvantage in primary schools is currently being carried out with the assistance of the Educational Research Centre and this will assist my Department in identifying the primary school communities to be targeted for early education support under the action plan. The plan will be implemented on a phased basis, starting in the next school year.

My Department currently funds 48 pre-school classes for Traveller children. In the special needs sector, there are currently 14 pre-school classes for children with autism located throughout the country. In addition to this, ten stand-alone autism facilities that provide an applied behavioural analysis, ABA, model of response to children with autism cater for a number of children of pre-school age. My Department has also sanctioned the establishment of a pre-school for six children with hearing impairment on a pilot basis.

The bulk of pre-school places in the country are financed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has provided unprecedented levels of funding for child care in recent years. The Department of Health and [1555]Children also provides grants to child care groups, including to community groups in areas of social and economic disadvantage.

  68.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by staff and pupils at a school (details supplied) in County Donegal regarding the shortage of space; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that a child with special needs is being taught in the staff toilets; and if she will report on the number of other schools across the State which have similar arrangements due to gross overcrowding in their schools. [19780/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department is considering an extension project at the school to which the Deputy refers in the context of the overall school building and modernisation programme 2005-2009. The project has been assessed and will be prioritised using the published prioritisation criteria. The project will provide a general purposes room and ancillary accommodation.

In 2002, following a specific approach from the school authorities regarding the need to provide facilities for a special needs pupil, the Office of Public Works acting on my Department’s behalf discussed two options with the school authorities — one was to provide a prefab or alternatively to convert existing toilet facilities to meet the need identified by the school. The Office of Public Works subsequently reported to my Department that the school authority rejected the option of using the prefabricated accommodation and opted instead to convert an adjoining boys and girls toilet by removing sanitary ware but leaving the original divisional wall in order to provide separate accommodation for the full-time and part-time support teacher. At the time a grant in the amount of €5,385 was sanctioned by my Department to cover the full cost of the conversion project.

In relation to the position of schools generally clearly the rapid expansion in the number of teachers allocated to schools by this Government to respond to children with special needs has placed pressure on existing accommodation, particularly in smaller schools. We have been making significant inroads in dealing with the needs of such schools through the significant expansion of the school building programme in recent years and through measures like the devolved initiatives.

My Department is not aware of any school where a directly comparable conversion of existing building space was carried out by a school.

  69.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the actions she intends to take arising from the report, Literacy and Numeracy [1556]in Disadvantaged Schools, which found that in some schools up to 50% of pupils have literacy problems; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19665/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In 2004, the inspectorate of my Department carried out a focused evaluation of educational provision in the areas of literacy and numeracy development in 12 primary schools with a high concentration of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The purposes of the evaluation were to report on the quality of provision for literacy and numeracy development in the selected schools; to identify the issues that impact on literacy development in the selected schools; and to recommend policies and strategies that would contribute to improvement in children’s literacy and numeracy achievement.

The analysis and conclusions of the inspectorate’s report, Literacy and Numeracy in Disadvantaged Schools, has added significantly to our understanding of the educational contexts of schools in disadvantaged settings. The report identifies challenges for the wider educational community in tackling poor attendance and in addressing low levels of achievement in literacy and numeracy among pupils in disadvantaged areas.

The report has provided school principals, teachers and boards of management with advice on planning for improvement and development and will assist individual schools in reviewing current practice and provision for pupils in literacy and numeracy. The report emphasises the significant role of school principals and of school management in making literacy and numeracy a key priority.

In the context of a special initiative under the Sustaining Progress social partnership agreement, targeted interventions are being implemented in primary schools serving disadvantaged communities aimed at ensuring that pupils with serious literacy difficulties are supported in improving their attainment levels.

DEIS — Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools — the new action plan for educational inclusion that I launched in May, will have a significant impact on the quality of educational provision in disadvantaged settings and will directly address many of the issues identified in the inspectorate’s report. A key underlying principle of the plan is that of early intervention, including assisting children who are having difficulty learning to read and write at an early stage before the problem becomes entrenched. In implementing the action plan a number of measures will be rolled out, starting in the next school year, to tackle literacy and numeracy problems in primary schools serving disadvantaged communities.

These measures will include a new advisory service at primary level; more access to initiatives such as reading recovery and maths recovery, which enable intensive, individualised teaching to be provided to the lowest attaining pupils at an [1557]early stage, when intervention can be most effective; and a new family literacy project.

The National Educational Welfare Board will also have a key role to play in the successful implementation of the action plan and additional resources have been made available to support the continuing development of the services provided by the board. The budget which has been allocated to the NEWB for 2005 is up by 20% on the 2004 allocation, to nearly €8 million.

  70.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has received the report she commissioned into use of moneys paid by her Department to Coláiste Mhuire Marino-Marino Institute of Education; if she intends to publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19649/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, issues were raised in a number of quarters about the funding provided by my Department to Coláiste Mhuire Marino-Marino Institute of Education for the training of primary teachers.

I announced, on 6 May, that I had asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to “examine the question of the use of monies paid by the Department of Education and Science to Coláiste Mhuire Marino-Marino Institute of Education”. While I indicated that there was nothing to suggest that funding provided by my Department to Coláiste Mhuire Marino-Marino Institute of Education has not been applied solely and properly for its intended purposes, I felt that it was important to secure confirmation that this is indeed the case.

In addition to the provision of funding for training primary teachers at undergraduate and post-graduate levels, PricewaterhouseCoopers has been asked to look at funding provided by the Department of Education and Science to Coláiste Mhuire Marino-Marino Institute of Education for expenditure on items of a capital nature in relation to training primary teachers; in-service national programmes-support services, focusing on curriculum changes and specific topics relating to teaching and learning; and the scrúdú cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge, SCG.

In order to ensure that the examination is as comprehensive as possible, PricewaterhouseCoopers is covering the period from 2001 to date.

My officials are in ongoing contact with PricewaterhouseCoopers and indications have been received that steady progress is being made on the work which is currently at an advanced stage. I understand that the examination will be completed shortly.

When initially establishing the examination, I indicated my intention to make the findings of the report public. This remains my position.

  71.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding her [1558]consideration of a report from the NCCA recommending that all 450,000 primary school pupils should be tested for literacy and numeracy in first class and fifth class; if she intends to implement this proposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19669/05]

  77.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she intends to introduce a national student report card in line with recommendations from the NCCA. [19764/05]

  86.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the system of standardised testing will be introduced at primary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19723/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 71, 77 and 86 together.

As I have said before, I see great potential for a new system of standardised testing to provide valuable information which will help everyone involved in education — parents, teachers and policymakers — to play their part in enabling each child to reach his or her full potential.

The results of standardised tests will help parents to understand where their child is at compared to the national norm. They will assist teachers in planning their students’ learning and enable them to establish which children need extra help and they will inform policy-making at national level by providing invaluable information about attainment levels in our schools. This is especially crucial in relation to evaluating the outcomes of additional investment in disadvantaged schools. It is vital that we can identify the interventions that make a difference for students.

The NCCA advice, which was prepared at my Department’s request, recommends that all pupils in primary schools should be tested in literacy and numeracy at the end of first or the beginning of second class and again at the end of fourth or the beginning of fifth class. It recommends that this requirement should be introduced as soon as is feasible, while taking account of the need for professional development for teachers and principals, arranging the necessary administrative structures and the provision of funding for the purchase of tests.

The NCCA’s report also proposes that it should develop and pilot a common template for recording assessment information and reporting such information to parents during the coming academic year. The national report card template would facilitate common procedures for recording and reporting on the overall progress of individual students, including their standardised test results, as they advance through the system and particularly at the point of transfer to post-primary school. It should provide data on a pupil’s attainment that is easily understood by both parents and teachers alike.

With a view to introducing a national system of standardised testing as soon as is feasible, I will [1559]be asking the NCCA to commence work shortly on developing a national report card template and to proceed with the development of its guidelines for teachers on assessment policy and practice, as part of the necessary groundwork that must be in place before specific requirements and implementation dates can be set for schools.

Question No. 72 answered with Question
No. 62.

  73.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she is taking to assist schools in catering for the increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic nature of the pupil base, particularly at primary level; if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by teachers at the lack of resources available to them to cope with the changing nature of the pupil base; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19673/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department’s approach to the increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic nature of the pupil base in our schools is twofold — to promote and facilitate the delivery of an intercultural education for all children and to provide the specific supports needed by children whose first language is not English to help them to succeed at school.

Intercultural education revolves around respecting and celebrating diversity as well as promoting equality and human rights within and outside the whole school community. Last month, I launched Intercultural Education in the Primary School: Guidelines for Schools. This valuable resource was prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to support teachers and schools in developing a more inclusive learning environment and in providing students with knowledge and skills they need to participate in a multicultural world. My Department provided €167,000 to ensure that every primary teacher in the country will receive a copy of this document in either English or in Irish. Corresponding guidelines for intercultural education in post-primary schools are currently being prepared and will be available later this year.

In relation to the provision of resources to enable children with low levels of competence in the English language to succeed at school, extra staffing and materials are available to schools to help them meet the needs of such students.

In the current school year, my Department has provided over 600 language support teachers to help pupils who have significant language difficulties, representing an investment of €27 million. Over 400 of these teachers are working in primary schools with approximately 6,000 children. As well as these teaching posts, my Department has provided grant aid to 350 primary schools, each of which has fewer than 14 pupils [1560]in need of assistance with language. Over 2,000 international students are benefiting from this form of support.

Schools granted full language support teacher posts receive additional financial support to enable the purchase of resource materials suitable for use within the language support class or mainstream class.

A further additional resource will be available to teachers shortly in the form of guidelines on teaching students who do not have English as their first language. These are currently at an advanced stage of preparation by the NCCA.

  74.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she intends to take to ensure that there is a full breakdown of recipients of third level grants available within a reasonable period, broken down by country and socio-economic background, in order that the fairness of the current grants scheme can be assessed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19664/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In my reply to Parliamentary Question Number 55 of 26 April 2005 in relation to the availability of a statistical breakdown of grantholders by socio-economic background, I referred to the fact that the most recent data on participation rates at third level is that published in the HEA review of higher education participation in 2003, which showed that participation in higher education among the school leaver age cohort has passed the 50% mark for the first time. The study puts the overall transfer rate to higher education at 54% in 2003, as against 44% in 1998, 36% in 1992, 25% in 1986 and 20% in 1980. This data are based on a full census of entrants.

The study also contains findings relating to the socio-economic breakdown of entrants in that year which are based on a sample of new entrants in 2003. It should be noted that previous studies on participation by socio-economic group, the Clancy reports, conducted in relation to 1998, 1992, 1986 and 1982 were based on a census of new entrants in those years. A follow up to previous Clancy studies based on a census of entrants in 2004 is under way and will provide a full picture of progress in relation to higher education participation by socio-economic group since 1998.

While final analysis and comparison with previous Clancy studies, together with any policy conclusions, should await the outcome of the full survey which will be available later this year, the study of 2003 entrants nonetheless provides some interesting pointers. It suggests that participation rates of some of the lower socio-economic groups, particularly skilled manual and semi-skilled and unskilled manual and other non-manual workers, have increased substantially.

In relation to the number of students receiving financial assistance under the student support schemes, the most recent figures show that over 56,000 students benefited under the schemes in [1561]2003-04, of whom approximately 11,500 benefited from top-up grants as well as the basic maintenance grant. The top-up grant was introduced by this Government to provide greater assistance to the most disadvantage students, and in this regard it should be noted that the maximum amount of grant support available this year is €4,855, including the top-up grant, compared to just €2,032 in 1996-97.

My Department fully recognises the importance of statistics in analysing the effectiveness and fairness of the student grant schemes. In so far as data in relation to the socio-economic backgrounds of grant holders are concerned, limited data have been collected by my Department in the past with specific reference to the higher education grants scheme administered by the local authorities. Following consultations with the Irish Vocational Education Association, new arrangements have recently been introduced to compile a more comprehensive statistical breakdown of grant holders under the schemes administered by the VECs. This complements arrangements in place in respect of the higher education grants scheme. While the majority of awarding bodies have at this stage returned completed forms for 2003-04, officials in my Department are continuing to communicate with those from whom completed forms are still outstanding.

On receipt of completed statistical forms for 2003-04 from all awarding bodies, my Department will be a position to compile and analyse the relevant statistics in respect of socio-economic background and other relevant classifications for that year. Statistical forms in respect of the 2004-05 academic year will issue to the awarding bodies shortly.

Looking to the future, at the request of my Department the HEA has been working with the universities and institutes of technology to develop an electronic student record system which is intended to provided more detailed information on students, including their socio-economic backgrounds. I have asked the HEA to examine how this might provide more timely and reliable data on the socio-economic backgrounds of grant-holders as I fully accept that the existing time-lags in the provision of data are not acceptable.

  75.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children currently awaiting a NEPS assessment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19688/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, does not normally keep waiting lists of children requiring assessment in the sense of lists of names that are dealt with in chronological order. NEPS operates a staged assessment process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and remedial intervention, in consul[1562]tation with its assigned NEPS psychologist. Only if there is a failure to make reasonable progress in spite of the school’s best efforts will a child be referred for individual psychological assessment. This system allows the psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually.

As the end of the 2004-05 school year approaches, NEPS management is conducting a survey to ascertain how many children have been through the staged assessment process in school but who still need an individual psychological assessment. As soon as the information has been collated, it will be made available to the Deputy. Every effort will be made to ensure that urgent assessment needs will be met as soon as possible.

  76.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if more than 1,000 primary schools have no educational psychologist and 20% of secondary schools are without one; the steps which are being taken to deal with this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19660/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  While it is true that more than 1,000 primary schools and 13% of post-primary schools do not have NEPS psychologists assigned to them, it is important to note that all schools have access to psychological assessments, either directly through the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, for those schools currently served by NEPS, or through the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, for those that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them.

All schools that do not have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of this scheme whereby they can commission assessments from a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees directly to the psychologists concerned. Details of this scheme, including the conditions that apply to it, are available on my Department’s website.

The complement of psychologists in NEPS has increased almost three-fold from 43 psychologists on establishment to 128 psychologists at present.

NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. Also, in relation to all schools, NEPS processes applications for reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations.

On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service has recently initiated a new recruitment competition for NEPS. Any increase in the overall numbers of psychologists in NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

Question No. 77 answered with Question
No. 71.

  78.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children carried by school bus transport each day at both primary and secondary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19707/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The number of children availing of school transport services in a school year varies from time to time. However, the average number of children availing of school transport daily is 138,000. This includes approximately 8,000 children with special educational needs.

  79.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the legislation to establish a register of persons considered unsafe to work with children will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19749/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  A cross-governmental working group was established to put forward proposals for reform of vetting by the central vetting unit run by the Garda Síochána. Among its recommendations was the proposal that the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children explore the possibility of developing an employment history register, similar to the PECS system in Northern Ireland. An implementation group has been established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and discussions between my Department and the Department of Health and Children are ongoing in that context. Although considerable preparatory work examining the issues relating to a PECS system has been undertaken by my Department, these discussions are at an early stage. In addition, my Department will be convening meetings with the relevant interested parties to explore the issues involved.

The Teaching Council also has a role here. Once it is formally established, the council will provide the teaching profession, both primary and post-primary, with the means to self-regulate and its functions will include maintaining a register of teachers and if necessary removing the names of those shown to be unfit to teach, including those unfit to teach by reason of the fact that they pose a threat to children.

  80.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if any contact has been made with UK manufacturers of school buses with a view to purchasing new models with seat belts; if so, the current availability and timeframe for delivery of such buses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19758/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department, at the invitation of a UK manufacturer, recently viewed a demonstrator bus at Bus Éireann’s headquarters in [1564]Broadstone, Dublin. The bus was fitted with three seats on one of the aisle and two seats on the other. All seats were fitted with seat belts.

In fact, this is the third demonstrator bus viewed by officials of my Department and Bus Éireann. The other two vehicles, which were not manufactured in the UK, were used on trial runs in April.

The question of acquiring vehicles to replace or supplement the existing school bus fleet is under consideration. However, it should be borne in mind that many of the buses used for school transport are privately owned.

  81.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has received proposals from her Department in regard to role and functions of the National Adult Literacy Council arising from the recent review undertaken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19683/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The National Adult Learning Council was formed in March 2002 on an ad hoc basis with the intention that it would be established as a statutory body under section 54 of the Education Act 1998. Following the formation of the ad hoc council, concerns emerged that the functions envisaged for the council were too wide-ranging and were not sufficiently focused. Additionally, a number of developments had occurred which would impact on the work of the council, including the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Further and Higher Education and Training Awards Councils.

My Department undertook a strategic review of the role and functions of the council to address these concerns. I am awaiting proposals from my Department as to the role and functions of the council in the light of the review. I expect to be in a position to take a decision in this matter in the near future.

  82.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she plans to commission a study into the benefits of seat belt use versus compartmentalisation for primary and second level students using school buses. [19767/05]

  124.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her Department has organised a study into the risks involved with the use of various seat belts on school buses for children of various age groups. [19762/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 82 and 124 together.

Legislation regarding the fitting and wearing of seat belts in public service vehicles including school buses is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Transport.

[1565]EU Directive 2003/20 requires seat belts to be used where they are fitted. This directive must be transposed into national law by 9 May 2006.

Separately, proposals to extend the requirement for seat belts in all new vehicles, except for city buses used in stage stop routes, have been developed at EU level. When the directive is adopted, all new school buses being registered from a future date will require to be fitted with seat belts.

The suitability of different restraint mechanisms is under active consideration by my Department in consultation with the Department of Transport and Bus Éireann.

  83.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her views on whether her Department’s new approach to tackling educational disadvantage highlights a substantial policy failure within the Government on the commitment to delivering educational equality, particularly in the context of literacy and numeracy in poorer areas; her plans for a more integrated approach, highlighting timescales and budget allocations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19756/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — Delivering Equality Of Opportunity In Schools — which I launched recently, aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed.

The plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. Approximately 600 primary schools, comprising 300 urban-town and 300 rural, and 150 second level schools, will be included in the school support programme. The new action plan will be introduced on a phased basis starting in the next school year and will involve an additional annual investment of €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the provision of some 300 additional posts across the education system.

Since 1997, the Government has increased funding on specific measures at primary and second level to tackle educational disadvantage by some 130% — from some €50 million in 1998 to about €120 million in the current year. The additional €40 million annual investment under this action plan on full implementation will represent a 33% increase on current expenditure and a three-fold increase in spending in this area since 1998.

A key underlying principle of DEIS is that of early intervention, including assisting children who are having difficulty learning to read and write at an early stage before the problem [1566]becomes entrenched. In implementing the action plan a number of measures will be rolled out, starting in the next school year, to tackle literacy and numeracy problems in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These measures will include a new advisory service at primary level; more access to initiatives such as reading recovery and maths recovery, which enable intensive, individualised teaching to be provided to the lowest attaining pupils at an early stage, when intervention can be most effective; targeted extension of the successful demonstration library project at second level — 40 more schools will benefit on a phased basis; and a new family literacy project.

Other key measures to be implemented on a phased basis over the next five years include the following: targeted early childhood education provision for 150 school communities; extended availability of home-school-community liaison and school completion programme services; the 150 urban-town primary schools with the highest concentrations of disadvantage will be targeted to benefit from maximum class sizes of 20:1 in junior classes and 24:1 in senior classes; rural primary schools participating in the new school support programme will be targeted to benefit from access to a teacher-co-ordinator serving a cluster of schools. Rural primary schools that cannot be clustered will be provided with financial support as an alternative to teacher-co-ordinator support; measures will be implemented to enhance student attendance, educational progression, retention and attainment; measures will be put in place to support the recruitment and retention of principals and teaching staff in schools serving disadvantaged communities; and professional development for principals, teachers and other personnel in schools participating in the SSP will be enhanced.

Central to the success of the action plan will be an increased emphasis on planning at school and school cluster level, target-setting and measurement of progress and outcomes to ensure that the increased investment is matched by an improvement in educational outcomes for the children and young people concerned.

  84.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a new round of PPP school buildings will be announced; if any changes will be made to the PPP contract based on the experience of PPPs in education to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19724/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My colleague, the Minister for Finance, provided a capital envelope of €555 million in respect of education PPPs for the period 2005 to 2009 and I am examining how this may be best utilised. This examination covers both schools and the third level sector.

A key rationale underpinning the decision to proceed with the initial bundle of five schools was to test the PPP procurement method in the case [1567]of schools to learn from the experience and thereby to inform future usage of a PPP approach to procuring schools.

Based on the experience to date from the use of the PPP process for the National Maritime College and the schools project, a number of issues are under active consideration by my Department and will inform my decision on the allocation of the funds available to me for PPP development. These include the type of PPP model to be used, the level of operation and service to be included in any new programme, how the projects should be bundled so as to provide the most cost effective procurement and the size and geographical spread of the bundles. My Department is also in the process of examining the market interest in the different types of PPP model that are under consideration for a future programme.

As I have previously indicated, in respect of further PPP school building projects, new schools on greenfield sites that have been prioritised using the criteria agreed with the education partners, and published by my Department, fit the PPP model best as distinct from projects that involve modernisation and upgrading of existing buildings.

I intend to announce my plans for a further PPP programme in the near future.

  85.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the decision by the joint managerial body not to release teachers for oral, practical and in-service training from September 2005; the steps she intends to take arising from this decision in view of the possible disruption to exams; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19661/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I am aware that the joint managerial body has stated that it will advise its member schools not to release teachers for examinations — oral and practical — and in-service training from September 2005. The JMB and the other management bodies have raised the need for new arrangements to be put in place for activities such as the examinations and in-service training to ensure that they take place outside of school time because it is considered that current arrangements seriously disrupt schools and create major difficulties for school authorities.

Sustaining Progress, the social partnership agreement 2003-05, which set out the modernisation agenda for teachers, acknowledged that existing in-service training delivery arrangements are a cause of disruption in schools which may impact on students. Sustaining Progress also indicated that there was agreement among the education partners that the present in-service training delivery is unsatisfactory and that new arrangements need to be developed and agreed. [1568]As provided for in the agreement, discussions are in train with the school management authorities and the teacher unions to address the need for new arrangements and to agree a new model for the delivery of in-service training. The issues surrounding the oral and practical examinations are also being explored in the context of these discussions.

As an initial step, however, a number of significant developments have been put in place by my Department which have made progress in diminishing the impact of in-service training on school life. Among these developments have been the establishment of a co-ordination committee for national programmes-support services at post-primary level which has developed a nationwide calendar of in-service training provision to avoid undue disruption in an individual school. The work of this committee will feed into the biannual second level support service brochure and ongoing school-specific Education Centre calendar, both of which highlight the in-service training available for individual schools thus enabling management authorities to ensure that any disruption is minimised.

There would be serious implications for students if there was a refusal to release teachers for exams. The process of Sustaining Progress is designed to ensure that such difficulties can be discussed and avoided by proper engagement by all parties.

Question No. 86 answered with Question
No. 71.

  87.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of males entering the primary teaching profession for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19747/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  According to my Department’s records, 180 male teachers were appointed for the first time as permanent or temporary qualified teachers at primary level in the 2003-04 school year; 184 such male teachers were appointed in the current school year, 2004-05.

I am aware of the decreasing number of males entering the teaching profession and I know that the situation is particularly acute at primary level.

I would point out that the relatively low number of males in the teaching force is a feature common to all OECD countries. Indeed, OECD statistics show the situation in Ireland to be close to the OECD average.

It is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models that teachers provide in children’s lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools.

A report on attracting more men into primary teaching is currently being compiled by a committee comprised of representatives of the colleges [1569]of education, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, the INTO and officials of my Department.

The main objective of this committee is to make recommendations on strategies and initiatives to increase the number of males entering primary teaching. It is expected that the committee will make recommendations in respect of both short-term and long-term strategies.

The work of the committee is almost complete and I understand I can expect to receive the committee’s report within a few weeks.

  88.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if it is intended to proceed with changes to the structure and content of the leaving certificate examination as recommended by the NCCA; if not, her reasons for rejecting the recommendations; if it is intended to publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19675/05]

  100.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her views on the proposals of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment for reform of the leaving certificate, particularly in terms of dealing with pressure on students, drop out rates, the maths crisis and tackling educational disadvantage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19755/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 88 and 100 together.

It is essential that our education system is positioned to maintain excellence, relevance, quality and inclusiveness in a changing climate. I have just launched DEIS, a focused five-year plan to combat educational disadvantage. It is important that the implementation of senior cycle reform would complement and further this work.

The NCCA proposals are ambitious and far-reaching. Senior cycle reform has the potential to promote greater inclusion and effective participation, to provide greater curriculum balance and choice and to contribute to a more positive learning culture in schools. I recognise that potential exists to improve the senior cycle education experience. It is crucial that reforms will promote cohesion and equity in society and enable students to develop their talents, prepare for adult life, for lifelong learning and employment in the knowledge society. The education system must also continue to play its part in promoting Ireland’s competitiveness and growth. These are major considerations of fundamental importance to our future, and our children’s future.

It is vital that the implications of the proposals be considered thoroughly and that changes adopted are effective in supporting strategic change which promotes increased relevance, quality and equity in the system. I am having the NCCA’s advice fully examined within my Department. I want to ensure that change is carefully managed, well-resourced and that the best elements of the current system, including public [1570]confidence in its integrity, objectivity and quality, are retained. I will engage in further discussions with the council and with stakeholders on the proposals and priorities for the future, with a view to making decisions as soon as possible.

As regards mathematics specifically, the NCCA is currently advancing a review of mathematics in post-primary education at the request of my Department.

Since the NCCA’s advice is already publicly available on the NCCA’s website at www.ncca.ie. I do not intend publishing it separately.

  89.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the alternative in the event that a site is not purchased and construction of a permanent building for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo does not commence. [19772/05]

  137.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position in relation to the site for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [19771/05]

  682.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a site has been identified for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; if she will meet a deputation from the school; the date and time that she will meet this deputation; and if parents and pupils will have to march on the street to get a new school. [19007/05]

  783.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of sites which the OPW looked at for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [19970/05]

  784.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when she will make a decision regarding a site for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [19971/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 89, 137, 682, 783 and 784 together.

The school referred to by the Deputy opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition. Having met the criteria for recognition and proven its viability, the school was granted permanent recognition in 2000. Standard practice is that the school authorities are responsible for the securing of interim accommodation which is grant-aided by the Department, pending the securing of permanent recognition. On being granted permanent recognition, a school becomes eligible for capital funding. The rate of progress towards a permanent accommodation solution depends on a number of factors including availability of sites and the Department’s budgetary capacity to meet the level of demand.

The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a three quarter acre site in the town. The rental costs of the site and classroom accommodation is grant-aided by my Department at the rate of 95%. My Department [1571]is advised that the lease on the site is due to expire in June 2006.

I want the assure the Deputy that we are acutely aware of the urgent need for an accommodation solution for this school particularly given the limitations on the existing arrangement and my Department is doing its utmost to achieve a satisfactory outcome at the earliest possible date.

To that end, the property management section of the Office of Public Works has been actively engaged in seeking a suitable site for a new school building. Soil sampling is being undertaken to verify the suitability of a particular site. The result of the tests and final assessment of site suitability is expected to be concluded and with my Department in a week or two.

As the board and patron are already aware, the provision of interim accommodation remains the responsibility of the board until such time as my Department is in a position to provide a permanent solution. However, I am sure that all partners will work together to secure alternative interim accommodation should that be required pending the provision of permanent accommodation.

As the Department is actively engaged in securing the school’s future accommodation needs, a meeting would not serve any useful purpose at this time.

  90.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will list the sections of the Children Act 2001 for which her Department has responsibility, which are already in operation; if she will list those sections that have yet to be brought into operation; if any timetable has been set for the implementation of the remaining sections; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19676/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Part 10 of the Children Act 2001 relates to the governance and operation of children detention schools. Section 159(1) of the Act has been commenced for the purpose of allowing three representatives of children detention schools to be appointed to the Special Residential Services Board. However, Part 10 of the Act cannot be commenced more fully at this time as its effect will include replacing the existing industrial and reformatory schools with children detention schools. While boys aged between 17 and 21 who are convicted of a criminal offence may be sent to a place of detention, there is no equivalent place at present for female offenders who may be imprisoned from the age of 17 years.

It is intended that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will provide a facility for young women similar to that provided for boys. The timing of the commencement of Part 10 of the Act is contingent upon such a facility becoming available. Pending commencement, industrial and reformatory schools continue to be governed by the Children Acts.

  91.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children at primary level in classes of more than 35; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19694/05]

  149.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children at primary level in classes of more than 30; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19693/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 91 and 149 together.

Completed data are not available for the current school year because a number of outstanding queries on returns from a small number of schools must be resolved before the current primary census is finalised. When the information is available I will forward it to the Deputy.

  92.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will take action to prevent publishers of school books from reprinting text books with minor textual changes, forcing parents and schools to discard expensive books after a short period of time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19681/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, school books are not approved or prescribed by my Department at first or second level. Decisions on which books to use are taken at school level.

School authorities have been advised that book selections should be changed only to the extent that is necessary. However, text books have to be changed periodically to enable students’ work to be kept educationally stimulating and to ensure that content and methodology are kept up to date.

My Department operates a grant scheme towards the cost of providing school text books for pupils from low-income families in schools at first and second level. For the purposes of these grants, a needy pupil is a pupil from a family where there is genuine hardship because of unemployment, prolonged illness of a parent, large family size with inadequate means, single parenthood, or other family circumstances such as substance abuse, which would indicate a similar degree of financial hardship. Principal teachers administer the book grant schemes in schools in a flexible way under the terms of the schemes based on their knowledge of particular circumstances in individual cases. Many schools operate book rental schemes and second-hand book exchanges.

A total of €3,961,683.89 was paid by my Department in respect of the school books grant scheme in primary schools for the 2004-05 school year. This figure includes €3,272,733.40 in respect of the loan-rental scheme.

[1573]The total expenditure in post-primary schools for the 2004-05 school year was €6.359 million, which includes €221,240 in respect of the book rental-loan schemes seed capital.

  93.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of students who failed to make the transition from primary to secondary education in 2003 and 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19717/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The specific information requested by the Deputy is not available at present. However, the National Economic and Social Forum report of 2002 on early school leaving cited, as a broad estimate, that around 1,000 children do not transfer from primary to post-primary on an annual basis. There is some doubt attached to this estimated figure of 1,000, which may be an over-statement of the true position at this stage.

The Education Welfare Act 2000 and the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board provides a comprehensive framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service to provide welfare-focused services to children, families and schools. The board currently has an authorised staffing complement of 94.

My Department also operates a number of programmes at both primary and post-primary level to tackle the problem of early school leaving.

The Giving Children an Even Break programme provides additional financial and teaching supports for children in primary schools from disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk of educational disadvantage and early school leaving.

A key role in this regard is also played by the home-school-community liaison, HSCL, scheme which helps parents to develop their skills as the primary educators of their children and also addresses issues in the community impinging on learning and educational participation.

The school completion programme directly targets those in danger of dropping out of the education system by targeting individual young people of school going age, both in and out of school, and arranging supports to address inequalities in education access, participation and outcomes.

Both the HSCL scheme and all 82 school completion programme projects operate transfer programmes which are very important in assisting pupils in making the transition from primary to post-primary level.

The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — Delivering Equality Of Opportunity In Schools — which I launched recently, focuses on addressing the educational needs of children and [1574]young people from disadvantaged communities. The plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. The new action plan will be introduced on a phased basis starting in the next school year and will involve an additional annual investment of €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the provision of some 300 additional posts across the education system.

A continuing emphasis will be placed on the development of effective transfer programmes by building on the existing work of the HSCL scheme and the school completion programme in this area. An additional guidance counselling provision, being made available for second level schools having the highest concentrations of disadvantage, will also assist in this regard.

  94.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress being made on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19741/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department continues to progress the recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry.

Significant progress has been made in a range of areas pertaining to my Department. For example: a new science curriculum has been introduced at primary level supported by a resource grant in December 2004 of €1000 per school plus €10 per pupil; revised syllabi in junior certificate science and in leaving certificate physics, chemistry and biology have been introduced. Work on the revision of the two remaining leaving certificate subjects — agricultural science and physics and chemistry combined — is well advanced. The introduction of the revised syllabi has been supported by comprehensive in-service programmes for teachers; additional equipment grants have been provided to schools, and laboratories continue to be refurbished as part of the ongoing schools building programme. In that context, €16 million was issued to schools in 2004 to support the implementation of the revised junior certificate science syllabus; a review of grading of subjects in the leaving certificate and initial reports on teacher training have been undertaken; a review of mathematics at post-primary level is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment; and investment in the programme of research in third level institutes is continuing apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, inno[1575]vation and development. Between this programme and the various grants to the research councils, and other sources, an estimated €101.5 million will be invested in third level institutions in 2005.

The discover science and engineering programme, operated under the aegis of Forfás with the collaboration of the education sector, was launched in October 2003 to bring together existing science awareness activities in a unified strategy. I have recently announced a provision of €750,000 towards the cost of the BA festival of science which is being hosted by Trinity College this year. This is one of the world’s leading science events and will be attended by some 3,000 delegates, with an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people enjoying some part of the programme.

  95.  D'fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley    den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta    an bhfuil iarratas ina Roinn le haghaidh halla spóirt do Phobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, cén staid ag a bhfuil an t-iarratas faoi láthair; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [19242/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  An tionscadal maidir leis an Halla um Chorpoideachas sa Phobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, rinneadh é a mheas de réir na gcritéar tosaíochta a foilsíodh cheana féin agus a rinneadh a athbhreithniú an bhliain seo caite tar éis dul i gcomhairle leis na páirtithe oideachais.

Déanfar an tionscadal a chur san áireamh i gcomhthéacs an Chláir 2005-2009 um Thógáil agus um Nuachóiríocht Scoileanna.

  96.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the Grangegorman Development Authority will begin its work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19719/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Dáil passed all Stages of the Grangegorman Development Agency Bill on 1 June 2005. The Second Stage reading of the Bill is scheduled to commence in the Seanad on 14 June 2005.

The purpose of this Bill is to establish an agency whose function, in the first instance, is to prepare a strategic planning scheme for the Grangegorman site. The plan must provide for the needs of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Health Service Executive and the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children. The Bill provides for wide-ranging consultation with all the parties that may have an involvement in the site. This ranges from those who are directly concerned — local residents, the DIT, the HSE and the Dublin City Council — to those parties whose future involvement may have a bearing on the site reaching its full potential [1576]such as the IDA and Dublin Bus. The Department of Transport will also have a major input because of the public transport requirements of the developed site.

It is my intention, once the necessary legislative framework is in place, to establish the agency as soon as possible thereafter so that it can then commence carrying out the functions given to it in the legislation.

  97.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will address the serious concerns regarding the impact the introduction of the weighted system of allocation of resource teaching support will have on resource teachers and resource hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19666/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, a new scheme for allocating resource teachers to schools to cater for the needs of children with high-incidence special needs and learning support needs was announced last month. The reason for the new scheme is simple. Children with special needs such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties are found in almost every school. It makes sense then that every school should have a number of resource teaching hours based on the number of pupils in the school.

This is a major improvement on the previous system, under which children with high incidence special needs required a psychological assessment before they were given resource teaching hours by the Department. This was a time-consuming process that often led to delays in children getting the support they needed. Resource teachers will now be in place in the school from the start of the school year so that children who need their assistance can get it straight away.

Under the new arrangement disadvantaged schools, boys schools and mixed schools get extra resources as research shows that pupils in these schools are more likely to have learning difficulties.

To ensure that every school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of its pupils, an extra 660 resource teaching posts are being put in place for next September. A total of 340 of these are permanent posts and 320 are temporary posts being provided to ensure that children who had been given an individual allocation of resource teaching hours by my Department will keep these in situations where the general allocation to the school would not be sufficient to allow the school to provide these hours from within its general allocation.

The provision of these temporary posts will ensure that no child who has been allocated a specific number of hours with a resource teacher by my Department will lose these under these new arrangements. In fact, the reality is that the majority of schools are gaining resource teaching hours under the new scheme.

[1577]Addressing the concerns of small and rural schools was, as the Deputy will be aware, the reason I initiated a review of the original general allocation model which had been announced last year, to come into effect in the 2005-06 school year. Following this review, a special improved ratio for small schools has been introduced to ensure that they are given resource teaching hours on a more favourable basis.

I would like to stress that despite misleading claims to the contrary, the new scheme does not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with a resource teacher to any child who needs such support. Rather, it ensures that each school has enough resources to ensure that each child gets a level of support appropriate to their individual needs.

The school can then use its professional judgement to decide how these hours are divided between different children in the school to ensure that all their needs are met. Research shows that some children with special needs will respond better with one-to-one tuition. Others, however, do better when taught in small groups. Often it is best for resource teachers to work with children in the classroom rather than taking them away to a separate room, as the children then have to catch up work done by the rest of the class in their absence. The point is that the type of response needed depends on the child. While the new scheme will not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with the resource teacher to children that need it, it is important to note that one-to-one teaching is not the best option for every child.

I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place.

As of next September there will be over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. Indeed, one out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government, and I as Minister for Education and Science, is deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. I believe that, in addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.

  98.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her views on the recent decision of the Supreme Court banning the publication of inspectors reports on primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19655/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The judgment of the Supreme Court issued on 31 May 2005 clarifies that it is within [1578]the discretion of the Minister for Education and Science under section 53 of the Education Act 1998 to decide whether or not to release information on schools. This discretionary power applies to the publication of school inspection reports.

In the light of growing demand for information on school quality, we need to make more information on schools available. However, this information must be balanced and must take account of the wide range of work undertaken by the schools. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I am totally opposed to the publication of crude league tables based on examination results. School inspection reports provide balanced evaluations of the work of schools and I am convinced that their wider availability could be very beneficial to students, parents, teachers and schools.

It is my intention to move to a situation where my Department will make school inspection reports more widely available. I intend to proceed on this in a planned and well thought out way. I have asked the inspectorate to consult with the education partners on how best we can achieve this.

  99.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the plans in place to purchase a site and build a new permanent school for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo before September 2006. [19759/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school referred to by the Deputy opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition. Having met the criteria for recognition and proven its viability, the school was granted permanent recognition in 2000. Standard practice is that the school authorities are responsible for the securing of interim accommodation which is grant-aided by the Department, pending the securing of permanent recognition. On being granted permanent recognition, a school becomes eligible for capital funding. The rate of progress towards a permanent accommodation solution depends on a number of factors including availability of sites and the Department’s budgetary capacity to meet the level of demand.

The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a three quarter acre site in the town. The rental costs of the site and classroom accommodation is grant-aided by my Department at the rate of 95%. My Department is advised that the lease on the site is due to expire in June 2006.

I assure the Deputy that we are acutely aware of the urgent need for an accommodation solution for this school particularly given the limitations on the existing arrangement and my Department is doing its utmost to achieve a satisfactory outcome at the earliest possible date.

To that end the property management section of the Office of Public Works has been actively [1579]engaged in seeking a suitable site for a new school building. Soil sampling is being undertaken to verify the suitability of a particular site. The result of the tests and final assessment of site suitability is expected to be concluded and with my Department in a week or two.

Question No. 100 answered with Question
No. 88.

  101.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of psychologists employed by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19687/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The complement of psychologists in NEPS has increased almost three-fold from 43 psychologists on establishment to 128 psychologists at present.

All schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, whereby the schools can commission assessments from a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees directly to the psychologists concerned. Details of this scheme, including the conditions that apply to it, are available on my Department’s website.

NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether or not they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. In addition, in respect of all schools, NEPS processes applications for reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations.

On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service has recently initiated a new recruitment competition for NEPS. Any increase in the overall numbers of psychologists in NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

  102.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her plans to end the funding crisis in regard to Educate Together schools and the ongoing difficulties this is causing in terms of their development (details supplied). [19781/05]

  142.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the level of funding allocated by her Department to the Educate Together group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19728/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 142 together.

I am not aware of any funding crisis in Educate Together schools. These schools qualify on the same basis as other primary schools for various [1580]Department grants, including capitation and ancillary services grants, both of which have been increased significantly in recent years.

Each year my Department provides grant assistance to the primary school management bodies, including Educate Together, to defray costs incurred in the running of their organisations. The level of grant paid for Educate Together in 2005 is €41,133.

Educate Together has submitted an application for additional funding to my Department. My Department is currently engaged in discussions with Educate Together. The provision of some additional funding in 2005 is under discussion along with the organisation’s longer term needs.

  103.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of education welfare officers currently employed by the NEWB; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19729/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Since its formal launch in December 2003, the aim of the National Educational Welfare Board has been to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government’s RAPID programme. Thirteen towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government’s RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.

The service is developing on a continuing basis and the board received sanction in late 2004 from my Department for an additional ten educational welfare officers. This brings its total authorised staffing complement to 94, comprising 16 HQ and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers.

The board has indicated to my Department that it is in the process of filling 13 positions arising from the current recruitment process including one senior educational welfare officer post and 12 educational welfare officer posts. I understand that it is the intention of the board to have the positions filled prior to the commencement of the next school year.

  104.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of special needs assistants assigned to schools in County Kildare; the number of these which will have their contracts renewed prior to the ending of the 2004-05 school year; if a more formal structure will be put [1581]in place for special needs assistants in view of the fact that many are investing their own funds in training and have built up valuable experience; if she intends to introduce specific contracts for special needs assistants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19769/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  There were 273.31 whole-time equivalent special needs assistants, also known as SNAs, employed in 80 primary schools in County Kildare on my Department’s payroll at the end of May 2005. It is not possible to say how many of these will have their contracts renewed for the new school year. Responsibility for the recruitment and employment of SNAs rests with the relevant school authorities.

SNAs are assigned to schools to meet the care needs of individual children who have been assessed by a psychologist as needing this type of support. I can confirm that there has been no change to the criteria or guidelines for allocating SNA support to schools and I can further confirm that there are no plans to review the criteria or guidelines under which SNA support is allocated.

Applications for SNA support are now dealt with by the National Council for Special Education which processes all applications for support from schools and communicates the decisions directly to the schools. At this stage, the council has dealt with all new applications from schools for SNAs that will be required from the beginning of September 2005.

However, in order to ensure that resources are used in the most effective manner, a review has been conducted in recent months to establish whether primary schools have the level of SNA support that they need for children in their care, whether they have resources which they no longer need or whether they need extra resources.

The review has found that some schools no longer have the care needs for which the SNA was originally sanctioned, that is, in some cases the child may have left the school while in other cases the care needs of the child have diminished as the child has progressed through the school. In this regard, the schools where surplus SNA support was identified have been advised that they may retain this surplus until the end of the current school year.

My Department is engaged in discussions with the trade union representing SNAs, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, on a number of issues relating to the employment of SNAs, including the issues raised by the Deputy. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on any of these issues.

The Deputy will be aware that this Government has put in place an unprecedented level of support for children with special needs. Indeed, since 1998, the number of SNAs has increased from under 300 to nearly 6,000 nationally. In addition to this, more effective systems, such as the establishment of the National Council for [1582]Special Education, have been put in place to ensure that children get support as early as possible.

  105.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she is considering introducing ECDL or a comparable information and communications technology course as a second level subject. [19768/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  A number of schools currently facilitate students in completing ECDL, particularly in transition year. However, I have no plans to introduce information and communications technology, ICT, as a discrete examination subject for second level students.

Recent thinking on ICT in schools is that the best way to learn ICT skills is to apply them in meaningful context. Based on this, the focus in Ireland is on developing and promoting the use of ICT as a tool for learning across the curriculum. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is currently developing a framework for ICT in curriculum and assessment. This will outline the kinds of ICT learning experiences that students should have during key phases of their schooling and will provide guidance on how these can be provided by integrating ICT across the curriculum. This is in line with current international practice.

  106.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the supports or programmes her Department offers to encourage secondary school pupils in disadvantaged areas to progress to higher or further education; the success of these supports and programmes in encouraging students in these areas to progress to third level institutions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19778/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In 1980 3% of socio-economically disadvantaged school-leavers entered higher education. According to the most recent national survey data available for 1998 — Clancy 2001, that figure has risen to between 20 and 30% of school-leavers from the most under-represented groups. While this represents a significant improvement it is below the current average participation rate of 54% for all young people.

A recent sample survey of 10% of entrants to higher education in 2003 carried out on behalf of the HEA is providing indications that the participation rate of socio-economically disadvantaged groups has increased further since 1998-37% for the most under-represented unskilled group in the 1998 report. This report also indicates that admission rates to higher education from all counties in the state and 17 of the 21 Dublin postal districts, including many districts with areas of concentrated disadvantaged, have risen [1583]since 1998. It is also clear, however, that while there is welcome improvement, some counties and districts have admission rates which are below the national average and it is here that we need to continue to focus our efforts. A full study of access in 2004, currently being carried out on behalf of the HEA and scheduled for publication later this year, will give a more comprehensive review of both the social background of new entrants and trends in admission by county or postal district of origin.

Improvements in participation rates reflect the outcome of how State funding measures have over the last decade increasingly focused on improving the progress and performance of young people from areas of socio-economic disadvantage, firstly in primary and second level education then in the transition to further and higher education.

Measures directed at improving participation in higher education include the establishment in August 2003 of a National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education within the HEA as a co-ordinating unit to lead work nationally on achieving equity of access to higher education, co-ordinate funding and resources, and monitor and report on progress.

In December 2004 the national office published a three-year action plan for the period 2005-07, which sets out a range of practical steps which need to occur so that more opportunities are created for groups who have to date been under-represented in the sector, such as socio-economically disadvantaged school-leavers. This will include arrangements so that all disadvantaged regions, schools and communities, in particular those with low levels of representation, are linked to access activities and programmes in at least one higher education institution in their region.

A priority area for action in the plan is evaluation of access programmes which have been established in higher education institutions to ascertain what strategies and partnerships work best in achieving equity of access to higher education for all under-represented groups. This work has commenced and building upon the outcome the national office will develop and support the implementation of a national framework of access policies and initiatives for each target group, including young people from socio-economically disadvantaged areas.

The national office also manages a number of funding programmes to widen access and support the participation of under-represented groups in higher education. These include the HEA strategic initiative funding, improving access, through which €7.3 million is ring-fenced annually for widening access programmes in HEA funded institutions. This scheme has supported a range of pre and post-entry actions and interventions on the part of 11 third level institutions towards increasing access as well as supporting the subsequent participation and completion of students from disadvantaged areas, including work with [1584]primary and second level schools, extra tuition, further education links, foundation courses, direct entry arrangements, learning support and financial support.

A review of the scheme was published by the HEA in October 2004. Towards a National Strategy — Initial Review of HEA Targeted Initiatives to Widen Access to Higher Education, provides an overview of the outcomes and impact of initiatives to date and also identifies where further progress needs to occur. There are similar access programmes in the institute of technology, non-HEA, sector which will be reviewed as part of the overall evaluation of access programmes currently under way.

A number of other funding programmes have also contributed to increased participation by young people from disadvantaged areas including the student assistance fund which provides financial support to students who require additional support to enable them to fully benefit from their third level studies —€5.6 million was allocated under this fund in 2004-05; and the millennium partnership fund for disadvantage through which €1.85 million was allocated in 2004-05 to 68 partnerships and community groups.

In addition, my Department provided grants of approximately €460,000 in 2004 to specific projects such as the Ballymun initiative for third level education; Clondalkin higher education access project; the accessing college education project, based in Tallaght; the Limerick community based education initiative; the Trinity access programme; the Blanchardstown area partnership; the northside partnership based in Coolock and the Wexford campus of the Institute of Technology Carlow.

The national office will be monitoring and reporting on progress in implementing the action plan and reaching national and institutional targets on equity of access to higher education.

  107.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she intends to implement the recommendations contained in the recent report, Second Level Student Councils in Ireland, produced by the children’s research centre in Trinity College, Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19659/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The research report referred to by the Deputy was commissioned by the working group on student councils in second level schools. The working group was established by the National Children’s Office in June 2003, in co-operation with my Department, to promote the establishment of democratic student councils in second level schools. All of the partners in education and 11 second level students are members of the group. Officials of my Department are also participating in the working group.

In order to develop a better understanding of the operation of student councils and discover the [1585]needs of students, teachers, principals and schools, the working group contracted the children’s research centre at Trinity College to carry out the research. The aim of the research study was to describe barriers, enablers and supports to the development and operation of student councils in Ireland as perceived by key stakeholders and to situate this within the international context. The research raises issues and makes recommendations for the development and support of student councils and is still being considered by the working group. The research report was formally launched by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on 25 April last.

The working group will make a final report on their findings, including a proposed three year strategy to support the establishment and development of student councils, to my colleague, the Minister for children, by the end of June 2005. I will consider the recommendations contained in the research report in the context of the final report from the working group when it becomes available.

  108.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to results of a survey of 250 joint managerial body members which showed that some principals were working up to 70 hours per week and that many are also forced to work during holiday periods; her plans to ease the workload on principals through the provision of administrative support or other measures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19658/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I am very aware of the administrative burden currently placed on schools and the effect this has on the workload of principals. I have started a process of review of the administrative burden imposed on schools arising from departmental and legislative requirements. I believe we can collectively seek opportunities to ensure that this burden is kept to the minimum, consistent with achieving the worthwhile and indeed essential objectives of legislation in recent years.

The core purpose of the review I have set in motion is to focus sharply upon administrative processes and consequent administrative burdens which arise within the school as a result of regulations and-or departmental requirements and to consider what scope exists for alleviating these or having them performed in a more efficient and less demanding manner from the perspectives of the school.

My Department wrote to the various representative bodies last March inviting them to consider where and in what way present processes can be improved upon. A number of submissions have been received to date, including one from the joint managerial body, JMB, incorporating the key findings of the JMB survey of its members to which the Deputy refers. My Department is [1586]currently in communication with the JMB with a view to arranging a follow up meeting to discuss their submission.

  109.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has received the report of the committee examining ways of attracting more men into primary teaching; the main findings of the report; the action she intends to take to ensure a better gender balance in the teaching profession; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19663/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I understand that the committee examining this issue held its final meeting recently and agreed the core elements of the report and that the final text of their report is being drafted at present. I expect to receive its report shortly.

The relatively low levels of men in the primary teaching forces, which is a feature common to all OECD countries, is an issue that is of concern to me. I believe it is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models that teachers provide in children’s lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools.

I genuinely believe that teaching should be seen as an attractive profession for the best candidates of both genders. Teaching is fulfilling work which makes a huge social contribution. With the increases in teachers’ salaries under partnership agreements and benchmarking in recent years, it is also now a well-paid job.

This Government wants to attract and reward the best teachers. In addition to increasing teachers’ salaries, we have also undertaken other initiatives to enhance the status of the profession. Not least of these is the establishment of the Teaching Council as a professional regulatory body.

I know, however, that a particular focused effort must be made to encourage more men to become teachers, particularly at primary level. I look forward to receiving the committee’s report, which I understand will make recommendations in respect of both short-term and long-term strategies for attracting more men into the profession.

  110.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of special schools in the State which are not covered by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19692/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  All schools have access to psychological assessments, either directly through the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, for those schools currently served by [1587]NEPS, or through the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, for those that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them.

All schools that that do not have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of this scheme, whereby they can commission assessments from a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees directly to the psychologists concerned. Details of this scheme, including the conditions that apply to it, are available on my Department’s website.

At present, 87 special schools do not have a NEPS psychologist directly assigned to them. However, it should be pointed out that many schools for children with disabilities receive psychological support from voluntary bodies or the Health Service Executive.

The complement of psychologists in NEPS has increased almost three-fold from 43 psychologists on establishment to 128 psychologists at present.

NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether or not they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. Also, in relation to all schools, NEPS processes applications for reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations.

On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service has recently initiated a new recruitment competition for NEPS. Any increase in the overall numbers of psychologists in NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

  111.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the average case load of each education welfare officer at present; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19686/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board’s functions locally.

The service is developing on a continuing basis and the board received sanction in late 2004 from my Department for an additional ten educational [1588]welfare officers. This brings its total authorised staffing complement to 94, comprising 16 HQ and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers.

The board is in the process of making 13 appointments arising from the recent recruitment campaign, including one senior educational welfare officer and 12 educational welfare officers.

These appointments will bring the number of service delivery staff to its authorised complement and will enable the board to further roll out its services at local level around the country.

Five regional teams have been established by the board with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff are deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government’s RAPID programme. Thirteen towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government’s RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. In addition, the board follows up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.

The budget which has been allocated to the NEWB for 2005 is €7.8 million, an increase of €1.3 million or 20% on the 2004 allocation.

The National Educational Welfare Board has indicated to my Department that the average caseload of each educational welfare officer as at May 2005 was approximately 200. The board is continuously reviewing the protocols for prioritising children and families who require intervention in order to ensure that children with greatest need gain maximum impact from available resources, and to work with local agencies in prioritising children’s and family needs.

  112.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the action she is taking to upgrade schools in County Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18995/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I draw the Deputy’s attention to the series of announcements I have made so far this year as part of the 2005-09 school building and modernisation programme. These announcements, which were published in county order, outline: schools with major building projects allowed to move to tender and construction; schools invited to deliver their building projects on the basis of devolved funding; details of schools with projects approved under the 2005 summer works scheme; schools whose projects will further progress through the design process; and schools authorised to commence architectural planning.

Applications for capital works from schools in County Roscommon which are not included in these announcements are being assessed and considered for inclusion in further announcements as [1589]part of the 2005-09 school building and modernisation programme.

In order to assist primary school authorities to complete general upkeep and maintenance, an annual grant is paid to schools under the grant scheme for minor works. This is also known as the devolved grant. The level of grant paid amounts to €3,809 per school plus €12.70 per pupil.

  113.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of primary schools in County Wicklow which have concessionary teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19776/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  There are six primary schools in County Wicklow with concessionary teaching posts.

  114.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the circumstances under which the Government agreed to an extension of four years in the term of office of the president of UCC; if it is planned to extend this facility to any other head of a third level college; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19652/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Under the Universities Act 1997, any amendment to the superannuation scheme of University College Cork requires the approval of the Higher Education Authority and the consent of the Minister for Education and Science and the consent of the Minister for Finance. I recently consented to an amendment to the superannuation scheme of University College Cork as did my colleague the Minister for Finance.

The amendment provided that the present holder of the Office of President of University College Cork shall hold office for a period of ten years from 26 January 1999. By making such provision, the amendment removed the requirement to retire at age 65 from the present holder of the office. The text of the amendment is contained in statute J of UCC. As is required under the provisions of the Universities Act 1997, the statute will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in due course, as a statutory instrument.

The Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 removed the requirement to retire on age grounds from most public servants who were appointed on or after 1 April 2004.

  115.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the call from the TUI for the extension of the leaving certificate timetable beyond the current 13 days and the better distribution of core subjects throughout the exam period; her views [1590]on the call made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19662/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  On foot of a Government decision, the then Minister for Education and Science formally established the State Examinations Commission on 6 March 2003. The commission now has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations, such as the timetabling of examinations.

I have asked officials from my Department to discuss the matter with the State Examinations Commission.

  116.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason she is unable to provide details of the number of school days taken by unqualified teachers; the steps she intends to take to ensure that such information is made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19674/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department’s payroll can provide information on the number of days for which unqualified temporary and substitute teachers were employed.

In the 2003-04 school year, 139,570 substitution days were paid to unqualified teachers. In the same year, 165,087 days in respect of temporary teacher appointments were paid to unqualified teachers. However, I should point out that, as the teacher’s payroll system is structured to pay temporary teachers in respect of a seven day week, this figure is somewhat inflated as it includes week-ends and school closures and does not specifically take account of school days. Due to the complexities involved in compiling this data and having regard to the staffing resources available to my Department, it is not intended to extract details of the number of school days worked by individual temporary unqualified teachers.

The Deputy may be interested to note however that my officials have recently written to the boards of management of all primary schools employing an unqualified teacher. The boards have been directed to employ fully qualified primary teachers for any vacancy arising in the coming school year.

  117.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if safety belts will be fitted on all school transport vehicles; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19745/05]

  831.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her plans to ensure the provision of seat belts in all school buses throughout the country; if she is prepared to meet this requirement by September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20102/05]

[1591]Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 831 together.

There is at present no legal requirement to wear seat belts in buses, including school buses, in this country. However, EU Directive 2003/20 requires seat belts to be used where they are fitted. This directive must be transposed into national law by 9 May 2006.

Separately, proposals to extend the requirement for seat belts to be fitted in all new vehicles, except for city buses used in stage stop routes, have been developed at EU level. When the directive is adopted, all new school buses being registered from a future date, yet to be determined, will require to be fitted with seat belts. It is not expected that this directive will provide for any mandatory retrofitting of seat belts in existing buses.

The question of the fitting and the mandatory use of seat belts on school buses, outside of these legislative requirements, is at present under consideration in my Department. Before any decision is made, the issue of the type, or types, of seat belt to be fitted must be determined having regard to the differing sizes of the student passengers being carried. My Department is working closely with the Department of Transport and Bus Éireann on this issue and any decisions reached will be guided by expert advice.

Whatever conclusion is reached, the provision of seat belts on school buses, if that is what is recommended, would have to introduced on a phased basis having regard to the logistical difficulties involved in sourcing right-hand drive buses equipped with any appropriate seat belts and the fact that not all the buses in the current fleet may be suitable for the retrofitting of seat belts.

  118.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the conditions at a school (details supplied) in County Dublin have continued to deteriorate and that maintenance funding is no longer effective; the reason there is an ongoing delay in sorting out the serious overcrowding problems in the school; if there are plans to find an alternative suitable location for the school as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19757/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school planning section of my Department is in receipt of an application for major capital funding from the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects which were revised following consultation with the education partners last year. Progress on the application is being considered in the context of the school building programme from 2005 onwards.

[1592]I am pleased to inform the Deputy that earlier this year I approved funding for the school under the summer works scheme to upgrade its toilet facilities. It will be open to the school to apply for further funding for other improvement works under the 2006 scheme when it is announced later this year.

  119.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the 3:2 rule will no longer be necessary on school bus transport; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19713/05]

  148.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she plans to end the practise of school buses carrying more passengers than can be seated. [19760/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 and 148 together.

The loading of all school buses is determined by the relevant sections of the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations which are laid down by the Department of Transport. The licensed carrying capacity of all vehicles engaged in school transport is based on a ratio of three pupils for every two adult seats, in accordance with relevant legislation.

My Department has been in discussions with Bus Éireann with a view to phasing out the three for two arrangement over the next two or three years. Indeed, the discussions have been advanced to a stage at which it is possible to confirm that the necessary steps are now being taken to commence the general phasing out of this arrangement from next September.

The wearing of seat belts and the three for two rule are intrinsically linked, which means that school children who are travelling on buses equipped with seat belts from next May will also be provided with a single seat.

Separately, proposals to extend the requirement for seat belts to be fitted in all new vehicles, except for city buses used in stage stop routes, have been developed at EU level. When the directive is adopted, all new school buses being registered from a future date will require to be fitted with seat belts. It is not expected that this directive will provide for any mandatory retrofitting of seat belts in existing buses.

  120.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason she has decided to reduce a three teacher school (details supplied) in County Mayo to a two teacher school; if she will overturn this decision and take steps to ensure the continuation of this school. [19779/05]

  778.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a teacher will not be removed from [1593]a school (details supplied) in County Mayo for one year. [19849/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 778 together.

The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year and by reference to a staffing schedule. This staffing schedule is outlined in primary Circular 15/05 which issued to all primary schools recently. This is in line with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners.

In the current school year the mainstream staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy comprises of a principal and two mainstream class teaching posts. This is based on an enrolment of 50 pupils at 30 September 2003.

The mainstream staffing of the school for the 2005-06 school year will consist of a principal and one mainstream class teaching post. This is based on an enrolment of 45 pupils at 30 September 2004.

To ensure openness and transparency in the system an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals. The criteria under which an appeal can be made are set out in Department primary Circular 19/02.

The board of management of the school has submitted an appeal to the staffing appeals board. The appeal will be considered by the appeals board at a meeting which is scheduled to take place on 14 June. The board of management will be notified of the outcome of the appeal as soon as possible thereafter.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board.

  121.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of pupils who enrolled in junior infants in ordinary classes in September 2004; the breakdown of the ages of the pupils involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19777/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Completed data are not available for the current school year because a number of outstanding queries on returns from a small number of schools must be resolved before the current primary census is finalised.

I will forward the information sought directly to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

  122.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of parents who applied for a place in a Lucan primary school and who have been forced to send their children elsewhere in September 2005. [19765/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  It is important to understand that my [1594]Department’s main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places. This may result in parents not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice for their child.

There are ten primary schools in the Lucan area including two new state of the art multi-denominational schools and a new Gaelscoil due to commence operation in September 2005. These developments, together with a number of extensions to existing schools, the provision of temporary accommodation and the reorganisation of one school to enable the enrolment of an additional two junior infant classes, has increased capacity significantly in the area. Through a combination of these measures, the school planning section of my Department is satisfied that, between them, the schools have adequate accommodation to cater for current demand.

My Department continues to monitor school needs in the Lucan area. In this regard all schools have been requested to submit their pre-enrolment lists with the date of birth of prospective pupils so that any newly emerging needs can be addressed as expeditiously as possible.

  123.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the total number of persons who have made compensation applications to the Residential Institutions Redress Board at the latest date for which figures are available; the way in which the number of applications compares with the original estimate made by her Department; the latest estimate of the number of applications; the total amount paid out in awards to date and the estimated likely total liability of the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19671/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Residential Institutions Redress Board is an independent body established under statute in December 2002 to provide financial redress to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories or other institutions that were subject to State regulation or inspection.

To date, the board has received 6,300 applications and has processed some 3,277 of these cases at a total cost of approximately €253 million.

The board has prepared its second annual report which covers the period 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2004. This report was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 13 April 2005 and is available on the board’s website at www.rirb.ie. In its 2004 report, the board states that, based on the pattern of receipt of applications to date, it anticipates receiving between 7,500 and 8,000 applications by the final date for receipt of applications on 15 December 2005, though it emphasises that this is a tentative estimate.

[1595]The redress scheme has now been in operation for almost two and a half years, and the board will continue to accept applications until 15 December 2005. At that stage, it will be possible to determine the total number of applications under the scheme but, as it will take the board some considerable time to deal with all applications, the final cost of the scheme may not be known until some time in 2007. Based on the total number of applications the redress board expects to receive up to the end of this year, and allowing for legal and administration costs, the estimated total cost of the scheme will be somewhere in the region of €680 million and €730 million.

The Department of Education and Science’s estimate prior to the establishment of the redress board was that the amount of compensation would be €508 million, not including legal and administration costs. Including legal and administration costs, the cost of awards under this estimate would be €610 million.

I should add that the final cost of the redress scheme must be viewed in the context of the Government’s concern to provide reasonable compensation towards the hurt and suffering experienced by victims of abuse and the very substantial costs that would have been incurred in any event if no such scheme had been established and if cases had been processed in the normal manner through the courts.

Question No. 124 answered with Question
No. 82.

  125.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the manner in which the general allocation system is being introduced for children with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19721/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, a new scheme for allocating resource teachers to schools to cater for the needs of children with high-incidence special needs and learning support needs was announced last month. The reason for the new scheme is simple. Children with special needs such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties are found in almost every school. It makes sense then that every school should have a number of resource teaching hours based on the number of pupils in the school.

This is a major improvement on the previous system, under which children with high incidence special needs required a psychological assessment before they were given resource teaching hours by the Department. This was a time-consuming process that often led to delays in children getting the support they needed. Resource teachers will now be in place in the school from the start of the school year so that children who need their assistance can get it straight away.

[1596]Under the new arrangement disadvantaged schools, boys schools and mixed schools get extra resources, as research shows that pupils in these schools are more likely to have learning difficulties.

To ensure that every school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of its pupils, an extra 660 resource teaching posts are being put in place for next September. A total of 340 of these are permanent posts and 320 are temporary posts being provided to ensure that children who had been given an individual allocation of resource teaching hours by my Department will keep these in situations where the general allocation to the school would not be sufficient to allow the school to provide these hours from within its general allocation.

The provision of these temporary posts will ensure that no child who has been allocated a specific number of hours with a resource teacher by my Department will lose these under these new arrangements. In fact, the reality is that the majority of schools are gaining resource teaching hours under the new scheme.

Addressing the concerns of small and rural schools was, as the Deputy will be aware, the reason why I initiated a review of the original general allocation model which had been announced last year, to come into effect in the 2005-06 school year. Following this review, a special improved ratio for small schools has been introduced to ensure that they are given resource teaching hours on a more favourable basis.

I would like to stress that despite misleading claims to the contrary, the new scheme does not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with a resource teacher to any child who needs such support. Rather, it ensures that each school has enough resources to ensure that each child gets a level of support appropriate to their individual needs.

The school can then use its professional judgement to decide how these hours are divided between different children in the school to ensure that all their needs are met. Research shows that some children with special needs will respond better with one-to-one tuition. Others, however, do better when taught in small groups. Often it is best for resource teachers to work with children in the classroom rather than taking them away to a separate room, as the children then have to catch up work done by the rest of the class in their absence. The point is that the type of response needed depends on the child. While the new scheme will not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with the resource teacher to children that need it, it is important to note that one-to-one teaching is not the best option for every child.

I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place.

As of next September there will be over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those [1597]requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. Indeed, one out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government, and I as Minister for Education and Science, are deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. I believe that, in addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.

  126.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason Government spending of €160 million on information and communications technology in schools is only half that of Northern Ireland; if there are plans to increase investment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19766/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In respect of the funding being provided for ICT in our schools, it is important to note the significant developments in recent years and the fact that a major project is under way at present to bring broadband connectivity to all recognised schools. This project is being undertaken in partnership with industry, following the establishment of a three year joint Government-IBEC-TIF fund. Combining Government and industry investment means that Irish schools benefit from more expenditure than just that which is being provided from Exchequer funds.

The broadband connectivity is being provided via a schools national broadband network supported by HEAnet, which will provide managed Internet access, e-mail, security controls and other services designed to enhance the educational process. A broadband support service is being provided by the NCTE to assist schools with advice and information relating to the roll-out and ongoing use of their broadband connectivity within the schools network.

The provision of always-on high speed Internet access for schools represents a major development in the ICT in schools programme to integrate technology into teaching and learning and equip our young people for full participation in the information society.

The roll-out of broadband to schools will enable them to capitalise on the potential that other significant Government investment in IT infrastructure and ICT training for teachers in recent years has to improve learning opportunities.

  127.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of schools at primary level and secondary level inspected by the Health and Safety Authority in each of the past five years; the number of cases in which adverse findings were made by the [1598]inspectors; the steps she is taking to ensure that all schools are brought up to an acceptable level and that such inspections be no longer required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19668/05]

  144.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she intends to take to deal with the intolerable conditions in a number of primary schools identified in the recent report from the Health and Safety Authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19654/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 and 144 together.

In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and to put appropriate safeguards in place.

It is open to school management authorities or individuals to make direct contact with the Health and Safety Authority in relation to matters of concern to them and the Department would not necessarily be aware of such communications. Where they are issued, notifications from the Health and Safety Authority are sent to the management authorities of schools in the first instance.

In practical terms, individual school authorities are best placed to assess the detail of their own health and safety requirements.

Provision is built into the school building programme to enable schools address urgent health and safety problems. Primary schools are given an annual allocation, currently amounting to €3,809 plus €12.70 per pupil, under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues relating to school infrastructure.

The summer works scheme was introduced during 2004 which provides capital grants for small scale refurbishment works at primary and post-primary schools. The level of funding that is provided is based on the cost estimate provided by the school’s design team at application stage. Responsibility for the delivery of the projects is entirely devolved out to the schools and their design teams. The scope of works covered under this scheme is intended to address health and safety issues in all schools as well as improvement works to the existing fabric of the buildings.

A total of €31 million was spent in 2004 on 292 primary projects and 158 post-primary projects under this scheme. The 2005 programme provides for 380 primary school projects and 234 post-primary school projects that will be grant-aided at a total cost of approximately €64.4 million.

The Department also sets aside a contingency sum each year to deal with emergency works in primary and post-primary schools, including [1599]health and safety works. Urgently required health and safety works relating to asbestos removal, radon mitigation or dust extraction may be grant-aided under the remediation programmes operated by the school building section of my Department.

In addition to the summer works scheme, I have made a number of announcements regarding the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme. This year alone, €270 million will be allocated to primary schools and €223 million to post-primary schools for building works. This represents an increase of 14% on the 2004 allocation.

The programmes supported will include: 141 major building projects already on site and more due to go on site in the near future; 122 major school building projects country wide which will go to tender and construction during 2005 or early 2006; 192 primary schools which have been invited to take part in the small and rural schools initiative and the devolved scheme for providing additional accommodation; up to 120 schools which have been given approval to rent temporary premises pending delivery of a permanent solution to their long-term accommodation needs; 43 schools which have been authorised to start architectural planning of their major projects; and 124 schools to progress through architectural planning.

The new schools building and modernisation programme 2005-2009 will be underpinned not just by a significant increase in overall funding but also by major improvements in the administration of the funding. Devolving more funding to local level through the summer works scheme and the small and rural schools initiative will allow schools to move ahead more quickly with smaller projects.

Question No. 128 answered with Question
No. 64.

  129.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the recommendations of the McIver report progressed to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19726/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The McIver report on the PLC sector contains 21 over-arching recommendations, incorporating over 90 sub-recommendations.

Having regard to the number and scope of the recommendations in the report, consultations have been held with management and staff interests with regard to such issues as the prioritisation of recommendations, the structural changes envisaged in the report, their implications and associated costs.

The Department has made it clear that the recommendations of the PLC review cannot be dealt with in isolation and will have to be considered in the light of the totality of provision for further and adult education. This will require a [1600]realignment of the structures that have evolved in a pragmatic fashion to cater for particular needs at a given time. Initial discussions with the management side have been concluded and a joint meeting with management and staff representatives has been scheduled for later this month.

  130.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the circumstances in which non-approved colleges and courses appeared on her Department’s website; the colleges or courses that have now been removed; the steps she is taking to ensure that such errors do not occur again; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19653/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department’s website, to which the Deputy refers, contains a provisional list of courses which are approved by me in the context of allowing students from outside the European economic area and Switzerland access to the labour market.

My Department has recently commenced the compilation of a register of courses which meet criteria in relation to duration and quality. The register is now being used by the Garda National Immigration Bureau for the purpose of issuing work permits to eligible students. This register of courses is being updated on a monthly basis. New courses will be added and there will also be deletions from the register where courses are no longer found to meet the criteria.

Following a review of the register during May 2005, three courses which had been included in April were removed from the register in the light of new information received by my Department; 536 new programmes were added to the register in the same period.

I intend that the present arrangements, which are provisional, will operate until March 2006 when they will be reviewed pending emerging developments in relation to the implementation of the Report on the Internationalisation of Irish Education Services.

  131.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of leaving certificate students who gain exemptions from the need to take the Irish examination; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19746/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In the 2004-05 school year 2,951 leaving certificate pupils have gained an exemption from the study of Irish. The number of pupils exempt from the study of Irish fluctuates annually depending on pupils applying who meet the criteria as set down by my Department.

My Department has issued guidelines in relation to the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish to primary and post-primary schools.

[1601]My Department’s guidelines in relation to an exemption from Irish at post-primary level are outlined at rule 46 of the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and circular letter M10/94.

Under the terms of this circular, my Department has delegated authority to the principals of second level schools to grant the exemptions provided that the pupil meets the criteria as set down.

Exemptions may be granted by school authorities for pupils whose primary education up to 11 years of age was received in Northern Ireland or outside Ireland; pupils who were previously enrolled as recognised pupils in a primary school or second level school who are being re-enrolled after a period spent abroad, provided that at least three years have elapsed since the previous enrolment in the State and the pupil is at least 11 years of age on re-enrolment; certain categories of pupils with special educational needs as set out in Circular M10/94; or pupils from abroad, who have no understanding of English, when enrolled.

  132.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the amount spent by her Department on the provision of prefabricated buildings at secondary level for the 2004-05 academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19702/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department’s records are held on a calendar year basis rather than by academic year and the information which I am providing reflects that position.

Since the start of 2004 my Department has spent €5,529,738 on the purchase of prefabricated buildings at post-primary level. This expenditure was for the supply and installation of the prefabricated buildings including associated site works and other related costs such as compliance with planning permission conditions, professional fees, connections for water, electricity and sewage.

The total expenditure for 2004 and 2005 on post-primary school buildings is €386 million and the expenditure on the purchase of prefabricated buildings represents less that 1.5% of the overall outlay.

In addition to the expenditure on the purchase of prefabricated buildings my Department also provided €129,457 on the refurbishment of prefabricated buildings and €77,427 on the rental of prefabricated buildings in 2004 at post-primary level.

  133.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has resolved the issues of persons (details supplied) who wish to retain the right to send their children to a school in County Wexford; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is room in the school for [1602]the children concerned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19651/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school to which the Deputy refers is heavily oversubscribed as a result of a significant number of pupils enrolling from outside its catchment area. The development of this type of situation can impact negatively on pupils who reside within the catchment area and who are entitled, as of right, to a place in a particular school. It also invariably impacts negatively on the school or schools to which these pupils should rightly attend and in which considerable capital investment has been made for this purpose. It is a matter for all school authorities, in the context of their enrolment policies, to limit enrolment to within their catchment areas to ensure that such situations do not arise. A school authority may offer places to pupils from outside the catchment area only if it does not have negative repercussions for additional accommodation and or transport costs.

However, where a school refuses to enrol a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to the Secretary General of my Department.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides parents with an appeal process where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses enrolment of a student. An appeal will generally not be admitted unless it is made within 42 calendar days from the date the decision of the board of management was notified to the parent or student concerned. However, a longer period for making appeals may be allowed as an exception where it is accepted that circumstances did not permit the making of an appeal within the 42-day limit.

Where an appeal under section 29 is upheld, the Secretary General of my Department may direct a school to enrol a pupil.

  134.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the timetable for meeting the commitment on class sizes given in An Agreed Programme for Government within the lifetime of this administration; if she will put in place the steps needed to ensure the recruitment of the additional teachers and the provision of the extra classrooms required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19667/05]

  768.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she is taking to deliver on the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce class sizes of 20 pupils to one teacher; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19790/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 134 and 768 together.

[1603]Significant improvements have been made in the pupil teacher ratio and in average class size in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.44:1 in 2003-04. Over 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. In allocating teaching posts regard has been had to the commitments of the Government to reduce class size, tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for pupils with special educational needs. The additional teaching posts created since 1997 have been deployed to address all of these priorities.

The Deputies will be aware that a review of the allocation system of teaching support for pupils with special educational needs was recently completed. Arising from that review a new model has been introduced to replace that which was notified to schools in June 2004. The introduction of this new system will involve the provision of an estimated additional 340 permanent posts in primary schools from September next. A further 320 posts are being provided on a temporary basis to facilitate the transition to the new system and to ensure continuity of service for children who have previously been given an individual allocation until those children leave the primary school system. The new system will greatly benefit schools and the children in schools that need additional support.

The Deputies will also be aware of the new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools — which I launched recently. This action plan will result in reduced class sizes in schools serving the most disadvantaged communities to 24:1 at senior level and 20:1 at junior level. In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil teacher ratio, with priority given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and those in junior classes.

Each year my Department decides on the number of places to be provided on the teacher training programmes, both in respect of school leavers and post graduate applicants, in the colleges of education having regard to the projected demand for qualified primary teachers. This process will continue in the future.

Any requirement for additional accommodation arising from the creation of additional teaching posts will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.

  135.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has finalised the institutions to be added to the list under the Residen[1604]tial Institutions Redress Act 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19670/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 enables additional institutions, in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function, to be added to the Schedule to the Act.

Since the enactment of the legislation, my Department has received correspondence from both individuals and survivor groups identifying a number of additional institutions that may be eligible for inclusion in the Schedule. Accordingly, consultations have taken place between my Department and other Departments which may have provided a regulatory function in the operation of these facilities in order to ascertain the case for their inclusion under the Act.

On 9 November 2004, I signed an order which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule.

Further consultations are taking place in relation to a number of institutions and the position in relation to these institutions will be considered shortly.

  136.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her Department will bring forward a policy on the use of mobile phones in schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19725/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In accordance with the Education Act 1998, individual school authorities are responsible for the day-to-day running of schools. It is a matter for each school authority to establish rules on what is and is not acceptable for students to do while on the school premises, provided that those rules are lawful, fair and reasonable.

The National Centre for Technology in Education, in its advice sheet for schools on mobile phones, recommends that the management of mobile phone use by students should be incorporated into the school’s ICT plan and acceptable use policy.

Question No. 137 answered with Question
No. 89.

  138.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the concern expressed at the launch of the National Education Welfare Board’s first strategic plan that the development of the board’s work had been inhibited by a lack of funding; the steps being taken to provide the board with the resources to discharge all its duties, including the appointment of education welfare officers in all [1605]counties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19656/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education. The priority I attach to supporting the NEWB in delivering on this goal is evident from the fact that the budget allocated to the NEWB for 2005 is up by 20% on the 2004 allocation to nearly €8 million.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers or EWOs are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and to discharge the board’s functions locally.

The service is developing on a continuing basis and the board received sanction in late 2004 from my Department to recruit an additional ten educational welfare officers. This brings its total authorised staffing complement to 94, comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers. These additional posts will ensure that every county will have an educational welfare service. I understand the board is in the process of filling 13 positions arising from the current recruitment process, including one senior educational welfare officer post and 12 educational welfare officer posts. The intention of the board is to have the positions filled prior to the commencement of the next school year.

To date, the board has focused the resources available to it on providing a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government’s RAPID programme. Some 13 towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government’s RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them.

The board issued an information leaflet to 330,000 families and 4,000 schools in March 2004. The leaflet targeted parents and guardians of children aged between six and 16 years of age and young people aged 16 and 17 who have left school early to start work. It outlined the role parents [1606]and guardians play in ensuring that their children do not miss out on education and training and also gave information about the National Educational Welfare Board. In addition, the board launched a new lo-call telephone number to inform parents and guardians about their legal role and responsibilities under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.

Guidelines were issued by the NEWB to all primary and second level schools in January of this year on reporting student absences. The guidelines provide step-by-step advice on how and when school attendance returns should be made and on how a new website established by the NEWB can be used by schools to comply with their legal obligations to report student absences to the board.

The NEWB collated the first hard data on school attendance nationally during the summer of 2004. The data revealed the level of non-school attendance in Ireland for the first time. Two core themes were immediately apparent from the data, namely, that absenteeism is prevalent throughout the country and it is significantly worse in disadvantaged areas. Under the terms of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, one of the functions of the board is to conduct and commission research into the reasons for non-attendance on the part of students and into the strategies and programmes designed to prevent it. The board is in the process of establishing two research projects in 2005, one of which will focus on an analysis of student absenteeism returns.

The first assessments of children being educated in places other than in recognised schools, for example, the home, have been carried out by authorised persons specially trained for the work. By the end of March 2005, 40 children had been registered as being in receipt of a “certain minimum education”. Assessments have also taken place in a number of independent schools and these children will also be registered. I understand the board issued the first school attendance notices or SANs to parents in March 2005. SANs are legal notices requiring the parent to send the child to a named school for a specified period of time. They are the first step in taking legal action against parents who have failed over time to co-operate with educational welfare officers to ensure that their children attend school and where the board considers that parents could do more to uphold their children’s right to an education.

I will keep the issue of the NEWB’s staffing under review in the light of the roll-out of services and any further proposals the board may put to me on clearly identified priority needs.

  139.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the provisions she is putting in place to cater for the projected increase in the student population in the years ahead; if she will [1607]publish the report prepared by her officials on this subject; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19672/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department takes account of projected changes in population when identifying requirements for future educational provision. It is my intention to make the latest projections publicly available shortly.

  140.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her plans to try to relocate almost 70 special needs assistants with a view to retaining their experience within the educational sector in regard to the decision to dispense with the services of same from summer 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19657/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Special needs assistants or SNAs are assigned to schools to meet the care needs of individual children who have been assessed by a psychologist as needing this type of support. There has been no change to the criteria or guidelines for allocating SNA support to schools and I further confirm that there are no plans to review the criteria or guidelines under which SNA support is allocated. Applications for SNA support are now dealt with by the National Council for Special Education which processes all applications for support from schools and communicates the decisions directly to the schools.

However, to ensure that resources are used in the most effective manner, a review has been conducted in recent months to establish whether primary schools have the level of SNA support they need for children in their care, whether they have resources they no longer need or whether they need extra resources. The review has found that some schools no longer have the care needs for which the SNA was originally sanctioned, that is, in some cases the child may have left the school, while in other cases the care needs of the child have diminished as the child has progressed through the school. In this regard, the schools where surplus SNA support was identified have been advised that they may retain this surplus until the end of the current school year.

My Department is engaged in discussions with the trade union representing SNAs, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, on a number of issues relating to the employment of SNAs, including the matters raised by the Deputy. In the circumstances it would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on any of these matters. It has always been the case that where the care needs of a child no longer justify SNA support, that support should no longer have been available to the school.

The Deputy will be aware that this Government has put in place an unprecedented level of [1608]support for children with special needs. Since 1998 the number of SNAs has increased from under 300 to nearly 6,000 nationally. In addition, more effective systems, such as the establishment of the National Council for Special Education, have been put in place to ensure that children get support as early as possible.

  141.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the call made by the Irish language commissioner, Mr. Seán Ó Cuirreáin, for a review of Irish language education in primary and secondary schools; her response to this call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19678/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The recent report of the Irish Language Commissioner highlighted the fact that despite appreciable time devoted to Irish in the school system many students emerge from primary and post-primary education without achieving a reasonable command of the language. Particular concerns were raised about students’ command of the spoken language. While I accept that the standard of oral Irish in particular of many of our young people is not as it should be, it is important to note that significant efforts have been made by my Department in recent years to improve standards in the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools.

The revised Irish language programme at primary level places a strong emphasis on oral Irish. This programme, which has been implemented in all schools since September 2003 and which is supported by extensive in-service training by the primary curriculum support programme, should bring significant improvement to the standard of spoken Irish over time. This development at primary level complemented similar curricular changes at second level where syllabus reform is ongoing.

Significant improvements are being made in terms of the provision of materials and resources for the teaching of Irish. An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta has been established to progress this area and to provide support services for schools. Funding has been provided to An Chomhairle to support this task and I know this is an area that will need further work. Evaluations by my Department’s inspectorate of the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools provide useful analysis to underpin future policy making in this area.

The inspectorate in its 2002 publication, “50 School Reports — What Inspectors Say”, has reported that the teaching of Irish is good in the majority of primary schools with the strongest aspects being the teaching of reading, poetry and writing. However, oral language attainment is generally poor despite considerable time being devoted to this aspect of Irish. This resonates [1609]with a view expressed by the Coimisinéir Teanga that insufficient attention is given to the use of Irish as a medium of communication in lessons taught. The Coimisinéir Teanga has pointed to other issues which I will consider in the context of developing ongoing policy responses.

At post-primary level, subject inspection reports indicate that inspectors regularly observe a good standard in the teaching and learning of Irish and that students demonstrate a good knowledge of texts being studied. However, there is concern that Irish is not used as the language of instruction in many classes, that Irish is taught through English in a significant number of classrooms and that the level of exemptions from Irish is too high.

My Department is currently engaged in a number of evaluation activities relating to the teaching and learning of Irish. These include a focused evaluation of Irish in 45 primary schools and an evaluation of the teaching and learning of Irish in the junior cycle in 75 post-primary schools. Both of these evaluations will be completed in 2005 and reports will be published subsequently. A report on standards of Irish in sixth class in primary schools is being prepared by Dr. John Harris and will be finalised later in 2005. This report will look at changes in pupil achievement levels between the years 1985 and 2003.

Also, at the request of my Department the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment or NCCA is carrying out a review of languages in the post-primary curriculum. This will include Irish. I am confident the reports will both inform us of good practice within the system and point to areas requiring improvement.

The inspectorate of my Department, on foot of a major review of Irish language policies carried out in the Department last year, has recently prepared an internal report for policy discussion regarding areas where further improvements could be made. The Coimisinéir Teanga, along with other interest groups, contributed to that process. It is important to note that the issue of promoting the Irish language is not one that can be advanced by schools alone. Societal attitudes to the Irish language certainly impact on students’ desire to learn it.

This Government has demonstrated a clear commitment to promoting our national language. It is hoped the continuing initiatives in education, along with the increased emphasis on the use of Irish in the Official Languages Act, will in time create a positive climate whereby students will realise the value of learning our native language and, as a consequence, language competence will prosper.

Question No. 142 answered with Question
No. 102.

  143.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Edu[1610]cation and Science    the number of further education places to be agreed for the 2005-2006 academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19727/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The full-time programmes within the further education sector that are funded by my Department and managed and delivered by the vocational education committees are Youthreach, senior Traveller training programmes, the vocational training opportunities scheme and post-leaving certificate courses. In excess of 39,000 places will be provided on these programmes in 2005-06. This comprises in the region of 30,000 places on post-leaving certificate programmes, 5,000 places on the vocational training opportunities scheme, over 3,200 places on the Youthreach programme and almost 1,100 places on senior Traveller training programmes. In addition, 7,000 places will be available for part-time further and adult education options under the Back to Education initiative, catering for over 15,000 adults. Grants are provided to VECs for adult literacy and community education. The adult literacy programme caters for approximately 30,000 participants per annum.

Question No. 144 answered with Question
No. 127.

  145.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the plans in place to invest in strategic research and development at third level to help ensure that Ireland has security of energy production in all forms by 2012 as oil production begins to peak, prices start to rise sharply and economic systems come under strain (details supplied). [19763/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Deputy may be aware that the policy issues associated with renewable energy sources are matters for my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. A dedicated agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland or SEI was established under the aegis of his Department for the purpose of addressing these issues, including the commissioning of appropriate research.

However, my Department, through the programme for research in third level institutions or PRTLI has provided for the establishment of a number of centres which, inter alia, conduct research in this area. These include the Environment Research Institute in University College Cork, the Urban Institute in University College Dublin and the Environmental Change Institute in University College Galway. In addition, both the institutes of technology and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology may, from time to time, commission [1611]individual researchers to undertake projects on the issue identified by the Deputy.

As regards investment in research, a team of international experts recently undertook an impact assessment on PRTLI. It noted the positive impact of the programme on higher education institutions and the valuable contribution it made to the national research effort. The Higher Education Authority is currently engaged in a series of consultations with stakeholders on the development of a successor programme.

  146.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of parents, teachers and school management authorities at the prospect of proposed changes in the allocation of special needs teaching assistants at various schools throughout the country; if her attention has been drawn to the need to retain in full and enhance the availability of teaching assistants to an even greater degree with particular reference to areas of social or economic deprivation; if she will give an undertaking that no school will be detrimentally affected by any such changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19774/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, a new scheme for allocating resource teachers to schools to cater for the needs of children with high-incidence special needs and learning support needs was announced last month. The reason for the new scheme is simple. Children with special needs, such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties, are found in almost every school. It makes sense then that every school should have a number of resource teaching hours based on the number of pupils in the school.

This is a major improvement on the previous system under which children with high incidence special needs required a psychological assessment before they were given resource teaching hours by the Department. This was a time-consuming process that often led to delays in children getting the support they needed. Resource teachers will now be in place in the school from the start of the school year so that children who need their assistance can get it straight away.

Under the new arrangement disadvantaged schools, boys schools and mixed schools get extra resources, as research shows that pupils in these schools are more likely to have learning difficulties. To ensure that every school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of its pupils, an extra 660 resource teaching posts are being put in place for next September. Some 340 of these are permanent posts and 320 are temporary posts being provided to ensure that children who had been given an individual allocation of [1612]resource teaching hours by my Department will keep these in situations where the general allocation to the school would not be sufficient to allow the school to provide these hours from within its general allocation. The provision of these temporary posts will ensure that no child who has been allocated a specific number of hours with a resource teacher by my Department will lose these under these new arrangements.

The majority of schools are gaining resource teaching hours under the new scheme. Addressing the concerns of small and rural schools was, as the Deputy will be aware, the reason I initiated a review of the original general allocation model which had been announced last year to come into effect in the 2005-06 school year. Following this review, a special improved ratio for small schools has been introduced to ensure that they are given resource teaching hours on a more favourable basis.

Despite misleading claims to the contrary, the new scheme does not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with a resource teacher to any child who needs such support. Rather, it ensures that each school has enough resources to ensure that each child gets a level of support appropriate to their individual needs. The school can then use its professional judgment to decide how these hours are divided between different children in the school to ensure that all their needs are met.

Research shows that some children with special needs will respond better with one-to-one tuition. Others, however, do better when taught in small groups. Often it is best for resource teachers to work with children in the classroom rather than taking them away to a separate room, as the children then have to catch up on work done by the rest of the class in their absence. The point is that the type of response needed depends on the child. While the new scheme will not prevent schools from giving one-to-one time with the resource teacher to children that need it, it is important to note that one-to-one teaching is not the best option for every child.

I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place. As of next September there will be more than 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government and I, as Minister for Education and Science, are deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. In addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.

[1613]Question No. 147 answered with Question
No. 64.

Question No. 148 answered with Question
No. 119.

Question No. 149 answered with Question
No. 91.

  150.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the population in each of the 18 Dublin Garda districts at the last census. [18945/05]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the following table:

Population of Garda Districts in the Dublin area, Census 2002.

Garda District Population 2002
1000F Pearse Street 17,972
1070G Kevin Street 42,505
1200K Donnybrook 42,262
1300E Crumlin 59,513
1372B Tallaght 128,412
1470B Terenure 55,273
1500H Santry 55,595
1530L Coolock 110,594
1570K Raheny 86,504
1700M Blanchardstown 116,099
1710H Lucan 69,292
1721C Clondalkin 68,190
1800G Store Street 12,485
1830K Fitzgibbon Street 37,626
1870H Bridewell County Dublin 23,033
1900C Dún Laoghaire 72,169
1930E Bray 68,658
1970D Blackrock County Dublin 83,499
Total Dublin area 1,149,681

  151.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Taoiseach    the costs paid from Exchequer funds to 31 December 2004 of all commissions, inquiries and tribunals commenced since 1995 by his Department; the title of the commission, inquiry and tribunal; the estimated date of completion of same; the estimated final cost of each commission, inquiry and tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18946/05]

[1614]The Taoiseach:  Costs relating to the McCracken Tribunal, Dunnes payments, the Moriarty Tribunal, payments to Messrs. Haughey and Lowry, and the Independent Commission of Inquiry have been made from Exchequer funds by my Department in the period to which the Deputy refers. The total cost to 31 December 2004 for each is given in the following table:

Year of Appointment Expenditure to 31 December 2004 Estimated Date of Completion
McCracken Tribunal 1997 6,655,332 Completed
Moriarty Tribunal 1997 18,643,249 January 2006
Independent Commission of Inquiry 2000 3,063,145 June 2005

[1613]The McCracken Tribunal, Dunnes payments, was completed in 1997. The Moriarty Tribunal is expected to be completed by 11 January 2006. The estimated costs for the tribunal for 2005 amounts to €10.552 million, giving total expected costs to the end of 2005 of €29.195 million. However, €6.5 million of this estimate is to cover costs, such as report publication and some element of award of legal costs in the event that [1614]the tribunal completes its work in 2005. As regards estimated future liabilities for costs, it is impossible to predict what costs may be awarded and to whom by the sole member of the tribunal.

The Independent Commission of Inquiry is expected to conclude in June 2005. An allocation of €257,000 has been included in the 2005 Estimates to cover the work of the commission bringing final costs to the end of 2005 of €3,320,145.

  152.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Taoiseach    the number of civil and public servants on a county basis who have been relocated in accordance with the Government’s programme for decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18947/05]

The Taoiseach:  Some 42 staff from my Department have applied through the central applications facility to relocate under the Government’s decentralisation programme. The breakdown by county is outlined in the following table:

County Number of applicants
Louth 4
Galway 3
Waterford 1
Wicklow 1
Meath 2
Kerry 2
Sligo 3
Leitrim 1
Kildare 6
Clare 1
Donegal 6
Limerick 1
Mayo 3
Tipperary 3
Offaly 2
Cork 2
Dublin 1

While none of the staff from my Department has relocated as yet, the process of relocation has commenced and my Department is currently involved in transfer arrangements with other Departments on behalf of a number of our staff.

  153.  Mr. Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the most up-to-date information on his travels abroad for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with him in his official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19184/05]

The Taoiseach:  I travelled to the United States of America on 15 March for St. Patrick’s Day, returning on 18 March. My programme included visits to Syracuse, New York, Baltimore and Washington. I was accompanied by the second Secretary General of my Department, the director of the Northern Ireland division, the Government Press Secretary, special adviser, private secretary, personal assistant and security officer. The Minister for Foreign Affairs travelled separately to the US and joined me in Washington. He accompanied me on the return journey. The cost arising to my Department for the visit has not yet been finalised. It currently stands at €27,549.

  154.  Mr. N. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a grant of €30,000 will be approved in respect of a helpline service (details supplied) in County Cork. [19223/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  155.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if recommendation 1117 (1989) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been implemented; if not, the steps which are being taken to implement it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19267/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Minister for Foreign Affairs may also have a contribution to make on this matter.

I understand that recommendation 1117 (1989) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was made to the Committee of Ministers and not to the member states. I understand also that the Committee of Ministers did not adopt the recommendation directly, but did consider it important that member states keep the need for appropriate legal measures under review. The Committee of Ministers also noted with satisfaction that the European Committee on Legal Co-operation has referred this matter to the Committee of Experts on Family Law to allow for the substantive issue to be studied in detail.

  156.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the funding package submitted for approval from the indicative funding available to the intellectual disability services in the south east will be approved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18970/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  157.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a plastic surgery operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18971/05]

  158.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for cardiac surgery under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18972/05]

  159.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a prostate operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18973/05]

  160.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a tonsils operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18974/05]

  161.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a cataracts operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18975/05]

  162.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a varicose veins operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18976/05]

  163.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a hernia operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18977/05]

  164.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a gall bladder operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18978/05]

  167.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a hip operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18981/05]

  168.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the average cost for a knee operation under the national treatment purchase fund when compared to the cost of the [1618]operation under the standard Health Service Executive route. [18982/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 157 to 164, inclusive, and Questions Nos. 167 and 168 together.

My Department does not maintain data on the average cost of the specific operations arranged by the national treatment purchase fund or NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply directly to the Deputy with regard to the specific information requested.

  165.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the maximum assistance and support will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 in relation to orthodontic treatment. [18979/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  166.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the annual budget for the national treatment purchase fund since it was established in 2002; the number of persons treated per HSE region; the number of persons who had to travel to the UK for treatment; the cost of the travel expenses for persons; and the average waiting time reduction for adult and child patients for each category of operation as covered by the scheme. [18980/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The funding allocated to the national treatment purchase fund since it was established in 2002 is as follows:

Year Funding
€ million
2002 5.012
2003 30.057
2004 44.000
2005 64.000

My Department has asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the other information requested.

Questions Nos. 167 and 168 answered with Question No. 157.

  169.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if capital funding will be provided for a proposed day care project for the elderly (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18988/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  170.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans to re-examine the grant available through subvention for nursing homes in view of the serious increase in energy and other running costs of the nursing homes, which are now being passed on to individuals and families; if she has satisfied herself that the present rate of subvention is sufficient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18999/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 allows for the payment of a subvention towards the cost of nursing home care based on medical and means assessments. The process used in determining a person’s eligibility for subvention is set out in the Nursing Homes (Subvention) Regulations 1993.

As the Deputy will be aware, the placing of a person in a private nursing home is a private matter between the person or his or her representatives and the nursing home proprietor, as are the fees charged by a nursing home. The subvention scheme was introduced to assist with the cost of private nursing home care and it was never intended that a subvention payment would meet the full costs of private nursing home care.

The Government is conscious of the changing demographic profile of our population, with more people living longer lives and the consequential greater demand for services, both community based and residential. The Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care in Ireland, which was commissioned by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, examined issues surrounding the financing of long-term care. Following on the publication of this report, a working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprising senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs has been established.

[1620]The objective of this group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme by Professor Eamon O’Shea. This group has been requested to report to both the Tánaiste and Minister for Social and Family Affairs by mid-2005.

  171.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the procedures in place to test imported foodstuffs for genetically modified content. [19020/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Food Safety Authority of Ireland or FSAI is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of EU legislation regarding genetically modified or GM foods. The FSAI carries out checks of the marketplace for compliance with the GM legislation. Under EU rules, only authorised GM foods or foods containing ingredients thereof can be placed on the market. New legislation which came into force in 2004 stipulates that persons wishing to place GM foods on the market must provide material and information to enable testing for specific GMOs or genetically modified organisms before they may be authorised for marketing.

The FSAI has carried out a number of surveys of the food supply chain in recent years and has employed both the State Laboratory as well as a private laboratory to carry out testing of the genetic material or DNA in a range of foods using a technique called polymerase chain reaction or PCR. One of the uses of this highly sensitive technique is to allow for the testing for the presence and sometimes the amount of a genetically modified organism or GMO present in a food. The EU Joint Research Centre, based in Ispra in Italy, has undertaken to standardise how GMOs and derived food and feed are tested using PCR and a number of tests have already been developed.

The FSAI has recently published a report on its surveillance of foods carrying GM free labels. This type of label had been identified as a potential problem in previous surveys. The results show that a small number of products with GM free labels contained low levels of GM ingredients. The FSAI is following up on this matter with the companies concerned. In addition, a number of foods with GM free labels had no ingredients that could be from a GM source, which meant that such labels in those cases were merely a marketing tool rather than for consumer information.

  172.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if certain anti-sickness drugs used by cancer patients including a medication (details supplied) have been removed [1621]from cover under the GMS system; the reason this change has been made; and her assessment of the impact on patients for whom this medication has been recommended. [19021/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  There is a common list of reimbursable medicines for the general medical services and drug payment schemes. This list ensures equity between the schemes in relation to the range of medicines paid for by the State. The list is reviewed and amended monthly, as new products become available and deletions are notified.

For an item to be included on the common list, it must comply with a published list of criteria. These include authorisation status, where appropriate, price and, in certain cases, the intended use of the product. In addition, the product should ordinarily be supplied to the public only by medical prescription and should not be advertised or promoted to the public.

There is an agreement in place between my Department, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association and the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Ireland on the supply terms, conditions and prices of medicines supplied to the health services, including the general medical services, other community drug schemes, the Health Service Executive and hospitals. One of the conditions of the agreement is that the price to the wholesaler of each item of medicine covered by the agreement may not be increased for the term of the agreement.

The manufacturer of the product referred to by the Deputy applied to my Department for a price increase in December 2003, which was refused. The product was subsequently removed from the list of reimbursable drugs and medicines at the manufacturer’s request. However, because of the indications for which this product is prescribed, my Department reviewed the matter and agreed to grant the price increase requested by the manufacturer. My Department is now awaiting receipt of an up-to-date product authorisation from the company concerned. As soon as this is received, the product will be restored to the common list of reimbursable drugs and medicines. A medical cardholder who experiences financial difficulty in obtaining items not on the common list should approach the relevant Health Service Executive area for assistance.

  173.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has issued instructions in regard to the provision of extra beds in Naas General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19022/05]

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, [1622]health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital. My Department has not issued instructions to the HSE in relation to the provision of extra beds at the hospital.

  174.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19023/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  175.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a nursing home subvention or home help will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19024/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  176.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the current entitlement a 14 year old medical card holder has in terms of orthodontic treatment; if it is the policy of her Department not to treat medical card holders in the area of orthodontics if they have extra teeth that need to be removed in order for orthodontics work to be carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19025/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  177.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that if a person’s income exceeds the non-contributory old age pension by a margin of 20% plus the current maximum subvention level of €190, he or she is deemed too wealthy to qualify for even €1 of support towards the cost of private nursing home care and cannot apply for the hardship provision under which enhanced subvention can be paid; and the way in which this income ceiling compares to the current estimate of the average cost of private nursing home care. [19042/05]

  178.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the three different levels of maximum nursing home subvention were first set; her estimate of the inflation in the cost of private nursing home care in the intervening period; and the present value of these subvention levels had they been indexed in line with rising costs. [19043/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.

The Nursing Home (Subvention) Regulations came into effect in 1993, at which time the rates of subvention were £70, £95 and £120 per week for medium, high and maximum dependency, respectively. The current three rates of subvention payable are €114.30, €152.40 and €190.50, which came into effect in April 2001. It should be noted that the nursing home subvention scheme was introduced to financially assist those in private nursing home care and was never intended to cover the entire cost.

The HSE may pay more than the maximum rate of subvention relative to an individual’s level of dependency in a case, for example, where personal funds are exhausted. The application of the scheme in an individual case is a matter for the HSE in the context of meeting increasing demands for subvention, subject to the provisions of the Health Act 2004. The average rate of subvention paid by the HSE generally exceeds the current approved basic rates.

The Government is conscious of the changing demographic profile of our population, with more people living longer lives and the consequential greater demand for services, both community based and residential. The Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care in Ireland, which was commissioned by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, examined issues surrounding the financing of long-term care. Following on the publication of this report, a working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprising senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs has been established.

The objective of this group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system [1624]of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme by Professor Eamon O’Shea. This group has been requested to report to both the Tánaiste and Minister for Social and Family Affairs by mid-2005.

Question No. 179 withdrawn.

  180.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the status of the refund of the hospital charge for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; when payment will be made further to Parliamentary Question No. 180 of 26 January 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19061/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, HSE, and I understand that the HSE replied to the Deputy on 31 January 2005 on this matter. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated further and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  181.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason the Health Service Executive has not replied to Parliamentary Question No. 203 of 12 April 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19065/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  182.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to current media and television adverts on the benefits of folic acid by the health promotion unit of her Department, the way in which a person can make a submission or offer an opinion on the issue to the health promotion unit in writing or by telephone; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19078/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The national committee on folic acid food fortification, whose secretariat is provided by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, is tasked with reviewing options [1625]for the fortification of foods with folic acid in view of the relatively high level of neural tube defects, NTDs, in Ireland. In carrying out this work the committee will address the broader issues that would be involved in the event that it is decided to proceed with fortification with folic acid, including the technical issues regarding fortification, addressing risk and examining other reported health benefits that are linked to fortification.

The FSAI has initiated a public consultation process and members of the public who wish to comment on these issues should access the relevant website for details on how to make a submission; alternatively, they can contact the FSAI by telephone, 1890 33 66 77. It should be noted that the latest date for the receipt of submissions is 24 June next.

  183.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she will provide the necessary finance for the appointment of a psychologist for County Carlow in view of the proposed autism centre in Myshall, County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19089/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s [1626]question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  184.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients admitted to each psychiatric admission unit nationally between 2000 and 2005 on a yearly basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19122/05]

  185.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the percentage of involuntary patients admitted to each psychiatric admission unit nationally between 2000 and 2005 on a yearly basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19123/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 184 and 185 together.

The number of patients admitted to each psychiatric admission unit nationally together with the percentage of involuntary admissions to such units as requested by the Deputy from 2000 to 2003 are as follows:

Health Board Hospitals 2000 % Invol 2001 % Invol 2002 % Invol 2003 % Invol
Cluain Mhuire Family Centre 396 12.6 423 13.7 387 15.0 438 13.2
Newcastle Hospital, Greystones 568 9.9 596 12.1 487 9.2 562 6.9
Vergemount Clinic, Clonskeagh 455 5.9 346 6.6 333 10.8 269 11.5
St. Brendan’s Hospital, Dublin 874 13.7 700 17.6 618 15.4 589 18.7
St. Ita’s Hospital, Portrane 1,071 6.6 997 6.7 921 6.7 1,026 7.5
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Fairview 692 16.5 720 19.3 653 17.2 570 19.5
St. Loman’s Hospital, Dublin 56 0 42 0 74 2.7 81 0
St. Fintan’s Hospital, Portlaoise 729 2.7 768 5.5 690 4.6 689 6.1
St. Loman’s Hospital, Mullingar 804 14.3 844 12.7 727 10.7 646 10.4
Our Lady’s Hospital, Ennis 507 11.2 481 13.3 1 0
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Limerick 94 23.4 91 24.2 82 14.6 85 30.6
St. Brigid’s Hospital, Ardee 456 9.6 421 7.8 441 12.7 472 8.1
St. Davnet’s Hospital, Monaghan 66 18.2 68 19.1 59 20.3 76 27.6
Mental Health Service, Sligo 575 14.3 689 11.8 529 12.3 470 14.9
St. Conal’s Hospital, Letterkenny 37 24.3 18 61.1 11 18.2 25 16.0
St. Canice’s Hospital, Kilkenny 492 9.8 411 8.8 417 8.2 75 9.3
St. Dympna’s Hospital, Carlow 311 5.1 294 7.1 290 5.2 60 0
St. Luke’s Hospital, Clonmel 175 33.7 124 16.1 205 23.9 154 19.5
St. Otteran’s Hospital, Waterford 49 20.4 48 8.3 29 24.1 36 16.7
St. Senan’s Hospital, Enniscorthy 535 10.8 562 9.6 616 10.4 728 6.5
Our Lady’s Hospital, Cork 365 35.3 213 53.1
Carraig Mór 204 53.9 184 48.4
St. Finan’s Hospital, Killarney 57 49.1 52 63.5 57 61.4 43 58.1
St. Stephen’s Hospital, Cork 513 5.7 346 6.9 362 6.9 359 7.2
St. Brigid’s Hospital, Ballinasloe 689 17.6 739 15.8 825 15.5 613 16.8
St. Mary’s Hospital, Castlebar 633 10.1 666 11.7 614 15.0 450 9.6
General Hospital Psychiatric Units
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park 370 3.0 285 1.8 169 3.0 203 4.9
James Connolly Memorial Hospital 225 5.3 262 5.3
Mater Misericordiae Hospital 97 8.2 223 12.6 167 8.4 189 11.6
Naas General Hospital 578 7.1 593 8.3 531 10.2 584 7.5
St. James’s Hospital, Dublin 243 0 301 0 556 9.2 507 7.3
Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 642 11.8 657 13.2 626 13.4 495 17.2
Ennis General Hospital 59 28.8 520 14.2 540 14.6
Regional Hospital, Limerick 785 11.2 776 13.4 732 16.3 643 17.7
Cavan General Hospital 158 12.0 136 24.3 134 17.9 132 21.2
Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan 283 15.9 309 12.9 278 10.8 271 12.9
Letterkenny General Hospital 820 12.3 931 12.1 798 13.4 698 11.3
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Clonmel 1,083 8.5 1,118 8.9 894 13.8 797 9.8
Waterford Regional Hospital 753 9.2 736 7.5 773 7.2 718 7.2
St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny 469 4.7
Bantry General Hospital 349 6.3 276 8.3 265 9.1 273 8.4
Cork University Hospital 683 22.3 649 22.0 616 23.5 627 16.7
Mercy Hospital, Cork 662 12.5 938 5.9 898 10.7 836 11.1
Tralee General Hospital 819 8.1 837 8.6 787 14.5 802 9.5
Roscommon County Hospital 445 7.4 457 10.7 385 11.2 384 10.9
University College Hospital, Galway 755 8.6 836 7.9 637 14.8 639 9.9
Mayo General Hospital 34 26.5
Private Hospitals
Bloomfield Hospital, Dublin 21 0 11 9.1 17 0 11 0
Hampstead & Highfield Hospital 76 0 66 0 33 0 64 0
Kylemore Clinic, Dublin 15 0 11 0 3 0 4 0
Palmerstown View, Dublin 5 0 1 0 3 0 1 0
St. John of God Hospital, Dublin 1,085 3.6 1,094 5.2 1,307 4.6 1,287 3.5
St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin 2,172 2.7 2,128 3.3 2,809 2.4 2,722 2.6
Total 24,098 24,312 23,570 22,892

[1627]Substantial progress has also been made in recent years in ensuring that those in need of mental health services receive care and treatment in the most appropriate setting. It is the intention to continue to accelerate the growth in alternatives to hospitalisation with the further development of community-based services throughout the country.

  186.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the extent of hospital waiting lists for patients throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19124/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times now falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. A new on-line national patient treatment register is being developed by the fund. The new patient treatment register will allow for more accurate identification of waiting lists, and more importantly [1628]waiting times. It is intended that the register will be implemented on a phased basis during 2005.

Up to the end of May 2005 some 30,000 patients have had treatment arranged for them. It is now the case that, in most instances, anyone waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund.

  187.  Dr. Upton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if medical card holders will have cervical smears for no charge; and if she will review the current practise where general practitioners now charge medical card holders for such smears. [19131/05]

  207.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if cervical screening is free of charge for women in possession of a medical card; if this is uniform in each Health Service Executive area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19263/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 187 and 207 together.

[1629]Cervical smear testing is not currently provided by GPs or family planning clinics under the scheme for medical card holders. However, where cervical smears form part of recognised protocols for the ongoing treatment of individual patient illnesses, they should be provided free of charge to eligible women under the GMS scheme. Any necessary follow-up treatment is available to all women, including medical card holders, within the public hospital system.

I am committed to the national roll out of a cervical screening programme in line with international best practice. International evidence demonstrates the proven efficacy of programmes that are effectively managed and meet quality assurance standards. Careful planning and consultation with relevant professional and advocacy stakeholders is required in advance of a national roll out.

  188.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the forum on fluoridation will be wound up; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19139/05]

  190.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the annual cost to her Department of the forum on fluoridation since 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19142/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 190 together.

The forum on fluoridation was established in May 2000 and held its first meeting in September 2000. The forum on fluoridation concluded in September 2002 with the launch of the report of the forum on fluoridation.

The annual cost of the forum on fluoridation since 2000 is as follows:

Year
2000 16,153.70
2001 184,593.31
2002 128,383.26
2003 6,576.16
2004 90.34

Although the forum on fluoridation concluded in 2002, there were some outstanding expenses due.

  189.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when legislation reducing the amount of fluoride in public water supplies will be introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19140/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, a forum on fluoridation was established to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. The forum report’s main conclusion was [1630]that the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure.

In all the report of the forum on fluoridation made 33 recommendations covering a broad range of topics such as research, public awareness, policy and technical aspects of fluoridation and the establishment of an expert body to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

The Irish expert body on fluorides and health held its inaugural meeting in April 2004. The terms of reference of the expert body are: to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issuesm, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; and to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his/her request or on its own initiative.

The expert body on fluorides and health is currently examining the regulations governing fluoridation of public piped water supplies with the aim of making proposals to me for the purposes of implementing the recommendation of the forum to reduce the level of fluoride in public piped water supplies. As part of this exercise the expert body is carrying out a census of public piped water supplies and when this work is complete the expert body will make recommendations to me in relation to the updating of the current regulations.

Question No. 190 answered with Question
No. 188.

  191.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of deaths by suicide of persons under 25 between 1997 and 2004 in counties Clare, Limerick, north Tipperary and nationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19143/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Data on mortality compiled and published by the Central Statistics Office indicate that there were 21 deaths by suicide of persons under 25 in County Clare between 1997 and September 2004, there were 47 such deaths in Limerick city and county and there were 27 such deaths in Tipperary North Riding. Nationally, there were 858 deaths by suicide of persons under 25 in the period 1997 to September 2004. Figures for 2003 and January to September 2004 are provisional and may be subject to change.

Suicide is a serious social problem in this country and every suicide and attempted suicide is a tragic event. As the Deputy is aware, work is now well underway on the preparation of a national strategy for action on suicide prevention. This strategy, which involves the project management unit, Health Service Executive in partnership with the national suicide review group, supported [1631]by the Department of Health and Children will be action-based from the outset and will outline the priority initiatives for suicide prevention and mental health promotion across the country for the coming years. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the preparation of this strategy which will be published in September of this year.

  192.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the amount made available for 2005 under the special disability multi-annual funding package; the way in which this money is to be spent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19147/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Government’s multi-annual investment programme for services for people with disabilities provides for additional funding of €70 million revenue and €60 million capital in 2005. This funding will provide for a broad range of additional services for people with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities, autism and those with mental illness including new residential, respite and day services enhanced multi-disciplinary support services enhanced home support services, increased funding for aids and appliances additional beds at the Central Mental Hospital further development of the child and adolescent mental health services expansion of the community mental health teams and services.

Details of the actual services to be provided from this funding are a matter for the Health Service Executive, which under the Health Act 2004, has responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services.

  193.  Mr. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department is in a position to make a determination regarding an application for national lottery funding by a resource centre (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19150/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The organisation referred to, which is a family resource centre, applied to my Department for a grant from the Health and Children allocation of national lottery funds in April 2004. The organisation sought funding of €6,500 towards the cost of carrying out a feasibility study to determine the development potential of the courtyard area and the building adjacent to the resource centre. As the applications for national lottery funding received in 2004 far exceeded the resources available, it was not possible to assist this organisation in 2004. The organisation was informed of this in January 2005 and advised that, if funding for this project is required in 2005, to [1632]apply for a grant from the 2005 national lottery allocation.

My Department forwarded an application form to the organisation on 8 June 2005.

  194.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason student nurses attending Trinity and affiliated to St. James’s Hospital have not been awarded their travel allowances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19156/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The travel allowance to which the Deputy refers is the external clinical placement allowance, which was introduced to assist undergraduate nursing students undertaking external clinical placements. Nursing students on the undergraduate nursing degree programme are entitled to a refund of the cost of transport to and from the clinical placement site for the duration of the placement.

Payment of this allowance is the responsibility of the hospital to which the student is affiliated, in this case St. James’s Hospital, and funding has been provided to the hospitals by my Department. I understand that the up-to-date position at St. James’s Hospital is that payments have been made to many of the students. St. James’s Hospital has issued reminders to a number of the remaining students who still have to furnish some details. When these details have been received, the outstanding allowances can be processed.

  195.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the rostered placement will be reduced to 34 weeks, excluding leave for the 2005 intake onwards, in view of the proposed changes to the structure of the rostered year for B.Sc. nursing students; if, prior to these changes taking place it will be appropriate that some discussion take place with the HEI’s, the heads of the nursing schools, the Department of Health and Children, the health service providers, An Bord Altranais and student representatives (details supplied). [19157/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Government has invested heavily in the new four-year undergraduate nursing degree programme which started in 2002. The total capital investment in building 13 new nursing schools around the country will be in the region of €240 million on completion. Ongoing revenue funding will be in excess of €90 million when the full cohort of students are in place in 2006. The primary concern of my Department is to ensure a safe and effective service for patients. This means that not only must the training and education of nurses be of a high quality to produce nurses fit for purpose and practice but patient safety must not be compromised in the course of this training.

[1633]Nursing is a practice-based profession and half of a nurse’s education is spent in clinical placement for which 49 weeks currently is paid on the basis of 80% of a staff nurse salary. The first roll out of the rostered year commenced in early 2005, with the exception of one college which commenced in September 2004. Currently the course is structured so that students undertake the paid rostered year between the third and fourth year of the programme. During the rostered year students replace nurses at an agreed ratio. The arrangements for the rostered year therefore, have a direct impact on service provision.

It became clear to my Department last year that the structure of the degree programme put in place by higher education institutions and the length of the rostered year, coupled with the specific requirements of An Bord Altranais, had made it very difficult to ensure that students had sufficient relevant generic and specialist clinical placements completed before they took on the role of rostered employees of the health services. It was therefore necessary for certain changes to be put in place to solve the immediate difficulties and to avoid similar problems arising in the future. To ensure that the existing arrangements for the rostered placement could go ahead my Department agreed that a replacement ratio of 3.5:1, students to nurses, instead of the anticipated 2:1 ratio would apply for a transition period. This change in the replacement ratio gave rise to significant costs of €2.5 million in 2004 and an estimated additional cost of €9 million in 2005 rising to €11.95 million in each of the years 2006-08.

The changes to the structure of the undergraduate nursing degree programme which are to be put in place for the 2005 intake onwards are based on findings of the independent report carried out on behalf of my Department by Deloitte & Touche and extensive consultation by my Department with key stakeholders including An Bord Altranais, higher education institutes, health service providers and the nursing unions. The changes include the reduction of the rostered placement to 34 weeks, excluding annual leave, for the 2005 intake onwards with the placement moving to the end of the programme finishing in week 52 of the fourth year, this will have the effect of maximising the overall amount of clinical experience available in advance of the rostered placement; and revisions to the Bord Altranais requirements and standards for nurse registration education programmes. The structure of the revised programme provides for a minimum of 63 weeks theoretical instruction and 45 weeks supernumerary clinical placement prior to the rostered period. This will ensure the completion of all theoretical and supernumerary generic and specialist clinical placements prior to the rostered placement.

These changes will not impact on students who are currently undertaking the programme. I am [1634]satisfied that the changes will continue to meet the needs of the health service providers in addition to maintaining the integrity of the undergraduate nursing education degree programmes.

  196.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 387 of 5 October 2004, the progress that has been made to correct the inaccuracies in the medical record referred to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19161/05]

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 functions of the former Eastern Regional Health Authority.

As the Deputy will be aware, meetings have already taken place to find a resolution to this case. My Department has been advised that the HSE, eastern region, will continue to facilitate both parties in regard to future discussions.

  197.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on the implementation of the national children’s strategy; the amount of the strategy that has not yet been implemented; when this will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19183/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  Annual progress reports on the national children’s strategy, NCS, are compiled by the national children’s office, NCO on the basis of detailed returns submitted by Departments against each of the actions in the strategy. These reports show the progress that has been made against each action. A copy of the 2002 and 2003 reports are available on the NCO website at www.nco.ie. The 2004 report is being finalised by the NCO at present, and will be submitted to the Cabinet committee on children at its July 2005 meeting. I will ask my Department to forward a copy to the Deputy as soon as it is available, which is expected to be end July 2005.

A further source of independent information on the implementation of the strategy is available from the national children’s advisory council, NCAC, which has a role in independently monitoring implementation of the strategy. Its review of the 2002 progress report is available on the website www.ncac.ie. The council did not review the 2003 report as its term had expired at that time. It has since been reconstituted, and will be reviewing the 2004 report later this year.

As the progress reports demonstrate, steady progress is being made in implementing the [1635]national children’s strategy. At the end of 2004 progress had been reported on almost all of the 141 actions in the strategy, although the extent of progress varies. It is important to note that the strategy is a ten year strategy and that 2005 marks the half way point. In particular, good progress has been made in relation to goals 1 and 2 of the strategy, that children will have a voice in matters that affect them, and that children’s lives will be better understood. Some 124 of the 141 actions under the national children’s strategy relate to improving supports and services for children. Good progress has been made on a number of issues, including substantial investment in child care, investment in educational disadvantage and resources for special needs in education, reduction of hospital waiting lists for children, the publication of a national play policy, investment in the sports capital programme, extension of the Garda vetting service and the implementation of the youth homelessness strategy.

I have recently decided to carry out a mid-term review of the national children’s strategy. The purpose of the review will be to identify areas where progress has been made; identify the key issue or priorities over the remaining five years and raise awareness and give a new impetus to the strategy for the period 2006-10.

The National Children’s Office will undertake this project. The assistance and input of a wide range of stakeholders, including the NCAC, will be integrated into the process.

  198.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the most up-to-date information on her travels abroad for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with her in her official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19185/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I travelled to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to undertake a number of duties in relation to St. Patrick’s Day. I travelled with my husband, Mr. Brian Geoghegan, the deputy Government press secretary, Mr. Iarla Mongey, and my acting private secretary, Mr. Michael Corban. The delegation left on Wednesday, 16 March and returned on Sunday, 20 March. The costs of the trip have not yet been finalised. However, the costs finalised to date total €5,311.53.

  199.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason 83 private nursing homes were inspected only once in 2004; if this is a satisfactory inspection regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19214/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s ques[1636]tion relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

However, as the Deputy is aware the Nursing Homes Regulations 1993 provide for two inspections of each private nursing home per year. In this regard the Tánaiste has written to the Health Service Executive stressing that it is of the utmost importance that this target is achieved countrywide by the HSE to ensure the highest standards in private nursing homes.

  200.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will investigate the situation which occurred at Louth County Hospital in Dundalk on 30 May 2005; and the reason efforts were not made to accommodate those patients in beds. [19227/05]

  201.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will investigate the situation which occurred at Louth County Hospital in Dundalk on 31 May 2005 whereby five female patients had to spend the night on trolleys while there were five empty beds available in an eight person male ward; and if the Health Service Executive will instruct hospitals to take measures to accommodate patients in available beds in wards where such a situation occurs. [19228/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 201 together.

The Deputy’s questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  202.  Dr. Upton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if persons who are in receipt of a disability allowance and resident of a residential home are entitled to a refund of the portion of their payment retained by the residential home in view of the fact that they are medical card holders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19234/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long-stay charges.

All those who were illegally charged for publicly funded long-term residential care and are [1637]alive and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004 will have the charges repaid in full. The repayment will apply to all those who were charged including those in receipt of payments other than the non-contributory old age pension. The scheme will not provide for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years ago.

Any person who considers that they or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register their interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the National Refund Scheme, HSE Midland Area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly; or e.mail to refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie; or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

  203.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to alter the regulations pertaining to the health insurance sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19249/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the Health Insurance Acts, regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the regulations in draft has been passed by each House of the Oireachtas. It is my intention to present some minor amendments to the health insurance regulations to the Houses of the Oireachtas seeking approval this week.

I intend to bring forward a limited number of amendments to the risk equalisation scheme, to address issues raised by the Health Insurance Authority in its reports made under the scheme. The amendments relate, primarily, to clarifications of existing definitions. Given that insurers make returns on a six monthly basis under the scheme, it would be desirable that amendments be approved and the regulations made in advance of 1 July next, the first day of the next data return period.

I also intend to submit amendments to the open enrolment regulations relating to the envisaged commencement of section 8 of the Health Insurance (Amendment) Act 2001. The proposed amendments relate to the decision of two restricted membership undertakings to opt out of risk equalisation arrangements under subsection 2(b) of section 12 of the Health Insurance Acts, and providing for the extension of open enrolment to those aged 65 and over. One other proposed amendment to the regulations, generally, will be to replace the term ‘ancillary health services’ with ‘relevant health services’ in line with the related change made in the 2001 Act.

  204.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an occupational therapist’s report in the case of a person (details supplied) in County [1638]Kilkenny whose spouse has applied for a grant under the disabled person’s grant scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19250/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  205.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 280 of 12 April 2005, when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated with a bed in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19251/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  206.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a long-term stay bed in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a decision in the case will be expedited. [19262/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 207 answered with Question
No. 187.

  208.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the Health Service Executive will sanction a motorised transport grant for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [19295/05]

[1639]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  209.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the action she proposes to take with regards to the decision of the Health Service Executive to refuse motorised transport grants to persons over 65 years in view of the fact that they are in breach of the equality legislation. [19296/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The motorised transport grant was introduced in 1968 by way of circular 7/68. It is a grant which may be made payable by the Health Service Executive towards the purchase of a car and-or adaptations to a car being purchased by a person with a severe disability who is 17 years or older and up to 65 years of age, where such a car is essential for him or her to obtain or retain employment. Self-employed persons who satisfy the criteria for eligibility may also be considered, subject to the above age limits.

The grant may also be considered in exceptional circumstances for a person with a severe disability, subject to the above age limits, who lives in a very remote location and whose disability impedes him or her from using public transport.

My Department will examine the issue which the Deputy has raised regarding equality legislation. This grant, including criteria for eligibility, will also be considered as part of my Department’s strategic review of services for people with disabilities.

  210.  Mr. Kelleher    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps she has taken and the representations she has made to the Health Service Executive to ensure that the post of consultant haematologist with an interest in child haematology for the Cork University Hospital will be appointed following the retirement of a person (details supplied); if her attention has been drawn to the fact that to date no reply let alone a decision has been received from the Health Service Executive regarding the filling of this post and that this is placing further anxiety on persons; the timeframe as to when the post will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19297/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility [1640]of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  211.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when work will be completed to a house under the special housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19298/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  212.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the situation in relation to the requirements for and the availability of speech and language therapists between now and 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19302/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy may wish to note that three new speech and language therapy courses commenced in the 2003-04 academic year, one of which is a two-year postgraduate course, at the University of Limerick. In total, these courses provide an additional 75 training places in speech and language therapy. This expansion in training numbers has been identified in the report commissioned by my Department from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates on current and future demand conditions in the labour market for certain professional therapists as sufficient to meet the long-term requirements for speech and language therapists in Ireland.

The first graduates from the new speech and language therapy course in the University of Limerick will be conferred in the near future.

  213.  Mr. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the discussions which have taken place within the Health Service Executive to ensure that chiropody services, at a reasonable cost and without a top-up charge, are available to medical card holders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19321/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of chiropody services is a matter for the local area of the Health Service Executive. This is a service which the HSE is not statutorily obliged to provide but a variety of [1641]arrangements are in place nationally under arrangements made by the former Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and other health boards.

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 have requested 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 of the former ERHA. I wish to restate that I consider it 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.

  214.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the procedure for the Inspector of Mental Hospitals to arrange visits to hospitals; if these take place without the prior knowledge of the hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19322/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 2001, the previous office of the inspector of mental hospitals has been replaced with the office of the inspector of mental health services, which is part of the Mental Health Commission. Dr. Teresa Carey has been appointed to the position of inspector of mental health services and, together with her team of assistant inspectors, has commenced a programme of inspections.

The Mental Health Act 2001 requires the inspector of mental health services to visit and inspect every approved centre each year and to visit and inspect any other premises where mental health services are being provided, as the inspector thinks appropriate. The procedure for such visits is a matter for the inspector of mental health services and the mental health commission. The inspector’s review of the services, including reports of inspections carried out, is published with the mental health commission’s annual report and is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The inspector’s first comprehensive annual report is expected to be presented before the end of this month.

  215.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to previous Government commitments in this regard, if she has succeeded in making one of the two radiation oncologists to have been appointed in Cork available on an outpatient basis to the people of Waterford for at least five sessions per fortnight; the extent to which services have been made [1642]available to persons of Kilkenny and Carlow through Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19323/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  216.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the sub-committee on radiotherapy will address the issue of designated transport with a view to providing the persons of the south east with adequate services in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19324/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As I previously indicated to the House, I consider that appropriate transport arrangements for patients requiring radiotherapy should be made available, where necessary, by the Health Service Executive. The national radiation oncology co-ordinating group provides advice to my Department and the HSE on radiotherapy, including patient transport arrangements. I understand that the group will shortly be writing to the HSE on this matter. My Department has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy in relation to the position in the south-eastern area.

  217.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that home care attendants in the south east are being informed by the Health Service Executive that they cannot work before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. due to insurance issues; if the funds have been made available by her Department to cover the cost of insurance; if persons’ hours will not be cut and if she will resolve the issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19332/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 within the resources at its disposal. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  218.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that there will be no cut in the hours allocated for the home care attendant in the case of [1643]a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19333/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  219.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in arranging an appointment at Waterford Regional Hospital for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny in view of the fact that they were referred by their general practitioner on 12 March 2003; if a response will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19334/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  220.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of public nursing home beds each year for each of the past 20 years. [19344/05]

  221.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of privately owned and operated nursing home beds for each of the past ten years. [19345/05]

  222.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of private nursing home patients for whom a nursing home subvention was payable in 2004 or later. [19346/05]

  223.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of private nursing home beds which were contracted out to the local health board or Health Service Executive equivalent during 2004 or later. [19347/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 to 223, inclusive, together.

The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social [1644]services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  224.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) was not called for their operation on the 1 June 2005. [19367/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the esxecutive to arrange to have this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  225.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department will arrange for the North Western Health Executive to provide orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim who has been waiting four years. [19369/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  226.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the unacceptable delay in organising an angiogram for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19370/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  227.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position in relation to the general practitioner only medical [1645]cards scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19382/05]

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 will include responsibility for the determination of eligibility of persons for ‘GP visit’ cards.

In 2005 funding has been provided to allow the Health Service Executive provide an additional 30,000 people with full medical cards and also to extend free access to general practitioner services under the general medical services scheme to up to a further 200,000 persons. The Health Service Executive has put in place the necessary administrative arrangements for the introduction of the ’GP visit’ cards. It is intended that a public information campaign will be undertaken which will indicate the process to be followed by applicants to obtain application forms and to have their eligibility assessed by the HSE.

It is my firm view that this initiative should be implemented for the benefit of persons on low income as quickly as possible. However, it has not been possible, to date, to reach agreement on the issue with the Irish Medical Organisation.

  228.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will re-examine the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and the gratuity this person would be entitled to if she were to accept. [19383/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As set out in my reply to Question No. 39 dated 17 February 2005, an ex-gratia retirement benefit is payable to qualifying non-pensionable staff under the terms of the voluntary hospital superannuation scheme. The amount of €3,196.54 authorised by my Department in November 2003 is based on information supplied by the relevant employer and takes account of unpaid leave taken by the person concerned during her employment. This is therefore the maximum gratuity applicable in this instance under the terms of the scheme and having regard to the length of service involved.

  229.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department has received complaints regarding a nursing home (details supplied); if so, if they have been investigated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19423/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Department has not received a complaint about this nursing home.

  230.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) was refused sanction by the HSE for the purchase of certain medical material which was recommended to treat his condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19424/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  231.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a home care grant will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry. [19425/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  232.  Ms Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide information on the financial allocations made by her to each of the learning disability service providers in each of the past five years; the number of day places, residential places and respite places which this funded in each case; if all funding for 2005 has been drawn down; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19433/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department. However, my officials have asked the Health Service Executive’s national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

  233.  Ms Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 175 of 11 May 2005, the reason no reply has yet issued to this Deputy; her views on whether it is acceptable that Members of Dáil Éireann go to these lengths to obtain basic information from the health services; [1647]if she has satisfied herself with the level of competency of senior management of the HSE in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19434/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, the Health Service Executive came into being on 1 January, 2005. My Department has made inquiries with the HSE and was told that, on foot of the referral to the HSE of her Question of 11 May, a reply issued to the Deputy in the past week.

My reply to the Deputy’s question of 11 May informed her that steps were being taken within the executive, including the recent establishment of a parliamentary affairs division, to strengthen its capability to provide information to members of the Oireachtas. As stated in the executive’s service plan for 2005, this is a priority area of work for its corporate affairs directorate. I am satisfied that, in the organisational arrangements currently being made to complete the transition to the unitary system, due importance and attention is being given by the executive to enhancing its capacity to respond in an efficient and timely manner to requests for information from members of the Oireachtas.

  234.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to a general practitioners crisis in Beara in west Cork (details supplied); if support will be provided for them by way of weekend cover or the equivalent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19455/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  235.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to publish the conditions pertaining to public private partnerships in the health sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19469/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department has been examining Public Private Partnerships, PPPs, and other procurement options in line with Government policy with a view to finding the approach that will deliver additional long stay beds and provide the best services and value for money to the Exchequer.

[1648]In this regard there have been discussions between my Department and the Department of Finance on an initiative which is based on entering into a medium term service agreement with the private sector to deliver the additional long stay beds required to relieve pressure on the acute hospitals and community care programme.

Under a PPP arrangement the HSE is subject to the national guidelines on PPPs and all capital investments must comply with EU procurement legislation. Pending the outcome of the deliberations of the proposal any conditions attached will be published at that stage.

My Department engaged a consultancy firm to provide advice on an assessment framework that should be applied to proposals for developing private hospitals on public hospital sites.

I am currently considering the advice from the consultants and related policy issues regarding the development of private hospital facilities on public hospital sites and increasing capacity in the public hospitals for public patients.

  236.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress which has been made in the discussions between the HSE north western area regarding north west residents accessing radiotherapy services in Belfast; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19470/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Patients in the north west are currently being referred for radiation oncology treatment to the recently commissioned radiation oncology department at University College Hospital Galway, UCHG, and also to St. Luke’s Hospital Dublin. A consultant radiation oncologist with significant sessional commitments to the north-western area has recently been appointed to UCHG. In addition, further discussions are scheduled to take place later this month between the HSE north-western area and Belfast City Hospital in relation to access to radiation oncology services for patients in the north-west, mainly Donegal. My Department has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the Health Service Executive to advise the Deputy of progress on these discussions. The state of the art facility at Belfast City Hospital is scheduled to open in early 2006.

  237.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to meet the concerns of a group (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19471/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responsibility in the first instance for matters related to the Disability Bill 2004.

[1649]My Department has forwarded the proposals in question to that Department for its attention.

  238.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will receive an earlier appointment date to attend the consultant neurologist at Beaumont Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19478/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  239.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if adequate funding will be made available to a centre (details supplied) by the HSE in order that the centre can run to full capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19479/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  240.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the insecurity of children who are fostered under family arrangements whereby even quite settled and successful arrangements can be brought abruptly to an end by the intervention of the natural parent, unless the fostering family undertake the substantial legal expense of obtaining joint guardianship; if she is considering changes in the law that might offer greater primacy to the interests of the child in such circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19487/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  Foster care and relative care arrangements under the Child Care Act 1991 are subject to regular reviews. The views of the child, the parents and the foster carers are taken into account and the review considers a number of issues regarding the child’s placement, including whether it would be in the [1650]best interests of the child to be returned to the care of his or her parents.

Where it is agreed that it is in the best interests of the child to be reunited with its parents, the Health Service Executive is obliged under the Child Care Regulations 1995 to inform the foster carers, including relative carers, of its intentions to remove the child from their care and their reasons for doing so. The foster carers may appeal the decision to return the child to its parents. Where appropriate, the Health Service Executive may make counselling available to foster carers who have a child removed from their care.

I re-iterate that in considering whether to re-unite a child with its parents, the Health Service Executive must consider what is in the overall best interests of the child.

The Deputy will be pleased to know that a provision has been included in the Adoption (Hague Convention, Adoption Authority and Miscellaneous) Bill 2004 allowing a long-term foster carer to apply to the Circuit or District Court for a guardianship order, taking into account the views of the child and having obtained the relevant consents. The legislation also provides that a person who is 18 years of age or more may be adopted, if the person consents and has been in long term foster care, thus allowing them to become a legal part of their long term foster care family.

The Bill has gone to the parliamentary counsel for drafting and it is hoped it will be published at the end of 2005.

  241.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason only children from fifth and sixth class at a school (details supplied) in County Galway are examined for orthodontic needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19494/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  242.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if it remains the policy of her Department to implement in full the Hanly report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19518/05]

  243.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the policy implications of the Hanly report (details supplied); the services that will be relocated out of the hospital; [1651]if the report is implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19519/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 242 and 243 together.

The report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing — Hanly report — makes important proposals for reducing the working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) in line with the European Working Time Directive and highlights the need to implement changes in medical staffing to ensure safety and quality of patient care.

My Department is working closely with the Health Services Executive and other health agencies with a view to reducing the working hours of junior doctors. Negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation in this regard are continuing. Local implementation groups have been established in nine hospitals as part of an agreed process and a detailed hospital activity analysis is underway which will inform reforms in this area.

The report recommends a significant increase in the total number of consultants, working in a ‘consultant-provided’, team-based system, so that patients can receive faster access to senior clinical decision making. While consultant contract negotiations are delayed pending resolution of issues related to medical indemnity arrangements, significant preparatory work has been undertaken within my Department in partnership with the Health Service Executive in preparation for the commencement of negotiations.

The implications of the report for post-graduate medical education and training are being examined by the medical education and training group originally established as part of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing.

In relation to the organisation of hospital services, I consider that the National Hospitals Office is best placed to build on the recommendations of the report in this area and have asked my officials to progress the issue with officials of the National Hospitals Office.

In relation to the specific hospital mentioned by the Deputy, the report stated that a full range of acute hospital services should be available within the mid-western region, so that patients would not have to travel outside the region other than for specialised supra-regional or national-level services. This would involve the appointment of an additional 195 consultants to the mid-western region. These consultants would be required to work both in hospitals such as Nenagh and Ennis as well as the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick.

  244.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps she intends to take to find a replacement CEO for the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19520/05]

[1652]Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the Health Act 2004 the statutory responsibility for recruiting the first chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive rests with the board of the executive. My function in the matter is to appoint the person recommended by the board.

  245.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the supports available to assist stroke victims and their families during rehabilitation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19521/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  246.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the proposed move of a service (details supplied); if this move represents a further downgrading of the organisation involved; the steps she intends to take to ensure no further downgrading of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19522/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  247.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the legal basis for withholding a benchmarking award to a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; if this is the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19523/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Human resource management issues relating to Health Service Executive employees are a matter for the Health Service Executive. Accordingly my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  248.  Mr. Lowry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when funding will be provided to a group (details supplied). [19524/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  249.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans to bring forward legislation to amend the Health Act 1970; the timetable for publication of the legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19525/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I understand the Deputy’s question relates to the possibility of introducing a requirement that catering establishments would be obliged to indicate to customers the country of origin of the meat they might consume. The current position is that officials of my Department are in contact with officials in the Department of Agriculture and Food in regard to this issue and I hope to be in a position to make an announcement shortly.

  250.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a decision has been made regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo. [19526/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy

  251.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that plans are in place to close Caltragh House, the mental health services unit in Sligo; if her attention has further been drawn to the growing concern regarding this closure; if she will ensure that it remains open; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19527/05]

[1654]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  252.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if multi-annual funding for the voluntary sector such as the Carmichael Centre is absolutely vital; if she intends to introduce funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19528/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Since 2005, there are two separate Votes for health funding. Vote 39 for the Office of the Minister for Health and Children covers the running expenses of the Department and certain other functions. Health services in the main are funded through Vote 40 for the Health Service Executive and the Carmichael Centre is funded by the HSE. Overall funding of the HSE, as well as for Departments continues to be decided on an annual basis with the funding available being published in the Revised Estimates for Public Services.

The question of providing further statutory funding to the Carmichael Centre is being considered in my Department, in consultation with the Health Service Executive and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

  253.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will intervene with a hospital (details supplied) on a person’s behalf; if he will be called for treatment in view of the major need following an accident; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19545/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  254.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in providing a new wheelchair to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if she will expedite the request; the level of funding [1655]being provided in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19570/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  255.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to meet a group (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19581/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Tánaiste has agreed to meet this group on Wednesday 22 June 2005.

  256.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she proposes to make an announcement in respect of capital funding for a new hospital in Dingle, County Kerry; the reason there has been no announcement of the 2005 capital programme to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19582/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme.

The detailed capital funding programme for 2005 is currently being finalised in the context of the Capital Investment Framework 2005-2009. This process is not yet fully concluded as it must take account of non-capital funding implications arising in future years. However, I expect to be in a position to make an announcement in this regard very shortly.

  257.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason Ireland has not yet ratified the WHO framework convention on tobacco control; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19601/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I intend to bring a motion before the Oireachtas shortly seeking approval to the ratification by Ireland of the framework convention on tobacco control.

[1656]The convention is an initiative of the World Health Organisation in response to the global epidemic of tobacco addiction. The treaty, which was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly in May 2003 and signed by Ireland in September 2003, provides an agreed approach to tobacco control at a global level.

This will be the first binding international treaty that addresses all aspects of tobacco control, namely the traditional health interventions such as advertising and sponsorship bans, passive smoking and retail licensing. It also addresses economic and trade issues including taxation policy, international trade and smuggling. Other areas include product specification and issues of compensation and liability.

Ireland is a strong advocate of effective tobacco control policies and of the framework convention on tobacco control and has consistently pressed these policies nationally and internationally in order to protect public health and reduce deaths from tobacco related illness.

To enable the treaty to come into force ratification by 40 states is necessary and this figure was achieved at the end of last year. Ireland is committed to effective tobacco control policies. Our smoke-free workplace initiative which commenced in March 2004 has drawn favourable comment from public health authorities around the world as an effective public health instrument in tackling the negative health effects of tobacco smoking. A number of other jurisdictions are using the Irish experience as a basis for similar type health interventions.

  258.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if public health and community medicine doctors are discriminated against in interviews for promotion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19602/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Appointments to Health Service Executive posts in public health medicine are made through the Public Appointments Service. The Public Appointments Service was established in October 2004.

The Public Appointments Service is the centralised provider of recruitment, assessment and selection services for the Civil Service. It also provides recruitment and related human resource advisory services to local authorities, health boards, the Garda Síochána and other public bodies.

The Public Appointments Service is committed, in partnership with its clients, to compete successfully in the labour market and to provide excellent recruitment and selection services, based on merit and equality, which support and facilitate the delivery of public services.

The Public Appointments Service is committed to a policy of equal opportunity in its recruitment practices and selection methods. The Civil Service, as an employer, pursues an active policy [1657]of non-discrimination on grounds of sex or martial status.

The Public Appointments Service is committed to the principles of best recruitment practice. Fairness and impartiality are absolute essential values to which it adheres as it strives to ensure that the best candidate for a vacancy is selected to fill the position. All candidates for positions recruited by the Public Appointments Service are assessed solely on their merits and against the requirements for the particular job.

As a once-off initiative, and in accordance with the Public Health Doctors Agreement 2003, a number of public health medicine posts were set aside to be filled by internal promotion within the Health Service Executive. These posts could only be filled by candidates with the required qualifications, experience and expertise. As the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  259.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a 24 hour ambulance will be located in areas of Mayo (details supplied) in view of the fact that this has been a priority of the HSE West for some time and there is no ambulance base within the national accepted guidelines of distance from ambulance base; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that lives are being lost and put in jeopardy due to the considerable time lapse which is involved in an ambulance arriving to take the ill person to hospital; when an ambulance base will be provided in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19622/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  260.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a report of an MRI scan of a person (details supplied) cannot be found; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19633/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health [1658]Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  261.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position in relation to permanent registration for section 7.6 doctors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19645/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Officials from my Department and from the Medical Council recently met a delegation of the doctors concerned. This issue relates to a sponsorship scheme, the timescale for which has now elapsed. The officials listened to the concerns of the doctors and are now reflecting on the issues raised. They will revert to the doctors as soon as consultations with the relevant bodies, the Medical Council and College of Anaesthetists, are completed.

  262.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the financial help which is available to a person for medical treatment in England when that treatment is not available here; and the way in which this funding is assessed. [19785/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Where an individual requires specific treatment which is necessary and which cannot be provided in Ireland, the Health Service Executive may refer the person to another member state for treatment. Under EU regulations, the executive issues a form E112 to the person being referred to establish his or her entitlement to such treatment and to imply a commitment by the HSE to pay the full cost of the treatment. My Department has issued guidelines which set down the criteria to be used by health boards when assessing applications for approval of forms E112, as follows; the application to refer a patient abroad must be assessed before the patient goes abroad except in cases of extreme urgency; medical evidence must be provided by a hospital consultant giving details of the condition from which the patient suffers and of the type of treatment envisaged and it must be certified by the consultant that: the treatment concerned is not available in this country, there is an urgent medical necessity for the treatment, there is a reasonable medical prognosis, the treatment is regarded as a proven form of medical treatment and the treatment abroad is in a recognised hospital or other institution and is under the control of a registered medical practitioner.

In the case where a person’s E112 application has been approved the HSE may provide assistance towards the cost of travel and subsistence [1659]expenses. The decision in relation to the provision of such assistance is a matter for the HSE.

Arrangements which are made privately for the treatment of a patient in any country abroad, must be regarded as outside the terms of the EU regulations and the HSE has no obligation to meet any part of the cost involved.

  263.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when BreastCheck will be extended to the Waterford constituency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19787/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  New facilities for the national expansion of BreastCheck are included in the Health Capital Investment Framework 2005-2009. My Department recently gave approval to BreastCheck to advertise for the appointment of a design team to produce detailed plans for the design and construction of the clinical unit at the South Infirmary Victoria Hospital, Cork. The catchment area of that centre will include Waterford. Discussions on manpower requirements are currently taking place involving BreastCheck, the Health Service Executive and my Department. I am confident that the target date of 2007 for the commencement of the national roll-out will be met.

  264.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be assessed for home help. [19824/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  265.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when an adoption assessment (details supplied) is likely to commence. [19839/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  My Department has been in contact with the HSE regarding this matter and I understand a reply will be issued to the Deputy this week.

  266.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans to appoint [1660]specialist psychiatric posts for persons suffering from chronic eating disorders. [19840/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The expert group on mental health policy is currently preparing a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The expert group, which is currently examining the future direction and delivery of all aspects of our mental health services, has a number of sub-groups looking at specialist issues in mental health services, including eating disorders. The group is expected to complete its work and publish its report later this year.

  267.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the procedures available to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare for a hearing test and hearing aid. [19861/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  268.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will be renewed for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19868/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  269.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for an eye procedure. [19874/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  270.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of respite beds occupied in County Monaghan; the number required; if she proposes to further develop this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19961/05]

  271.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of respite beds occupied in County Cavan; the number required; if she proposes to further develop this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19962/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 271 together.

The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  272.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number and details of reports into acute hospital services commissioned by the former North Eastern Health Board; the action taken on foot of any report’s recommendations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19963/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  273.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether the €2.2 million cost of distributing iodine tablets to households here was justified; the length of time the tablets will maintain their efficiency; if she proposes to repeat the exercise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19964/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  In 2002, as part of the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents, 12.6 million tablets were distributed by post to households across the country, a packet of six tablets to each household. A further 1.6 million tablets were distributed to health boards for persons who did not receive a supply of tab[1662]lets or who did not receive a sufficient number of tablets via the postal distribution. The tablets had an expiry date of March 2005.

A representative sample of tablets was tested recently to determine whether the expiry date could be extended. The results indicate that the tablets have maintained their efficacy. A public notice was placed in national newspapers in March 2005 advising people to continue to store the tablets in a cool, dry place in their original sealed packaging, out of the reach of children.

In recent years the threat to Ireland has significantly reduced due to the closure of a number of the older reactors in the UK, in particular the Calder Hall reactors at Sellafield. A programme of further closures over the next five years is planned.

A review group established by my Department, chaired by Dr. Barry McSweeney, chief science adviser to the Government, is currently examining the continued use of iodine tablets as a countermeasure under the national emergency plan for nuclear accidents. One of the issues being considered is the projected expiry date of the tablets. The group has had two meetings to date and is expected to make its recommendations later in the year.

  274.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has noted the results of an international survey which placed Ireland, with 119 cases of MRSA per million of population, highest in Europe for hospital acquired infections; if she proposes to hold an audit of HAIs on an individualised hospital basis; the protocols she proposes to put in place to reduce the incidence of such infections; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19965/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department is aware of the recent report published by the Irish Patient’s Association on hospital-acquired infections, or HAIs. Effective infection control measures, including environmental cleanliness and hand hygiene, are central to the control of HAIs including drug-resistant organisms such as MRSA. Improving the standards of cleanliness in hospitals is a priority. One of the specific actions identified in the ten-point plan to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services refers to the need to address this particular issue.

The Deputy will be aware that operational issues in relation to the services provided by acute hospitals now rests with the Health Service Executive, HSE. The prevention and control of HAIs is a priority issue for the HSE. My Department understands that the director of the National Hospitals Office intends to have a hygiene audit of hospitals carried out this summer by external consultants. The results of the audit are expected to inform the national standards for infection control and cleaning.

  275.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she plans to set up a national co-ordinating authority to develop guidelines and strategies in the area of suicide prevention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19966/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  As the Deputy is aware, work is now well under way on the preparation of a national strategy for action on suicide prevention. This strategy, which involves the project management unit, Health Service Executive in partnership with the national suicide review group supported by the Department of Health and Children will be action-based from the outset and will outline the priority initiatives for suicide prevention and mental health promotion across the country for the coming years. The national strategy for action on suicide prevention, to be published in September of this year, will provide us with a targeted, measurable action plan for tackling this serious social problem in a coherent and integrated fashion, involving all relevant stakeholders.

  276.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the remuneration, allowance, superannuation and additional advisers package proposed by Professor Drumm as a prerequisite for his appointment as chief executive officer of the HSE was submitted to the Department of Finance for consent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20051/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My approval to the remuneration package negotiated between the Health Service Executive, HSE, and Professor Drumm was given with the consent of the Minister for Finance, in accordance with the provisions of section 17(5)(b) of the Health Act, 2004. The additional human resources sought by Professor Drumm did not form part of the terms and conditions of his proposed appointment as the first chief executive officer of the HSE.

  277.  Ms Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) has been the subject of administrative proceedings over the past year or more which come under the ambit of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the rights of the child; if there are prima facie conflicts of interest on the part of Irish State parties who to date have been involved in the case, as against the interests of the child; if the person is entitled under the aforementioned conventions to be independently represented; if such entitlement exists in respect of the current administrative proceedings, and therefore is not contingent on any judicial proceedings being [1664]brought in the future, such as in relation to the persons adoption or citizenship; if the Attorney General will apply to the High Court for an Order appointing an independent representative for this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18881/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  This is a most complex and highly sensitive case. The Government is actively engaged in seeking to find a solution. At all times the best interests of the child have been, and will remain the primary consideration.

High Court proceedings against the adoptive parents of this child have been instigated by the Attorney General in his role as protector of the unprotected. As the matter is before the court it is not appropriate to comment further.

  278.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    when a decision will be made in the case of an application for appeal regarding a medical certificate for disabled drivers to the Health Service Executive in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19019/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Queries on individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

The Deputy may be aware that there were a number of operational difficulties with the board of appeal and these have now been resolved. The new chairperson of the board, whom I appointed on 14 March 2005, has been asked to address the backlog of appeals as a priority. To facilitate more frequent meetings of the board, I brought in new regulations on 7 April 2005 allowing for the appointment of up to ten medical practitioners to the board of appeal. There are currently seven medical practitioners on the board of appeal, and I hope to make further appointments shortly. It is intended that these improvements will substantially reduce the current waiting time for an appeal.

  279.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason for the delay in determining an appeal in relation to the sanctioning of a medical certificate for a disabled driver (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19069/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Queries on individual cases may be [1665]addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

The Deputy may be aware that there were a number of operational difficulties with the board of appeal and these have now been resolved. The new chairperson of the board, whom I appointed on 14 March 2005, has been asked to address the backlog of appeals as a priority. To facilitate more frequent meetings of the board, I brought in new regulations on 7 April 2005 allowing for the appointment of up to ten medical practitioners to the board of appeal. There are currently seven medical practitioners on the board of appeal, and I hope to make further appointments shortly. It is intended that these improvements will substantially reduce the current waiting time for an appeal.

  280.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide a description of the configuration of the Government’s data VPN in the Kildare Street and Government Buildings area; the capacity of the Oireachtas data connection to the VPN; the capacity of the VPN data connection to the Internet; his plans to enhance the data capacity of the Government VPN; his further plans to provide additional data capacity and resilience for the VPN connection to and from the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19352/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  My Department has installed a fibre-based campus network operating at 1 Gbps in the Government Buildings complex, providing connectivity to the Departments of the Taoiseach; Arts, Sport and Tourism; Finance; Agriculture and Food; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; the Office of the Attorney General; the Office of the Revenue Commissioners; the National Museum; the National Library; and the Houses of the Oireachtas. This campus network is, in turn, connected diversely to the Government VPN at 100 Mbps. These diverse connections are shared by all interconnecting bodies resulting in bandwidth availability that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. The Government VPN has a [1666]number of diverse and resilient connections to the Internet, each operating at 100 Mbps. Another such connection is being installed at present and should be available in the near future. Capacity upgrades to Internet connectivity are planned and implemented on the basis of continuous usage monitoring.

The Houses of the Oireachtas are connected to the campus network in Government Buildings using fibre capable of operating at 1 Gbps. The capacity of this connection is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and is not determined by my Department. However, the current capacity is greater than need and is therefore unlikely to require upgrading in the forseeable future. Resilience of connectivity to the campus network in the Government Buildings complex and on to the Government VPN is also a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, my staff are currently working with staff from the ICT function in the Oireachtas to plan and implement such resilience.

  281.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Finance    if a licence has been applied for by or granted to a mobile telephone company to erect a mobile telephone mast at the location of the Pension Services Office, College Road, Sligo. [19380/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland have granted a licence to a mobile telephone company to install telecommunications equipment at the location specified.

  282.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of active pub licences in the country; the breakdown of the figures by county; the number of dormant licences and the conditions attached to same; [19472/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners as follows in relation to the information requested on the number of active pub licences in the country; the breakdown of the figures by county; the number of dormant licences and the conditions attached to same.

County Active Pub Licence Dormant Licences Breakdown of Dormant Licences Condition of Dormant Licence
Carlow 114 8 8 No Circuit Court Certificate
Cavan 242 23 9 No Circuit Court Certificate
6 No Tax Clearance Certificate
2 Deceased
6 Not Trading
Clare 379 52 42 No Tax Clearance Certificate
5 Not Trading/Demolition
5 Deceased
Cork 1,272 40 8 No Circuit Court Certificate
32 No Tax Clearance Certificate
Donegal 506 28 3 No Bord Fáilte Certificate
25 No Circuit Court Certificate/No Tax Clearance Certificate
Dublin 815 14 14 Not Trading
Galway 701 20 1 Deceased
1 Certificate of Transfer
14 No Tax Clearance Certificate
4 No Bord Fáilte Certificate
Kerry 504 50 40 No Tax Clearance Certificate
5 Not Trading/Demolition
5 Deceased
Kildare 239 5 3 No Circuit Court Certificate
2 Cheque Validation
Kilkenny 241 11 11 No Circuit Court Certificate
Laois 172 3 1 No Circuit Court Certificate
1 Cheque Validation
1 Objection
Leitrim 149 8 8 Not Trading/No Tax Clearance Certificate
Limerick 485 70 56 No Tax Clearance Certificate
7 Not Trading/Demolition
7 Deceased
Longford 106 8 8 Not Trading/No Tax Clearance Certificate
Louth 241 1 1 Not Trading
Mayo 584 36 2 No Bord Fáilte Certificate
34 No Circuit Court Certificate
Meath 255 3 2 No Circuit Court Certificate
1 Cheque Validation
Monaghan 131 17 7 No Circuit Court Certificate
5 No Tax Clearance Certificate
5 Not Trading
Offaly 162 4 4 Not Trading
Roscommon 256 3 1 Deceased
2 No Tax Clearance Certificate
Sligo 210 3 3 Not Trading/No Tax Clearance Certificate
Tipperary 560 34 33 No Circuit Court Certificate
1 Cheque Validation
Waterford 292 10 8 No Circuit Court Certificate
1 Cheque Validation
1 Objection
Westmeath 205 8 8 Not Trading
Wexford 346 6 4 No Circuit Court Certificate
2 Cheque Validation
Wicklow 219 3 3 No Circuit Court Certificate

[1667]In some counties, the information in respect of the conditions of the dormant licences has not been fully disaggregated e.g. not trading or no tax [1668]clearance certificate. The Revenue Commissioners will forward a complete list to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  283.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding an appeal for the disabled drivers allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19786/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme.

Queries on individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

  284.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    when the necessary tax refund will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18941/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the refund in respect of medical expenses for 2004 issued to the taxpayer on 15 April, 2005.

  285.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be issued with a statement of their tax contributions for 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18998/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a PAYE balancing statement for 2004, showing details of earnings and tax deductions, issued to the taxpayer on 8 June 2005.

  286.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of revenue which would be raised on an annual basis if his Department was to implement the recommendation contained in the NESC report on housing regarding a separate tax on second homes if such a tax was set at an annual rate of 0.5% of the value of the second home. [19063/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  There are no reliable estimates of the number of second and additional residential properties in the State. Consequently, it is not possible at this point to assess the amount of tax that would be raised by charging a residential property tax on all second and additional residences at 0.5% of the value of such homes.

  287.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Revenue Commissioners have started to tax small payments made to cover supervision of voluntary study period at school; if he has received [1670]submissions from schools that this is likely to result in the discontinuation of this facility which is not covered by the Department of Education and Science provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19079/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that payments for school supervision of voluntary study are taxable in the same way as an individual’s other employment income. This is not a new tax treatment or practice. There has been no change in tax law in this respect nor did any new instruction in this regard issue from the Revenue Commissioners.

It is a general principle of taxation that, as far as possible, income from all sources should be subject to taxation, and this can include income such as additional payments made in respect of supervision of voluntary study periods in schools.

The general thrust of the Government’s policy in relation to personal taxation has been to broaden the tax base while lowering rates, widening bands and increasing credits. Thus, as a result of budgetary changes made since this Government came into office in 1997, the burden of taxation has reduced for all categories of income earner in recent years.

My Department has no record of any submissions from schools on this matter.

  288.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has received a request to provide funding to enable Fermoy flood plan to be undertaken; if so, the amount requested; if he will make funding available as a matter of urgency in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19085/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The Office of Public Works plans to place the proposals to alleviate the flood risk on the Munster Blackwater River in Fermoy on formal public display, as required under the Arterial Drainage Acts, in the autumn of 2005.

In recent months, the OPW has concentrated on the development of the early flood warning system for the Munster Blackwater River catchment. The warning system is vital for the proposed scheme in Fermoy, as there is extensive use of demountable defences proposed there.

Progression of the scheme will, to some degree, depend on the observations received during the exhibition period. Construction of an acceptable scheme will depend on the availability of funds and the prioritisation of the large number of schemes that are required in various locations.

  289.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    if the owners of the Leas Cross Nursing Home benefited from the nursing homes tax incentive scheme; if so, the amount of tax fore[1671]gone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19109/05]

  290.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who have availed of the nursing homes tax incentive scheme; the cost of this scheme to the public finances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19110/05]

  306.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of nursing homes that have availed of capital tax allowances each year since this tax shelter was introduced. [19350/05]

  307.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of nursing home beds provided each year under the capital tax allowances scheme since this scheme was introduced. [19351/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 289, 290, 306 and 307 together.

The Revenue Commissioners are not in a position to estimate the number of nursing homes which have benefited from this tax incentive. This is because the normal self-assessment tax return form does not distinguish between capital allowances claimed in respect of private nursing homes from those claimed in respect of other buildings entitled to capital allowances. Consequently it is not possible for Revenue to indicate the level of take-up of this specific incentive. With regard to this issue my Department and the Revenue Commissioners have been working closely recently to investigate data capture issues with a view to improving data quality and transparency without overburdening compliant taxpayers. Arising from this work, provisions were included in Finance Act 2004 introducing a number of changes to the tax return forms which will yield additional information regarding various tax reliefs. The preliminary data should become available from early 2006 after the returns for 2004 are filed in October 2005.

Capital allowances for private nursing homes were introduced in Finance Act 1998 with effect from 3 December 1997. The latest information from the Department of Health and Children is that the number of beds in private nursing homes increased from 6,932 at the end of 1997 to 13,178 in December 2003. An estimated 8,527 persons in these nursing homes receive direct Exchequer support of one form or another for their fees. The new capital allowances incentive for nursing homes would have caused some of this increase in bed capacity but the Department of Health and Children does not have any information on this matter.

As regards the names of individuals who have availed of this tax relief, the Revenue Commissioners’ obligation to observe confidentiality for taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers would preclude them from giving this information, if this were available to them.

  291.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has reviewed the effectiveness of public private partnerships throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19119/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The Government is committed to developing the PPP process as a viable procurement option for appropriate projects within the overall context of public investment in infrastructure and public services.

The role of my Department is to facilitate the PPP process, to develop the general policy framework within which PPPs operate and to provide central guidance to Departments and other State authorities in that context. As capital investment projects, PPP projects are subject to the requirements of the guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals in the public sector. In addition, my Department prepares and issues PPP-specific guidelines for Departments and State authorities in regard to the assessment, approval, audit and procurement of such projects, taking into account the experience of projects to date and any further relevant information.

Within a particular sector, a decision on the suitability of any individual project for the PPP procurement approach is a matter for the relevant Minister or State authority in the first instance. The value for money achieved or effectiveness of such projects is also a matter for the accounting officer in the Department or office sponsoring the project. While the performance of individual PPP projects is a matter in the first instance for the relevant Minister or accounting officer as appropriate, lessons learned which are of general application are shared or incorporated into guidelines issued by my Department.

In September 2004 the Comptroller and Auditor General published his first value for money study of a PPP project — in this case the bundled schools project which was one of the early pilot projects. This is a helpful report which will assist the development of PPPs into the future. The development of PPP procurement is an evolving process which we will continue to keep under review.

  292.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has given consideration to the effect on the economy of the release of funds from maturing SSIA accounts between 2006 and 2007; if he proposes to provide another savings vehicle for re-investment of SSIA savings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19120/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The SSIA scheme opened on 1 May 2001 and entry to it closed on 30 April 2002. The accounts are due to mature between May 2006 and April 2007. A total of 1.17 million accounts were opened during the period outlined.

[1673]The impact of maturing SSIA funds on the economy in 2006 and 2007 is subject to ongoing consideration within my Department. The impact on consumer demand is difficult to estimate and will depend on how the accumulated savings are spent or saved, how that portion of an individual’s income that was previously saved in SSIAs is used, and the extent to which savings are rolled over into other investment products. The economic effect will also depend on the state of the economy in 2007, when the bulk of SSIA funds, or around 55%, mature. To date, a number of reports have been prepared regarding the impact of the SSIAs by, amongst others, Goodbody Stockbrokers, Lansdowne Market Research, the Irish Mortgage Corporation and the Bank of Ireland. However, there is no consensus in these reports as to how these funds may be used. It is inevitable that there will be a lot of uncertainty about the likely outcomes. As a scheme such as the SSIA has not existed previously, it is not possible to draw on experience as a basis for anticipating the impact the maturing accounts will have on the economy.

As regards a further scheme, the specific goal of the SSIA scheme was to encourage people to save over a period of at least five years. Its effect has been to stimulate such savings over varying income ranges which is evident in the extensive take-up by many low income earners. The scheme has been a success in those terms. The scheme has a specific duration. Any proposals for tax-based incentives for the re-investment of SSIA savings or continuation of savings would be considered as part of the normal annual budgetary process taking account of public policy objectives and Exchequer cost implications. The use to which the moneys arising on maturity of the SSIAs are put is ultimately a matter for the individual account holder.

  293.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Finance    if he proposes to introduce a carbon tax in the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19121/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The Government decided in September 2004 not to introduce a carbon energy tax. A great deal of work went into examining how a carbon energy tax could be implemented and its likely effects in environmental, economic and social terms. In this respect the Government decided that a carbon tax was not an appropriate policy option and that, instead, it would intensify action on the non-tax measures under the national climate change strategy, for the following reasons.

First, the Government concluded that the environmental benefits of such a tax would not justify the difficulties that would arise, particularly for households, from the introduction of such a tax. In this respect, the carbon energy tax would have imposed price increases on many products already suffering sharp increases, partly [1674]as a result of recent increases in international oil prices.

Second, in considering the introduction of such a tax my Department carried out an extensive consultation process in which 117 written submissions were received. Over half of those who expressed a view on the carbon tax were against it including a number of significant representative bodies. Even some of those who had no difficulty with a carbon tax in principle sought exemptions for various sectors and purposes.

  294.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    the status of and progress made in the planned decentralisation of an office of the Revenue Commissioners and debt management work from the Collector General’s Office to Kilrush, County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19138/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In accordance with the Government’s decentralisation programme the Revenue Commissioners will decentralise 50 posts to Kilrush. The decentralisation implementaion group, or DIG, which was established to drive forward the implementation of the programme requested all decentralising organisations to prepare and submit implementation plans.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they have, as requested, prepared and submitted an implementation plan to the DIG for Kilrush and that this plan is being progressed.

An analysis of first preference applications from the central applications facility indicates that there are 65 applicants for Kilrush.

Internal information seminars with regard to the transfer of work from the Collector General’s Office to the new locations in the mid-west region, which includes Kilrush, have been completed. Letters of offer for transfer to Kilrush were issued to staff on 10th June 2005. In relation to property acquisition, I understand that negotiations regarding a suitable location are ongoing with the Office of Public Works.

  295.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Finance    the incentives in place to support the provision of child care by employers and business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19182/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  There are two tax incentives within the tax code to support the provision of child care by employers and business, an exemption from a benefit-in-kind charge where employers provide free or subsidised child care for their employees and capital allowances available for expenditure on child care facilities.

The benefit-in-kind exemption where employers provide free or subsidised child care for their employees applies whether the employer provides the facilities “in-house” or in a premises [1675]made available by the employer in another location. The exemption also applies if an employer provides child care facilities jointly with others, for example, with other employers. The exemption also covers situations where an employer makes a contribution to the capital costs of an independent supplier of child care facilities.

Capital allowances are available for expenditure incurred on or after 2 December 1998 on child care facilities which meet the required standards for such facilities as provided in the Child care Act, 1991. The allowances apply to expenditure incurred on the construction, extension and refurbishment of a building or part of a building used as a child care facility as well as to expenditure on the conversion of an existing building or part of a building for use as a child care facility. For expenditure incurred on or from 1 December 1999, 100% capital allowances are available in year one. There will be a clawback of the allowances, in the form of a balancing charge, if the building ceases to be used as a child care facility within ten years.

I would point out that this Government remains firmly committed to supporting working parents with their child care needs through increased capacity, choice and service quality. These aims are the hallmark of the Government’s child care strategy. To this end considerable progress has already been achieved, in terms of increasing the supply of centre based child care places, through the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006.

The current equal opportunities childcare programme, a seven year programme, has both an equal opportunities and social inclusion focus and facilitates the further development and expansion of childcare facilities to address the needs of parents, in reconciling their family life with their participation in employment, education and training. It aims to increase the supply of centre based child care places by 55% by the end of the programme.

The programme provides funding for small scale self-employed providers and larger commercial providers as well as community and not-for-profit consortia of private and community groups towards the building, renovation, upgrading or equipping of child care facilities.

Since it was launched in 2000, the funding for the programme for the 2000-2006 period has increased from €317 million to €499.3 million or by 57%, the most recent increase being €50 million in budget 2005. The multi-annual capital envelopes announced on budget day also included the injection of a further €40 million in additional capital funding into child care between the end of the programme and 2009.

It is expected that the total funding committed under the programme to date will lead to the creation of 33,946 new child care places, and will support another 29,556 existing places. Of the [1676]new child care places being created, 24,636 places had been put in place by December 2004, an increase of 43% in the supply of child care places in four years. These new places offer parents greater access to child care throughout the country as they balance their work and family needs.

  296.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Finance    the most up to date information on his travels abroad for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with him in his official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19186/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I visited Savannah and Atlanta, in the United States, for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and to attend at a number of other events promoting Ireland abroad. My wife, Mary, and my special adviser, Mr. Gerry Steadman, travelled with me in my official party. The visit covered the period 13 March to 20 March. While all invoices have not yet been received it is estimated that the cost of the visit, including the costs of flights, hotels, subsistence and car hire, will amount to approximately €33,000.

  297.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Finance    when Bord Gais will be covered under the Freedom of Information Act 1997. [19206/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I expect consideration of the public bodies being brought under FOI during 2005 to be finalised within the coming weeks. Pending publication of the details of the extension, I do not propose to make any further statements about individual bodies in this regard.

  298.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    if an early assessment will be made by the disabled drivers medical board of appeal in respect of an appeal made by a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19211/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme.

Queries on individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

  299.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    if an early assessment will be made by the disabled drivers medical board of appeal in respect of an appeal made by a person (details supplied)in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19213/05]

[1677]Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme.

Queries on individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

  300.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost to the State in terms of lost revenue of Section 23 tax relief in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19278/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, until recently, claims for section 23 relief were aggregated in tax returns with other claims and were not separately identifiable. Details of tax relief claimed for investment in these schemes were not captured by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners in such a way as to provide a specific basis for compiling estimates of the total annual cost to the Exchequer. Claims for these reliefs were aggregated in tax returns with other claims, such as with industrial buildings allowances generally or with other capital allowances, and did not distinguish between the reliefs claimed in respect of the different schemes.

My Department has been working closely with the Revenue Commissioners to examine how information capture in this area could be improved and the Revenue Commissioners have recently introduced changes to the income tax returns forms which are intended to yield additional information on the take-up of a range of reliefs claimed by individuals. This would include information on claims in respect of section 23 reliefs. This information will begin to become available from late 2005. Corresponding changes have been made to the corporation tax return form which will produce similar information for accounting periods ending in 2005 and subsequent years.

  301.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Finance    if the OPW has acquired a site for the new Garda divisional headquarters in Wexford town; the location of the site and the amount paid; if the views of local public representatives were taken into account in deciding on the best site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19301/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The Commissioners of Public Works are considering the purchase of a new site for a divisional headquarters Garda station in Wexford town. As soon as the formal approval of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda authorities is received, the [1678]legal formalities will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

  302.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the campaign for the sale of IMF gold to fund debt cancellation; if he supports this campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19339/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I refer the Deputy to my replies to the House on a number of occasions between 8 March and 20 May 2005, on the subject of the use of IMF resources such as gold to fund debt relief in developing countries.

Adequate financing for debt relief is an essential precondition if such relief is to make a real difference in reducing poverty in many parts of the world. It is important to adequately finance the relief of debts owed to the International Monetary Fund so that the fund can continue to play a role in the poorest countries.

At the recent spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank there was preliminary discussion of key issues regarding proposals for further multi-lateral debt relief and its financing options. The meeting called for further discussion with shareholders and examination of the issues, including the possible use of IMF resources, by the time of annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in the autumn. Financing the development agenda remains a significant challenge and substantial increases will be needed in order to progress to the targets of the millennium development goals.

I welcome the progress in relation to proposals for debt cancellation announced over the weekend following the G8 finance Ministers’ meeting, in preparation for the G8 summit to be held in Gleneagles in July. It is understood that the G8 proposals to fund debt cancellation will be put to the annual meetings of the international financial institutions.

  303.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide aggregate data on the total amount of corporation tax received from the retail and wholesale grocery sector during each of the tax years from 2002 to 2004; if corporation tax is levied on companies that operate from an unlimited liability structure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19340/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Corporation tax is charged on the profits of companies, including unlimited companies.

As regards corporation tax receipts, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the latest relevant information available is the corporation tax liability in respect of accounting periods ending between 1 January 2002 and 31 December 2003. To the extent that the figures relating to the retail and wholesale grocery sector [1679]can be separately identified they are set out in the following table.

Corporation Tax Liability of Wholesale and Retail Sector.

Accounting periods ending 31st December Corporation tax liability €m
2002 170
2003 164

The figures include the total tax liabilities of certain retail outlets which trade simultaneously in groceries and other types of goods at common locations. The grocery element of these cannot be separately identified on tax records. The above estimates must be regarded as very tentative.

  304.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons aged over 65 years who pay tax at 20% only and 42%. [19348/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that on the basis of income tax returns received for 2002, the latest year for which the relevant figures are available, it is estimated that some 24,200 income earners aged 65 years and over were liable to income tax at the 20% rate and a further 18,500 income earners aged 65 years were liable to tax at the 42% rate. In addition to these numbers, some 93,100 in the same age group were exempt from income tax altogether and a further 13,300 were liable to tax at the marginal relief rate of taxation which applies to incomes which are not greatly in excess of the age exemption limits.

It should be noted that in the case of social welfare pension income, the extent to which taxation actually arises in a given case depends on the amount of other income that the social welfare recipient, or the recipient’s spouse, has in the particular tax year. If there is no other income in addition to the social welfare payment, the existing exemption limits or tax credits can be expected to ensure that there is no tax to be paid on the social welfare income itself. A married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

  305.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of income tax collected in the past tax year from old age pensioners. [19349/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Entitlement to the old age pension, whether contributory or non-contributory, arises from the age of 66 years. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that their income tax statistics do not generally distinguish between the amounts of tax that arise from pensions and from other sources. However, it is tentatively estimated that for 2002, the latest year for which information is available, the total [1680]tax liability on the combined pension and other income of income earners aged 65 years or over was of the order of €220 million.

In the case of social welfare pension income, the extent to which taxation actually arises in a given case depends on the amount of other income that the social welfare recipient, or the recipient’s spouse, has in the particular tax year. If there is no other income in addition to the social welfare payment, the existing exemption limits or tax credits can be expected to ensure that there is no tax to be paid on the social welfare income itself.

Questions Nos. 306 and 307 answered with Question No. 289.

  308.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason Ennis was not included in the flood relief measures announced in May 2005 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19386/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The Commissioners of Public Works have prepared a flood relief scheme for the town of Ennis and it is intended to bring this scheme to statutory public exhibition stage before the end of the year. In the light of observations received arising out of the exhibition process, the scheme will be further reviewed and amended, if necessary, and the sanction of the Minister for Finance to proceed to detailed design and tender stage will then be sought.

  309.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of funding which is required to implement the recommendations of the coastal study on the Dodder; the amount of funding which is required to improve the defence between London Bridge Road and Newbridge Avenue on the east side of the river; and if his Department will release this funding to Dublin City Council. [19452/05]

  310.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of funding which is being given to Dublin to improve its flood protection; and the criteria by which this is allocated. [19453/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 309 and 310 together.

Since the major flooding in 2002, the Office of Public Works, OPW, in co-operation with Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council and Meath County Council, has been implementing flood alleviation measures recommended in the River Tolka flooding study that was under way at the time. In carrying out those works in Dublin, the OPW and Dublin City Council have pursued a policy of completing work in areas where there was the highest risk of flooding. Those works have now mostly been completed.

[1681]The OPW has to date allocated funding of €1.6 million to Dublin City Council to construct flood barriers along a portion of the Dodder river, following the severe flooding event in Dublin in February 2002. The OPW has had preliminary discussions with city council officials regarding the need for further works on the Dodder. It is not possible at this stage to say what funding will be required for those works.

The Dublin coastal flooding protection study which was commissioned by Dublin City Council and part-funded by the OPW and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources which has responsibility for coastal and tidal flooding examined the causes and impacts of flooding from Portmarnock to Booterstown. A draft report was received by the OPW some months ago, and preliminary discussions have taken place with Dublin City Council officials and officials from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. A further revised version of the draft report has been received from Dublin City Council in the past few weeks. The draft report is a very detailed document and is currently being examined, but that will take some time because of its size and complexity.

The flood defence proposals contained in the draft report are estimated to cost over €100 million. It is anticipated that the measures recommended will need to be carried out on an incremental basis over several years. Requests for funding from the OPW for measures where the risk of flooding arises from a combination of tidal and fluvial influences will have to be carefully considered and prioritised in the context of the OPW’s annual budget for flood relief projects, the large number of flood alleviation projects currently being advanced by the OPW and the urgency attaching to the various measures recommended in the coastal study report.

  311.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 267 of 10 June 2003, if a decision has yet been made by the OPW regarding the remaining sections of the river wall at the rear of houses on Tolka Road, Dublin 3, which have not been strengthened and at which protective railings need replacement. [19480/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The OPW is undertaking the Tolka flood relief works on behalf of Dublin City Council. All works requested by the city council regarding the protection of houses on Tolka Road arising out of the flooding of the River Tolka in November 2002 have now been completed by the Office of Public Works. I will bring the Deputy’s question to the attention of city council officials.

  312.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will [1682]be allowed six months to pay an outstanding amount of stamp duty without penalty interest being charged. [19481/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they previously received representations on this matter when it was agreed to grant the taxpayer a period of 21 days from 25 April 2005 to pay the balance of stamp duty due without incurring penalties and interest.

The taxpayer completed the purchase of a house on 17 November 2004. The solicitors acting in the case were issued with an assessment for stamp duty due of €10,125 on 1 December 2004. The taxpayer’s solicitors presented the sum of €9,450.50 as a payment on account on 2 December 2004 in this case. However, the balance due of €674.50 remains outstanding to this date.

Daily interest is charged at the rate of 0.0273% from 1 April 2005 and at the rate of 0.0322% prior to 31 March on any outstanding amount of stamp duty. The objective of the interest element is to compensate the Exchequer for the loss of the use of the funds from the tax that had not been paid on time. A further penalty arises of 10% of the outstanding duty where the delay in payment is between one and six months, 20% where the delay is between six and 12 months, and 30% where the delay is more than 12 months. Those further penalties are to encourage compliance to have deeds presented for assessment and stamping within the time required.

As stamp duty is a statutory charge on legal documents, there are no provisions for the reduction or waiver of the duty properly payable and already determined by letter of assessment issued on 1 December 2004. The legal instrument that gives rise to the charge for stamp duty cannot be used for registration purposes unless it is fully and properly stamped.

  313.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has approved an amendment to the superannuation scheme of University College Cork to permit an employee to extend their compulsory retirement age to 68.5 years; if so, the terms and conditions of this amendment; the implications for the compulsory retirement age of other staff at the same university, at other universities and in the public sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19483/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Under the Universities Act 1997, any amendment to the superannuation scheme of University College Cork requires the approval of the Higher Education Authority and the consent of the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance. In my capacity as Minister for Finance, I recently consented to an amendment to the superannuation scheme of University College
[1683]Cork. The amendment provided that the present holder of the office of president of University College Cork shall hold office for a period of ten years from 26 January 1999. By making such provision, the amendment removed the requirement to retire at age 65 from the present holder of the office. The text of the amendment is contained in statute J of UCC. I understand that, as required under the provisions of the Universities Act 1997, the statute will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in due course, as a statutory instrument, by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science.

The Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 removed the requirement to retire on age grounds from most public servants who were appointed on or after 1 April 2004. The compulsory retirement age for staff in the education sector who were appointed before that date is primarily a matter for the Minister for Education and Science.

  314.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who are qualifying for the home carer’s credit; the aggregate cost of this credit; and the cost of increasing this credit by €500, €1,000 and €1,500 respectively. [19484/05]

[1684]Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the numbers of taxpayers availing of the home carer tax credit for the income tax year 2005 is estimated to be 108,000, at a full-year cost to the Exchequer of the order of €80 million. The full-year cost to the Exchequer of the increases of €500, €1,000 and €1,500 mentioned by the Deputy is estimated at approximately €45 million, €87 million and €125 million, respectively. Those figures are provisional and may be subject to revision.

The figure given for the cost of the home carer tax credit is a downward revision of a figure provided in reply to a previous related question given on 19 April last. The revision was necessitated by new information becoming available in the interim.

  315.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the distribution of taxpayers between single, widowed, one-parent family, married, one-income and married two-income units. [19485/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated distribution of income earners for 2005 across the various categories mentioned by the Deputy is as shown in the following table.

Income Earners Married, one spouse earning Married, two spouses earning Single with children Single no children Widowed with children Widowed no children Total
Liable to income tax 229,100 320,000 44,500 631,400 5,900 22,900 1,253,800
Exempt from tax 132,300 48,300 44,800 391,700 4,300 35,100 656,500
Total 361,400 368,300 89,300 1,023,100 10,200 58,000 1,910,300

[1683]Figures are rounded to the nearest 100. A married couple that has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Those figures are provisional and are subject to revision.

  316.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost of increasing the married one-income standard rate cut-off point from €38,400 to €58,800. [19486/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I assume that what the Deputy has in mind is a band structure where: the value of the married one-earner band would be €58,800; the value of the married two-earner band would also be €58,800, with no restriction on transferability between spouses; the value of the single band would be €29,400; and the value of the lone or widowed parent band would be €33,400. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated cost of such a band structure would be about €640 million in a full year.

[1684]

  317.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans to include tax incentives with particular references to thatched premises in the tourism sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19510/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  There are no proposals to introduce tax incentives with particular reference to thatched premises in the tourism sector. Funding is, however, available through a grants scheme operated by my colleague, Deputy Roche, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, whereby assistance is available in respect of the cost of preserving and restoring thatched roofing. I am satisfied that this grants scheme is the appropriate mechanism for encouraging the preservation and renovation of thatched roofing, rather than the introduction of a specific tax incentive scheme.

  318.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason the VAT annual return of trading details continues to relate to the year commencing on 6 April in view of the general change in the tax year in order to relate to the calendar [1685]year; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the co-existence of different accounting years causes inconvenience to taxpayers; and when he will arrange for the realignment of the VAT annual return period with the calendar year commencing on 1 January. [19511/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the VAT annual return of trading details is not specifically related to the year commencing 6 April. In the case of a sole trader, the taxpayer decides on the 12-month period to be covered by the return, and the Revenue Commissioners issue the relevant form for completion accordingly. In the case of a company, the period for the return of trading details is aligned to the accounting period used by the company for corporation tax purposes.

Given the flexibility available to taxpayers as outlined, there is no need for realignment of the VAT annual returns period with the calendar year. However, if the Deputy is aware of a particular taxpayer who wishes to change his or her selected VAT return period, the necessary arrangements can be made by contacting the Collector General’s Office, Sarsfield House, Limerick.

  319.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Finance    the expenditure shortfall to date in the BMW region under the NDP; his plans to make up this [1686]shortfall in the remaining years of the national development plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19621/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The national development plan, NDP, provides an indicative expenditure profile for each of the seven operational programmes, for the Border, midlands and western, BMW, and southern and eastern regions for each year from 2000 to 2006. Those profiles were set in 2000 when the operational programmes were prepared. The levels of resources allocated annually are determined by public expenditure ceilings set by the Government, taking account of the wider budgetary considerations and the requirements of economic stability. European Structural Funds are profiled to ensure consistency with the EU budget commitments of such funds to each operational programme for each year of the NDP. However, expenditure under the EU-funded elements of the operational programmes continues until the end of 2008. To ensure consistency of reporting, progress on expenditure is reported against the original profile of expenditure.

The table below sets out the expenditure reported for the BMW region to the monitoring committee for each operational programme to the end of 2004 — the latest period for which completed reports are available. In the case of measures funded by the Structural Funds, expenditure has been profiled for each year from 2000 to 2006, even though spending on those will continue to the end of 2008 in the BMW region.

Operational Programme BMW Profile 2000-2004 BMW Expenditure 2000-2004 Expenditure versus Profile
€m €m %
Economic and Social Infrastructure 4,775 4,291 90
Employment and Human Resources Development 3,102 2,921 94
Productive Sector 1,796 602 34
Border, Midlands and Western Region 2,880 1,761 61
PEACE II and Technical Assistance 144 66 49
Total 12,697 9,641 76

[1685]I have already acknowledged that expenditure in the BMW region is behind the indicative target set out in the plan. I expect expenditure to show an increase in the BMW region over the remaining years of the NDP.

The responsibility of my Department is to ensure that resources are made available to meet the Government’s objectives and to secure full draw-down of Ireland’s allocation of Structural Funds. It is my objective that, as major projects are completed, more funds will become available over the remainder of the NDP for investment in the BMW region in order that progress can be made on rectifying the existing imbalance. I am confident that sufficient expenditure will be incurred to draw down the structural funds allocation for the BMW region.

  320.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare received all of their tax allowances for each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19637/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that PAYE balancing statements for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, granting all tax credits due to the taxpayer, will issue in the coming days.

  321.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the tax revenue raised by the financial [1687]services sector here for the Exchequer in each of the past five years. [19838/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that figures for the estimated corporation tax paid in the years 2000 to 2004, inclusive, by banks, their Irish subsidiaries, banking activities in the IFSC, insurance companies and building societies are shown in the following table.

Year Estimated corporation tax yield from the financial services sector
€m
2000 965
2001 1,080
2002 1,280
2003 1,100
2004 1,300

The amounts do not include foreign tax paid by Irish financial institutions in respect of their overseas operations, which is likely to be significant. Specific annual contributions to the Exchequer of €103.2 million in 2003 and €102.8 million in 2004 were also made by certain deposit-taking institutions.

Other taxes remitted by the banking sector such as PAYE, DIRT on deposit interest and stamp duties on credit cards, ATM cards and cheques are not included in the figures given, since the tax liability is not on the banks themselves.

  322.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding decentralisation of the Revenue Commissioners to Newcastle West, County Limerick. [19869/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In accordance with the Government’s decentralisation programme, the Revenue Commissioners will decentralise 50 posts to Newcastle West. The decentralisation implementation group, DIG, which was established to drive forward the implementation of the programme requested all decentralising organisations to prepare and submit implementation plans. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they have, as requested, prepared and submitted an implementation plan to the DIG for Newcastle West and that this plan is being progressed.

An analysis of first preferences applications from the central application facility indicates that there are 81 applicants for Newcastle West.

Internal information seminars with regard to the transfer of work from the Collector General’s Office to the new locations in the mid-west region which includes Newcastle West have been completed. Letters of offer for transfer to Newcastle West were issued to staff on 10 June 2005.

[1688]Further progress on decentralisation of Revenue staff to Newcastle West is dependent on the availability of accommodation. A site has been acquired, and the Office of Public Works is considering a design and build solution.

  323.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Finance    if he proposes to introduce a new national development plan post-2006; the range and prioritisation of projects contained therein; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19978/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I will be putting proposals to Government shortly on the issue of a successor to the current national development plan, NDP, which will run until the end of 2006. As the Deputy is probably aware, previous NDPs have been a requirement of the European Commission to enable Ireland to draw down its allocation of Structural and Cohesion Funds. Unlike previous occasions, there is no requirement under the draft Structural Funds regulations for the period from 2007 to 2013 to prepare a national development plan.

An important new factor in this context is the introduction of the five-year rolling multi-annual capital envelopes in budget 2004. That is a major innovation and provides a medium-term financial framework for public capital investment. That gives Departments and implementing agencies relative financial certainty to plan capital programmes and projects in the medium term.

As regards project prioritisation, that is already generally delegated to Departments and agencies which must exercise that responsibility within the programme budget for the areas agreed by the Government and within the framework set out in my Department’s guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure.

  324.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Finance    the effect that the increase in the national minimum wage to €7.65 per hour will have on restoring persons on the minimum wage to the tax net; if he has plans to exempt such persons from the tax net in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19979/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Since the Government introduced the minimum wage in April 2000, it has increased in value by almost 37%, taking account the latest increase on 1 May 2005. We now have one of the highest minimum wages in Europe. On an annualised basis, it stands at €15,515, based on a 39-hour week.

The present entry point to income tax is €14,250 per annum for a single person aged under 65. The Revenue Commissioners provisionally estimate that there will be roughly 37,000 income earners in an income range which would bring them into the tax net if their annual earnings reflected fully the increase in the national minimum wage. However, that group will of necessity [1689]include part-time workers earning more than the minimum hourly wage, and certain pensioners whose earnings are in the equivalent range. The 37,000 should therefore be seen as the upper band for any estimate of the number who may ultimately come into the tax net on a full year basis as a result of the minimum wage increase.

The Government is committed to having the minimum wage exempt from tax. However, we are also committed to sustaining economic growth and keeping the public finances in a healthy condition. The question of restoring the position which applied after budget 2005, where those earning the minimum wage were removed from the tax net, will be a matter for consideration in the context of the annual budgets in the next few years, consistent with the Government’s overall economic and budgetary strategy.

  325.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will provide funding for a feasibility study as sought by Clare County Council regarding the future extension of Doonbeg Pier, County Clare, which will include site investigation and a full report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18958/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The position in relation to the provision of funding for Doonbeg Pier is as outlined in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 250, dated 26 April 2005.

  326.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will provide funding in conjunction with Clare County Council to upgrade and dredge silt from the slipway at Seafield, Quilty, County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18959/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Seafield Pier, Quilty is owned by Clare County Council, and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance.

The Department has not, to date, received an application from Clare County Council to upgrade and dredge silt from the slipway at Seafield Pier, Quilty. The question of providing funding for the works in question will depend on the amount of Exchequer funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

  327.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of salmon and trout tags his Department purchased in red, green, white, blue and [1690]orange in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18985/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The management of the salmon and trout tagging scheme is the responsibility of the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards. It has not been possible within the time available to gather the information sought by the Deputy from the boards. I have, however, asked the chief executive of the Central Fisheries Board to compile the information sought by the Deputy for the years in question and to forward it directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  328.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in relation to the development of the Corrib gas field; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19116/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The development of the Corrib gas field is progressing. While my Department has issued all consents for the project, the pipeline consent to construct was essentially permission in principle to proceed with the design process for the pipeline. That has now been done. At present my Department is considering an application for consent to install the on-shore pipeline, which was a condition attaching to the consent to construct a pipeline. I expect to be in a position to make a decision shortly with regard to that application.

Work is also under way on the development of the terminal, including the movement and relocation of peat to the Srahmore peat deposition site. First gas is expected early in 2007, and my specific consent is required for it.

  329.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his observations on the low uptake of broadband Internet access; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19117/05]

  336.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the estimated cost of providing a guaranteed full broadband service to all towns in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19269/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 329 and 336 together.

The latest figures from EUROSTAT relate to 2004 and are now almost six months old. They show, however, that Ireland is placed 20th of 26 countries in respect of broadband connections for all enterprises. The figure in respect of large enterprises is 79%, placing Ireland in 16th place. EUROSTAT also reports that 92% of all Irish [1691]enterprises have access to the Internet, which is ninth in the table, while for large enterprises the figure for Internet access is 100%.

The level of Internet access for households is 40%, or 11th place in the table, and 3% have a broadband connection. The number of broadband customers in Ireland is increasing rapidly and now stands in the region of 160,000. For comparison, the January 2004 figure was 35,000. The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.

The rate of broadband uptake is dependent on a combination of factors. Those include access by service providers to suitable infrastructure, as well as competition between broadband service providers and the market demand for broadband in the economy. The Government is acting on the broadband penetration figures in a number of areas. The regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructural deficit, in co-operation with the local and regional authorities, by building high speed, open access metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities nationwide, using the European Regional Development Fund and Government funding under the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

The MANs programme is being rolled out on a phased basis, and the 19 networks completed to date have come in on time and within budget. Work is currently under way on seven MANs, and construction of a further 82 will commence during the next 12 months. Full details of the regional broadband programme can be found on my Department’s website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie.

For smaller towns and rural communities, my Department offers grant aid of up to 55% of set-up costs to enable local groups to become self-sufficient in broadband, using the most suitable technology for their area. Full details of the county and group broadband scheme are on www.gbs.gov.ie. Under the broadband for schools project, every one of the 4,200 primary and post-primary schools in the country will be provided with broadband by the end of this year.

According to ComReg, there are over 45 different broadband offerings across a variety of technologies, including digital subscriber lines, fibre, cable, leased lines and satellite technology. In essence, there are broadband technologies that can deliver broadband to any broadband consumer in Ireland. The Government’s broadband target is to be within the top half of EU countries by the end of 2007. The MANs infrastructure is being put in place by the State and will remain State-owned, offering open access to the industry that will enable it vigorously to market broadband in all areas. I have set the industry a target of 500,000 broadband customers by the end of 2006. That means a market penetration of around [1692]14% of the overall population which I feel is within reach when account is taken of all the technology options available.

  330.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to his discussions with UK authorities regarding the broadcasting of Irish television channels in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19118/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 89 of 5 February 2005.

  331.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in the event of the sale of the Atlantic Dawn fishing trawler with the quota of 14,000 tonnage, it will revert back to the State; and, if not, will the State be compensated for it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19169/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  In the event of the sale of a fishing boat entered on the fishing boat register, the former owner is required to apply to have the vessel removed from the register. Upon de-registration, the former owner retains the entitlement to the capacity of the vessel. The capacity of the vessel in question is subject to these provisions in the same way as any other fishing boat. However, it should be noted that particular conditions attach to the capacity of the vessel in question which would also attach to a replacement vessel, including a restriction on the number of days the vessel may operate in EU waters.

  332.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the most up-to-date information on his travels abroad for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with him in his official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19187/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 396 on Tuesday, 12 April 2005. I can confirm that this is the definitive information.

  333.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason independent consultants hired by his Department to review the safety of the Corrib gas onshore pipeline are part-owned by the project’s major shareholder (details supplied); if he will defer any decision to grant consent to install and [1693]commission the Corrib gas pipeline in the interest of the health and safety of the Erris residents; if the only option available is an offshore oil terminal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19199/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I gave a commitment in the Dáil in March 2005 to undertake a review of the developer’s quantified risk assessment, QRA, for the Corrib gas field upstream onshore pipeline. Tenders for the QRA were invited from four companies with requisite competencies. The company which was successful following this tendering process was British Pipeline Agency Limited, BPA.

Following media queries on 25 May 2005, my Department became aware that the company selected to undertake the QRA review is owned jointly by BP Oil UK Limited and Shell UK Oil Limited. Notwithstanding the fact that BP Oil UK and Shell UK Oil Limited own the company jointly, BPA remains of the view that there is no conflict of interest. While I accept that BPA has completed the review in a fully professional and objective manner, I remain conscious of the association of Shell UK Oil Limited with BPA by means of its 50% ownership of the company, and I regret that this situation ever arose. In the interest of ensuring confidence in the independence of the process of evaluation of the safety aspects of the pipeline as addressed by the QRA version F, and considering the public concerns and sensitivities on the issue, I instructed officials of my Department to initiate a further review of the QRA. I can confirm that my Department has engaged a consultant to carry out a further review of the QRA and that the consultant’s report, when to hand, will be put into the public domain.

A decision on the developer’s application for consent to install the onshore pipeline is at an advanced stage but is not yet finalised. I will make a decision when the report has been assessed.

  334.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of natural gas-related explosions which have taken place in the past ten years on a yearly basis. [19207/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I am advised by Bord Gáis Éireann which maintains such records that the number of such explosions in the last ten years is as follows.

Year Number of explosions
1995 1
1996 2
1997 2
1998 1
1999 1
2000 3
2001 2
2002 2
2003 1
2004 0
Total 15

  335.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount a person (details supplied) was awarded for consultancy work conducted on behalf of his Department in relation to the Corrib project in 2002. [19246/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The amount paid in respect of this consultancy in 2002 was €32,879.84.

Question No. 336 answered with Question
No. 329.

  337.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if a target for energy consumption based on 20% renewable energy by 2010 is achievable; if additional Exchequer funding will be required to achieve such a target; if so, the amount of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19270/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Within the electricity market, a target has been established to increase the amount of electricity consumed from renewable energy sources to 13.2% by 2010. That is regarded as a challenging target to achieve. Currently we have 660 MW of renewable capacity connected to our system, and to reach the 2010 target we will have to more than double the present renewable capacity. The current industry build rate shows that the required level is achievable.

The question of what higher target can be set, and in what timeframe, is one that requires further analysis and technical input, largely but not exclusively regarding grid and associated economic issues.

  338.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on restoring the State’s 50% stake in all oil and gas finds; the likely cost of such a move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19271/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Deputy is referring to the conditions of State participation under the 1975 licensing terms. I [1695]believe that the restoration of the 1975 terms would not make a positive contribution to petroleum exploration and development in offshore Ireland. In the context of a commercial find it would impose a substantial up-front capital contribution, while the State’s share of income from such an investment would be received piecemeal over a protracted timeframe, e.g. up to 20 years.

The 1992 terms and fiscal regime were introduced to address a situation of declining exploration in offshore Ireland, especially on the Atlantic margin. Water depths here are up to ten times greater than the North Sea and make the costs of both exploration and development significantly greater than those in the North Sea. The costs are also affected by the lack of infrastructure, e.g. pipelines, platforms, terminals, which are generated by commercial finds.

The 1992 licensing terms and the fiscal regime for petroleum were introduced to address and achieve the risk-reward balance which reflects Ireland’s circumstances and acknowledges the realities of competition for internationally mobile exploration and production investment. The terms and fiscal regime have been supported and implemented by every Government since their introduction.

It is difficult to offer accurate costs without disclosing confidential information. It is estimated that if the State were to acquire 50% participation in the combined estimated costs of appraisal and development for both the Seven Heads and the Corrib gas fields, the cost to the State would be of the order of several hundred million euro.

  339.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 244 and 245 of 31 May 2005, the location at which the capacity assignment form referred to in the Parliamentary Question can be obtained. [19277/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  A capacity assignment form is available from the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Leeson Lane, Dublin 2.

  340.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if the Lough Foyle oyster beds are protected under the Irish fisheries legislation. [19299/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Under Irish legislation, measures are in place which control the movement of oysters and other shellfish from bays [1696]around the coast, including Lough Foyle, in line with the requirements of EU fish health regulations.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is engaged in detailed discussions with the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development regarding a Bill which will confer additional powers on the loughs agency of the Foyle and Carlingford Irish Lights Commission, as envisaged in the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999.

  341.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will make a statement clarifying the situation regarding the presence on board fishing vessels of a logbook for vessels between ten and 17 metres in length who are out from port for less than one day (details supplied). [19337/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  All fishing vessels greater than 10 m are required to keep a European Communities fishing logbook on board the vessel.

Commission Regulation 2807 of 1983 did grant an exemption to those fishing vessels of between 10 m and 17 m that make fishing voyages of a maximum duration of 24 hours. However, that exemption was rescinded by Article 1 of Commission Regulation 1965 of 2001.

European legislation now requires that all fishing vessels greater than 10 m keep on board and complete a European Communities fishing logbook, that the master of such fishing vessels record the quantities of all species of fish retained on board in amounts greater than 50 kg and that the logbook be completed not later than midnight or at the time of arrival in port. In the event of any inspection taking place at sea, the logbook must also be completed at the time of inspection.

  342.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the extremely dangerous 345 bar Rossport pipeline of a company (details supplied) runs alongside the public road over significant portions of its length despite there being no precedent worldwide for such a pipeline passing through inhabited areas. [19355/05]

  343.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that, with respect to version F of the risk assessment concerning the Rossport section of pipeline, it relates specifically and only to onshore, that is, refined, depressurised gas pipelines and is therefore entirely inadequate and inappropriate to gas-field pipelines operating at extremely high pressures and containing obstructive slugs such as are proposed at Rossport, that the HAZID hazard [1697]identification model employed was developed specifically for onshore pipelines and is therefore entirely inadequate and inappropriate for that which is proposed at Rossport and that the two risks which give rise to the gravest fears, that is, explosion of the pipeline and failure of the umbilical, have entirely and specifically been excluded from analysis in the risk assessment. [19356/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 342 and 343 together.

The quantified risk assessment, QRA, version F, which was carried out on the onshore Corrib gas pipeline that will be carrying unprocessed gas to the terminal, does take into account the pressure and nature of fluids that the pipeline will carry. That QRA addresses the onshore pipeline for the Corrib gas project. That QRA was not prepared for an onshore refined gas pipeline.

To clarify the position regarding pipeline pressures, the normal operating pressure at the start of production will be 120 bar, and the absolute maximum operating pressure will be 150 bar. The design pressure is 345 bar, as this is the initial reservoir pressure, and if production is shut in at the terminal and the sub-sea and subsurface valves in the field fail to close properly, the pipeline pressure could eventually rise to that figure, although it would probably take some time for that to happen.

The capacity of 345 bar was allowed for the purpose of providing the best emergency responses in the unlikely event of emergencies arising with the transportation of gas from the field to the terminal.

  344.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of his consent for the Rossport section of pipeline being founded on the original risk assessment and Johnston report, both of which are now defunct, he will acknowledge that said consent is consequently invalid and that the compulsory acquisition orders relevant thereto are null and void. [19357/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Mr. Johnston’s report on the pipeline design and the quantified risk assessment, QRA, based on that design are not defunct, and therefore any consents given by my predecessors for the pipeline and the compulsory acquisition of rights over land remain valid.

The QRA, version F, was submitted in support of the developer’s application for consent to install and commission the onshore pipeline. That QRA is the updated version of the original series of QRAs prepared for the onshore pipeline. It does not depart in any relevant or material manner from the original version.

Question No. 345 resubmitted.

  346.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when funding will be provided for Lecanvey Pier in County Mayo. [19431/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Lecanvey Pier is owned by Mayo County Council, and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance.

The Department co-funded with Mayo County Council and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs a report entitled, An Assessment of Piers, Harbours and Landing Places in County Mayo. Lecanvey Pier is identified in that report as a marine leisure facility and is rated as category 2, a medium-term priority, where development and repairs should be considered as resources become available.

The funding available to the Department under the port infrastructure improvement programme of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 is directed at projects that improve infrastructure and facilities at key strategic fishery harbours and the construction and improvement of berthage and related facilities at smaller harbours and landing places, with a key role in maintaining jobs in fishing, aquaculture and ancillary activities. The proposed works at Lecanvey Pier do not come within the scope of that programme. There is no other funding available in the Department for marine leisure projects.

  347.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of applications he has received in response to his advertisement for expressions of interest for excise duty exemption for rapeseed oil and other such products in the context of his plans to reduce excise duty on same; the number of such applications from persons, registered companies and established oil suppliers; the criteria to be used in assessing those applications; the projected time scale for a final decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19435/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The bio-fuels mineral oil tax, MOT, relief scheme was publicly advertised as a competitive “call for proposals” on 20 April 2005, and the closing date for receipt of applications was 13 May 2005. Under the scheme, mineral oil tax relief may be granted for pilot projects producing up to 6 million litres of pure plant oil, 1 million litres of bio-diesel and 1 million litres of bio-ethanol.

A total of 34 applications were received under the call for proposals by the closing date. Applications were received from four individuals, 27 registered companies and several established oil suppliers operating on their own or as part of a [1699]consortium. My Department and Sustainable Energy Ireland are currently evaluating the proposals. Details of the evaluation criteria were outlined in the application form, and supporting documentation provided for prospective applicants. Those are: the technical excellence and quality of the proposal; the appropriate level of project management in methodology and utilisation of resources and appropriate skills of the project team; the extent to which the proposal achieves the least-cost path for carbon dioxide equivalent emissions reduction; the approach to the dissemination of results; the market impact potential of the proposal, including its capacity to address market barriers and its capacity for replication; the approach to addressing complete supply-chain issues, including feedstock and market introduction of bio-fuels; the approach to the achievement, monitoring and maintenance of quality standards; the approach to the evaluation of market impact with respect to performance of bio-fuels; and the contribution of international competence in the field.

It is anticipated that my Department will be in a position to make recommendations to the Department of Finance by the end of June. The Department of Finance will then consider those recommendations and revert to my Department with a decision, at which stage my Department will be in a position to revert to all applicants.

  348.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in relation to an application to upgrade a crane at a pier (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19436/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Portaleen Pier in Glengad is owned by Donegal County Council, and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance.

Donegal County Council recently submitted an application to upgrade the existing crane at Portaleen Pier in Glengad at an estimated total cost of €33,000. The question of providing funding for the works in question will depend on the amount of Exchequer funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

  349.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of times a restaurant (details supplied) in County Donegal was refused a foreshore licence or asked for additional information; the length of time such applications go back; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19502/05]

[1700]Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  An application was made in October 1998 to purchase or lease an area of foreshore at Rathmullen to provide extra car parking spaces for a proposed restaurant extension. Consideration of the application was deferred until the application for planning permission for the proposed development had been determined, as it is more appropriate that the necessary consent under the planning process be obtained before the foreshore application is dealt with.

The applicant reapplied in December 2001 for a lease for the purpose of constructing a car park, a wastewater treatment system, and a sea wall with rock armour. Processing of that application was deferred, as further information had to be requested from the applicant’s adviser.

The applicant subsequently reduced the area that he was applying for, and that necessitated another new application. That application was received in January 2004. While examining the application, the Department’s engineering division expressed some concerns about the effluent treatment aspect of the proposal and requested additional information on that matter. The applicant and his advisers subsequently met the Department’s engineers. At the meeting, the applicant agreed to change from the originally proposed percolation treatment to a connection to the Rathmullen sewerage scheme. Donegal County Council agreed to that change.

In light of that modification of the proposal, and having considered all other relevant aspects of the project, including its possible amenity implications, the Department recommended to me that a foreshore lease should be granted. I accepted that recommendation, and the applicants have been notified accordingly.

  350.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has been informed of a decision of the board of the Port of Waterford Company to privatise the pilot boat service for the port; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19512/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Port of Waterford Company informs the Department that it has made no decision regarding the future of the pilot boat service.

  351.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if the ESB conservation division is involved directly or indirectly in the commercial extraction of eels from its weirs on the Shannon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19562/05]

[1701]

  352.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if the ESB conservation division is involved directly or through third parties in the commercial extraction of eels from its weirs on the Shannon; the financial arrangements of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19563/05]

  353.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the mechanisms in place in order that glass eels entering the estuary will safely reach the upper reaches of the Shannon system; if he proposes to introduce a restocking programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19564/05]

  354.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his Department’s plans to carry out an investigation into the activities of a company (details supplied); if so, if he intends to publish the findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19565/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 351 to 354, inclusive, together.

I am advised that the ESB commissions a brown eel monitoring programme on the Shannon under the scientific direction of NUI Galway. The purpose of that programme is to ensure that eel stocks are monitored and conserved in accordance with best practice. The ESB has no commercial interest in the disposal of any eels caught as part of the brown eel programme.

A contractor is employed to remove the eels at Killaloe, where the ESB operates eel weirs, to protect them from potential damage from the turbines at Ardnacrusha. A large proportion of the eels removed are reintroduced to the river beyond the turbines to ensure adequate escapement for spawning.

The extraction of eels at Killaloe is carried out by contract under normal ESB tendering arrangements. Juvenile eels reaching the dam at Ardnacrusha are called elvers. It is the responsibility of the ESB to ensure that juvenile eels can access the Shannon catchment above the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha.

The ESB has undertaken several programmes to facilitate the capture and distribution of glass, or juvenile, eels. In recent years, licences have been issued only to the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board in partnership with the ESB to capture juvenile eels. The ESB, in partnership with the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, has sought in recent years to trap glass eels and elvers, by a variety of experimental means, in the Shannon Estuary and transport them upstream to assist in the restocking of the upper Shannon. The ESB also has a trap at the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha at which it traps elvers.

Glass eels and elvers returning to the Shannon have been in decline in recent years, as is the case [1702]throughout Europe, and therefore numbers of juvenile eels caught are down. The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board and the ESB will review their juvenile eels programme in advance of the 2005-06 season.

I am not aware of any reason the Department should investigate the activities of the company referred to by the Deputy, which ceased trading in 1996.

  355.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will publish all the scientific information he has in regard to the state of the north Atlantic wild salmon stocks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19605/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The latest scientific advice that I have received on Irish wild salmon stocks is that provided by the standing scientific committee to the National Salmon Commission in November 2004, which I understand was widely disseminated at that time.

This advice and a full description of how it is formulated is reproduced in the Irish wild salmon fishery fact sheet which is available on the Department’s website www.dcmnr.ie. While it has not been the practice for the National Salmon Commission to formally publish this information in the past, it is my intention to request the incoming commission to ensure that the standing scientific committee’s report is published from this year onwards.

  356.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount of funding his Department provided for the publication of a report (details supplied). [19616/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Department provided funding of €33,000 for Mayo County Council in 2002 towards the cost of the report entitled, An Assessment of Piers, Harbours and Landing Places in County Mayo.

  357.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has commissioned a preliminary environmental impact statement on the Dublin Port application to reclaim land from Dublin Bay; if this has been released to Dublin Port; if it has been released under the Freedom of Information Act 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19640/05]

  359.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    [1703]if Dublin Port has sought a lease of any part of the foreshore from the State; if the granting of such a lease would alter the basis on which permission is granted for reclamation or development of the foreshore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19643/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 and 359 together.

Several leases and licences have been granted over the years to Dublin Port Company under the Foreshore Acts. However, the application by the company for consent to the proposed reclamation of an area in Dublin Bay was made in accordance with sections 10 and 13, as amended, of the Foreshore Act 1933, on the basis that the company claims ownership of the area concerned.

Issues arose concerning the company’s title to the area in question and these are being actively pursued by the State’s legal services and the company’s legal advisers. The outcome of this process will determine the basis for the further consideration of the company’s application.

An environmental impact statement was submitted with the company’s application and has undergone an initial evaluation by consultants engaged by the Department. The results of this initial evaluation were communicated to the company but have not been released under the Freedom of Information Act 1997. I am advised that the deciding officer who dealt with the request under that Act for access to the document concerned determined that its release would be premature pending the making of a decision as to the suitability or otherwise of the environmental impact statement submitted by the company.

  358.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the existing capacity of ports on the east coast; the projected capacity needs of these ports to 2014; the key projects to add to capacity within that timeframe which have been communicated to him by the respective ports and the amount of additional capacity proposed in each case; and the terms of reference for the proposed consultancy on criteria for project evaluation and prioritisation. [19642/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  In 1998, 2000 and again in 2004 the Department commissioned consultants to prepare an inventory of current and projected future capacity of Ireland’s commercial ports. The most recent study which takes into account economic growth projections and looks at capacity up to 2014 found that while there were likely to be surpluses of capacity at certain ports, there were also going to be significant shortfalls at [1704]some of the major ports, particularly in relation to unitised trade.

Looking to 2014, the study found that projected traffic will increase by approximately 16 million tonnes, some 35% over tonnage handled in 2003, and that there will be a shortfall in capacity of approximately 12 million tonnes overall, of which some 4.4 million tonnes will be in unitised trade, unless action is taken. In the east coast ports of Greenore, Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, Wicklow and Rosslare the capacity in 2003 was estimated to be 36.3 million tonnes overall and the additional capacity requirement for these ports to 2014 was estimated to be 5.3 million tonnes, of which 3.6 million tonnes was estimated to relate to unitised trade. The Department recognises that these studies are not necessarily an exact science, and their implications will need to be checked against actual experience at individual ports.

When launching the ports policy statement, I indicated that the Department would consult the commercial ports concerned to determine their view of port capacity and how they intended to deal with the projected capacity requirement. As an initial step, the Department has sought information from the commercial ports which handle unit load cargo on key projects identified by them as essential to deal with anticipated capacity deficiencies to 2014 and beyond, and whether the ports see these being funded from their own resources or in partnership with the private sector.

Information on project proposals have been received in respect of four of the ports referred to, namely, Greenore, Drogheda, Dublin and Rosslare. The initial information received from the ports concerned to date does not allow for a definitive response to the Deputy’s question about timeframes and additional capacity proposed. However, the indicative figures for additional capacity proposed for unitised trade are 5.7 million tonnes at Dublin, 4 million tonnes at the proposed new port facility at Bremore and 3 million tonnes at Greenore. In addition, the Department of Transport informs the Department that Rosslare Europort is to commission a scoping study that will identify the measures required to address the depth constraints at Rosslare Harbour.

As indicated in the ports policy statement, it is intended to prioritise a range of projects catering for unitised traffic at our commercial ports from an overall economic national and regional perspective, as opposed to the perceived requirements of individual ports. To that end, the Department will procure expert and independent assistance from consultants to refine the criteria for project evaluation, to draw up a uniform template for submission of detailed project proposals and to evaluate and rank the projects submitted as a basis for the Department’s recommendation to Government. The terms of reference for the [1705]proposed consultancy are being prepared by the Department.

Question No. 359 answered with Question
No. 357.

  360.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will explain his statement of 25 November 2004 that the development of port facilities on the east coast which remove pressure to expand Dublin Port will have no bearing on Dublin Port’s application to reclaim land in pursuit of its port expansion ambitions. [19644/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Government’s ports policy statement which I launched in January 2005 addressed, among other things, the issue of future seaport capacity requirements. When launching the ports policy statement, I indicated that one of the key challenges ahead was the timely provision of adequate in-time port capacity.

As an initial step, the Department has sought information from the commercial ports which handle unit load cargo, including Dublin Port, on key projects identified by them as essential to deal with anticipated capacity deficiencies to 2014. As indicated in the ports policy statement, it is intended to prioritise a range of projects catering for unitised traffic at our commercial ports from an overall economic national and regional perspective, as opposed to the perceived requirements of individual ports. To that end, the Department will procure expert and independent assistance from consultants to refine the criteria for project evaluation, to draw up a uniform template for submission of detailed project proposals and to evaluate and rank the projects submitted as a basis for the Department’s recommendation to Government.

Dublin Port Company applied in March 2002 for ministerial consent for the reclamation of 21 hectares of foreshore in Dublin Bay. The assessment of this application under the foreshore legislation is independent of the process outlined above for the evaluation and ranking of port capacity projects.

  361.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has allocated or intends to allocate funding to halt the coastal erosion and remediate the old landfill site north of Bray Harbour that straddles the administrative boundaries of Wicklow and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Councils; the works already undertaken to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19826/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Responsibility for coastal pro[1706]tection rests with the property owner, whether it be a local authority or a private individual. In July 2002 the Department requested all coastal local authorities to submit proposals, in order of priority, for consideration in the context of the 2003-06 national coast protection programmes. The Department did not receive a proposal for coastal protection works to the old landfill site north of Bray Harbour from Wicklow County Council or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The question of funding the works in question will depend on the amount of Exchequer funding available for coastal protection works in the future and overall national priorities. The Department is not aware of any coastal protection works carried out at this location in the past.

Questions Nos. 362 to 369, inclusive, resubmitted.

  370.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason the statistics regarding the level of penalties imposed for fishery offences here were not included in a report (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19904/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The statistics to which the Deputy refers were required to be included in the report to the European Commission by reference to individual instances of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy having been seriously infringed. Ireland’s data could not be broken down into that level of detail. The data available to the Department did not give a breakdown of the penalty imposed by the court for individual infringements in a case where a vessel was convicted for more than one infringement. The Department has been in consultation with the Attorney General’s office to arrange for more detailed records to be kept in order that Ireland can contribute more fully to future reports.

  371.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the reason the burden of penalties here (details supplied) is so high, thus placing Irish fishermen at a considerable disadvantage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19905/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Commission has drawn up a report on behaviours which seriously infringed the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2003. The statistics were required to be included in the report to the European Commission by reference to individual instances of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy having been seriously
[1707]infringed. Ireland’s data could not be broken down into that level of detail. The data available to the Department did not give a breakdown of the penalty imposed by the court for individual infringements in a case where a vessel was convicted for more than one infringement.

The average fine imposed in 2003 in Ireland in respect of infringement of the Common Fisheries Policy was €4,871 per individual prosecution — some of which involve several infringements — in respect of 25 successful prosecutions. The EU report on serious infringements for 2003 shows that the average fine varied from member state to member state and involved a wide range of penalties, in the United Kingdom the average fine was €77,922. In addition, a system of confiscation of gear and catch applies in some member states. In Ireland, on conviction on indictment, the catch and gear on board a vessel is automatically forfeited.

The procedures for fisheries offences are provided for in legislation. Under the Fisheries Consolidation Act 1959, as amended, penalties for fisheries offences are financial and imprisonment does not arise. Under EC regulations a person who commits a breach of the European law must be deprived of any financial benefit of his actions and in addition the penalty imposed must be both a deterrent and dissuasive. The fines imposed under the Fisheries Acts 1959, as amended, were determined by the legislature as appropriate.

  372.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if procedures for dealing with infringements (details supplied) will be simplified and streamlined to be more speedy and effective and more cost effective for the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19906/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The procedures for fisheries offences are provided for in legislation. Under the Fisheries Consolidation Act 1959, as amended, penalties for fisheries offences are financial and imprisonment does not arise. Under EC regulations a person who commits a breach of the European law must be deprived of any financial benefit of his actions and in addition the penalty imposed must be both a deterrent and dissuasive. Given the considerable value of fish which can be landed from one trip, the potential level of financial penalties for those breaking the law can be substantial and such persons must be accorded the full protection available in law should they wish to contest the case. Delay in disposing of a case is often at the instigation of the accused while mounting a defence or considering how to deal with the case.

It is not correct to say that considerable amounts of personal bail are required to keep a fisherman out of jail. The master of the fishing [1708]vessel is usually the party charged with the offence and he is required to enter a personal bond to ensure his appearance at the trial but such personal bail is usually fixed at a modest amount. The legislation provides that in addition to any personal bond the fishing vessel itself may be detained until the trial but the owner — who may not be the accused but is frequently a limited company — can post a bond in an amount fixed by the court in order to have the vessel released. The Act provides that the bond can take into account the value of the forfeitures and fines and the costs in the event of a conviction.

  373.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the status regarding landing times at pelagic ports here; if he has resolved the industrial relations issues which seem to be at the heart of this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19907/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  As I have previously advised the House, new EU control requirements for pelagic fisheries were introduced in 2004. The requirements created onerous obligations for member states to ensure all landings of pelagic fish over ten tonnes were weighed in the presence of controllers. During extensive discussions with the industry on the implementation of the new EU procedures my Department acceded to industry requests to allow landings at a variety of ports. In order to implement this decision with the available resources it was necessary to restrict the landing times in the designated pelagic ports. The new controls were extended to the south and east coast with the inclusion of the Celtic Sea and Irish Sea herring fisheries from 2005 onwards.

While I accept it is desirable to provide 24-hour cover for major ports, where possible this must be balanced by the legal obligations which the State carries to ensure adequate control presence at those ports when they are open. In this respect, I recognise the need to augment the Department’s resources to permit effective control for longer opening times at the key ports.

My Department is pursuing a case for the necessary additional resources, which is the primary obstacle to longer opening times at the key ports. I hope to announce the opening of the ports on a 24-hour basis as soon as the outstanding difficulties are resolved.

  374.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of the safety and quality issues involved, small vessels targeting mackerel and herring off the Mayo coast this coming winter will be permitted to land their catches in Achill as was traditionally the case, rather than having to steam to either Killybegs or Rossaveal as is the case [1709]under present regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19908/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The EU arrangements for the control of certain pelagic fisheries — horse mackerel, mackerel and north west herring fisheries — which came into effect during 2004 and were revised and extended for 2005 provide for, inter alia, the weighing in the presence of a controller of all quantities in excess of ten tonnes landed of any of these species. During the course of 2004, extensive consultations took place with industry representatives about the implementation of the EU regulation. The five designated ports, Killybegs, Rathmullen, Dingle, Rossaveal and Castletownbere, were chosen on the basis of landing patterns for the species concerned and the resources available to comply with the requirements of the regulation.

The scope of the 2005 Council regulation is wider than that of the 2004 regulation. The 2005 EU regulation requires monitoring of landings of Celtic Sea herring in addition to the other pelagic fisheries subject to these controls in 2004. In this context the provision of the resources needed to meet our obligations under this regulation is even more challenging.

My Department is pursuing a case for additional control resources and in the context of the outcome of that case I am prepared to look again at the ports to be designated for pelagic landings.

  375.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will provide a realistic package for the decommissioning of whitefish vessels (details supplied) with a budget of up to the €30 million required to make a significant impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19909/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Taking all matters into account including the funding available to me, my priority is to address the current imbalance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities in key fisheries subject to restrictive quotas such as monkfish, hake and cod. Accordingly, I announced, on 27 April 2005, a new grant aid scheme to remove excess capacity from the whitefish sector of the fleet. The funding of €8.8 million available will deliver significant results in terms of removing capacity which is targeting these stocks.

  376.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the procedures regarding Irish citizens accepting knighthoods or OBEs from the British Government; and if there are any restraints on these outside awards. [18944/05]

[1710]Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Article 40.2.2° of the Constitution states that “No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government”. The interpretation by the Office of the Attorney General of this article has been that a title is an award that entitles the recipient to use a prefix such as “Sir” or “Lord” before his or her name. An award which provides for the use of letters or marks of distinction after the name such as OBE or MBE is not regarded as a title of nobility or of honour in this context.

It is the normal protocol for a foreign Government which wishes to make an award to an Irish citizen to inform the Government and any such requests are considered on a case by case basis to see if they are subject to Article 40.2.2° of the Constitution. Most of these requests are of a routine nature and in the absence of any constitutional or legal requirement are dealt with at official level.

  377.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government, through permitting the use of Shannon Airport for the refuelling and servicing of two aeroplanes used for the extraordinary renditions programme of the US intelligence services, which may have had on board prisoners being delivered for interrogation which involved the use of torture, has lent itself to a breach of the international convention outlawing torture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19394/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to replies to parliamentary questions on 2 February, 22 March, 27 April and 28 April 2005.

The Government has on several occasions made clear to the US authorities that it would be illegal to transit prisoners for rendition purposes through Irish territory without the express permission of the Irish authorities, acting in accordance with Irish and international law. The US authorities have confirmed that they have not done so and would not do so without seeking the permission of the Irish authorities. No request for such an authorisation has been received from the US authorities.

  378.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the position regarding France’s “No” vote in relation to the future of the EU; if there are any contingency plans made; if he was expecting such a decision; if France will follow Ireland’s lead and have a second vote in view of the fact that the result is awkward; if the European support for the EU is worsening; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18983/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government has expressed its regret at the outcomes of the referendums in France and The [1711]Netherlands. Despite the fact that “No” votes had been predicted by most opinion polls, they were nevertheless disappointing.

It has been apparent for some time that there is a degree of disconnection between the European Union and citizens in many member states. Clearly, this poses serious questions which have not yet been adequately addressed. However, the significant contribution of the Union to peace, prosperity and stability must not be downplayed. I am confident that most Irish people appreciate its fundamental importance to our national development.

The Government has made clear that it remains committed to the European constitution and continues to make the necessary preparations for its ratification. The situation, however, is difficult and complex and requires collective discussion among all member states. The European Council is to hold such a discussion at its meeting later this week. This will inform the future approach to this matter in Ireland and elsewhere in the Union.

  379.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the basis for his comments in March 2005 that discrimination against Northern Nationalists had disappeared; the evidentiary basis for his comments; the person or persons from whom he took advice which led him to express this view; if his attention has been drawn to the British labour force survey statistics for 2003-04 which indicate that the opposite is true, that there has been no significant improvement in the unemployment differential in 30 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19017/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The protection of human rights and the promotion of equality is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. This was collectively affirmed by the parties in the commitment within the Agreement to “the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community”. This included, in particular “the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity.”

In the media interview to which the Deputy refers, the exact comment that I made was:

matters have changed dramatically in the North in such a way, the difficulties in certain areas of the North are more to do with the socio-economic difficulties, the type of discrimination that took place in previous decades, all of that has disappeared.

This comment accurately reflects the fact that discrimination on the basis of religion, political belief, and a number of other key grounds, is now comprehensively outlawed in much legislation in effect in Northern Ireland. This includes the Fair [1712]Employment and Treatment Order 1998; the Race Relations Order 1997 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. European directives, legislation and other international obligations also offer protection against discrimination.

Moreover, Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places a duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, including “between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation”, in carrying out their functions. Those who experience illegal discrimination now have a range of avenues open to them in order to seek redress. The Government keeps such cases under review and raises them and other equality issues, as appropriate, through the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

The Good Friday Agreement contained a clear commitment to a range of measures aimed at combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities by targeting objective need. Encouraging progress was made by the devolved administration to eliminate this differential, including through the task force on employability and long-term unemployment and the procurement review. The commitment to the progressive elimination of the differential was reaffirmed in the joint declaration, published by the Irish and British Governments in May 2003. Recent meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference have reviewed progress on the implementation of this commitment, and the issue will again be discussed at the next meeting of the conference which is due to take place towards the end of this month.

  380.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will make a statement regarding the extent to which Ireland will participate in the European Union integrated rule of law mission for Iraq. [19127/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The EU integrated rule of law mission for Iraq — EUJUST LEX — was established by a Council joint action in March 2005 and aims to address the urgent requirements in the Iraqi criminal justice system through providing training for high and mid-level officials in senior management and criminal investigation. The aim of the training is to improve the capacity, co-ordination and collaboration of the different components of the Iraqi criminal justice system, including the Iraqi police. A planning and co-ordination team for the mission, based in Brussels, has been established and the training courses which will be of three to four week duration and will take place in a number of different EU countries are due to commence in July 2005.

Twenty of the 25 EU member states contribute to the mission, either through hosting training courses, providing trainers and-or members of the [1713]planning and co-ordination team or providing financial assistance. The question of Ireland’s participation in the mission is under active consideration.

  381.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the most up-to-date information on his travels abroad for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with him in his official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19188/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As outlined in my response to a parliamentary question on 12 April 2005, I travelled to the United States from 11 to 18 March to represent the Government at St. Patrick’s Day events in Boston before accompanying the Taoiseach to Washington. The cost of the visit, including transatlantic and internal transport and accommodation, will be approximately €50,000.

  382.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    when a visa will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; when all documents will be returned to another related person (details supplied). [19204/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The visa application to which the Deputy refers was received in the Department of Foreign Affairs on 15 April 2005 and referred to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for decision. The decision was received in my Department on 3 June, and the visa was immediately endorsed in the passport and forwarded, by registered post, with all the documents that had been submitted to the same address as that to which the Deputy refers.

  383.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if Lesotho will remain a priority country for Irish official development assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19329/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  Ireland’s programme of development co-operation with Lesotho began in 1975, making it the longest running of our bilateral country programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. Our programme has expanded significantly in recent years, with the budget increasing from €6 million in 1999 to almost €11 million in 2005. A sharp focus on poverty reduction underlies all our activities in Lesotho. The main components of the programme are rural water supply, education, health, HIV-AIDS and governance.

The Lesotho programme has been in place for 30 years and, in comparison to the other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where Ireland operates bilateral programmes, the country is relatively [1714]well placed on the current UNDP human development index, ranking 145 out of 177 countries. Thus, for example, indicators for levels of absolute poverty, access to basic education, mortality rates for children under five and access to health services in Lesotho, while low, are better than any of Ireland’s other bilateral programme countries.

Ireland’s support to Lesotho is set out in country strategy papers which are agreed with the Government of Lesotho every three years. A country strategy covering the period 2005-07 was approved at the beginning of this year. The programme will focus on policy development in the areas of health, education and HIV-AIDS, improved governance and the strengthening of systems to enhance the delivery of basic services to the poor. Consideration will also be given to the long-term and to examining ways to meet the ongoing needs of Lesotho other than primarily through direct bilateral support. Options to be considered include channelling of assistance through regional structures and programmes, NGOs and community-based organisations.

The Government of Lesotho holds Ireland in high regard for the quality and duration of our assistance, and for the fact that, unlike some other bilateral donors, it maintained a presence in the country after the ending of apartheid in South Africa. We are conscious of the need to proceed in a manner which takes the special friendship between the two countries into account and continues to meet the development needs of the people of Lesotho.

  384.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the contacts he has had with the new Northern Secretary with regard to the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19330/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Mr. Peter Hain MP was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following the Westminster election in May. Shortly afterwards, I spoke to him by telephone to offer my congratulations and to arrange for an early meeting.

On 18 May I met Mr. Hain in Dublin. This meeting provided a valuable opportunity to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland and to affirm our shared goal of securing the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We are in complete agreement on the need for an early and definitive response from the IRA and, in tandem, a real commitment by Unionism to inclusive partnership government.

I look forward to working closely with the Secretary of State in the same spirit of partnership that defined my working relationship with his predecessor, Paul Murphy. His previous political career will stand him in good stead for his new post and the challenging task ahead. We will meet again at the end of this month within the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Con[1715]ference. In the future, Mr. Hain and I intend to avail of all opportunities to engage with the political parties in order to move beyond the current political stalemate.

  385.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the update on efforts towards the reunification of Cyprus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19331/05]

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 in the first half of 2004, during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU.

As a result of the referenda 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 stalemate continued. The process has remained under consideration in the UN Security Council since.

In his latest report on the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus, on 27 May 2005, the Secretary General concluded that he was not yet ready to appoint a new full-time representative for his good offices mission on Cyprus. However, there have been some developments in recent weeks. Following discussions with the Secretary General in Moscow in May, the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, sent an envoy to New York for preliminary, informal talks with senior officials in the UN secretariat. As a result of these discussions, the Secretary General asked Kieran Prendergast, Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, to travel to Cyprus, Athens and Ankara during the first week of June to listen to the views of all parties on the future of his mission of good offices and to assess the situation on the ground. He will report back to the Security Council in the coming weeks. The Secretary General will then decide whether a further effort will be possible in the search for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.

The Government has strongly supported the UN Secretary General in his mission of good offices. The EU remains ready to accommodate a settlement of the Cyprus problem based on the Secretary General’s proposals and in line with the principles on which the Union is founded. The objective we all share is an agreed comprehensive settlement which will enable the people of Cyprus to live together as citizens of a united Cyprus in the European Union. I hope that in the coming [1716]months all parties will continue to engage constructively with the United Nations to create the conditions in which real progress can be made towards the achievement of that objective.

  386.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the reason for the apparent contradiction between the replies to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 225 of 24 May 2005 and 164 of 1 June 2005 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19393/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  The Government pledged €20 million in response to the tsunami disaster in South Asia. On 24 May — as I said in reply to the first parliamentary question to which the Deputy referred — approximately €11.3 million, or 57%, of this pledge had been committed to meeting the needs of those most affected. This assistance was channelled through UN agencies, NGOs and other international organisations such as the Red Cross family with a proven record of responding to humanitarian crises.

By 1 June — the date of the second reply to which the Deputy referred — work had been further advanced in identifying, appraising and bringing forward new proposals to assist the tsunami affected region. This enabled me to say in my reply that “almost all of the €20 million allocated for the tsunami disaster has either been disbursed or is currently in the process of being allocated”. The phrase “in the process of being allocated”, as distinct from “has been allocated”, shows there was no contradiction between the two replies. The work in question included visits to the region by the special envoy, Mr. Chris Flood, and the technical team from the development co-operation directorate of the Department.

It is important for donors to meet their pledges and obligations in regard to the tsunami and its aftermath. On this occasion, Ireland will have led by example. We will also remain engaged with the tsunami affected countries to ensure that Irish funding is used to best effect and in a transparent and accountable manner. We will bring our own experience to the recovery processes. We remain in constant touch with all stakeholders, including our partners in the UN agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross.

  387.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the meaning of the phrase more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions in Article 41.6 of the proposed EU constitution dealing with permanent structured co-operation; the form the term more binding commitments will take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19588/05]

[1717]

  388.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the sort of European decisions and recommendations of the Council within the framework of permanent structured co-operation which will be covered under Article III-312.6 of the proposed EU constitution; if these European decisions will include military missions; if military missions are not covered; the articles in the EU constitution which preclude military missions being included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19589/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 387 and 388 together.

Article I-41.6 of the European constitution provides for permanent structured co-operation among those member states

whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions.

Article III-312 sets out the procedures governing the establishment and functioning of permanent structured co-operation and Protocol 23 sets out in broad terms its scope and the nature of the commitments which would be involved.

While the precise detail of these commitments has yet to be determined, it is clear from Protocol 23 that permanent structured co-operation relates to the development of defence capabilities and to more intense co-operation between participants in such areas as training, equipment and logistics. Specifically under Article 1 of Protocol 23, it would be open to all member states prepared to proceed more intensively to develop their defence capacities and which have the capacity by 2007 to participate in the battle groups rapid response elements initiative. They would also be required to make the kinds of undertaking related to capabilities development set out in Article 2 of this protocol. It is possible that the specific commitments made by member states would be tailored to reflect their expertise and experience in particular areas of capability development and crisis management.

In this way, permanent structured co-operation would allow the member states involved to improve their capacity to carry out the full range of Petersberg tasks, including the most demanding missions. Those member states involved in permanent structured co-operation could conceivably develop a capacity to carry out crisis management missions jointly. This would not, however, alter the requirement for the establishment and launching of an actual EU mission to be decided by the Council on the basis of a unanimous decision by all 25 member states, as explicitly stated in Article I-41.4. It would not in any way constrain the right of each member state to determine whether it wished to take part in a particular mission.

The decisions and recommendations referred to in Article III-312.6 relate to the management of permanent structured co-operation itself and would be taken unanimously by the participating [1718]member states. As outlined above, they could not involve a decision to establish a particular mission.

  389.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government will set a new target date by which Ireland will reach an overseas development aid minimum of 0.7% of GNP; if he will put in place a multi-annual plan to reach this target; and if the Government will enshrine Ireland’s commitment to the 0.7% of GNP overseas development aid target in legislation before the summer recess. [19817/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  The allocation for 2005 provides for an increase of €70 million in Government spending on official development assistance this year. This will bring total Government aid to the developing world to approximately €545 million in 2005, the highest allocation in the 30-year history of the aid programme. In addition, the Government has agreed to provide further increases of €65 million in each of the years 2006 and 2007. These substantial increases mean that over the three years from 2005 to 2007, €1.8 billion will be spent by Ireland on development assistance. As a result, Ireland will maintain its position as one of the world’s leading aid donors on a per capita basis. This three year multi-annual commitment, incorporating very substantial annual increases, gives my Department a sound basis to carry forward the long-term planning which is so important for development work.

The Government remains strongly committed to achieving the UN target for expenditure on official development assistance. The issue of how best to meet the target, and in what timeframe, is under continuous review. It is not intended that the commitment should be enshrined in legislation. The Department has recently launched a consultative process that will lead to a White Paper on development assistance and looks forward to receiving views from all interested groups and members of the public, including on the aid target dimension.

EU member states, as part of the European Union’s contribution to the preparation of the United Nations summit in September 2005 on the follow-up to the 2000 millennium declaration, came to an agreement at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 24 May 2005 on a new threshold for official development assistance for 2010 and 2015.

The elements of the Council’s agreement are as follows: member states which have not yet reached a level of 0.51% ODA-GNI undertake to reach, within their respective budget allocation processes, that level by 2010, while those that are already above that level undertake to sustain their efforts; member states which have joined the EU after 2002, and have not reached a level of 0.17% ODA-GNI will strive to increase their ODA to reach, within their respective budget allocation processes, that level by 2010, while those that are already above that level undertake to sustain their efforts; member states undertake to achieve the 0.7% ODA-GNI target by 2015 [1719]while those which have achieved that target commit themselves to remain above that target; member states which joined the EU after 2002 will strive to increase by 2015 their ODA-GNI to 0.33%.

  390.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he has had discussions with bookmakers whose business is regulated by the State in order to assess the extent to which they are making reasonable efforts to ensure that unclaimed money is returned to its rightful owners or where this is not possible, that there is an industry-wide code of conduct that ensures the money is devoted to causes of public benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19006/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon, the statutory bodies responsible for the horse and greyhound racing industries respectively, are responsible for the control of the operations of authorised bookmakers under the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994.

As my Department does not have a role in this matter, I have referred the Deputy’s inquiry to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon for attention.

  391.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the most up-to-date information on his travels abroad for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations; the persons who travelled with him in his official party; the duration of the visit; and the total cost. [19189/05]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As I stated in a previous reply on 12 April last, I travelled to London to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations from Saturday, 12 March to Sunday, 13 March. I was accompanied on this trip by my special adviser, my private secretary and my wife. While the Department has yet to be invoiced for all the costs associated with the visit to London, I understand the total cost of the visit, including flights, local transport, accommodation and other expenses, is estimated at approximately €7,000.

  392.