Dáil Éireann

19/Oct/2005

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Chief State Solicitor’s Office.

Regulatory Reform.

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges: Motion.

Quarterly National Household Survey: Statements.

Priority Questions.

Airport Development Projects.

Traffic Management.

Public Transport.

Other Questions.

Road Safety.

Driver Testing.

State Airports.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Quarterly National Household Survey: Statements (Resumed).

Land Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Order for Report Stage.

Land Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages.

Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 [Seanad] : Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Draft Animal Remedies Regulations 2005: Motion (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate.

Decentralisation Programme.

Schools Building Programme.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Press Releases.

Road Safety.

Traffic Management.

Road Safety.

Light Rail Project.

Driving Tests.

Rail Network.

Traffic Management.

Departmental Expenditure.

EU Directives.

State Airports.

Rail Network.

Departmental Expenditure.

Traffic Management.

Rail Network.

Road Safety.

Traffic Management.

Road Safety.

Air Services.

Road Safety.

Road Network.

European Council Meetings.

Semi-State Bodies.

Transport Investment Plan.

Driving Tests.

EU Directives.

Departmental Expenditure.

Rail Services.

Driving Tests.

Road Traffic Offences.

Public Transport.

Road Network.

Traffic Management.

Road Traffic Offences.

Road Safety.

Road Traffic Offences.

EU Regulations.

Road Safety.

Driving Tests.

Taxi Regulations.

EU Directives.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Foreign Military Aircraft.

Pension Provisions.

Road Safety.

Computerisation Programme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health Services.

Mental Health Services.

Departmental Expenditure.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Nursing Home Charges.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Services.

Child Abuse.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Disabled Drivers.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Capital Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health Services.

Health Education.

Ambulance Service.

Departmental Expenditure.

Valuation Office.

Coroners Service.

State Airports.

Tax Code.

Telecommunications Masts.

Budget Submissions.

Departmental Expenditure.

Telecommunications Services.

Inland Fisheries.

Departmental Expenditure.

Employment Action Plan.

Departmental Expenditure.

Work Permits.

Job Creation.

Work Permits.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Expenditure.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Budget Submissions.

Transport Investment Plan.

Public Transport.

Departmental Expenditure.

Rail Services.

Driving Tests.

Air Services.

Noise Emission Standards.

Road Safety.

Road Network.

Road Traffic Offences.

Light Rail Project.

Traffic Management.

Road Network.

National Development Plan.

Driving Tests.

Departmental Expenditure.

Community Development.

Departmental Expenditure.

Farm Waste Management.

World Trade Negotiations.

Grant Payments.

Animal Diseases.

Beef Exports.

Road Traffic Offences.

Departmental Expenditure.

Visa Applications.

Freedom of Information.

Garda Operations.

Garda Investigations.

Visa Applications.

Garda Strength.

Child Care Services.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Training.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Communications.

Garda Training.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Equipment.

Garda Investigations.

Garda Deployment.

Proposed Legislation.

Garda Investigations.

Registration of Title.

National Women’s Strategy.

School Transport.

Departmental Expenditure.

Special Educational Needs.

School Management.

School Transport.

Third Level Education.

Multi-Denominational Schools.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Grant Payments.

Schools Building Projects.

Radon Gas.

School Staffing.

Adult Education.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Agencies.

Psychological Service.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Hare Coursing.

Architectural Heritage.

Waste Management.

Local Authority Housing.

Budget Submissions.

Grant Payments.

Health and Safety Issues.

Planning Issues.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

Paidir.
Prayer.

Mr. Kenny:  Yesterday in this House, Opposition Deputies exercised their rights to ask questions about the death of a man in Monaghan General Hospital last Friday. In doing so, Deputies reflected the outrage of people all over the country at the fact that a man could die in hospital from a condition which was treatable by the medical staff around him. Far from receiving satisfactory answers, we got a drip-feed of incomplete information. It is incredible that four days after this tragic death, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach did not know that beds were available in Drogheda hospital. It is perfectly obvious that the health services and the competence of the health authorities in the north east are now in a complete mess. The Government has been warned repeatedly about this, but no action was taken politically to accept responsibility and see that competence was delivered. Deputy Crawford produced a letter in this House on 4 October which was sent out to GPs in the Cavan area. It stated that no patient should be sent into the hospital for emergency treatment because of trolleys and an inability to deal with them. It is incomprehensible that a man could have been allowed to die when personnel and medical staff [2]were available with the necessary skills to carry out a vital life saving operation on him.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the protocols laid down for Drogheda, Monaghan and Cavan hospitals impose limitations on what can be done and the procedures that can be carried out? Does he accept that these protocols cause great confusion about what actually can be done? Does he accept that what is needed here is political direction to bring clarity to the situation? Yesterday, I raised the fact that under section 10 of the 2004 Act, the Minister for Health and Children is entitled to give a directive to the Health Service Executive in circumstances like this to the effect that no administrative procedure should prevent skilled surgeons and competent medical people from carrying out a life-saving operation. Will the Taoiseach see to it that such a directive is given under the law by the Minister for Health and Children to bring clarity and certainty to a situation like this? Skilled people in Monaghan General Hospital had to stand around and watch a patient die because of an administrative blockage. That is a scandal, which rests politically with the Taoiseach and the Government. Under the Act, he is entitled to bring clarity to the situation and I ask him to confirm that this morning.

[3]The Taoiseach:  We had a long debate about this yesterday, but I wish to express again our sincere sympathy to the family of Patrick Walsh, who died tragically in Monaghan last week. Deputy Kenny is right in that all the facts are not known. That is precisely why the Tánaiste announced yesterday — I reiterated it later — that Mr. Patrick Declan Carey, consultant surgeon at Belfast City Hospital and an honorary senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast will carry out an independent and external review of the circumstance surrounding Mr. Walsh’s death. That review will be completed, a report will be issued and will be made public. I look forward to the review finding an answer to the question as to the beds available in the region and what the circumstances were in Monaghan General Hospital. Deputy Kenny has come to his conclusion about the circumstances, but I would rather wait to see what happens.

There was an examination of this matter last year. A report was prepared by a steering group established by the former health board in the area. That steering group was representative of all the key stakeholders, including consultant representation in surgery, medicine and radiology from the hospitals. The recommendations of that steering group were unanimously approved by the members of the group. It recommended that major and emergency surgery should be carried out in Cavan General Hospital and that Monaghan General Hospital should provide selective, elective surgery. The recommendations refer to advice from the Royal College of Surgeons.

There are protocols in place, but no protocols prevent doctors doing what is right for patients. They never did and never will.

Mr. Crawford:  They did earlier last year.

The Taoiseach:  Who was in the hospital at the time, who was watching and monitoring will all come out in the report. I will not comment on that. Professor Drumm has already stated that the issues around the hospital have been the subject of some considerable debate and that the HSE is working to solve them.

My view is that to give political directives on these issues is wrong. It is not for us to direct. If there are issues of resources or policy required, the Tánaiste and the Department will do whatever they can in that regard. She and her officials are dealing with all these issues. If I came in here every morning announcing or defending political directives for individual hospitals, or interfering with protocols governing the running of hospitals, that would be entirely wrong.

Mr. Glennon:  Hear, hear.

[4]The Taoiseach:  It is very sad when anyone dies, but it is wrong to intervene politically. It is right that we provide resources and staff, and we have a policy unit in the Department that works with the HSE. However, although Deputy Kenny might believe that the solution to every problem is to give political directions, I will not go down that road.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny should be allowed to reply without interruption.

Mr. Connolly:  Consultants have stated the system is not working.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny without interruption. It is leaders’ questions.

Mr. Connolly:  The system is not working.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Connolly to resume his seat. There are other ways in which Deputy Connolly can raise this issue. He spoke on the Adjournment last night. Deputy Kenny without interruption.

Mr. Kenny:  If the Taoiseach is not prepared to give political direction, that is a clear indication he is on his way out of office. The Taoiseach should note that I did not arrive at any conclusion about Monaghan hospital. I did not ask him to issue an individual direction in respect of any hospital. We are talking about the competence of the health service and the health authority and about 200,000 patients in that region.

Persons of skill and medical experience were unable to operate on Mr. Walsh, who bled to death in Monaghan hospital. They could not operate because of an administrative blockage which can be cleared for this hospital and for every hospital under section 10 of the Health Act. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children is entitled to so do if she wishes.

As this matter is so confused, perhaps the Taoiseach will explain why a surgeon in Monaghan this year, the same person who could have carried out the operation on Mr. Pat Joe Walsh, was criticised by hospital management and the Health Service Executive for carrying out such an operation. If the Tánaiste wishes to give the Taoiseach a briefing, I will wait until she is finished.

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

Mr. Wilkinson:  She will give Deputy Kenny directions.

Mr. Kenny:  It has not yet concluded because the Tánaiste is giving directions to the Taoiseach. [5]Does the Taoiseach agree, as he did last year, that there should be independence and objectivity when assessing cases like this? If a train crashes or if a building collapses, a special investigative team is used. The Health and Safety Authority has such competence. There is no patient authority service and no health ombudsman who can act with complete objectivity and independence. While I do not decry Mr. Carey’s qualifications, this should apply as a matter of competence and as a matter of course.

Will the Taoiseach see to it that a general directive is given under the Act so that this situation does not recur in any hospital for any patient, in other words, if someone is dying who can be saved, everything that needs to be done in a hospital to save that person will be done whatever the circumstances? Second, will the Taoiseach remove the confusion that exists because of protocols and other matters and put in place a health ombudsman and a patient service authority that will see to it that these situations can be investigated quickly, professionally, independently and objectively——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s time is long over.

Mr. Kenny:  ——so that competence can be achieved in the delivery of the health service? The Government lays down policy while Professor Drumm and the Health Service Executive are merely those who must deliver it.

The Taoiseach:  As for the two points raised, while I do not take issue with Deputy Kenny, we should wait to find out what happened——

Mr. McCormack:  Wait until it happens again.

Ms O. Mitchell:  This is not the first time this has happened.

The Taoiseach:  ——in Monaghan that night. The Deputy has made an assumption and I do not blame him for so doing. He has assumed as he stated in his earlier contribution, that the consultants were present watching the man die. We should wait to find out what were the circumstances. We should wait to find out if protocols or a policy direction from either the HSE or the Department had an effect in this instance. We should wait. While I have learned of some of the circumstances, I am not prepared to state what I have heard until I see a report by an eminent person. I do not believe there will be any argument about that. I noted Deputy Kenny’s comments about Dr. Carey.

Mr. McCormack:  What will happen then?

[6]The Taoiseach:  The second point has some validity and I have answered on this issue previously. As far as the hospitals of Monaghan, Cavan, Drogheda and Dundalk are concerned, for many years we have heard different people on the health boards as well as Members from all sides of this House talk about the issues, debates and occasionally arguments pertaining to that region. People have argued for their own hospital and area and about how the issue should best be handled. As far as policy is concerned and as to how Professor Drumm, his colleagues, the Tánaiste and I want to get services right in that region, I am sure the Deputy has heard what Professor Drumm and others have said about this issue in the past. We have also heard what the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has to say.

Some people have asked why the Royal College of Surgeons should have a role in dictating such issues. From a policy base, someone must make professional assessments as to what is the best way to give treatment to patients in an area, to have the units properly staffed with surgical and medical consultants, with backup ICU beds——

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not the criterion used.

Mr. Connaughton:  What does the Taoiseach think?

The Taoiseach:  ——given the population base and what specialties can deal with. These arguments have been fairly well thrashed out. As late as last year, a steering group unanimously approved the present basis.

Finally, there are no protocols or directions from the HSE, the Tánaiste, myself or the Department to prevent a doctor acting in the best interest of a patient——

Mr. Crawford:  The consultant was challenged the last time.

The Taoiseach:  ——in a certain set of circumstances. If the doctors were present and were challenged, I am confident they will explain that and the full facts will become available. I wish to end as I began, by stating that the tragedy is that Mr. Patrick Walsh is deceased, which I deeply regret.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Three years ago, a 14 year old boy, Brian Rossiter, was arrested along with two other boys for public order offences in Clonmel. He was brought to Clonmel Garda station where he was put in a cell on his own. The following morning, he was found unconscious in his cell and taken to hospital, first in Clonmel and then to Cork. Three days later he died, never having regained consciousness.

[7]One of the children arrested with Brian Rossiter has made a formal complaint that he was assaulted by a garda while he was in the cells. He states that Brian had stated that he too had been assaulted. The gardaí have at all times claimed that Brian was intoxicated by a mixture of drink and drugs and this information found its way into the autopsy report. We now know that the State Pathologist relied solely upon this information which came from Garda sources and had no toxicology test results when she wrote her report. Subsequent toxicology tests show no evidence of either drink or drugs in Brian’s body.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has apologised for the manner in which his Department dealt with pleas from the Rossiter family. However, what baffles everyone concerned is why the Commissions of Investigation Act, which was put through by the Minister only 18 months ago, has not been used to inquire into this situation. Instead, he has used obsolete and little known legislation from 1924. The legislation which he has decided to invoke allows him to inquire into “the truth of any charge of complaint of neglect or violation of duty preferred against a member of the Garda Síochána”. No one, the Rossiter family included, has preferred a charge against any member of the Garda Síochána. Who decided on the seven gardaí being inquired into on this list furnished to Mr. Hartnett, the senior counsel? It was not drawn up in consultation with or by the Rossiter family. Is the Minister making complaints against these seven gardaí? Why are certain gardaí who were involved on the night in question not included on the list?

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

Mr. Rabbitte:  Experts believe that to choose to use this legislation is to choose an inquiry that will prevent questions being asked and answered, rather than establishing the truth or allowing it to be revealed. If we passed legislation a year and a half ago called the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 that provides for a certain type of speedy, more efficient and certainly cheaper inquiry than we have been accustomed to, why is the Minister not using it instead of going back to the Dublin Police Act 1924, which he sought to apply in the case of Dean Lyons but had to change his mind? The impression one gets is that the Minister is either so chuffed with his discovery of this Act of which nobody knew that he wants to use it somewhere or the truth is being deliberately prevented from coming out.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister is very anxious that the truth comes out. As I understand it, he is very satisfied that the inquiry, as constituted, [8]will allow Mr. Hartnett the powers to summon witnesses and examine them under oath and all aspects of the arrest and detention of Brian Rossiter. He may require that any serving or retired member of the Garda be called to answer questions under oath, which is not a question of prosecutions. He may require persons other than gardaí to give evidence and is empowered to make findings and reach conclusions. It is the Minister’s intention to publish the report. Whatever about the arguments regarding whether the 1924 Act or the recent inquiries Act should be used, it is the Minister’s intention to do all of the above.

An argument that could also be relevant to the other case is that this is in keeping with the principles employed by the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. There have been some complaints that the inquiry will be held in private. Mr. Hartnett has indicated to the Minister he intends to hold his inquiry in private but this is in keeping with the principles employed by the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 also. The object of this general principle is to make the proceedings less adversarial. The Minister has indicated he intends to publish the report of the Rossiter inquiry.

Deputy Rabbitte has raised this issue a number of times over the years and I accept his bona fides when he says that he wants the case investigated. An investigation into the matter is being undertaken by an eminent senior counsel which allows all of the issues that have been raised to be investigated. This is important. No one can refuse to contribute or be investigated by the inquiry, be they gardaí, former gardaí or other individuals, and the conclusions will be made public. The Minister’s intention is to ensure this matter is dealt with fully to the satisfaction of the family.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach said the Minister is satisfied that this method of inquiry is adequate. The Minister was similarly satisfied about this method of inquiry in the Dean Lyons case and he needed to change his view. No other body I have discussed this matter with is satisfied and the Taoiseach does not appear to understand that there are only specific questions, which are listed in the correspondence from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which, incidentally, came from Garda headquarters. Only specific questions can be raised against specific gardaí.

Why are there only seven gardaí, why these particular seven, why exclude gardaí involved on the night and who was it that made these complaints in the first place? The unfortunate Rossiter family does not even know enough to make a complaint against any garda and has not done so. This Act expressly requires that one must be able to lodge such a complaint or there cannot be an inquiry but the Minister has ploughed ahead when his Commissions of Inves[9]tigation Act 2004 would seem to be tailor-made for this situation.

We are talking about a 14 year old boy who died as a result of detention in a Garda station. We are talking about a situation where the State pathologist relied on information from the Garda to the effect he was drugged and intoxicated when subsequent toxicology tests showed he had neither drugs nor alcohol in his blood. This is a matter of grave public concern.

Mr. M. Higgins:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Why will the Minister not address the House and answer who selected the seven gardaí, who made complaints against them and why is he going down this road when he needed to back off in the case of Dean Lyons? This legislation has never been used before. It is very odd and I ask that the Taoiseach have it examined before it proceeds any further as it is quite farcical. I regret that the focus of commentary on it so far has been on a different issue, an issue that I incidentally agree with the Minister about. It is a diversion. The real issue is the terms of reference of this inquiry.

Ms Shortall:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  There is no argument about the last issue Deputy Rabbitte raised. All I can say to him on the information I have, and I will check the point he made, is that the inquiry, as constituted, will allow Mr. Hartnett to summon any witnesses and examine them under oath on all aspects of the arrest and all aspects of the detention of Brian. He may require any serving or retired member of the Garda Síochána, not just listed members, to answer questions under oath, which I assume includes everyone who would have been available that night, called to the scene, involved in the arrest and in the station. I understand this is what is meant but I will check. He may require persons other than gardaí to give evidence, which will obviously be anyone who has any information on this matter. He is empowered to make findings and reach conclusions. It is the Minister’s intention to publish the report.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Why go back 80 years to the 1924 Act?

The Taoiseach:  As Deputy Jim O’Keeffe knows, we use legislation here every day that goes back years.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We introduced a new Act last year.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

Mr. Stagg:  What about modern legislation?

[10]The Taoiseach:  If all these powers are available, what is restricting Mr. Hartnett in any way from taking up the point? I have heard what Deputy Rabbitte said and will raise the matter with the Minister but, on the information I have been given, it seems that Mr. Hartnett is not restricted.

Mr. J. Higgins:  In recent years, many local authorities, when giving planning permission for new residential communities, are dictating that crucial public services, such as water supply, sewerage systems, road repairs, public lighting and care of public open spaces, are maintained by private management companies rather than the local authorities themselves.

Mr. Stagg:  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Higgins:  This is becoming the standard in the Dublin local authorities, County Kildare and a number of other areas. The upshot is that mainly young working people buying their first homes are saddled with huge management company fees of up to €500 or more in the case of apartments——

Mr. Stagg:  It is in the thousands of euro.

Mr. J. Higgins:  ——which are demanded by the companies for these services on top of their mortgages, child care and transport costs.

Tyrellstown in Fingal is a new community of 2,000 homes built in the past four years and will have a population of 5,000 or 6,000 soon, which is the size of many medium sized towns around the State. It is twice the size of Dingle town, for example, or perhaps I should say An Daingean.

Mr. Stagg:  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Higgins:  However, by the underhanded means by which the local authorities effect this wholesale privatisation of services, the management companies are foisted on the householders and a new local tax is levied. This is a significant inequity because in neighbouring estates built a few years earlier that may include a “millionaires row”, services from the local authorities are provided through general taxation, as should be the case.

  11 o’clock

It is also a scam because the directors of the management companies for up to the first five years are the developers who built the estates, sold the houses and made massive profits from the new young house owners who, before these management companies were foisted on them, would have had developers maintain these basic services for a period of years until the estate was taken in charge by the local authorities. They are now dragging householders to court, demanding money from them and scaring them with intimid[11]ating letters from debt collectors. If these management companies were mooted in the 1960s, the mohair suited developers who financed Fianna Fáil would have thought it a Tacateer heaven but they would not have dared implement it.

It is a major instance of a new rip-off and inequity. A revolt will begin because these scare tactics make the reality obvious. Is privatising pubic services in this way and putting a new local tax on hard-pressed taxpayers a conscious Government policy? During an adjournment debate Deputy Noel Ahern, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and known to the Taoiseach, told Deputy Catherine Murphy that the general matters administered by management companies were never the responsibility of local authorities. In fact, all these services were the responsibility of local authorities. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to immediately conduct an investigation? Will he also demand that local authorities desist from this practice and abolish the existing management companies that are the source of this inequity?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  I am aware of the old system which, as the Deputy outlined was that the council would not take charge until the developer, builder or contractor was completely finished building the estate. That worked effectively. Many years ago it took a long time.

Ms Burton:  It still does. It takes ten years.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy mentioned areas such as Kilnamanagh, which took 20 years to be taken in charge. Many others took an extremely long time.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Tánaiste will explain to the Taoiseach why that happened.

The Taoiseach:  Throughout the city private companies increasingly operate and take charge.

Ms Burton:  They are not taking charge.

Mr. Stagg:  They are not taking charge. They are prevented from taking charge.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  I am trying to answer the question. Some management companies can be quite good and effective but many of them are not and are quite difficult.

[12]This is not a Government policy. Local authorities have the powers to deal with these issues. It is not controlled or directed by central Government. If local authorities want to act in a different way or impose restrictions they can do so when issuing planning permission. A valid argument exists on whether legislation should govern management companies because many of them——

Ms Burton:  The builder’s brother.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption. Deputy Higgins submitted a question. He had two minutes in which to submit it and used four minutes to do so. It was done with courtesy. The Taoiseach is entitled to answer.

The Taoiseach:  The Opposition parties could usefully direct their councillors in these areas to act on this as between them they have a majority.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  Fine Gael——

Mr. Stagg:  Councillors do not give out planning permission.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  Fine Gael and Labour are responsible for these issues by and large because they do nothing about them.

An argument can be made for introducing legislation on management companies. The fact that no legislation governs them arose as an issue in Dublin Corporation. Legislation should be in place.

Some charges fall within the management companies’ service charges and that is a different issue. The point made by Deputy Joe Higgins is that some management companies operate effectively and others do not. They impose a large charge——

Mr. Stagg:  It is a rip-off. They do not do anything except cut the grass.

The Taoiseach:  Councillors from the Opposition parties form the majority in these councils and they should try to be more proactive in dealing with the issue.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Unelected managers of local authorities impose this as a condition and the fundamental inequity is that young people now purchasing a home under great duress and at high cost are saddled with a local tax of between €500 and €1,000 per year. In the first five years it is payable to the developer to clean up his or her act and finish the estate so they can move on. [13]Kilnamanagh was an unfortunate example for the Taoiseach to use. It was built but not handed over by Brennan and McGowan and others who are well-known to his party.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to mention names of people who are outside the House.

Mr. J. Higgins:  They have been mentioned elsewhere. Under this system, in the example illustrated by the Taoiseach these particular developers would get fees for 20 years. The inequity is compounded by the fact that management companies’ contracts are presented to young house buyers at the same time as they sign contracts for their new homes. That is a time of immense stress and the contracts are signed under duress because the people involved need a home.

I sound a warning to the Taoiseach. At this stage this might affect tens of thousands of homes and residents. It is becoming a serious issue. Deputy Catherine Murphy, Independent Deputies, other Deputies and I will make this a major issue in the near future and in the lead up to the next election. Thousands of young home owners tell us they cannot endure the situation and they cannot afford the current levels. Those levels will become intolerable because when the sewage and water systems will need major refurbishment in ten or 15 years time, the home owners will be saddled with these debts. We want them abolished and that is what I want to hear from the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach:  This involves a number of issues. A good and valid point on the control of management companies and how they are governed was made by Dublin city manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald, and I know that issue is being examined.

The point made with regard to local authorities allowing developments and zones is not correct because they have power and a direct influence at local level when dealing with these issues. Management companies may have legitimate charges such as refuse charges, which everyone pays and which the Deputy knows will not be abolished. However, where these companies undertake to carry out responsibilities and perform services, and charge young people and others but then do not do the work, a question is raised on introducing regulations to force them to carry out that work.

Mr. J. Higgins:  They work down the road.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  That is a different point.

[14]Mr. Stagg:  They only cut the grass. That is all they do.

The Taoiseach:  Developers should not be allowed to charge and then not provide services, which happens in some areas. In other areas management companies provide extremely good services. They maintain the recreational standards of the area, provide leisure facilities and do gardening.

Mr. Stagg:  Where?

The Taoiseach:  In many areas.

Mr. Stagg:  Name one.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  In many areas in my constituency not to mind elsewhere. Overall, the question of legislation will be examined but local authorities should not run away from their responsibilities.

Mr. Stagg:  Tell the Minister to inform them of that.

The Taoiseach:  They have the power to direct and control these issues in many cases.

  1.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the implementation of the Nally report on the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor’s office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24232/05]

The Taoiseach:  The recommendations of the Nally report regarding the re-organisation of the Chief State Solicitor’s office have been largely implemented. Agreement with the unions involved was achieved during 2001. The criminal prosecution functions undertaken by the Chief State Solicitor’s office were transferred to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions at the end of 2001.

A common promotion pool within the two offices, between the CSSO and the solicitors’ division of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for professional solicitor and technical promotion posts formed part of the agreement and this now operates. A negotiating process with local State solicitors is currently under way seeking to agree on the transfer of the service to the DPP. A review of the current workload of local [15]State solicitors and their expense base is almost completed. Enabling legislation and appropriate legislative provisions are contained in the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005, which was signed by the President on 9 July 2005.

Mr. Kenny:  Last year the Taoiseach informed the House that there were 17 vacancies in the Chief State Solicitor’s office of which nine were professional, five were technical and three were support posts. Does he have the information on what posts were filled or are those positions still unfilled?

Perhaps the Taoiseach has information about the amount of work outsourced from the Chief State Solicitor’s office to private solicitors. Is there cost involved for the taxpayer and if so, how much is it? If work is to be outsourced is this because of lack of expertise arising from manpower difficulties in the Chief State Solicitor’s office?

The Taoiseach:  The CSSO has recruited mostly additional approved staff. The staffing complement has averaged about 225 over the past year. The office currently has 12 vacancies comprising one professional post, eight technical and three support staff posts.

Similarly, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has recruited additional staff, as sanctioned, and currently has a serving staff complement of approximately 170 full time equivalents. I understand there are only one or two vacancies in the DPP’s office, which are in the process of being filled. On the question of outsourcing, there is no reason for not contracting out legal work if the CSSO wants to do this. In the recent past it has contracted out some specific cases where the workload involved was beyond the capacity of the office to handle. It was not that it did not possess the technical expertise, but rather it related to the volume of work. The office has made extensive use of counsel, also, in dealing with its day to day case load.

As regards the DPP’s office, more prosecution work is outsourced to barristers in private practice than in most other common law jurisdictions. The tendency in other common law jurisdictions is to make greater use of in-house lawyers, but the DPP’s office still outsources a large amount of work to private practice.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach recall that when he launched the report on the regulatory impact analysis, RIA, in July, he also announced the establishment of a new business regulation group? In the course of that he spoke of the burdens faced by the Irish business community in terms of regulations. Can he outline to the House——

[16]An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not relevant to Question No. 1.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I beg the House’s pardon.

Mr. Rabbitte:  As regards Question No. 1, did the Taoiseach see the story in The Irish Times about an extradition warrant for a paedophile, which went missing?

The Taoiseach:  I did not.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I thought it was the type of thing that might stick in his mind, if he had seen it. Will he comment on how it happened——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter does not arise out of this question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  ——in the context of the efficacy of the Chief State Solicitor’s office?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It does not arise out of this question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  We are talking about the implementation of the Nally report for the reorganisation and efficiency-——

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy has a specific question, it should be addressed to the relevant line Minister. It certainly does not arise out of this question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Ceann Comhairle may relax. The Taoiseach is well able to handle it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach may well be able to handle it, but he may not be out of order any more than the Deputy.

Mr. Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle does not disagree with the Deputy’s confidence in the Taoiseach.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Is the Taoiseach aware of the case to which I refer?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter does not arise out of this question. This question deals with the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor’s office. It is a single question in the name of Deputy Kenny. If Deputies were to raise every case of justice in the country we should be here until midnight.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The whole purpose of the Nally report was to ensure that these organs of the State are functioning to optimum efficiency. I am merely pointing to one case that appears to suggest that they are not functioning as efficiently as we thought, after the implementation of the Nally [17]report. With respect, I suggest this is a perfectly legitimate way to ask the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair has ruled on the matter. As the Deputy well knows, the question is only specific in so far as it refers to the Taoiseach’s responsibility, not that of line Ministers.

  2.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24233/05]

  3.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the input his Department had into the report on the introduction of regulatory impact analysis which he launched on 11 July 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24386/05]

  4.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25212/05]

  5.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the progress to date in implementing the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform. [25356/05]

  6.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26558/05]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.

As regards the OECD report, I refer Deputies to previous answers where I have explained that many of its recommendations related to specific sectoral issues. I said the appropriate Ministers with responsibility for those sectoral areas are reporting directly to the House on progressing the OECD recommendations.

I have also explained that one of the key recommendations of the OECD report was the development of a national policy on better regulation. In January 2004, the Government published the White Paper, Regulating Better. The White Paper sets out six core principles of better regulation and a detailed action plan on how these principles will be translated in terms of how we design, implement and review legislation and regulations. Accordingly, it is the White Paper which contains the thrust of our efforts on regulatory reform, rather than the original OECD report.

[18]Progress has been made in a number of key areas set out in the White Paper, including: the establishment of a better regulation group to oversee the implementation of the commitments and action plan arising from the White Paper; greater clarity and accessibility to legislation through a rolling programme of statute law revision; the development and publication last July of guidelines on consultation to assist not only those public servants who may be running consultation processes, but also those parties who may be interested in participating in consultation processes; and the introduction in June this year of regulatory impact analysis, RIA.

Many of our EU partners and the European Commission have had various models of RIA in place for several years. The introduction of RIA in Ireland was a key commitment in the White Paper. We have adopted a model of RIA that has been tailored — following a pilot process — to take account of Ireland’s regulatory environment and best practice elsewhere.

RIA is an assessment of the likely effects of a proposed new regulation or regulatory change. It involves a detailed analysis to ascertain whether a proposed new regulation will have the desired impact. It also helps to identify any unintended effects or hidden costs associated with regulation. Impact assessment is widely recognised as an important means of achieving better regulation, by improving the quality of analysis and consultation that takes place before decisions are made.

Following a Government decision on 21 June this year, RIA is now to be applied to all new proposals for primary legislation that involve changes to the regulatory framework and to significant statutory instruments as well as to draft EU directives and significant EU draft regulations when these are published. The latter will contribute to Ireland’s negotiating position on proposed EU legislation, by highlighting effects and costs that could have particular implications for the State.

Better regulation is one aspect of the wider public service modernisation programme and my Department has lead responsibility for supporting and progressing implementation of the better regulation agenda. My Department was involved in the development of the Irish model of regulatory impact analysis and chaired the steering group of Departments that piloted the RIA model. The findings of the steering group and the experiences of the pilot process were central to the decision by Government to introduce RIA across all Departments and Government offices from 21 June this year. There are many benefits to RIA and these are clearly set out in the report on the introduction of regulatory impact analysis, published by my Department in July.

While responsibility for conducting a regulatory impact analysis falls to the relevant Departments considering the introduction of legislation, [19]or which may have lead responsibility in specific sectoral areas, my Department is providing support and advice in this regard.

Mr. Kenny:  I am not sure what that lengthy reply means. In 1991 the Competition Authority was established, in 1993 the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2001, the Commission for Aviation Regulation and in 2002, ComReg. In 1989 the Health and Safety Authority was set up and in 2001, the Health Insurance Authority. In that year, also, we had the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and in 2004 the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority, IAASA. The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, was established in 2003 and the National Taxi Regulator in 2004.

That is a complete set of small empires that have an important duty to perform. I understand that. Will the Taoiseach not agree that there is a case for a single really powerful regulator, which could benefit from economies of scale as well as the pooling of knowledge and expertise and which employs a more focused degree of accountability to all of these areas that must surely benefit consumers in every stratum of society? In its report, the OECD identified two specific areas, telecoms and energy, as being of particular concern. Does the Taoiseach agree that progress in both areas has been dismal and that, as a consequence, the nation is losing in so far as regulation is concerned?

The Taoiseach:  If I can separate the issues, the legislation listed by the Deputy covers a broad range of specialist areas. IFSRA was established for a particular reason in the financial area, likewise the Health and Safety Authority and many of the other regulatory bodies.

I will deal first with regulatory impact analysis before coming to the issue of a super-regulator. Under regulatory impact analysis, before introducing legislation, statutory instruments or new powers the issue is examined to find out if there is another simpler way of dealing with it, whether more bureaucracy is needed or if legislation is already in place which takes the issue into account so that we end up with fewer rules and less regulation. There are areas, including health and safety, for which one must have regulators. For example, IFSRA is needed for financial reasons and prudential control of the country. The purpose of this analysis is to ensure legislation is as simple as possible. The solution to every problem is not more regulation and legislation. At some of the meetings and discussions on this issue I attended people asked if this type of analysis did not always take place. It does not because over the years people sat down and decided to regulate to solve problems. Later on, however, nobody implemented much of the regu[20]lation. The aim is at least to have a process in place.

The Deputy’s point on having a super-regulator is different and has some merit. The recommendations to merge a number of regulators and create a larger, multi-sector regulatory body was made by the enterprise strategy group last year in its report, Ahead of the Curve. The recommendation was considered by the better regulation group and discussed at some length under the chairmanship of my Department which is tasked with implementing the White Paper.

The White Paper recognises the value of ongoing assessment of the possibilities of rationalising the present system. My Department accepts that strengthening ties between the regulators and the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs and the Competition Authority would be beneficial. Some cost savings would arise from the super-regulator approach by having shared facilities and expertise but, according to officials of my Department, given the disparate nature of some of the functions that independent regulators deal with, from licensing to travel agents to the building of new power stations, the extent of the potential synergies may be over-stated. The matter should still be examined. The question of the public and political accountability of any super-regulator would also need careful consideration.

The debate about the number of regulators sometimes misses the point because the real issue is the quality of the decision making by regulators. Are we getting better outcomes in key regulated areas? This will be the debate in the future. Is it better to have experts acting as regulators and, if not, why not? Are the regulators fulfilling their functions both in respect of the players in the market and consumers? Do regulators have sufficient powers and clear mandates? Can we strengthen their powers of sanction? Can we limit recourse to the courts by parties wishing to frustrate regulatory decisions made in the public interest?

The view of my Department is that answering these questions is a difficult task and the solutions are likely to go beyond the simple issue of the number of regulators. After all, I do not want to be here in a couple of years addressing the problem of overly powerful super-regulators or, for that matter, anybody else.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We do not want the Taoiseach to be here in two years, or two months for that matter.

The Taoiseach:  Maybe the Deputy’s party will be on this side of the House.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We will certainly give it a try.

[21]Mr. Stanton:  Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin together.

Mr. Martin:  Sinn Féin would have a different form of regulation.

The Taoiseach:  It would not be big into regulators.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Time will tell.

The Taoiseach:  It worries me that the solution in almost every area is to get a regulator. This brings up a mass of issues. It is worth posing questions about the quality of decisions. Things have become more complex. Is the quality of decisions much greater than it used to be? The issue is complex and I accept that in some areas there is a huge amount of data, presentations and issues.

We cannot have a regulator in every single area and will have to try to give regulators multiple roles. Even if the population in 15 years is 5 million, it will not be huge. Do we need to end up with 30 or 40 regulators? I doubt it so there is merit in the super-regulator idea. I assure Deputy Kenny that the issue is being addressed by the better regulation group.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Although I inadvertently gave the Taoiseach prior notice of one of my two supplementary questions, he did not answer the question I posed earlier. I apologised to the Chair out of turn. I will put the question again. Does the Taoiseach recall that when he launched the report at the introduction of regulatory impact analysis in July last, he also announced the establishment of a new business regulation group and, in doing so, spoke of the burdens on the business community in terms of regulation? What does the Taoiseach understand or believe these burdens to be?

Regarding the business regulation group, will it include members of professional bodies such as barristers and solicitors? Does the Taoiseach not agree that where the legal profession is concerned, the problem is not regulation by the State but the fact that its professionals are self-regulating and a law unto themselves? Does he share the widespread concern at the apparent double charging of residential abuse victims by members of the legal profession? What are the implications of these revelations for regulation of the legal profession? Given that many more issues of questionable practice by solicitors arise, will the Taoiseach require, as I believe to be necessary, that the spotlight of inquiry be turned on the legal profession and the practices of solicitors, rather than accommodating many of them, particularly some for whom greed is obviously one of their primary interests?

[22]The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will announce the composition and membership of the business regulation forum very shortly. Once the announcement is made, the forum will immediately become operational, all arrangements have been put in place. It is envisaged that the forum will advise the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on regulatory issues as they impact on business and competitiveness and, in particular, on problems arising from outdated, inefficient and disproportionate regulation. The group will examine areas where business can be more competitive so that we can keep Ireland at the cutting edge of leading technologies and business and ensure we are not disadvantaged by competitiveness gains made against us in other European countries or parts of the world. It will be a very useful group.

The business regulation forum is a separate issue from the issue of professions raised by the Deputy. The Competition Authority is nearing the end of its reports on some of the professions, including one on the legal profession. These are the issues the Deputy raises. The study will take account of practices, including some of those over which the Deputy correctly stated the professions are self-regulatory and control their own terms and rules. There are issues in the public domain on those matters at present and, as I stated recently, if they are not sorted out then the issue of legislation will arise. I hope they can be sorted out within their own terms.

We must deal with the issues that arise from the competitiveness council’s final report. It has spent years working on this. It has issued interim reports, on eight professions as I recall, and its remaining reports are to be issued before Christmas.

Mr. Sargent:  On regulatory reform, has the Government a definition of the role of a regulator in the sense of whether he or she will be primarily a status quo caretaker or an agent for change, for example, a transformer, as one might say, in the case of the energy regulator, to a less carbon intensive energy system in this country? Does the Government have a view of where the driver for change will be? Is it with the regulator or with the Minister, and does the latter thereby have a role in ensuring the regulator is co-operating in that regard?

The Taoiseach indicated in his reply that part of the regulatory impact analysis was to highlight costs. In what way does he measure the costs? In the case of the groceries order, for example, is the cost the loss of farmers, small retailers——

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question to the line Minister concerned might be more appropriate.

[23]Mr. Sargent:  I will take the opportunity because I see the line Minister is listening carefully, but I want to ask the Taoiseach specifically because in his reply he said that the regulatory impact analysis was to look at costs. I want to know what he meant by that. If one abolishes the groceries order, the cost is high in terms of loss of small-scale retailers and food producers and I want to know whether that is included in his analysis.

The Taoiseach:  I do not want to go into what the RIA means but there is a need for more competition in the domestic market in many areas because that will drive down costs to the advantage of consumers.

Mr. Sargent:  Is it only costs to consumers?

The Taoiseach:  It is the cost base. With more competition, the cost base will improve. It will help everybody. The cost base of the country will help competitiveness, primarily consumers.

Mr. Sargent:  Not everybody.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  To give a fuller position on it, there are many issues where RIA comes into play, for example, significant negative impacts on national competitiveness or socially excluded or vulnerable groups, examination of significant environment change, significant policy change in an economic market will have a significant impact on competition and consumers, proposals that will disproportionately impinge on the rights of citizens or impose a disproportionate compliance burden, or the cost to the Exchequer or third parties is significant or disproportionate. A full RIA will be required when one of the factors to which I referred applies and these are the factors that will drive an RIA. When these difficulties arise, an RIA will be done.

The Deputy asked about the forces of change. We all have a role to play — Ministers, Departments, State agencies and the regulators — in bringing change and looking at new ideas. The regulator is in a position where those whom he regulates make detailed reports to him. These are the substantial reports on how they want to act and why they are doing so. He then must determine whether a report is one to which he is prepared to accede and whether it makes sense. He has a key role in all that. He is not the only one to decide the matter but he has a useful role to play in it.

Mr. Sargent:  His is the lead role.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Rabbitte.

[24]The Taoiseach:  Yes, but legislation, which Deputy Sargent mentioned, comes from Government and Departments, and so does the policy.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  It is written by the regulator.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Rabbitte has been called.

The Taoiseach:  The policy units lie in Departments, but it does not——

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Not in energy.

The Taoiseach:  I hope the Departments have a key role to play. I hope they have not given away all their powers.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Would the Minister comment directly?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy Rabbitte and out of courtesy to colleagues in the House, Deputy Eamon Ryan should allow the Deputy called to submit his question.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I am just informing the Taoiseach.

Mr. Sargent:  No harm in a reality check.

Mr. Rabbitte:  To return to the recommendation of Ahead of the Curve, the enterprise strategy group’s recommendation for a super regulator, and the contrary view taken by the group in the Taoiseach’s Department, is the Taoiseach saying that the view of his group is that there should be no rationalisation of the existing 11 regulators or merely that it did not agree with the particular recommendation of Ahead of the Curve?

I am reminded by the entry to the House of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O’Malley, of the marvellous headline the Tánaiste received in The Irish Times on 25 April 2001, “Government to abolish curbs on pubs and pharmacies” within a year. Is there any progress to report on that and did the Minister of State make any recommendations on it?

Mr. T. O’Malley:  Does Deputy Rabbitte wish to abolish pharmacies? Is that what he is saying?

Mr. Rabbitte:  No, I do not. Unfortunately, I had to resort to them in recent weeks.

Mr. T. O’Malley:  I hope they looked after him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy submitted a question to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, he would not have the [25]Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, intervening.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Yes, perhaps the Ceann Comhairle has a point. On the Competition Authority and the various reports, lectures etc., what tangibly has been achieved? If there are anti-competitive practices in this economy, as is alleged, and there is anti-competitive activity to the extent suggested in certain significant sectors, why have more prosecutions not been advanced? Why has more action not been taken? For example, the only two cases that have gone to court are the one on pet food for chihuahuas and the one on the Irish League of Credit Unions. If I were seriously interested in tackling alleged anti-competitive activity in the financial services sector, I would not start with the credit unions. There are a number of other sectors I could mention. After all the fine lectures, the high profile public statements, etc. is it a little odd that it seems difficult to get a file to progress as far as taking on a particular dominant influence in several markets I could mention?

The Taoiseach:  A number of points were raised. For the reasons I have given, it was the view of the cross-departmental better regulation group that at this stage a super regulator was not the way to go. While that was the conclusion it reached for the reasons I have given, it was not entirely ruled out in that as new regulators came into play, they would be grouped where there was a suitable mix. Rather than having a separate regulator each time, wherever the group believed there was capacity, they would match them. The cross-departmental better regulation group went against the proposal of a super regulator, which Ahead of the Curve recommended. The RIA process has been in place since 21 June. Therefore, all new regulations and statutory instruments are being examined to see if there is another or better way to do them. That process is happening in all Departments and my Department assists any that need assistance. That part is done and under way.

The third point raised by the Deputy concerns a question that arises on another day. It is later down the line and concerns the Competition Authority’s examination of the professions. The authority has provided preliminary and draft reports on a number of professions. Final reports, including that on pharmacists, are on the way.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Tánaiste is a bit behind on the deadline of 25 April 2001, is she not?

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

The Taoiseach:  The report on the legal profession is also on the way. There were eight [26]reports in all and two or three final reports are coming forward. The senior person in the authority has moved, but most of the work was done before he left. These reports are to be finalised before the Christmas period.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, will have much reading to do, for a man unaccustomed to reading.

The Taoiseach:  It is not so much the reading that will be a challenge, but the implementation of the reports. We look forward to that because based on the interim reports, there will be some interesting challenges.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I wish to tease out with the Taoiseach the issue of the energy regulator. Is it not true the regulator, who previously as a civil servant had written the legislation that set up the regulatory office, established the office in such a way that the Minister cannot direct him on specific policy directions the office needs to take, whether on the issue of security of supply, where we have a huge threat with regard to peak and global oil production, on the issue of cost of energy, where we currently see huge cost increases, or environmental issues with regard to the future of climate change implications and energy policy? Is that not the reason legislation is pending which will amend the regulatory role to allow the Minister have a say? Does the Taoiseach think it was appropriate to give a regulator such freedom that the Minister cannot give directions to him or her?

The Taoiseach:  The Department is the policy initiator. The point I was making is that the Department does not want to be involved in the day to day decisions, but policy direction should rest with the Department, not with the agency. If the Deputy asked should a Department give away all its powers of influence to a regulator, I do not think it should.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Would the Taoiseach acknowledge——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should not interrupt the Taoiseach while he is speaking. The Deputy will have an opportunity to put a supplementary question. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat while the Taoiseach is on his feet.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy’s argument is that the Minister’s powers are gone and he does not have a say. With regard to either gas or electricity legislation, the policy work is still done within the Department but the regulator decides what movements are made in the market, for example, price increases and capital developments. The [27]regulator makes those decisions but that does not take away from the role of the Department and its input into policy. Departments are not involved in day to day direction of a regulator, nor can they overrule a regulator’s report. However, the initial policy is made within the Department.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Am I not correct that in this particular area the Minister cannot issue directions to the regulator on issues such as pricing? While the Taoiseach is right that the Department should have the ultimate say, the reality is that the legislation defines where the power lies. In this case the legislation does not allow the Minister to give directions on policy matters to the regulator. Is that not correct and is this not the reason we are amending the legislation?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is right. However, the initial policy in an area is devised by the Department. When a regulator issues a report, a Minister cannot change or direct that report, but he can set policy. The Deputy will say that this moves on into the regulator’s report and he cannot change that. The regulator, however, cannot just go ahead and ignore the legislation or policy issued by the Department.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of notices under Standing Order 31. I will call on Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office. Is Deputy Crowe in the House? He is not here. I call Deputy James Breen.

Mr. J. Breen:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, to allow the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to explain to this House why east Clare is the only area in the mid-west that has not got 24-hour ambulance cover despite having an excellent station at Scariff.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is Deputy Gormley in the House? The Deputy is not here. Is Deputy Boyle in the House? He is not here. I call Deputy Sargent.

Mr. Sargent:  Third time lucky. I seek the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, to address the latest example of fraudulent behaviour among some construction companies which, in spite of being in receipt of State contracts, refuse to pay sub-contractors, and the need for the Government — a Government of [28]low standards and vested interests — to reform its ways and apply ethical criteria to the way in which it awards State contracts in future while making sure Ballymun regeneration sub-contractors and many others who have already carried out work get paid promptly and properly.

Mr. Neville:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the placing of 150 children and teenagers in adult prisons since the beginning of 2005 in breach of international treaties which prohibit the detention of juveniles alongside adults.

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. a11, motion re report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on definition of parliamentary activities; No. 16, statements on quarterly national household survey, second quarter 2005 and the annual population and migration estimates; No. 15, Land Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 17, Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. 18, Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005 — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a11 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 16 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours and five minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 43, motion re draft animal remedies regulations 2005 (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re report of Committee on Procedure and Privileges agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16, statements on quarterly national household survey second quarter 2005 and the annual population and migration estimates agreed? Agreed.

[29]Mr. Kenny:  I have three questions for the Taoiseach. Last year we were promised legislation for a health information and safety authority. This authority would give advice and set down guidelines in respect of protocols etc. Are we likely to see this legislation in view of the current confusion in the area?

With regard to the decentralisation programme, which is a voluntary scheme promoted by the previous Minister for Finance, today is the final day for signature for staff previously employed in the Department of Agriculture and Food in Davitt House, Castlebar, and staff must take it or leave it. They have been asked to sign up to go to Portlaoise or accept the PULSE system, which is shift work on a 24-hour, seven day week basis.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise on the Order of Business. That question should go to the line Minister, the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Kenny:  I understood decentralisation was to be voluntary but the terms of reference for public service benefits have been changed as a consequence. Will the Taoiseach clarify this?

Third, in view of the publication of the IMC report today on the, hopefully, ending of all criminality by the IRA and its associates, are we likely to have the opportunity for statements or a debate on it in the House?

The Taoiseach:  On the first issue, the necessary legislation to provide for the establishment of the health information equality authority and the Irish social services inspectorate on a statutory basis will been included in the forthcoming health Bill, the heads of which are expected in approximately a month. The Bill has been given priority time for drafting. It will probably be taken in the House in 2006. On the second issue, I will ask somebody to check whether the change suggested by Deputy Kenny is being made as part of the decentralisation programme. On the third issue, I think we should wait until the IMC report has been published before we decide whether time is required for a debate on it.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Does the Taoiseach propose to introduce legislation relating to the state of the electoral register?

Mr. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Rabbitte:  He is probably aware that the Labour Party has published a Bill to deal with the matter. Does the Government intend to produce its own Bill or will it take on board the Labour Party’s Bill?

[30]The Taoiseach:  I will raise the matter. Is the Deputy asking about the state of the electoral register?

Mr. Rabbitte:  I have asked about the inaccurate state of the register.

Mr. Durkan:  The register is incomplete.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It is incomplete.

Mr. Allen:  Graveyards will be electing people at the next general election.

Mr. Stagg:  There are 500,000 people too many on it.

The Taoiseach:  It is inaccurate.

Mr. Durkan:  It is inaccurate.

Mr. Allen:  It is appalling.

Ms McManus:  What is the Taoiseach saying?

Mr. Howlin:  What does the Taoiseach propose to do about it?

Mr. Rabbitte:  What did the Taoiseach say?

The Taoiseach:  I said it is inaccurate.

Mr. Howlin:  What will the Taoiseach do about it?

Mr. Sargent:  Does the Taoiseach find that acceptable?

The Taoiseach:  I do not know whether legislation is required.

Mr. Hogan:  Perhaps the Taoiseach notices the poor state of the register when he is on his walkabouts.

The Taoiseach:  I do.

Mr. Sargent:  I would like to ask about another fraudulent document. I was not successful, obviously, when I requested the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the matter. Given that companies can fold and then re-open without paying their bills and brazen out legal cases so they can bankrupt subcontractors, it seems the prompt payments legislation needs to be amended.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss the content of the legislation.

Mr. Sargent:  No publication date has been indicated for the planned company law legislation, but is there any chance that it will be brought [31]forward in the near future? At least then we might be able to have a debate on the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the legislation.

Mr. Sargent:  I would also like to know whether the Government intends to amend the prompt payments legislation.

The Taoiseach:  It is expected that the 1,000 heads of the company law (consolidation and reform) Bill will be completed later this year. It will take a considerable amount of time to draft a Bill that has 1,000 heads.

Mr. Sargent:  In that case, the Government should amend the prompt payments legislation.

Ms Enright:  Is the Taoiseach aware that one in 12 schools loses half of its students before they reach their leaving certificate examinations? If so, does the Government intend to introduce legislation to deal with the problem? When can we expect the third level support Bill, which will deal with the difficulties in that sector, to be brought before the House?

The Taoiseach:  I do not have a date for the third level support Bill.

Mr. Costello:  In view of the serious difficulties with the terms of reference of the inquiry into the Brian Rossiter case, to which Deputy Rabbitte referred earlier, and in view of the serious problems with the cost of legal representation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question?

Mr. Costello:  The Government has promised to introduce in this term a Bill to consolidate the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts 1921 to 2004 and to regulate costs. Can the Taoiseach indicate when the tribunals of inquiry (consolidation) Bill will be published?

The Taoiseach:  It will be published in this session. It should be before the House shortly.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Arising from the ongoing review of tax reliefs, is it intended to introduce legislation to limit the value of tax reliefs and the number of reliefs which can be availed of by any individual or company?

The Taoiseach:  Any amendments in that regard will be made in the forthcoming finance Bill.

Mr. Hogan:  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has announced that he intends [32]to introduce new legislation to require the regulation of auctioneers and estate agents. Will the Bill provide for ministerial responsibility in that regard, given that the Minister in question has not taken the best course of action in his purchase of land in north Dublin? When will the intellectual property Bill be introduced?

Ms Enright:  There is a need for that Bill.

The Taoiseach:  The intellectual property Bill will be introduced early next year. I am not sure if legislation is required in respect of auctioneers.

Mr. Hogan:  The heads of the Bill have been approved, but I do not know when the Bill will be published.

Mr. Neville:  The Taoiseach would not know anything about it because it is a Progressive Democrats Bill.

Mr. Martin:  It is too early to say.

Mr. Howlin:  The Taoiseach is aware that an important round of World Trade Organisation negotiations is due to commence shortly. I understand that the position outlined by the EU Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson, was opposed yesterday by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Agriculture and Food. Will the Taoiseach give Deputies an opportunity to listen to details of Ireland’s position on the matter? Will Ireland’s position be embraced in a common EU position before the WTO negotiations take place in Hong Kong?

The Taoiseach:  Important meetings about this issue are taking place. The Minister could brief the House on the matter in response to a question or on the Adjournment.

Mr. Howlin:  How did the Minister get on yesterday?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise this morning.

Mr. Howlin:  Was progress made?

Mr. Connolly:  I congratulate my former colleagues in the psychiatric sector on being declared yesterday the overall winners of a national innovation award. My question relates to psychology. When will the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 be enacted?

The Taoiseach:  The Bill is awaiting Report Stage in this House.

Mr. O’Dowd:  When will legislation promised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish a special div[33]ision of the High Court to fast-track dealings on planning problems be introduced?

The Taoiseach:  We hope to introduce the infrastructure Bill in the next session.

Mr. Broughan:  Has the Government considered updating the Merchant Shipping Acts to provide for new regulations in respect of flags of convenience? I received a letter yesterday that had been posted on 22 September. I wonder if that is a record. Has the Taoiseach noticed his post has been arriving late?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the shipping legislation.

Mr. Broughan:  What does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Durkan:  I remind the Taoiseach that the letter was posted on 22 September of this year.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the first matter.

Mr. Allen:  We should post our Christmas cards now.

Mr. Martin:  We lost out on a few all-Ireland tickets because of it.

The Taoiseach:  The provisions which it is intended to include in the maritime safety Bill require detailed legal examination. It will take some time to finalise the Bill, which will not be progressing as originally proposed.

Mr. Boyle:  Does the Government intend to introduce amending legislation in respect of the Environmental Protection Agency? Such legislation is necessary, given that dioxin levels in Cork Harbour have more than doubled in the last year, that the agency cannot assess water quality in Ennis and that the agency, in issuing waste licences, is a judge in its own court.

An Ceann Comhairle:  To which legislation does the Deputy refer?

Mr. Boyle:  I am asking whether the Government intends to amend the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised?

Mr. Martin:  The dioxin levels have decreased by 20%.

Mr. Gormley:  Not in Cork.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Boyle’s remarks are incorrect. The dioxin levels have decreased.

[34]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Durkan.

Mr. Martin:  They have decreased by 20% in Cork Harbour.

Mr. Boyle:  They have doubled in Cork Harbour.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said it himself.

Mr. Martin:  The Deputy should get perspective.

Mr. Boyle:  The Minister is having trouble with figures.

Mr. Martin:  No. The Deputy cannot distort the EPA figures.

Mr. Boyle:  The dioxin levels have doubled.

Mr. Martin:  The Deputy did not even vote for sewage treatment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan has been waiting patiently.

Mr. Durkan:  According to a recent OECD report, Ireland is in the unenviable position of 19th out of 22 countries in terms of broadband access. The situation is getting worse by the day. Deputy Broughan has already commented on the problems in the postal services.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On promised legislation——

Mr. Durkan:  I will come to the legislation in just a second.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I want the Deputy to come to the legislation now.

Mr. Durkan:  It will be emergency legislation.

Mr. Allen:  It will be fast-track legislation.

Mr. Durkan:  It took nine days for a small package to travel from St. Helens in England to Maynooth, County Kildare.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have to move on.

Mr. Durkan:  The service is slower than it was in the days of the horse and coach. Will the Taoiseach identify the Bill that will be introduced as a matter of urgency to galvanise the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources into action?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Stagg.

[35]Mr. Durkan:  I would like the electricity Bill to be introduced to electrify the Minister, who has not been electrified so far.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the electricity Bill.

The Taoiseach:  It will be introduced next year.

Mr. Durkan:  Mañana.

Mr. Hogan:  That is confidence.

Mr. Stagg:  I asked yesterday morning whether the Government will make time available to clarify the Minister for Health and Children’s contradictory answers on the cuts in the home help service. I think the Taoiseach said——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is time promised?

Mr. Stagg:  I am asking for Government time to be made available.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I suggest that the Deputy should submit a question on the matter.

Mr. Stagg:  I do not know who I can ask. Perhaps I should ask the Chief Whip. Can the Taoiseach make time available?

The Taoiseach:  I do not know how one can argue there have been cutbacks if the amount of money being spent on something has increased from €12 million to €120 million.

Mr. Stagg:  The Minister told me there have been cuts of 40% in the home help service for the elderly in Kildare.

The Taoiseach:  It would be difficult to have a debate on cutbacks which do not exist.

Ms Lynch:  The Taoiseach should explain the reductions.

Mr. Allen:  He will blame the minimum wage.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Taoiseach has buried the metro Bill and practically trampled the earth down on it, but can we expect it to rise again in the near future?

Mr. Durkan:  It is on an upward trajectory.

The Taoiseach:  It will be considered by the Minister.

Mr. Crawford:  Given that a great deal of money must be raised for the disabled through charity work, when will the charity Bill be in place? With regard to charges currently being imposed, when will there be an opportunity to [36]discuss the local government rates Bill in the House?

  12 o’clock

The Taoiseach:  The charities regulation Bill, which will regulate charities and ensure accountability to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud, is substantial. It will involve statute law revision and restatement in addition to legislative reform provisions. Work is proceeding as speedily as possible with this and priority has been given to the Bill. However, it is a large Bill which reaches back over a long period. I do not have a date for it. The local government rates Bill will be taken next year.

Ms McManus:  It is approximately two and a half years since the pharmacy review group presented its report to Government yet we have seen no sign of legislation in regard to pharmacies. Two Bills are promised. When will they be published? Will they be published together or separately?

The Taoiseach:  I am not sure if they will be published together but both Bills are listed for next year. I understand both are being drafted but it would be unlikely that two sizeable Bills would come together.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We move to No. a11.

Mr. Gormley:  I wish to ask a question.

Ms McManus:  For the Taoiseach to say the Bills are listed for next year does not tell us much. Does he mean early next year or late next year? Will it be three or four years before we get the legislation flowing from this report?

The Taoiseach:  Both Bills are listed for 2006. I have not got a more precise date.

Mr. Durkan:  We will never get that far.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call No. a11, motion re report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on definition of parliamentary activities. I call the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, to move.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, I indicated earlier. I want to ask a simple question on legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, I noticed the Deputy’s colleagues indicating but did not notice the Deputy.

Mr. Gormley:  What is the point of coming into the House if you do not deal with us when we indicate?

[37]An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on. The Deputy will be first tomorrow. We have moved on to No. a11.

Mr. Gormley:  My question concerns simple legislation, the third level students support Bill.

The Taoiseach:  It will be taken next year.

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

That Dáil Éireann adopts the Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Definition of Parliamentary Activities, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 18 October 2005.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the quarterly national household survey results. It is important sometimes to reflect on our achievements and to pause for a moment to understand what is happening in our economy. The figures published by the Central Statistics Office last month tell a compelling story of transformation.

I pose an important question to the House. What does an increase of 400,000 in jobs since 1997 tell us? It tells me that we have put in place the right enterprise policies to build a strong economy. Through lower taxes we have given individuals more choice over how to spend their incomes and we have nurtured a culture of enterprise where people with new ideas are not stymied at every turn. In a decade, our very approach to risk takers has changed. No longer is the only option for entrepreneurs to emigrate to innovate. Ireland has been transformed from a country where many young people had to leave to find jobs to one where young people from across the globe are contributing to our economy. We have implemented broad economic polices that have changed the business environment. This is not just our own analysis. After eight consistent years of managed growth and prosperity, the International Monetary Fund is still able to commend Ireland’s “continued impressive economic performance, the result of sound economic policies.”

Mr. Howlin:  It did not begin eight years ago.

Mr. Martin:  The figures from the latest quarterly national household survey are marked proof [38]of the effectiveness of Government policies in the areas of employment and the labour market. Our recent economic success has been remarkable. The so-called “jobless growth” of the early 1990s has long since been replaced by consistent employment creation. Employment increased by 93,000 in the 12 months to August 2005, bringing the total at work to 1,929,000. This is the highest annual growth rate in five years and is an increase of 31% or 461,000 since 1997. Women have particularly benefited from the massive growth in employment during this period. The number of women in the workforce has increased by 39% since 1997 as against the 26% increase in male workers. More needs to be done if we are to continue to attract women into the workforce. In addition the figures show a strong regional performance, with employment in the Border, midlands and west region increasing by almost 6%, giving employment to an additional 26,000 people. Moreover, we have seen employment increase in most sectors of the economy, with financial and business services showing strong growth.

This strong employment growth has been based on a strong and vibrant economy. With favourable economic growth forecast to continue, the indications are that employment growth will be maintained in 2005 and into 2006. Employment is forecast to grow by around 2.9% in 2005 and by 2% in 2006. Unemployment continues to be maintained at a low level at 4.2% and is forecast to remain at around this level into next year. Our unemployment rate is currently less than half the EU average of 8.6%. Our current rate compares to an unemployment rate of 10.4% in 1997. The numbers unemployed have decreased by 50% in this period, from 171,200 to 85,600. Long­term unemployment has dropped from 90,000 to 27,000, a decrease of almost 70%. It now stands at 1.4%, which is about one third of the EU average.

The consensus approach under social partnership, involving employers, employees and Government, has been a major contributor to Ireland’s economic success. This has been backed by a well-balanced suite of employment rights legislation, which, together with measures designed to stimulate employment, provide an appropriate framework for the purpose of achieving an efficient and competitive business environment. In addition to employment growth, the partnership agreements have been effective in securing improved economic performance and, above all, raising living standards. In the ten years to 1987 inflation was running at an average of 12% whereas the current rate is just 3%. Moreover, the pay terms of the two most recent national agreements have given workers pay increases of almost 30%.

Ireland will continue to implement policies that lead to higher levels of employment. We will [39]strive to reach and if possible exceed the EU employment rate targets for 2010 of 70% for overall employment, 60% for female employment and 50% for employment of older workers. As pointed out by the enterprise strategy group, the policies adopted to date have proved very successful. However, if we are to move forward in the context of a knowledge based, innovation driven economy, a new set of challenges awaits us which require a different approach. In the labour market context this means we need to maintain a strong focus on education and training, including lifelong learning, to ensure the development of a high skilled, adaptable workforce. We need to ensure an adequate supply of labour to meet the needs of the economy and to sustain economic growth. Labour will be supplied through a number of sources: the underlying population increase; increased participation by the unemployed and those outside the labour force; and economic migration.

Education and training have been central to our economic success. Similarly, our future prosperity will depend on workers acquiring the knowledge, skills and competencies required to compete in an increasingly global economy. The enterprise strategy group’s recommendations made it clear that lifelong learning will be key, as the nature of the workplace requires that workers be ever more flexible and adaptable. More than in the past, people will need to upskill and reskill throughout their working lives. This can only be achieved by introducing new approaches and putting in place the necessary delivery structures. The One Step Up initiative, which I announced recently and have substantially resourced, is an important element in this process. This initiative will promote life-long learning and upskilling of our workforce by providing easy access to a range of training and learning initiatives, including both tutor-led training and e-learning. It will also assist employees to obtain a recognised qualifications within the national framework of qualifications.

In ensuring an adequate supply of labour to increase the numbers at work in the context of the decreasing numbers of young people coming into the labour market, there will always be a need to mobilise labour supply from other sources. This will mean encouraging increased participation in the domestic labour market. It will also mean adjusting economic migration policy in Ireland to address identified labour shortages and skills needs.

Migration, combined with the natural increase in the population, has resulted in an increase in the population by 87,000 to more than 4 million in April 2005, the highest it has been in nearly 150 years. This is truly a historic milestone. This is a very positive trend for Ireland in view of our labour and skills shortages. The high level of immigration in the past year, with over a third [40]coming from the ten new member states, is a result of our non-restrictive policy to those from these countries who wish to work in Ireland. There is no doubt that for most of our skills shortages, appropriate EEA workers are available.

The total population today is the highest since the census of 1861. The historic nature of this population increase should not be lost sight of. Demographers agree that if there had been no emigration since 1841, the population of the Republic would be in the region of 20 million instead of 4.13 million today. It is interesting to note that Pádraig Pearse believed the country could support a population of 30 million. These figures may be fanciful to us today and we would have an entirely different economy but, nonetheless, we have turned a corner in terms of the history of population growth in this country.

The Employment Permits Bill 2005, which I introduced in the Dáil last week, includes provision for a more managed economic migration policy, including a continual assessment of skill and labour needs in future. Research carried out by the expert group on future skills needs will continue to inform Government policy in this field. The focus of this policy will be to facilitate efficiently and effectively the entry into Ireland of people with skills we need but which we cannot source from within Ireland or the European Economic Area. The high growth in employment indicates how well the economy is doing and how important it is that we can absorb increases in the labour force both on the domestic front and from overseas.

In the space of fewer than 15 years, we have built a very different economy that has the inherent capacity to sustain growth rates that are the envy of some and a sought after example for others. At the root of this exceptional employment performance is a deeply embedded commitment to pursue policies across Government that boost our competitiveness. This is underpinned by recognising that we must constantly change, adapt and reform if we are to stay ahead.

I am realistic enough to know that keeping, let alone expanding, our share of world trade and investment will not be easy. Our competitors are no more than a mouse click away. Competitiveness is as easily lost as it has been hard won. While we are no longer a low cost economy, the recent annual report from the National Competitiveness Council recognises that we retain some fairly impressive and significant national strengths.

For example, we have achieved remarkable rates of economic growth over the past decade and we have recorded one of the best economic performances in the world. From 1997 to 2004, Irish gross domestic product grew by an average of more than 7.5% compared with an average of just over 2% in the European Union 15. Under [41]the sustainable growth heading, Ireland’s living standards, as measured by GDP per capita, the National Competitiveness Council calculates we come first out of 15 countries, and for gross national product per capita, we are sixth out of 16 economies at which it looked. GNP per capita has almost doubled since 1997.

However, it is not all about arcane economic numbers. Real progress has been achieved in improving living standards and this is reflected in Ireland’s strong performance in the United Nations human development index that is a good indicator of general quality of life. Here we came fifth out of 15 comparable countries. In addition to the decline in unemployment and long-term unemployment in particular, the ESRI has shown that over the period 1994 to 2001, life chances improved significantly. This trend is directly related to declining unemployment and reduced levels of dependence on social welfare in a period of economic boom.

Maintaining our competitiveness is of huge importance for Ireland because we are one of the most open economies in the world. In terms of trade performance, we came second out of 16 nations in the National Competitiveness Council’s league table, with much of this driven by our strengths in the foreign investment sector. We have one of the most favourable taxation regimes in Europe and have put in place enterprise policies that support all investors. This makes Ireland a secure and profitable location from which to do business globally. The combined effect of these policy strands has ensured that Ireland has consistently been an attractive location for foreign direct investment for a considerable period and we have successfully won more global and EU foreign direct investment than our size would naturally suggest.

Our commitment to developing a modern high technology and competitive economy is winning where it counts, that is, in the marketplace. The export performance of the high technology sector is powered by the skill and ingenuity of a productive and competitive workforce. Chemical, pharmaceutical, medical devices, electronic and electronic commerce sectors would not consistently choose Ireland as an investment location if we did not provide solid competitive advantages. We all know that global competition for prestige and high value mobile investment is intense, yet global businesses continually choose to invest here because we are competitive for these high end industries. Hard nosed investment decisions are not made in favour of uncompetitive and lowly rated economies.

Not only is foreign direct investment critical to maintaining economic vitality, how we manage the transition to a different portfolio of foreign investors is a key challenge that we meet. Manufacturing is still the engine driving our economy and represents by far the greater part of the [42]exports of €68 billion and local economy expenditure of €15 billion by overseas companies in Ireland each year. However, the type of manufacturing investment being secured for Ireland has changed. Many western-type economies are seeing a gradual loss of low level, labour intensive operations to lower cost countries, but innovative economies like Ireland continue to attract advanced manufacturing operations that are at the cutting edge of technology, where high productivity output is heavily reliant on the skills and capability of a highly educated and agile workforce. These investments may not have the headline grabbing head count of previous years but their massive capital investment per employee shows that we are serious contenders when it comes to winning sophisticated, technology driven, mobile investment. We will continue to encourage manufacturing. It provides the test bed for innovation and ingenuity. Developing new products, creating new processes and achieving greater productivity is an integral part of manufacturing today.

Helping us further along the road of transformation, the enterprise strategy group’s analysis of our enterprise performance made a very strong case. It showed us how and where we need to be creative in policy thought and deed. I spoke about the One Step Up initiative and the upskilling of the workforce and population. This is one part of our response to the enterprise strategy group.

A second key plank in our response to the O’Driscoll report has been the new Enterprise Ireland strategy to help transform indigenous enterprise. The vision set out in the strategy is the support and creation of a dynamic indigenous firms sector engaged in high value added activities. Enterprise Ireland’s clients will become more intensely market focused and innovative, providing new and proprietary products at premium prices. The strategy has a heavy emphasis on research and innovation, exports, competitiveness and entrepreneurship to deliver greater numbers of new high growth companies with strong potential to win increasingly profitable contracts in global markets. It aims to help Irish companies grow into self-sustaining enterprises of sufficient scale to compete internationally.

Driving the competitiveness agenda and keeping us ahead of the curve was very much at the heart of the enterprise strategy group’s recommendations. We have a broad and diversified enterprise base that has expanded with the help of constructive economic and business policies and we have one of the best possible international locations from which to do business. I want to keep it this way and I am determined we maintain this competitive advantage.

Sustaining the momentum for change and reform demands a close dialogue with business. I recently announced the business members of the [43]enterprise advisory group who will advise Government on the implementation of the enterprise strategy group recommendations and on enterprise policy generally.

Globalisation provides huge opportunities for companies with international ambitions but it is also presenting unprecedented competitive pressures. I fully agree with the enterprise strategy group’s report when it describes the new emphasis we should place on building strong indigenous small and medium-sized enterprises. Through Enterprise Ireland we are designing a new approach to helping SMEs but I do not believe changing our support schemes is sufficient. Ten years ago, the growth issues for small companies were very different and a small firms task force presented radical and important reforms that helped small companies mature and capitalise on economic expansion. Today SMEs face very different but no less difficult problems about growth and expansion in a world transformed by freer trade and massive competition.

We have made a very clear commitment to the need for a substantial step change in research and development, building on the outstanding success we have had since 1998 in that area. We need to change step again to bring Ireland into the next decade. In recent weeks, there has been much comment about the establishment of a variety of groups. It is effective that Ireland Inc. has looked strategically in consulting with people and has developed strategic frameworks for policy formulation. People criticise, in a shallow way, the establishment of strategic groups to look ten years ahead. It is a dangerous debate that is without substance. If we adopt that approach, we will do so at our peril.

Mr. Hogan:  I was curious about why this item was put on today’s agenda but now I know. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment felt he would not have sufficient time next week at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis in Killarney to say all he did today. We are getting a preview of his ard-fheis speech.

Mr. Howlin:  A very dry one at that.

Mr. Hogan:  He will get more time at the ard-fheis.

The Central Statistics Office reports the population has breached the 4 million mark, standing at 4.13 million people. However, there is much comment as to the true population level. Once upon a time, in his previous portfolio, the Minister got into difficulty with sums over medical cards and the numbers of people over 70 years of age. It turned out to be a much different figure than was originally estimated. We are not exactly sure of the true level of migration into the coun[44]try or population growth, as it varies from one particular study to the other.

Following the Famine of the 1840s, and the almost relentless flight of people from the land, we can look to inward migration as a sign that Ireland has finally come of age. Hard and painful economic reforms, arising from the bad old days of the 1980s were needed. Much progress has been made in the economy by successive governments in ensuring economic growth, development and employment opportunities for our people. We are richer, more confident, outward looking and self-assured.

However, a series of key challenges remain that we are simply not facing. We have enough reports at this stage to implement, particularly the enterprise strategy group’s report, Ahead of the Curve. I was critical that another layer of business people was needed to implement recommendations already made through the existing——

Mr. Martin:  Those are the recommendations in the report.

Mr. Hogan:  There were many recommendations in the excellent report by Mr. O’Driscoll and his team. However, we do not need to see another implementation body but action. The Minister is now beginning to take some action.

According to the Forfás expert group on future skills needs, the list of professions facing a skills shortage is mind-boggling. It includes bricklayers, plasterers, carpenters, floorers, painters and decorators, accountants, actuaries, financial analysts, investment and risk analysts, fund managers, engineers, welders, computer analysts, chemical engineers, doctors, dentists, dieticians, social workers, credit controllers and warehousemen. These professions have been identified as suffering skills shortages by Forfás, an agency that advises the Minister. FÁS has also identified these shortages, another organisation advising the Minister.

As the economy grows, so too will the need for policies that will fill these gaps and create the necessary supply of workers for the future economic development of the State. Many reports have been published on skills needs because we have failed to plan ahead for these shortages. With economic growth in the last 15 years at an average of 7%, it was and is incumbent on the government of the day to plan ahead in infrastructure, competitiveness and skills requirements. We are now playing catch-up and the Minister recently took an initiative on up-skilling.

A situation where only some categories of the population are up-skilled is not needed. If that happens, there will be an unemployable group of people at the bottom due to educational drop-out levels in the lower socio-economic groups. The education system has a role to play. We do not want to see people dropping out of education, [45]particularly at second level, to the extent they are now. This is a worrying trend that requires joined-up thinking in Government policy. Education will play a major role again, as it did in the 1960s, in driving the enterprise agenda.

There are 137,000 migrant workers working in Ireland, 7% of the workforce. Between 2000 to 2005, over 100,000 persons from outside the EEA came to Ireland for employment purposes. This is in addition to the substantial numbers of EEA nationals, with estimates of over 90,000 having applied for PPS numbers since 1 May 2004. The legislative infrastructure to maintain this situation does not exist, although the new Bill on employment permits will go some way in addressing this problem.

The Immigration Council of Ireland has pointed out that a two tier system of migrant workers has developed and is being perpetuated. On the one hand, there are those on work visas, generally in better jobs, with their families by their side, better paid and valued by the State. On the other, there are individuals, with no families, lower paid and not here in their own right, but rather in the gift of their employers. The legislation the Minister recently published goes some way towards addressing this.

There is some confusion about the Minister’s proposed green card system, however, particularly as we are used to the US system. That green card system gives the individual the right to search for work, apply for residency and aspire to citizenship. The recently published legislation has not gone that far. I remind the Minister that Forfás stated:

While the EU and EEA counties will provide a substantial proportion of Ireland’s low skill requirements, continued non-EEA immigration will be needed to meet some of Ireland’s high skill demands over the next number of years.

Ireland is new to inward migration. We have the almost unique opportunity to avoid the pitfalls of the US and the UK where an enormous underclass of immigrants and their children has developed. The plight of the Irish emigrant in the UK is one we do not want to see happening here. In these countries, an entire generation has grown up knowing nothing but social deprivation and poverty. The link is made to the fact they are of foreign parents and their situation is often linked to the colour of their skin or their religion. As a result, an almost ingrained distrust of state institutions, including the police, becomes the norm. As with all communities suffering poverty, crime can become rife. The misconception that immigrant communities are inherently more crime ridden than the native born population begins to find favour. People coming to our shores who gain employment must also be integrated as part of our society to head off the race problems seen [46]in other jurisdictions. This will not happen by accident and the education system will have a role to play in ensuring people are tolerant of migrants.

Figures in the quarterly national household survey paint a rosy picture overall but there are some worrying trends. The number of people classified as unemployed has risen, while those employed in both agriculture and manufacturing continue to decline. The Fine Gael Party has called on the Government to adopt an action plan for both these sectors of the economy. As an economy or a society, we cannot exist within the service sector. We must do what we can to maintain a manufacturing base because it is the key to spin-off development of ancillary services and industries. We must not allow the flight from the land to continue unabated. We must find roles for people in agriculture or on the land to play in the development of rural communities. We cannot leave the people employed in those sectors to the vagaries of globalisation.

I note a recent comment on manufacturing that the continuing decline illustrates the competitiveness challenge facing Irish industry as a result of the increases in non-pay costs such as energy and waste management in particular. The Government has a role to play in making Ireland a more attractive place for Irish people to work and do business by addressing those issues of competitiveness. I differ from the Government’s version of events in that I believe it has allowed the competitiveness agenda to slip. We were fourth in the OECD world competitiveness forum rankings in 2000. We are now 26th, which is evidence that we have slipped.

It has been recognised in numerous studies that there is a competition deficit in this country. Across key sectors of the economy, including many directly controlled by the State, there is an absence of a competitive dynamic that would provide consumers of services with a wide choice. The former chairman of the Competition Authority, Mr. Fingleton, whose position is now vacant, outlined the scale of concentration resulting from the legacy of an anti-competitive and anti-consumer policy and culture. In particular he highlighted core areas of the economy where there are high levels of concentration and where consumers do not have adequate competition and choice. He outlined the presence of effective State monopolies in the postal service, energy, transport, health insurance, television and forestry. He also outlined other sectors where leading private sector firms have a market share of 50% or more, leading to concentration. There is one sector in particular where four firms alone control more than 80% of the market.

These are key issues for the provision to the consumer of better services, such as legal services, energy and waste management, at a cheaper cost. We must address them on behalf of the users of [47]those services. Poor competition in the provision of goods and services adds to the daily living costs for consumers and businesses, especially small businesses. The Competition Act 1991 was reviewed in 2002 but could go much further in dealing with the issues.

I do not subscribe to the Government’s policy of having a regulator for everything. Even the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform got in on the act yesterday for auctioneers and estate agents. I understand the direction in which he wants to go to protect the consumer but we should not allow empire building by one regulator after another where no cross-cutting issues are discussed or developed between them. Each of the regulators’ offices has a separate legal department, a separate accountancy department and other separate sections for a wide variety of consumer issues.

The Commission for Electricity Regulation is suffering enormously from regulatory capture. Most of the people involved in it were civil servants in the former Department of Energy. A cosy relationship has developed in some sectors of competition policy between regulators and the industry they are supposed to be independently assessing so that new competition is brought into the marketplace. That independent assessment is not happening and Government policy on how regulation operates needs to be reviewed urgently.

Approximately half the workforce is not in a pension scheme. This is a challenge. Figures from the Irish Association of Pension Funds show the average contribution to pension schemes is
10%. However, to maintain an adequate income in retirement, the figure should be more like 15% to 25%. The Government is discussing this issue at present and I expect it will have a statement to make on the matter in the context of the forthcoming budget. It is another issue for which we must plan ahead.

If we want to plan for an enlarged population we should not repeat the mistakes of the past where there was no policy for migration, infrastructural development, pension contributions or competitiveness issues. We need a co-ordinated approach to plan the migration of people into this country to enlarge its population. Good progress has been made but major challenges lie ahead and we must meet them if we are to ensure we can compete with countries in the Far East and eastern Europe and continue to enjoy strong economic growth for the benefit of the people we represent who work and live here.

Mr. Howlin:  I wish to share time with Deputy Burton. Like Deputy Hogan I was surprised to see this item on the Order Paper because there are many pressing matters in the legislative sphere for the House to give its attention to. The [48]question was answered when the Minister gave his speech. As somebody who is an admirer of the Minister’ s ability I was disappointed with the speech. His use of stark statistical analysis of where this country and society are going and his litany of self-congratulatory facts did him no justice.

We all share in the success story that is Ireland which Members on all sides of the House had a hand in creating. We do not all claim credit for it at every opportunity. More important for people listening to this debate and for policymakers is how we address the extraordinary challenges and opportunities of the demographic projections presented in this analysis.

There are some starkly worrying issues. The population of greater Dublin will continue to dominate. Mr. Frank McDonald, who has been a commentator on these matters for a long time, summarises that we are creating a city state. Greater Dublin is projected to have more than 40% of the population in 2021 and will so dominate Ireland in terms of infrastructure and economic activity that it will not be healthy for the organisation of a balanced country.

There have been debates in this House and the Government has made detailed statements on its spatial strategy. What does it mean? We learn new words like gateways and hubs but that is all we know about them. It reminds me of the RAPID programme, where the Government, to pretend it was doing something about inequality, re-labelled normal Government expenditure as socially focused expenditure. What specifically is being done about spatial planning in this country? Where are the driven Government strategies to develop regional centres and to ensure that the infrastructure and jobs go to those regional centres?

In reality the development of Ireland, of which the Minister is so proud, is not being planned in a rational way by Government or by these Houses. It is developer-led. Developers determine where population is to grow by planning and building houses. The whole planning process is overwhelmed by it. In my county the best efforts of forward planning are undermined by the requirement to deal with current applications that are being made in large volumes as developers seek to make profits. If we do not exert control over the strategy, we will pay dearly for it in decades to come.

The statistics for migration patterns are stark in the volumes they predict. There will be at least 30,000 new migrants per year for the next 19 or 20 years, and that is a conservative estimate. We seem to have no strategy for dealing with an evolving society. My colleague Deputy Burton has an even more direct experience of this. Society in towns, villages, urban areas and constituencies as a whole is changing, but in an almost haphazard way.

[49]The economy needs workers so we invite them in, particularly from new EU member states, but there is no structure for integration. People are struggling to come to terms with the changing pattern of worker in our society. We do not have an overall plan for integration to ensure we are bedding down a balanced society that will create, as I mentioned last week, a new and different Irish community instead of ghettoising people because they have an economic short-term value and then rejecting them. I do not see any sense to this, and I had hoped the Minister would give some visionary comments to the House today in his contribution on these important matters.

An overwhelming issue is the need for joined up Government. I do not see sense in attempts at this either. The Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business had a stark presentation from Mr. Eddie Shaw of the National Safety Council this morning. If the Minister reads his contribution, he will find robust criticism regarding a lack of joined up Government thinking on road safety. It applies to all issues that are to be dealt with in dealing with a demographic shift that is unprecedented in a century. The National Roads Authority is building roads but it is doing so in a slow and piecemeal fashion, leaving gaps within all our national systems. Where other countries might see the need for a metro in a city such as Dublin and proceed in a structured fashion, we seem to be paralysed by analysis and unable to put basic facilities in place.

In my county of Wexford, there has been a 12.5% increase in population since the last census, from 1996 to 2002. The increase is geographically narrowly focused in north Wexford and the strip of county on the coast. There is no other planning however. There are two secondary schools in north Wexford, one of which by volume is by far the biggest secondary school in Ireland. That school cannot take any more pupils. The county is trying to catch up, stating the need for a new secondary school in Gorey and the development of Kilmuckridge. However, this is occurring years after the population is in place. People are struggling and there are crazy transport routes ferrying people from north Wexford to Wexford town to receive education. This is because education needs are not being linked with the requirements of the changing population distribution in the country.

The same can be said about leisure facilities. Houses are built because developers submit planning applications, but the infrastructure is not being put in place to create societies beyond that. A wilderness is often being created instead in the name of profit, which has significant social implications for the future.

The Labour Party is this week publishing a comprehensive document on child care, which I will not discuss in any detail as that will be raised by our spokesman. A number of people, both [50]men and women, are telling us that they are fed up with some aspects of the Celtic tiger, such as endless working hours in the name of productivity. They are fed up with getting up at 6 a.m. and not getting home until late. They are worried about their family life or the lack of contact with their children. These are issues of values that must be discussed in tandem with the Minister’s litany of economic progress. We are not an economy but a society. If we think of ourselves exclusively as an economy and think of people as units of work rather than citizens in an evolving society, we will make the wrong decisions. We may make no decisions at all.

Where are the grand ideas to restructure Ireland? The only new town we built is Ennis, and we did not put in place the resources to meet all the needs of that town when we started. Where are the new cities and towns? Where are the new modes of transport which are required, and where are the new innovative educational facilities that will ensure we do not create the city state that Frank McDonald is mindful of? Have we the strategies to explore the notion of manufacturing jobs being the hub of economic success? Where are the strategies to deal with the loss of manufacturing jobs currently taking place? Where are the plans to ensure all areas of the country benefit equally from the economic progress that has characterised Ireland for the past decade?

Ms Burton:  The figures released by the CSO show further startling increases in population. The answer to my colleague Deputy Howlin’s questions about the new cities is that these new cities are already here.

Mr. Howlin:  They are grafted on.

Ms Burton:  They are in a necklace around the western side of the Dublin region. They start at Tallaght and go on to Lucan, Clondalkin, Leixlip, Blanchardstown, Clonee, Dunboyne, Swords and Balbriggan. This does not take into account large areas such as Ashbourne on the fringes. This is where an enormous concentration of the new population is.

I have the honour of representing Dublin West. The west of Dublin is struggling to deal with what is occurring. This Government mainly has a type of planning led by developers and the building industry, so it is for profit rather than for people. One change in strategy we wish to see is planning which benefits people and communities rather than for the profit of builders and developers. Builders and developers must make money, but they are making it currently at excessive levels on the backs of struggling new communities which are being left bereft.

Does the Minister realise it is now easier for somebody in west Dublin to buy a house in [51]Cavan, Duleek or Leitrim, where they may get a tax break with the house? In such locations they get a bigger house on a bigger plot of land. As a result of the lack of transportation within the Dublin West area, they may be faster travelling to Dublin, moving on main roads by car, than if they came from a local Dublin estate. This is because public transport currently available is not sufficient.

The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte, and I stood at Clonsilla railway station last Monday morning at 8 a.m. Pat Kenny discussed the same rail line on his programme yesterday. The people were crammed on the train, and it is locally referred to as the Calcutta express. The cramming is to a point that if a woman is heavily pregnant, she can no longer take the train. The level of overcrowding is dangerous. In the latter years of the rainbow Government, this line was marked for expansion. When the Fianna Fáil and PD coalition Government came into office, the proposals were re-examined, which took three or four years. The expansion, on a modest scale, occurred about a year and a half ago. It took eight years to upgrade this magnificent Victorian inheritance of a full railway line to the west of Dublin.

As a result of the Meath by-election, a hastily put together study was published on the re-opening of the Dunboyne railway line. Todd Andrews sold the line, so the reinstatement of the line must be planned after the land is bought back. Anyone with experience knows that each of those stages will take several years. Commuters are buying houses and they are being made car dependent by this Government because they cannot buy a house with access to decent public transport or a quality bus corridor.

There is now a division between the east and west sides of Dublin. The east side is the gold coast and the west side is where ordinary people and immigrants live and people have no public transport. The quality bus corridor into Donnybrook is wonderful. However, it now takes nearly 40 minutes more to get into the centre on a QBC from the west side of Dublin than it did when there was no QBC. This is because the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, cannot release additional buses because he is caught in an ideological problem on whether or not public bus services should exist.

Ms C. Murphy:  The focus of the Minister’s speech was on what a great economy we have. None of us doubts that jobs are being created all of the time. We should not use the data to sing the praises of the economy, however, without analysing them. There is little reason for gathering them in the first place if we are not going to use them.

[52]We can see from the data there is a significant increase in the number of women participating in the work force. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that there will be increased child care needs. Even though this data is published quarterly, it took a by-election and the opportunity afforded to the public to take ownership of the issue for that issue to be taken seriously. We will see if the issue is dealt with in the budget but there is no doubt that the lack of affordable child care is an impediment to the participation of women in the work force.

Why do we always have to get to a crisis before we deal with it? We can anticipate it and see it jumping out off the page, as is the case with congestion. All one has to do is go out any morning on to the N1, N2, N3, N4, and the N7. People are living very far away from where they are working, yet the report shows that the lowest level of unemployment is in the mid-east region. People are moving further away from their work place and are struggling with the congestion, which is having a bearing on the quality of their lives and their communities. With women participating to an ever greater extent in the workforce, communities are losing people who would otherwise be volunteering. Resident and voluntary group meetings are dominated by women. If we want to build solid communities, that volunteering time must be replaced in a more structured way.

When a company is locating its business in an area, the quality of the living environment there has a direct bearing on its decision. Companies such Intel and Hewlett Packard, which are located in my area, tell me exactly that. Child care, transport and accommodation jump out of this report as issues that must be addressed beyond the statistics on who is working, where they are working and the increase in the numbers of those employed.

About 13 years ago, the Dublin transportation initiative was begun after the Government informed the European Union that congestion was a serious impediment to the progress of the economy. I wish we could only roll back the clock to those levels of congestion because we are seriously beyond the point of gridlock. It typically takes an hour to drive four or miles at peak times, which is absolutely untenable.

Professor Joe Lee recently spoke about a sense of place and how we had lost it. He said that we had become a nation of consumers and producers, where only one generation was involved, with no place for the old and the young. That is a fair description of what is happening. The public is way ahead on this and people see that there must be a connection between building an economy and building a society. They want to see what the Government claims is a great economy turned into a quality of life, with improved transport, child care and a reduction in accommodation costs.

[53]Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister says that we must be strategic and he is right. I would like him to read the comments in The Irish Catholic by the architect of that strategic thinking which brought us economic success, Dr. Ken Whitaker. He said that economic growth does not necessarily lead to a peaceful, civilised or more idealistic society, and that there are values, moral and intellectual, which are higher than mere economics. If only this Government would listen to that strategic thinking. We certainly need wealth but we need it to be shared out so that we can live in a successful, civilised, peaceful society.

Government Members thought they would have an easy ride today and be able to claim that we are doing brilliantly. It is interesting to hear the strong and consistent message from different speakers today stating that while these statistics tell a tale of economic success, they also tell us a tale of a society that is deeply unhappy with the way the Government is leading the country.

My wife is currently in the workplace. She is at home with our children. I do not see that work as any different or less valuable — it is more valuable — than the work that I am doing here. However, that work is not valued by this Government. The Minister has just stated that we must get people into the workforce, regardless of the future that leaves for the children in our country. The child care policy of the Progressive Democrats certainly could have been written by IBEC, setting the needs of our children in the context of the workforce, rather than vice versa. Such an approach is not only wrong, but in the long run it corrodes and eats into the social capital upon which a successful economy depends.

The Government should stop the constant mantra that we need people in the workforce to keep the economy growing, as if economic growth in itself was exactly the thing we need. It is clear that such is not the case. I celebrate the arrival of so many immigrants into Ireland in recent years, but I do not want to see it planned on the basis of doing all we can to make sure that economic growth continues.

  1 o’clock

I am not sure that it is clever, although Fianna Fáil would think so, that we are building 70,000 housing units per annum on the basis that it is good for the building industry. We will engage in an incredibly difficult balancing act by keeping this pump-primed economy going. I fear that if we just solely concentrate on pumping economic growth, if at some stage there is a property collapse, we will have a far more dramatic downturn because we have followed this mantra to keep the economy growing at full speed.

Deputy Burton referred to the lack of transport, which we have raised for 15 years in the House. It is not just on the west side of the city that this Government has failed, with the Calcutta express running through Clonsilla. I am sure the [54]Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kitt, is aware that already, people must also be forced into carriages on the Luas in the mornings because the system cannot cope with the sheer demand for public transport. At the same time, the Government spends four times more on new roads than on public transport. It will postpone the public transport projects again in its updated transport plan.

The consistent message from the Opposition side of the House is that while our economy has done well and the statistics show massive growth, it is clear the Government is getting other essential aspects of governance fundamentally wrong.

Clearly the manner in which this wealth is shared out is not working and does not lead to everyone enjoying the prosperity that these figures suggest. It is fine for the Progressive Democrats, who represent the wealthiest 5% of the population. It is fine for Fianna Fáil, who represent the building and developers’ community, the people who have benefited by far the most. However, while the vast majority of the people welcome the fact that there is not emigration like in the 1980s or the kind of poverty that scarred this country for so long, they are unwilling to pay the price, in terms of imbalances and pressures, to keep the wealthiest people and the building community happy in the future.

Mr. Morgan:  This debate provides a timely opportunity to discuss the Government’s abject failure to plan for the needs of the increased and increasing population. I refer to the failure of the Government to prepare for the housing, transport and health care needs of the increased population. Members should stop patting themselves on the back.

We have over-priced houses and 50,000 families on social housing waiting lists. As other speakers have noted, we have overcrowded hospitals, traffic congestion and jam-packed commuter trains. By April of this year, the population of this State had reached 4.13 million people. Rapid population increases as a result of economic growth have exacerbated problems with shortfalls in the provision of public services such as health, transport, education and housing. It has contributed to deterioration in the quality of life for many in this State. Increased tax revenues from the increased workforce have not been put back into increased services for the increased population. This is a dangerous mistake. As the population continues to grow, services and infrastructure will be stretched to the limit.

The Government failed to plan for the long-term housing needs of a growing population. The housing stock per population ratio of the Twenty-six Counties was 390 units per 1,000 of population at the end of 2003, compared to an EU 15 average of 440 units per 1,000 of population. Many of the 50,000 families on social housing waiting lists [55]have been waiting for years to be housed. Some, such as single males, find it particularly difficult to secure social housing. The National Economic and Social Council stated:

An increase of permanent social housing units owned and managed by local authorities and voluntary and co-operative bodies, in the order of 73,000 in net terms between 2005 and 2012 is necessary to meet the need for social housing.

Nearly a year after the publication of that important report, the Government has yet to make any statement indicating whether it accepts this recommendation. In no other area of policy has a hands-off approach been more evident than with regard to housing. It is bizarre that something so vital to life is so ignored by the Government. What is the Government’s housing strategy? How does it intend to address the housing needs of our increasing population?

Population growth has not been met by a growth in the capacity of the health service. The effects are seen in overcrowding in accident and emergency units, bed shortages and unacceptable waiting times for urgent medical intervention. A total of 3,000 extra beds in public hospitals by 2011 were promised in the national health strategy of 2001. As of this month, only 800 have been provided according to Government figures. Plans for primary care centres across the State have been put on hold.

Unfortunately, the treatment received by many migrants who come to this State is the unpalatable truth that lies behind these statistics. While I will not go into the issue in detail, the Government reaction shows no sign that it is committed to cracking down on such exploitation. The pathetic strength of the labour inspectorate alone is testimony to this.

According to the figures under discussion, the total immigration flow into the State in the 12 months to April 2005 was estimated at 70,000, 38% of whom were nationals of the ten new EU accession states. At the time of their accession, the Government introduced a two year habitual residence requirement before workers could access social assistance. Sinn Féin opposed the introduction of these restrictions, arguing that the proposals would expose migrant workers to unnecessary hardship. Evidence has now come to light of the hardships experienced by such workers in situations where they unexpectedly become unemployed and where their accommodation was linked to their employment in some cases, they became homeless.

Yesterday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions published a briefing paper on migration policy and the rights of migrant workers, in which it called for the amendment of the habitual residence requirement to specifically allow for the [56]payment of social assistance or benefit to workers on employment permits who are made redundant or who have been unfairly dismissed, including constructive dismissal.

This is a reasonable demand upon which I urge the Government to act without delay.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I welcome this debate. As Chief Whip, I have responsibility for the Central Statistics Office and, consequently, am fortunate to be in a position to see the figures as they are compiled. In this case, Members are discussing the quarterly national household survey. While I am disappointed that we have not heard more ideas from the Opposition spokespersons, I make no apologies for making some remarks with regard to the Government’s performance.

The recently published quarterly national household survey provides a most useful and detailed update on how the Irish economy is performing and on how the population is benefiting from ongoing growth and development. I listened with interest to a radio interview with a representative of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, on Monday, concerning the recent report of the IMF into the performance of the economy. He clearly stated on at least two occasions, that the success of the Irish economy was due in large part to sound management of the economy by the Government over the past ten to 15 years.

It would be useful to reflect on the cornerstones and pillars of what is a new Ireland. Admittedly, it is an Ireland that is at times bewildering in its complexities and challenges. However, to listen to the Opposition in recent months, a stranger would be forgiven for thinking that the country was teetering on collapse and about to re-enter a former dark and gloomy period. It is a truism to suggest that the days of doom and gloom in the recent past in Ireland only come to mind when thinking of the Opposition parties and their sporadic attempts at government.

When one considers this country’s achievements in the past 18 years of almost exclusively Fianna Fáil-led Governments, one striking policy above all others has worked to ensure continued and sustained success since the late 1980s. It has given birth to a new Ireland and has enabled it to grow, prosper and develop. That policy is one of partnership.

The policy of partnership, in which all the social partners including businesses, farmers, employers, trade unions, workers and the unemployed collectively agree on our future, has been firmly in place not simply for a couple of years in a single programme, but for several programmes, spanning almost two decades. I am proud to state that Fianna Fáil, introduced this overwhelmingly inclusive policy that has resulted in gains for everyone. This partnership approach has enabled [57]us to manage rapid change successfully and to build popular support for the steps necessary to achieve continued growth and employment. More than ever, Ireland now needs the continued stability that such partnership provides.

I heard Deputies Eamon Ryan and Howlin discuss the need to view Ireland as a society and not as an economy. I assure them that Members on the Government side of the House view this country as a society. However, I suggest to both Deputies that people living in a society require jobs. We need taxes to pay for the services required in health, education and elsewhere. We are as much concerned about quality of life issues as the Opposition Deputies. I note again that I have heard little in the way of ideas from the Opposition Deputies today.

This new Ireland is a better place because of the talent, creativity, hard work and enterprise of the Irish people and a Government that works with them. This policy of partnership, solidarity and many other enlightened policies has resulted in Ireland coming of age and it is seen by many developing economies as a model to be emulated.

Over a period totalling almost 18 years and during our recent concurrent period in office of eight years and running, the enlightened policies of Fianna Fáil and its partners on health, enterprise, investment, taxation, transport, social, sporting and cultural affairs and on the building of community services have brought us to where we are today. It is no accident that a generation of young people has grown up and prospered never having known an elected Fine Gael-Labour coalition. It is a generation since a Fine Gael-Labour coalition was elected to govern this country and it was a period marked by economic darkness and depression, a time of lurching from crisis to crisis and instability. It is no accident that all the gains, the growth, the unfulfilled potential and the dormant ambition that lay untapped has flowered in the intervening period while Fianna Fáil-led Governments took the courageous and often painful decisions necessary to turn the country around and went on to build and manage the prosperity of the nation.

The short-lived so-called rainbow coalition that was in Government from 1994-97 briefly reaped the reward of others’ hard labour and the claims to the contrary are totally unsustainable and without foundation. The truth is that the foundations had been firmly laid for this rainbow Government by each of the three preceding Fianna Fáil-led Governments. What has been built on those solid foundations? Since 1997 alone, more than 450,000 new jobs have been created. A staggering one in every four jobs in Ireland has been created during the lifetime of this Government.

It is accurate to state that in Ireland we have achieved virtually full employment and this year has seen employment pass the 2 million mark for [58]the first time. The scale of the turn around is dramatic and is too easily forgotten. Ireland has an unmatched rate of unemployment, half the European average. We have been in the favourable position of being able to offer employment to nearly 200,000 people who have moved here from overseas to find employment and make their contribution. At 4.2%, our unemployment rate is half the EU average and less than half the rate it was in 1997.

There are many statistics in the quarterly national household survey that merit closer scrutiny and commentary. The number in employment has grown this year so far by 93,000, which is an additional 93,000 people working and taking home pay. This is the highest annual growth rate recorded since the second quarter of 2000. Therefore, this year witnessed a record growth in the labour force, even greater than the phenomenal growth experienced in the late 1990s. It is important to note that the increases in employment were almost universal, with increases recorded in construction, financial and other business services. In the BMW region, employment is up 5.7% or 26,600 people.

Since 1997, this Government has halved the national debt and we consequently pay €1 billion less in interest than in 1997. It was this Government that created the National Pension Reserve Fund so that our citizens could look forward to a comfortable retirement in future years.

There are many areas of dramatic improvement and growth worth mentioning but I will limit myself in the context of this debate to the dramatic leaps made in the arena of education since 1997. The statistics speak for themselves, namely, over 4,500 additional teachers, including 3,000 resource teachers, the lowest class sizes in the history of Irish education, in excess of 30,000 new college places, 6,000 special needs assistants, all Irish schools have access to the Internet and we are on target to deliver broadband to all schools within months. Department of Education and Science funding for research, which stood at zero in 1997, is now over €500 million. This is without mentioning all the improvements, extensions, new buildings, refurbishments and sports halls that have been built within that period.

Yes, there are challenges and obstacles and, yes, sometimes we do get it wrong but we have a record of achievements that matches our aspirations. We know what needs to be done and have plans and programmes in place to implement our policies.

Aside from aspiring to office, what plans has the Opposition to speak of? We have heard none today. This country was on its economic knees 18 years ago and violent conflict was the order of the day. Since then, the longest and largest period of sustained economic growth in our history has made us the envy of developing countries and of [59]wealthy countries alike. The peace process is alive and the war is over.

We are rightly proud of our record of achievements but we do not let it blind us to the challenges that lie ahead, of which there are many. Almost all indicators on the Irish economy in 2005 point to further strong growth in domestic activity. Consumer spending has picked up momentum, investment is also gaining strongly, especially business investment, while housing activity remains buoyant. It now seems likely that housing completions this year will match 2004’s record figure of 77,000. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked whether we need these but I will ask him to talk with some of the first-time buyers and young people who need them desperately.

Tax receipts also rose strongly in the first nine months of 2005, reflecting our robust economic performance. Employment growth, good fiscal policy, generous tax cuts and social welfare increases in the last budget have also contributed to a healthy economy. We in Government are proud of what we have done and achieved in working with others to build the new Ireland. We are well aware of the unfinished business that needs to be addressed.

We have heard absolutely nothing from the Opposition about its vision for the future. We have heard no new ideas or policies or initiatives or how they plan to pay for them. We on this side of the House have a very clear vision for the future of our country, which has been articulated many times by the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. I concur wholeheartedly with the Taoiseach when he says he wants Ireland to be: “A good country in which to live, to work, to invest, to grow up in and to grow old in, a country that has the potential to enjoy a truly great economy and a truly great society”.

This Government has worked in partnership with others to realise this vision. I have no doubt that when we all face the electorate in 2007, we will be given a mandate to continue in Government, to build on the unprecedented progress already made and to fulfil the potential of this country and of its people.

A Labour Party Deputy spoke about the spatial strategy and asked what other cities are developing throughout this country. I remind the House that, apart from Dublin, there are cities such as Galway in my native county, which has become the medical device capital of the west and Europe, Limerick, Waterford, where financial services are thriving, Cork and many others.

Mr. M. Ahern:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Kitt:  It is not true to say no progress is being made on the spatial strategy.

[60]I thought the Opposition would take the opportunity of this debate to come up with some ideas and real policies and cost them as we did when we were in Opposition. It would make for a much better democracy overall and we are ready to take on the Opposition whenever the date for the next election is announced.

Mr. M. Ahern:  Well done.

Mr. Glennon:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Timmins:  I wish to thank the Minister of State from the bottom of my heart because, in his speech, he stated the last 18 years have been almost exclusively Fianna Fáil-led Governments. It is the first time I have heard this because, since the popularity of the Government plummeted in recent years, the one catchphrase I have heard from Ministers is “successive Governments”. This is the line they pumped as they tried to gloss over their many failings. Something I have difficulty with concerning this Government is that when there are success stories or good news, it is responsible but when there is bad news, someone else is responsible.

Mr. M. Ahern:  That is true. The Deputy is dead right.

Mr. Timmins:  We are now clear that we have had 18 years of almost exclusive Fianna Fáil Governments. Therefore, let us get rid of the phrase “successive Governments”, which can be used very effectively by some of the spokespersons.

Mr. Glennon:  The Deputy should tell us what he would do.

Mr. Timmins:  This country was on its economic knees and violent conflict was the order of the day 18 years ago. When history is written, it will show that the Government manifesto of 1977 led to the difficulties in the 1980s. With respect to the conflict——

Mr. M. Ahern:  That is not true. It was prior to 1977.

Mr. Glennon:  It was before the Deputy was born.

Mr. Timmins:  It was before I was born. We are a young party. In 1985, when the then Fine Gael-Labour Government came forward with the Anglo-Irish Agreement, what did the main Opposition party do? Its central spokesperson in the United States of America undermined the agreement. This is how interested Fianna Fáil was in dealing with conflict.

[61]I will speak about the IDA manufacturing jobs, many of which we have lost in recent years. It is regrettable to see various factories closing down but it is an economic fact of life as we become a more prosperous society that manufacturing jobs will decline. A recent statistic indicated approximately 70% of American workers in 1820 were involved in agriculture while there is only 2% today. Who said America is not a wealthy country? The challenge for us is to examine how we approach the our problem of progress in this area. It is time for the IDA to amend its function of trying to attract manufacturing jobs to this country. We must evolve along the value added chain.

The enterprise strategy group raised the matter of encouraging small to medium enterprises. While a certain amount has been done in this country, it is not enough. Something is given on one hand and taken away on the other. I know it is difficult for the Minister of State to stay today after what he spouted for the past ten minutes. I would have been gone long ago were I in his shoes.

Mr. Glennon:  The Deputy should go ahead.

Mr. Timmins:  Concerning the charges placed on small businesses, I held a telephone conversation with a man who is trying to buy a site of half an acre in County Wicklow to set up a small business. The local authority’s charge is €500,000. On top of this one will be hit by levies and other local charges. The Government likes to take credit for the 40% and 22% tax rates while local authorities and local councillors must take the hit on additional levies because local infrastructure is not funded as it was in the past.

Mr. M. Ahern:  Most local authorities are controlled by Deputy Timmins’s party and the Labour Party.

Mr. Timmins:  Yes, they are. The levy schemes were introduced prior to March 2004 and the previous local elections. The public saw what happened. Members of the public are not as foolish as some Fianna Fáil spin doctors like to think. Many Fianna Fáil councillors were kicked out and Fine Gael has taken control of the councils.

Mr. M. Ahern:  The Deputy’s party is doing well.

Mr. Timmins:  I wish the Government had the courage to say that this is its policy and that it will impose local charges. I have not heard anyone coming forward.

We now have 137,000 migrant workers in the country. Last week I was approached by three young Indian nurses because they had difficulties [62]in establishing their rights and the rights of their spouses and friends to visit. I ask the Department to create a booklet for migrant workers outlining their rights in situations such as where their relations want to visit or they want to visit Britain or the United States. Many immigrants do not have much information. Fine Gael creates an information booklet for the public every year. Some people have tried to take the franchise from us in recent years but we can deal with that.

I welcome the progress made in the country and the population increase as outlined in the household survey. I suppose Fianna Fáil will take credit for the population increase also.

Mr. M. Ahern:  Yes.

Mr. Timmins:  Progress has negative aspects and I want to deal briefly with the problems of progress I encounter. In my constituency I deal with issues on housing and planning, and many towns have remained stagnant. The eastern region has mushroomed and no matter what policy any Government has, one cannot stop that. One can seek to curtail it but it is difficult to get a company to relocate to one corner of the country if it wants to locate in the eastern region. That is an economic fact of life and we must deal with it. We can put certain incentives in place but we cannot prevent a company from establishing itself there. Companies will not be attracted here if they are not permitted to establish where the bulk of the labour force is located and where access to markets and transport is available.

We must put in place structures to deal with the difficulties that arise. Many towns do not want to experience what happened in Leixlip. Every town should agree to 400 or 500 new private houses and increase its population by a few thousand. However, for some strange reason, people by their nature do not like additional people coming into their area. Many of those towns do not have the internal infrastructure such as a bridge over a river, a streetscape to deal with the growth or it is too costly to introduce the infrastructure required.

We must examine the concept of creating new small towns as opposed to developing big towns such as Galway or Mullingar as in the national spatial strategy. Instead of these towns getting out of control we should examine the idea of taking the population that must move into an area and creating small towns with populations of between 3,000 and 5,000. I articulated this policy vision for many years but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears. The Government should examine it.

Wicklow has strange planning processes that people do not understand. A planning policy existed whereby only locals could live in houses sold in towns. With the exception of large towns on the east coast, if new houses were built, only [63]people from Wicklow could live in them. That was a crazy policy and I was opposed to it. It was changed and now if a new development is built, 50% can be bought by Dubs, for want of a better word, and 50% by locals. It is difficult to agree with that policy. If I drive through Germany or France and see a scheme of houses being built in a town and on inquiring to buy I am told I cannot do so because I am from Ireland, I would take umbrage. Central government states that it is Wicklow County Council’s decision but it is not. The decision was taken based on the strategic planning guidelines and the interpretation given to the county council by the Department. It is supposed to be applicable to Meath, Wicklow and Kildare. Meath and Kildare did not strictly follow suit but Wicklow did.

We also have a difficulty with roads. The N11 on the eastern side of the county is a good road and most of it is completed. However, the N81 on the western side of the county is one of the worst and most dangerous roads in the country. The national development plan mentions that it will be upgraded between Blessington and Tallaght. That national development plan finishes next year but nothing has happened with regard to the upgrade of the road. I invite anyone to drive along it. It is treacherous.

With regard to public transport, a second rail line is required on the east coast. That would mean boring through Bray Head. Perhaps we still have the equipment used in the port tunnel. Running a second line through Wicklow and along the coast must be examined. The DART runs as far as Greystones and should be brought as far as Wicklow Town, which is a primary growth area.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment spoke on education and either he or the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, referred to lower class sizes. The Government made a commitment to have a pupil-teacher ratio of less than 20:1 in classes of children under nine years of age. It is no longer a commitment; perhaps it is an aspiration. The Government did not live up to it. During that period, 30,000 new college places were created.

Wicklow has sought an outreach for a third level institution because of the hit it took in terms of the increase in population during the past 15 to 20 years. We have not received any co-operation from central government. As recently as last week I received a reply from the Minister stating no plans were in place. However, the local authority and a developer have entered into negotiations with respect to buying the old Claremont college in Rathnew along with 60 acres. They will promote the project in conjunction with the Institute of Technology Carlow. I appreciate any support the Government can give to that.

[64]I regret that the Government sought to use this time to spin propaganda. I thank the almost exclusively Fianna Fáil Government. We will remember that when we face the many difficulties in the month ahead.

Mr. M. Ahern:  “Almost” is a big word.

Mr. Timmins:  A few bad years.

Mr. Glennon:  Listening to Deputy Timmins during the past five minutes, I had to pinch myself to see whether I had suddenly been co-opted onto Wicklow County Council. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. Listening to the tenor of the debate earlier, someone stated it was a nice idea on behalf of the Government to have this discussion so we could get involved in an exercise of self-congratulation. We should be given credit for the fact that we are far too knowledgeable about the quality of the Opposition in this House to know we would never get away with that.

I have pleasure in informing the Opposition that the real idea of this discussion was to show how bankrupt of ideas the Opposition is. In that regard I have no hesitation in indulging in an exercise of self-congratulation. If one listened to the last hour of input to this discussion, it is patently evident how devoid the Opposition is of any constructive ideas. I heard somebody state recently that there is much less to the Opposition in the House than meets the eye and it is a good description. I would never claim a monopoly on wisdom on this issue or any other issue, and I speak on behalf of everyone in the Government parties.

Mr. Timmins:  Hear, hear. I agree with the speaker.

Mr. Glennon:  However, after this discussion I have my doubts. The Opposition’s performance has been quite remarkable. We have had entirely subjective opinions given from different angles and it is entirely understandable in the circumstances.

I wish to make one particular point regarding a radio interview to which my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, referred. It is worth repeating. The discussion took place on Monday evening and concerned the recent report of the International Monetary Fund on the performance of the economy. The spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund clearly stated on two occasions that the success of the Irish economy was due in large, not in full, to sound management of the economy by the Government during the past ten to 15 years.

Debate adjourned.

[65]Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  79.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received the business plans from three State airports to date; if not, if he views the immediate completion of such plans as a priority; his views on whether the airports cannot adequately respond to future demands and adapt to changes within the aviation industry in the absence of such plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29709/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In keeping with the provisions of the State Airports Act 2004, the board of the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, has a statutory mandate to do everything necessary to give effect to the restructuring of the State airports.

The Shannon and Cork Airport Authorities were incorporated in September last year and in line with the framework provided by the 2004 Act, these two authorities will, in due course and subject to operational and financial readiness, own and operate their respective airports, once sufficient distributable reserves are available to transfer the relevant assets.

Both the Minister for Finance and I must be satisfied as to the sate of operational and financial readiness of the Shannon and Cork Airport Authorities before the assets of the airports are vested in those bodies. The formulation of comprehensive business plans by the boards will be a key aspect in evaluating operational and financial readiness. The three airport authorities are continuing to work on preparing their business plans, with the DAA co-ordinating the process. In this context, a range of issues needs to be considered, including the unsustainable cost base at Shannon Airport, the recently announced charges determination for Dublin Airport by the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the optimum mechanisms for the financing of the new terminal in Cork.

These are complex issues which the airport authorities must consider carefully and I have not imposed any artificial deadlines on the business planning process. Since the establishment of the new authorities last year, all three airports anticipate record traffic this year, with passenger numbers likely to exceed 18 million and 2.6 million at Dublin and Cork, respectively, while Shannon is expected to reach the 3 million figure for the first time. Even in advance of full auton[66]omy, it is clear that the new boards for Shannon and Cork, in conjunction with the DAA, are bringing a new impetus to developing and growing their airports, with growth this year expected to be over 30% at Shannon and close to 20% at Cork. Both these airports have the potential to build further on this success in the light of what is best for their particular business and their regions.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he agree that we are now at an absolutely critical juncture as far as aviation is concerned? There is a complete lacuna as regards the restructuring of the various State airports. The Minister says he is not placing a deadline on the business plans. Will not this just allow the type of drift we have at the moment to continue? I am sure the Minister recognises that the Dublin Airport Authority does not know at this time the type of debt it will have to carry forward, either from Cork or Shannon. It does not know whether it will have to carry the debt from the hotels. Already, it has admitted that it cannot build a terminal because the increase in the charges allowed will be less than what it asked for.

Is the Minister going to look for another bidder to provide the terminal, given that he has picked one that cannot guarantee delivery? Will be insist on business plans being produced by the airports? Is he going to make a decision on the hotels? In short, is he going to make any decision in respect of Dublin Airport, which is at a complete disadvantage now that it faces an open skies policy?

Mr. Cullen:  I agree with the Deputy that there are complex issues surrounding the three State airports. However, we must not lose sight of the important fact that all of the airports are showing record growth at the moment. That is fundamental to their futures, particularly for Cork and Shannon, with Shannon due to reach the 3 million passengers mark for the first time, while Cork will show a throughput of more than 2.6 million this year.

As regards the Deputy’s second last question, it does not necessarily follow that if somebody else is building the terminal, he or she is in a better position. The Commission for Aviation Regulation still determines the charging regime. No private person interested in constructing a terminal at Dublin Airport can do so unless it is profitable. He or she is in it for business reasons and this is significant.

Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister is assuming there are no charges.

Mr. Cullen:  Then there would be no income from it and I do not know whether anybody would actually do that.

[67]Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister assumes that the same cost levels are involved but that cannot be assumed.

Mr. Cullen:  I assure the Deputy that no one has given me any indication that the current rate of charges at Dublin Airport can be sustained. We now have the determination by the Commission for Aviation Regulation. That clearly has implications and is being studied by the board of the Dublin Airport Authority in conjunction with officials from my Department. The process of the airports separating is well under way.

I cannot make a decision before the proposals are submitted to me for consultation with the Minister for Finance. I am aware of the issues that Dublin Airport Authority is dealing with and it is working extremely well. That should be put on record.

As regards the new boards in both Cork and Dublin, the three boards share a high degree of confidence that the outcomes will be very good. Importantly, the progress they have made this year on the core issue indicates that they are growing enormously in traffic throughput numbers, which justifies confidence that the projections for the future will be more than sustainable when we are in a position to separate.

Finally, I am absolutely committed to the separation of the three airports under the State Airports Act. Everyone involved in the process wants to ensure that we get it absolutely right.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I accept that Dublin Airport is working well and that the new board is trying to work well but it is faces unbelievable disadvantages. I forgot to mention the fact that the authority now faces the possible re-evaluation of its credit rating, which will further disadvantage it. Will the Minister not accept that aviation in Europe faces a new open skies policy, with airports, airlines and all aviation authorities looking at new routes and new airports? The only country not in a position to do that is Ireland. All our airports are in the position that they literally do not know what the future has in store for them. It appears that no one is making decisions. It is very unfair, particularly for Dublin Airport, which is the national airport, to be disadvantaged in such a way.

The DAA is not supposed to make policy. It is supposed to be given direction by the Minister, who should govern and decide on an aviation policy. The authority is expected to operate at the moment in a vacuum and this is completely unfair. It is absurd to say that the authority is doing a good job when it cannot make any decision.

Mr. Cullen:  I reject absolutely what the Deputy has said. Having attended a couple of European Council meetings on transport, with Ireland being [68]very much to the forefront, I can confirm that this is one of the few countries with an absolutely clear view on open skies. That is led by the decision that I made in office——

Ms O. Mitchell:  I am not saying that we do not have a clear view on open skies. However, we are not delivering any of the policies that will benefit Ireland.

Mr. Cullen:  I did not interrupt the Deputy. In less than 12 months in office, I made a decision on aviation, in conjunction with the Government, that no previous Ministers in 20 years had made. The Deputy might disagree with some of the decisions. That is her right. However, the decisions have been made with absolute clarity on the development of the airports and the structure of Aer Lingus for the future. There is no question about this. These matters are all in play and are being worked on.

The Deputy is absolutely right——

Ms O. Mitchell:  There is no terminal, no plans, no runway.

Mr. Cullen:  ——and that is why Ireland is best positioned to capture open skies with the transatlantic routes. We do not even have to look just to the transatlantic routes, we should also be looking at the Middle East——

Ms O. Mitchell:  Where will they land? On what runway will they land?

Mr. Cullen:  I am very happy with that and should get some acknowledgement for it.

  80.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals for management of the estimated 7,000 additional heavy goods vehicles which will be obliged to use the Westlink toll bridge following the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel, in view of the existing serious congestion on the M50 and the long delays at the toll bridge; the policy directions he has given to the National Roads Authority in respect of its most recent negotiations with NTR as provided for under Section 41 of the Roads Act 1993; if he has given direction on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29726/05]

Mr. Cullen:  Traffic management in general is a matter for the appropriate local authority and in the case of the M50, the city centre and the vicinity of Dublin Port, that authority is Dublin City Council.

As a major new element in the capital’s road network, the port tunnel will have a considerable beneficial impact on traffic flow in the Dublin area. It will be of particular benefit in facilitating [69]improved access to Dublin Port for heavy goods vehicles while reducing HGV traffic in the city. The National Roads Authority and Dublin City Council are working to ensure that the tunnel, when open, will integrate smoothly with the road network.

In parallel with the opening to traffic of the Dublin Port tunnel, Dublin City Council will be introducing a heavy goods vehicle traffic management strategy to ensure that maximum traffic benefits are secured from the Dublin Port tunnel.

My Department’s formal role will be to put in place the necessary regulatory framework relating to traffic and parking management and road signage to support the strategy. In addition, the Department will continue to liaise with Dublin City Council as the strategy is finalised, so that I may be assured that the primary objective of the Dublin Port tunnel — to provide a high quality access route to Dublin Port for heavy goods vehicles — is achieved in a manner which maximises the overall traffic benefit of the tunnel. The issue of increased traffic on the M50 due to larger volumes of heavy goods vehicles must be considered in the context of the current average of 85,000 vehicles per day on the West Link section. In the first half of this year, between Monday and Friday, average daily traffic was running at 98,000 vehicles. The solution to peak hour congestion on the M50 requires the implementation of the M50 upgrade project and, as part of this, a move to free flow tolling at the West Link bridge.

In this context, the M50 upgrade motorway scheme and environmental impact statement were published in September 2004 and approved by An Bord Pleanála in April 2005. The upgrade involves the widening of approximately 32 km of the motorway from two to three lanes in each direction, from the M50-M1 interchange near Dublin Airport through to the Sandyford interchange, and the upgrade of ten junctions along this length. The NRA envisages that a design and build contract will be awarded by December 2005 for phase 1, the N4-N7 section, and a contract to expand the West Link section operated by National Toll Roads to three-plus-three motorway will be awarded during 2006. The public-private partnership contract for the remainder of the upgrade project is also expected to be awarded during 2006.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The NRA, in the context of the proposed upgrade of the M50, is in negotiation with National Toll Roads regarding the upgrade of the section of the M50 operated by NTR. These negotiations are addressing the upgrading of both the road section and the tolling arrangements. No policy direction has been given to the NRA under section 41 of the Roads Act 1993 in the context of these negotiations. The NRA is, however, well [70]aware of my objective to secure significantly enhanced capacity and an increased level of service on the M50 for road users, including through an early move to barrier free tolling. The NRA will report to me on the outcome of these negotiations.

Ms Shortall:  I assume the Minister accepts there will be a significant increase in traffic volume on the M50, particularly in the vicinity of the West Link bridge, as a result of the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel. My question asked what proposals the Minister had for managing the imminent increase in traffic volume, particularly of heavy goods vehicles, on the West Link toll bridge. We know traffic in the area is chaotic, with the M50 operating to capacity and daily reports of the problems associated with queuing at the toll bridge. A further 7,000 trucks per day will use the M50 and West Link toll bridge when the port tunnel opens. This is a recipe for chaos and gridlock on the outer fringes of Dublin.

In answer to my question, the Minister attempted to pass the buck by referring to a variety of agencies. He knows perfectly well that Dublin City Council has no role in respect of the West Link. The council is doing one thing in the city centre, the National Roads Authority something else on the outskirts and National Tolls Roads and Fingal County Council are also involved. It appears nobody is in charge despite the fact that we face chaos when the port tunnel opens next year. Traffic on the M50 is bad enough as it is. What are the Minister’s proposals for managing the major problems which will arise in the middle of next year when Dublin Port tunnel opens?

The Minister referred to open road tolling, an issue he has been talking about for a long time. Legislation is required to introduce this system which is urgently needed on the West Link. What is the Minister’s target date for introducing open road tolling? A number of proposals have been made to lift the toll gates on an experimental basis to encourage greater use of the road at off-peak times. Has the Department carried out a cost benefit analysis in respect of the possibility of lifting the toll gates or the impact such an initiative would have on traffic flows?

Mr. Cullen:  I fundamentally disagree with the Deputy’s opening remarks. Dublin City Council, not the Minister for Transport, is the authority responsible for this matter.

Ms Shortall:  Dublin City Council is responsible for Dublin Port tunnel, not the M50.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy should not try to pass the buck for responsibilities with which Labour Party councillors and other members of Dublin City Council are charged.

[71]Ms Shortall:  Dublin City Council has no responsibility for the M50 or the West Link toll bridge.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. Allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. Cullen:  I did not interrupt the Deputy. Dublin City Council is responsible for traffic management in conjunction——

Ms Shortall:  It is responsible for traffic management in the city.

Mr. Cullen:  It is specifically responsible for managing port tunnel traffic.

Ms Shortall:  It has no responsibility for the M50.

Mr. Cullen:  Even if the Deputy does not like my answer, she should at least give me a chance to give it.

Ms Shortall:  The Minister should tell the truth and stop pretending Dublin City Council has any role in the M50.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy’s behaviour is typical of the Labour Party which is in control——

Ms Shortall:  That is not true.

Mr. Cullen:  Her party tries to absolve city and county councils of their failures on a weekly basis.

Ms Shortall:  The Minister should stop trying to change the subject.

Mr. Cullen:  I am not changing the subject.

Ms Shortall:  Traffic management on the M50 has nothing to do with the city council.

Mr. Cullen:  There is no point in the Deputy tabling a question if she does not want me to answer it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Ms Shortall:  He should answer the question honestly.

Mr. Cullen:  I have been specific in answering the question. Dublin City Council is the authority responsible for traffic management in Dublin. The council is in consultation with the National Roads Authority about the M50 and the toll [72]bridge to work out traffic management solutions for the period after Dublin Port tunnel opens.

Ms Shortall:  What are the solutions?

Mr. Cullen:  Like the Deputy, I would like to see them.

Ms Shortall:  As the Minister for Transport, he is in charge.

Mr. Cullen:  Dublin City Council, not the Minister for Transport, is responsible for traffic management in Dublin. I have encouraged the NRA to——

Ms Shortall:  The Minister should not be so disingenuous.

Mr. Cullen:  Would the Deputy support legislation to transfer further powers from local authorities to the Department and Minister?

Ms Shortall:  The Minister should stop changing the subject. That issue has nothing to do with my question. What is he doing to meet his responsibilities?

Mr. Cullen:  As we speak, the body with responsibility for planning in this regard is Dublin City Council, as is the case with the respective councils in Limerick, Galway, Cork, Waterford and elsewhere. If the Deputy is arguing that her party’s councillors on Dublin City Council, working with council officials, do not have the capacity or ability to do this job and a special case must be made for Dublin, the Department will reconsider the position.

Ms Shortall:  What is the Minister doing?

Mr. Cullen:  I am telling the Deputy what I am doing. I am waiting. I have asked the——

Ms O. Mitchell:  He dropped the strategic infrastructure Bill.

Mr. Cullen:  As the Bill will have little to do with traffic management in Dublin, the Deputy should not to throw it into the hat.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is very much in the hat. The Government spent €1 billion on building a tunnel for which there is no purpose and no clear plan and, as such, deserves to be criticised.

Mr. Cullen:  I was the originator of the Bill and it has no provisions for traffic management in Dublin. I have tried to impart a great deal of information to the Deputies about the position of the National Roads Authority, National Toll Roads and other bodies but, as usual, the minute [73]I start to answer the question the Deputies start to interrupt me.

Ms Shortall:  We will not be taken in by the Minister’s tricks.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy is using tricks.

Ms Shortall:  The Minister raised issues which are not relevant. I asked him a question about the West Link toll bridge which is within the boundaries of Fingal County Council.

Mr. Cullen:  Rather than giving me a chance to answer, the Deputy started to rant the moment I spoke.

Ms Shortall:  The factual position is that the West Link toll bridge is in the Fingal County Council area and has nothing to do with Dublin City Council. Given that approximately 7,000 additional heavy goods vehicles will use the West Link toll bridge daily in six months, what, if anything, is the Minister planning to do to manage this development which has the potential to bring the city to a standstill? That was my first question. Second, what is his target date for introducing the long-promised system of open road tolling?

Mr. Cullen:  Again, the two answers are clear. Like the Deputy, I urge Dublin City Council to fulfil its responsibility to put in place a traffic management plan. The Deputy pretends this responsibility lies elsewhere.

Ms Shortall:  That is not the case. The Minister is misleading the House.

Mr. Cullen:  Does the Deputy want an answer to her questions on the toll road and the M50?

Ms Shortall:  Yes, but I want an honest reply. The Minister should stop misleading the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We must proceed to the next question.

Mr. Cullen:  If the Deputy does not want answers, there is no point in me attending the House for questions. She came to the House to play a political game on this issue but I will not allow her to get away with it.

Ms Shortall:  We do not want the Minister’s stunts and distractions. He should answer the question.

Mr. Cullen:  The stunts are taking place on the Opposition side of the House.

  81.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for [74]Transport    when he will publish the ten-year transport investment plan for the country; and if contractual commitments on the major public transport projects within the plan are expected to be agreed within the lifetime of this Dáil. [29724/05]

  82.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has considered the impact of projected population changes within the greater Dublin area and its implication for his Department’s ten-year transport plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29710/05]

Mr. Cullen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 82 together.

I hope to submit proposals to Government shortly regarding the ten-year transport investment framework. I will publish details of the framework once it has been approved by the Government. Responsibility for entering into contractual commitments for the major public transport projects under the framework will be a matter for the implementing agencies and not directly for my Department. However, the framework will set out the annual global financial profiles and indicative timeframes for the implementation of major projects and the agencies will be expected to work within these parameters. The implementation of the projects will be spread over the ten-year lifetime of the framework, having regard to the state of preparedness of individual projects, their relative priority and the annual financial profiles.

The forecast increase in population in the greater Dublin area was considered. In developing the framework, my Department asked the Dublin Transportation Office to carry out transportation modelling on the impacts of a number of different scenarios to help assess the optimal mix of investments.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  It is clear from the Minister’s response that no major public transport projects will be contractually signed in the lifetime of this Dáil. In the exchange with Deputy Shortall it was interesting to hear he has nothing to do with traffic management in the capital and now he is saying he has nothing to do with the contractual arrangements that these are up to the agency.

Ms O. Mitchell:  And nothing to do with the subject.

Mr. Cullen:  I did not say that either, and the Deputy should not misquote me. I answered a specific question on who is in charge and gave an answer.

Ms Shortall:  He is like Manuel, he knows nothing.

[75]Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister stated that it would be up to the implementing agencies whether any contracts would be signed. This is the exact replica of what happened four years ago, where Fianna Fáil stated before an election that it would build a metro and six months later when the election was over, it was goodbye to the Metro. Anything he will say about public transport will have the same credibility. It is a Fianna Fáil promise before an election. If the contracts are not signed before the election, sorry, it counts for nothing.

Are the media reports true with regard to the front-loading in the roads programme, that the Department of Finance after its clever analysis of the transport scene in the past six years when they let through a €6 billion roads programme which cost €16 billion, is fighting the good valiant fight and insisting that we spend more on roads and then eventually, after 2014 or some such date, we will start building public transport? Is that general trend emerging from the Minister’s detailed analysis which was meant to be completed last March?

On the funding envelope that the Minister called the global financial portfolio, if we are adopting a funding mechanism for the proposed metro which would involve, not the State funding it — Lord forbid we put a penny into public transport — but rather private finance over 20 or 30 years of the lifetime of the project the Government has proposed, how does that funding fit into the overall funding about which the Minister talks?

Mr. Cullen:  All the Deputy’s assertions, as usual, are wrong. Some day I might figure out what the Greens want. They do not want roads.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Public transport.

Mr. Cullen:  They do not want private money in public transport. They do not want investment in this or that. It is an extraordinary policy.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Public money into public transport. That is the answer.

Mr. Cullen:  I will look in glee to the distant future when Fine Gael and Labour might sit down and come up with some cohesive policies that they might operate together.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Public money from the public purse.

Mr. Cullen:  The reality is that no such decision——

Ms O. Mitchell:  After eight years in Government we might have one.

[76]Mr. Cullen:  ——will emerge on the investment over the next ten years that will prioritise roads over investment in public transport. That is not the way the plan will be implemented and I am happy to say so in the House this afternoon. I do not know from where the Deputy got that.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  From him.

Mr. Cullen:  There is a huge commitment in investment in public transport in the plan. His assertion that nothing is happening is nonsense. Only last week I signed the railway order for the upgrade of the electrification of the Kildare and Maynooth lines into Dublin.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  It will not go to construction for another three years.

Mr. Cullen:  Only last week we completed €175 million investment in the DART, the largest investment ever. Every station is now upgraded to take eight carriages. Passenger numbers per day on the DART are increased by thousands.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Does he believe this rosy picture? Does he think the people believe this nonsense?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. Cullen:  Does anybody want me to answer a question here this afternoon? It seems the Deputy has come in, like everybody else——

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  It is entertainment.

Mr. Cullen:  ——to just rant and rave. Investment is taking place as we speak. There has been significant investment, from a paltry sum of barely millions up to 1997——

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Four to one in favour of roads.

Mr. Cullen:  ——to billions. More than the Deputy would ever imagine has been invested in public transport.

Ms O. Mitchell:  We all agree that a longer-term horizon is welcome but the idea of such a horizon is that it gives certainty as to what projects will go ahead. That has not happened. There has been every effort to obfuscate about what is planned to hide the fact that nothing is happening. There have been five year plans. There have been national plans. There have been national envelopes of plans. There are plans which are about to be announced. They will take ten years. We do not know whether it is a nine year plan or an 11 year plan. In other words, projects are being dropped, hidden, delayed, put back in and taken out to the extent that nobody knows exactly what [77]is happening. Would the Minister agree now that we know for certain from all the projections, that the population is increasing even faster than we expected, that there is a real need to start delivering on projects and that the rate of the population increase is far greater than the rate of delivery of public transport projects? There has been a large increase in investment in the DART. There has been an increase in investment in recent years in commuter rail. Despite the fact that Luas has taken 20 million trips off the roads in the year, we still see no net improvement because the population is growing at a much faster rate than that at which the Minister is delivering projects. Similarly, the last section of the motorway has been completed——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question, Deputy.

Ms O. Mitchell:  ——and yet every day we hear that there are tailbacks on the new section of the motorway, which it is not planned to widen. The reality is we are losing competitiveness every day as a result of congestion in this city and every other city and the public is losing patience with the Minister. As a result of these compelling figures about population, has the plan been expanded, adjusted or accelerated to cater for these increases?

Is there anybody in the Government who thinks there will ever be a better time for investment in public transport? Will we be richer than at present? Will there be a greater need than at present? In other words, for what on earth is he waiting to get up and going with the public transport projects?

Mr. Cullen:  I agree with a number of points the Deputy made. We need to make a huge investment in public transport generally, but specifically in Dublin. I have not changed my view. When I came to conclusions having listened to everybody about what should be in the plan, I would not accept any attempt to alter the plan because it must be a fully integrated plan that will take Dublin into the future.

Deputy Mitchell is correct. This country is income rich but, as I stated recently, we are not public wealth rich. It is time we created the public wealth, like the investment in public transport and other facilities, throughout this country. I am happy that the discussions I have had with the Minister for Finance have gone exceptionally well. However, never again will I put myself in a position of guessing numbers on projects and finding myself back in this House hearing Deputies state that I said it was X and now it is X plus Z. For that reason, the due diligence that has been done on every single project with every single agency, the analysis, the cost benefit analysis, the real costs, the inflation costs and the pro[78]jected costs all have been put into this programme. They have been scrutinised inside out. We now have almost completed that process and I will be ready to go to the Government shortly with the full investment portfolio. Never before in the history of the State has the roll-out of a project such as the ten year investment for the entire project come, side by side with considerable financial muscle that will stand up to anybody’s scrutiny.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I am glad to hear the Minister has done such a detailed costing. Regardless of whether they are included, could he give me the figure for the cost of the eastern by-pass proposed by IBEC or the interconnector rail tunnel proposed by Iarnród Éireann?

Ms O. Mitchell:  This all would be far more credible if we had not heard it week in, week out for the past 12 months. Would the Minister accept, at least, that it is totally false economy to keep postponing projects, that not alone is the cost of each project increasing but the scale of the response is increasing with every passing month?

Mr. Cullen:  In reply to Deputy Ryan, “no” is the answer. I will not get——

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is the scale of the response that is needed.

Mr. Cullen:  First, as the Deputy knows, I have instructed the NRA and everybody else to do the complete feasibility study on the eastern by-pass and, therefore, I do not have a costing.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister just said he had costed all the projects.

Mr. Cullen:  Sorry, the Deputy should wait until he sees the plan.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  He just stated he costed everything.

Mr. Cullen:  Who said that was in it?

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister did.

Mr. Cullen:  I did not. The Deputy did, I did not.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  No, I do not want it in.

Mr. Cullen:  Give me the answer. Put the facts again on the record, if you want to hear them.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  It is not in it.

Mr. Cullen:  I agree, Deputy but if it takes an extra few months to get this right, I have been willing to do it. Every day I hear in this House [79]Labour, Fine Gael and the Greens pretending that with a click of their fingers they will change health services and infrastructure, as if they have some magical solutions. Not one policy has emerged from the Greens, the Labour Party or Fine Gael——

Mr. P. Breen:  Eight years.

Ms Shortall:  Eight years.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Since 1998 we have listened week in, week out to the Minister telling us the Government would give us a metro system in Dublin. Where is it?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order.

Mr. Cullen:  ——on any area, but they come into this House day in, day out pretending that they have solutions. It is a load of baloney and it is time they were asked by us and the media to stand up what they are saying or shut up.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I would ask to see the Transport files if I was in the position.

  83.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason for his failure to fund additional buses for Dublin Bus as promised under the national development plan; and his proposals for addressing the significant unmet demand for extra bus capacity in many parts of Dublin. [29727/05]

  3 o’clock

Mr. Cullen:  Significant Exchequer funds have been allocated to Dublin Bus under the National Development Plan — NDP. Some €349 million in operating subvention has been paid to the company over the period from 1999 to 2005, rising from €16.8 million in 1999 to €64.9 million in the current year. Under the NDP, Dublin Bus has purchased 497 new buses of which 93 are additional and 404 are replacement buses. Some 248 of these buses have been purchased with Exchequer assistance, 179 of which have had their cost met in full by the Exchequer. A further 20 buses will be purchased later this year with Exchequer assistance. In excess of €100 million in Exchequer capital funding has been provided to Dublin Bus since 2000. Included in this is €22 million in Exchequer funds allocated for the construction of a new bus depot at Harristown.

Significant changes have taken place in Dublin since the start of the national development plan. These changes include substantial increases in rail capacity, such as Luas, commuter rail services and the DART upgrades, together with ongoing demographic changes. As a result of a reconfigured fleet, passenger carrying capacity has increased by 255 at peak times. It is in this context [80]that Dublin Bus is carrying out a review of the bus network in Dublin. The company has advised me that the review will be completed early next year. The company is, in the first instance, assessing how to maximise the utilisation of its existing bus fleet.

I anticipate that the company will respond to the challenge of meeting customer expectations in Dublin with new and innovative solutions. I intend to carry out full public consultation on the company’s proposals. Given the level of investment in the bus market in Dublin, I want a wide range of views on any proposals for further investment in the bus market to ensure that it continues to represent best value for money for the taxpayer.

Ms Shortall:  The Minister puts much store in the famous ten-year transport plan for which we have been waiting for the past ten months or so, but I am sure he will forgive us for being utterly sceptical about plans. The public shares our scepticism. The experience with the most recent plan, the national development plan, was that it gave absolute guarantees on funding allocations. That plan provided for an additional 275 buses for Dublin Bus — an absolute guarantee of funding set in stone as part of the national development plan. However, not one additional bus has been provided to Dublin Bus since 2001. Meanwhile, the demand for public transport is exploding in the city and thousands of people are turned away from buses daily during the morning and evening peak hours.

Why should we believe anything the Minister says in respect of this famous transport plan when he has not honoured the commitments he gave under the national development plan? Some 275 buses were promised but only 93 were delivered, and that was before 2001. Where are the other 182 buses? When will the Minister deliver them as promised? When will he make some impact on meeting the huge unmet demand for bus services in the Dublin area?

Mr. Cullen:  I do not know whether people understand this but, at pain of repeating myself, what seems to be the basis of Deputy Shortall’s view and that of others is that Dublin Bus should have got new smaller buses. What Dublin Bus did was to buy buses with a completely different configuration which allowed it to increase capacity carrying in Dublin by over 25%. The replacement buses for which we provided funds are substantially different from many of the buses previously operating in Dublin.

Dublin Bus, because of the advent of Luas and other facilities, is doing an assessment in Dublin of how to maximise the existing routes. It is Dublin Bus that is doing the full evaluation, not me.

[81]Ms Shortall:  Nonsense.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is a time-wasting project.

Mr. Cullen:  As Minister responsible, I am charged with maximising the use of taxpayers’ money. I have asked Dublin Bus to do this evaluation, but I cannot go to Busáras and write it for Dublin Bus. As soon as the company has completed its assessment, we agree terms and it comes to me, I will give Dublin Bus the new buses.

Unless policy has changed — Labour Party and Fine Gael Party policy seems to be different every morning when the party leaders come into the House — value for money must be part of the equation. Dublin Bus must maximise the use of buses

Ms O. Mitchell:  The buses were promised in 2000.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  How many buses would the Minister get for €52 million?

Mr. Cullen:  It must maximise the use of buses on peak routes and must be flexible in changing routes because of increased capacity on the DART and the impact of the Luas.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Dublin Bus is certainly flexible. It juggles buses every day.

Mr. Cullen:  There has not been an assessment of the route network in Dublin for decades. It may be the Deputy’s view that we should stay with what we have ——

Ms Shortall:  Stop spoofing.

Mr. Cullen:  —— when public transport investment has changed fundamentally in Dublin, but I have asked the company for its assessment to be completed and given to me. Based on that, we will meet the requirements. What the Deputy wants me to do, in advance of any proper assessment, is simply to give Dublin Bus the buses, without any guarantee of value for money for the taxpayer.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Not us; the Minister promised the buses in 2000.

Mr. Cullen:  The Fine Gael and Labour Deputies are speaking in total contradiction of what their party leaders say in the House week after week. When it suits them to sing a different song, they do so.

Ms Shortall:  This is pure spoof. These are the tricks the Minister employs. He muddies the waters, spreads confusion and does not answer the question he has been asked. The Minister [82]promised 275 buses under the national development plan, but he has refused to honour that commitment. He only provided 93 buses and, therefore, owes Dublin Bus and the commuters of Dublin 182 buses.

Given that the majority of people in the Dublin area are dependent on buses for public transport, notwithstanding the popularity of the Luas and DART, will the Minister explain the reason he refuses to provide the additional buses needed and which he promised to provide? Is it not time we had somebody in the Department of Transport who is prepared to champion the notion of public transport and show some commitment to the people who are turned away from buses on a regular basis because the fleet is inadequate and insufficient to meet the demand? Is it not nonsense to talk about getting people out of their cars when we do not have the required capacity in the bus service?

Mr. Cullen:  I assure the Deputy that nobody has championed public transport more than I have. The proof of this will be seen in a few weeks. It is frustrating for me. I would love to have the plan out today or last week.

Ms Shortall:  That is just another promise.

Mr. Cullen:  No it is not. I will produce the plan. The Deputy will see it and can make her judgment on it.

Ms Shortall:  Why does the Minister not do what he has already promised? Why will he not provide the buses?

Mr. Cullen:  I have not refused to give Dublin Bus the buses.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to make his reply.

Ms Shortall:  Several replies to parliamentary questions indicate that.

Mr. Cullen:  What I have said is that the least we can ask Dublin Bus, or any other company or agency that is in receipt of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, is to account for how it can maximise and get best value for that money.

Ms Shortall:  It does that.

Mr. Cullen:  Dublin Bus accepts that, so it is doing a full review of the existing network in Dublin, something which has not been done by anybody for decades.

Ms Shortall:  Meanwhile, people continue to wait at bus stops.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

[83]Mr. Cullen:  In recent years the DART has been developed and its capacity doubled. We have also had the impact of the Luas. The Deputy is surely not arguing that the existing bus routes should not be touched when the DART and Luas are working. It seems bizarre the Deputy should suggest that. Dublin Bus accepts it has a responsibility to work out the network and has informed me it is in the best position to do that review. I was going to look for somebody else to do it, but Dublin Bus felt it should do it because it knows the network. I agreed and asked it to bring the answer to me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We move on to other questions. These questions and supplementary questions and replies are subject to a maximum duration of one minute.

  84.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which he has examined the cause or causes of the various fatal traffic accidents that have occurred over the past 12 months; if he will address the issue in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29495/05]

Mr. Cullen:  The primary immediate investigative role with regard to road accidents is vested in the Garda Síochána. Priority in such an investigation must be given to the determination of the causes of road accidents, including whether a breach of the road traffic laws contributed to the occurrence.

Garda reports are forwarded to the National Roads Authority and subsequently to each local authority for the purpose of the establishment of accident trends and causes generally and to facilitate the carrying out of remedial works relating to road infrastructure where such action is deemed to be necessary. I have no current plans to propose alternative arrangements for investigating road accidents.

Mr. Durkan:  I defer to Deputy Olivia Mitchell, but will ask a supplementary question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  When I made inquiries recently about the causes of accidents and what investigations are done, I was horrified to discover that depending on the type of accident and whether a criminal prosecution was likely, a certain line of investigation took place, but if there was no criminal prosecution, even in a case where there was a fatality, a different type of investigation took place.

[84]There does not seem to be any clarity about the causes of accidents. A newspaper has reported today that many accidents may be caused by the use of cocaine and other drugs; that may well be the case. Criminal prosecutions do not result from accidents in many cases if toxicology tests are not done — I refer in particular to fatal accidents.

Given that this country’s road death figures have exceeded any kind of acceptable level, we need firm information when we are drawing up policy. Everybody can suggest solutions to this problem, but we need to ascertain exactly what causes accidents. Is legislation needed to allow drug testing to take place at roadsides? I appreciate that it can be easier to breathalyse someone than to test someone for drugs. Does the Minister believe that drug testing at roadsides is necessary?

Mr. Cullen:  I agree with the Deputy that this is a difficult issue. The accidents on our roads throughout October have been appalling. I extend my sympathies to the families of those involved in the tragedies. The answer I gave to Question No. 84 emphasised the primacy of the gardaí but I agree with Deputy Mitchell that the information we need to assemble if we are to make legislative or policy judgments is too thinly spread. The entire body of such information is not available in the cohesive and detailed form we would like.

When the House discussed the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004, I mentioned that I intend to amend the Bill to provide for the establishment of a new road safety authority, the remit of which will include the gathering of the various details I have mentioned. That single body will be given responsibility for assembling all information.

As Deputy Mitchell correctly stated, there is increasing evidence that drugs play a part in many of the desperately unfortunate road accidents in this country. I accept that legislation would probably be needed to provide for drug testing but I am not sure how the testing methodology would be worked out. I have had many discussions on this issue within the Department of Transport. I have asked my officials to discuss the matter with their counterparts in the Office of the Attorney General.

While we are familiar with the link between alcohol abuse and fatal road accidents, it should be borne in mind that alcohol is not the only cause of the deaths of young people on our roads. It is clear that the abuse of drugs is a major second aspect of the problem.

Mr. Durkan:  Does the Minister accept that he should take the initiative in this regard? It is clear that some accidents are caused by substance abuse and others are caused by road conditions. [85]There is no information about many accidents. The Minister for Transport is in the best position to take the initiative by gathering information, making recommendations to the local authorities and the various other relevant bodies and taking the legislative action that is required.

Mr. Cullen:  I agree with the Deputy. I conveyed to Deputy Olivia Mitchell that I accept that information on road accidents is somewhat scattered at present. I am addressing the lack of a single fulcrum of information by establishing a road safety authority. I have outlined to the House my approach for dealing with the apparent increase in the use of drugs by young people, who then get involved in road traffic accidents. I will tease out that aspect of the matter with Deputies when the House considers the Bill again. I will be happy to take on board the views of my colleagues.

Ms Shortall:  Does the Minister accept that there are two major gaps in the information that is made available about the circumstances in which road accidents take place? We are not given any information about the status of drivers who are involved in accidents. We do not know whether accidents are more likely to involve unlicensed drivers, for example, or drivers with provisional licences. It is important, given that almost 400,000 people are driving on provisional licences, that such information be made available. It stands to reason that driver status is an important aspect of this matter, especially as so many young people are involved in serious accidents.

Does the Minister accept that there is a lack of information about the quality of the surfaces of roads on which accidents take place? The Health and Safety Authority does not have a role in examining road accidents. Who is policing local authorities to ensure that they provide adequate signage and set speed limits when road works are ongoing or have recently been finished? It does not seem that anybody is considering whether such factors contribute to accidents or policing the precautions being taken in this regard.

Mr. Cullen:  Such analysis is being done. Many investigations take place on foot of serious road accidents. I would not like to diminish the strong role of local authorities in that regard, not only under the Department of Transport but also under the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I was surprised to find, after Deputy Shortall raised this matter on a previous occasion, that records are not kept of the qualifications or lack of qualifications of drivers who are involved in road accidents. We need to have such information at our disposal as a matter of urgency because it would indicate clearly rather than notionally the [86]level of driving competence of young people and others involved in accidents. As the information that has been made available is sketchy, one cannot make an absolute assessment on the basis of it.

This issue needs to be considered in the context of the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004. I look forward to tabling amendments to the Bill and I will be open to any amendments which will be proposed by other Deputies. I do not disagree with Deputy Shortall, who has raised this matter previously, in this regard.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Does the Minister agree that our society’s utter dependence on cars, which is demonstrated by the fact that Irish cars travel twice as far as German cars each year, is the fundamental contributory factor behind this country’s high level of road fatalities and injuries? It is inevitable that our dependence on car transport, which is much more dangerous than rail transport or bus transport, will lead to a high level of deaths on the road. Therefore, every policy pursued by the Minister for Transport, whose job involves trying to prevent road deaths, should lead to a switch where possible to modes of transport which are safer and which save lives. Is the saving of lives the central plank of the Government’s transport policy? If so, does the Minister agree that it behoves us to invest massively in rail and bus transport, rather than encouraging this country’s dependence on cars?

Mr. Cullen:  Deputy Ryan has made an extraordinary assertion. I agree that one of the reasons for this country’s high level of road fatalities is its extraordinary network of small roads scattered throughout the country. The Government is pursuing a policy of constructing motorways on the major interurban routes to try to improve the road network, but the Green Party is opposing that every step of the way. I have consistently argued that this country needs more roads of a better standard and fewer of the traditional smaller roads. I do not understand, bearing in mind Deputy Ryan’s correct assertion that our society depends on road transport, why the Green Party does not support the Government’s road construction policy. It is unrealistic to suggest that everybody can be switched from cars to public transport — that will not happen.

There were less than 750,000 cars in this country a few years ago, but that figure has increased to 1.6 million today. It is interesting that Ireland’s level of car ownership continues to be below the European average. Many important matters can be considered as part of the debate on road accidents, but the most telling statistic that can be used is that driver behaviour is the cause of 86% of accidents. The most fundamental issue to be confronted is the need for Irish people, individually and collectively, to take responsibility for [87]their behaviour on the roads. An improvement in driver behaviour would reduce the current tragic level of deaths and injuries overnight without any need for legislative proposals. I reiterate that 86% of the tragic fatalities and injuries on our roads can be attributed to driver behaviour.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Is the Minister saying he does not think there is a need for a change in society’s attitude to cars?

Ms C. Murphy:  I agree with the Minister that a comprehensive body of data is collected when an accident that causes a fatality or serious injury takes place. I have examined the manner in which information is collated by Kildare County Council. Local authorities often respond to accidents by funding low-cost remedial measures or by initiating a major project. There does not seem to be any significant middle ground. Has the Minister considered a different funding response to deal with accident locations which require more than a low-cost remedial response?

Mr. Cullen:  I would not disagree with the assertion that we must consider every method, no matter how new, to improve the quality of surfaces, signage and markings on our roads. That is unquestioned. Many accidents occur on what would be termed regional roads and non-national roads, which are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, testing continues all the time and all the authorities have in recent years examined surfaces and new materials to ensure the standards of road safety can be increased. When we have finished upgrading the road network throughout the country, not just the major inter-urban routes but all the connecting major roads, I have no doubt the situation will improve dramatically. We must remove bad roads with bad bends, which are used by powerful cars being driven too fast, some by drivers who have taken drink or drugs.

It is a process. We are doing anything we can. We have improved the situation but we need to do more. However, we need the understanding and assistance of the public in terms of individual responsibility to have a big win on this.

  85.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the recruitment process under way for new driver testers will fill all vacancies in the driver testing service; if he will increase the number of driver testers once these vacancies are filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28820/05]

Mr. Cullen:  The normal complement of driver testers in my Department, excluding the chief [88]tester and supervisors, is 119. Currently there is a number of vacancies in that complement, although by and large these are being covered by the retention of retired driving testers. In normal circumstances I would be satisfied that the normal complement of 119 was adequate to maintain a high level of service to those seeking to do tests. However, as the Deputy is aware, there is an unacceptable delay in providing tests at present and I am progressing a number of options to supplement the testing capability in the short term to eliminate this backlog. This includes recruiting ten further testers on a fixed term contract. The competition for this is under way and is being managed by the Public Appointments Service. This will fill all existing vacancies. I also intend to continue to use the services of retired driver testers in the short term, although this could put the number on the Department’s payroll above 119 for a short time. I expect the number to return to approximately 119 once the backlog is cleared.

In addition, and for the express purpose of eliminating the current backlog and restoring a reasonable level of service to our customers, I am seeking to outsource a limited and defined number of tests to an outside contractor. I have also proposed an incentive package to our existing driver testing staff. If this package is delivered the backlog will be cleared within 18 to 24 months, hopefully within 18 months. My expectation is that by then a cohort of 119 testers should be sufficient to deliver the service and the testing function should have transferred to an independent agency under legislation currently before the House.

I am not satisfied with the delay that exists in driver testing, from a road safety perspective or in terms of basic customer service standards. As outlined, my plans to address this include a very attractive incentive package for existing driver testing staff, the recruitment of additional contract staff and the limited use of outsourcing. I am looking for the support of all those involved in meeting this challenge. I ask them to agree this extremely generous package and to assist us in looking after our customers in this regard.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I agree with the Minister that driver behaviour is the single biggest cause of most accidents. However, driver behaviour is influenced by official action and particularly by official indifference. The message going out to drivers must be that there is official indifference to road safety given that there are 335,000 drivers with provisional licences, most of whom have failed their driving test. That is the background to the discussion on road accidents.

Testing is critical. The Minister stated he has advertised for ten additional testers. He also stated that legislation to set up an independent body is imminent and will be back before the [89]House shortly. It is critical that this authority has the budget to provide a sufficient number of testers. I do not want to wander into the area of industrial relations difficulties, and I wonder why these difficulties were not resolved during the benchmarking process and why we are now offering further incentives for increased productivity. Nevertheless, I imagine the background to this is the fact that the testers will probably all be switched to an independent authority, for which the Minister will not be answerable to the House. Therefore, I must ask now whether that authority will have the budget to recruit testers when required to clear backlogs.

The issue does not only concern backlogs. If the authority has the new road safety remit the Minister promises, driver testers will be responsible for retesting and further activities in regard to ongoing education. In addition, the population is increasing. The budget of the authority is critical in ensuring it can recruit testers when required. The Minister must agree that Ireland is the only country in Europe where road deaths are increasing per capita and where one third of a million people drive on provisional licences. The situation is unacceptable.

Mr. Cullen:  I do not disagree with the Deputy.

Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister is in charge.

Mr. Cullen:  I agree the situation is unacceptable. The Minister for Finance has been very supportive of me in providing the financial resources to achieve the outcome we need, namely, an end to backlog. I never want to see backlogs recur and it is undoubted that this proposal will end the backlog. When the backlog is out of the way, we will be have the capacity to keep the full complement of driver testers in place. When the new authority is established, resources will be fully available to it to meet demands.

The existing Civil Service structure is not the right one for the reasons outlined by the Deputy, namely, the system needs flexibility within a public service mandate. This is the best approach. It is a win-win situation for everybody and, above all, it is a win for the young drivers and others who need to get their driving licences. I do not want a position sustained whereby huge numbers of young people are driving on their second, third and fourth provisional licences. That is not the way we should operate the driving licence system.

Ms Shortall:  It is difficult to follow the Minister’s logic. There are huge backlogs, with a current waiting time of up to 60 weeks.

Mr. Cullen:  In some places.

[90]Ms Shortall:  This situation has not just occurred overnight but has been the case for several years. Moreover, the backlog does not include all the people who have simply ignored the system and drive without any form of licence. It is an awful situation. The Minister talks about providing incentives to get existing driver testers to work longer hours, recruiting temporary testers and outsourcing the work. If he accepts that all this work needs to be done, how can he believe the complement of 119 testers is adequate? The Minister noted the rate of car ownership is increasing and that people are beginning to drive at a younger age. Surely we need to increase tester numbers in line with the growth in population.

Mr. Cullen:  The problem is that the backlog is so large, at approximately 130,000. I have examined this issue in detail with the testers and have been told by them that they would have no trouble dealing with a normal, average number of applications for driver tests. In fact, it was only two or three years ago that waiting times had reduced to a few weeks. We know what happened then and the reason it happened.

Mr. Naughten:  The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, opened his mouth.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister, Deputy Brennan, made a complete mess of it.

Mr. Cullen:  It was an issue then that people decided——

Ms O. Mitchell:  If the backlog is growing, how will it be cleared?

Mr. Cullen:  I am answering the question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  The logic of what the Minister is saying is completely wrong.

Mr. Cullen:  The testers feel that the full complement of 119 is more than adequate to meet demands, although the system has always operated with less than a full complement. However, to give the system the flexibility to bring in extra testers on occasion, or more permanent testers, will make it possible to reduce backlogs. I can only operate on the basis of what I am told by the experts — the driver testers — who are at the coal face. They tell me how they operate and what they can cope with. If they deliver and this process delivers, and the backlog is cleared in approximately 18 months, drivers will be able to apply for and get their driving licence in just a few weeks. That is the position that must be sustained into the future.

Mr. Durkan:  Does the Minister accept there would not be a backlog if the system had worked [91]efficiently with 119 testers? Given that a backlog has arisen, there is obviously a problem. By what date does the Minister expect to have the backlog cleared? How does the Minister propose to appoint those who will do the outsourced work? Will the positions be advertised? Is a firm of consultants required to advise on the issue and all the associated costs?

Mr. Cullen:  That process is complete.

Mr. Durkan:  Tell us about it.

Mr. Cullen:  It has gone out to public and international tender. I have not seen the final results but the process is almost at an end, which I am happy to report to the House. If we had agreement, the Department would be in a position to appoint a major company for the outsourcing on a very fixed-time contract.

Ms Shortall:  Is it the NCT?

Mr. Cullen:  I believe it is one of the companies. The file has not come to me to sign, so I do not want to speculate on it. There has been speculation.

I am not in a position of having to go into all this because it has been done. I would be ready to roll it out if we could get agreement on the process. We must go to the Labour Relations Commission. I do not believe that is necessary given the quality of the package in place but if we must go through that process, we will do so. If we get agreement there, we could start the process on 1 January. It will take about 18 months to clear.

Mr. Durkan:  Is it cost effective?

Mr. Cullen:  It is very cost effective.

Mr. Durkan:  How does the Minister know?

Mr. Cullen:  I know the figures involved.

Mr. Durkan:  Why does the Minister not give us them?

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy did not ask me for them.

Mr. Durkan:  Is the Minister being bashful? I asked the Minister for them.

Mr. Cullen:  In June 2003——

Mr. Durkan:  On a point of order, I asked that precise question. The Minister has misled the House. He said I did not ask him.

[92]Mr. Cullen:  I have no problem giving the information. The information was not sought in the question. I do not carry all that information in my head but I have no issue giving the Deputy the costs. I would be happy to make them available to him.

  86.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    the transition period he envisages for Shannon Airport maintaining its stopover arrangement following the introduction of any open skies agreement between the EU and the US. [29498/05]

Mr. Cullen:  In 2003, the Transport Council gave the European Commission a mandate to commence open skies negotiations with the USA. It had been hoped that a deal could be reached by June 2004 and Ireland clearly indicated that the current Shannon stop requirement should be phased out over a period of years. As it happened, it was not possible to reach agreement in 2004.

Following a series of technical discussions, the recent EU Transport Council authorised the Commission to resume formal negotiations with the US authorities with a view to concluding a first stage EU-US open skies agreement by the end of this year. I have strongly supported the resumption of the EU-US negotiations. An EU-US agreement will be good for Irish aviation, tourism and business generally. It will also be good for consumers who can avail of greater access to the US and the lower prices that the increased competition should bring.

If the talks succeed and if an agreement is ready to be approved by the Transport Council in December this year, it is my clear intention to ensure that it contains an appropriate transitional arrangement for Shannon. The details of the transition arrangement will be a matter for negotiation with the US in the lead-up to the conclusion of the EU-US deal. I do not propose to compromise my negotiating position by giving details of what I might seek at this stage. However, I can confirm that I will seek a transition period of a number of years.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister spoke about speculation. There is speculation that he has already done a deal for a three-year lead-in period. Will that be the lead-in period? Why has the Minister decided to sell out on Shannon? He is going against the EU and the US because they were happy to have an agreement in place. What advantage would it be to Shannon to have an open skies policy? Experience has shown that where there is an open skies policy, the capital city benefits to the tune of 90% to 95%. With 50% of US industry located in Shannon, can the [93]Minister guarantee there will be year round transatlantic services? A transition period of three years has been mentioned in the mid-west but there should be a greater transition period because the infrastructure in the area is not ready. Will the Minister opt for a longer lead-in period?

Mr. Cullen:  I do not know whether the Deputy is enunciating policy on his own behalf or whether it is Fine Gael policy that Ireland should not take advantage of a huge open skies policy to seek out 22 new destinations in America which would result in considerable tourism business to the benefit of this country. These are routes we would have dreamed about a few years ago but which we cannot access because we have an agreement in place.

Mr. P. Breen:  The national carrier is dropping routes, including Orlando.

Mr. Cullen:  No deal has been done between me and the US. There was unanimous agreement at EU level about the conclusion of a deal. The Deputy is wrong to suggest we are somehow alone in this. Agreement to close a deal was unanimous between all 25 countries.

Mr. P. Breen:  Did that include the UK?

Mr. Cullen:  Yes. The UK is in the chair; it holds the EU Presidency. In fact, I think I am going to the UK to meet the British transport minister next week. I have already had a number of meetings with him at Council level and I have met the European Commissioner on a number of occasions. My officials have gone to the US. Meetings were again held this week. The US is no doubt about Ireland’s position. However, the US is not in the mood for messing about. It wants an open skies deal with Europe and is not interested in side bar deals. We will have to work very hard to get a transition deal on Shannon but we have kept communications with the US open and it knows the Government’s position in this regard. We want to give Shannon opportunities but the real challenge for Shannon will be Cork Airport. Cork is not prohibited from opening up a range of new transatlantic routes.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister is moving away from the issue.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy is talking about protectionism which is over. Cork could open up a range of transatlantic services to the US tomorrow. It is in no way prohibited from so doing under the deal. People like the Deputy who have a leadership role in their region must look at developing Shannon into the future and should [94]not stick their heads in the sand and cause damage to Shannon.

Mr. P. Breen:  We are not sticking our heads in the sand.

Mr. Cullen:  That is the type of policy the Deputy enunciated.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister is selling out on Shannon.

Mr. Cullen:  I would be interested to know if that is Fine Gael policy, which I hope is fundamentally different.

Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister said he is negotiating a transition deal for Shannon. A transition deal is not only one for Shannon but is one for Ireland. Is it in Ireland’s interest in the context of an open skies policy, given that new destinations are being sought by airlines on both sides of the Atlantic, throughout Europe and America? New routes, destinations, airports and countries are being sought. If that consolidation takes place and these new routes are sought out within the transition period, will we not be effectively putting ourselves off the pitch for three years and hugely disadvantaging Ireland? Is the Minister satisfied that will not happen?

Mr. Cullen:  The analysis from Deputy Olivia Mitchell is a very interesting and totally contradicts what her colleague said.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I asked the Minister a question. It was not an analysis.

Mr. Cullen:  I agree a delicate balance must be struck. I want to ensure Shannon has an opportunity given its new mandate and regime. For the first time in its history, it is doing extremely well with 3 million passengers this year.

Mr. P. Breen:  That is a European issue.

Mr. Cullen:  It is a great compliment to the new board, management, staff and unions in Shannon that it is happening.

A delicate balance must be struck. Deputy Olivia Mitchell is right about an immediate open skies policy with America and the major benefits which would accrue. However, we are trying to manage a transition for Shannon. I think with an EU-US open skies deal that one will see quick, incremental growth in a short number of years. I want to marry that incremental, natural growth on both sides with the transition. If an open skies policy were to be in place from tomorrow, I do not think one would necessarily see immediate change, rather it would be incremental.

However, we must position Ireland and Aer Lingus to ensure they have the opportunity to win [95]many of those new routes for the benefit of Shannon, Cork and Dublin. The opportunities are immense. The focus should be on maximising the opportunity of open skies.

What is forgotten in this debate is that 15 of the 25 EU member states already have open skies with America and are well ahead of us.

Mr. P. Breen:  Where do all the flights go?

Mr. Cullen:  We are one of ten caught in this particular arrangement, which needs to be resolved.

Mr. J. Breen:  The Minister and the Government gave us an umbrella when the sun was shining. Now that it has started to rain, they have taken it away. Why has the Minister refused to carry out an impact study on the bilateral agreement for Shannon Airport? Before telling us everything is so rosy in the garden, why will he not have an impact study done on the abolition of the bilateral status of Shannon Airport? It will do much damage to Shannon and the mid-west region. Will the Minister guarantee transatlantic flights to Shannon Airport for 12 months of the year? I do not believe he can. The Government has sold out on the mid-west region. When we had the benefit of the Celtic tiger, the Government did nothing for the west. I am surprised the Minister, coming from the south, supports the Dublin lobby against the rest of Ireland. He can shake his head but it is so.

Mr. Cullen:  This is a new accusation. I have been accused of many things but not this.

Mr. J. Breen:  It is sticking out. Why has the Minister refused the impact study for Shannon Airport? What is he afraid of?

Mr. Cullen:  I am not afraid of anything.

Mr. J. Breen:  So why will he not do the study? What guarantees will he give if he does the study?

Mr. Cullen:  I am ensuring a future for Shannon Airport. There is no question of this, particularly on the transatlantic routes. The future is to go and get new business. Unfortunately, with all due respect to Deputy James Breen, if one follows the logic of what he and others are saying, they will crucify and kill Shannon Airport, ending its future. They are trying to hold on to some form of protectionism which is over and done with. They must have confidence in Shannon, working with me to get a deal and encourage the airport to get into new American city routes. The opportunities are there to expand into America. Are Deputies telling me that Knock Airport is in a better position to expand into America? The Deputy would want to get into the programme [96]and come into the future. He should stop trying to crucify Shannon on an issue that will finish it.

Mr. P. Breen:  Aer Lingus cannot last. It has already dropped the Orlando route.

Mr. J. Breen:  Why has the impact study not been done?

Mr. P. Breen:  Yesterday Delta Airlines announced more seats on its US routes to Dublin and Shannon in the summer. Many US carriers have noted their domestic market is slack and are examining transatlantic routes. More US carriers will come into Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus, because it is a small airline, will be gobbled up by them. Orlando has been dropped as a route by Aer Lingus. The international agreement is there to protect Shannon Airport and Aer Lingus.

Mr. Cullen:  That is the difference between the Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael attitude to Government. To me the glass is always half full, to Deputy Pat Breen it is always half empty. The opportunities for Aer Lingus are huge. It has one of the finest chief executives any airline in the world would have been happy to get.

Mr. P. Breen:  I do not doubt that.

Mr. Cullen:  It is an important point. He is charged with expanding Aer Lingus. I am certain the airline will expand into the US. The Deputy was right on his initial assessment. All airlines now realise the profitable routes are long haul.

Mr. P. Breen:  They will only be going to capital cities.

Mr. Cullen:  It is clear that future long haul routes for Aer Lingus will be not just to the United States, but to the Middle East, South Africa, the Far East and Australia. If Aer Lingus is to survive and be a larger airline, it must be done. A hub can be created in Dublin Airport to develop a redistribution of long haul passengers into Europe to enhance Aer Lingus and other airlines in that network.

Mr. P. Breen:  What about a hub for Shannon Airport?

Mr. Cullen:  The opportunities are there. We must take them and stop prevaricating.

Mr. J. Breen:  What about the impact study?

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister is just evading answers.

Ms O. Mitchell:  That is not the case for Aer Lingus.

[97]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That concludes questions for today.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Minister does not want a hub in Shannon Airport.

Mr. J. Breen:  Give us an impact study.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That concludes questions for today.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Walsh — the provision of office accommodation at Clonakilty, County Cork for the decentralisation of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara; (2) Deputy Sherlock — that the Minister include Skaghardgannon in the Doneraile sewerage scheme rather than SLI type funding; (3) Deputies Cowley and Ring — to ask the Minister if she can guarantee the site acquisition for Gaelscoil na Cruaiche, Westport, County Mayo; (4) Deputy Cooper-Flynn — to call on the Minister to update the Dáil on the progress of the review group to consider changing the licensing designation of tractors; (5) Deputy Pat Breen — that the Minister fast-track the water filtration plant project for Ennis as a matter of public health and safety; (6) Deputy Boyle — to ask the Minister if it is still Government policy to insist on the location of a national toxic waste incinerator for Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbour; (7) Deputy Sargent — that the Minister implement the safeguard clause as provided for in EU Directive 2001/15/EC; (8) Deputy Morgan — the necessity for the Minister to intervene to prevent the Health Service Executive downgrading services at Louth County Hospital in Dundalk; and (9) Deputy Sexton — the matter of 16 students whose points were revised upwards following re-examination of their leaving certificate papers yet failed to achieve places in medicine.

The matters raised by Deputies Walsh, Cowley and Ring, Sherlock and Pat Breen have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Glennon:  In my earlier contribution I took issue with some points raised by the Opposition and I will continue in that vein. Deputy Burton referred to a necklace of large towns around west Dublin, naming some of them. I am interested in her sense of direction because one of the towns referred to was Balbriggan. The people of [98]Balbriggan will be interested to know how the Labour Party sees their place in the greater Dublin area. When I left home this morning, they were still 20 miles due north of Dublin. When I go home this evening, please God, they will still be there unless the Labour Party has suddenly decided to shift them.

One point of Deputy Burton’s that I took particular issue with was her reference to an alleged imbalance and deficit in infrastructure in west Dublin. She referred to the coastal area of Dublin as the gold coast, a place where ordinary people do not live as they only live in west Dublin. I take severe exception to that on behalf of my constituents and a large proportion of the people of Dublin. The Dublin North constituency has the same infrastructural difficulties that people in west Dublin have. The only difference is that we have been living with them longer. I reject any innuendo that those of us in north Dublin live in leafy suburbs, having an easy time of it. That is not the case. I invite Deputy Burton to north County Dublin to travel into Dublin city by train early in the morning with commuters. She will find a situation similar to that in her area.

The increase in employment by 90,000 is by any definition staggering. This is way ahead of the high growth figures of the 1990s. A particularly interesting aspect of it is that the number of female workers increased by 6.2% whereas the number of male workers increased by only
4.2%. For every five people entering the workforce, three are female. That is a notable change, probably an historical shift.

I congratulate the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, and his predecessor Mr. McCreevy on their handling of the economy since taking office. It is one of the great truisms of Irish politics that Fianna Fáil in Government means a strong economy and that has been borne out by the performance in recent years.

I also congratulate Deputy Connolly for attending today’s debate when the established parties around him appear to believe it is not worth participating in. That reflects badly on them. I have already commented on their lack of constructive contribution to the debate. We never claimed on this side of the House to have a monopoly of wisdom but from some of the contributions this morning we are beginning to doubt ourselves. It appears the main Opposition parties have taken my words to heart and have decided to opt out completely.

It may be a trivial point but I emphasise the importance of the reduction in the average working week. It is down from 37 to 36.9 hours and I hope that is an indication of a trend to come. I wish to develop this issue and I will do so outside the Chamber as well. It is important to strike a balance between work life and social life within a working week. I have heard much recently about the time commuters spend commuting. It is an [99]unfortunate by-product of the success of our economy and the Government is trying to deal with it. As a Dublin Deputy I would be interested to see figures for the average working week for somebody in the greater Dublin area and compare them to those of somebody in, for example, Deputy Connolly’s constituency of Cavan-Monaghan or somewhere on the western seaboard. It would make for interesting reading and I will ask the CSO today for a breakdown.

At the risk of boring the audience, I am disappointed by the complete absence of Members of the established Opposition parties from the Chamber for this discussion. It is indicative of their bankruptcy of ideas. Their performance this morning in the earlier part of this debate, taken in tandem with their absence now, makes it entirely appropriate that they should be absent for the remainder of the debate.

Mr. Connolly:  It is a lonely spot at the moment, but perhaps the fact that I am the only Opposition Deputy here at the moment shows the trust my Opposition colleagues have in me.

This debate is important. It is important to look at where we are going and to take stock of our changing demographics. In my own constituency there have been changes in the form of new housing, among other things. The population is increasing but not at the same rapid rate as in other areas.

The quarterly national household survey for the second quarter of 2005 states that our population is growing at the fastest rate in Europe, with an influx of 70,000 immigrants in the past year alone. One of the major changes people have noticed is the number of foreign people they see around. Some 70,000, dispersed throughout the country, is a substantial number and is adding to our population. There was an outflow of 16,600 emigrants, the lowest since records began in 1987. I was surprised we did not have records until then of people leaving and coming into our country. It is important to keep such statistics.

The natural increase, measuring births minus deaths, was 35,500 for the 12 months to April 2005, more than double the level of 2004. Combining the natural increase and migration with a population increase of 87,000, or 2.2%, gives 4.13 million, the largest population in more than 150 years. This trend has not finished and the population will continue to grow for some time. More than 38% of emigrants were from the ten EU accession countries who joined on 1 May 2004. Of these, 17% were from Poland and 9% from Lithuania.

The labour force is just over 2,014,000, exceeding 2 million for the first time in the State’s history, having grown by 94,500 in the past year. Numbers in employment have also grown, by 90,000, to reach 1.9 million. Construction, finan[100]cial and other business services have shown the strongest growth. Growth has largely been driven by the construction industry. That is normally the case as cranes in the sky are associated with growth and good times. There is a major question mark over whether this can be sustained in the longer term but people have been questioning it for several years. There will always be pessimists who say the bubble is about to burst but it looks like it will continue for another while.

Agriculture and fishing have continued to register declines, their workforce reducing by over 3,000 while manufacturing employment declined by over 6,000. It is regrettable that these traditional aspects of life are declining and shows that rural life and life in general is changing in Ireland. Crippling increases in energy costs and waste management have contributed in no small way to this state of affairs. Steady economic growth can be maintained only when there is a strong export manufacturing sector and the decline in this area is worrying. Everybody knows that to make real money a country must export its goods. It is a major part of our economy and it is important we continue to take money into the country by this means.

Migration has been one of the dominant factors in our economic history. It accounts for more than two thirds of this year’s demographic increase. In the past 200 years our economic history has been affected by emigration. Emigrants’ remittances were a major heading in the statement of our national income. We all have some memory of receiving the cheque, the dollars or the pounds that drove our economy in the 1940s and 1950s when there was no money in the country. It was significant and I am not sure those people who pumped that money back got the recognition they deserved. There are people living in various cities throughout the world, particularly in England, in poor conditions. We should do the honourable thing and make it attractive for those people to come back. They lived lonely lives in exile and were important in keeping our economy going. It should now be acknowledged.

  4 o’clock

The past 15 years have witnessed a marked change in the pattern of Irish emigration and we have experienced positive net immigration since 1991. Initially this was due to large inflows of returning Irish emigrants attracted by improved conditions in the Irish labour market. We can recall that during the 1970s and 1980s, classes of our best-educated people took the boat or plane and left the country. We spent much money putting these people through the education system and essentially educated them for other countries throughout the world. That pattern changed around 1991, which is a good thing, and I hope we never regress to sending the brightest graduates we have out of the country.

[101]Since the late 1990s, however, immigrant inflows have been made up of declining numbers of returning migrants and increasing numbers of foreign-born migrants. A considerable proportion of foreign-born arrivals now consist of immigrants with no prior ties to Ireland. Increasing numbers come from non-English speaking countries. When the Irish went abroad they would form groups and one can see similar dynamics occurring with many foreign nationals in the country. Prior to this transformation of Irish migration, immigration policy did not concern us unduly, with principal attention focused on US treatment of undocumented Irish emigrants since 1968. It appears that Ireland now faces the same challenges as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other EU partners.

The economic experiences of countries, such as the Celtic tiger economy beginning in the mid-1990s, can shape the size and composition of immigrant inflows. Analysis of past immigrant inflows can tell us much about where migration pressure is likely to be most intense as well as the likely composition of flows over time. The broadening of migration into Ireland will have longer-term implications for demographic trends. While the absolute number of immigrants to Ireland is small, these people are likely to form the beginning of a chain of further potential migrants from their home countries.

The arrival of the first generation of economic migrants into Ireland is likely to be followed by further migration for the purposes of family reunification. I come across this situation regularly, where people have arrived in Ireland trying to shape their life, set up home and get the basics of our language. Eventually, they will make efforts to get their families to join them. This occurred in the health services when people received work visas to come on their own. Thankfully, the spouses or partners of such people can now accompany them. This pattern suggests that we will continue to have inflows into the country and the population will increase as a result.

Skills distribution of the immigrant population and overall conditions in the economy are likely to be further affected by migratory trends. It is odd that highly qualified people, such as doctors, teachers and engineers, come to our country but cannot get into the mainstream and are unable to use their qualifications. These people are needed and as our economy is growing, there is a demand for this type of labour. I would like to see the situation change.

Immigration can add fresh unskilled workers to an aging population but are unlikely to have a major impact on the sustainability of the welfare state. The experience of the trebling of mainly and disproportionately young inflows into Canada over the past 50 years has merely reduced the country’s over-65 population by 5%. Immigrants can also fill economic requirements not met by [102]the native labour force, filling occupations in which domestic workers are in short supply. However, in a general sense Ireland has not yet become a major pole of attraction for non-EU migrants.

Mr. O’Connor:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am glad to acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, whose work I am always happy to admire and who is a great help to all Members. I heard Deputy Glennon lamenting the absence of colleagues on the Opposition benches so I am glad to see and appreciate so many bright and rising stars attending for my speech.

Mr. Deasy:  And those of others.

Mr. O’Connor:  I hold the most marginal seat in the country so I would appreciate if I was not picked on.

Mr. Connolly:  Do not forget Tallaght.

Mr. O’Connor:  I have heard other colleagues talk about their towns and cities, so I will speak about Tallaght for a few minutes. Like Deputy Glennon, I listened to the earlier contributions and could not figure out if I was living in the same country. I live in Tallaght and represent Dublin South-West, which embraces Tallaght, Brittas, Firhouse, Templeogue and Greenhills. I live in a positive place.

Up to 15 years ago we often spoke of Tallaght, which now has the third largest population centre in the country, as having the population of a city but the status of a village. That changed on 23 October 1990, 15 years ago next Sunday, when the Square was opened by the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. That was a great day and positive occasion for Tallaght. Since then, Tallaght has developed and I invite anybody to take the Luas with me out there any day. Deputy Glennon mentioned Deputy Burton and she is welcome also. Any of my colleagues can visit Tallaght to see how positive a place it is. One can see the council headquarters, Tallaght Hospital and many other facilities that one would expect in a major population centre. One can see how progressive the local institute of technology is and how well the Luas works. If one stands in the Square, as I do most days, one can see 20 cranes nestling in the town centre lands.

It is difficult for me to come into this House to hear so much negative talk about our country and this city. I do not suggest that people do not have an entitlement to make political points. Ireland has changed and my community has changed. I speak as someone who, like my father and grandfather, emigrated. I took the boat to London and was happy over there. I may not have come back and my history may have been completely differ[103]ent had I not become homesick. When I returned I moved to Tallaght with an employer, became involved in community work and I am now a Deputy. It is good, as Deputy Connolly stated, that this is now possible.

Deputy Connolly also made a fine point regarding Ireland being a country of welcomes. There are concerns surrounding the care of returning emigrants, and I often raise in my Dáil business issues about returning Irish people and the Irish abroad. We should be loyal to these people. However, we must understand how our country is seen abroad. I do not get away as often as most but I have been to Ukraine and China recently. It is amazing to see the image that Dublin and the country as a whole has abroad. People see Ireland now as a leading player and a very rich country. One will hear returning people, be they in Meath, Cork, Monaghan, Clare or north Dublin but especially those who have not been in the country for a while, speak of Ireland in positive terms. I have had much experience of this in Tallaght. They speak of the progress that is afoot.

Whatever about the need to make political points, we should be brave enough to admit that our country is doing well and that much progress has been made. If one looks at the history of my community in the 15 years since the Square opened, much has been done, and I am proud of the achievement.

This does bring about challenges. Colleagues made the point about the need to look at ordered development. My community is no different in this regard, and challenges exist there on issues such as infrastructure. We still need new roads. I hope Green Party Deputies will not contend this——

Mr. Boyle:  What other Green Party Deputies are here?

Mr. O’Connor:  ——but we need the further development and extension of the Luas. I am confident that this will happen as the Luas is a tremendous service taking us into the city centre. It now must go through the west Tallaght estates of Fettercairn and Brookfield and out into Saggart and Rathcoole. One will be able, in time, to access Tallaght through public transport in Dublin by getting the DART to Connolly Station and going to Heuston. Even our country cousins will be able to go to Tallaght and Citywest, and it is important that this is stated.

Community and school facilities also provide a challenge. I am again being parochial. We have great schools in my constituency and there is certainly a need for more schools. We need to look at the major population centres cropping up, such as those in Ballycullen, Westbrook and in the estates of west Tallaght. I hope Ministers listen to [104]this debate, accept the points made and understand the need to develop infrastructure and facilities. I do not suggest that my constituency is unique in that respect, but it has those problems.

We have a very young population in Tallaght, with about 30,000 people still in school. We need to look at how we will deal with them as they exit the education system looking for jobs. Everyone in the House has his or her own priorities in that regard, but as Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country, I am entitled to make a case for its job creation needs. We need to realise that many well qualified, highly educated young people will come from our communities in the next few years. There is much talk about other parts of the country and I will never criticise that. I have listened to the debate today about Shannon and the west of Ireland. However, there are also challenges in the east and we need to ensure that we cater for those in centres where jobs have been lost. By the way, I am not just talking about my constituent Brian Kerr, even though I am very upset that he has lost his job. I hoped someone would put down an emergency motion to deal with that issue, so that I could speak on it.

I want to be positive about the survey that is before us. It is good that we have this debate and I hope it is taken seriously across the House. It is important to emphasise what is positive about our country and our communities, while identifying difficulties. I hope the debate about migrant workers is developed responsibly. I contributed to the debate last week and I know the Minister took account of the different points made. It is important to understand the challenge posed by what is now an international community. Some Deputies will have noticed that last Saturday’s magazine in The Irish Times highlighted my local school in Springfield, Tallaght, which now has a very large international community. That brings it owns challenges.

Mr. Boyle:  I value the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is obvious the Government has allowed this debate to give it an opportunity to talk up its own performance by using figures that reflect well on its policies. In doing so, the Government has opened up the risk of straying into the territory of statistics, damned statistics and lies. The use of statistics as a cold instrument only tells us so much about the nature of the society in which we live. It is undoubtedly true that Ireland is changing significantly and we need to manage that change. However, these statistics do not show the whole picture of the nature of life in Ireland these days. Even taken as measurements of economic success, they are undermined by a fair degree of analysis that shows they are not as effective as the Government claims. The Minister for Finance spoke recently of the 95,000 extra jobs that appeared in the economy in the [105]past year alone. Yet 95,000 people have not yet come within the tax net, indicating that the jobs provided pay around the minimum wage. It is quite likely that many of these jobs are part-time, or are subject to short term contracts and more likely to be filled by women rather than men.

On a social level, we need better measurements to figure out whether these are useful statistics. The Taoiseach seems to have taken an interest in the notion of social capital and the works of Mr. Robert Putnam. If he is serious about what is contained in such works, there is an onus on him and the Government to present better information to this House and to society as to what exactly is meant by social capital. How is it measured? To what extent is it valuable? Can we use it to find out if we are an improving society? As a member of the Green Party, I feel the statistics should be examined in a more holistic sense to gauge the sustainability of the society in which we live. In recent years, we started to introduce national environmental accounts, but they are examined in isolation by the few who are interested in their relevance and how they might be used to inform public policy.

What about the physical change in our society? If we took advantage of the Government jet, flew over the country and took an aerial photograph, the mess of our national spatial strategy would be all too apparent. Examples include the overloaded eastern seaboard, the under populated western seaboard and the fact that in the living of their everyday lives, people do not feel better off for being better off. These are failures of the Government and are not, as its members keep suggesting, the consequences of success. It is the failure to plan effectively in the past for which we are now paying a price. We will continue to pay a price for it unless the Government is able to put in place effective measures so that we can enjoy a good quality of life here. I fear that such far-sightedness is lacking in this Government because we are caught up in an electoral cycle where people do not think beyond the next election.

However, there are issues on which we should take a consensual approach, such as the social as well as the economic effects of the use of fossil fuels. We should take a ten, 20 or even 50 year approach to such issues, but the Government is not prepared to think in such terms due to its own political needs. Even though we have come to terms with the existence and the use of oil in our society, the social cost being paid by the poor and the elderly is due to a lack of proper planning, which is regrettable.

Future debates should be more rounded and not have such a self-congratulatory tone. It would be more to the benefit of the House and the people we serve if that was the case.

[106]Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  I thank the Deputies for their contributions. This has been an important debate, not least because population and migration are not issues we consider every day. These CSO figures show Ireland at a turning point. They also give us cause to reflect on how we should build a sustainable future for both citizens and business. I am not convinced that it is useful in this context to distinguish between the concept of society and of economy. In reality, both are intertwined as society benefits from sound and fair economic policies. Some Deputies are concerned about planning for skill shortages. We have recently sanctioned €27 million in funding for FÁS, for the expansion of training for people in employment. Moreover, the expert group on future skills will assist us with its analysis in planning for the future, particularly in respect of the higher skills area. The population and employment figures give us cause to reflect on the future.

I want to describe some of our strategies for future prosperity and to outline where I believe the sources of our competitive advantages will lie in future years. Education has always played a vital role in the broad cultural, social and economic life of this country. We no longer simply compete for capital and investment but are now competing for people and knowledge. Governments around the world are wrestling with these challenges where the geography of science and knowledge knows no boundaries. I believe the development of the knowledge economy and the factors that will underpin it to be one of the major challenges and opportunities facing Ireland. The task of making our vision a reality requires investment. The Government will lead that investment and ensure that within the next decade, Ireland becomes an internationally renowned centre for research which generates and uses new knowledge for social progress.

The transformation revealed by these figures shows we have provided all our citizens with the opportunity to live and work here and emigration is no longer a necessity. Growth and prosperity have provided the country with a new-found confidence, while enterprise has the capacity to invest for the future and the confidence to be less risk averse. The latest 12 month employment figures show that in the year to May, the economy created a further 93,000 jobs. This is the highest annual growth rate in five years, while unemployment is less than half the EU average. Long-term unemployment has been reduced by 70%. Cautious management of success has sustained and will sustain our ability to make sustainable growth achievable.

The long period of prosperity has helped society. Life chances have consistently improved as growth has opened more varied opportunities for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in many [107]different aspects of the country. Indeed, work continues in this respect. This morning, I had the pleasure of launching a report by the National Economic and Social Forum on allowing access to the workplace to people who hitherto have been disadvantaged. We have recommendations with regard to the forum on the workplace of the future and I am delighted to chair the high level group which will try to ensure we build on the enormous successes achieved over the last ten to 15 years and that in so doing, we manage to include all participants in society.

Sometimes it is important to pause momentarily to reflect on what one is doing correctly. One hears enough about what one is supposed to be doing wrongly. We can be justly proud of the achievements over the past decade. There is no greater indicator of success than being a sought-after location in which to work and live. The total migration flow to Ireland in the 12 months to April 2005 is estimated to be 70,000, the highest figure on record since migration estimates began in 1987. As a corollary, emigration is at its lowest since then.

The challenge now is one of preparing for the prosperity of the next generation and to manage the transformation of our economy through that process. As always, this demands hard choices, as we must simultaneously seek to further improve the life chances for all our citizens, not simply those in employment. From the Government’s perspective, a successful society needs a dynamic economy, which constantly responds to the evolving demands of international competitiveness. We have proved that we can meet this challenge and intend to continue to do so.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now”.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 29, to delete “2004” and substitute “2005”.

This amendment arises from Committee Stage. The amendment is self-explanatory and proposes to remove the figure “2004” and replace it with “2005”. The Bill was published on 13 July 2004 and on Committee Stage, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, argued that this date was deliberately inserted to prevent the creation of any artificial annuities. I do not believe any artificial [108]annuities have been created and consequently, I ask him to reconsider the decision of his colleague on Committee Stage and accept this amendment.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne):  The Minister for Agriculture and Food has reconsidered the amendment. It has been previously stated in the House that 13 July 2004 is the date on which this Bill was published and that it was deliberately inserted in the Bill to ensure that no artificial annuities could be created after the measure was announced to circumvent the Bill’s declared intention. Consequently, I oppose this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 8, after “payment” to insert “or instalments”.

I tabled this amendment because under the proposed legislation as it currently stands, a farmer must make a lump sum payment. In some circumstances, it will be extremely difficult for farmers to do so. I believe a mechanism and facility should be put in place, especially when substantial amounts of money are outstanding, to enable farmers to pay by instalments. They could do so at the end of the year on receipt of their single farm payment. As the Minister of State is aware, the average single farm payment amount is minuscule and most farmers receive €5,000 or less. In some cases, one payment would not be adequate to meet the demands placed on them by the Land Bill.

Given that the Government has left such a short window of opportunity for farmers to proceed with this mechanism, it is important to encourage as many as possible to buy out their annuities and clear the decks. The cost to the Department of continuing to pursue farmers in respect of this issue by trying to get repayments would be significant. The amount of money involved in annuities is relatively small in the overall context of the Government’s budget. I believe the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has called it a fraction of a fraction. Hence, we should try to facilitate as many people as possible to choose this route and the sensible approach is to permit them to pay by instalments.

Dr. Upton:  I support this amendment. Members commented on this issue on Second Stage. In terms of the income that will be generated from this measure, the cost to the Department of collecting it will be fairly significant. Moreover, making an individual pay the amount in its entirety in one lump sum could cause substantial hardship. It is reasonable and fair to ask [109]that it could be paid in instalments. This would take account of people’s desire to buy their way out in situations where they were unable to do so in one payment, as they could then make their payments over three or four instalments.

Mr. Browne:  This amendment seeks to spread out the payment of the discounted buy-out figure over a much longer time. The scheme will be available for a defined period and if this amendment was to be accepted, it would enable annuitants to accept the scheme and then defer part of the payment until after the scheme was closed. This would seriously undermine the Bill’s intended purpose, namely, a closure on the collection of land purchase annuities, and would in effect bring about a situation where annuitants could prolong the final payment without any sanctions for long periods. The entire concept behind the Bill was to bring closure to the scheme. As it stands, the scheme offers what amounts to a discount of 25% of what is actually owed. In itself, this is a substantial benefit to annuitants and I oppose this amendment.

Mr. Naughten:  The 25% discount is a substantial benefit to some, but not all, annuitants. Any who have significant arrears must clear them before they can benefit from this scheme, a major flaw. This legislation will not facilitate many of the people who are in financial difficulties and have significant arrears.

Many who owe substantial arrears to the Department also owe substantial amounts of money to banks. They probably have very poor credit ratings and may not be able to get loans from any financial institutions. In these circumstances, there should be a mechanism whereby, over a limited period of time of perhaps three or four years, they can pay 25% each year from their single farm payments. Such a provision need not be open-ended but it would be a sensible and reasonable approach to try to facilitate these people in clearing the decks and getting them off our books.

Mr. Browne:  I understand the point the Deputy is making.

Mr. Naughten:  Does that mean the Minister of State will accept the amendment?

Mr. Browne:  I understand the Minister, following Committee Stage, gave serious consideration to the suggestions made then. Obviously, both the Minister and the Department are anxious to bring closure to this scheme, as are many of the farmers. It has been decided not to accept the Deputy’s amendment and to proceed as laid out in the Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.

[110]Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 14, after “Finance” to insert “and Dáil Éireann”.

This amendment is self-explanatory. Its purpose is to ensure that before the legislation enters into force, it gets the positive approval of Dáil Éireann as well as the approval of the Minister for Finance. It is critically important that we try to facilitate as far as possible the most broad-ranging scheme to ensure we get the maximum uptake. I will not go into any further detail.

Mr. Browne:  Section 3 of the Bill provides for the Minister having the statutory powers to introduce a scheme for the purpose of section 3. It is not unusual that an administrative scheme provided for in primary legislation and introduced by way of regulation is made subject to the consent of Dáil Éireann being obtained in advance of its introduction. Therefore, there is no need for this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, lines 16 and 17, to delete “in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1)”.

This amendment allows the Minister for Finance to re-assess the provisions laid down in this legislation before enacting the scheme. It proposes that he will not be tied into the provisions of subsection 1.

I tabled this amendment because, due to the procedures of the House, I am sadly not allowed to table any substantive amendments to the Bill that would incur a cost on the Exchequer. It is not appropriate that we should have just a 25% discount across the board based on the principal owed. We should at least examine a 25% discount on arrears and the principal to encourage the people who have significant arrears. We are talking about a very small number of people, 98 in total, 49 of whom are in arrears of €1 million or more and 3 who owe €40,000. Every effort possible must be made to encourage these 98 people to avail of this scheme.

Many of the 49 farmers who are in arrears in excess of €1 million do not have the facilities to avail of this scheme and have bad credit ratings with banks. In the interests of ensuring cost effectiveness from the point of view of the Department of Agriculture and Food’s collection of arrears, it makes sense to leave the Minister for Finance’s hands open to allow him to provide additional incentives if he so wishes. I am sure that some of the 98 people are in his constituency, as he comes from a rural constituency, and they will get the opportunity to impress on the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the need to be more flexible in this matter. In light of this, I [111]encourage the Minister of State to accept this amendment.

Mr. Browne:  The wording and advice of the Parliamentary Counsel is clear and unambiguous and should not be interfered with. The total amount of arrears currently owed to the Department is €5.4 million. The Deputy is correct in that 49 people owe almost €1 million, 34 owe in excess of €10,000 each, ten in excess of €20,000, two in excess of €30,000 and three in excess of €40,000.

Mr. Naughten:  What did the Minister of State say the arrears were?

Mr. Browne:  A total of €5.4 million.

Mr. Naughten:  The maths do not add up if 49 people owe €1 million or more.

Mr. Browne:  In arrears.

Mr. Naughten:  Yes.

Mr. Browne:  The total arrears currently owed to the Department is €5.4 million.

Mr. Naughten:  My understanding is that 49 people owe arrears in excess of €1 million, which is €49 million.

Mr. Browne:  No. A total of 49 people owe €1 million between them.

Mr. Naughten:  Do three owe €40,000 between them? I took up the wrong end of the stick.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 21, after “discharged” to insert the following:

“where such a discharge date is not less than 2 years after the commencement date of the scheme”.

This is an important, sensible and straightforward amendment that was discussed on Committee Stage. Given that the Minister of State has had an opportunity over the summer to consider it in full, I am sure he will be in a position to accept it.

I have made my point concerning the arrears. The sole objective behind this legislation must be to address the problems relating to those 98 people and ensure we can facilitate them in availing of the scheme. I have been critical of the fact that there is only a 25% discount and it does not cover arrears. However, it is imperative that we encourage people to take up this scheme as far as [112]possible. For this reason, I have tabled this amendment.

My understanding, and the Minister provided me with clarity on Committee Stage, is that there will be a six month window of opportunity. This is wholly inadequate. The single farm payment is paid on an annual basis and may not facilitate farmers even if it is significant enough to make the repayment. It is disappointing the Government will leave such a limited window. I know the Minister argued that interest is cancelled on a six monthly basis and it is important that only a six month window of opportunity exists because otherwise each of the individuals concerned must be written to a second time. The cost of a stamp should not be an excuse not to increase the window of opportunity for these farmers. I ask the Minister of State to re-examine this issue.

Many cases may involve serious legal difficulties regarding land. Even with the lands division in Cavan working on this matter, the substantial backlog has not yet been rectified or resolved. That will delay the purchase of land by individuals. The Department cannot clear the decks within six months because it is not physically possible to clarify the title of many of these properties within that period. Therefore, it is unfair to only allow a six month period for farmers to avail of this scheme.

The Minister of State is aware of the issues relating to the purchase of land from his experience with compulsory purchase orders. I know he will state either publicly in the House or privately to me that selling a site or two would pay the repayments due. A site cannot be disposed of if the case involves significant issues regarding land title. On Committee Stage I gave an example of a farmer who had not availed of the facility prior to the closing date dying within the six month period. I thank the Minister of State for writing a reply to me, in which he stated that nothing exists to impede the executor of the will or the legal representative of the deceased availing of the buy-out offer on behalf of the deceased annuitant within the six month period.

If anyone in the House is unfortunate enough to need to deal with solicitors with regard to executing wills and going through this process, he or she will find that in many cases it will take far in excess of six months to resolve the issues. Some cases involve substantial inheritance tax issues, and the Minister of State will require the people affected to take out an overdraft, charge the interest against the estate and the inheritance tax that will need to be paid and accumulate a further liability in order to avail of the scheme.

I have no difficulty if the Minister of State wishes to re-write this section of the Bill to state that people must sign up and express an interest within six months, and then allow a window of opportunity for payments to be made. At least that would facilitate it in some way. The mechan[113]ism in place is extremely prescriptive and will not facilitate a large percentage of farmers who have substantial arrears to organise loans with banks, to generate the revenue to pay off the debt and on top of that pay off the principal of the moneys owed to the Department.

Dr. Upton:  I support this amendment for the same reasons that I supported the amendment on payment by instalments. It will be difficult for a number of farmers, admittedly a small number, to find the revenue to discharge their arrears within the recommended period. It is in everybody’s interest that they are given that extra time to have a clean sheet so there would not be a build up of arrears and interest. I support the amendment in order to allow people extra time to negotiate a bank loan. Those already in arrears might experience great difficulties in accessing a bank loan within that time, which for someone in that situation might be a short span.

Mr. Browne:  The purpose of the discounted buy-out scheme is to facilitate the termination of ongoing annuity payments. Annuitants have had a year in which to organise or arrange finance from their financial institutions and check that the title of the land subject to any annuity is in order. The longer the scheme is open, the more adjustments will be required to figures and the half-year gale days go by.

The purpose of the scheme is to encourage annuitants to avail of the scheme within a reasonable period of time and bring the ongoing collection of annuities to an end. Accepting the Deputy’s amendment would lead to serious administrative difficulties and will unnecessarily prolong the administration of the scheme at a significant additional cost to the Department in time and resources. This was widely debated on Committee Stage. The Minister and her officials heard all of the arguments and considered the matter during the summer months. They decided to stay with the original decision. Therefore, we oppose this amendment.

Mr. Naughten:  I am extremely disappointed that the Minister of State is not more positive [114]about this amendment. I am seeking a reasonable period of time in which to facilitate people availing of this scheme. The reason given that this amendment cannot be accepted is because of the administrative difficulties it will create due to the number of gale days met during that period of time. Will the Minister of State put a figure on the administrative costs? I appreciate he cannot do so off the top of his head. I guarantee him it will be a fraction of the cost of trying to collect these arrears in the future from the 98 people involved and other people unable to avail of this discount scheme.

In the interests of the Exchequer it is of the utmost importance that the Minister of State facilitate as many people as possible availing of this scheme and encourage them to do so. People will not consider this until the legislation has been enacted. The IFA held a campaign and we argued in the House that the discount should be greater than it is. However, until the legislation is enacted people will not examine this issue or the title.

How many additional staff will the Minister of State appoint in Farnham Street in Cavan to deal with these queries during the coming months? I have dealt with the staff in Farnham Street. They are excellent and all credit must be given to them for expediting cases. However, cases have continued for years because land certificates have been lost, or transferring one piece of land requires the transfer of 40 or 50 other pieces of land in conjunction with it. It will be a nightmare for the staff to deal with this within the window of opportunity provided by the Bill.

Mr. Browne:  We feel that six months is a reasonable period. The Deputy stated that 97 or 98 cases existed. In fact, 2,300 annuitants with annuities of over €200 per annum are affected and will receive a discount of 25%. The Minister is anxious that closure is brought to this matter and she has already instructed that adequate staff will be available in Cavan to deal quickly with this matter.

Mr. Naughten:  I will quote the Minister of State on that.

Amendment put.

[113]The Dáil divided: Tá, 54; Níl, 70.

 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, James.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Connolly, Paudge.  Costello, Joe.
 Cowley, Jerry.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Deasy, John.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Ferris, Martin.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gregory, Tony.
 Healy, Séamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Howlin, Brendan.
 [115]Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Finian.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Olivia.  Morgan, Arthur.
 Murphy, Catherine.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Shea, Brian.
 Pattison, Seamus.  Penrose, Willie.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabitte, Pat.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.



[115]Níl
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Séamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Collins, Michael.  Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cregan, John.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Davern, Noel.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Fox, Mildred.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Jacob, Joe.
 Keaveney, Cecilia.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Séamus.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGuinness, John.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Donal.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 O’Malley, Tim.  Parlon, Tom.
 Power, Peter.  Sexton, Mae.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Wallace, Mary.
 Walsh, Joe.  Wilkinson, Ollie.
 Woods, Michael.  Wright, G.V.

[115]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Neville and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Curran.

[115]Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, to delete lines 24 to 29.

This is a vital amendment. The Department is granting itself extensive powers to confiscate money from farmers without going through the courts. Having debated this issue at length on Committee Stage, it is imperative that the Department reconsiders its decision to retain the provision allowing it to withhold single farm payments in lieu of arrears without recourse to the courts. This power is excessive. On Committee Stage the Minister gave numerous guarantees that the Department would avail of its powers under this section only in extreme circumstances [116]but these have not been written into the legislation.

  5 o’clock

I do not have a major difficulty with the Department’s proposal provided the legislation contains proper protections. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Every Deputy has been asked by farmers in his or her constituency why the House allowed certain legislation to pass in light of a later decision by a Department or Minister to interpret it in a manner completely at odds with the original objective. I cannot allow this section to remain without protections being added.

From a Government point of view, it makes sense to remove this provision in light of the role of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in dealing with issues which arise when [117]charges are imposed on people. In court cases, for example, the Minister will not entertain a proposal to issue an attachment of earnings in connection with a court order, yet the Bill provides for attachment of earnings without a case being brought before a court.

The heavy hand of the Department will put the squeeze on the 98 people who remain in arrears. It is not prepared to incentivise this group of farmers to avail of the scheme or give them a decent window of opportunity in which to do so. Instead, it is using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. Not only will it have the power to offset arrears against payments due from the Department, including the single farm payment, but section 6 gives it the power to confiscate a farmer’s dairy cheque. These provisions are excessive and do not contain proper checks and balances. For example, no provision has been made to require the Department to explain a decision before a court.

The moneys the Department may confiscate do not always originate in the Department but have been committed by the European Union and paid into the Department’s bank account, from which it is supposed to be transferred to farmers on condition that they meet compliance rules. The Bill provides for an additional rule that farmers must not only meet the regulations laid down under cross-compliance but must also address any arrears they may have with the Department.

My concern is that this power will not be used in the manner outlined by the Minister of State on Committee Stage but will be treated as a form of leverage with which to put farmers under considerable pressure. Many of the farmers in question are in severe financial difficulty in that they owe the Department arrears and have large debts with lending institutions. For this reason, they rely on the single farm payment due in December to make repayments. If the Minister retains the provision permitting the Department to withhold single farm payments, many farm families will go hungry this Christmas. I vehemently oppose this provision and asked the Minister on Committee Stage to reconsider it. Sadly, the Minister of State did not table an amendment to ensure that checks and balances are put in place. That is my major objection. I gave the Minister of State the opportunity to reconsider his decision on it and bring forward a balanced amendment, but sadly that did not happen.

Mr. Connaughton:  I am delighted to get this opportunity. Like Deputy Naughten, I drew attention to this matter on Second Stage. I would go even further. I do not like the power of attachment. I want to make it clear that I am not making a good, bad or indifferent case — nor is anybody else here — for persons who owe money to the Department. Everybody understands that in some shape or form this money must be paid. [118]When I was Minister of State in the then Department of Agriculture 20 years ago, we had significant problems with arrears.

This is a more insidious matter and I will tell the Minister why. If one implements a power of attachment such as this which does not include checks and balances, the Department will deny the farmer his family’s income, which now will be the single farm payment together with the area based payments in certain parts, for that year. Where, in fairness to Department of Agriculture and Food, a farmer owed €4,000, for example, the Department — the officials will bear this out — has always used a reasonable approach to and deducted €1,000 a year over four years. I have seen this done on many occasions.

When the Minister of State puts this provision in place the force of law will be behind it. All one will need is a memo from the Department of Finance from people who really do not understand the farming world to ask the Department which is giving a single farm payment of €8,000 or €9,000, for example, and to state that the Land Commission in Castlebar or Cavan is owed €7,000 or €8,000, for that family farm to receive no income for that year. That is why this is extremely important.

There is another matter worth mentioning. Once the principle of the power of attachment is used, there is nothing to stop the practice permeating right through the Department on many other issues as the years go by because one has created a precedent. This is the significant aspect of this matter.

I assume Deputy Naughten was referring to 98 farmers who owe money to the Land Commission on rent annuities. I thought the number was somewhat higher, and possibly for smaller amounts in certain cases.

While there would be a power of attachment, words as to the effect of how it should be used should be inserted in the Bill. There is no point in the Minister of State stating in the House what he would like to do because “like to” means nothing.

Mr. Durkan:  That is for sure.

Mr. Connaughton:  It reminds me of assurances of planning permission in five years’ time. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, then may be the Minister for Finance and somebody else will be in his place.

Mr. Durkan:  He will be the Opposition spokesperson on finance.

Mr. Connaughton:  It will be difficult to pin down the friend of the farmers in five years’ time when somebody will have a real problem. It is against that background that Deputy Naughten is entirely correct to highlight this. This is a dracon[119]ian measure. It is a heavy-handed measure to deal with a matter, which can be dealt with in a much easier fashion which is much more likely to reap rewards.

The Department may come across one of those farmers in deep financial trouble. When I was Minister of State at the then Department of Agriculture with responsibility for land for five years farmers were buying land at its most expensive. The value of the land, for which the Land Commission had to pay at the time, was so much higher than the income that one could possibly expect to get off land at the time. It is true that it would have been far better for many farmers if they had never seen Land Commission land at that time but that is not the way it worked out, and the Minister of State knows this better than I do.

That is the necklace which is hanging over a certain group of farmers, most of whom are in the good farming areas right across the country although this is hard to believe. Some 20 years ago they got into a situation and they found it terribly difficult to get out of it. In my dealings with it, it goes without saying that the Land Commission has been extremely considerate to most of the farmers I know.

I worry about this legislation for the reasons outlined. Naturally I see the reason this provision is being inserted and why someone would want to do so. It is an instance of overkill. It would be much easier to give many of the farmers who are in significant debt to the Land Commission the opportunity of being able to pay this over a number of years, provided that is mentioned somewhere in the legislation.

Mr. Crawford:  As one of the signatories to it, I support this amendment. I cannot help admiring the way it is put forward in the Bill, “Set off of payments”. That is lovely language, but in reality it is attachment to earnings. This is an extremely serious matter. Already, I have had to deal with a few of them which have been dealt with in other areas such as REPS. When somebody becomes ill or whatever, the person can find himself or herself in arrears and suddenly find that all their income is taken from them. I had an aged lady with me the other day with a nice sheet from a Department detailing all that she was owed and another piece of paper where the cheque should have been stating “No payment”. That is not much good to that man and woman trying to meet their bills. Clearly, that is where we are coming from.

The power of attachment is a serious matter. There is no sense of what was quoted in the Dáil, that there would be a sympathetic understanding of the matter. It should be subject to negotiations so that X euro debt could be paid over a number of years but the way this is written it is clearly [120]to be taken out of whatever income is available, whether through area aid, REPS, the single payment or even, as Deputy Naughten stated already, going as far as the milk cheque, the mart cheque or whatever.

This is extraordinarily lethal legislation. I well remember going through the development plan in my county council and getting an absolute assurance from the county manager who stated, “Let it go in, we will never implement it”. I am in no doubt that the then manager, Mr. Joe Gavin, was a gentleman who stuck to his word until his last day there——

Mr. Durkan:  A rarity nowadays.

Mr. Crawford:  ——but the new manager announced he had read the plan, was happy with it and would implement it to the letter of the law. As has already been said, I appreciate the understanding of the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. He may tell us he is sympathetic but unless this is included in legislation to take account of our real anxieties, examples of which I have seen in operation, it is totally unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that a wife and children, who may have nothing to do with the situation other than living on the farm but who are dependent on that EU payment for their bread and butter, can find themselves without any money because of a law passed in this House. There must be a clear rider included in the Bill if we are to allow this paragraph to remain in it. Such a rider must clarify how negotiations shall take place and how repayments can be made over a period. We have no objections to that because we all accept that the arrears must be paid. However, it is unacceptable that a person would find his total year’s income has been taken from him by the State.

Can the Minister of State imagine what he would say if this provision came from one of the major banks? They would not even dream of it but would enter into some form of negotiations to get their payments over a period.

Mr. Connaughton:  They would have to go to court.

Mr. Crawford:  The banks would have to go to court if they wanted to do this. The Minister of State is introducing legislation here that can remove from a farm family every penny it is due under EU and Government regulations. I plead with him to consider how he would feel about this if his family was affected. It is in that light that we should consider this matter.

Dr. Upton:  I support the amendment. I share the views already expressed by the previous three speakers. This seems to be a very heavy-handed approach to redeeming arrears. I presume those [121]people who would be in arrears are, perhaps, a vulnerable group. Otherwise, they would have found the way and means to repay the arrears before this heavy-handed instrument would have to come in.

I see this provision as a dangerous precedent. Those who have spoken referred to attachment of earnings. It is the latter to which this provision, although it may be couched in slightly different language, relates. There is no protection built into the legislation to protect individual farmers from somebody coming and clawing back what could be their entire single farm payment or, as has been pointed out, any other payment. The precedent proposed here is dangerous. There are no safeguards built into it and there is no safety net for the farmer. The provision could mean that a family would be deprived of its household income. A family’s full income could be taken from it if this legislation, as proposed, is allowed to stand. I support the amendment.

Mr. Durkan:  I support the amendment on the basis set out by my colleagues. The principle of an attachment of earnings is arbitrary because it does not take account of an individual’s circumstances. As the previous speaker said, there is no consideration of the particular personal circumstances of the householder or farmer concerned. He or she could well be in serious financial difficulty and he or she might be left penniless, with his or her entire financial support for the year cut off at a critical time.

I am not sure that this provision, even if written into the legislation, would be constitutional. As far as I can recall, the courts made previously made reference to a company arbitrarily deducting arrears at source, notwithstanding that the moneys were owed. I cannot recall the particular instance but the courts made a decision in this regard. There could be difficulties with regard to the provision and constitutional difficulties with regard to the points raised by my colleagues.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister of State is very nice and that we on this side all love him, we hope he will not be very long on that side of the House because he needs to have a rest on this side. We will do our utmost to ensure that happens.

Mr. Naughten:  There is a nice seat here for him.

Mr. Durkan:  We would not like somebody from this side of the House to have the onerous responsibility of having to adjudicate on individual cases, which would arise when that happens. It would be unfair for Deputy Naughten or any other Deputy on this side of the House to have to adjudicate in individual cases where hardship might be caused to the people concerned. In [122]those circumstances, the Minister of State should take this amendment on board. He should stitch it into the legislation in such a way that it will have some standing. As I already said, notwithstanding the fact that the provision may be in the legislation, it could well be challenged on constitutional grounds. As that area could be the proverbial minefield, we will not go too far down that road.

The agricultural sector is not flush with funds and it seems as if it will not be for some time, notwithstanding the efforts of the Minister of State. I believe the proposed amendment would be helpful. It is constructive and would protect Ministers and individuals in the community in a way not provided for in the arbitrary manner in which it is currently proposed to proceed.

Mr. Browne:  If Deputy Naughten ever gets the opportunity to be on this side of the House, I have every faith in his being a compassionate man.

Mr. Durkan:  I am glad of that, but I do not want the extra responsibility placed on him.

Mr. Browne:  The sell-off powers in section 4 are designed to ensure that farmers who retain their annuities maintain payments thereafter. We have an obligation to the Exchequer and those who have discharged their annuities in the past had to ensure that ongoing financial obligations were met on time. I propose that section 4 remain without alteration.

Some Deputies mentioned the compassionate nature of people in the Land Commission in Cavan. The measure will only be applied after consultation with the annuitant and in a proportionate and compassionate manner. I do not know of any situation where the Department ever took a full payment from a farmer and I doubt it will happen in this case.

Mr. Crawford:  It did so last week.

Mr. Browne:  The Department will be compassionate and considerate. If a payment is taken, it will be in proportion to the payments due. However, Deputies should be aware that arrears must be dealt with. The Minister cannot allow arrears to accumulate and at the same time pay State and EU funds where there is a clear breach of contract by the client. The Department intends to encourage the 2,300 annuitants that can avail of this scheme. We hope they will take it up and that the issue of concern to the Deputies will not arise.

Mr. Naughten:  As I already pointed out with regard to my previous amendments, the Minister of State knows that the 2,300 annuitants cannot take up the scheme. This is the difficulty.

[123]I have no difficulty in accepting what the Minister of State said, namely, that these measures will only be implemented after consultation and in a compassionate manner. I have no difficulty that the two officials accompanying the Minister of State and other staff in the Land Commission will deal with the issue in a similar manner. I do not doubt that. The difficulty is that people change. Ministers, Ministers of State and officials within Departments change. Officials in the Department of Finance also change. That is what causes my difficulty. The major problem with this section is that no protection is put in place.

I am not making the case that these arrears should not be paid in full. This must be done. The Department has a relatively good record in many cases of sitting down with farmers and agreeing a repayment scheme but this provision now provides a legislative support for something not currently in place. At present, there is an incentive for the Department to agree a repayment scheme with farmers but it will not need it once these powers are put in place. It can literally force the hand of farmers.

The other major difficulty I have with the provisions of this section is that they will not be restricted to 2,300 farmers. The section will set a precedent within the Department of Agriculture and Food that will mean that it will not just relate to Land Commission arrears. The provisions of the section will be extended to cover other arrears. Section 4 will make a hungry Christmas for many farm families because it sets an extremely dangerous precedent. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider his position on this amendment. He should agree to remove sections 4 and 6 from the Bill so that we can proceed with its enactment.

[124]Mr. Crawford:  There has been a good relationship, in general. I am familiar with cases which have been sent to outside collectors in the past. The collectors received a certain percentage of the moneys before they were sent to the Land Commission. There is a danger that people who are in real hardship could be the victims of this change. If the needs of such people were considered, not only in the written reports of the House but also in actual legislation, it is possible that we could live with it. This section, as it stands, is intolerable and unacceptable. Fine Gael cannot support it.

Mr. Browne:  While I respect the views of the Deputies opposite, I cannot accept this amendment. I ask the Deputies to accept the assurance given by the Minister on Committee Stage and in the Seanad that the issues will be dealt with, if they arise, after consultation and in a compassionate and proportionate manner.

Mr. Allen:  That is very original.

Mr. Connaughton:  We will get back to the Minister of State.

Mr. Naughten:  The Bill states clearly that “the Department may set off any arrears of payments outstanding in respect of the land purchase annuity”. In other words, any payment being made through the Department of Agriculture and Food could be taken. Section 6 expands on this aspect of the matter. It is not a partial payment or an instalment payment that will be taken. Any payment could be taken. A farmer’s entire single farm payment, REPS payment or any other payment could be absorbed by the Department to deal with the arrears.

Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand.”

[123]The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 50.

 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Collins, Michael.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Davern, Noel.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Dermot.  Fleming, Seán.
 Fox, Mildred.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGuinness, John.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Donal.  Moynihan, Michael.
 [125]Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donnell, Liz.  O’Donoghue, John.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Wallace, Mary.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G. V.  


[125]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, James.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Connolly, Paudge.  Costello, Joe.
 Cowley, Jerry.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Deasy, John.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 Ferris, Martin.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gregory, Tony.  Healy, Seamus.
 Higgins, Joe.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Hogan, Phil.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Padraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McManus, Liz.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Seamus.
 Penrose, Willie.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Ring, Michael.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.

[125]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Curran; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.

[125]Question declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, to delete line 45.

This issue was discussed at length on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, for providing clarification on it in correspondence dated 12 October. He stated that the provision under section 5(2)(e) will only cover leases of greater than 21 years. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, put that clarification on the record?

Mr. Browne:  A lease is a disposal of possession. The issue here is that the Department must ensure that any form of land transaction which is subject to a land purchase annuity, including the leasing of land, would require a certificate indicating that all annuity payments have been paid. I do not want to create a loophole for leases, thereby giving rise to the possible avoidance of annuity arrears being discharged by the leases. As the Deputy stated, the letter outlines the position [126]of the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith. I reiterate that position.

Mr. Naughten:  I wish to clarify that the creation of a lease for a term of less than 21 years does not require to be registered with the Land Registry. Will the Minister of State put that on the record?

Mr. Browne:  What the Deputy said is correct.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, to delete lines 6 to 12.

The principle of this amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 6. The Bill provides for the attachment of earnings without having to go through the court system. It is a disappointment that these powers are being provided. As already stated, it is not my intention to encourage people to avoid repayments. I know the Minister of State has put his commitment on the record, as has his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith. However, I am [127]extremely concerned about this provision because checks and balances are not being put in place. It will cause hardship at some stage in the future and it sets a very dangerous precedent. It is unbelievable that the Department of Agriculture and Food should put an attachment of earnings in place, while the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not prepared to do so where there is a court decree against a person. I am disappointed that the Government is not prepared to include in the legislation the checks and balances which should be in place.

Mr. Crawford:  I support the amendment. This is extremely disappointing. As Deputy Naughten said, there is a major anomaly in that Fine Gael actually brought forward a number of Bills providing for attachment of fines but we have the ridiculous situation where somebody is sent to Mountjoy Prison because he or she owes some money. It costs €290 per night to keep somebody in Mountjoy Prison, not to mention what it costs to send him or her there. The Government would not rectify that anomaly. Many people would gladly pay their fines, perhaps in the form of €10 per week from their social welfare payments, wages, etc. However, the Minister deemed it unfit to bring in an attachment of fines in such cases.

In this instance, while it is finely worded, it is an attachment of earnings. The Department is not satisfied with getting the full income a person receives from the rural environmental protection scheme or in the form of a single payment, headage payment or any other payment paid by it or the EU. It is now prepared to extend it to a person’s milk cheque or other income. It is extremely disappointing that no understanding or leniency has been shown in this regard.

As my colleague, Deputy Naughten, said, the major issue is that a precedent is being set. The former Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, told us on several occasions that we would discuss it again in a year’s time and so on. However, we now know how little that meant.

Dr. Upton:  I support this amendment for the same reasons I supported the previous one relating to a similar set of circumstances whereby there may be attachment of debts. The key point is that a dangerous precedent is being set. Despite any guarantees and assurances that people will be dealt with sympathetically, the legislation will apply if this is challenged. If somebody finds himself or herself in the unfortunate situation whereby there is a demand for payment, the facility is in place to take it from him or her without any consultation or reference to the courts or without a safety net being in place. On that basis, this provision should be removed to preclude such an event from happening.

[128]Mr. Browne:  The powers set out in section 6 do not place my Department in a better position than any other creditor. It will be necessary for application to be made to the appropriate court of competent jurisdiction to obtain the relief provided for in the Bill. I refer here, for example, to the garnishee order provided for in the section. My Department is unable to redirect payments due from third parties who might owe money to an annuitant without first making application to the court. We have put measures in place to ensure that farmers who do not avail of the voluntary scheme maintain their annuity payments thereafter. I could repeat the points I made in regard to amendment No. 6. The measures will only be applied after consultation with the annuitant and in an appropriate and compassionate manner.

Mr. Naughten:  The main problem is that it not only applies to payments due from the Department of Agriculture and Food by way of the EU or the State coffers but it can relate to any income a farmer has, whether that from off farm or some other source. A warrant can be issued for the redemption of the sum in question. One does not have the protection of the court because, sadly, this section states that a warrant issued under it is deemed to be a judgment of a court. Once the warrant is issued, it is deemed to be a court judgment without it having to go through the court procedure. That is the main problem with this provision.

The basic checks and balances are not in place. We are excluding the courts and are relieving the Department of the obligation to negotiate with farmers because it is being given these powers. As Deputy Upton said, this sets a very dangerous precedent. The fact that it is being included in the legislation will mean that the Government will extend it within the Department of Agriculture and Food and perhaps to other Departments to which payments are due.

It is somewhat hypocritical of the Government to talk about attachment of earnings in regard to arrears due to the Department when elderly people throughout the country are due money from the Department of Health and Children. The Government is not prepared to issue payments to those individuals. At the same time, it is putting legislation in place to enable the Department of Agriculture and Food to withdraw money from farmers’ bank accounts or to take money due to them from some other source or from the Department. It is an extremely dangerous precedent and I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this section.

Mr. Browne:  We have had a substantial debate on the issue. The Minister considered it carefully and is not prepared to accept the Opposition’s amendment.

[129]Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Bill received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

  6 o’clock

Mr. Naughten:  I thank the Minister of State, his colleagues and the officials involved in the preparation of this Bill. Provision has been made for significant powers which are not appropriate to this legislation. We should have examined providing a more balanced incentive in this regard. We teased out those issues and I thank the officials for the manner in which they responded to them and made the argument as to why they could not concede to them. When the Bill is signed into law, it is imperative that Members encourage many of those 2,300 people involved to take up the offer. I look forward to working with the officials in the Land Commission in securing as many of those full payments of annuities as possible. I thank the officials dealing with this legislation.

Dr. Upton:  I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials for the way they handled amendments to the Bill. I appreciate the effort they made to address our concerns. While we may still have reservations about some aspects of it, serious time and effort was put into ensuring that the various issues were given a good hearing and dealt with fairly. The Bill will not be reflected in the Dublin South Central constituency.

Mr. Naughten:  The Deputy may be surprised.

Dr. Upton:  I do not have particular concerns about its implementation in Walkinstown or Terenure. I thank the Minister of State and his officials.

Mr. J. Brady:  Acting Chairman——

Mr. Naughten:  The Deputy was very quiet five minutes ago.

Mr. Browne:  The farmers’ friend.

Mr. J. Brady:  I wish to be associated with those speakers on the other side of the House in complimenting the Minister of State and his officials. Coming from a farm and a county that depended on the Land Commission, I know many small farmers in County Meath who are grateful for its work. There were also migrants from other parts of the country, particularly from the west, who were always made welcome in County Meath. Some of them became famous and we know the contribution they made to our county, even off [130]the football field. Had it not been for the Land Commission, those people would never have ended up in County Meath.

Deputies Naughten and Upton supported me on Second and Committee Stages when I proposed that where county councils are acquiring Land Commission land, they should not be able to sell it on in the open market. That land was made available years ago for the poor people of Ireland. I do not want to see big tycoon builders and developers or large farmers acquiring this land. I am confident the Minister of State will consider this in other legislation.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne):  I thank the House for facilitating the debate on the Bill and I acknowledge the valuable contributions of Members, particularly Deputies Upton, Naughten and Crawford. I thank the Ceann Comhairle, the staff of the Office of the Attorney General, the Parliamentary Counsel and my officials, who have worked on the Bill for some time. As Deputy Naughten said, it is up to us to encourage farmers to avail of this scheme. I encourage Members to ask farmers to become actively involved in the buy-out on the commencement of the legislation. Any difficulties that may arise will be dealt with in a compassionate manner.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Mr. O’Shea):  A message shall be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Mr. English:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, lines 33 and 34, to delete all words from and including “an” in line 33 down to and including “adopter)” in line 34 and substitute “one employed adopting parent”.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand.”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Morgan:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, line 40, to delete “8” and substitute “26”.

I am proposing that a parent, if he or she so chooses, should be allowed to spend the first year of a child’s life with him or her. Expert opinion — like many Ministers — supports my view. This amendment is not some madness for the sake of having a run at a Minister or a Department in order to score political points; it is attempting to [131]achieve an arrangement that is better for the child and, in turn, for society. This arrangement of 26 weeks is already in place in the North. I ask that the same principle be applied in the South. All Deputies are only too familiar with the child care crisis. This proposal would be one element in enhancing efforts to deal with that crisis, particularly if people were able to spend time with their children in the first year. I hope the Minister of State will accept the amendment.

Ms Lynch:  I support the amendment. With maternity benefit, I know more mothers are giving false dates of delivery in order to have access to the entire period of maternity leave after the birth of a child, as opposed to being obliged to take two weeks of it before the child is born. This is a dangerous practice. Nevertheless, with the pressures of work, it happens regularly. This tells us that the amount of time available after the arrival of a child is not sufficient. Deputy Morgan’s proposals are more realistic. The Minister of State stated that he is taking the maternity leave model but because of that legislation’s attachment to the mother solely, it could be found unconstitutional at a later stage. We are tying ourselves into this model. I believed the adoptive and parental leave Bill was about bringing us into line with the Scandinavian model in how we treat parents and how they develop a relationship with infants.

It is a good idea to extend the period to 26 weeks. Like Deputy Morgan, I would prefer it to be extended to the first 12 months of a child’s life. It is not only experts in the area of child rearing who recognise the benefits of a child being with either parent for the first year of his or her life. Parents themselves recognise it and want to be with their children but, because of the pressures of modern living and the cost of housing, they find it difficult to do so on a voluntary basis. I think the amendment is worthwhile and I support it.

Mr. English:  I will not delay proceedings. We are singing from the same hymn sheet on this side of the House. There is no reason not to extend the period to 26 weeks.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Fahey):  I agree with the Deputies on the desirability of this move but a process is involved and there is an important link with maternity leave. The maternity working group considered the periods of maternity leave available and made recommendations to increase both maternity leave and additional maternity leave by four weeks each. These increases were immediately implemented in March 2001 and were simultaneously applied to adoptive leave and additional adoptive leave. [132]If the Deputy’s amendment was accepted, it would have the effect of breaking the link with the maternity leave provisions and the parity of entitlement between natural and adoptive parents. It would also breach the agreement reached by the social partners on adoptive leave. The review of statutory periods of leave such as adoptive, maternity and parental leave must follow consultation and negotiation involving the Government and the social partners through the partnership process. The views of employers and employees must be taken into consideration. It is not as simple as putting down an amendment or proposal and carrying it in a vacuum. The Government is working on a series of proposals that are the subject of further discussion in the context of social partnership and any budgetary matters will be a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Morgan:  I thank Deputies Lynch and English for their support for the amendment and for recognising its practicality and common sense. Partnership deals are done outside this House. To expect people in the House who had no direct input into those negotiations, or with the partnerships involved, to accept those deals transforms us from legislators to rubber stampers who do not have the right to amend or even tweak legislation. I do not accept that principle.

Mr. Fahey:  Is the Deputy for or against social partnership?

Mr. Morgan:  I am for people in this House having the right to amend legislation by moving reasonable amendments and for those amendments to be at least considered by the Government.

On partnership, ICTU agreed the adoptive leave measures. It did not, however, disagree with them being extended, as I am advocating here. I am not sure what IBEC’s view is but I do not think ICTU would agree that the legislation should stop there and go no further. I certainly do not accept it.

This House and the relevant Minister should examine the merits of amendments and accept those that are constructive. I rest my case.

Ms Lynch:  We have probably had this discussion three times on this legislation. I do not understand the Minister of State wedding himself to the maternity leave legislation. My understanding of that legislation is that it is single gender legislation. In an age when men, quite rightly, insist on having greater involvement with their children while they are young, I am surprised that the Minister of State refers to a restrictive item of legislation when dealing with a progressive measure such as parental leave or leave for people who are having a child by adoption. He [133]should be proud to introduce such a measure but to do so on the basis of restrictive legislation that everybody knows will have to be revisited because of the equality demands placed on it is incomprehensible.

The number of politicians who are remembered for doing something in the common good can be counted on one hand and I do not understand why a Minister would not take the opportunity when it presents itself. I ask the Minister of State why he weds himself to legislation that he will be obliged to revisit?

Mr. Fahey:  I do so simply because the bedrock of economic success and industrial peace in this country has been partnership and that was achieved after exhaustive discussions and negotiations around maternity leave, parental leave and adoptive leave. For us to ignore what has happened and what is yet to happen——

Ms Lynch:  I do not expect that.

Mr. Fahey:  We all sincerely hope that agreement is reached in the next partnership negotiations to improve the terms around parental leave and adoption and that the Government and Minister for Finance will be in a position to provide the extra resources for that. For us to take a decision without reference to all the other key people concerned would, aside from the fact that budgetary considerations are involved, be highly irresponsible.

I am surprised that two left-wing Deputies are pushing the idea that we ignore the social partnership process. The unions in this country, through their responsible leadership, have contributed more than anyone else to the success we enjoy today. The partnership negotiations that are about to start are critically important to that continuing. We will hopefully return on another day to approve a new agreement.

Mr. Morgan:  I did not want to become involved in a debate on partnership because I thought we would only deal with the amendment. However, now that the Minister of State has mentioned partnership, it is essential that I do so. I agree [134]with his final comment that the unions and workers have given most in this partnership deal. Consider the Irish Ferries incident and the circumstances involving GAMA. Look beyond that to five Mayo residents in jail until recently over the Corrib gas line scandal. Is this what people signed up for when they subscribed to partnership, and could it be described as such? I am in favour of the concept of social partnership but I will not describe what is currently happening as partnership. There has been industrial peace on one side, as unions and workers have not entered into strike action and they comply with every piece of madness that comes along. On the other side of the coin one can look at the people who would be represented by IBEC, the Irish Ferry sort of company. What is happening there, where workers are to be dumped on their ear to be replaced by “yellow pack” workers? Where is the sanction to deal with that issue?

I am happy to debate social partnership at any stage with the Minister of State, but we should talk of realistic partnership and not the model that is currently there. I do not like the model that exists. Workers and unions have been stripped completely of all their powers to secure fair treatment for their workers. On the other hand, IBEC and employers tread over everybody. The words “stand idly by” come to mind with regard to the Government, as I can think of another context when those words were used. The Government managed to stand idly by on that occasion also, with much human, social and economic cost. I hope the Government does not stand idly by on this occasion also.

With regard to the amendment itself, Ireland compares badly with other EU states on the issue of length of leave and statutory maternity benefit. This amendment would go some way to bringing the country on the radar. I hope the Minister of State will reconsider, although I do not expect he will given his comments so far.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister of State does not reply at this point.

Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand.”

[133]The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 50.

 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carty, John.
 Cassidy, Donie.  Collins, Michael.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cregan, John.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Davern, Noel.
 de Valera, Síle.  Dempsey, Tony.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fahey, Frank.
 [135]Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fox, Mildred.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGuinness, John.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Donal.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M. J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Donnell, Liz.  O’Donoghue, John.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 Power, Peter.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Wallace, Mary.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G. V.  


[135]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, James.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Connolly, Paudge.  Costello, Joe.
 Cowley, Jerry.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Ferris, Martin.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Gregory, Tony.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McManus, Liz.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.

[135]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Curran; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Stagg.

[135]Question declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, not moved.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendment Nos. 13 to 20, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Mr. English:  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 5, line 13, to delete “father” and substitute “parent”.

I do not wish to go back over the whole debate again. All my amendments have had one agenda, which is to grant equal status to both adoptive parents when applying for the right to adoptive leave. I still do not accept the Minister’s argu[136]ment that either parent cannot avail of adoptive leave. I was willing to wait until the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 was published, but it was not in that. I will not go over the whole issue again and I will not seek a vote, although I would love to do so all night. I feel it is discriminatory that both parents cannot avail of adoptive leave and cannot choose between either parent. We are not the experts on this, nor is the Minister. The experts are the parents, who should decide which parent avails of adoptive leave. It is a shame that in this day and age, we are not prepared to go that far. The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 does not deal with it, but gives leave for different reasons to all parents for their children up to the age of eight years. Adoptive leave should be additional to parental leave, and it is a pity the Minister of State cannot go some of the way towards addressing this.

[137]Mr. Fahey:  I cannot accept theses amendments, which rely for validity on earlier amendments that were ruled out of order. Deputy English’s amendments are consequent on amendment No. 1, which has been ruled out of order. Section 6 of the Bill amends section 10 of the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, which makes provision for additional unpaid adoptive leave for bereaved fathers in certain circumstances following the death of the adoptive mother. In the event that both the mother and father were entitled to leave in their own right — which they are not — then Deputy English’s amendments would have merit. However, the principal Act and this Bill confine adoptive leave to adopting mothers and in this scenario, when the mother dies, the leave can only be available to the surviving parent, namely, the father.

Mr. English:  There is no point in repeating the argument. It is disappointing that this cannot be changed. The Minister of State is correct that all the amendments are linked.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.

Ms Lynch:  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, lines 23 to 28, to delete all words from and including “of---” in line 23 down to and including “weeks” in line 28 and substitute “of 8 weeks”.

This amendment tidies matters up and makes much the same point as that made by Deputy English. The Act recognises that there is a possibility, albeit an unfortunate one——

Acting Chairman:  We cannot enter into a debate on this amendment.

Ms Lynch:  I understand. However, there is recognition within the Act that it is possible that the adopting mother could die and there is no way of extending the adoptive leave to the father.

Question, “That the words and figures proposed to be deleted stand.”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, not moved.

Mr. Morgan:  I move amendment No. 20:

In page 5, line 28, to delete “8” and substitute “26”.

Question, “That the figure proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

[138]Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 21 not moved.

Ms Lynch:  I move amendment No. 22:

In page 7, to delete lines 49 and 50.

This amendment relates to an adoptive parent who becomes ill while on leave. On return, such parents are no longer entitled to take the remainder of the adoptive leave due to them. This arises as a result of a lack of understanding, albeit not on the Minister of State’s part, and I am surprised to find it in the Bill.

If a mother becomes sufficiently ill to require hospitalisation or so that she simply cannot take care of her child, she should not be deprived of what she would expect to receive. Under the proposed legislation, it appears that as such a mother came off the disability benefit to which she would be entitled when sick, she could not take the remainder of her adoptive leave. This seems incredible as she would lose out on bonding time with her child. In the first instance, an adoptive mother does not have the same bond with her child as would a natural mother and it must be built on. While this can also happen with women who give birth naturally, clearly there is more bonding to be done when a child is adopted. Under the proposed legislation, however, if, for example, the mother becomes ill for three weeks of the 16 weeks, when she comes off disability benefit, she is unable to take the remainder of the adoptive leave. It is possible that a mother could become ill 13 weeks into the adoptive leave period and it would then not be available to her at the end of her illness. However, it should be. If there is a period of time in which a mother cannot nurture her child because of illness, then she should be able to take the remainder of her adoptive leave as an automatic right when the period in which she is sick ends.

The Minister of State is probably afraid that people will move from adoptive leave to disability benefit and back again in order to extend their period away from work. That fear would have been allayed had the amendment proposing a 26-week leave period been accepted. However, I do not believe that people would act like that. I do not know many women who would do so. Women are put to the pin of their collars in order to return to work, sort out babysitters and all the rest, so as to pay massively inflated mortgages. I ask the Minister of State to accept this amendment because it makes sense. Increasingly, I have noticed a trend in legislation which assumes that people will do the wrong thing.

Mr. Fahey:  The purpose of the Bill is to apply the appropriate recommendations of the maternity working group to adoptive leave. I am sorry that I am obliged to repeat that.

[139]Ms Lynch:  So am I.

Mr. English:  All Members are.

Mr. Fahey:  The agreement unequivocally states that the Adoptive Leave Bill would provide for the termination of additional adoptive leave in the event of illness, subject to the agreement of the employer. As I have stated, the purpose of section 8 is to provide for termination of additional adoptive leave, if the employee chooses and the employer agrees. On its own, the deletion of the proposed new section 11B(4)(b) of the principal Act would not change this but would merely risk introducing a small element of uncertainty. The proposed new section is clearly titled “Termination of additional adoptive leave on sickness of adopting parent” and the word “terminate” is used throughout the section. If the Deputy proposes that the balance of leave should be postponed or suspended, then an amendment to this effect would be required. The deletion of the proposed new section 11B(4)(b) would not have the effect of making available the balance of untaken leave to be taken at a later time.

Ms Lynch:  I have studied the debate on the Bill and a continuous trend runs through it at all times. The fact that a recommendation was made by the group which advised the Minister of State on the Bill does not necessarily make it right. No one is infallible. We are not the holders of all knowledge, which is what debating is all about. It is surely people’s experience when they debate a matter. One cannot continually say that a group did not recommend it.

Mr. Fahey:  This amendment does not do what the Deputy wants.

Ms Lynch:  It would go some way towards doing it. The Bill states “The employee shall cease to be entitled to any leave not by then taken.” I want this deleted and the amendment would go some way towards doing so. The provision in the Bill is almost a virtual punishment. Some women who adopt children will become ill and will not take what they naturally would, such as disability benefit, in between the periods as they know they will be short-changed at the end of the process.

Mr. Fahey:  It really is the choice of the individuals. If they want to terminate their adoptive unpaid leave to go on paid sickness benefit, it is a matter for them and there is no problem. This amendment is not necessary in that regard and the deletion of subsection (4)(b) would not have the effect of leaving the balance of untaken leave available at a later time.

Mr. English:  They will take it. They will switch over to sick leave to get the money.

[140]Ms Lynch:  The Minister of State is correct in that the amendment would not have that effect but if the subsection were deleted, it would clearly be optional then.

Mr. English:  On the buy-out.

Ms Lynch:  Yes. As matters stand, and we have had this argument before, what is in the Bill will be applied and rightly so. This is what legislation is about. the new subsection (4) states:

(a) The absence from work of the employee owing to sickness after the termination shall be treated in the same way as any other absence from work of the employee owing to sickness, and

(b) the employee shall cease to be entitled to any leave not by then taken.

Mr. Fahey:  I have no argument with the Deputy but if she is proposing that the balance of leave should be postponed or suspended, she must table an amendment to that effect because amendment No. 22 does not deal with that matter.

Mr. English:  Any amendment at this stage would be irrelevant.

Ms Lynch:  I clearly did not initiate this Bill. If the Minister of State agrees with what I am saying, he should amend it to ensure that what I am asking for happens.

Mr. English:  Is there a mechanism?

Mr. Fahey:  We are not proposing that it would be suspended or postponed but that it would be terminated.

Ms Lynch:  Yes.

Mr. Fahey:  If a person wants to terminate the unpaid adoptive leave, that person is entitled to sick benefit.

Ms Lynch:  The person might not have that choice.

Mr. English:  I accept that achieving what the Deputy wants in full cannot be done by deleting this subsection unless the Minister of State is prepared to table an amendment but removing it will go half way.

Ms Lynch:  Yes. It is compulsory.

Mr. English:  It will not be written in stone that the leave be terminated in order for it to be open to employers and employees to resolve the issue. Removing this subsection would do no harm. My [141]understanding is that the Bill was intended to bring matters in line with the provisions relating to maternity leave. If one is sick, maternity leave comes into effect after one returns to full health.

Ms Lynch:  It is still available.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair has been lenient, as Deputy English was not entitled to speak.

Mr. English:  I accept that but I was seeking information.

Mr. Fahey:  What the Deputy is suggesting would mean that this would be an unclear law, which would not be in anyone’s interests.

Mr. English:  We have many such laws.

Ms Lynch:  We have a very clear law but it is unjust, which is not what the Minister of State wanted.

Mr. Fahey:  It is not unjust.

Ms Lynch:  It is unjust. To deprive someone of what they expected to have at the onset of a particular situation due to events they did not foresee and could not possibly control is unjust. A clear law is one matter but an unjust law is another matter entirely.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Ms Lynch:  I move:

That, in accordance with Standing Order 128(1), the Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 be recommitted in respect of amendment No. 23.

Question put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 23 not moved.

Bill received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Fahey):  I thank Members for their contributions to the debate on the Bill. It is important legislation that will enhance the lives of adoptive parents. I appreciate the strong views expressed by Members concerning aspects of the Bill but, in light of the circumstances I have outlined, it is not possible to accept them at this stage. With the evolving policy changes in terms of family life balance, I am sure we will see changes and improvements [142]in the not too distant future. I thank everyone, including my officials, for the passage of this Bill, which has taken more time than I would have thought.

Mr. English:  The Bill is important and has taken much time. I welcome its passage and accept the Minister of State’s comments that there may be changes in future. I ask that, at any of the future negotiations, it will be made clear how we felt on some of the issues.

Ms Lynch:  I thank the Minister of State and his officials. The drafting of legislation is never easy and formulating answers to our opposition to most new legislation is equally difficult. One must be on top form and on one’s toes. As the Minister of State said, this legislation is long overdue and will make life for people who form families by adopting children much easier. I wish each and every one of them the best of luck and hope they will avail to the full of what is in this legislation. Let us hope it is enacted very quickly because there are people out there waiting for it.

Mr. Morgan:  I welcome the passage, unfortunately with many imperfections, of the Bill. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction and will do until after the next election when we will have an opportunity to bring forward the improvements necessary to make really good legislation.

Acting Chairman:  We have a small number of seconds before we move on to Private Members’ time.

Mr. Morgan:  Deputy Ring would like to make a speech.

Acting Chairman:  I am sure he would but we will not call him now, as the time has arrived.

Mr. O’Connor:  I will make a speech.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  As the Bill is considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution to be a Bill initiated in the Dáil, it will be sent to the Seanad.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Naughten on Tuesday, 18 October 2005:

[143]That Dáil Éireann,

notes the recent publication by the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the Draft Animal Remedies Regulations 2005 and recognises that:

—Ireland must legislate for EU Directive 2004/28 by 31 October 2005;

—the Government’s proposals will impose unimplementable and unworkable restrictions on farmers;

—the current proposals are over-bureaucratic and will seriously restrict the availability of animal medicines;

—the regulations will add an additional €80 million to the cost of veterinary medicines in this country;

—the Competition Authority has expressed serious reservations regarding the implementation of the EU directive in its current manner;

—it will seriously discriminate against the competitiveness of Irish food production and farming;

—the proposals will facilitate the creation of a monopoly in the sale of animal medicines;

—it will hinder good farming practice and have a negative impact on animal welfare;

—it is becoming progressively difficult to maintain veterinary practices in certain parts of the country;

—Northern Ireland has taken a more farmer-friendly interpretation of the EU directive which may promote a cross-Border black market for such products;

— the regulation will inhibit the development of an all-Ireland animal health regime;

and calls on the Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food to:

—allow qualified professionals, other than but including vets, to issue prescriptions;

—implement a regulation similar to that of the UK authorities, which will eradicate the potential for cross-Border trade in animal remedies;

—retain the wide availability of animal medicines while ensuring that Ireland continues to produce food to the highest standards;

[144]—publish the proposed exemption list which has been submitted to the European Commission;

—review the draft regulation to introduce a simplified system of compliance; and

—allow Irish farming publications to advertise and provide detailed information regarding the efficacy of animal remedies in line with similar UK publications circulating in Ireland.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“—notes that the draft regulations relating to veterinary medicines circulated by the Department of Agriculture and Food for consultation with the animal remedies consultative committee and stakeholders are designed both to implement changes arising from a review of existing national legislation and to transpose EU Directive 2004/28 into national law;

—agrees that the objective of the new regime should be to put in place a workable system for the distribution of medicines within the parameters of the EU directive while at the same time protecting public and animal health, minimising costs for producers and facilitating export trade;

—accepts that the existing national prescribing arrangements should remain in place pending the adoption at EU level of criteria for exemption of certain medicines from the requirement that all medicines for food producing animals become prescription only;

—notes the provisions to simplify procedures for writing prescriptions and provide for greater competition in the market for veterinary medicines;

—notes the undertakings by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to review the arrangements for prescribing veterinary medicines in the light of the outcome of the EU decision on the exemption criteria with a view to ensuring competition in the marketplace while also protecting public and animal health; and

—accordingly approves the overall approach being taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food in relation to veterinary medicines.”

—(Minister for Agriculture and Food).

[145]Mr. J. Brady:  How much time is allocated to each speaker?

Acting Chairman:  I understand it is 30 minutes.

Mr. J. Brady:  I wish to share time with Deputies Callanan, Grealish and Michael Moynihan. Beef production is extremely valuable to the economy. It has an export value of €1.4 billion, representing approximately 25% of total agri-food exports. Irish beef is a highly competitive product with more than 90% of production exported to the EU and other countries.

Under the CAP decoupling arrangements for direct payments, for the first time in many decades farmers can focus more clearly on the market-related elements of their income, confident that the single payment will provide an ensured income stream. We will enter this new era from a good base. Our well-developed cattle identification and traceability system, coupled with our highly advanced animal health and welfare veterinary controls ensure we have a safe product from a critical human health perspective.

  7 o’clock

I am also confident that after decades of research and genetic improvements we have breeding stock, technologies and policies from which we can produce the best quality beef. We can do so using modern and efficient farm management practices. This new environment will create a significant incentive for quality production with the producer processor relationship as the key. This will require greater emphasis on cattle prices for farmers being related to quality and integrated supply and purchasing systems, thus satisfying high quality premium market opportunities.

The future well-being of the beef industry will be directly dependent on the returns farmers can generate from the market. In recent years most of our beef exports have gone to the high value UK and EU markets and that trend continued this year. EU consumption is predicted to outstrip production in 2005, with a resulting import gap of approximately 280,000 tonnes for the year. This will provide opportunities for our beef exports in high value continental EU markets. In the past three or four years, the focus of the Irish beef industry has been to broaden and expand its market research at EU retail level, where higher prices are available. This has coincided with reduced dependence on EU support measures such as intervention and export refunds.

This year’s Bord Bia European autumn promotion of identified Irish beef, carried out in conjunction with EU retailers and Irish suppliers, is well under way and is an excellent and sophisticated campaign. Initial feedback is encouraging in terms of improved demand in response to the promotion. It is hoped we can further strengthen the position of Irish beef in the European marketplace as a result.

[146]Despite our success in Europe, non-EU markets will always form part of our outlets for Irish beef, taking certain cuts at particular times of the year, especially during our peak throughput in the autumn. With the assistance of our embassies abroad and Bord Bia, the Government will continue to press hard for the reopening of all of our traditional third country markets. The Russian market has performed well since agreement was reached on the EU veterinary certificate for exports last year. The re-opening of the Algerian market was also announced last October and a steady trade has developed.

Positive developments have also occurred in the Egyptian market, following intensive efforts over a prolonged period. Department of Agriculture and Food and Bord Bia officials visited Egypt earlier this year and succeeded in reaching agreement with the Egyptian Government in August on a new and much improved veterinary protocol for the export of Irish beef to that destination. Trade will be further underpinned by the retention of a special export refund for Egypt which has been negotiated with the EU Commission. Production has already commenced for one contract and it is expected that trade will gradually increase during the coming months.

Last week I was honoured to accompany the Minister for Agriculture and Food to meet the Egyptian Foreign Minister. I am confident the negotiations and discussions that took place signify an encouraging outlook for the Egyptian market. I am confident that Ireland’s high animal health status and food safety standards will pave the way for increasing access for Irish beef to world markets.

Mr. Callanan:  I compliment the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Browne, for their stand on the veterinary medicine regulations. It is important that farmers can get medicines for their livestock without too many restrictions and at a competitive rate.

Mr. Naughten:  The Deputy must be sure to state that to The Connacht Tribune.

Mr. Callanan:  It is fair to state that Irish farmers fully understand the dangers of over-prescribing medicines to their stock. Strict tests are now in place to ensure no residues are present in beef, milk or other products. The Department of Agriculture and Food is aware of the view expressed on the possible impact of the draft regulations on competition of supply of veterinary medicines, particularly regarding the requirements of the EU directive that all veterinary medicines for food producing animals must be subject to prescription.

[147]However, the directive also includes a provision for exemption criteria to be adopted at EU level, which will provide a mechanism for certain categories of medicine to be exempted from prescription requirement. The EU has not adopted a position on the exemption criteria but must do so by 1 January 2007. Pending this decision, existing national prescription and distribution arrangements may remain in place. It is Deputy Coughlan’s intention to avail of the exemption clause to the maximum extent possible. Her Department has made a submission to the Commission with a view to retaining all products that currently enjoy a status of being available without prescription, other than intramammaries.

The draft regulation published by the Department of Agriculture and Food provides that veterinary medicines, wormers and certain vaccines will continue to be available without prescription for the time being. In practice, this means that apart from intramammaries, the Department is retaining the essence of its existing national prescription and distribution regime. In view of this, it is not necessary for competition reasons to extend the range of persons who may be permitted to prescribe. The Minister will review the regulations, in particular the provisions relating to the categories of persons who would be permitted to prescribe medicines, in light of the exemption criteria that will be agreed at EU level in due course.

It is evident the Minister believes her Department is doing everything possible, in so far as it has flexibility to do so, to create an environment to ensure there continues to be competition in the supply of veterinary medicines. Regarding the availability of veterinary practitioners to issue prescriptions, the draft regulations published by the Department of Agriculture and Food will substantially retain the existing regime on off-prescription products until 1 January 2007. This means that with the exemption of intramammary medicines, products available from pharmacies and licensed merchants will continue to be available from these outlets until that date.

It should be pointed out that veterinary practices are primarily commercial entities and their location is driven by commercial realities. In so far as Government involvement is concerned, attention should be drawn to the measures of the new Veterinary Practice Act which would help to address any shortage of Irish trained vets. For the first time, the Veterinary Council of Ireland will recognise qualifications from applicants in third countries. This, in tandem with the recent enlargement of the EU, should ensure the availability of practitioners from outside the State to meet any shortfalls.

I welcome the decision of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to ban imports of Brazilian beef into Ireland from the regions where foot and mouth disease has occurred. Her decision follows the confirmation [148]of an outbreak of the disease in certain regions of Brazil. The ban is justified totally on grounds of human and animal health. While Irish farmers are rightly forced to accept rigorous standards in the interests of food safety and consumer protection, it is only just that imported products should meet the same criteria. Last year almost 8,000 tonnes of beef was imported into Ireland from Brazil, most of which was used in the catering industry, with no labelling required. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to introduce new beef labelling legislation for the hotel and catering sector. However, I urge her to do so before the ban on Brazilian imports is lifted. This is in the best interests of Irish farmers and consumers alike.

I also welcome the reopening of the Egyptian trade for beef exports from Ireland. Over the past two weeks, export licences for Egypt amounting to 1,100 tonnes of beef have been taken out by the Department of Agriculture and Food. This once again underlines the international reputation of Irish beef as a quality product.

Finally, I wish the Minister well in her negotiations leading up to the World Trade Organisation talks.

Mr. Grealish:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this important issue. As a rural Deputy, I have met many farmers and representatives of veterinary medicine companies over the last few weeks. This is an important issue in rural Ireland and I am delighted that this motion has come before the House.

I have just a few moments and recognise that many of the important points have already been made, so I will focus on just three. Last night the Minister mentioned the serious misunderstanding of the draft regulations on the part of the Opposition. I listened with a certain amount of disbelief to the contributions from that side of the House which stated that this Government has a blatant disregard for Ireland’s food industry and is more interested in attracting transient foreign investment than supporting indigenous employers. That is just plain wrong.

Mr. Naughten:  Has the Deputy read the enterprise strategy group’s implementation plan?

Mr. Grealish:  To use this as a starting point for a debate on a serious issue of veterinary medicine practice——

Mr. Naughten:  He should read it.

Mr. Grealish:  ——is unfortunate. It does the parties opposite and their argument no service whatsoever. The unprecedented development of the economy is knowledge based and innovation driven and relies on both indigenous and foreign enterprise. Government policies correctly reflect this.

My second point relates to the substance of the motion, namely, unimplementable and unwork[149]able restrictions on farmers, bureaucracy, monopoly, and black markets. All of this is based on the assumptions that the directive contains no provision for exemption criteria being adopted at EU level for certain categories of medicines to be exempted from prescription requirements and that the Minister does not intend to avail of the exemption clause to the maximum extent possible with a view to retaining off prescription in Ireland all products other than intramammaries. Unfortunately for the Opposition, neither of those assumptions is true.

I compliment the Minister for the clarity of her contribution last night. The Opposition often claims that ministerial statements and answers stray from the point. The Minister could not have been clearer. Ireland intends to avail of the extension clause to the maximum extent possible. The Department of Agriculture and Food has already made a submission to the European Commission with a view to retaining off prescription in Ireland all products currently in that category.

Under the draft regulations published by the Minister, veterinary medicines such as wormers and certain vaccines will continue to be available off prescription for the time being and in practice, apart from intramammaries, we will be retaining the essence of the existing prescription and distribution system. I am confident that once the exemption is availed of, Opposition claims of unimplementable and unworkable restrictions on farmers, bureaucracy, monopoly and black markets will not materialise.

My final point is wider in scope. It involves Ireland’s relationship with the European Union. We are in a period of reflection concerning the European project brought about by the referendum results in France and the Netherlands. The decision of the French and the Dutch to reject the constitutional treaty was a setback but it has provided us with an opportunity. Some benefits may occur from the refocusing of minds on what we, as a people, actually want from the Union. Issues such as that before the House this evening are typical of motions that generate cynicism concerning the EU, the view that Brussels interferes or imposes regulations against our best interest. I urge the Minister and her Department to continue to work in the interests of the country, farmers and indigenous producers and distributors. The Minister’s goal is to implement the EU directive while protecting public and animal health, facilitating our food export trade and minimising costs for producers.

I support the amendment to the motion for these reasons, confident that by availing of the exemption clause to the maximum extent possible, we will retain off prescription in Ireland all products which currently enjoy this status. The Minister and the Government deserve support on this exemption, not wild statements from the Opposition.

[150]Mr. M. Moynihan:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion before the House this evening. At the outset, I compliment the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, and Ministers of State, Deputies Browne and Smith, for the excellent work they are doing in the Department and indeed, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food, Deputy Johnny Brady, for the work he is doing in steering agriculture.

In the few minutes available, I would like to discuss, under the auspices of the motion, the future of the dairy industry at a time of extreme challenges internally and externally. We are all aware of the growing pressures to complete the new WTO trade negotiations in December. The EU is being faced with unacceptable demands from other international partners in the world trade talks, where Europe is expected to make concessions that others appear reluctant to match.

The Commission is a negotiating body for the purpose of the world trade talks. Its handling of the negotiations so far has not been as self-assured as I would like. Too many concessions have been made which have not been matched by other groups and there is a danger that a deal may not be secured. The risks in such an approach have been pointed out to the Commission and again today in Luxembourg the Minister and her Council colleagues have once more put pressure on the EU.

Our concerns are reasonable. We face challenges in the dairy sector from both the internal market and external world markets. An agreement at WTO level, however, that fails to recognise the importance of agriculture to the EU will neither command the support of the Union nor enhance the capacity or our dairy industry to develop internationally.

Developing internationally is crucial for the Irish dairy sector because of the enormous export surpluses we produce in dairy products. We have proven our capacity to stand with the best in doing so and coped with enormous changes. When the Luxembourg agreement on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy was settled, we understood clearly that it would form the basis of agricultural policy for the foreseeable future. No further elements of reform would be conceived as part of the world trade negotiations. That remains the Minister’s position. Having come through periods of adjustments in internal market supports and export refunds, necessitated by the Luxembourg agreement, the Minister is not prepared to allow Ireland’s competitiveness to become further eroded by unilateral trade concessions that expose us to unfair and unjust competition while limiting export opportunities.

We face challenges on the dairy side in the WTO negotiations. We have already faced similar challenges during the past year when the Minister continued to criticise the Commission’s handling [151]of the sensitive dairy market management and won support from a number of other concerned member states with which she had bilateral agreements. Decisions taken at EU level were causing severe pressure on the ability of the dairy sector to compete on international markets. The Minister told the Commission that the reductions made on subsidies represent a far too aggressive market management approach and that what the industry needed most was a period of stability. Since then there has been a sustained period of stability that has enabled the industry to continue sales contracts and set raw material prices within a stable, economic and commercial environment. While aids and subsidies at European Union level are essential to competitiveness on world markets, internal competitiveness is the key for Ireland and the area we directly influence. Internal structural difficulties in our domestic dairy sector must be addressed to remove the factors which inhibit growth and development. These matters need to be addressed in a more direct manner at both primary and secondary level in terms of matching product mix with emerging market and consumer demands. At farm level we must consider increasing the scale of operations, reducing costs where possible and providing a profitable future in the sector for the next generation of dairy farmers.

Although the quota regime has been extended until 2014-15, it is imperative, now more than ever, to assist those who wish to expand their operations within the new environment. The Minister has taken a series of initiatives in this area. In announcing the new milk quota restructuring scheme this year, she deliberately set about framing a two-year restructuring programme providing a fixed price for the purchase and sale of quota. The price will be progressively reduced each year, thus allowing dairy farmers to plan ahead with greater certainty and enable the restructuring programme to operate more efficiently, having regard to the need for more competitive milk production.

The Minister also changed the regulations to enable the transfer of quota within families without the need to transfer the associated lands. This facility will consolidate dairy enterprises within families and protect the single payment entitlement of family members exiting the dairy sector. It must be welcomed given that the main difficulty in trying to ensure young people enter and remain in the dairy sector is the requirement that a farm is capable of supporting two families. This measure and the rules governing the new entrant-parent milk production partnerships have also been modified to allow large producers to establish such arrangements. This will encourage more young, trained farmers to commit themselves to dairy farming and 350 partnerships are already in place.

[152]In changing the flexi-milk schemes, the Minister set about providing for much more equal distribution of quota between over-quota suppliers in 2005 and 2006. The availability of quota in each co-operative will be allocated according to two categories, namely, those above and those below the 350,000 litre category. Some 90% will be allocated to the over-quota category 1 producers — those producing fewer than 350,000 litres — with the balance allocated to category 2 over-quota producers, although the latter will not be allowed to exceed the allocation to category 1. These changes were made to give further recognition to active and committed dairy farmers who manage their production efficiently, having regard to the available quota. Producers who have continually relied on the annual flexi-milk allocation to offset regular patterns of over-production will have to consider other methods, such as restructuring and temporary leasing, and show greater prudence in their production decisions.

Greater rationalisation is always necessary at processing level. I am not convinced, however, that complete rationalisation is necessary in the dairy sector. A report published in 1989 indicated that Ireland required just three milk processing units. In the years thereafter, co-operatives continued to operate because they were controlled and owned by farmers as shareholders. Figures show that smaller co-operatives which refused to take the rationalisation route paid the best prices to farmers this year. Carberry and Newmarket co-operatives, the two processors which paid the highest prices, have demonstrated that small units can be competitive and cost-efficient. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater but instead examine all issues before opting for rationalisation.

I make these points to highlight the strength of the dairy industry and ensure its viability is maintained. It faces an uphill battle on some issues. Nevertheless, the Minister and her team in the Department are looking after the best interests of agriculture. I wish them well.

Ms Hoctor:  Táim an-bhuíoch as ucht an seans labhairt. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Food, her Department and the Ministers of State on the vigilant approach they have taken in responding to the outbreak of avian influenza in Europe. I am pleased the Department has appropriate structures in place to deal with the veterinary dimension of the avian influenza threat and is in ongoing liaison with the Department of Health and Children.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has already put in place an early warning system, with the co-operation of the national parks and wildlife service, the National Association of Regional Game Councils and BirdWatch Ireland, through which unusual or increased patterns of wild bird mortality is reported. The Department has been [153]engaged in a risk-based approach to the implementation of appropriate measures to minimise the risk of the introduction of avian influenza to Ireland. While endeavouring to reduce the risk of the introduction of the disease, much of the Department’s efforts are focused on the early detection and speedy eradication of the disease.

A European Commission decision adopted in Brussels last Friday provides for the introduction of additional biosecurity measures and early detection systems. Each member state is required to implement the measures provided for on the basis of a risk assessment, taking full account of the criteria and risk factors set out in the annexes to the decision. Following the decision adopted on Friday last, officials of the Department of Agriculture and Food met the other stakeholders to review the provisions of the decision and the effective operation of the existing early warning system. A further key element in early detection is testing carried out under the annual avian influenza survey plan, as provided for by Commission Decision 2005/464/EC.

The testing of samples is undertaken by the central veterinary research laboratory in Abbotstown. A serological monitoring programme has been in place since 1995 as part of the poultry health programme which monitors commercial breeding poultry, that is, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, just before they come into lay and when they move sites. In addition, blood samples from clinically sick poultry are screened, as are commercial layer flocks before export. Some 20,000 samples are screened for all sub-types annually. A more extensive survey, including other categories of poultry and wild birds, has been carried out as part of an EU survey since 2002. It is expected that, as part of this year’s survey, samples will again be taken from birds in wildlife sanctuaries of international interest as well as game clubs. During last year’s survey, 350 samples were analysed and it is anticipated that this figure will be exceeded this year.

Surveillance is central to early detection and the outcome of the surveillance of wild birds should provide further valuable information for an early warning system of strains that may be introduced to poultry from wild birds. In addition to the early warning arrangements, the Department of Agriculture and Food has also updated and re-issued advice and information on biosecurity measures to be taken by poultry flock owners and measures which could be taken to minimise the risk of introducing the disease. The Department has also published details of the clinical symptoms of avian influenza to watch out for and has issued advice to those travelling to and from affected areas.

The Department continually reassesses the level of risk in light of any emerging information, taking account of the most up-to-date veterinary and scientific advice available. It will continue to [154]operate a risk based approach and maintain a measured response to the risk. In the event of an outbreak of avian influenza, a range of measures will be put in place to ensure the early eradication of the disease, including the slaughtering of birds and declaration of a 3 km protection zone and a 10 km surveillance zone around the infected premises. Movements of poultry, poultry transport, carcasses, eggs and other articles likely to transmit the virus will be controlled by licence. The infected premises will be subject to cleaning and disinfecting under official supervision of the Department. On the basis of my discussions with officials from the Department, I am satisfied that all appropriate measures have been taken by the Minister to reduce risk. I am also convinced that she will introduce additional measures, as appropriate, to reduce any risk.

With regard to the provisions on intramammaries in the veterinary medicines legislation, I am aware from discussions with the Minister that she is fully cognisant of the devastation farmers would suffer if proposals issued by the European Union are adopted. I am quite confident the Minister is well aware of the needs of the producer. Through our committee work we met the pharmacists, the veterinary organisations and the farmers. I have not been shy in mentioning that the producer, that is the farmer, is the most important person in this debate.

Apart from Luxembourg, Ireland is the only member state of the EU 15 countries where intramammaries containing antibiotics are not subject to veterinary prescription. In the report issued in 1999 the IMB proposed that intramammaries be brought under veterinary prescription to take account of the generally accepted necessity to address concerns about the levels and growth of antibiotic resistance in the human population.

I am confident the Minister will address fully the needs of the farming community and that she will bring about a workable system within the EU directive that is before her. Certainly she is not short on knowledge from the backbenchers here, my colleagues, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food, Deputy Johnny Brady, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne and the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, who have also been in discussions with the Minister on this matter and on the parameters within the EU directive in which the flexibility can be given so that farmers may continue to dose their animals——

Mr. Crawford:  What about Deputy Ned O’Keeffe and Deputy Parlon?

Ms Hoctor:  ——and no unnecessary costs will be incurred in the implementation of this work. Paramount in this debate is the issue of minimising costs for producers to facilitate the export trade.

[155]Dr. Cowley:  I wish to share time with Deputies Connolly and James Breen.

We come across bizarre and ridiculous legislation and this is certainly in that category. In law, a pharmacist can dispense an anti-worm or an anthelmintic for a child without a prescription but under the law he will not be able to give the same drug for an animal. Animals are full of worms. Therefore farmers will look for these medicines constantly. They will have to find a veterinary practitioner to get a prescription and then pay the vet. In this regard, every farmer will be robbed. The best lambs are worth approximately €30 to €40 and a prescription from a veterinary practitioner, if one can be found, will cost the same amount. What are farmers likely to do in such cases? The animal concerned will not be treated and disease will abound.

One would need a helicopter to find a veterinary practitioner in County Mayo, the third largest county in Ireland. How will farmers get to the veterinary practitioner to get this prescription? It is utter madness. People will not treat their animals and fluke and worms will thrive if the farmers must go through this punishment to get a prescription. Fluke kills animals and can cause infestation in humans. There will be great spread of disease.

Veterinary practitioners will have the market to themselves, will charge what they like and will dispense the medicines. My local chemist has told me he has received only one or two prescriptions from veterinary practitioners in 17 years.

Already antibiotics are controlled. What is the point of all of this? This appears to be the Hanly plan for animals. The Government will dismantle the infrastructure. It will take out a tier of a system used by farmers to treat animals and drive people into the big centres of populations such as Castlebar, Ballina, Westport. How many farmers will be left after that? We know what the Hanly plan did for humans. This plan will wipe out farmers.

Another example is spot-on, a pour-on for lice in cattle and animals. Chemists cannot sell it for use on dogs or cats, but one can use it to pour on cattle and sheep. The rationale behind this is that it might enter the food chain but unless one lives in a dog-eating or cat-eating jurisdiction, this is ridiculous because it does not affect the food chain.

Mr. Connolly:  The draft animal remedies regulations will have a major restrictive effect on the availability of farm medicines and will adversely affect farmers’ competitiveness in the market. Irish farmers merely wish to be in a position to produce food to the highest standards, without necessarily being restricted or discriminated against. In its current form the proposed legislation can only be described as a retrograde step, failing to recognise the positive aspects of the cur[156]rent system. This is particularly so in the case of the mastitis control programmes. Under the terms of the directive there is nothing to prevent Ireland from continuing with this system.

Farmers and animal owners should be encouraged to adopt a preventive approach with medicines, to ensure the highest standards of animal health. Generally tighter controls should be instrumental in ensuring that Irish food will remain residue free by the observance of the withdrawal period for the medicines administered. This is a key link in the food chain. However, if veterinary practitioners are unavailable there is always the possibility that this new legislation may result in a decline in the use of medicines to prevent disease. This would be most detrimental to the best interests of farmers, food producers and consumers.

These regulations fail to recognise the ability, experience and professionalism of Irish farmers as keepers of livestock and are a cause of major concern to them. There also is the crazy situation where the flow of legitimate technical information to livestock farmers through advertisements in farming journals would be prevented. They are anti-competitive in the sense that the introduction of a veterinary prescription requirement for all animal medicines will reduce competition in their sale, to the obvious disadvantage of other suppliers. The viability of the network of supply outlets in co-operative stores and other outlets will be seriously undermined.

Prescription only medicines for animals are considerably more expensive than non-prescription medicines. There is the ludicrous case of head lice treatment, to which Deputy Cowley referred, which one may purchase over the counter for a child but not for an animal. This must be looked at. It is not sensible. There is a major cost implication in this for the farmer and it will be passed on to the consumer. In some instances it will not be worthwhile spending the money concerned on an animal such as a lamb or a small pig and the possibility is that the animal will be put down.

The prescription may not permit any choice of generic products which will undoubtedly add to the cost of available remedies.

Mr. J. Breen:  The recent publication by the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the draft animal remedies regulations 2005 is both unfair to farmers and to consumers, and will to create a monopoly in the supply and sale of animal medicines.

The Government’s proposal will impose restrictions on farmers that will lead to increased costs and they will stifle what competition exists in the sale of animal medicines. By restricting the available outlets for such supplies the price will be controlled by a few vested interests and will be out of the competitive marketplace. Naturally, [157]this will lead to price increases and this will have a detrimental effect on Irish farmers.

It will also cause increases in prices to the consumer and will lead to further inflation. Not only will the direct price of such medicines increase, but so will the indirect costs to farmers. With fewer outlets available to the farmer it will mean further expense in travel to find the product.

Farmers already have enough costs and obstacles put in their way in trying to make a decent living for themselves and their families without having these restrictions proposed by the Minister. Life in rural Ireland is difficult enough for those of us who reside there. Farmers often cannot get planning permission to build houses for their children on their land and that combined with the lack of an adequate public transport system and the Government’s pro-Dublin bias all are contributing to a reduction in the quality of life in rural areas.

The proposed legislation will only further the aims of this Government to remove people from rural areas and have the land controlled by a few well-heeled individuals who can gain vast amounts of money through monopolies and cartels. One can look back on the tribunals into such practices in the past and we can look forward to a range of further such tribunals should the proposed Government regulations go ahead, or maybe they have improved in being able to hide their doubtful practices. Because the regulations in Northern Ireland are more farmer friendly there will be an increase in cross-Border smuggling and this will create a black market for such products. This will endanger the economy and the health of animals as in such a situation the use of products will be beyond the control of anyone. This will lead to further corruption in the agriculture sector and will be detrimental to all of us.

We must ensure that medium and small scale Irish farms remain viable businesses and that the people living in rural areas have a decent standard of living. We must ensure we remain competitive as agriculture is one of our biggest industries. If such practices were introduced in other business sectors, there would be uproar. However, the Government shows little regard for people in rural areas and seems to feel it can get away with yet another proposal to promote rural decline. It is time we put a stop to its gallop. It is time we made it aware of the views of people involved in rural businesses rather than leave it listening to its buddies in the business cartels of Dublin.

I have heard much from the Government about bird flu. God help this nation if bird flu hits us because we are currently making a damned bad job of trying to control the MRSA superbug that is rampant in our hospitals. I hope we never have the scourge of bird flu because if it is anything like the MRSA superbug, we will not be able to control it.

[158]Mr. Sargent:  The Green Party supports wholeheartedly the Fine Gael motion which ties in closely with an adjournment matter I raised last week on the matter of dairy farmers in my constituency and the issues affecting them, not least the demise in their numbers from approximately 200 in the 1960s to the remaining 22 that are hanging on for dear life in the face of a fast rising cost base and ruthless pricing from the creameries that still take their milk.

This motion is more wide ranging and important in the sense that it relates to how the EU directive is being interpreted north and south of the Border. The Government should take into account that harmonisation of interpretation of this directive should be a key objective so there is not a continuance of what is almost traditional black marketeering due to differences on both sides of the Border. As the motion suggests, where there is a difference the Government must hold up a proper animal health regime for the whole island. This is vital if the island as a whole is to have a future in farming.

The Minister said she is prepared to review the arrangements before they come into effect on 1 January 2007. I hope she follows through on this and that this is a real engagement with the difficulties being highlighted by this debate. There is an underlying assumption behind this directive which states implicitly that farmers need vets and other experts to tell them how to do their job. This debate has shown once again that farmers need to be able to administer essential medicines in the same manner parents need to administer medicines to their child. The cost base for a farmer is so tight now that this is more than just about veterinary and farming practice. It is about survival. I know this from talking to farmers in my constituency who are at the pin of their collars trying to carry on from year to year.

I also know the situation from those outside my constituency, as do other Deputies. I received a letter from farmers in west Limerick the other day. They have serious issues with both the Environmental Protection Agency and local industry in their area. I hope these farmers are being listened to. Over the years they have reported the reasons they believe their animals have died and the mysterious situation in which they find their animals have been affected by environmental factors. They must now be believed. It has been proven that the EPA has not been doing its job properly in this regard.

The Irish Examiner reported last week that the EPA, along with Departments had been telling farmers they were not affected by a particular industry — Aughinish Alumina is mentioned most often — and that the farmers were liars. However, it has been discovered that the farmers were right all along. This may be too late for many of them who have suffered problems, not [159]just with their animals but for themselves and their families also.

I call on the Taoiseach to come clean on this issue following his visit to west Limerick last year. When he was questioned about the health concerns of local people with regard to themselves and their animals at the time, he defended local industry — he was referring to Aughinish Alumina — as the most regulated in the world. There is a need for a must closer investigation into what has been happening in west Limerick. This debate may finish at 8.30 p.m. tonight. However, the investigation into the animal health problems in west Limerick should be intensified because the abuse of farm families and their animals there is nothing short of criminal. I support the motion.

Mr. Ferris:  I welcome this motion as it draws attention to a number of issues that currently affect the farming community. At a time of increasing costs, the legislation changing the manner in which farmers have access to animal medicines will only serve to add to the burden of farmers.

Most Deputies received considerable numbers of representations from both farmers and those involved in local co-operatives while the Veterinary Bill was being debated. Complaints regarding the new legislation continue. Changes with regard to the sale of animal medicines are both unnecessary and costly. There is no reason many of the products required by farmers for the day to day running of their farms must be accessed in the manner proposed. Of course we need to have controls over the type of products that are available, but the general consensus among farmers is that there are already adequate controls in place. It could also be argued that these regulations will create an underground economy with sinister people more than willing to fill the demand that will exist.

We must refer to a number of other issues affecting farming in the context of any debate on the sector. There are too few opportunities for this debate. The issue currently foremost in people’s minds is the proposal by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to undermine the single farm payment as part of the forthcoming negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. We have already seen the Irish sugar beet sector damaged as part of efforts to strike trade deals. I trust the Minister and the Government will strenuously oppose any further moves that will damage the viability of farming in this country and in the EU generally.

When the CAP reform package was agreed, the clear understanding was that there would be no changes to the new regime until at least 2013. The majority of farmers accepted decoupling on that basis and I welcomed it at the time as a possible means to establish basic income security for a set [160]period. I believed it could also be used to allow farmers here to alter their production with a guarantee of not having to produce in order to earn specific subsidies and premia.

If Mr. Mandelson is allowed to place the current regime on the table at the WTO talks in order to strike a bargain with the United States and other trading blocs, the entire CAP reform will be placed in jeopardy. It is vital, therefore, that the issue is discussed at EU level by the different agriculture Ministers. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, will convey the feelings of farmers here on the proposal that it should not be allowed to proceed.

Another issue that threatens the reputation of this country as the origin of safe and healthy food is the ongoing effort to open up the EU to genetically modified products. The Government continues to acquiesce in the EU’s efforts by failing to oppose genetic modification at EU level. As a consequence, we have seen a series of authorisations of genetically modified products, including animal feed, which if introduced into this country’s food system will mean that Ireland will no longer be regarded as a producer of traditional or organically grown produce. When one considers that most consumers are hostile to genetically modified food, the Government’s position might have serious and damaging consequences for Irish farming and the marketing of Irish food.

I support the Fine Gael motion, the intention of which is to help farmers who have faced and are facing difficult times. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Neville:  I wish to share time with Deputies Timmins, Ring and Deenihan.

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

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the motion and congratulate my colleague, Deputy Naughten, for bringing it to the House. I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to support Irish farmers. There have been major changes in the farming sector. Costs have increased significantly and profits have decreased. Many farmers have been forced to vote with their feet by leaving the farming industry. The number of people in full-time farming has decreased substantially over the last two decades. If we do not halt the decline in farming and the drop in the involvement of farmers in rural communities, there will be a sea-change in the nature of rural society.

Farmers are being strangled by red tape and excessive regulation. When we visit the Continent, we cannot understand how many practices which would not be tolerated here continue to be carried out there. The nitrates directive will lead to enormous costs if it ever comes to fruition. We often hear of farmers who must sell sites to meet [161]the cost of new regulations. They will no longer be able to do that if the planning permission guidelines come into force.

Veterinary expenses have increased by 44% over the past ten years. We have noted the results of the imposition of restrictions on the sale of antibiotics to veterinarians and pharmacists. The antibiotic Penstrep, for example, could have been purchased for between €3 and €4 per 100 mg before restrictions were imposed on its sale. It now costs between €12 and €14 to purchase it from veterinarians and between €6 and €8 to buy it from pharmacies. It is clear that the imposition of restrictions on the sale of antibiotics has dramatically increased their cost. A P13 IBR vaccine bought in this country costs €8.50 per animal, compared with 91 cents in the United States as a result of restrictions on the distribution of medicines. The discrepancy in its cost results from the restrictions on the distribution of medicines to farmers.

If we adopt the approach suggested by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, what will be the implications for the overall market price of veterinary medicines? The current system will be able to remain in operation if we give member states the responsibility to designate who is qualified to prescribe various medicines. Why do we need to make the proposed change? The system is working well. Our food products have a very high status in international markets. Irish food products are seen as green, environmentally friendly and free from difficulties. Why should we change the current procedures if we do not have to? When the representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Food discussed this directive at EU level, they expressed their opposition to it. I do not understand the Department’s U-turn in this regard. Why is it insisting that the directive be recognised in this manner, which is not necessary?

I remind the House of the views of the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, as outlined at a joint committee meeting today. According to the union:

The draft veterinary medicines regulations, if implemented, will squeeze pharmacists out of the veterinary medicines market. This should not be allowed to happen. Pharmacists should be given limited prescribing rights so that they can prescribe products currently available without prescription and a small range of other products, such as flea treatment for dogs, ringworm treatments and trace elements, copper, magnesium, iodine, calcium and selenium. Failure to do so will undermine competition, increase costs to farmers and deprive them of a choice and, in many cases, reduce access to frequently used medicines.

Fine Gael is concerned that many pharmacies will not prescribe medicines because demand for prescriptions will shift elsewhere. The Minister [162]should respond positively to Deputy Naughten’s motion. She needs to examine seriously her position on this matter.

Mr. Timmins:  When I see daffodils, I think of spring. When I see little red stockings hanging on trees, I think of Christmas time. When I see the Government making announcements about beef exports to Egypt, I think there must be a general election around the corner.

Mr. Browne:  It is two years away.

Mr. Timmins:  The last time I saw such an announcement was when a ship carrying 69 tonnes of Irish beef sailed to Egypt in the weeks before the 2002 general election. That the journey in question was not followed by further shipments is second only to the fate of the Marie Celeste among the great nautical mysteries of our age. The public was fooled once but it will not be fooled again.

Mr. Browne:  The election is two years away.

Mr. Sargent:  The public was fooled twice.

Mr. Timmins:  I found it difficult to understand the Minister for Agriculture and Food’s speech on this motion. I think she was trying to say that although the Government has signed up to the directive, we should not be concerned because it does not intend to implement it. I know Fianna Fáil is fairly good at tricking the public by pulling the wool over its eyes, but the public does not believe it any more. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, is a decent man. I regret that the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, is not present.

I welcome the honesty of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, who said today that Fianna Fáil has been almost exclusively in Government for the last 18 years. His comments were a change from Fianna Fáil’s references to “successive Governments”, which has been its mantra since it started to plummet in the polls. The party that has been almost exclusively in Government for 18 years has presided over an unprecedented flight from the land during that period.

The Government made many pronouncements this time last year about the freedom to farm, the new dawn for farmers, the Government’s great commitment to farming, decoupling, modulation and the end to red tape. It now looks like all we are getting is modulation and even that is on a downward trend. The Government is trying to rewrite an agreement that was agreed a short time ago. The Government consistently said at that time that farmers need to be able to plan, to know what is happening and to be given some freedom. It claimed that the end of red tape would be followed by a great new dawn. Twelve months on, however, we are talking about the [163]Government’s plans to require farmers, who have been using such products for many years to get prescriptions for dry cow tubes. It is telling farmers that they will have to go to vets to get prescriptions for such tubes. I always thought the main Government party was pragmatic, but it has changed if it is asking farmers to get prescriptions for doses and intramammaries. I find it difficult to understand.

Despite the Government’s commitment to consult interested parties about the proposed changes, I have not met a farmer or vet who agrees with the changes. The Irish Veterinary Union sent me a letter expressing its feelings about the matter. I cannot see what the changes will achieve. Ireland exports 90% of its meat products. Farmers are mindful of food safety issues and the need to produce a quality product because they know they will suffer if there is a blip in food quality. Irish milk is tested rigorously for residue and random tests are carried out on meat. Farmers know they will suffer the consequences if they fail such tests. What is the point of putting this extra burden on farmers? I refer to the inconvenience to farmers of trying to source vets, for example. It can be very difficult to find vets in many areas. The Irish Veterinary Union spoke about competition among vets, but very few parts of the country have more than one vet. There are no vets at all in places like north Mayo. The proposed changes, which will give rise to hardship and additional costs, will achieve nothing.

  8 o’clock

This is a sad day. Successive Fianna Fáil Governments have put the boot into farmers over the past 18 years. They have been taken in hook, line and sinker by the mantras which have emerged from the Department of Agriculture and Food. No Minister has stood up to the Department’s blather. If one reads the reports on the website of the EU investigation office, one will learn that many places did not reach the required standard and that many investigations were not carried out in the required manner. A comment that sticks in my mind is the suggestion that the Irish officials went over and above what was required in the EU directive.

I call on all colleagues in the House to support this worthwhile motion, as I will. I ask those inclined to do otherwise if they really believe the Minister will reverse this in a number of months. Why sign up to it if she intends to reverse it? I commend the motion to the House. I hope in particular that the Independent Deputies, who may have supported the Government in the past, might show some common sense.

Mr. Ring:  It saddens me to speak on the motion because this regulation is another attack on farmers, farming and a way of life. There is a [164]regular attack from the Department of Agriculture and Food and a regular attack from Europe. Deputy Timmins is correct; when directives and regulations emerge from the European Union, every other country involved adopts part of what is proposed but we in this country always have to go six steps further.

As we often discuss Europe, I will tell the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, a simple story. A constituent of mine made a complaint to the EU, the same EU that is complaining to the Government and telling us how to regulate our lives, farming and the whole world. This man spent a colossal amount of money to prepare, register and send a document. It was accepted by an official — I will be careful what I call him because the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might restrain me. Anyway, since the day the documentation was delivered, it cannot be found.

The directives emerging from the EU are no surprise because they are probably all mixed up. The EU staff do not have a lot to do. It is full of officials, yet Ministers and officials from the Department fly over daily with their new briefcases. I think they go for the spin or to keep up their points with Aer Lingus and Ryanair, because it is certain they do not know what is going on. Anyone who would adopt this regulation is out of touch with the real world.

Farmers have been complaining for the past 20 years about form-filling and being over-regulated, yet a similar situation arises with this regulation. Deputy Timmins is half right about north Mayo — there is a vet there. The Erris area is as large as County Louth so a second vet was to go there. However, he gave up his practice and went to work for the Department. Why did he do this? It was probably a better and easier job. He will deal with the officials of the Department, who will keep him informed as to what is happening. He is a great man with the pen so I am sure he will get plenty of paperwork from the Department, which is all it is good for.

With regard to the regulation, what is a farmer in Pollathomas, Rossport or any other part of County Mayo to do if he has a sick animal at 3 a.m? There is one vet in the area, who might be 30 or 40 miles away. Should he telephone that vet, who might have been working all that day, and ask him or her to visit in the middle of the night? Does anyone think that a vet will visit a sick animal at that time of night to write a prescription?

If we have learned anything in this country, we should have learned from the General Medical Service scheme, which deals with a similar situation. Under this scheme, pharmacies are not overpaid because, whatever the medication costs, they receive a handling charge of some €2.80 to €3 per transaction, which is fine. It is enough to have doctors getting paid to write prescriptions, as well as getting paid through the GMS scheme [165]and the drugs subsidy scheme, without having vets copy the GMS scheme. Vets will be paid and in three years or so we will have to put down freedom of information requests to find out about all the deals and negotiations that have taken place. Half the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Food will go to vets instead of going to farmers.

Farmers have had enough of this. They are sick and tired of being attacked — Blair is at it in Britain, attacking a deal done on the single farm payment. It is not good enough. Young farmers, men and women, complain to me and every rural Deputy, including Fianna Fáil Deputies, if they are listening.

Deputy Kitt was correct this morning to state that the Government has been implementing its policies for almost 18 years. What is wrong is that the Government no longer thinks this is a democracy but a dictatorship. It thinks it can do what it wants and disorganise the lives of the people, particularly in rural Ireland. The people have had enough of the Government. They await their opportunity. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, should enjoy his little stint. He would be as well to keep it running for two years because the tank is empty. The people are waiting. They have had enough of over-regulation.

The Government should leave the regulation as it is. I call on the Fianna Fáil backbenchers to support the motion. I will not call on the Independent Deputies because there is only one independent in this House — myself. The rest of the Independents run behind the Government parties even though they are elected. They take the €35,000 they are allocated as Independents but they are certainly not independent.

The current regulation is working. Farming is under pressure and has been for many years. There is no logic in the new regulation. Some brain box in Europe was asked by his boss to do some work so he thought up this idea and sent it to the Department of Agriculture and Food. The staff there do not have as much work as previously due to the introduction of the single farm payment. They have more time on their hands so all they do is cause problems for farmers with REPS payments and other matters. I recently put down a question to the Minister about the fact that despite the single payment and the new agricultural rules and regulations, the Department still has the same number of staff. As there have been no reductions, some job must be found for the staff. The Department thought of a job for them, namely, to annoy farmers more for fear they have not been annoyed for the last number of years.

Mr. Deenihan:  To carry on from Deputy Ring, the present system is working so why break it? Ireland’s current system is a model for the rest of Europe and has gained Irish farmers an inter[166]national reputation as a high quality food producer. This is why we are so successful at exporting our dairy and beef produce across the world.

Instead of reclassifying veterinary medicines into different categories that can be prescribed by registered professionals with graded levels of qualifications and competences, the approach outlined in the draft regulations published by the Department of Agriculture and Food in August would impose a rigid veterinary prescription only regime while applying for exemptions from the prescription requirement at European level. This will not work for the reasons outlined by my colleagues. In some parts of the country, vets are not available and the regulation will make it difficult for farmers who have administered certain medicines for years in the knowledge that if they did anything wrong, they could jeopardise not only their own livelihoods but those of other farmers.

The most effective way of ensuring high levels of animal health and welfare is to encourage farmers and animal owners to take a preventative approach where veterinary medicines are concerned. This can best be done by enabling them to procure and administer routine management drugs, such as external and internal parasiticides and vaccines, as easily and as early as possible. Vets should continue to be called for cases requiring a clinical diagnosis or the prescription of antibiotics, steroids and other high risk medicines. However, the draft regulations should make provisions for differentiated categories of drugs which can be prescribed by other professionals who are qualified to do so, such as licensed merchants, agricultural scientists, pharmacists and others.

This restrictive regime, which will be introduced if the regulation is adopted in Ireland in the manner proposed, will have major implications for the farming industry throughout the country. A further worry is the cross-Border distortion of the market in veterinary medicine products that will be introduced. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, will be very familiar with the type of cross-Border smuggling that took place in the past, particularly with regard to angel dust and other cattle hormones. If the regulation is introduced, there will be another, totally different black market. Unless there is a common regime in this country, north and south of the Border, a very dangerous precedent will be set if this is introduced. I mean that sincerely given what happened in the past. Most of the angel dust, illegal growth promoters, etc. which came into this country came from the North, as the Ministers of State know. It involved a major racket.

Farmers have been very responsible, despite what people say about them, as have vets. Vets and farmers have a very successful partnership and together they have ensured we have one of [167]the best products in the world. That must be acknowledged. No vet contacted me about this proposed regime, or lobbied me to have it introduced. However, a number of farmers contacted me. Vets’ livelihoods will not be threatened in any way if this is not introduced because they have enough work to do. They are expanding into several areas rather than confining themselves to farming.

I appeal to the Minister and Ministers of State to rethink the proposed regime as it is very important that they do so. I appeal to the Ministers of State, two practical people and, I hope, pragmatists, not to allow this to develop. They are accompanied by a very good civil servant who I worked with in the past who will advise them properly.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne):  I thank Deputies on both sides of the House for their constructive contributions to the debate. I am aware of the concerns of farmers in particular about the possible implications of the draft regulations for the supply and cost of veterinary medicines, but I emphasise that most of these concerns are based on a misunderstanding of the real position which the Minister explained in considerable detail last evening. These concerns arise, in particular, from the requirement in the EU directive that all veterinary medicines for food producing animals must be subject to prescriptions. However, implementation of this provision is being postponed until a decision is taken at EU level on the criteria for exempting certain medicines from this new requirement or until 1 January 2007 at the latest.

In the meantime, in so far as the issue of prescribing veterinary medicines is concerned, the only change arising from the draft regulations is that apart from intramammaries, all other off-prescription medicines will remain off-prescription until 1 January 2007. The suggestion was made during the debate last night that some of the POME medicines could be classified by the Irish Medicines Board as prescription only before 1 January 2007. Given the nature of the work involved in the re-classification of medicines and the overall policy of my Department that the status quo should be maintained in so far as possible, these medicines will not be reclassified in advance of a resolution of the exemption criteria issue.

The Minister made it clear that she intends to avail of the exemption clause to the maximum extent possible and the Department has made a submission to the European Commission with a view to retaining off prescription in Ireland all products, other than intramammaries, which currently enjoy this status. There is no reason to believe, as was suggested by Deputy Naughten, that the criteria will not be adopted until [168]November 2006. As the Minister said yesterday, the Commission has undertaken to publish the criteria next spring and my Department will continue to press it to honour this commitment.

The suggestion that we should provide in the regulations at this stage to permit qualified professionals, other than vets, to write prescriptions is both mistaken and defeatist. In essence, what is being suggested is that my Department should throw in the towel before the fight, or in this case before the negotiations on the exemptions criteria start. It is not practicable to take a decision to extend the range of prescribers until we know what additional medicines will become prescription-only. In any event, it would be extremely foolish to provide at this stage for prescriptions to be written by people other than vets because to do so would also necessarily oblige me to designate as prescription-only some medicines currently off prescription.

More importantly, it would completely undermine our negotiating position on the exemption criteria if I were to re-categorise unilaterally at this stage some off-prescription medicines as prescription-only. My Department’s approach of deferring a decision on whether it will be necessary to extend the range of prescribers until the exemption criteria issue is resolved is the best approach to take in the circumstances I have outlined. The Minister has undertaken to consider this issue next year in light of the EU decision on the criteria for exempting certain products from the prescription only requirement.

Our overall objective in making these regulations is to put in place a workable and competitive system for the distribution of medicines within the parameters of the EU directive which at the same time protects public and animal health, facilitates our food export trade and minimises costs for producers. We have achieved a delicate balance between all of these competing objectives. In particular, the draft regulations include a range of measures designed to make the arrangements for prescribing and supplying medicines more farmer-friendly and to introduce a greater degree of competition into the market for veterinary medicines.

The most important of these are as follows. We are removing the general requirement on veterinary practitioners to examine animals clinically before prescribing, thus according greater weight to professional judgment. We are extending the period of validity of prescriptions from 31 days to six months. We are introducing a new requirement that veterinary practitioners must, in all cases, issue written prescriptions even if the practitioner supplies the medicine. Also, the vet must issue the client with an invoice for supplying the product which is distinct from the invoice in respect of the provision of professional services. We are providing for the first time that prescribed veterinary medicines may, with certain excep[169]tions, be supplied by licensed merchant outlets. These amendments will result in a regime which is more coherent, effective and workable. I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Crawford:  I congratulate Deputy Naughten on tabling this extremely important motion. I refer to a number of issues mentioned. I am glad the Minister has arrived.

Mary Coughlan:  I was listening to the eloquent speeches from my side of the House. I look forward to the Deputy’s rendition.

Mr. Crawford:  I congratulate the Minister on the great work she has done in opening up the Egyptian market after seven years. We will wait to see how long it lasts and how it benefits us.

We had a long discussion on the Brazilian beef issue at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food. The one aspect the IFA delegation welcomed was that there was unanimous backing for a total ban on beef from Brazil. I notice some Deputies in the House congratulated the Minister on what she had done but it is important she listens and recognises that there is anxiety——

Mary Coughlan:  I cannot ban Brazilian beef. The Deputy knows that.

Mr. Crawford:  ——and a genuine wish for a total ban on such beef. There was unanimous agreement on that issue which the Minister can accept if she wishes.

Some of her colleagues talked about the meetings they had with vets and farmers. We have all had such meetings and had to listen to people talk about the difficulties these regulations will create. Exemptions will be in place for the time being. The fact this issue does not have to be dealt with until January 2006 reminds me of the nitrates directive which we kept putting off saying decisions would not be taken until later and that there would be wide consultation and so on. What gets me is the fact that intramammaries will not be off prescription.

I was not present for all the Minister’s speech but she said the House was no doubt aware of the growing concerns about the growth of antibiotic resistance, particularly over the past ten years. She went on to talk about the World Health Organisation, the organisation which allows hormones, steroids and so on to be used in America without a word said while we must meet all sorts of regulations. The Minister also referred to the Irish Medicines Board’s anxiety about intramammaries. She also said the creameries were quite successful. I wonder why the speech writer thought it was necessary to insert the words “quite successful”. Members involved in farming know that creameries have been extremely suc[170]cessful in regulating intramammaries under existing mechanisms. We then heard about international scientific opinion on the prudent use of antibiotics. We also heard about the Minister’s predecessor who had no option to introduce an alternative system. Many other reasons were listed why this regulation was drafted. A farmer can buy intramammaries or dry tubes from his vet or co-operative store, provided he works within legislation. The farmer then ensures the tubes are used properly because he knows it is wrong to do otherwise. More importantly, he knows if he is found out through testing of the milk tank, he will lose much money.

Mary Coughlan:  The primary reason should be for the health of the animal. If the Deputy ever suffered from mastitis he would know that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mr. Crawford:  That might sound funny to the Minister.

Mary Coughlan:  It is true because the primary function of every farmer is to care for their animals.

Mr. Crawford:  I accept she has the right to make jokes. However, it is not funny as far as farmers are concerned. They take this matter very seriously.

Mary Coughlan:  So do I. The insincerity of the Opposition benches is just laughable.

Mr. Crawford:  The record over the last several years is extremely strong.

Mary Coughlan:  My speech last night indicated the sincerity of my colleagues.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mary Coughlan:  It is we who are sincere.

Mr. Crawford:  I have the right to be heard.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If Deputy Crawford addresses his remarks through the Chair, the Minister might not be disposed to making interruptions.

Mr. McEntee:  Seven farmers a week are being driven off the land by this Government.

Mary Coughlan:  That is factually incorrect.

Mr. B. Smith:  That is total nonsense.

[171]An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mr. B. Smith:  Who abolished the schemes in the past? It was a Fine Gael Government that abolished schemes in the 1990s. Fine Gael messed up several schemes then.

Mr. McEntee:  Seven farmers a week are being driven off the land. I was one of them.

Mr. Crawford:  When both Ministers spoke last night we did not interrupt them.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies on both sides of the House must allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mr. Crawford:  The Minister may not get the chance to answer these questions tonight. However, before the regulation is signed she will have a chance.Will the Minister for Agriculture and Food explain to the House how the veterinary prescription will change? The farmer will still utilise intramammaries and ensure the milk leaves the farm in a perfect state. Before she signs this regulation, will the Minister go to a co-operative to see how this process is monitored. After collection from the farm, a tanker of milk is brought to the co-operative. A sample is removed from it before it is utilised.

Mary Coughlan:  We know this.

Mr. Crawford:  It is fully checked to ensure no antibiotics get into the food chain. Every farmer’s milk produce is tested so it can be traced. How is this veterinary prescription going to benefit any health regime or otherwise?

Mary Coughlan:  Because the democratic voice of the European Parliament is reflected in the directive to be implemented. It is decided by the Members of the European Parliament.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Crawford to make his point.

Mary Coughlan:  The Deputy is aware of this.

Mr. Crawford:  Going back to this idea of a democratic voice, the Irish Farmers’ Journal recently stated——

Mary Coughlan:  It is a great newspaper.

Mr. Crawford:  ——that the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, launched Brussels largest ever deregulation campaign because he believes the regulations being introduced are crazy. We must ensure these regulations are workable and are not brought in to raise the costs of farming. Where [172]does the former Minister of State, Deputy Ned O’Keeffe, stand on this issue?

Mary Coughlan:  That is irrelevant because I am the Minister and Deputies Brendan Smith and Browne are my Ministers of State.

Mr. Crawford:  What does the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, make of this?

Mary Coughlan:  We are running the show.

Mr. Crawford:  A Cheann Comhairle, have I any rights in the House?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy does have rights.

Mary Coughlan:  He keeps asking me questions.

Mr. Crawford:  The Minister for Agriculture and Food does not recognise those rights.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should address his remarks through the Chair.

Mr. Crawford:  I am trying to but the Minister keeps interrupting me.

Mary Coughlan:  Because the Deputy keeps asking me questions.

Mr. Crawford:  Deputy Parlon is a former president of the IFA and has made great speeches for the Irish Farmers’ Journal about how he will deal with this.

Mr. Treacy:  The Deputy backed him.

Mr. Crawford:  What will he do tonight? The Minister for Agriculture and Food asked in her speech how the Opposition came up with a cost to farmers of €80 million. It is simple. The farming organisations put those figures to all of us based on the reality of what has happened in other countries.

Mary Coughlan:  It does not necessarily mean they are facts.

Mr. Browne:  The Deputy reads too many newspapers.

Mr. Crawford:  The Minister is working out the exemptions for the regulations.

Mary Coughlan:  I did not say that. If the Deputy reads the speech properly——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister for Agriculture and Food should allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

[173]Mr. B. Smith:  He cannot keep repeating these misrepresentations of the Minister’s statements.

Mr. Crawford:  Deputy Brendan Smith’s misrepresentation on behalf of County Cavan is fairly good as it is. He should not be giving us any of this talk.

Mr. B. Smith:  My representation of County Cavan is very good and will remain so.

Mr. Crawford:  There is a black market——

Mr. Treacy:  He is the shining star of the county.

Mr. B. Smith:  County Cavan is very proud. I am very proud of my representation of the county.

Mr. Treacy:  County Monaghan is sinking behind it, yet Deputy Crawford is doing nothing about it.

Mr. Crawford:  Who will——

Mr. McEntee:  The bottom line is the Government has destroyed the greatest asset this country has.

Mary Coughlan:  Deputy McEntee might not be long in this House but what the Fine Gael Party did over the last 20 years is a disgrace. It only represented a certain section of the agricultural sector.

Mr. B. Smith:  The Deputy is only interested in the big farmers in County Meath.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister will allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mr. McEntee:  The Government has driven farmers off the land.

Mary Coughlan:  We did not drive them off the land.

Mr. Crawford:  It is as clear as frost in the night that those Ministers have allowed——

Mary Coughlan:  That is factually incorrect.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Crawford without interruption.

Mr. Crawford:  It is obvious they do not listen to facts.

Mary Coughlan:  We do not listen to rubbish.

Mr. B. Smith:  Or misrepresentations.

Mr. Crawford:  They have given out plenty of it.

[174]Mr. Browne:  That was some performance.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Naughten. I ask the House to afford him the courtesy to be heard.

Mr. Naughten:  I welcome the opportunity to conclude this debate. I was disappointed the Minister for Agriculture and Food spoke for 25 minutes last night but never addressed any of the issues raised. As the Minister was missing from the Chamber for my speech——

Mary Coughlan:  I heard the Deputy’s speech.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Minister.

Mr. Naughten:  It is a pity she did not address those issues. Last night the Minister claimed that allowing non-vets to prescribe at this stage would completely undermine our negotiating position. She was not worried about undermining her negotiating position when she turned her back on the farmers in the midlands and the south east on the closure of the Carlow sugar factory. She was not prepared to become involved in it which directly undermined our negotiating position in the sugar reform talks.

Mary Coughlan:  That is factually wrong.

Mr. Naughten:  The Minister has failed to point out that the draft regulation must be passed by the House by 31 October next. Part of it will come into force on that occasion regarding intramammaries and the abolition of the prescription-only exempt category. Vaccines, immunological and non-immunological, under the PNOE category will be prescription-only from that date. The law will be on the Statute Book from 1 November 2005. It will not be some time in 2006.

Mary Coughlan:  The Deputy is scaremongering and he did not listen to one word I said last night.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Naughten without interruption.

Mary Coughlan:  I said there would be no changes.

Mr. Naughten:  She cannot deny it. This is the reality.

Mary Coughlan:  A Cheann Comhairle, he has misrepresented what I said to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to allow Deputy Naughten without interruption.

[175]Mr. Naughten:  It is pointless for the Minister to talk about consultation some time next year when the regulation will already be in place.

Mary Coughlan:  In 2007.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister should allow Deputy Naughten an opportunity to continue.

Mr. Naughten:  It is obvious the Minister does not know what is going on. In her speech last night she spoke of the animal remedies regulations, protecting the health and welfare of companion animals and pets. Sheep and cattle are not pets.

Mr. Treacy:  They are docile.

Mr. Naughten:  Are we expected to start eating cats and dogs? The directive specifically deals with medicines for animals for human consumption. The Minister is relying on an exemption list. She is hoping to convince the other 24 EU member states that a range of medicines will be removed from the prescription-only regime throughout the EU. In her contribution she said the position in most member states, apart from the UK, is that the writing of prescriptions is confined to vets from which they do not intend to depart. How does the Minister hope to get unanimous agreement that these medicines should be exempt from a prescription in Ireland and in those other EU member states? She will not get their agreement to take prescriptions——

Mary Coughlan:  Does the Deputy want exemptions?

[176]Mr. Naughten:  The Minister should think about it. She will not get the agreement of 25 member states to make what are now prescription only medicines exempt throughout the EU.

The Minister and some Government Deputies focused on public health and residues. There is not a problem with residues in this country because farmers comply with withdrawal periods. Forcing farmers to get a prescription from a vet who has not been on their farm for maybe 12 months will not ensure compliance with the withdrawal period. It has nothing to do with residue and nothing to do with withdrawal periods.

This directive will be passed into law before the end of this month, not some time next year. It will be too late to review it after that because it will be on the Statute Book. If the Minister is genuine about this she will agree with the motion, as will the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who did not even think it worth his while to come into the House. If all the backbench Deputies who have travelled around the country stabbing the Minister in the back by saying they do not agree with it——

Mary Coughlan:  They have not.

Mr. Naughten:  ——are prepared to come in tonight, they will have their opportunity on the floor of this House to vote against the regulation.

Many of the Government Deputies who spoke tonight were sensible. They did not mention the Minister’s amendment but talked about avian flu, the dairy industry and the beef industry. They ignored the issue because they know she is wrong, she will crucify farmers and put them out on the road.

I ask the House to support our motion and vote against the Government amendment.

Amendment put.

[175]The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 52.

 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Collins, Michael.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Davern, Noel.
 de Valera, Síle.  Dempsey, Tony.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelly, Peter.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGuinness, John.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Donal.  Moynihan, Michael.
 [177]Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M.J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Malley, Fiona.  O’Malley, Tim.
 Power, Peter.  Smith, Brendan.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G.V.  


[177]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, James.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Connolly, Paudge.  Cowley, Jerry.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Ferris, Martin.
 Fox, Mildred.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Hogan, Phil.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kenny, Enda.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Finian.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Gay.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Pattison, Seamus.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Upton, Mary.

[177]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Curran; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.

[177]Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

[178]Mr. Neville:  As a teller, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As Deputy Neville is a Whip, under Standing Order 69 he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.

Question again put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

[177]The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 49.

 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Séamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Collins, Michael.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Davern, Noel.
 de Valera, Síle.  Dempsey, Tony.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 [179]Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelly, Peter.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Séamus.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGuinness, John.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Dónal.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Malley, Fiona.  O’Malley, Tim.
 Power, Peter.  Smith, Brendan.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G. V.  


[179]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, James.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Connolly, Paudge.  Cowley, Jerry.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Ferris, Martin.
 Fox, Mildred.  Gilmore, Éamon.
 Healy, Séamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kenny, Enda.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Gay.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Séamus.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Ring, Michael.
 Ryan, Éamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Upton, Mary.  

[179]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Curran; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.

[179]Question declared carried.

Mr. Walsh:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this important question to be addressed in the House tonight. I also thank the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, for taking the question.

Clonakilty in County Cork was identified as the location for the decentralisation of Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in the first week of December 2003. Two years later, not a stroke has been struck in Clonakilty with regard to this [180]matter. All of 2004 was spent in reconnoitring the town. Eventually, in May 2005, a site was acquired. An advertisement appeared in 2004 asking for expressions of interest to construct office accommodation for this proposed decentralisation and, to date, no tendering arrangements have been put in place.

  9 o’clock

My problem is that 215 people volunteered to go to Cork, of their own volition and without any arm twisting. These people, along with their parents, are now making representations to me seeking to find out when the new office accommodation will be available. I have made representations a number of times on this matter.

In one such representation, I received a reply from the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, dated 25 August 2005 stating that “subject to agreement of the briefs, the OPW expects to be in a position to invite ten[181]ders in the next few weeks”. I then received a letter from the same Minister of State on 11 October stating that:

[I]n relation to BIM, the OPW recently met with representatives of BIM with a view to finalising their brief of requirements. The OPW is pressing for an early resolution of the matter and subject to agreements we will then be able to go to tender.

I then decided to table a parliamentary question to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. I received a reply in Question No. 432 of 18 October stating:

I expect consultation between the Department, BIM and the OPW, on the fit out and design elements in each organisation’s specification, to get under way shortly[.]

In other words, nothing has happened.

I want the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, to tell me when this procrastination and vacillation will stop. As for the people who have volunteered to return to their roots in west Cork, can they be given any hope, or is this all a mirage? I want a definite and specific commitment that the 215 staff from the Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara who have volunteered to go to Clonakilty will be accommodated there. I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply on this matter.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. B. O’Keeffe):  On behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who has special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, I thank Deputy Walsh for giving me the opportunity to outline the position regarding the office accommodation for the decentralisation of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara to Clonakilty in County Cork. I acknowledge the absolute commitment of Deputy Walsh to the decentralisation project to Clonakilty and his constant representations in that respect, particularly on behalf of those people who have indicated their willingness to decentralise. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, has apologised for not being present but had a prior engagement in County Westmeath which was arranged some weeks ago. My understanding is that he has communicated this information to Deputy Walsh.

As the Deputy is aware, a site has been acquired by the OPW at Clonakilty for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara. It is proposed to provide accommodation for 124 [182]staff of the Department and accommodation for 97 staff, including three local staff, for Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The OPW has agreed the brief of requirements with the Department. A number of issues were raised at a recent meeting between the OPW and Bord Iascaigh Mhara and these issues are being examined.

Deputy Walsh should be aware that Bord Iascaigh Mhara requires significant on-site storage facilities. The OPW is carrying out an implementation study to ascertain how these facilities can best be accommodated on the site. It expects to have this work completed within a week.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara raised the question of providing crèche facilities. The provision of such facilities at decentralised offices was dealt with by the implementation group in its report of June 2004. It recommended that crèche facilities are a matter for the relevant Department to pursue given its own requirements and facilities available in the locality. Bord Iascaigh Mhara is also seeking to have its existing sea food development centre increased in size and officials in the OPW are in consultation with Bord Iascaigh Mhara on this matter.

It is the intention of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to meet members of the board of Bord Iascaigh Mhara on 25 October to discuss the matter further and the OPW intends pressing to have all issues resolved by the end of October 2005. Subject to such resolution, the OPW would be in a position to invite tenders before the end of November 2005.

Mr. Ring:  Is Deputy Walsh any wiser after that?

Dr. Cowley:  I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter. Gaelscoil na Cruaiche is doing a wonderful job and is a great success. In September 2005, 197 pupils were enrolled, there were nine permanent staff, one full-time and three part-time special needs staff and eight part-time ancillary staff. Already, 210 pupils are enrolled for September 2006. At the moment, it exists in a five prefabs in poor condition, a serious health and safety issue. Its lease will expire at the end of next May but this lease is non-renewable. Therefore, it must have everything off the site at the end of that school term. As such, the school must be included in the building programme to ensure accommodation on January 2006.

I have raised this matter repeatedly and the answers I received include in December 2004 that the property management section of the Office of Public Works was exploring the possibility of acquiring a site and on 28 September that site negotiations are under way and once the site is finalised, the project will be considered in pro[183]gression in the context of the building programme. Despite this, on 13 October 2005, I was informed by the Minister of Education and Science:

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department regarding site acquisitions generally, has identified a suitable site for the school referred to by the Deputy. The OPW has been in contact with a vendor regarding the acquisition of a site and is now awaiting a response.

We need to know if this school is on the building list. The Minister guaranteed that once the site was secured, this would be the case. The Minister told me that when a school is needed, a school would be built. I urgently ask the Minister of State to give an undertaking tonight that a school will be provided. Otherwise, 197 pupils will be on the street, 210 by next year.

This issue has been well flagged. The Department has been aware for the past four or five years at least that the lease would expire and nothing less than a commitment tonight will do. Will the school be included in the building programme? Will the pupils be out on the road or will they have a new school? If not, why not? These pupils deserve the very best as they and their teachers have worked very hard and deserve more than to be left in this limbo situation.

Mr. Ring:  I welcome the opportunity to raise this matter. We now know a site has been identified and bought, as the OPW has agreed a price. It is a matter for the Westport Town Council. As the Minister of State knows, the council can buy all the land it wants but cannot sell a blade of grass without a council meeting and this issue will be on the agenda over the next week or two.

We have fought long and hard to get the site. It has been identified and I hope it will be in the possession of the OPW in a very short time but what is now needed is a commitment from the Department of Education and Science that the school will be included in the schools building programme for next year.

Gaelscoil na Cruaiche has been a major success and many parents are worried about the conditions their children must be educated in. The teachers, staff and management of the school are quite concerned. As Deputy Cowley said, the school’s lease is up next year. It is important to include it in the programme as, for the town of Westport and the teachers, pupils and management of the school, it is necessary.

This school has waited a long time. The people involved have been very patient. If a number of steps must be jumped, it must happen because we do not want to still be fighting this time next year to get the school included in the programme. We [184]want a commitment from the Minister for Education and Science that these children will be approved a new school, the project will go out to tender and we will see the school built sometime next year so that pupils can look forward to entering their new school the following September.

The site has been found, identified and a price agreed. I want the Minister to make a commitment to the west, particularly Westport. Recent announcements were made concerning the schools building programme and I hope the Minister will announce over the next day or two that this school will be included in the programme for next year.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I thank Deputies Ring and Cowley for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the proposals of the Department of Education and Science regarding the provision of a new facility for Gaelscoil na Cruaiche, Westport, County Mayo. Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of underinvestment in this area and the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth.

None the less, since taking office, this Government has shown a sincere determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. We progressively increased funding for the school modernisation programme in recent years to achieve our goal, with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion allocated for this purpose since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State.

Since the beginning of the year, the Minister for Education and Science has made a number of announcements relating to the 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. The Minister recently announced an investment of €555 million over the next four years in projects to be delivered by way of public private partnerships.

Gaelscoil na Cruaiche opened in September 1996 with provisional recognition and was then granted permanent recognition in 2000. The school is currently accommodated in prefabricated classrooms on a three quarter acre site in the town of Westport. The cost of site and classroom rental is grant-aided by the Department of Education and Science at the rate of 95%. Provision is built into the schools building programme to enable schools to 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 [185]entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues relating to the school itself and its infrastructure.

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which purchases sites for new schools on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, was requested to explore the possibility of acquiring a site for Gaelscoil na Cruaiche. Following the most recent advertisement placed by the OPW seeking proposals of possible sites, a number of responses were received. The OPW arranged technical assessments of a number of sites to consider their suitability as a location for the Gaelscoil. The OPW has now commenced negotiation for the purchase of a site for the school.

Due to commercial sensitivities, I am unable to comment further on specific site acquisitions but I can assure the Deputies that the permanent accommodation needs of this school are being addressed as expeditiously as possible and that the provision of a permanent building for the school will be progressed in the context of the school buildings and modernisation programme when the site has been acquired.

As the board and patrons are already aware, the provision of interim accommodation remains the responsibility of the board.

Dr. Cowley:  Will the Department of Education and Science pay?

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  The Department will consider any proposal made by the school authority in this regard given the limitations on the existing arrangements. I thank both Deputies again for raising this matter.

Mr. Sherlock:  I hope that, when the Minister of State replies, he will not refer to land initiative programmes in the area of Doneraile. The estimated cost of the sewer length is €173,340 excluding VAT and the proposed turnpike at the Skaghardgannon extension would collect sewage from 15 houses. The Doneraile sewerage scheme has not been completed. The residents in the Skaghardgannon area recently received a letter from the environmental department of Cork County Council, stating that incidents of pollution had occurred in the area. The problem arises from the failure of the county council to provide a drain, which it was to have done at an earlier stage. That is creating a serious problem for the residents.

Given that the general main scheme is not completed, now is the time for the Minister to grant permission. Two areas, Turnpike and Skaghardgannon, are involved. I refer solely to Skaghardgannon. I received correspondence from a former Minister who stated a decision to include Skaghardgannon in the Turnpike cross sewer [186]extension of the Doneraile sewerage scheme is ultimately a matter for Cork County Council. It is not. The main scheme and the various links made in the Doneraile area were done by the Department, and Skaghardgannon should be included. I hope the Minister of State will be positive in his reply.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I thank Deputy Sherlock for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. My Department’s water services investment programme 2004 to 2006, published in May 2004, includes funding for 97 schemes throughout County Cork. As a Corkman, I am proud that the entire county will benefit from the Government’s extensive investment in new infrastructure under the national development plan. In total, almost €543 million has been allocated under the water services programme for new water and sewerage schemes in Cork.

The Doneraile sewerage scheme was approved for funding as part of this package. The scheme consists of a new waste water treatment plant and sewage collection system and will cost more than €2.5 million. The waste water treatment plant for Doneraile will be procured as part of a grouped contract that will also include new treatment plants for Buttevant and Kilbrin. My Department is examining Cork County Council’s tender documents for this contract. Although they were only submitted in recent weeks, the Department expects to be in a position to convey a decision to the council shortly. I assure Deputy Sherlock that I am just as anxious as he is to see approval being given to the council to commence work on this scheme at the earliest possible date.

The collection system for the Doneraile scheme is advanced as a separate stand-alone contract. Construction commenced in November 2004 on this element of the scheme. It does not extend to Skaghardgannon, and I understand it is close to completion. My Department has approved Cork County Council’s proposals to add two sewer extensions to the Doneraile scheme, one from Turnpike Cross to Skaghardgannon on which Deputy Sherlock raised this issue, and the second from the industrial zoned area north of Turnpike Cross to Brough Cross.

The Department indicated to the council that it is willing to fund both extensions in accordance with the terms of the serviced land initiative. Under this measure the Department provides 40% of the capital funding for approved works on the basis that they will contribute to the supply of serviced residential sites and thus increase the availability of new houses for prospective purchasers. In putting forward this proposal, my Department saw an opportunity to provide waste water facilities for existing residents in conjunction with the provision of services to respond to the high potential for future residential develop[187]ment along both sewer lengths and, in addition, the existence of an industrial zoned area along the Turnpike Cross-Brough Cross branch that would also be connected.

Without the other development, both sewer extensions would serve no more than 30 existing houses at an estimated cost of approximately €600,000. The resulting average cost per house would be prohibitive and would not be justified on economic grounds by comparison with the cost of a proprietary single house treatment system that an individual householder could install to replace a malfunctioning septic tank.

The idea of funding the proposed sewer extensions under the terms of the serviced land initiative was put forward by my Department to try to find a way to help the householders involved. It would allow the householders to benefit from services that would be put in place with part-funding from my Department to serve potential new development in the area. If Cork County Council is interested in proceeding with this option, my Department is still prepared to meet 40% of the approved costs. The remainder would need to be recouped by the council from developers, including any borrowing costs the council might incur on its investment in the meantime.

Another alternative the council could consider would be to fund the sewer extension to Skaghardgannon from the annual rural water programme allocation it receives from my Department. Cork County Council has a total allocation of €2.4 million under this programme for small public schemes in 2005 and will benefit from further allocations in the years ahead. The council has complete discretion with the prioritisation of individual schemes under this measure and any decision to fund the Skaghardgannon extension would be entirely within its own remit. A number of options are open to Cork County Council. To a large extent the solution is dependent on Cork County Council, and the Department is prepared to co-operate in any way possible.

Mr. P. Breen:  I am delighted the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is present for this debate. I wish to focus attention on a serious issue affecting the people of Ennis. One takes for granted the quality of one’s drinking water if issues regarding that quality do not arise. The Minister of State may be aware through coverage by the national media that for some time the county town’s 25,000 residents have experienced problems with the water supply. It is partly a legacy of the rapid expansion of the town which 20 years ago had a population of approximately 10,000.

The result is that at different periods, particularly after heavy rainfall or a long dry spell, the town council, in consultation with the HSE, must [188]issue a boil notice because of the risk of ingesting e-coli bacteria. The long-term solution is the provision of the sanctioned €6.5 million filtration plant which is not due to be completed until late 2007. That is two years from now.

The short-term solution is the provision of tankers of fresh water which could be augmented by the supply of bottled water for free or at a subsidised rate. Not everyone has a car to transport large containers of water. Another possible short-term solution is an investigation into the contamination source of the Ennis water supply. This could be conducted by a team of specialist consultant engineers. It would require departmental funding but that would be money well spent and would contribute to the long-term viability of the water. Much work has been done on the groundwater flows following an environmental impact study of the River Fergus drainage scheme. An extension of that type of study would be worthwhile and might contribute to the improvement of the town’s water supply. I appeal to the Minister of State to consider this option seriously.

The issue is partly one of confidence, which has been eroded among the people of Ennis. Further afield, the message has gone out that one should not drink the water in Ennis. It does not make the winner of the 2005 Tidy Towns competition an attractive place in which to live or invest. Despite the assurances of the town council that a partial boil notice covering young people, children and immuno-deficient people is a precautionary measure, confidence in the town’s water supply is at an all-time low.

I urge the Minister of State to impress on the county manager the necessity to sanction the use of tankers of fresh water without delay. I understand this would involve considerable expense over a two-year period. Perhaps an allocation of funds might be made for this unique situation. It is unacceptable that people of limited means, particularly parents of young children, should either pay for overpriced bottled water in supermarkets or experience the cost and inconvenience of boiling water. This is a stealth tax. With bottled water more expensive than petrol in many instances, people are paying rip-off prices. Their only alternative is to boil water. This is an expensive and not very palatable drink over a long period. The council says the “boil” notice currently applies to a small number of people. That is not the point, however. That a vulnerable group of people or those acting on their behalf are expected to fork out money to guarantee their fresh drinking water requirements is grossly unfair. The council has admitted that the water supply will be vulnerable until a new treatment plant is put in place. That simply is not good enough in terms of assessment of the water supply for a town the size of Ennis. An alternative to tankers might be a subsidised scheme of [189]bottled water in conjunction with one of the major bottling companies.

Taxpayers should expect to have clean drinking water. I commend those businesses that have reduced their bottled water prices in Ennis. In this regard, I ask the water supply companies, wholesalers and supermarkets, to take a look at their pricing policies. All this underlines the urgency of a speedy end to the filtration project. I understand work on the plant will not start until next year and that the Department has approved the council’s tender documents with some amendments. Five short-listed consortiums will have a four-month period to respond to those tenders. In turn, the analysis of those responses will take some time. The official reckoning is that this project will take up to two years to complete. Then it is expected the eventual contractor will require 15 months to commission and build the plant.

I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, to do all in his power to speed up the process. I understand it is complex, involving design, build and operate contracts. However, in this case even weeks and months could make a difference to the quality of people’s lives. There may be other mechanisms by which the minimum notice period under the public procurement process could be amended, given the urgency of the situation. There may be other windows of opportunity where a sense of urgency could prevail. In the meantime, some form of State-sponsored fresh water scheme is the least Ennis residents can expect while the contamination problem is being resolved. I urge the Minister of State to look at those options in the short-term.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to it. I visited Ennis a few weeks ago to see what the situation was on the ground and so have first-hand awareness of what residents and businesses have to contend with.

I express my concern to the people of Ennis and surrounding areas who have been affected by the “boil water” notices and echo the view that everything possible must be done to get this problem resolved. I am aware that there have been three “boil water” notices since last May, including one last Friday, which, I understand, was caused by a technical failure at the source. I fully appreciate that having to boil water, necessary though it may be to protect public health, causes inconvenience, distress and anxiety and should not be a regular occurrence in any part of Ireland today.

The problem with the Ennis water supply stems from the fact that the source is vulnerable to contamination, including contaminants from septic tanks or agricultural run off, and the only process the water is currently put though is chlorination. Disinfection by chlorination produces a good quality supply at nearly all times, but needs to be [190]supplemented by additional treatment to remove the occasional risk associated with chlorine resistant organisms in the water.

The Ennis town water supply treatment scheme will put the necessary treatment facilities in place and has been approved for construction in my Department’s water services investment programme at an estimated cost of €6.5 million. The Minister has given clearance to Clare County Council to invite tenders for the scheme and the money for it is ready and waiting in the Department. The Department’s officials have assisted the council to speed up the finalisation of the tender documents and the council has already short-listed a panel of suitable contractors who will be asked to tender for the scheme.

Like everyone else in the House, I want to see the work getting under way at the earliest possible date. However, we must be realistic and remember that what we do now must solve the problem effectively and permanently. The reality is that we are looking at a period of about two years before that permanent solution is in place.

Mr. P. Breen:  What happens in the meantime?

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  While this undoubtedly seems lengthy, the contractors will have to draw up and price, from scratch, a detailed design and specification, a construction programme, and a long-term operational and maintenance strategy. They will be required to demonstrate that they can supply the people of Ennis with a consistently high quality drinking water supply for the next 20 years that will be delivered at an economic cost to the council and to the non-domestic consumers who will have to pay for it. The design phase will take until next March. It quite simply cannot be completed any sooner without compromising the outcome to the long-term detriment of the town.

The contractors’ bids will then have to be evaluated by the council and by the Department in order to select the best all round solution. Each of the bids will be different and the detailed technical assessments that will be needed to select the optimum proposal will take until the end of June. Construction and commissioning will take about 15 months and the new treatment plant should be operational by October 2007.

I do not wish to see the people of Ennis living under the threat of “boil water” notices in the meantime. In that regard, Clare County Council has advised my Department that it is investigating the availability of temporary treatment facilities. My Department will provide any help we can to the council with interim remedial measures. I also understand that, in the event of further disruption, the council will look at the provision of tankers to relieve the situation. The current “boil water” notice is expected to be lifted by the weekend.

[191]A separate scheme, the Ennis water supply augmentation scheme, will provide Ennis with a supplementary water supply from Castlelake, and is approved for construction in my Department’s water services investment programme. The department has already approved Clare County Council’s proposals to lay some of the pipes for this scheme, at an estimated cost of €5.34 million, in conjunction with the Ennis bypass.

[192]I am acutely conscious of the present highly unsatisfactory situation regarding the Ennis water supply. The Department is helping the council to bring about the earliest possible solution. We maintain close contact with the council and will be available at all times to offer whatever assistance and advice we can.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20 October 2005.

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

Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 7 to 78, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 79 to 86, inclusive, answered orally.

  87.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    when he issued design specifications for speed limit signs outside schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28997/05]

  152.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    the date on which his Department issued the signage specifications for speed limits outside schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28996/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 87 and 152 together.

In January 2005, I made regulations, the Road Traffic (Speed Limit — Traffic Signs) Regulations 2005, S.I. No. 10 of 2005, prescribing the regulatory traffic signs displaying metric units of measurement, km/h, that the road authorities must provide on public roads to indicate the speed limit in force. This range of traffic signs can be deployed to indicate that a default speed limit, a special speed limit or a road works speed limit is in force.

While proposals for new formats of traffic signs are examined from time to time in my Department, the traffic sign regulations that I made in January of this year and the range of sign options already available for use since 20 January 2005 under those regulations are adequate to support the implementation of any special speed limit options. The actual provision and installation of traffic signs on public roads is a matter for each road authority and advice is set out in the traffic signs manual in this regard. A copy of the manual is available in the Oireachtas Library.

  88.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the revised timeframe for the full introduction of integrated ticketing; and his estimate of the full cost to the State of the project in 2002 monetary value. [29057/05]

  103.  Mr. McEntee    asked the Minister for Transport    the person by whom and the areas in which the reported €8.5 million for integrated [194]ticketing was spent; the number of years during which this amount was spent; the reason the budgetary allocation for integrated ticketing for 2005 has been reduced from €15 million to €7.5 million; if the integrated ticketing on the Luas, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail will be fully operational in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28829/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 88 and 103 together.

In March 2002, the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, was given statutory responsibility for the delivery of a multi-operator system of integrated ticketing. The proposed contactless smart card based integrated ticketing system will enable a customer to use a ticket on one or more scheduled public transport services, by road and by rail, irrespective of the transport operator involved. In line with international experience, the system is being introduced on a phased basis, initially in the Dublin area.

In April 2004 a private operator, Mortons Coaches, in conjunction with the RPA and as a “proof of concept”, successfully launched smart cards on its services. Last March, another step was taken with the launch of smart cards on Luas services. The Luas smart card deployment is helping to obtain important feedback from passengers and provide operational experience for the next stage of integrated ticketing. Approximately 1,000 smart cards are in use on Mortons Coaches and some 9,000 smart cards are currently in use on Luas services.

Following an inconclusive procurement procedure earlier this year for the selection of an integrated ticketing provider and operator, the RPA commenced work on a revised procurement strategy and has submitted a draft to my Department. The finalisation of that procurement strategy is being assisted by an informal tripartite group representing the RPA, Dublin Bus and my Department. The work of the group will assist the RPA in determining a revised target implementation date.

The project budget for integrated ticketing, covering initial implementation in the Dublin area, was set in 2002 at €29.6 million. Arising from the inconclusive procurement procedure, this year’s budget allocation was revised from €15 million to €7.5 million. The project budget will be reviewed when considering the revised procurement strategy.

To date, €8.536 million of Exchequer funds has been spent on integrated ticketing since the RPA was appointed to undertake the project in March 2002. This is comprised of: €349,000 on project appraisal and related activities; €3.615 million on the national design of integrated ticketing, including the proof of concept with Mortons, public consultation and related activities; €4.572 million on procurement, incorporating the Luas smart card deployment, adapting systems to facilitate use by multiple operators and related activities.

[195]I believe that the RPA is correct in taking a prudent approach to the implementation of this complex project using new technology. International experience has shown that successful delivery of integrated ticketing is achieved by a careful, phased introduction with full co-operation from all public transport operators.

  89.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress in producing a new rules of the road booklet; and the reason for the continued delay. [29071/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department is currently engaged in a comprehensive review of the rules of the road booklet. It is the intention that a draft of the new booklet will shortly be published on the Department’s website and that comments and submissions will be invited from the public and interested parties. The new booklet will be finalised following consideration of any submissions received and it is intended that the booklet will be made available for sale shortly thereafter. The new booklet will also be available on the Department’s website.

  90.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    his latest proposals in respect of reform of the regulatory framework for bus licensing; and when he will bring forward legislation in this regard. [29058/05]

  106.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made in establishing an independent authority to procure public transport; the nature and functions of this authority; when the enabling legislation for such an authority will be published; when the authority will be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28832/05]

  107.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will complete his consideration of proposals to establish an independent authority to procure public transport services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28825/05]

  117.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of the Transport (Companies) Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28822/05]

  123.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he remains committed to the break up of CIE into three separate entities; if so, when this will happen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28833/05]

  131.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has altered from the position that 25% of the Dublin Bus market would be opened up to competition; if so, if media reports indicating that the level of the market to be opened up to competition will be significantly lower than the earlier figure are correct; the market percentage which will be opened up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28835/05]

  144.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    the target date for the establishment of a national public transport commission; and his decision in respect of the arrangements that will apply to the greater Dublin area. [29083/05]

  148.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has completed his review of the work done within his Department on the restructuring of CIE; if a decision has been reached on the restructuring of the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28821/05]

  163.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    the details of his negotiations with representatives of Dublin Bus drivers on the further opening of the bus market to private operators; the number of meetings that have been held; the outstanding issues to be agreed; and when the negotiations will be finalised. [29079/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 90, 106, 107, 117, 123, 131, 144, 148 and 163 together.

As I have indicated previously, I am committed to reforming the public transport market to provide opportunities for both public and private companies to deliver increased public services and to ensure the taxpayer and the customer get a high quality of service and best value for money. I also intend to re-organise CIE to provide greater operational autonomy to the operating subsidiaries.

The bus system is essential to an effective public transport system, with approximately 75% of journeys on public transport being made on bus today. I am committed to providing a regulatory framework which will allow public and private bus companies respond more effectively to the needs of the travelling public. In this regard, I propose to establish an independent national public transport commission to, inter alia, allocate Exchequer subvention for public transport services, both bus and rail, through public service contracts, to license commercial bus services and to regulate fares.

Officials in my Department held extensive consultations with the management of CIE, private bus companies and the CIE unions on how best to give effect to the reform of the market. My officials have met with union representatives on 12 occasions since March this year and held a similar number of meetings with each of the other stakeholders. I have sought the views of stakeholders on how, in a pragmatic manner, greater [197]competition can be introduced into the bus market. I am currently considering the views and issues put to me by the various stakeholders and I hope to publish legislation in that regard in the New Year.

  91.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Transport    the initiatives he has taken to promote the increased use of renewable energy in the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28830/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department is committed to delivering a sustainable transport system designed in a way which will achieve a balance between economic, social and environmental needs. In the current climate of rising oil prices and growing CO2 emissions from transport there is clearly a need to focus on cleaner and renewable fuel sources such as biofuel to support the achievement of a sustainable transport system.

In recognition of this, my Department actively supports the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with regard to its responsibilities in the development and promotion of a biofuels market in Ireland’s transport sector. My Department participates in the interdepartmental biofuels group, which was established by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in 2004 to consider policy options for the development of a biofuels market. The group also comprises representatives from the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Finance, Agriculture and Food, and from Sustainable Energy Ireland.

As part of its work, the group commissioned a Liquid Biofuels Strategy Study for Ireland, which was published in December 2004. The report explores a range of options and potential supports for biofuels development in Ireland. As a follow up to this report, further work is ongoing with regard to developing measures to increase long-term market penetration of biofuels in the transport fuel market.

My Department also supports the scheme for mineral oil tax relief on biofuels which was agreed between the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of Finance and launched in April 2005. Under this scheme, excise relief of €6 million will be allowed for a total of eight projects, involving 16 million litres of biofuel, over a two year period to 2007. The scheme is an initial measure designed to stimulate market development and I understand that the scope for scaling up fiscal support for biofuels is being explored by the Departments directly involved. This is something which I would support. Sustainable Energy Ireland also provides funding for biofuels demonstration projects, compatible with its remit in advancing the development of renewable energy.

[198]My own Department is also engaging with the public transport and road haulage sectors with a view to promoting the increased use of alternative fuels. I understand that CIE is investigating the use of biofuels and hybrid-electric/diesel buses. My Department will actively liaise with it in this regard.

  92.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has instructed his staff not to provide Opposition spokespersons with all press releases when automatically issued by his Department; if not, if all Opposition transport spokespersons will receive all press releases issued by his Department as soon as reasonably practical; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28839/05]

  240.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if, as a matter of courtesy and in accordance with long standing protocols, he will allow the communication of press statements from his Department to the Opposition spokesperson; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29628/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 240 together.

I have not instructed my staff not to provide Opposition spokespersons with all press releases when automatically issued by my Department. I am happy to provide Opposition spokespersons with all press releases and, as the Deputy has asked, these press releases will be issued as soon as reasonably practical.

  93.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the target of a reduction of 25% in the number of fatalities on roads will be achieved by the end of the lifetime of the road safety strategy in 2006; the additional measures he has enacted since the commencement of the strategy to cut road deaths; if he has satisfied himself that such initiatives are working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28844/05]

  98.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has satisfied himself with the progress to date in implementing the Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006; and his views on the comments by the chairman of the National Safety Council that there is a lack of political will to fully implement the strategy. [29053/05]

  121.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Transport    if, in view of the ongoing scale and seriousness of road accidents, he will take new steps to address this problem; the timetable for such proposals and the agencies to be involved therein; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29492/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 93, 98 and 121 together.

The Government Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 sets a primary target of a 25% reduction in road collision fatalities by the end of 2006 over the average annual number of fatalities in the 1998-2003 period. Achievement of the target would result in no more than 300 deaths per annum by the end of the period of the strategy. This is an ambitious target and one which will require the continued commitment to a strategic, integrated approach by all of the road safety agencies.

Unfortunately, we have seen a greater number of road deaths in 2004 than in the previous year when we experienced the lowest number of road deaths in 40 years at 335. The provisional end of year figures for 2004 shows 374 deaths on the roads. This is, however, the second lowest annual road fatality total since 1998, which was the first year for the operation of the first road safety strategy.

So far this year we have seen an increase in the number of road deaths, with 312 deaths on the roads as at 17 October compared to 298 for the same date last year. The recent increase in road deaths is a cause of concern and places the challenge of meeting the target set for the end of 2006 into stark focus. If we are to realise that target, a significant reversal of the worrying trend that has been noticeable both in early 2004 and over the past number of weeks must be achieved.

Achievement of the target depends in the first instance on a continued emphasis on the approach that underpins the strategy. A major independent review of the previous strategy confirms that basing the primary target on the achievement of progress in the areas of speeding, drink driving and seat belt wearing remains the correct approach and these remain the key areas of the new strategy.

The strategy was developed by the high level group on road safety which is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Health and Children, the Garda, the National Roads Authority, the National Safety Council, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the County and City Managers Association and the Irish Insurance Federation. The agencies and Departments represented on the high level group on road safety are responsible for implementing specific measures in the strategy which are within the remit of each organisation.

Significant initiatives identified in the strategy that have been realised to date include the introduction of a new system of metric speed limits through the passage of the Road Traffic Act 2004 and the establishment of the new Garda traffic corps. The new speed limits structure featured a reduction in the speed limit in all rural, regional and local roads from 60 miles per hours to 80 kilometers per hour, which equates to 50 miles per [200]hour. The establishment of the dedicated traffic corps last year by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform under a distinct management structure under the command of an assistant commissioner addresses a particular commitment given by the Government. The corps, when it is fully staffed, will provide the basis for the achievement of the significant gains in road safety that emanate from consistent high levels of traffic law enforcement.

Other major proposals identified in the strategy, such as the plans to establish a system of private sector operation of speed cameras under the auspices of the Garda and the further extension of the operation of the penalty points and fixed charge systems, are being advanced and the question of the introduction of a more general basis for the carrying out of preliminary roadside alcohol testing of drivers is being considered. We are making progress across the wide range of initiatives identified in the strategy and I am satisfied that all of the agencies involved are fully committed to the achievement of the goals that underpin the strategy.

  94.  Mr. G. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the recent meeting of the Clare Street initiative; the recommendations arising from this meeting; the way in which his Department will enact such proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28840/05]

  143.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    the funding set aside for the implementation of the so-called Clare Street initiative; and the timescale envisaged for the introduction of the reforms proposed. [29069/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 94 and 143 together.

The purpose of the Clare Street initiative, CSI, is to progress the effective implementation of traffic management and related measures in the greater Dublin area and to bring added value to the major transport investments that are under way and planned. During workshops in Clontarf Castle on 5 October, the CSI group considered 37 projects, submitted in advance of the meeting, and distilled from that list a recommended shortlist of 15 priority projects, in some cases involving an amalgamation of separately tabled proposals. The CSI charter makes it clear that the initiative will work with existing agencies and within existing governance structures and that it will be the responsibility of the relevant statutory, or other, agencies to decide whether to proceed with projects suggested by the initiative. I will publish details of the recommended projects once the written conclusions of the Clontarf Castle session have been cleared by CSI members and the [201]implementing agencies have been formally requested to progress these projects.

I can, however, tell the Deputies that projects fall within the following implementation timescales: short — within six months; medium — within one year; long — within two years. It will be the role of the CSI to promote and support the implementation of projects but not in any way to substitute itself for existing agencies or to pre-empt their functions. Projects under the CSI will be funded from within the Department of Transport’s medium term capital envelope and from the resources of implementing agencies, as appropriate.

The CSI will meet again in plenary session in six months. In the meantime, project sponsors will report on project progress on a three monthly basis and will, if they wish, convene sub-groups to advance projects. The initiative, through the relevant project sponsor, will monitor progress on projects and there will be a report on progress at each annual meeting of the CSI’s steering group. Having considered the report, the group will decide whether to keep the project on its action list.

  95.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if the assessment of the case for banning supersize trucks has been completed; if he has set a deadline for his decision on this issue; and the remaining steps that need to be taken before a decision is made. [28847/05]

  255.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has had consultations with his EU colleagues in regard to the proposed banning of super trucks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29817/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 255 together.

My Department has been examining the question of whether a statutory maximum height limit for vehicles is required. The examination included consideration of the submissions received from interested parties in response to public consultation on the subject. I am now considering the outcome of the Department’s examination and intend to make a decision on the matter shortly.

I have not had EU related discussions to date on this matter. However, in the event of a decision to introduce a statutory height restriction it will be necessary to consult the European Commission before the necessary statutory instrument can be made. Such consultation is obligatory under Directive 98/34/EC on technical standards and regulations.

  96.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Transport    [202]when a decision will be made on the joining up of two existing Luas lines in Dublin city centre; the expected cost and time it will take to connect them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29489/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, has been asked to carry out an evaluation of the linking of the Luas red and green lines. I understand that it has carried out a significant amount of technical work looking, in particular, at various route options. The next step will be for the RPA to put the findings of this work out for public consultation. Following this, the RPA will submit a business case, which will outline the estimated cost and timeframe for the project, to my Department for approval.

  97.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    his targets for the average waiting time for a driving test; and his target date for reaching same. [29082/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The target is to reduce waiting times for a driving test from months to weeks. The current backlog is intolerable. That is why the Government has brought forward a comprehensive proposal to deal with the matter. This target of reducing waiting times from months to weeks can be achieved within 18 months to two years of the full implementation of the package of measures recently outlined.

Question No. 98 answered with Question
No. 93.

  99.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the proposal to build a metro from Dublin’s city centre to the airport; the reason the proposed legislation for a metro has been removed from the Government’s legislative programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28834/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The metro proposal is being considered by my Department as part of its preparatory work on a ten year transport investment framework. I hope to bring proposals on the framework to Government shortly.

The existing statutory process for approving a metro project is set out in Part 3 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001. The legislation originally proposed to further streamline and improve the statutory approval process relating to the metro but it has now been subsumed into the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2005 which is currently being drafted by the Department for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This Bill will [203]provide a streamlined framework for dealing with national strategic infrastructure projects.

  100.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of A Platform for Change; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that several major planning applications continue to be made on the basis of its full introduction by 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29078/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  A Platform for Change continues to provide a broad strategic framework for transportation planning in the greater Dublin area and has been taken into account, along with other strategic studies, in my Department’s preparatory work on a ten year transport investment framework. The consideration of planning applications and appeals are matters respectively for [204]local authorities and An Bord Pleanála and they must do so in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The Dublin Transportation Office is a prescribed body under that Act and it regularly avails of that power to comment on individual planning applications, thereby ensuring that strategic transportation planning issues are taken into account in planning decisions.

  101.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount spent by his Department on capital projects to date; the details of these projects; the degree to which there has been an underspend on such projects to date; the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28848/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In the period 2000-2004, €1.233 billion was spent on public transport safety and development. Details are set out in the following table.

Project 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
€m €m €m €m €m
Railway Safety 123.86 148.45 127.16 103.94 86.71
Rolling Stock 23.56 5.59 62.52 88.28 76.25
IÉ Upgrades and Other Projects 5.83 21.82 42.87 82.4 79.55
Dublin Bus Projects 22.53 22.06 28.01 12.69 5.01
Bus Éireann Projects 6.48 19.9 2.81 9.57 3.33
Integrated Ticketing and Real Time Passenger Information 0 0 0.45 1.87 4.85
Other PT Projects 0 0 0 5.49 9.49
Total 182.26 217.82 263.82 304.24 265.19*

[203]A number of projects, undertaken during the period, have been completed under budget. These include the Heuston Station redesign, the Drogheda diesel railcar depot, the purchase of 16 DART cars and the essentially complete DART [204]upgrade project. The underspend in these cases averages 8% and is a result of good project management on the part of Iarnród Éireann or a favourable exchange rate.

Traffic Management

Project 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
€m €m €m €m €m
Traffic Management (DTO) 0 0 30,000 40,000 40,000
Accessibility Programme 0 0 5,000 5,000 8,000
Regional Bus Priority 0 0 200 5,500 8,000
Public Transport Interchanges 0 0 0 700 1,200

[203]Some minor underspend occurred on some of the projects.

Since 2000, a total of 55 projects have been approved for funding under the regional airports measure of the NDP. Based on a total estimated cost of €18.46 million, grant aid of €15.534 million has been approved for projects to facilitate [204]improvement works and upgrades in facilities to maintain continued safe, secure and viable operations at the regional airports. To end 2004, over €11 million has been paid out in grant assistance under the measure. There is no underspend on these projects to date. A summary of all capital grants to regional airports is in the following table.

Capital Grants to Regional Airports*

Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
€000 €000 €000 €000 €000
Donegal 0 0 253 718 0
Galway 259 288 728 946 1,276
Knock 0 303 0 2,031 0
Kerry 0 0 839 855 0
Sligo 0 182 470 239 9
Waterford 0 55 0 587 998
Total 259 828 2,290 5,376 2,283

[205]Total investment in the upgrade of the national road network over the period 2000-2005 amounts to €6.6 billion. This has funded the completion of 53 projects, 370 kms. Work is in progress on a further 21 projects, 211 kms. The position regarding project costs is that the NRA is completing [206]projects this year with a total estimated outturn cost of €1.17 billion, which compares to a pre-construction estimate for these projects of €1.17 billion. The following table provides details regarding the estimated and outturn costs of projects completed so far in 2005.

Scheme Start Year Finish Year Estimate Cost at Contract Award Final Outturn Cost % Increase
M50 South Eastern Motorway 2001 2005 593.5 569 -4.1
N2-Carrickmacross Bypass 2003 2005 49.9 51.8 3.8
N4-Sligo Inner Relief Road 2003 2005 72.7 74.3 2.2
N4-McNeads Bridge Kinnegad 2004 2005 27 27
N21- Ballycarthy Tralee 2001 2005 13.2 13.2

[205]The NRA is currently compiling similar data on projects completed in earlier years and this will be forwarded to the Deputy when available.

  102.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the impact for Ireland of the recent EU directive in respect of the funding of regional airport services and its impact on Government policy. [28823/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The question refers to new EU guidelines on financing of airports and start up aid to airlines departing from regional airports. The aims of the proposed guidelines are to establish a firm legal framework for agreements between airports and airlines and to increase transparency and to prevent any discrimination in the agreements concluded by regional airports and airlines on start up aid.

The guidelines will affect the structure and assessment of funding for our regional airports by the Exchequer. There will be more onerous administrative obligations relating to establishing the publicly stated role of individual regional airports and the limiting of Exchequer compensation to an analysis of reasonable costs, relevant revenues and a reasonable profit for discharging [206]that publicly stated role. The financial compensation must be based on a transparent accounting system. Proposals for Exchequer investment in general airport infrastructure would have to be in accordance with a clearly defined objective such as regional development or accessibility. These proposals will have to be proportional to the objective set and have satisfactory medium term prospects for use, in particular as regards the use of existing infrastructure.

In addition, the Department and the airports will have to guard against any infringement of rules for start up aid to airlines. Restrictive conditions will apply to start up aid to airlines for new routes.

My Department is now examining the proposed new framework required for the regional airport grant schemes in the light of the guidelines. In the light of the importance of regional airport services, my Department will consult with the State and regional airports authorities on the implications of the guidelines and the optimum approach to compliance.

Question No. 103 answered with Question
No. 88.

  104.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for [207]Transport    if he has received all the business plans from the three State airports; if not, if he has asked their authorities the reason for the delay; when the restructuring of the State airports will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28845/05]

  129.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made to date in developing a second terminal at Dublin Airport; and when the terminal will be fully operational. [28842/05]

  137.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding a new runway at Dublin Airport; if this project has his approval; the anticipated cost of this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28831/05]

  153.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will publish an aviation policy as guidance to the Dublin Airport Authority in its operation of the State airports and in terms of the national airport in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28824/05]

  233.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether the planned developments at Dublin Airport necessitate the development of a mass public transport system to the airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29711/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 129, 137, 153 and 233 together.

My Department’s statement of strategy for 2005-2007 sets out my broad aviation policy objectives. This policy is underpinned by the State Airports Act 2004, which provides a framework for the restructuring of the three airports and the more recent Government decision in May of this year concerning the provision of new terminal capacity at Dublin Airport. I do not envisage publishing additional policy guidance for Dublin Airport at present.

I have addressed the position relating to the business planning process in my earlier reply today to the priority question on this matter.

Passenger traffic through Dublin Airport is forecast to grow to in excess of 18 million passengers this year and to 30 million by around 2015. New infrastructural capacity and facilities, both airside and landside, including further terminal and runway capacity, must be provided in a timely and cost effective manner to cater for this growth. Following consultation with airlines, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, recently announced its medium term plans for new infrastructural provision at Dublin Airport, including a [208]new second terminal and other related developments.

Under that plan the new terminal, terminal 2, and its associated pier facilities, pier E, which will cater for both short and long haul traffic, will be provided to the south of the existing terminal and will come on stream in 2009. The plan also envisaged that other capacity enhancements, including the provision of temporary pier facilities in 2006 and a permanent new pier, pier D, will be provided by late 2007. These new pier facilities would deliver significant additional aircraft contact stands for fast turnaround operations. The programme also includes the optimisation of the existing terminal, including a northward extension of that building.

The final specifications and costings of terminal 2 will be independently verified by experts on behalf of the Government, as decided by the latter in May of this year. Also, at the appropriate time, an independent body will conduct an open tender competition to select an operator for the new terminal.

With regard to the proposed new runway at Dublin Airport, the DAA submitted its application for planning permission for the new runway to Fingal County Council in December last and that application is currently being processed by the planning authority. The DAA has estimated the cost of the proposed new runway at approximately €150 million. I am informed by the Dublin Airport Authority that the planning authority recently sought further clarification from the company on its planning application for the new runway, including information on forecast growth in passengers and aircraft movements and on a number of surface transport access issues.

It will also be a matter for the planning authorities to consider surface access issues when they consider, in due course, the DAA’s planning applications for the new terminal and pier facilities at Dublin Airport. Proposals for a metro which would serve Dublin Airport are also being considered by my Department as part of its preparatory work on a ten year transport investment framework. I hope to bring proposals on the framework to Government shortly.

The strategic development of our State Airports, including Dublin Airport, is essential to underpin Ireland’s competitiveness, industry and tourism. It is vital that we ensure that the potential for any new bottlenecks to emerge in our strategic national transportation infrastructure is avoided through the provision of timely and cost effective facilities.

  105.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Transport    when work on the upgrade of the main Kildare-Dublin rail line will commence and be [209]completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29490/05]

  251.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the timetable for the expansion of the Dublin, Hazelhatch, Sallins lines; if the service will be extended by way of link to other towns in the area, such as Naas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29794/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 251 together.

On 3 October 2005, CIE lodged an application for a railway order with me under the provisions of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 for a major programme of works to upgrade the infrastructure on the Kildare route, which will lead to a significant increase in capacity. Under the requirements of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001, I have now directed that a public inquiry be held into the proposed works and I am in the process of appointing an inspector to hold the inquiry. It is a matter for the inspector to decide when and where the inquiry will be held.

In deciding, in due course, whether to grant the railway order for the proposed development, I will consider the application itself, the draft railway order from CIE, the inspector’s report of the public inquiry and any submissions made to me on the proposal. The timetable for the implementation of the project is dependent on CIE being granted the railway order for which it recently applied.

Questions Nos. 106 and 107 answered with Question No. 90.

  108.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason for the underspend in his Department in the first three quarters of 2005; the subheads under which the underspend is occurring; and the projects in which an underspend is being recorded. [29060/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  For the first three quarters of 2005 this Department has spent €1,060 million, which is €106 million less than profiled for the same period. This difference consists of €92 million less in capital spend and €14 million less in current expenditure.

The capital difference in the main is made up of a capital spend of €64 million less on roads projects, B2, and €27 million less on public transport projects, C5. This reflects the challenges associated with managing a complex multi-annual capital programme to deliver projects within the budget for a given year. It is mainly timing issues which are arising and the delivery agencies [210]remain in a position to spend their full envelope allocations in aggregate over 2005-06.

Some specific contributory factors to the lower draw down in the first three quarters of 2005 were competitive tender pricing, planning delays, land acquisition and timing issues on the purchase of rolling stock. The arrangements for a multi-annual capital envelope are specifically designed to provide flexibility to deal with issues of this nature.

The main current expenditure difference consists of a spend of €14 million less on CIE public service provision payments, C1, due mainly to timing issues.

  109.  Mr. G. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals regarding the development of additional park and ride facilities in the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28841/05]

  138.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans for a properly integrated and co-ordinated traffic management plan for the greater Dublin area to incorporate maximum use of public transport by means of park and ride facilities or proper feeder bus to rail services and with particular emphasis on the way in which the port tunnel will be utilised to cater for heavy goods vehicles and thereby contribute to alleviation of existing traffic problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29496/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 109 and 138 together.

I am keen to facilitate the implementation of park and ride, particularly because of the key part it plays in promoting a more integrated approach to public transport, thereby attracting customer patronage. I am also acutely aware of the need to develop appropriate park and ride facilities in tandem with wider public transport development projects, such as the expansion of suburban commuter rail services. Bearing this in mind, this summer I approved the Dublin Transportation Office’s strategy for rail based park and ride but I also stipulated that I would not rule out bus based park and ride.

My Department is now open to considering applications for Exchequer capital grants in respect of suitable park and ride facilities. I am, therefore, delighted to confirm that capital funding may also be made available for bus based park and ride projects on a pilot basis. The level of grant assistance will be determined having regard to the strength of the business case and having regard to the relative priority accorded to [211]the particular project in the context of the DTO’s transportation strategy for the greater Dublin area. My Department will not fund ongoing operational costs of park and ride activities.

Dublin City Council, which has responsibility for traffic management, has developed a HGV management strategy, which will be implemented to coincide with the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel. The council is currently finalising the operational details of the proposed strategy and developing a detailed implementation plan. The objectives of the strategy are to ensure the optimal use of the port tunnel by HGVs, to minimise adverse effects of remaining HGV movements in the city and to manage the movement of outsize vehicles, for example, through permit systems.

Finally, I should point out that the Dublin Transportation Office’s A Platform for Change provides a transport planning framework for the development of the transport system in the greater Dublin area up to 2016. The DTO strategy takes account of the requirement for integration and co-ordination in traffic management and makes provision for modal interchanges and park and ride.

  110.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the McCann report on the western rail corridor; and if there has been progress on the implementation of any aspect of the report’s recommendations. [28818/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The working group on the western rail corridor, established by my predecessor to examine the case for re-opening the line, has now concluded its deliberations and the chairman of the working group delivered his report to me on 10 May 2005. The recommendations in the report on the phased development of the western rail corridor are being examined in the context of the multi-annual investment framework for transport, which is being prepared by my Department at present. I expect to be in a position to submit proposals on the investment framework to Government shortly.

  111.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has abandoned random breath testing as a key part of road safety policy. [29055/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The question of the adoption of changes in the circumstances where the driver of a vehicle can be made the subject of a preliminary roadside breath test [212]has been the subject of considerable debate and consideration for some time. The first Government road safety strategy, which related to the period 1998 to 2002, indicated that while the Government would consider the possibility of some change to the position that prevailed in advance of the publication of that strategy, it did not envisage the adoption of the unqualified application of random breath testing by the end of the period in question. Subsequently the Road Traffic Acts were amended to provide that the gardaí are now empowered to require that all drivers involved in road collisions or detected committing any traffic offences must submit to roadside breath tests. This is in addition to the power to demand that a driver who in the opinion of a garda has consumed alcohol must submit to such a test.

The current road safety strategy recommends that the introduction of random breath testing should be pursued within its operational time frame of 2004 to 2006. Against that background my Department is examining the development of a scheme for a more general basis for roadside testing in close consultation with the Attorney General’s office. My officials will continue to engage with that office to determine the most appropriate sustainable basis for broadening the current operational framework for preliminary roadside breath testing.

  112.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received the report on the outcome of the review of the national car test scheme; if so, when he received it; the main recommendations made; the action he will take on foot of this review; and the timescale involved. [29086/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  A final report is not yet to hand but I expect it before the end of this month at the latest. I envisage any changes arising from the report being in place from the beginning of next year.

  113.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to allow cars with three or more occupants to access bus lanes; the analysis he has carried out on this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29491/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The use of bus lanes is provided for in the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 and 1998. The primary purpose of bus lanes is to facilitate and promote bus based public transport. The regulations, which have national application, generally limit the use of bus lanes to buses and, in the case of with-flow bus lanes, to cyclists also. [213]Having regard to the role of taxis in providing an on-street immediate hire service, an exemption to the restriction relating to the use of with-flow bus lanes is allowed in respect of taxis when they are being used in the course of business.

Many requests have been received by my Department seeking to extend access to bus lanes to a wide range of other road users, including hackney and limousine operators, motorcyclists and drivers of cars with more than two occupants. A review of the access issue was carried out in 2001 and took account of the physical characteristics of the vehicles seeking access, including motorcycles. As part of that review the views of the director of traffic in Dublin City Council, the Dublin Transportation Office and the Garda Síochána were sought. All of those bodies suggested that there should be no change to the current position. That remains the position.

  114.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals for changing the minimum legal tyre tread depth of 1.6mm; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29062/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  Issues relating to tyre tread depth levels have been brought to my attention. I have no proposals at present to change the existing standard of 1.6mm.

  115.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    if, further to negotiations ongoing at EU level and with the US on the implementation of an open skies policy, he will commission an impact study on the effect such a policy will have on Shannon and Cork airports, in view of the experience of other states which have implemented a similar policy. [29497/05]

  238.  Mr. J. Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will sanction an impact study regarding the change of the bilateral agreement at Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29626/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 and 238 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to a similar question from Deputy Pat Breen on 4 October 2005, which I answered along with a question from Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. As I have said previously, I do not believe an impact study of the kind proposed is required. The restructuring of the State Airports, including Shannon, is intended to enhance their regional focus and I am encouraged by the close co-operation between [214]the new Shannon Airport Authority and the other regional development bodies in the area.

Work under way in my Department on a ten year transport investment framework will address the future infrastructural requirements of the mid-west region. The restructuring of the State Airports, including Shannon, will be progressed in the light of the assessment in due course, by both myself and the Minister for Finance, of the business plans which are currently under preparation by the three airport authorities. The development of an EU-US open skies regime provides many opportunities for Shannon Airport to contribute to the development of the mid-west. The liberalisation of the aviation market between the EU and US will mean more, not fewer, opportunities for Shannon to develop new routes into North America.

Finally, it has been the consistent policy of this Government that any change in transatlantic arrangements will be accompanied by an appropriate transitional arrangement to enable a smooth phasing in of open skies with the US in the future.

  116.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Transport    the bodies he will designate to enforce air passenger rights for disabled passengers as agreed at the EU Transport Council meeting of 6 October 2005; and when he will do so. [29064/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The October EU Transport Council agreed a general approach to this proposed regulation. The agreement of the European Parliament is also required and the EU Presidency is working closely with the Parliament with a view to reaching agreement in the first reading at Parliament. This would prepare the ground for its formal adoption at the December EU Transport Council.

I cannot designate an enforcement body until such time as the regulation is finally adopted and becomes law. The decision on designation of an enforcement authority will, of course, have to take account of the provision of the regulation as adopted.

Question No. 117 answered with Question
No. 90.

  118.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received any of the three reports into the bus tragedy in County Meath in May 2005; if so, the action he will take on foot of such reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28846/05]

  140.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he will take on foot of the report into [215]the school bus crash tragedy in Meath in May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29084/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 140 together.

Three separate inquiries were undertaken into the tragic school bus accident in County Meath, one by the Garda authorities, one on behalf of Bus Eireann and one by the Health and Safety Authority. I have not yet received a report from any of these inquiries.

  119.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will bring forward legislation on open road tolling. [29065/05]

  159.  Mr. McEntee    asked the Minister for Transport    if and when he will introduce legislation to permit electronic tolling; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties in the operation of electronic tolling in recent months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28828/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 and 159 together.

Automated toll collection is currently in use on existing toll plazas and will be used on all future toll schemes. Automated toll collection does not require legislation for its use. The automated toll collection systems currently in place, however, use a barrier as the main enforcement tool as toll operators do not consider the existing legislative arrangements robust enough to support a move to open road tolling.

Open road tolling, that is the collection of tolls by automated means in a barrier free environment, is, I consider, the optimal means of toll collection where the traffic volumes and toll revenues justify the investment required. My Department is, therefore, working on proposals for legislative amendments to strengthen the enforcement provisions relating to non-payment of tolls in an open road environment. I anticipate, subject to the other priorities on the legislative programme, that the draft legislation will be introduced early next year.

I assume that the difficulties the Deputy is referring to relate to the temporary layout changes implemented at the West Link plaza which provided for a second dedicated automated collection lane in each direction. I understand that the second lane was introduced as part of a campaign to encourage the migration to automated tolling in preparation for the progression of the West Link to a fully free flow automated toll collection system. The transition from the [216]current toll collection arrangements to a non-stop automated toll collection facility is planned to be implemented over a number of stages involving a phased reduction in the cashier or coin basket lanes with a corresponding increase in automated toll payments with the objective that the free flow arrangements will be in place to coincide with the completion of the M50 upgrade works.

However, I understand that the removal of the basket lane to provide the second automated lane had an adverse effect on traffic flow through the West Link plaza and NTR withdrew the second automated lane on 29 August 2005. The evidence from the unsuccessful attempt to convert to a second dedicated automated lane in each direction highlights one of the many challenges that lie ahead in migrating the West Link toll facility from its present predominantly cash payment configuration to a fully free flow automated toll collection system. It is anticipated that as the uptake of Eazypass increases, the introduction of a second automated lane will prove to be viable.

  120.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Transport    the details of recent EU negotiations to develop an open skies policy between the US and the EU; his proposals regarding the stopover at Shannon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28838/05]

  154.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the meeting of the Council of EU Transport Ministers on 6 October 2005; and the outcome of discussions on an EU-US open skies agreement. [29072/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 154 together.

The meeting of the Transport Council on 6 October 2005 unanimously agreed with the European Commission that the time was now right for the resumption of negotiations with the US. The previous talks had ended in a failure to reach agreement in June 2004. The main issues where agreement could not be reached were market access, ownership and control issues, and issues such as state aid and security.

However, since then, both sides have maintained contact at official level and have explored ideas that could lead to the reopening of official negotiations. The European Commissioner dealing with transport, Mr. Jacques Barrot, indicated that the US is considering unilateral moves on ownership and control, outside of the EU-US process, and that this could lead to movement in other areas and could bring about a real chance for success. Formal negotiations recommenced on 17 October 2005 in Brussels and Ireland has a [217]representative at those discussions. Another session is planned for Washington in November, with a view to bringing an agreement to the Transport Council on 5 December 2005 for approval.

As I have made clear to the House on many occasions, it is my clear intention that any such agreement will include an appropriate transitional arrangement for Shannon Airport to be agreed between Ireland and the US in the lead up to the conclusion of the EU-US deal.

Question No. 121 answered with Question
No. 93.

  122.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress being made with regard to the partial sale of Aer Lingus; when such a sale will occur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28836/05]

  142.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the sale of Aer Lingus; if he has decided on the method by which the State holding will be diluted; and the timescale to which he is working. [29080/05]

  250.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the future of Aer Lingus; if recent arrangements have been entered into in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29793/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 122, 142 and 250 together.

In its decision of 18 May, the Government agreed to the State disposing of a majority shareholding in Aer Lingus and retaining a stake of at least 25% to protect strategic interests, provided that both myself and the Minister for Finance are satisfied that this level of disposal is warranted on foot of the analysis prepared by the Departments’ advisers for the transaction. Following a competitive tender process, UBS and AIB Capital Markets were appointed to provide financial advice and assistance to both myself and the Minister for Finance on an Aer Lingus sale and-or investment transaction. William Fry Solicitors and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer were appointed as legal advisers for the assignment.

Work is already under way on phase 1 of the assignment which is expected to be completed by 1 December 2005. This phase involves recommending the most appropriate transaction mechanism, including advice on its size, type and timing, which will then be considered by myself and the Minister for Finance. Phase 2 of the advisers’ assignment will involve the execution of the chosen transaction.

[218]Question No. 123 answered with Question
No. 90.

  124.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Transport    if his Department has completed feasibility studies for the estimated cost of the ten year national strategic transport plan; if his Department’s findings exceed the previously proposed budget of €20 billion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26551/05]

  132.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    the outstanding issues that need to be resolved in the ten year strategic transport plan; and when he will finalise the project. [29061/05]

  134.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    the size of the capital envelope for transport projects over the next five years; and the extent to which this has been pre-empted by projects under the national development plan. [26680/05]

  136.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport,    in the context of the ten year plan for transport, the traffic modelling work he has commissioned to review the impact on traffic volumes of not proceeding with infrastructure developments promised under A Platform for Change and which were built into the environmental impact statements of already committed or part completed projects such as the widening of the M50. [29054/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 124, 132, 134 and 136 together.

The current five-year investment envelope for transport provides for capital expenditure of €10.15 billion over the 2005-09 period. I cannot comment on the level of funding to be made available for the ten-year transport investment framework until the Government has considered the matter. I hope to bring proposals to Government shortly.

The estimated overall funding requirement to implement the framework is based on the work carried out by the agencies and my Department to date. To identify the broad direction and priorities under the transport investment framework, my Department engaged with Córas Iompair Éireann, the Railway Procurement Agency, the National Roads Authority and the Dublin Transportation Office. The new framework will also take account of the various strategic studies already completed by my Department and its agencies, including A Platform for Change, the strategic rail review and the national road needs study, and of other proposals such as [219]Iarnród Éireann’s greater Dublin integrated rail network plan.

The framework will, of course, build on the work already completed or under way under the transport element of the current national development plan. Key transport priorities under the current NDP, such as the completion of the motorways linking Dublin to the provincial cities, will be provided for as part of the new framework.

In developing the framework, my Department asked the Dublin Transportation Office, DTO, to carry out transportation modelling on the impacts of a number of different scenarios to help assess the optimal mix of investments. Projects which are already committed to or are part completed, and which are likely to form part of the draft framework, were of course included in this exercise, in order to give a view of the overall impact of the proposed integrated transport network on traffic and travel behaviour. The draft framework is currently being finalised and is expected to be considered by Government shortly.

  125.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Transport    if the tendering process for the contracting of private sector driving testers is completed; when the successful tenderer will commence work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28819/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The tendering process has been completed and a preferred tenderer has been selected. However, the use of outsourcing as part of a package of measures to clear the backlog of driving test applications is being disputed by the staff associations, who have asked that the matter be referred to conciliation under the terms of Sustaining Progress. A conciliation hearing at the Labour Relations Commission is scheduled for 21 October 2005.

  126.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will transpose Directive 2002/15/EC and Directive 2002/85/EC into Irish law. [29074/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I expect to be in a position to make regulations transposing both the above mentioned directives into Irish law shortly.

  127.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will provide the data on the national development plan roads and transport spending in the Border, midlands and western region with a breakdown of the amounts originally proposed and those which have been spent. [29076/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the following table.

National Roads

Year Forecast Expenditure €m Actual Outturn €m
2000 190.80 188.10
2001 293.23 236.90
2002 374.34 182.31
2003 382.38 186.80
2004 389.66 354.75
2005 415.49 413.13*
Total 2,045.90 1,547.38

A sum of €10.16 million is committed for the four regional airports in the BMW region under the regional airports measure of the Border, midland and western, BMW, regional operational programme of the National Development Plan 2000-2006. The four airports in question are Donegal, Sligo, Knock and Galway. To date, the Department has paid out grants totalling €6.8 million under the BMW measure, as shown in the following table.

Airports Sligo Knock Galway* Donegal Totals
€000 €000 €000 €000 €000
2001 182 303 288 0 773
2002 470 0 728 253 1,451
2003 239 2,031 945 718 3,933
2004 9 0 * 0 9
2005 56 45 539 0 640
Totals 956 2,379 2,500 971 6,806

[221][221]The following table shows actual investment versus forecast in the BMW region by year during the period of the NDP.

Year Forecast Expenditure Actual Outturn
€ million € million
2000 97.123 59.615
2001 104.701 59.822
2002 100.365 38.305
2003 92.033 48.236
2004 28.780 28.780
Total 423.002 234.758

  128.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will commission a comprehensive study to ascertain the comparable overall costs to the State of rail freight vis-à-vis road freight, and the merits or flaws in providing a State subsidy to encourage the use of rail freight; the reason an adequate analysis was not conducted as part of the strategic rail review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29087/05]

  130.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    the option he is pursuing as policy of the four which were presented for rail freight in the strategic rail review. [29085/05]

  162.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Transport    the response he has had from the private sector regarding increasing the amount of freight transported by rail; and the policy initiatives he will take as a result. [29056/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 128, 130 and 162 together.

It is my policy that Irish Rail should remain in the rail freight business. The strategic rail review, commissioned by my Department and published in 2003, contained a comprehensive examination of the rail freight business and its realistic potential to support economic development and contribute to a sustainable environment. The Irish Rail business plan was developed against the background of the options contained in the strategic rail review, using a strategy with regard to freight which is to: break even by 2006; increase the profitability of the existing profitable business; withdraw from those businesses that are heavily loss making; target trainload container traffic.

In formulating this plan, Irish Rail held wide ranging consultations with business interests around the country to identify those freight activities which are best suited to rail transport. [222]In delivering this strategy the company has made good progress in growing the rail freight business in areas where it holds a competitive advantage over road haulage, such as in the carriage of sugar beet, cement and pulpwood. Irish Rail continues to pursue a policy of growing its rail freight business where opportunities present. However, as in all businesses, it must adjust the freight business from time to time to reflect changes in the market place.

It remains my priority that any additional Exchequer subvention should focus on expanding passenger services to meet the continuing unmet demand for such services, in seeking to address the adverse social and economic impacts caused by traffic congestion.

As I stated in the Dail on a previous occasion, in accordance with Directive 2004/51/EC the market for international rail freight services will be opened from 1 January 2006. This will enable any railway undertaking established in the EU, whether publicly or privately owned, to provide international freight services on the existing Irish rail network. From 1 January 2007, the domestic freight market will be opened. Under the proposed arrangements CIE, as the owner of the rail network, will be entitled to recoup the costs associated with allowing access to its network. In preparation for market opening, my Department is open to discussions with any interested operator.

My Department has received a recent communication from an international operator outlining its intentions to seek to carry out freight operations in the Irish freight market.

Question No. 129 answered with Question
No. 104.

Question No. 130 answered with Question
No. 128.

Question No. 131 answered with Question
No. 90.

Question No. 132 answered with Question
No. 124.

  133.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on his recent meetings with staff associations representing driving testers; the reason such meetings did not occur prior to the tendering process for private sector operators for the driving test service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28843/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department and the Department of Finance agreed a package of measure to reduce the backlog of driving test applications in April this year. The package includes a bonus scheme for driver testers, the recruitment of additional testers as well as the outsourcing of a block of tests. Details of the package were notified to the testers’ union, IMPACT, in late April 2005 and to other unions in May 2005. Consultations on the package commenced shortly afterwards with IMPACT.

The tendering process for a contract to conduct driving tests commenced in June 2005. The closing date for receipt of tenders was 5 September 2005. Although the position was outlined at departmental council, detailed consultation with staff, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 21.12 of Sustaining Progress, on the effect such outsourcing might have on their work could not proceed until such time as the details of the preferred tender were available. My officials have already had preliminary meetings with two of the staff associations in this context.

The purpose of my recent meeting with the staff associations, following a disappointing lack of uptake of a generous bonus scheme offered to driver testers, was to stress my commitment to the package on offer and to offer assurances to the staff that the outsourcing option was a once off response to deal with the unacceptable delays in obtaining a driving test that would not impact on their terms and conditions and was not intended as a precursor to outsourcing of the driver testing service. Regrettably the use of outsourcing is being disputed by the staff associations, who have asked that the matter be referred to conciliation under the terms of Sustaining Progress. A conciliation hearing at the Labour Relations Commission is scheduled for 21 October 2005.

Question No. 134 answered with Question
No. 124.

  135.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    the date in October 2005 from which the promised new on-the-spot fines, the mandatory fitting of digital tachographs and the special discs for legitimate hauliers will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28826/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  Section 16 of the Road Transport Act 1999 provides for an on-the-spot fine in lieu of prosecution for offences under the Road Transport Acts and EU regulations on drivers’ hours and rest periods. The commencement of [224]this section has been the subject of discussions with the Attorney General’s office and the advice now is that a new provision in primary legislation will be required to ensure compatability with current fixed penalty charges legislation before this section can be brought into effect. I will take the opportunity to deal with this matter in legislation when a suitable opportunity arises.

The commencement order to introduce the provisions of sections 4 to 8 of the Road Transport Act 1999, relating to the introduction of the transport disks, came into force on 30 September last. My Department will issue disks to all current licence holders in the coming weeks. Once issued, it shall be illegal for the holder of a road freight carrier’s licence, a road passenger transport operator’s licence or a community licence, to operate a vehicle for hire or reward unless that vehicle is displaying the transport disk issued in respect of the vehicle in question.

The current date for the compulsory fitting of digital tachographs on all new buses and lorries within the EU is 1 January 2006. However, a deferral of this date is still the subject of discussion between the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission.

My Department will shortly be able to support those companies planning to introduce digital tachographs in advance of the compulsory requirements. I expect to make in the coming weeks the necessary statutory orders for the introduction of the digital technology, including the issue of driver cards, company cards, workshop cards and enforcement cards as required under EU law. The necessary technical arrangements for this are now in place. Once the necessary orders are made, the Department will commence the issue of such cards as the demand arises from the industry.

My Department will continue to support existing buses and lorries using analogue tachographs until analogue technology is phased out over the coming years.

Question No. 136 answered with Question
No. 124.

Question No. 137 answered with Question
No. 104.

Question No. 138 answered with Question
No. 109.

  139.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the outcome of the Dublin Bus network review requested by him; the implications of this review in terms of the pro[225]vision of additional buses to Dublin Bus to meet expanding demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28827/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Priority Question No. 83 which I have answered today.

Question No. 140 answered with Question
No. 118.

  141.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has satisfied himself that the underpayment by National Toll Roads to his Department, as highlighted in the recent Comptroller and Auditor General’s Annual Report 2004, will not be repeated; the reforms that have been put in place to prevent such a reoccurrence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28837/05]

  164.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he has taken to improve monitoring arrangements in his Department in view of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the loss of €2 million to NTR; and the way in which his Department failed to identify the accounting error. [29081/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 141 and 164 together.

In the context of a review of the West Link bridge agreement, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General discovered an underpayment in the licence fee due to the State under the West Link bridge agreement in respect of the years 2002 and 2003.

The background to the underpayment is that under the West Link bridge agreement, a licence fee, also referred to as the State’s share of the gross toll revenue, is payable to the Exchequer. For the years 2002 and 2003, and in the context of the introduction of VAT on tolls, a credit was negotiated as part of the agreement relating to the second West Link bridge, whereby NTR would be repaid the cost of not increasing toll levels through a reduction in the licence fee payable. This credit should have been added to the gross toll revenue, GTR, before calculating the licence fee in accordance with the definition of GTR included in the 2001 supplemental agreement. This was not done by NTR and was not picked up by NTR’s auditor KPMG, the National Roads Authority, NRA, or the Department. The checking arrangements in place in the Department had not been adjusted to take account of this definition of GTR included in the 2001 supplemental agreement. The effect of not including [226]the credit as part of the GTR was to understate the amount payable to the State.

As soon as the underpayment was discovered in July 2005, the matter was immediately taken up with NTR, through the NRA as party to the West Link bridge agreement. NTR reviewed the calculation of the licence fee payment in respect of 2002 and 2003 and accepted that an underpayment occurred which was calculated as €1,863,236. NTR paid this amount to my Department in July together with interest penalties in respect of the late payment amounting to €73,314, that is, a total payment of €1,936,550.

The error which occurred was related to the special arrangement put in place for a limited period of two years and which is unlikely to recur. Nevertheless, the procedures for checking and validating the licence fee in NTR, the NRA and within my Department should have prevented the occurrence of the underpayment. A thorough review of those procedures is being finalised.

The objective of the review is to ensure that the correct licence fee is received by the State in all circumstances.

Question No. 142 answered with Question
No. 122.

Question No. 143 answered with Question
No. 94.

Question No. 144 answered with Question
No. 90.

  145.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the proposal from the National Pensions Reserve Fund to buy the Dublin Port tunnel and finance the building of the eastern bypass around Dublin. [29068/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department has received no proposals from the National Pensions Reserve Fund to buy the Dublin Port tunnel or to fund the building of an eastern bypass around Dublin.

  146.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    the role his Department has had regarding the establishment of a new traffic management system in Dublin city centre following the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29486/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Traffic management in the city centre and in the vicinity of Dublin Port is a matter for Dublin City Council. In parallel with the opening to traffic of the Dublin Port tunnel, Dublin City Council will [227]be introducing a heavy goods vehicle traffic management strategy to ensure that maximum traffic benefits are secured from the Dublin Port tunnel.

My Department’s formal role will be to put in place the necessary regulatory framework relating to traffic and parking management and road signage to support the strategy. In addition, my Department will continue to liaise with Dublin City Council as the strategy is finalised so that I may be assured that the primary objective of the Dublin Port tunnel — that is, to provide a high-quality access route to Dublin Port for heavy goods vehicles — is achieved in a manner that maximises the overall traffic benefit of the tunnel.

  147.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Transport    his target date for the full expansion of the penalty points system; and when he will be making legislative provision for this expansion. [29052/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The extension of the penalty points system to additional road traffic offences will be progressively commenced once the appropriate Garda Síochána IT processing system is fully operational and related administrative supports are in place. I will make the necessary statutory instruments at that point.

The delivery of the IT and related measures are matters for the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, respectively, and my officials are continuing to work with their counterparts in those agencies to expedite matters as much as possible.

Question No. 148 answered with Question
No. 90.

  149.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the fact that Ireland ranks seventh in the EU-15 on the basis of road deaths per 100,000 of population; his views on the fact that Ireland is the only country in the European Union where road deaths are steadily increasing; the efforts his Department and others with responsibility for road safety are making to reduce the number of deaths on roads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29484/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Comparisons with the best performing countries in the European Union can be made by examining the number of road deaths per 100,000 population for 2002, the most recent year for which comparisons [228]are available. The road fatality rate in Ireland in 2002 was 9.6 per 100,000 population, which placed Ireland in seventh place among the then 15 member states of the European Union. The best performing countries were the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands. The fatality rates in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands were 6.1, 6.0 and 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 population, respectively.

A recent press release issued by the ECMT showed the increase in fatalities in 2004 on 2003 in European and OECD countries. Ireland experienced a 13.1% increase during that period, which was the highest increase amongst western European countries. It should be noted, however, that 2003 saw the lowest number of road deaths in 40 years in Ireland.

The new Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 outlines a range of issues that it is intended will be pursued over that period. In overall terms, measures will continue to focus on the areas of education, enforcement, engineering and legislation and will target the key areas of speeding, driving while intoxicated and seat belt wearing.

The primary target of the new Government strategy on road safety is to realise a 25% reduction in road collision fatalities by the end of 2006 over the average annual number of fatalities in the period 1998 to 2003. Achievement of the target will result in no more than 300 deaths per annum by the end of the period of the strategy. My Department, the other Departments and agencies involved in the pursuit of road safety policies will continue to positively promote initiatives aimed at meeting that demanding target.

The overall aim of our road safety policy is to bring our record more into line with experience in the better performing states in the European Union. Meeting the target established in the road safety strategy will also assist in the achievement of the longer-term EU target of a 50% reduction in road deaths across the Union by 2010.

  150.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress to date on reaching a bilateral agreement with the UK authorities on mutual recognition of penalty points. [29077/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The North-South work programme, which was agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council, included a commitment to examine the mutual recognition of penalty points between the Republic of Ireland and the North. However, in addition to the fact that separate penalty points systems operate in the two jurisdictions on this island, the system [229]that operates in Northern Ireland differs from that applying in Great Britain. For that reason, it was agreed, early in 2003, that it would be more appropriate to pursue the question of mutual recognition of penalty points on the basis of the operation of the three systems and that it would also be more appropriate that it would be dealt with under the auspices of the British-Irish Council, BIC. As Northern Ireland has the lead role for transport matters in the BIC, the authorities in that jurisdiction are taking the lead in considering this issue.

The development of a system of mutual recognition of penalty points presents complex legal questions and will require the negotiation of a bilateral agreement between the two Governments and probably the passage of primary legislation to support such an agreement. For that reason, my Department has sought and obtained the advice of the Office of the Attorney General regarding this issue. It will inform future consideration of the issue.

  151.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    the position in respect of the EU proposal for a centralised blacklist of EU airlines; the way in which he will reconcile the differences of opinion expressed by the Irish Aviation Authority and his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29059/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  This proposed regulation is being pursued vigorously at the Transport Council working group in Brussels. It is recognised to be an important additional measure to safeguard passengers, bearing in mind the series of tragic aircraft accidents this year. My Department has been participating positively in this work.

The EU Presidency is also working closely with the European Parliament with a view to reaching agreement in the first reading at Parliament. This would prepare the ground for its formal adoption at the December Transport Council.

I presume the Deputy is referring to a recent newspaper article that stated the Irish Aviation Authority rejected the blacklist plan. I do not know what gave rise to that article. There are no differences between the authority and my Department which has been consulting closely with the authority in the course of preparing Ireland’s position at the transport working group discussions in Brussels.

Question No. 152 answered with Question
No. 87.

[230]Question No. 153 answered with Question
No. 104.

Question No. 154 answered with Question
No. 120.

  155.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    if, in the interests of road safety, he is satisfied that hedgerows on roads across Ireland are being sufficiently maintained to ensure that the roads are safe for pedestrians and cyclists; the person responsible for the cutting of hedgerows; the role of his Department and that of the local authorities with regard to this aspect of road safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29483/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The improvement and maintenance of national roads is the responsibility of the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the local authorities concerned. The improvement and maintenance of non-national roads is a matter for local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Section 70 of the Roads Act 1993 obliges landowners and occupiers of land to take all necessary care to ensure that shrubs, hedges or any other vegetation on their land are not or could not become a danger to road users.

Section 70 also empowers a local authority, where it considers that a hazard exists, to serve a notice on a landowner or occupier of land requiring action to be taken to remove the danger or potential danger. The local authority itself can carry out the works specified in the notice in any case where the person on whom the notice was served fails to comply with it. The authority may also carry out additional works which it considers necessary. Where there is an immediate and serious risk to road users, the local authority can act at once — without serving notice — to remove or reduce the danger. In either case, the local authority may recover the cost of the works from the landowner or occupier.

I am satisfied that these powers enable local authorities to take necessary action in respect of roadside obstructions. In addition to the foregoing, I understand that some local authorities undertake hedge cutting as part of their road maintenance activities.

  156.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the waiting period for a driving test in each of the driving test centres; if the situation is [231]improving; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28995/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table:

Applications on hand — 10 October 2005 Average weeks waiting Longest weeks waiting
North Leinster
Finglas 31 43
Dundalk 36 41
Mullingar 34 41
Navan 45 52
Raheny 26 60
South Leinster
Churchtown-Rathgar 36 49
Gorey 46 58
Naas 27 40
Tullamore 41 56
Wicklow 41 52
Tallaght 41 52
West
Athlone 19 23
Birr 26 38
Castlebar 27 30
Clifden 32 32
Ennis 24 31
Galway 35 43
Loughrea 24 28
Roscommon 28 32
Tuam 26 35
North west
Ballina 21 37
Buncrana 32 32
Carrick-on-Shannon 18 25
Cavan 28 31
Donegal 35 40
Letterkenny 23 43
Longford 24 31
Monaghan 26 32
Sligo 30 36
South east
Carlow 26 43
Clonmel 41 52
Dungarvan 44 56
Kilkenny 23 30
Nenagh 40 40
Portlaoise 41 59
Thurles 45 52
Tipperary 41 58
Waterford 33 39
Wexford 31 36
South west
Cork 23 32
Killarney 31 42
Kilrush 27 29
Limerick 28 42
Mallow 35 42
Newcastle West 31 38
Shannon 39 44
Skibbereen 40 44
Tralee 25 34

  157.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is practically impossible for a person in a wheelchair to have access to a wheelchair accessible taxi; the way in which this reflects on the commitment given by the Government in 2001 at the point of deregulation of the taxi fleet that from 2003 a process would start whereby all taxis would become wheelchair accessible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29487/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The operation and licensing of wheelchair accessible taxis and their drivers is controlled through the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations 1963 to 2002. The Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations 1998 — SI 47 of 1998 — set out the vehicle requirements for wheelchair accessible taxis. These regulations also make it clear that a space for a wheelchair and its occupant must be available in a wheelchair accessible taxi at all times while the vehicle is standing and plying for hire. Enforcement of this requirement is the responsibility of the Garda Síochána.

A specific objective of the Commission for Taxi Regulation is to promote access to small public service vehicles by persons with disabilities. In this regard the commission is tasked with the determination of future policy on accessible taxis.

The commission has recently completed a public consultation process on the development of a new code for the regulation of small public service vehicles, including wheelchair accessible taxis and their drivers. Following that consultative process, the commission now intends to improve accessibility through new regulations involving improved standards of accessibility, increased availability of accessible vehicles, improved driver awareness and training, and improved information and infrastructure provision. The commission proposes to commence putting these measures in place from 2006 on a phased basis.

  158.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of warning letters in each of the years since and including 2002 which he has received from the EU Commission in respect of his Department’s failure to transpose EU legislation into Irish law; the particular legislation in each case; if that legislation has since been trans[234]posed into Irish law; if it is still outstanding; if still outstanding, the date by which it was meant to have been transposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29075/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table. Where transposition has not yet been undertaken, I expect to be in a position to do so shortly.

Subject Years letters received Number of Letters Transposed If outstanding, date it was due to be transposed
Council Directive 98/20/EC of 30 March 1998 amending Directive 92/14/EEC on the limitation of the operation of aeroplanes covered by Part II, Chapter 2, Volume 1 of Annex 16 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 2002 1 14 May 2003
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 2004
2005
1
1
31 May 2005
Council Directive 2000/79/EC of 27 November 2000 concerning the European Agreement on the Organisation of Working Time of Mobile Workers in Civil Aviation concluded by the Association of European Airlines (AEA), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), the European Cockpit Association (ECA), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Carrier Association (IACA) 2004
2005
2
1
1 Dec 2003
Directive 2003/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 June 2003 on occurrence reporting in civil aviation 2005 1 4 July 2005
Directive 2000/9/EC on Cableway Installations Designed to Carry Persons 2002 1 3 Oct 2005
Directive 2002/15 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 on the organisation of the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities 2005 1 23 March 2005
Directive 2000/56 of 14 Sept 2000 amending Council Directive 91/439/EEC on driving licences 2004 1 10 Nov 2004
Directive 96/48/EC of 23 July 1996 on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system 2002 1 28 March 2002
Directive 2001/16/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19th March 2001 on the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system 2003 1 18 Feb 2004
Directive 2001/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 amending Council Directive 91/440/EEC on the development of the Community’s railways 2003 1 3 Nov 2003
Directive 2001/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 amending Council Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings 2003 1 3 Nov 2003
Directive 2001/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification 2003 1 28 July 2004
Directive 2000/30/EC relating to random technical roadside inspection of commercial vehicles 2002 1 6 June 2003
Directive 2002/85/EC relating to the installation and use of speed limiters in certain categories of motor vehicles 2005 1 1 January 2005
Directive 2000/26/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 May 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles and amending Council Directives 1973/239/EEC and 1988/357/EEC (Fourth motor insurance Directive) 2002 1 27 Nov 2003

[235]Question No. 159 answered with Question
No. 119.

  160.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on his plans to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector. [22335/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Ireland has international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, GHGs. GHGs from the transport sector are comprised almost entirely of carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of petrol and diesel, on which the transport sector is heavily dependent.

The national climate change strategy, NCCS, which was published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2000, sets out a broad package of policies and measures aimed at achieving national Kyoto targets, a number of which relate to transport. That Department chairs the interdepartmental climate change team in which my Department actively participates. The team is charged with overseeing the package of measures outlined in the NCCS.

A number of developments have taken place since the NCCS was adopted, including the commencement of emissions trading and the decision last year not to proceed with the introduction of a carbon tax. In light of these, and wider economic developments that impact on the achievement of emission reductions, the NCCS is currently under review. The adequacy of existing policies and [236]measures, including those in the transport sector, is central to this review.

My Department is already proactive in pursuing a variety of measures to promote fuel efficiency, modal shift and demand management measures outlined in the NCCS. These include the provision of significantly improved public transport services to encourage modal shift away from the private car and towards public transport. My Department’s forthcoming ten year transport investment framework will focus on delivering a substantial improvement in bus and rail services nationally. My Department is also providing significant financial and other support for a range of traffic management initiatives, including bus priority and the provision of facilities for cycling and walking.

It is recognised internationally that the achievement of emission reductions in the transport sector represents a significant challenge, particularly in the context of the strong economic growth Ireland has experienced in recent years. Nevertheless, in recognition of the contribution of transport to GHGs, my Department is committed to working with the climate change team to examine the scope for the development of additional policies to reduce the level of GHGs from the transport sector in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way.

  161.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Transport    if consideration will be given to amending the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) [237]Order 1952, in order to make it a legal requirement that permission for foreign military aircraft to overfly or land in the State be based on the aircraft being unarmed; not carrying arms, ammunition or explosives; not being engaged in intelligence gathering; not taking part in military exercises or operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27058/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, the regulation of foreign military aircraft is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Under the order the Minister for Foreign Affairs has no obligation to approve any overflights or landings and may impose any conditions that he sees fit. The Minister for Foreign Affairs normally imposes all of the conditions mentioned in the question. Consequently, I do not believe an amendment of the order is necessary to make it a legal requirement for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to impose these restrictions.

Question No. 162 answered with Question
No. 128.

Question No. 163 answered with Question
No. 90.

Question No. 164 answered with Question
No. 141.

  165.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    further to his recent meeting with the Retired Aviation Staff Association in regard to the potential shortfall of over €336 million in the staff pension fund, his proposals to address this matter. [29070/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I met with representatives of the Retired Aviation Staff Association most recently on 29 June 2005. Since that meeting, a further actuarial evaluation of the Irish airlines, general employees, superannuation scheme was made available in August 2005. The results of that evaluation showed that without provision for future indexation of pensions, the scheme has a surplus of €140 million. However, if provision is made for future indexation of pensions, the scheme has a potential deficit of €336 million.

As I have said in the House previously, pension entitlements for employees of commercial State bodies, including Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, are matters primarily for the trustee, the members of the relevant scheme and the company or companies involved. The State is not involved in the funding of these schemes.

I appreciate that members of the Retired Aviation Staff Association have genuine concerns [238]regarding their pensions. My Department has asked the companies to jointly examine the issues arising in regard to the pension scheme.

  166.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals to introduce a compulsory training scheme for motorbike users. [29067/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 stated that compulsory initial practical training for motorcyclists would be introduced. A working group comprising motorcycle interests has been considering the appropriate standards that will apply in this area and the standards that instructors must comply with. Overseeing the introduction of such training will be the responsibility of the proposed Road Safety Authority.

Primary legislation is necessary to facilitate the introduction of compulsory initial practical training for motorcyclists and I propose to include the appropriate amendment on Committee Stage of the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004.

  167.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on the approach to project governance and project management by health sector staff; the concerns raised regarding health sector staff by a private consultant (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29795/05]

  192.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views regarding the approach to project governance and project management by health sector staff; her further views on the circumstance in which claims were made by a private consultant to her Department which gave rise to serious concerns being expressed by the Department of Finance in a letter of 13 September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29807/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 167 and 192 together.

The Secretary General of my Department has brought to the attention of the chief executive officer of the HSE the concerns that he shares with the Department of Finance in regard to IT governance generally within the HSE. The Secretary General met with the HSE and the Department of Finance on 18 October to progress these issues.

I also understand that the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is carrying out an examination of the PPARS project, is looking into the [239]specific governance arrangements for that project.

The HSE has indicated that robust project management and project governance arrangements are in place in the FISP project since its inception. In total, the HSE has deployed a project management structure comprising: a project sponsor, a project director, a national project manager, six national team leaders and two area project managers. In addition, a project board chaired by a CEO of a health board and representative of all key stakeholders led the project during 2003-2004. In 2005, responsibility for the project rests with the HSE director of finance.

The Government, on 11 October 2005, decided on a new system for the management and control of major ICT projects, and a number of new measures to improve the management of consultancies, and I will be ensuring that these, together with any governance recommendations from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s examination, will be rigorously followed in the health sector.

The private consultant concerned was working as a consultant for the HSE on the FISP project and he contacted my Department about the concerns raised by the Department of Finance about that project. He was informed that my Department only deals with the national director ICT on these matters and that all issues should be dealt with through these channels. The Department of Finance and the national director ICT were also informed.

  168.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has sanctioned atypical travel and subsistence expenditures relating to the PPARS or FISP projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29796/05]

  195.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has approved or if her attention has been drawn to the atypical travel and subsistence travel expenditures related to the PPARS or FISP projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29810/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 and 195 together.

I have been advised of the following by the Health Service Executive: regarding PPARS, travel and subsistence arrangements-expenditure are in accordance with standard circulars and guidelines; regarding FISP, all FISP travel and subsistence is fully vouched and paid in accordance with Civil Service rates.

  169.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding funds granted to the National Federation of Arch Clubs; and if she will give it maximum support in 2005 and 2006. [29802/05]

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.

  170.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she still plans to move the Central Mental Hospital to the new Mountjoy Prison site in view of the fact that there is strong opposition among hospital staff and the Irish College of Psychiatrists to the move; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29832/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  In 2003, the Minister for Health and Children established a project team to critically examine all options for the redevelopment of the Central Mental Hospital. Several options, including the option of remaining in Dundrum, were examined under the various criteria, including clinical quality and strategic fit, cost in capital and revenue, timescale, future demands, integrated services, accessibility and safety and security. The team reported to the Department of Health and Children in May 2004 and recommended that the Central Mental Hospital be relocated to a new purpose built facility in the greater Dublin area, as this was judged to be the most appropriate option for delivery of patient care.

The Government has decided in principle that the new hospital will be developed on the Thornton Hall site, adjacent to the new prison. A total of 97% of admissions to the Central Mental Hospital come from within the Prison Service. The new Central Mental Hospital will be a health facility, providing a therapeutic forensic psychiatric service to the highest international standards in a state-of-the-art building. It is intended to develop the Central Mental Hospital independently of the prison complex by means of a separate capital development project, managed and directed by the Health Service Executive. The hospital will not be part of the prison complex but will have its own grounds with a separate entrance, access road and address. It will remain under the aegis of the Department of Health and [241]Children and will be owned and managed by the Health Service Executive.

  171.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29554/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department has only been involved in a small number of contracts for which payments have been made since 1997. Details of two of these — both since 2000 — were included in a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 343 tabled by Deputy Gilmore yesterday, 18 October 2005. These related to a “membership licence” for the research services of the company concerned.

This was a subscription based service and allowed one reference seat for research resources such as research papers produced by the company. It allowed access to ICT research advice such as strategic analysis reports, research libraries and direct access to the company’s analyst staff by phone or e-mail. The costs involved for these two contracts amounted to €11,374.

The remainder of the information requested by the Deputy going back to 1997 is contained in files which are now stored off-site. The details of this information are being retrieved and a comprehensive reply will be forwarded to the Deputy shortly.

  172.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29569/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Payments made by my Department to the firm in question during the period 1997 to date, relate solely to work undertaken by the firm in regard to the civil registration modernisation programme. The work undertaken relates primarily to the development of and support for the information technology system required to support the modernisation programme.

The civil registration modernisation programme was a programme of work undertaken jointly by my Department and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. One of the main elements of the programme was the development of an information technology system for electronic registration of life events and sharing of [242]registration data. The programme was overseen by a steering committee with representatives from a number of Departments and agencies and was managed by a programme management group which reported to the steering committee.

The procurement exercise for the appointment of consultants to develop the computer system was undertaken by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. I understand that the procurement exercise was carried out in accordance with EU and Department of Finance requirements.

Moneys in respect of this contract were paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to the firm in question during 2001 and 2002, and my Department, as the ultimate owner of the new system, took over responsibility for payments in respect of the contract in 2003. The total amount paid by my Department in 2003 was €1,271,662.40.

The civil registration information technology system went live in the former Southern Health Board region in late 2003 and was subsequently rolled out to all other former health boards during 2004. The system has brought considerable benefits to members of the public and other Departments and public bodies. The registration of life events and production of certificates is now electronic and the time taken to complete these transactions has been significantly reduced.

Data are passed electronically from the General Register Office, GRO, to the Department of Social and Family Affairs for the purpose of processing claims and payments for child benefit. As a result, the processing time for child benefit applications has been reduced from 20 days to two days. This process is further enhanced by the transfer of births data electronically from maternity hospitals to the GRO, and the electronic allocation of PPS numbers in respect of newly registered births.

Deaths data are made available to all public bodies through REACH via the inter-agency messaging service. This is of considerable value to public bodies in managing schemes such as medical cards, pensions and so on. Statistical data are also transferred electronically to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and this greatly improves the ability of the CSO to manage, analyse and report such data which are essential for public policy and planning.

A further contract was subsequently entered into by my Department with the same firm for the provision of support and maintenance and for minor enhancements to the civil registration computer system. This contract was awarded following a competitive tendering process which was carried out in accordance with EU and Department of Finance procurement rules. The contract is for the period 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2005. The amounts paid to date to the firm in question are as follows: in 2004, €560,457.60; and in 2005, €491,219.28.

[243]The civil registration modernisation programme has been recognised nationally and internationally as an excellent example of best practice in public administration and has received awards from the EU, the European Institute of Public Administration, the Wall Street Journal and Computerworld magazine. I am satisfied that the modernisation programme has resulted in a greatly improved service to the public and to public service organisations and represents value for money.

  173.  Mr. Curran    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of persons in Dublin Mid-West constituency who have been treated under the national treatment purchase fund in recent years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29583/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to the operation of the national treatment purchase fund, my Department has asked the chief executive of the fund to respond to the Deputy in regard to the information requested.

  174.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the policy of relocation of persons with intellectual disabilities from mental hospitals to more appropriate locations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29584/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The data from the national intellectual disability database for 2005 published on 29 September 2005 identify 396 individuals with intellectual disability, all aged 20 years or over, accommodated in psychiatric hospitals, which is a decrease of 78 since 2004.

In 2005, €2.5 million was allocated for the relocation of persons with intellectual disabilities from mental hospitals to more appropriate locations. In addition, a multi-annual investment programme was introduced to support the development of high priority disability sector support services over the period 2006 to 2009. This included an extra €2 million each year to cover the cost of additional staffing needed to transfer persons with a disability-autism from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements.

  175.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in refunding persons for illegal nursing home charges under the national repayment [244]scheme; and when all outstanding moneys will be refunded. [29585/05]

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 for publicly funded residential care. However, full details of the scheme have yet to be finalised. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that an outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be engaged by it in November to provide an independent input into the design and administration of the scheme. It is my intention to have legislation brought before the Oireachtas in the next parliamentary session and to have repayments commencing shortly after the Bill is approved and signed into law.

  176.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an operation for a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29587/05]

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. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has been told that they will have to wait two and a half to three years for an outpatient’s appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon at Cork University Hospital; and the reason for the contract in that service and the private service which has informed this person that they could be seen almost immediately in the same hospital on a private basis. [29588/05]

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.

  178.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her Department, the health service area and St. Ita’s Hospital will work together in order to assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [29589/05]

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.

  179.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of complaints received regarding child abuse in the years 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29590/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  Complaints received by the health authorities in regard to child abuse include emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect. The information sought is contained in the following table.

Year Total
2001 5,994
2002 8,421
2003 6,336
2004 Not yet available

  180.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the discussions, advice or information she has had on the establishment of private hospitals in the grounds of public hospitals in the past 12 months; the number of occasions on which she and her advisers had these meetings; the person with whom she has had these discussions in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29591/05]

  182.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the persons she has met in the past 12 months in regard to the development of private hospitals on public hospital sites; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29593/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 182 together.

In the last year, I have had numerous meetings with many people in my office in Dublin and throughout the country where the development of private facilities on public hospital grounds was raised and discussed, often as part of wide ranging agendas. Among them, I have met consultants and management at Waterford Regional Hospital, consultants at Limerick Regional Hospital and members of the Limerick Hospital Trust, members of the board and management of St. James’s Hospital, consultants and management at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, the promoters of the Beacon Clinic and Hospital, and representatives of the management of the Mater Private Hospital.

Since the issue has often been raised in the context of other discussions, it is not feasible to look back through all meetings and occasions where discussions might have taken place or advice or information was offered.

  181.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the grave situation which continues to obtain at the cystic fibrosis centre of St. Vincent’s Hospital (details supplied); if, in view of this, the long needed recommendations of Pollack and others for over nine years will be implemented in 2005 as she stated in Dáil Éireann on 21 June 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29592/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Deputy is aware that, following the publication of the Pollock report, commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, the Health Service Executive established a multi-disciplinary working group to review the current configuration and delivery of services to persons with cystic fibrosis in Ireland. The working group is also to make recommendations for the reconfiguration, improvement and development of those services. I understand that the work of the group is at an advanced stage.

With regard to the services for cystic fibrosis patients at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, I understand that the HSE has recently made additional funding available to the hospital to implement short-term measures to alleviate some of the pressures, including the provision of additional staff and additional space. Finally, I have arranged to meet with representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Association towards the end of this month to discuss the future needs of persons with cystic fibrosis.

[247]Question No. 182 answered with Question
No. 180.

  183.  Mr. Perry    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the drastic cutback in the medical screen programme in national schools at which examinations were carried out on pupils in junior and senior infants, and second class and sixth class; her plans to revert to the old scheme as many children’s health issues were identified under this scheme (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29678/05]

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.

  184.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    why BreastCheck is not available in counties Cork and Kerry; and when she proposes to extend this vital service to these counties. [29682/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  BreastCheck, the national breast screening programme, commenced in 2000 and covers the eastern, north-eastern, midland and part of the south-eastern regions of the country. The roll out of the national breast screening programme to the remaining regions in the country is a major priority in the development of cancer services.

A design team has been appointed to work up detailed plans for two new BreastCheck clinical units, one at the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital, Cork, and one at University College Hospital, Galway. It is anticipated that, subject to obtaining satisfactory planning approval, the design process, including the preparation of the tender documentation, will be completed by mid-2006. Approximately €21 million capital funding has been made available and my Department is in discussions with BreastCheck about the revenue requirements for the programme.

There are approximately 45,000 women in the target population for screening in counties Cork and Kerry and it is expected that screening will commence in these counties in 2007. The national expansion of the programme will ensure that all women in the 50 to 64 age group in every county have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where appropriate.

[248]Any woman irrespective of her age or residence who has immediate concerns or symptoms should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area.

  185.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the funding that has been allocated to the Disabled Drivers Association for each of the past five years; the details of the category such as capital, staffing, administration and so on. [29703/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Disabled Drivers Association obtains no central State or national lottery funding but receives payment on a per capita basis from the Health Service Executive for all individuals receiving training from it. The Disabled Drivers Association receives its training funding from FÁS.

  186.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if consideration has been given to the pre-budget submission 2006 launched by the Disability Federation of Ireland; the actions open to her Department in response to the submission in consultation with other Departments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29718/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The Disability Federation of Ireland pre-budget submission 2006 has been received by the Department of Health and Children and is being considered in the context of the 2006 Estimates process.

  187.  Mr. Costello    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the proposed cost of the new hospital at Eccles Street adjacent to the Mater Hospital; the amount already spent on the project since the Government approval in 1999; the reason for the delay in starting the construction work; the expected date for completion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29720/05]

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 is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to [249]arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  188.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the situation in which bureaucratic interference in an essential medical care case nearly cost an elderly person their leg, if not their life; her views on whether doctors and consultants should be making all decisions regarding patients’ care and needs; if this situation will continue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29781/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I am not aware of the case mentioned by the Deputy. 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. I suggest that the Deputy provide the details of the case in question to the parliamentary affairs division of the Health Service Executive to enable the executive to investigate the issues raised in his question.

  189.  Ms Harkin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if arrangements will be made for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim to remain in their current nursing home. [29783/05]

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, the 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.

  190.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of hours provided by the home help service by county for the period 1 January 2005 to 30 June 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29784/05]

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, the 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.

[250]

  191.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the provision of a primary health care centre in Mulhuddart; the way in which the new private health centre in Mulhuddart village will impact on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29799/05]

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.

Question No. 192 answered with Question
No. 167.

  193.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the dates in 2002, 2003 and 2004 on which the capital programme for the health services was discussed with her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29808/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will appreciate, since I took up office in late September 2004, I have had numerous discussions, both formal and informal, within and outside my Department about the capital programme for the health service. These discussions, some of which are ongoing, range from those with Government colleagues through to the Department of Finance, the Health Service Executive and capital matters pertaining to various health agencies in the voluntary sector.

In the circumstances, given the scope of discussions I have engaged in relating to the significant capital programme for the health service, it would be unrealistic to provide the dates of all such discussions. Should the Deputy require dates of any specific discussion, I will be happy to pursue the matter direct with him if he provides me with the necessary detail.

  194.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the dates in 2002, 2003 and 2004 on which management advisory committee-chief executive officer meetings were held; and the capital programme for the health service which was discussed at those meetings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29809/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  A total of 11 management advisory committee-chief executive officer group meetings were held over the three year period 2002 to 2004 [251]inclusive. In 2002, management advisory committee — chief executive officer group meetings were held on 26 February, 24 April, 26 June, 25 September, 19 November and 18 December. In 2003, management advisory committee-chief executive officer group meetings were held on 26 February and 16 December. In 2004 management advisory committee-chief executive officer group meetings were held on 29 March and 18 October.

The minutes of these management advisory committee-chief executive officer group meetings indicate that the following elements of the capital programme were discussed at the following meetings: 18 October 2004, ICT and minor capital were identified as priorities as well as revenue implications and employment control ceilings; 29 March 2004, it was stated that the Department was in discussions with the Department of Finance about the capital investment needs for the 2004 to 2008 period, and priorities were a clear 2004 programme with a substantial increase in ICT over that period and the minor capital programme for 2004.

On 18 December 2002 it was agreed that a minor capital programme was a high priority, if funding allowed, in 2003. On 19 November 2002 it was agreed that it would be possible only to go ahead with existing contracts under the national development plan and that there may not be any money for a minor capital equipment replacement programme. On 25 September 2002 the Department indicated that a key objective of the national development plan was to bring parity between the acute and non-acute spend by the end of 2006. Replacement equipment in the acute sector and health and safety in the non-acute sector would be a priority in the coming year. Work on public private partnership was briefly referred to.

On 24 April 2002 the chief executive officers noted their concern over the lack of funding for equipment in the national development plan and agreed that there was a need to take stock of equipment in 2003 and to organise a new equipment programme.

On 26 February 2002 it was indicated that the national development plan was progressing against a background of high inflation and this was reducing the scale of work that could be carried out. Work was continuing on projects for which there were contractual commitments. The need for a balance between the spend on acute and non-acute sector projects was noted. There was discussion around public private partnerships and the need for any new model to show clear benefits before any pilot.

The chief executive officers highlighted the need to address health and safety capital issues, equipment and ICT systems as most national development plan allocation now proved inadequate to address these needs.

Question No. 195 answered with Question
No. 168.

  196.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the extent to which back-filling of staff occurred in respect of the PPARS and FISP projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29811/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I asked the Health Service Executive to gather the required information for me but it was not possible to do so in the time available. I will provide the information to the Deputy in the next day or so.

  197.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the amount spent to date on FISP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29812/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The following is the information I have received from the Health Service Executive.

Year Expenditure to Date
2003 500,000
2004 16,772,617
2005 14,278,287

  198.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has provided financial support for the development of a website (details supplied); the amount involved and the source of the finance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29813/05]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In recent years, provision has been made under the indicative drugs target savings scheme for the development of a primary care website, myGP.ie, which is operated by the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, with the aim of answering patients’ queries and disseminating non-biased and comprehensive information on primary and preventative health care.

This is consistent with the overall objectives of the scheme which are to encourage rational prescribing practices on the part of general practitioners, increase and enhance the information and services available to patients and, in return, allow GPs to access funds for approved practice developments, research and education, and additional primary care expertise at practice level.

Funding for the myGP.ie website has been made available from within the overall budget for the scheme, which was provided for in the Vote for my Department up to this year. Payments to the IMO for development and maintenance costs commenced in May 2000 and amounted to [253]approximately €996,000 in the period to end-2001, approximately €375,000 in 2002 and €660,000 in 2004. No payments have been made in 2005. The myGP.ie website was launched in 2004 and has been fully operational since then.

The review of governance and accountability mechanisms in the general medical service, published by my Department in February 2005, raised concerns regarding the liability to the Exchequer arising from the operation of the scheme in its present form. In this light, and in line with my commitment to the ongoing review of the operation of the general medical service and community drugs schemes, my Department and the Health Service Executive together with the IMO have initiated a full review of the scheme, which will take place over the coming months and will encompass all of its aspects. The outcome of this review will inform the way forward.

  199.  Ms Hoctor    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will make a statement on the status of the initiative relating to the north Tipperary early intervention project and the unresolved staffing issues previously brought to her attention (details supplied). [29821/05]

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.

With regard to the details supplied, I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department responded directly to those concerned on 8 August 2005.

  200.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to tackle the serious problem of smoking among young people; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29836/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power):  It is important that smoking prevalence and particularly smoking by young persons is tackled in a comprehensive manner. This includes legislation, regulation, health promotion and education.

The national health and lifestyle survey, Slán, published in 1999 revealed a worrying trend in that 36% of teenage girls in the 15 to 17 year old age group smoked. This figure exceeded that of young boys in the same age group which stood at [254]30%. In response to this trend the health promotion unit of my Department launched a campaign specifically aimed at young women.

The campaign, entitled “Nico”, concentrated on issues which are more immediately important to young women, such as their appearance. The simple message of this campaign is that smokers are less attractive and it used a range of ‘anti-cosmetics’ presented by a character called Nico. The Nico campaign used TV, radio and outdoor advertising. The advertisement was evaluated and achieved unprecedented recognition and awareness scores amongst the smoking population.

A second advertisement, “Nico’s crib”, was developed and launched in 2004 and is aimed at young people in general. The advertisement is based on the MTV hit programme called “Cribs” which is popular with young viewers. The advertisement has been broadcast primarily in cinemas and was supported by TV bursts and a promotional campaign.

The 2002 Slán results were published in 2003. Nationally smoking prevalence has decreased from 31% to 27%. Numbers of those in the 12 to 14 year old age group showed a sharp decrease in smoking prevalence, a critical point for intervention to prevent initiation. Numbers of young women in the 15 to 17 year old age group have also decreased by almost 5% and young men in the same age group have decreased slightly.

The tobacco free policy review group was set up to carry out a fundamental review of health and tobacco and make recommendations to the Minister for Health and Children. Its report, Towards a Tobacco Free Society, which was adopted as Government policy, proposed an integrated strategy for tackling the tobacco problem and promoting a tobacco free society. The report outlines four key strategic objectives: to change attitudes; to help people give up smoking; to protect people from passive smoke; and to focus on children. The establishment of the Office of Tobacco Control is one of the measures put forward in the report. The office received statutory status in May 2002, with the enactment of section 2 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002.

In response to an Office of Tobacco Control report which documented the dangers of passive smoke, the Minister for Health and Children announced a prohibition on smoking in all places of work, including licensed premises, with effect from 29 March 2004.

The “Every Cigarette is Doing You Damage” media campaign, together with the introduction of the ban on smoking in the workplace, increased the demand for smoking cessation services both nationally and regionally. The national smokers’ quitline and media campaign were launched on 30 October 2003. To date 34,500 callers have used the quitline. Half of the callers have received the quitting booklet, which contains tips and information to encourage smokers to quit. People under 30 account for almost 30% of the callers who contact the quitline.

[255]In a recent survey 71% of clients who had quit stated that the national smokers’ quitline was an important aspect of or significant help in keeping them off cigarettes. Similarly 60% stated that the workplace ban was an important aspect of or significant help in keeping them off cigarettes.

The cardiovascular strategy recommended that an annual module on smoking should be included in the social personal and health education programme, SPHE, in schools. Smoking is included in a SPHE module, which also addresses alcohol and drugs. The aim of the SPHE programme is to educate and empower young people to make good health and lifestyle choices. An evaluation of the programme highlighted the need to update the SPHE modules in response to the evolving requirements of schoolchildren, who now need more information at a younger age.

A recent survey from the Office of Tobacco Control revealed that the overall prevalence of cigarette smoking in Ireland was 23.6% at August 2005. This represents a decline of 1.52% since August 2003.

The survey also revealed that almost 18% of 15 to 18 year olds report as being smokers with 19 to 35 years olds being the dominant category with over 30% of people in that age group classified as smokers. While these statistics are encouraging my Department will strive to reduce these figures further by continuing to discourage young people from starting smoking and ensuring that adequate information and support is available for those wishing to quit.

  201.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    in view of the DHSSPS report on the costs and benefits associated with the introduction of a dedicated HEMS [256]that the priority is the need for further investment to improve the ground ambulance service, when persons in County Mayo (details supplied) will see the benefits of this advice; when this area will receive the essential ambulance base in view of the fact that it has been listed as priority and in view of the fact that improvements to the ground service have been advised. [29837/05]

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.

  202.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29555/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In the period since 1997 my Department has paid a subscription to the company referred to by the Deputy in each of the years 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004, and paid a fee to the company in 2003. The following table sets out the details, including the payment made in each year in which there was a payment to the company, the services provided and the controls applied in the procurement process. In each case I am satisfied that my Department achieved value for money.

Year Value of Payment Services Provided Controls Applied in the Procurement Process
1997 8,490 Subscription This was an annual subscription to the company for access via their website to the results of IT research conducted by their analysts. Access to this research proved of value in determining ICT policy.
2002 5,687 Subscription This was an annual subscription to the company for access via their website to the results of IT research conducted by their analysts. Access to this research proved of value in determining ICT policy.
2003 5,687 Subscription This was an annual subscription to the company for access via their website to the results of IT research conducted by their analysts. Access to this research proved of value in determining ICT policy.
2004 8,863 Subscription This was an annual subscription to the company for access via their website to the results of IT research conducted by their analysts. Access to this research proved of value in determining ICT policy.
2003 1,204 Fee for Executive Report on Outsourcing This was a once-off payment to the company for access to one of their standard executive reports.

[255]

  203.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the [256]nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29570/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  In the period since 1997, my Department has engaged the company referred to by the Deputy to undertake three consultancies. The following table sets out details of the contracts, including the payment [258]made in each year in which there was a payment to the company, the services provided and the controls applied in the procurement process. In each case I am satisfied that my Department achieved value for money.

Year Value of Contract Services Provided Controls Applied in the Procurement Process
2003 18,150 Public Service Identity Management Research A consultant was chosen from a local competition, which sought a person with experience in identity management. The competition involved the submission of CVs, followed by an interview process. The person worked closely to a brief which was monitored on a stage-by-stage basis. The conclusions reached in this study have been used to develop further thinking on identity management for the Standard Authentication Framework Environment (SAFE).
2004 71,725 Overall review and study of HR management system and implementation arrangement After a local procurement exercise, this company was contracted to complete an overall review and study of the HR Management System, including the identification and appraisal of options for its further development. They worked to a staged delivery plan which was monitored. The outputs of this study have been used to develop the version of the HR Management System currently being rolled out across the Civil Service.
2004 24,200 E-Government policy preparation A consultant was chosen from a local competition, which sought a person with experience in interoperability. The competition involved the submission of CVs, followed by an interview process. The person worked closely to a brief which was monitored on a stage-by-stage basis. The conclusions reached in this study were used to develop a Presidency document under Ireland’s Presidency of the EU entitled “Key Principles of an Interoperability Architecture” which is published on both the REACH and EU Public Administration Network websites.

  204.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    when a decision will be made relating to a valuation issue appertaining to persons (details supplied) in County Kildare and Kildare County Council which was submitted to the valuations office of Kildare County Council on 13 June 2005 for consideration; if an early resolution will be reached in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29615/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have no role in the valuation of properties, which is the function of the Valuation Office. However, I am informed by the Valuation Office that an application was received from Kildare County Council on 14 June 2005 under the 1995 tenant purchase scheme in respect of a local authority house at Kilcock, County Kildare. The tenants are disputing the council’s valuation on the premises and the Valuation Office has been asked to adjudicate on the matter.

On inquiry about progress in this case, I understand that there is some delay in dealing with casework of this nature because office resources are concentrated on the revision of rateable valuations which the Valuation Office is required to carry out by statute. However, I am assured that the case will be prioritised and assigned to a valuer this month for inspection, after which a decision on the valuation will be reported to Kildare County Council.

  205.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans to address the serious backlog of cases still in existence at the State Laboratory since its move to new premises in County Kildare; if he intends to increase the level of staffing at the State Laboratory in the foreseeable future; the percentage by which he intends to increase funding for the State Laboratory in budget 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29617/05]

  206.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason persons (details supplied) in Dublin 2 have to date been waiting for four months and have been told that they will be waiting for eight months, for the return of toxicology reports from the State Laboratory; if he will take steps to intervene in this case; if he will take steps to intervene in all cases referred to the State Laboratory by the Coroners Court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29618/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 206 together.

The State has invested some €80 million in building and equipping new world class laboratory facilities for the State Laboratory at Backweston. With the completion of the move the State Laboratory is now better placed to deliver an enhanced analytical service for its clients. Inevitably, during the period of the actual move there was some temporary disruption to [259]services. However, I am assured by the laboratory management that turn around times are now back to previous levels and are continuing to improve.

Additional resources have been allocated over the years to the State Laboratory. Additionally, my Department has recently sanctioned the permanent retention of six temporary posts associated with the move of the laboratory to Backweston. It is worth pointing out the significant increase in the number of samples being sent to the State Laboratory and a general increase in the complexity of the analyses now being undertaken. Nevertheless, as a result of improvement in procedures and additional resources, laboratory management has managed to reduce turnaround times by half during the period April 2004 to April 2005.

I am conscious of the importance of the service provided to the coroners by the State Laboratory and the impact it inevitably has on relatives of people whose deaths are the subject of inquests at a time of great distress. The management of the laboratory shares that sensitivity and constantly monitors the service by reviewing available resources, outsourcing possibilities and the complexity of analyses.

I am informed that the State Laboratory is expected to receive today the samples referred to for analysis. I understand that relevant analyses will be carried out at an early date and reports issued accordingly.

  207.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 499 of 28 September 2005, if he will answer the question relating to Dublin Airport, Knock Airport, Casement Aerodrome and all other airports and aerodromes in the State, and with regard to all aircraft with such a destination or origin regardless of whether they fly under the flag of the US military. [9619/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that there is no obligation on any foreign military aircraft, aircraft used in military service or foreign chartered civilian aircraft to report, or make a declaration, to customs while the aircraft is in transit and not loading or unloading goods at any airport or aerodrome in the State. This includes Dublin Airport, Knock Airport and Casement Aerodrome. In the circumstances, customs has no role in the examination or investigation of such aircraft or their contents.

I am further advised that customs have no obligation to inspect aircraft or their contents where such aircraft are involved in third country traffic and have landed in the State for refuelling, not unloading or loading goods, and then departing the State, regardless of whether such aircraft are used for military, commercial or private purposes.

  208.  Mr. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he is satisfied that the present thresholds that apply under capital acquisitions tax for transfer to persons who are not sons or daughters of deceased persons are set at a realistic level in view of the fact that the present market value of an average house represents over six times the threshold for transfer to a brother or sister and over 12 times the threshold for the transfer to a person who is unrelated; his estimate of the cost of doubling these two thresholds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29620/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  For the purpose of capital acquisitions tax, CAT, the relationship between the person who provided a gift or inheritance, the disponer, and the person who received a gift or inheritance, the beneficiary, determines the maximum tax free threshold, known as the group threshold. There are three group thresholds based on the relationship of the beneficiary to the disponer and these thresholds are indexed annually by reference to the consumer price index.

The 2005 group thresholds applying to a gift or inheritance for the categories referred to by the Deputy are as follows: group B threshold, to a parent, brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild, is €46,673; group C threshold, to a relationship other than a son or daughter or those outlined in group B, is €23,336.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the cost of doubling these two thresholds would be €132.9 million and €45.22 million respectively. This equates to a very large proportion of the annual tax yield from CAT.

The Finance Act 2000 introduced an exemption from CAT for the recipient of a dwelling-house where the dwelling-house is taken by way of a gift or inheritance provided certain conditions are satisfied. Essentially, CAT no longer applies in respect of a gift or inheritance of a dwelling-house taken on or after 1 December 1999, provided the recipient of the gift or inheritance had been living in the house for three years prior to the gift or inheritance and does not have an interest in any other residential property. Also, the recipient must continue, except where he or she is aged 55 years at the date of the gift or inheritance, to occupy that dwelling house as his or her only or main residence for a period of six years from the date of the gift or inheritance. This exemption ensures that what may be the family home for many people will not be the subject of gift or inheritance tax where the conditions for this relief are met.

  209.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has taken action on foot of correspondence received from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of 4 April 2005 regard[261]ing the installation of mobile phone masts on a State property at Ardee Road, Rathmines, adjacent to St. Mary’s College; if he has issued a reply, other than a letter of acknowledgement, to this letter, in which he asked the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to ensure that the mast in question be removed immediately; his views on the Minister of Justice Equality and Law Reform’s opinion that the siting of the mast on the particular building contravenes clearly established criteria for the location of masts which have been accepted by the Office of Public Works, the local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. [29663/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I am informed by the Commissioners of Public Works that the equipment on Ardee House has been installed in accordance with all the relevant legislation such as that regarding health and safety, and planning, and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the licence agreements granted by them in respect of such installations. The commissioners’ consultants are monitoring the emissions from the equipment on their behalf to ensure this compliance is continuous. This information has been provided to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  210.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Finance    if consideration has been given to the pre-budget submission 2006 launched by the Disability Federation of Ireland; the actions open to his Department in response to the submission in consultation with other Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29716/05]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I have received a pre-budget submission from the organisation concerned and I have met with it as part of the community and voluntary pillar, one of a series of meetings held in advance of the budget. The contents of the pre-budget submission will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget and finance Bill. Where appropriate, my Department will liaise with other Departments as necessary. As the Deputy is aware it would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

  211.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied); the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of con[262]trols applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29556/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The company referred to by the Deputy has not been employed to provide direct consultancy services to my Department in the period.

My Department subscribes annually to the service provided by the company in terms of analysis and research information on ICT strategic business and technology trends and best practice. In addition to these research data targeted to suit my Department’s specific ICT business needs, the service also provides monthly chief information officer executive reports and access to the executive programme network for private and public sector chief information officers. The subscriptions paid are the standard rate for the company’s services discounted for Government subscribers.

The subscription was €13,225 in 2003, €31,439 in 2004 and €34,989 in 2005. The increase over 2003 represents an upgrade to the premium service from 2004. I am advised that the subscription represents value for money as a quality and topical source of strategic trends and analysis in global business and technology. The subscription will continue to be kept under review to ensure that it represents ongoing value for money for my Department’s information systems division and senior management.

  212.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29571/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The company referred to by the Deputy was paid €26,886 in March 2000 in respect of its undertaking the 1998-1999 audit of the European agricultural guidance and guarantee fund for my Department. The company was selected for this work following normal Government tendering procedures and approval by the Government contracts committee and I am satisfied that value for money was achieved in this case.

  213.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when provision will be made for broadband/ADSL connection to the Malin Head area of Donegal following a meeting attended by [263]a company (details supplied) and his Department and an announcement by his Department in June 2005 to allocate funding; the progress in this regard taking into consideration this company’s urgent heed for provision of broadband/ADSL to compete effectively and efficiently with its competitors, bearing in mind continued job losses in this part of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29633/05]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.

Market forces, and the availability of suitable infrastructure and backhaul, will determine whether a company offers broadband in any area. A principal reason for the slow roll out of broadband services generally has been the lack of investment by the private sector in the necessary infrastructure to deliver broadband to all areas. My Department is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building metropolitan area networks or MANs in 120 towns and cities nationwide, in association with the local authorities, using Government and European Regional Development Fund funding under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. MANs have already been completed in Gaoth Dobhair and Letterkenny, and MANs for Buncrana and Carndonagh are at the planning stage.

The Government recently directed Departments to examine what could be done to alleviate the employment situation in the county, with particular focus on infrastructure development. Officials from my Department have since met representatives from Donegal County Council as well as local interest groups and are currently examining a number of options. I understand that the company in question attended the launch of the community networked services or CNS project in May 2005. The CNS project is funded by INTERREG IIIa and the International Fund for Ireland. The project is due to be completed in 2006 and further details can be requested from the promoter at its website www.ernact.net.

My Department’s website www.broadband.gov.ie gives full details of broadband availability in all areas, including digital subscriber lines, cable, fibre, satellite and fixed wireless. The website also lists prices of the various service levels on offer and contact details for each service provider.

  214.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for [264]Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans for the regional fisheries boards; the reason proposals for a single agency have been proposed by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29654/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Deputy will be aware that I received the report of the first stage of the high level review of the inland fisheries sector in Ireland from the consultants earlier this year and have considered its findings. It is my intention to bring this report to Government in the very near future and to have it published as soon as possible thereafter. Until such time as the report is presented to Government, I am not in a position to comment on its recommendations or implementation.

  215.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29557/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Department of Foreign Affairs has paid the following amounts to the Gartner Group: 1997 —€0.00; 1998 — £702.17; 1999 —€0.00; 2000 —€0.00; 2001 —€0.00; 2002 —€5,082.00; 2003 —€10,164.00; 2004 —€17,581.30; 2005 —€14,278.00.

The Department has taken a subscription to Gartner Research’s on-line technology research database, which includes the periodic supply by CD of technology articles of interest to the Department and, in 1998, attendance at a Gartner organised seminar on the year 2000 bug. The service is equivalent to other subscription based research services. The Department has not used Gartner for the direct provision of consultancy advice.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has used the Gartner database to obtain impartial research articles on technology developments. This research has helped inform the Department when making significant technology investment decisions. I am satisfied that this service has offered value for money to the Department. I can confirm that the national rules on procurement have been followed.

  216.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services [265]provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29572/05]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  In the period referred to by the Deputy, no payments were made by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the relevant consultancy company.

  217.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will examine the Pathways projects currently funded by FÁS and operating in Counties Kerry, Waterford and Kildare with a view to providing the resources for them to be available more widely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29606/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  The Pathways programme is a two week group guidance programme available to clients, where appropriate, who are referred to FÁS by the Department of Social and Family Affairs under the national employment plan preventative strategy. The aim of the programme is to identify the most appropriate development pathway for each client to assist them to enter or re-enter the labour market. The programme is delivered on a group basis to encourage a dynamic in which clients can support and learn from each other.

The programme was launched as a pilot in a number of locations towards the latter part of 2003. FÁS conducted a preliminary evaluation of the pilot in the first quarter of 2004. This helped inform further development and improvement of the programme materials. The programme was further rolled out in 2004 and approximately 1,000 clients attended 70 Pathways programmes nationally. An external evaluation was undertaken by “Profiles at Work” in late 2004/early 2005. The report endorses the Pathways programme as an effective tool in helping address the vocational guidance needs of its client target group and makes a number of recommendations on its future delivery. FÁS has recently developed an action plan to support the implementation of these recommendations.

Pathways is available through FÁS where sufficient demand exists to merit running a programme. It is important to emphasise the demand led aspect of the programme.

  218.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the [266]contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29559/05]

  219.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29574/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 218 and 219 together.

My Department has no record of entering into any contracts with Accenture during the period in question. The Department has identified the following payments to a company named Gartner Group UK Ltd: in 1997, a payment of £10,579.63 for IT work; in 1998, a payment of £889.96 in respect of research software; in 1999, a payment of £121.00 identified as e-business conference. None of these contracts exceeded the public procurement threshold and my Department is satisfied that value for money was achieved in each case.

  220.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position with an application for a work permit in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29621/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The work permit section of my Department has informed me that a work permit issued to the above named individual on 16 October 2003 and was valid until 15 October 2004. There is no record of any further work permit applications having been received in this case.

  221.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of jobs in the services industry which have been created in Clondalkin and Lucan for the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [29622/05]

  222.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of manufacturing jobs which have been lost in Clondalkin and Lucan for the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [29623/05]

  223.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number [267]of manufacturing jobs which have been created in Lucan and Clondalkin for the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [29624/05]

  224.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of jobs in the services industry which have been lost in Clondalkin and Lucan for the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [29625/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 221 to 224, inclusive, together.

[268]A breakdown of employment figures by area in the Dublin region is not available. The tables attached give an outline of employment gains and losses in client companies of the enterprise development agencies by sector in Dublin for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004. Figures for 2005 will not be available until early 2006.

Overall figures for employment in Dublin, including non-traded services sectors, have been compiled by the Central Statistics Office. Figures for the second quarter from 2002 onwards show that employment in Dublin remains stable.

Mar-May 2002 Mar-May 2003 Mar-May 2004 Mar-May 2005
000s 000s 000s 000s
No. in employment 545.9 548.2 550.2 574.3

[267]The enterprise development agencies are actively engaged in promoting both Lucan and Clondalkin as high potential locations in their efforts to secure new investment and additional jobs.

IDA continues to market south County Dublin, as a potential location for new foreign direct investment, FDI. IDA Ireland’s strategy for the Dublin area is to attract and expand major FDI projects, moving up the value chain. South County Dublin is well equipped to compete with other areas for potential foreign direct investment, with superb infrastructural facilities at Citywest and Grangecastle and a third level institute of technology at Tallaght.

This year the Japanese pharmaceuticals company Takeda Chemical Industries will complete construction of its facility at Grangecastle, Clondalkin. This is a significant and important investment from a leading company in Japan and will highlight Ireland as a key location for other such Japanese investors in the future. Also in Grangecastle, the pharmaceutical company Wyeth Biopharma opened this year and already employs approximately 900 highly skilled people. Wyeth continues to recruit and will eventually employ 1,300 at the facility in Greencastle.

Enterprise Ireland works with companies in its portfolio to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. The agency is encouraging companies to adopt new technologies to add value to their products and services. Since the beginning of 2002 Enterprise Ireland has approved over €10 million and made payments of over €9 million in support of development projects for indigenous companies in south County Dublin.

Enterprise Ireland is also actively involved with the provision of infrastructure to facilitate business development and employment. The agency has supported the development of community enterprise centres in Bawnogue and Neilstown, [268]which are contributing to job creation in these areas. There is also a private incubation centre for start up projects and micro enterprises at the former Hills Mills factory in Lucan. These centres provide incubation space for start-ups and micro enterprises, and also provide ancillary services such as training, mentoring and customised courses to address the needs of the local clients. In the Lucan/Clondalkin area, Enterprise Ireland works closely with agencies such as Lucan 2000, Clondalkin partnership, the south Dublin chamber, the south Dublin county enterprise board and the local council.

The south Dublin county enterprise board is also proactively involved in the development of indigenous enterprise, and provides a source of support for small businesses in the region.

Full-time manufacturing employment in agency supported companies, Dublin

2002 2003 2004
Job gains 3,533 3,412 2,968
Job losses 6,219 7,126 5,846

Full-time services employment in agency supported companies, Dublin

2002 2003 2004
Job gains 6,012 4,734 5,896
Job losses 6,305 6,463 4,855

  225.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding the work status of non-nationals who require a visa in the time period between having married an Irish citizen and being granted natu[269]ralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29655/05]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Nationals from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland, in the category referred to by the Deputy, may be permitted to work in Ireland provided the employee is granted a work permit.

  226.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the position relating to a lone parent (details supplied); if such a person is entitled to extra assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29594/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. Neither I nor my Department has any function in determining entitlement to a supplement in individual cases.

Social welfare programmes aim to be responsive to the needs of those who depend on income maintenance support while providing incentives to assist people to become more independent financially, particularly through employment.

[270]The Dublin/mid-Leinster region of the executive has advised that it determined recently, in accordance with the rules of the scheme, that the rent supplement payable to the person concerned should be reduced as a result of an increase in her household income from employment. It has notified her of this revised supplement rate, which is due to go into effect shortly. My Department will also have to review the rate of one-parent family payment, OFP, payable to the person concerned in the light of her new employment situation. Any reduction in her OFP entitlements after this review is completed would in turn require some corresponding upward adjustment in her rate of rent supplement. My Department will notify the executive in this regard as soon as her revised OFP entitlements have been determined. If the person concerned has a particular non-recurring cost that she is unable to meet from her own resources, it is open to her to apply at any time to her local community welfare officer for an exceptional needs payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

  227.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29560/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The amounts paid to the company in each year since 1997 are as in the table.

Year
£
1997 Membership subscriptions 39,205
1998 Membership subscriptions 42,207
1999 Membership subscriptions 34,654
2000 Attendance at conferences and events 2,651
Membership subscription 21,447
Review of IS Division 243,998
Review of Application Integration Strategies 8,470
2001 Attendance at Conferences 307.48
Membership subscription 48,000
2002 Attendance at Conferences 5,409
Membership subscriptions 122,452
2003 Attendance at Conferences 387
Membership subscriptions 127,050
2004 Membership subscriptions 55,054
IS Strategy Review 80,877
2005 Membership subscriptions 129,167

[269]In addition, payments were made in respect of Reach, financed by the information society fund, as follows: 2000, €7,742; 2001, €29,043; 2002, [270]€43,174; 2003, €39,322; 2004, €18,876; 2005, €22,152. Reach was set up in 2000, so there were no payments prior to that.

[271]The company is internationally recognised as one that provides vendor independent, detailed ICT industry expertise. It provides industry analysis and access to its analysts through a number of membership services. It has clients in every industry sector and is ideally placed to provide examples of international good practice.

General membership services provide my Department’s information systems managers with access to independent reports and research papers on various aspects of new technologies and architectures. Executive programme membership further allows senior IT management in my Department to benefit from regular access to a designated highly qualified local consultant, unlimited access to analysts worldwide and specific guidance on enterprise level industry best practice as well as access to a network of senior IT organisations.

Membership is through subscription services for which the normal public procurement tender process is not applicable. My Department has enrolled for membership at various levels over the years and the quality of the non-vendor specific material and data available has met its expectations. Given the scale and complexity of the Department’s ICT, the budgets involved and the long-term implications of decisions taken, it considers that this access to quality independent advice represents good value for money.

My Department has also engaged the company on a small number of projects over the years, as follows. My Department engaged the company to carry out a resource review of its IS division in 2000 and to benchmark against similar organisations. The company was chosen as a result of a public procurement process, for which eight companies submitted tenders. I am satisfied that value for money was achieved because the report delivered on the requirements and expectations. [272]Aspects of it have been implemented and it continues to inform ISD organisational policies.

In 2004, the company was engaged to review and validate the information systems strategy, prepared by the Department’s management team. The contract was placed in accordance with guidelines for single tender procurement. The review represented value for money because it confirmed the validity of the Department’s approach to its future IS strategy, as well as highlighting gaps and informing the resolution of its strategic approach.

The company was asked to carry out an independent validation of the business case and the approaches to improving the quality of data interfaces between different types of computer applications, current and future. It was the only company requested to tender for this work because of the nature and relatively small size of the contract. It was chosen for its expertise in the research and analysis of emerging trends in the software market, including integration between current and future application platforms. Value for money was achieved because the review confirmed the business case and the range of approaches that needed to be considered for future developments, including integration of existing applications with the emerging service delivery modernisation programme.

  228.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29575/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Details of my Department’s contracts with the company concerned since 1997 are set out in the table.

Year Amount (Euro) Project(s)
1997 nil
1998 162,112 IS Services management support
1999 61,455 Civil Registration Modernisation Planning study
2000 109,601 (1) Service Delivery Modernisation Prototype
(2) IS Services management support
2001 4,356,272 (1) Civil Registration Modernisation
(2) Reach
(3) IS Services management support
2002 2,173,564 (1) Civil Registration Modernisation
(2) IS Services management support
2003 80,542 (1) IS Services management support
2004 18,150 (1) Reach
2005 nil

[271]In October 1999, the Department held a competitive tendering exercise in which it invited proposals to prove the technical feasibility of build[272]ing applications using a business object model approach. A flat fee of £50,000 — equivalent to €63,500 — plus VAT was offered for each proto[273]type. Following an evaluation process, three companies/consortiums were selected to develop suitable prototypes, one of which was led by the company in question. The prototypes were successfully delivered in the first half of 2000 and payment was made on 7 July 2000. Procurement was carried out in strict adherence to all relevant procurement legislation and resulting contracts were drawn up on a fixed price basis. I am satisfied that value for money has been achieved in this case.

With regard to information systems services management support, there were two contracts with the company during the period. Each covered a number of years. Each procurement was carried out in accordance with national and EU procurement guidelines. The recommendations of the Department’s evaluation groups were submitted to and approved by the Government contracts committee. The first contract covered the provision of assistance with a major project to ensure that the Department developed and maintained a continuous computing capability. A strategic review of the IS division was also undertaken. The second contract was for programme, project and change management support.

My Department’s IS services area underwent a successful major reorganisation in the second period and the consultancy support received played a significant role in that process. A major review of the Department’s ICT infrastructure, to meet emerging needs and avail of new technologies, was carried out also and is currently being implemented. The advice received by my Department under these contracts is considered to have delivered significant value for money.

The civil registration modernisation programme was a joint programme of work, between my Department and the Department of Health and Children, aimed at implementing a modern civil registration service and providing a building block for the integration of related public services. In 1999, following a competitive tendering process, the company was awarded a contract by my Department to provide support for a planning study to determine the approach to the design, development and implementation of a modern civil registration service. The tendering process was carried out in accordance with EU and Department of Finance guidelines. The total amount paid in respect of this contract amounted to €61,455.32. I am satisfied that value for money was achieved in respect of this contract.

In 2001, following a competitive tendering process, the company was awarded a contract by my Department for the design, development and implementation of a modern civil registration service. The tendering process was carried out in accordance with EU and Department of Finance guidelines. The total amount paid, by my Department, in respect of this contract amounted to [274]€6,319,222. I am satisfied that value for money was achieved in respect of this contract.

The civil registration modernisation programme and the consequent integration with the processing of child benefit claims has been recognised internationally as one of the finest examples of best practice in public administration over the last number of years. I am satisfied that the modernisation programme has resulted in the provision of a greatly enhanced service to the public, delivered on the wider e-government agenda and represents excellent value for money.

With regard to Reach, payments to the company were made in respect of a technical architect, for advice on the design approach to the project and in respect of a contracted amount, €15,000 plus VAT, paid to a number of companies, including the company named, in respect of some of the overhead costs of preparing prototypes as part of the material to be submitted with their tender to build the public services broker. The procurements were carried out in accordance with EU and national guidelines and my Department is satisfied that the deliverables met expectations in all respects.

  229.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will address the issue of persons losing the rent allowance when they take up a community employment scheme or low paid employment by either increasing the €317.40 income limit or by increasing the €50 disregard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29632/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Social welfare programmes aim to be responsive to the needs of those who depend on income maintenance support while providing incentives to assist people to become more independent financially, particularly through employment. A number of measures have been introduced in recent years to remove disincentives to taking up employment and to assist in the transition from welfare to work. These measures include special means disregards and tapered withdrawal of benefits as earnings increase and employment support schemes such as the back to work programme. People are entitled to retain certain social welfare and other secondary benefits in total or in part for the duration of the employment scheme, subject to certain conditions.

For most people the most significant secondary benefit is rent or mortgage interest supplement, which is paid under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. An income limit of €317.43 per week applies to the retention of these supplements. No income limit applies to the back to work allowance itself. While this supplement retention income limit has not changed since its introduction, significant other improvements have been made to the means test subsequently. [275]Back to work allowance and family income supplement, in cases where one or both of these are in payment, are disregarded in the assessment of the €317.43 weekly income limit. PRSI and reasonable travelling expenses are also disregarded in the means test.

In effect, this means that people who commence employment through a back to work scheme, following a period of unemployment, can have a weekly household income significantly in excess of the €317.43 limit and still qualify to retain 75% of their rent or mortgage interest supplement: for example, in the first year of their participation in the back to work allowance scheme, a single person can have combined income from the back to work allowance and wages of €429, while a couple with two children can have a combined income of €528.25. These thresholds increase each year in the budget.

Rent supplement may be retained for up to four years on a tapered basis, that is, 75% of supplement in year one, 50% in year two and 25% in years three and four. In addition, the maximum payment limit of €317.43 per month on the amount of supplement payable was abolished for people on the approved schemes. As a consequence, many families retain more of their rent supplement than had been the case prior to these changes taking place.

People availing of an employment support scheme may opt to be assessed under either standard supplementary welfare allowance rules or under the special retention rules, and will be entitled to receive payment under whichever is the more favourable option for them. A person on a community employment scheme or other back to work scheme whose household income is above the €317.43 limit for retention of secondary benefits may still qualify for rent supplement under the standard rules. In that context, I introduced amending regulations in January 2005 to increase the income disregard in the standard rules of the scheme from €50 to €60 per week.

Overall, I consider that the current eligibility thresholds and disregards, together with improvements in the standard rules of the supplementary [276]welfare allowance scheme, ensure that people have a financial incentive to take up back-to-work opportunities. The effectiveness of these arrangements is being considered further in the context of a policy review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which my Department is undertaking at present.

  230.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was not granted unemployment benefit on finishing work; if he will provide a full and complete breakdown of their PRSI contribution record. [29706/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  To qualify for unemployment benefit a person must have, since the date of entry into insurance, at least 52 weeks of insurable employment for which the appropriate social insurance contributions have been paid and must have at least 39 paid or credited contributions in the relevant tax year, currently 2003, or 26 paid contributions in the relevant tax year and 26 paid contributions in the preceding year.

According to the records of my Department the person concerned has 20 class A contributions and 21 class J contributions in the tax year 2003. Class J contributions normally relate to employed persons with reckonable pay of less than €38.00 per week and provide cover for occupational injuries benefit only. The application for unemployment benefit from the person concerned was, therefore, disallowed from 4 April 2005, as she did not satisfy the contribution conditions for receipt of the benefit. She was informed accordingly on 29 April 2005. The person concerned may have an entitlement to credited contributions while she is unemployed. She should contact her local social welfare office for further information in this regard.

Under social welfare legislation decisions on claims and the insurability of employment must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

The PRSI record of the person concerned is set out in the following table.

Contributions paid and credited under the Social Welfare Acts.

Year Paid Credit Year Paid Credit
1973/74 49 ordinary rate 2* 1989/90
1974/75 51 ordinary rate 2 1990/91
1975/76 48 ordinary rate 7 1991/92
1976/77 40 ordinary rate 1992/93
1977/78 13 ordinary rate 11 1993/94
1978/79 1994/95
1979/80 1995/96
1980/81 1996/97
1981/82 1997/98
1982/83 1998/99
1983/84 1999/00
1984/85 2000/01
1985/86 2001
1986/87 2002
1987/88 2003 20 A, 21 J
1988/89 2004 49A

[277]Ordinary rate contributions and class A contributions are reckonable for all benefits and pensions. Class J contributions are reckonable for occupational injury benefit only.

  231.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will review the decision not to award unemployment benefit to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [29707/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  A deciding officer disallowed the unemployment benefit claim of the person concerned from 3 August 2005 on the grounds that he was not genuinely seeking employment. The person concerned had failed to produce sufficient evidence to show that he had been consistently seeking full-time work. It is open to the person concerned to appeal this decision and a form for this purpose was issued to him on 11 October 2005.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  232.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if consideration has been given to the pre-budget submission 2006 launched by the Disability Federation of Ireland; the actions open to his Department in response to the submission in consultation with other Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29719/05]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The Disability Federation of Ireland was one of over 30 representative organisations that attended this Department’s pre-budget forum with me on 17 October 2005. At this forum, each organisation had the opportunity to present its key priorities for consideration in advance of budget 2006. I have also received the written submission from the Disability Federation of Ireland, which contains proposals relating to, inter alia, the introduction of a cost of disability payment; increases to the rate of disability allow[278]ance; mainstreaming and support for the voluntary sector.

My Department will consider the proposals submitted by the disability federation and will continue to progress the work currently ongoing with other Departments on policy issues relating to people with disabilities. In this regard, the work of the interdepartmental group established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, chaired by the Department of Health and Children, and at which my Department is represented, is currently considering the feasibility of the introduction of a cost of disability payment. The introduction of a cost of disability payment is one of the priorities identified by the Disability Federation of Ireland in its pre-budget submission.

Any changes proposed in submissions received from representative organisations will, of course, have to be considered in the context of the wider social welfare budgetary package.

Question No. 233 answered with Question
No. 104.

  234.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the ten year transport investment plan for the country. [29725/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I refer to my earlier reply today in response to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 88 and 103.

  235.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether the transport needs of the northside of Dublin have been seriously neglected in recent years in view of the daily gridlock which exists, the significant housing development in the north County Dublin area and the absence of a rail link to Dublin Airport and Swords; and if he will give absolute priority to the provision of rail based transport infrastructure for that area. [29728/05]

  243.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he intends to front-load the construction of an interconnecter between Heuston Station and the DART line in view of the current [279]project on the Kildare line in which two new stations are being developed and in which the service is intended to be doubled; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the current Luas and bus services from Heuston Station are operating at capacity during peak times; the short-term and long-term plans his Department has made for the transportation of increased passenger numbers away from Heuston Station into Dublin city centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29694/05]

  256.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to increase the use of commuter rail transport by introducing such measures as increased frequency of services, adequate feeder bus services to each rail station, adequate parking facilities with the objective of doubling the use of public transport with reference to the Kildare commuter belt, such as Enfield, Kilcock, Maynooth, Leixlip, Confey, Hazelhatch, Sallins, Newbridge, Kildare and Monasterevin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29818/05]

  258.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the provision of underground rail connections in the more densely populated areas of the commuter belt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29825/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I intend to take Questions Nos. 235, 243, 256 and 258 together.

The various matters referred to by the Deputies are being considered by my Department as part of its preparatory work on a ten year transport investment framework. I hope to bring proposals on the framework to Government shortly.

  236.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29561/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  An amount of €341.30 was paid by my Department to the company in July 2002 in respect of an Internet content management workshop. Normal controls were applied and I am satisfied that value for money was received.

  237.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of [280]each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29576/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  No payments were made by my Department to this company in the period mentioned.

Question No. 238 answered with Question
No. 115.

  239.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on plans to increase capacity on the Maynooth suburban line in the short term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29627/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The provision of services is a day-to-day operational matter for Iarnród Éireann to consider. However, I understand that the company intends to provide additional capacity on the line from December 2005 onwards by increasing the frequency of services in the morning and evening peaks.

Question No. 240 answered with Question
No. 92.

  241.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    if, with regard to the current backlog of driving test applications, his Department has considered making an arrangement with the existing driver testers to clear this backlog; if the existing driver testers submitted a proposal to his Department in this regard; if so, the outcome of the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29692/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In order to deal with the delays in obtaining a driving test, my Department and the Department of Finance agreed a package of measures to reduce the backlog of driving test applications. An essential part of the package includes a bonus scheme for existing driver testers. The other elements of the package are the recruitment of additional testers and the outsourcing of a block of tests.

A bonus scheme was agreed with the driver testers branch of IMPACT and offered to the driver testers last June. However, the members subsequently rejected the bonus scheme as they were opposed to the outsourcing element of the package. The driver testers branch submitted alternative proposals for a bonus scheme, which was designed to deal with the backlog without outsourcing a block of tests. However, these pro[281]posals were not acceptable to the Department as they would not deliver the required 80,000 additional driving tests in the same timeframe and at comparable cost with the package of measures as originally proposed.

  242.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    if, with regard to the high number of road deaths recently, the outsourced driver testers being recruited at present will have the same qualifications as those who are currently employed by his Department as driver testers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29693/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The request for tenders for the contract to conduct driving tests set out the appropriate requirements that staff recruited as driver testers by the contractor must meet. These requirements are the same as have been applied by the Public Appointments Service in the competition being run by it for the recruitment of contract driver testers.

Question No. 243 answered with Question
No. 235.

  244.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will introduce the necessary measures to ensure that planning authorities are notified and consulted when airspace changes are proposed by airport and aerodrome authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29695/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  The Irish Aviation Authority has advised me that airspace changes do not have a direct relationship to, and may not have any relationship to, changes in ground facilities but are related to the efficiency and safety of the conduct of air traffic both in the vicinity of aerodromes and elsewhere over the State. I am advised that airport authorities are required to obtain planning permission for the development of ground based facilities at airports and aerodromes. I understand that in making a decision on a planning application, a planning authority is required, under the Planning and Development Act 2000, to consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, regard being given to the provisions of the development plan, other relevant ministerial or Government policies and any submissions or observations received on the planning application.

  245.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he plans to introduce measures to [282]make mandatory the fitting of noise abatement equipment in light aircraft; if so, the body which will become the enforcement authority for these measures; and if the introduction of such mandatory requirements necessitates legislative provision. [29696/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I have no plans to introduce measures of this type. Noise emission standards for aircraft are implemented internationally under Annex 16 to the Chicago convention and I am advised by the Irish Aviation Authority that conventionally certificated Irish registered aircraft comply with these standards. Furthermore, technical changes to aircraft would require approval by the regulatory authorities responsible for approving the designs of the aircraft. As no aircraft are designed here, this is not something on which Ireland could take unilateral action.

  246.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if, in view of the high rate of road traffic accidents, he will take action to address the issue of unsafe roads with reference to verge erosion, potholes or other surface deficiencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29789/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The improvement and maintenance of national roads is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA. The allocation to the NRA for national road improvement has been increased substantially since 1997 and stands at €1.319 billion for 2005. In addition, €53.9 million has been provided for road maintenance in 2005, including the type of road maintenance activities referred to by the Deputy. The allocation of this funding to individual projects is a matter for the NRA.

The NRA, apart from the ongoing upgrading and maintenance of the national road network, including the ongoing pavement restoration programme, which provides a substantial road safety dividend, also funds specific road safety programmes, including the high risk accident location programme, the high cost remedial measures programme, the fitting of crash barriers on motorways and dual carriageways and road safety research.

Since 1994, the NRA, in conjunction with local authorities, has operated a programme where accident locations on the national road network are investigated and, if the road condition is believed to have been a factor, appropriate engineering measures are put in place to improve the situation. On average 80 such locations are treated each year. The high cost remedial measures programme was begun in 2004 and [283]focuses on areas where more expensive works are required to solve the accident problems at particular locations. A total of 12 sites have been targeted in 2005. Median safety barriers are being installed on all new motorways and dual carriageways. The programme of retrofitting barriers to existing motorways and dual carriageways is two thirds complete. This work is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Funding for road improvements and remedial measures on non-national roads is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  247.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if in respect of proposed toll roads or bridges, consideration has been given to a design, build and hand over process which would give the State use of both the revenue accruing and the low maintenance of a new construction for the first 20 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29790/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The national development plan envisages that a proportion of the national roads programme will be implemented by means of public private partnerships, PPPs, which involve private sector funding, remunerated in part by user tolls. The model selected for national road PPP projects to date is the design, build, operate and finance, DBFO, model. Through PPPs, private sector innovation is harnessed in the areas of scheme design, construction and long-term operation and maintenance and will ensure earlier delivery of vital national road infrastructure. Value for money is the key factor which determines whether a project is undertaken on a PPP basis. It is considered at present that this is best achieved on toll road projects through the integrated DBFO model where the private sector shares the toll revenue risk.

  248.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of persons penalised under the penalty points system; the number that have exceeded the various categories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29791/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the table. This information is supplied by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is responsible for the national vehicle and driver file, which contains [284]the driver records on which penalty points are recorded.

Penalty points at 30 September 2005 Number of Drivers
2 226,612
4 31,977
5 1,290
6 4,304
7 9
8 777
9 5
10 153
11 1
12 16
Total 265,144

  249.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of passengers carried daily on the Luas; the extent to which it has replaced motor-cars; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29792/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The average Monday to Friday carryings are 60,000 passengers per day. In 2005, Luas is on course to carry nearly 21 million passengers. This is substantially ahead of projected passenger numbers. The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the Dublin Transportation Office are carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the effect of Luas on travel patterns. The “before Luas” survey was carried out in the spring of 2004 and it is intended that the “after Luas” survey will be carried out in 2006 when travel patterns on Luas have become more established.

The RPA has also carried out less formal research on its customer base and it is clear that a large proportion of Luas users had previously used private vehicles. Apart from car transfers, there also appears to be a significant number of new trips to the city centre for business and recreation. This view is shared by city centre businesses, which report a substantial increase in business as a result of Luas and is reflected in the high levels of Luas usage in the traditional off peak periods and at weekends.

Question No. 250 answered with Question
No. 122.

Question No. 251 answered with Question
No. 105.

  252.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the details of all road, rail under and over[285]ground plans for the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29814/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  A ten year transport investment framework is currently being prepared which will identify the investment and outline the measures that I believe are required to further develop all elements of national transport infrastructure. While I am not in a position to outline details of the draft framework pending a decision by Government in the matter, I have indicated previously that I expect the broad direction of the framework to include transformation of the transport system in the greater Dublin area, with a particular focus on the public transport network.

  253.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether all heavy goods vehicles other than deliveries will disappear from Dublin city streets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29815/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Traffic management in the city centre is a matter for Dublin City Council. In parallel with the opening to traffic of the Dublin Port tunnel, Dublin City Council will be introducing a heavy goods vehicle traffic management strategy to ensure that maximum traffic benefits are secured from the Dublin Port tunnel. This strategy has three objectives: to ensure the optimal use by HGVs of the port tunnel, to minimise adverse effects of remaining HGV movements in the city and to manage the movement of vehicles not within permitted dimensions, for example, through permit systems.

My Department’s formal role will be to put in place the necessary regulatory framework relating to traffic and parking management and road signage to support the strategy. In addition, my Department will continue to liaise with Dublin City Council as the strategy is finalised, so that I may be assured that maximum traffic benefits are indeed secured from it.

  254.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the means by which it is intended to funnel heavy goods vehicles into the port tunnel without using the M50 or alternatively using the M50 and thereby displacing existing traffic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29816/05]

  257.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he is satisfied that all other trucks with the exception of super trucks will fit into the port tunnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29819/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 254 and 257 together.

Traffic management in general is a matter for the appropriate local authority and in the case of [286]the M50, the city centre and in the vicinity of Dublin Port that authority is Dublin City Council. As a major new element in Dublin’s road network the Dublin Port tunnel will have a considerable beneficial impact on traffic flow in the Dublin area. It will be of particular benefit in facilitating improved access to Dublin Port for HGVs while reducing HGV traffic in the city. The NRA and Dublin City Council are working to ensure that the tunnel, when open, will integrate smoothly with the existing road network. These works include a new entrance for Dublin Port and, as part of the M50 upgrade scheme, the upgrading of the M1-M50 junction and the widening of the M1 between Coolock Lane and the M50 junction to three lanes in each direction.

The NRA and Dublin City Council are also organising an interim third lane on the northbound carriageway of the M1 between Coolock Lane and the M50 junctions to provide temporary capacity increase and facilitate merging of tunnel and surface road traffic in this area prior to full improvements under the M50 upgrade scheme.

It is the view of Dublin City Council and the NRA that the Dublin Port tunnel will facilitate almost all of the HGV traffic currently using Dublin Port. The issue of routing vehicles unable to use the tunnel through the city will be addressed in the context of the heavy goods vehicle management strategy being prepared by Dublin City Council.

My Department’s formal role will be to put in place the necessary regulatory framework relating to traffic and parking management and road signage to support the strategy. In addition, my Department will continue to liaise with Dublin City Council as the strategy is finalised, so that I may be assured that the primary objective of the Dublin Port tunnel — to provide a high quality access route to Dublin Port for heavy goods vehicles — is achieved in a manner which maximises the overall traffic benefit of the tunnel.

Question No. 255 answered with Question
No. 95.

Question No. 256 answered with Question
No. 235.

Question No. 257 answered with Question
No. 254.

Question No. 258 answered with Question
No. 235.

  259.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which the various projects identified by his Department in the context of the national development plan are on time and within cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29826/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Over €2.4 billion has been spent from Exchequer and EU funds to date on public transport infrastructure. The Exchequer provision for public transport investment this year is €426 million, clearly demonstrating the Government’s strong ongoing commitment to the national development plan programme and to maintaining a high level of investment in public transport infrastructural projects. All the projects in the public transport sector that have been completed to date, and which are being funded under the national development plan, have been on time and within budget.

The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, the body with responsibility for the Luas project, has assured me that the overall spend on the two Luas lines, the green line from Sandyford to St. Stephen’s Green and the red line from Tallaght to Connolly Station, will be within the €775 million agreed budget, as notified to the Government in December 2002.

Since 2000, a total of 55 projects have been approved for funding under the regional airports measure of the NDP. Based on a total estimated cost of €18.46 million, grant aid of €15.534 million has been approved for projects to facilitate improvement works and upgrades in facilities to maintain continued safe, secure and viable operations at the regional airports. To date, €11.7 million has been paid out in grant assistance under the measure. The projects are generally on target and it is expected that all projects will be delivered within the timeframe of the NDP and the approved grant allocation for each airport will not be exceeded.

The national development plan provides for a substantial investment in the upgrade of the national road network over the period 2000-2006. Since the start of the plan, 53 projects have been completed. Work is in progress on 21 projects, another 18 projects are at tender stage and a further eight projects are through the statutory approval process. While the completion of the upgrade programme will extend beyond 2006 and will cost more than estimated in 1999, in recent years most projects have been completed within the cost budgeted at tender stage. Allied to the delivery of these schemes in accordance with their projected timescales, the national roads programme is now on a firm footing to deliver efficiently the vital infrastructure needed to sustain our economic growth and competitiveness.

  260.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which he will increase throughput in respect of driving tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29838/05]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In order to deal with the unacceptable delays in obtaining a driving test, my Department and the Department of Finance have agreed a package of measures to reduce the backlog of driving test [288]applications. The package includes a bonus scheme for driver testers, the recruitment of additional testers as well as the outsourcing of a block of tests. The package has the potential to deliver up to 80,000 additional driving tests and is currently the subject of negotiations with the staff associations.

  261.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29562/05]

  262.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29577/05]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 262 together.

No contracts were awarded by my Department since its establishment to the companies in question.

  263.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if he will support a group (details supplied) in Dublin 5 in its efforts for grant assistance; and if he will give it maximum support. [29801/05]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  An application has been received by my Department from the group in question under the 2005 programme of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations. The process of assessment of the large number of applications received under the programme is ongoing and I expect to decide on qualifying applications early in November 2005.

  264.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29563/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The Department has availed of subscription services from the company for access to [289]independent research. The Department has used this subscription service as a source of information regarding the Department’s ICT strategy, individual products and project specific technology issues. Given the scale and complexity of the Department’s ICT, the budgets involved, and the long-term implications of decisions taken, [290]access to quality independent advice is regarded as essential. While the company also provides consultancy the Department has not purchased any consultancy from the company.

Details of the contracts are provided in the following table.

Year Amount Paid Service/Contract Controls/Procurement Process VFM Comment
2000 8,752.76 Basic Internet access to this company’s global research databases. This is the pre-eminent global provider of independent analysis and advice to the IT sector. The decision to subscribe was approved by the head of IT. A tender process is not applicable. Access to independent reports and research papers in relation to ICT issues. The advice available is non-vendor specific and informs strategic ICT decisions.
2002 69,180.45 Access to this company’s global research databases and Membership of Executive Program. In the light of the increased scale and complexity of the IT projects being delivered by the Department a decision was taken by the Head of IT to take membership of the company’s executive programme. Access to independent reports and research papers in relation to ICT issues. The advice available is non-vendor specific. Membership of the Executive Program has allowed the Department to benefit from regular access to a designated highly qualified local specialist, and unlimited access by the Department’s IT staff to the company’s analysts worldwide. It provides access to the company’s vast range of research, their objectivity and insight, and access to a network of senior IT managers in similar scale organisations.
2003 79,775.30 Access to this company’s global research databases and Membership of Executive Program. Access to independent reports and research papers in relation to ICT issues. The advice available is non-vendor specific. Membership of the Executive Program has allowed the Department to benefit from regular access to a designated highly qualified local specialist, and unlimited access to the company’s analysts worldwide. It provides access to the company’s vast range of research, their objectivity and insight, and access to a network of senior IT managers in similar scale organisations.
2004 86,817.50 Access to this company’s global research databases and Membership of Executive Program. Access to independent reports and research papers in relation to ICT issues. The advice available is non-vendor specific. Membership of the Executive Program has allowed the Department to benefit from regular access to a designated highly qualified local specialist, and unlimited access to the company’s analysts worldwide. It provides access to the company’s vast range of research, their objectivity and insight, and access to a network of senior IT managers in similar scale organisations.
2005 88,626.45 Access to this company’s global research databases and Membership of Executive Program. Access to independent reports and research papers in relation to ICT issues. The advice available is non-vendor specific. Membership of the Executive Program has allowed the Department to benefit from regular access to a designated highly qualified local specialist, and unlimited access to the company’s analysts worldwide. It provides access to the company’s vast range of research, their objectivity and insight, and access to a network of senior IT managers in similar scale organisations.
Total 333,152.46

[291]

  265.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29578/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Under the provisions of the EU Council Regulation No. 1258/99 on the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy and Commission Regulation No. 1663/95, since 1995 the European Commission only finances expenditure [292]that is made by paying agencies accredited by member states. As part of the accreditation process, the regulations require that the annual accounts of the CAP paying agencies in member states must be accompanied by an attestation certificate regarding the integrity, exactitude and veracity of the annual accounts. This certificate must be given by a certifying body that is operationally independent of the paying agency. In this context, some payments were made to Arthur Andersen from 1997 to 1999. The greater number of items in the Accenture table from 2000 to date relate to the purchase of contracted software development resources rather than consultancy.

Year Amount Paid Service/Contract Controls/Procurement Process VFM Comment
1997 88,047.84 EAGGF Audit Competitive tendering process As per above — audit is required under EU law
£3,692.38 Professional advice given relating to the accounting treatment of Coillte’s investment in the Irish Forestry Unit Trust (IFUT) for the years 1994 to 1996. Appropriate procedures undertaken VFM obtained.
1998 101,556.50 EAGGF Audit Tendering process in accordance with EU public procurement procedures As per above — audit is required under EU law
34,200 Area Aid Project Appropriate tendering process VFM obtained
1999 139,790.80 EAGGF Audit Tendering process in accordance with EU public procurement procedures As per above — audit is required under EU law
66,550 Review of Beef Export Refunds Payments The contract was awarded on the basis of a competitive tender and, because of its complexity and timescale, Accenture were most suitable for the project given their competence and knowledge of the processes concerned. The adoption of the report has allowed for significant improvement in the service provided to customers and, in particular, the reduction in the time for the payment of beef export refunds to traders to a maximum period of 28 days.
2000 12,533 Review of Procurement Process of Intervention Operations Arthur Andersen & Co were the certifying body at the time that they were awarded this contract. This uniquely qualified them for the task, and they were awarded the contract because of the knowledge they had of the Intervention Schemes as a result of their accreditation certification work. VFM obtained

Accenture

Year Amount Paid Service/Contract Controls/Procurement Process VFM Comment
2000 36,568.46 The Department commissioned The company to assist in the development and production of its eGovernment Strategy. All Government Departments were required to produce such strategies in 2000. The company were awarded this contract following a competitive tendering process. (The tender chosen was lowest priced received). The Department’s eStrategy was developed and delivered to the Department of the Taoiseach on time and within budget.
2000 13,827.45 The company were requested to make recommendations regarding the setting up of an IT Security Unit within the Department. The company were requested to undertake the work as they were already familiar with the IT Security issues facing the Department, having carried out audit work for the Department. Work was completed on time and within cost. The recommendations were accepted and the IT Security Unit was successfully established shortly afterwards.
2001 56,985.84 In 2001, The company were commissioned to provide expertise in Technical Architecture Design, specifically in the area of our Java programming and J2EE environments. This was a requirement of the IT Strategy. Public Tendering Process Work was completed on time and within cost. This provided vital software and standards that would protect the Department’s investment. The software provided allows for competing vendors to supply different modules of the Department’s technical infrastructure.
2001 5,472,053.00 Re-engineering of existing Geographical Information and Area Aid Payments System into a single integrated system Open EU Procurement Tender This work was to provide the controls necessary to underpin the payment of approximately €1.5 billion per annum in EU direct farmer payments. The system was delivered on schedule and provides an excellent service.
2001 53,138.53 Provision of Computer Programmers to assist with the development of a Corporate Customer System The tender was advertised on the eTenders public procurement website. Responses to tenders were evaluated based on pre-determined selection and award criteria. Short-listed candidates were interviewed. The tender was awarded to most economically advantageous tender response. The majority of the IT work required to develop this key corporate software asset was carried out by in-house Staff. The Department is satisfied that very good value for money was achieved.
2001 4,704 Review of Department’s Business Continuity Plan Appropriate procedures undertaken VFM obtained
2002 127,437.30 In 2001, The company were commissioned to provide expertise in Technical Architecture Design, specifically in the area of our Java programming and J2EE environments. This was a requirement of the IT Strategy. Public Tendering Process Work was completed on time and within cost. This provided vital software and standards that would protect the Department’s investment. The software provided allows for competing vendors to supply different modules of the Department’s technical infrastructure.
2002 151,240.32 In 2002, The company were asked to provide expertise to build a multi project method of secure access to systems within DAF. This was to be built upon their own security modules. As The company had provided the technical framework for the J2EE environment and had prepared the Technical Architecture design for that environment, they were commissioned to undertake the building of a system to provide secure access for all our staff to all new IT systems with the flexibility to move seamlessly and efficiently between these systems. This was a force majeure measure as (1) other projects were being delayed, with potential cost implications, due to the lack of such a secure access facility (2) issue had been raised during EU Certification Audit (3) the essential skills and expertise were not available within the Department (4) the underlying environment had been designed and built by The company The Department now had a secure method of access to all systems for its internal staff. The system was now capable of handling multi-application access. This meant less coding and time savings for future developers. This increased security had been an essential requirement which had been identified by the Certifying Body during part of the annual Accreditation Audit of the Department as an EU Paying Agency
2002 5,776,499.00 Continued Re-engineering of Geographical Information and Area Aid Payment System including maintenance of previously developed facilities Open EU Procurement Tender of 2001. This work was to provide the controls necessary to underpin the payment of approximately €1.5 billion per annum in EU direct farmer payments.
2002 227,913.68 Provision of Computer Programmers to assist with the development of a Corporate Customer System The tender was advertised on the eTenders public procurement website. Responses to the tender were evaluated based on pre-determined selection and award criteria. Short-listed candidates were interviewed. Tender details were also submitted to the Government Contracts Committee and approval was received to award it the most economically advantageous tender response. The majority of the IT work required to develop this key corporate software asset was carried out by in-house Staff. The Department is satisfied that very good value for money was achieved.
2003 1,503,356.00 Maintenance of Geographical Information and Area Aid Payment System and provision of Internet access to farmers Open EU Procurement Tender of 2001. This work was to provide the controls necessary to underpin the payment of approximately €1.5 billion per annum in EU direct farmer payments.
2004 21,888.90 Essential security modifications (based on an independent external review) to the Department’s access control system for internet based applications. The company were requested to undertake the work, as The company had written the access control application and had the essential skills and expertise, which were not available within the Department. Work period of 27 days. The modifications were delivered on time and within budget.
2004 29,995.90 Modifications to the Department’s access control system for the Animal Identification and Movement internet based application as approved by the AIM project board. The company were requested to undertake the work, as The company had written the access control application and had the essential skills and expertise, which were not available within the Department. Work period of 33 days. The modifications were delivered on time and within budget.
2004 2,454,950.00 Maintenance of Geographical Information and Area Aid Payment System and commencement of development of system for Single Farm Payment Open EU Procurement Tender This work was to provide the controls necessary to underpin the payment of approximately €1.5 billion per annum in EU direct farmer payments. The ability to build on an existing system to meet the requirements of the Single Farm Payment is saving the Department considerable cost.
2004 916,627.04 Contract to build the IFORIS Computer System for the Forest Service. Extension of existing contract which was put in place in accordance with national and EU procurement procedures The provides end to end support for the processing of forestry grants and integrates the geographical functionality, providing a very high level of control. The project is near completion. This represents good value for money for acquiring a software asset of this scale and type
2005 1,111,059.58 Continuation of the above project Continuation of the above project Continuation of the above project
2005 174,784.50 Contract to build the FIMS (Forest Industry Mapping System) Computer System for the Forest Service Extension of existing contract which was put in place in accordance with national and EU procurement procedures Represents good value for money for acquiring a software asset of this type
2005 27,225.00 Support contract for the Department’s access control system for internet based applications. The company were requested to provide the support, as The company had written the access control application and have the essential skills and expertise, which are not available within the Department. Work period of 33 days. The support is ongoing and timely.
2005 1,319,476.00 Continued development of Single Farm Payment system Open EU Procurement Tender of 2004. This work was to provide the controls necessary to underpin the payment of approximately €1.5 billion per annum in EU direct farmer payments. The ability to build on an existing system to meet the requirements of the Single Farm Payment is saving the Department considerable cost.
Total 19,475,056.50

  266.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person in County Limerick who was granted funding under the current farm waste management scheme for slatted tanks and a cubicle shed and who has all underground work completed is eligible for funding under the new [298]scheme to be introduced from January 2006 if no further work was undertaken. [29637/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Farmers who have been approved to carry out works under the current farm waste management scheme and who have not com[299]menced such works may apply to the Department for the cancellation of such approvals and make a renewed application under the revised farm waste management scheme when it is introduced. However, such work must not commence until approval has been issued by my Department under the revised scheme.

In addition, farmers may also apply for the cancellation of approvals under the existing scheme in regard to distinct and separate units of work which have not yet commenced and which form part of an approval comprising two or more units of work, and submit new applications under the revised scheme, when introduced, in respect of such items. For this purpose, underground tanks and cubicle sheds are considered to be separate units of work. However, cancellations shall not be permitted in respect of any units of work which have already commenced under the existing scheme.

  267.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if she will make a statement on the Government’s attitude towards the forthcoming WTO negotiations and the implications they may have for agriculture here. [29652/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The Government is committed to achieving a balanced agreement between the various elements of the WTO negotiations, which are expected to reach a conclusion at the ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December. In so far as agriculture is concerned, the over-riding objective is to ensure that the terms of the final agreement can be accommodated without the need for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

More specifically, the priorities are to ensure that the phasing-out of all forms of export subsidies will be applied in parallel, as provided for under the WTO framework agreement which was concluded in August 2004, and that the phasing-out period will be as long as possible; that Ireland’s agricultural exports will remain competitive in the EU market through the continuation of adequate levels of tariff protection on imports from third countries; that the EU system of direct payments which, following decoupling, qualify as non-trade-distorting, will continue to be exempt from reductions under the new agreement.

The Commission negotiates in the WTO on the basis of a mandate which was agreed by the Council of Ministers. The mandate reflects the position following the reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. At a meeting of the General Affairs and Foreign Ministers Council on 18 October which I attended, it was again agreed [300]that the mandate remained valid and that it constitutes the limits for the EU’s negotiating brief in the WTO. I will continue to monitor developments in the negotiations and to participate fully in discussions with a view to achieving a satisfactory outcome for Irish agriculture.

  268.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the 2005 area aid payment will be released to a person (details supplied) in County Sligo in view of the fact that following the inspection the issues relating to land parcel numbers have been clarified and in view of the fact that the acreage is well in excess of the requirements; when payment will be released; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29804/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  An application under the disadvantaged areas scheme was received from the person named on 16 May 2005. Following computer validation, the application of the person named was randomly selected for, and was the subject of, a ground cross compliance inspection. During the course of the inspection it was discovered that a land parcel, which was claimed as forage only, also contained forestry. This error was deemed to be a non-intentional declaration. The areas involved have been redigitised by my Department and given two separate parcel numbers. The application of the person named has been fully processed for payment and this payment will issue as soon as possible.

  269.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the precautions which will be implemented to prevent the spread of the bird flu pandemic here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29805/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  My Department has appropriate structures in place to deal with the veterinary dimension of the avian influenza threat and is, of course, also in ongoing liaison with the Department of Health and Children. My Department has already put in place an early warning system, with the co-operation of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the National Association of Regional Game Councils and BirdWatch Ireland, through which unusual or increased patterns of wild bird mortalities are reported.

My Department has been engaged in a risk based approach to the implementation of appropriate measures to minimise the risk of the introduction of avian influenza to Ireland. While endeavouring to reduce the risk of the introduc[301]tion of the disease, much of our effort is placed on the early detection and speedy eradication of the disease.

An EU Commission decision adopted in Brussels last Friday provides for the introduction of additional biosecurity measures and early detection systems. Each member state is required to implement the measures provided for on the basis of a risk assessment, taking full account of the criteria and risk factors set out in the annexes to the decision. Following the decision adopted on Friday last, officials of my Department met the other stakeholders to review the provisions of the decision and the effective operation of the existing early warning system.

A further key element in early detection is testing carried out under the annual avian influenza survey plan, as provided for by Commission Decision 2005/464/EC. The testing of samples is undertaken by the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Abbotstown.

There has been a serological monitoring programme in place since 1995 as part of the poultry health programme that monitors commercial breeding poultry, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, just before they come into lay and when they move sites. In addition, blood samples from clinically sick poultry are screened, as are commercial layer flocks before export. Some 20,000 samples are screened for all subtypes annually.

A more extensive survey including other categories of poultry and wild birds has been carried out as part of an EU survey since 2002. It is expected that, as part of this year’s survey, samples will again be taken from birds in wildlife sanctuaries of international interest as well as game clubs. During last year’s sample, 350 samples were analysed and it is anticipated that this figure will be exceeded this year. Surveillance is central to the early detection and the outcome of the surveillance of wild birds should further provide valuable information, for an early warning system, of strains that may be introduced to poultry from wild birds.

In addition to the early warning arrangements, my Department has also updated and reissued advice and information on biosecurity measures to be taken by poultry flock owners as well as measures that might be taken to minimise the risk of introducing the disease. My Department has also published the clinical symptoms of avian influenza to watch out for and has issued advice to those travelling to and from affected areas. The Department is continually reassessing the level of risk, in light of any emerging information and taking account of the most up-to-date veterinary and scientific advice available. We will continue to operate a risk based approach and maintain a measured response to the risk.

In the event of an outbreak of avian influenza, we have a range of measures to put in place to ensure the early eradication of the disease, [302]including the slaughtering of birds and the declaration of a 3 km protection zone and a 10km surveillance zone around the infected premises. Movements of poultry, poultry transport, carcasses, eggs and other articles likely to transmit the virus would be controlled by licence. The infected premises would be subject to cleaning and disinfecting under official supervision of my Department.

I am satisfied that my Department has, based on the current level of risk, put in place such measures as are appropriate and I will not hesitate to introduce such additional measures as may be appropriate to any increased risk.

  270.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the amount of beef that has been exported from here to Egypt from May 2002 to 30 September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29834/05]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Export refunds were paid in the period from 1 May 2002 to 30 September 2005 in respect of the export of approximately 1,000 tonnes of beef to Egypt. Trade was significantly affected by the special and onerous conditions attached to the export regime by the Egyptian authorities in the period in question. These involved considerable additional costs for the traders with regard to testing, veterinary inspections and so forth.

After considerable work on the Egyptian market I can say that significant progress has been made following the signing last August of a new protocol on veterinary and animal health conditions to be applied to Irish beef exports to Egypt. I anticipate that this development, which effectively reduces the costs associated with beef exports to this destination, along with the higher export refund rate for Egypt, will enhance trade prospects this autumn.

Beef exports to Egypt have only recently resumed and I am delighted that, over the past month, traders have taken out export licences for Egypt amounting to 1,400 tonnes.

  271.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the amount of money accruing from the penalty points system; the use to which such funds have been put; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29791/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  With regard to the amount of money accruing on foot of payments from fixed charge notices and court fines in connection with which penalty points were imposed, this infor[303]mation is not readily available and could only be obtained by the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of staff time and resources.I can inform the Deputy that all moneys received are surrendered to the Exchequer as extra Exchequer receipts and are accounted for in the appropriation accounts.

  272.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29564/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The contracts and services provided to my Department by the company in question since 1997 are outlined below.

[304]There is a contract in respect of access to vendor independent research material, briefings and advisory services on the IT industry worldwide which gives the user on-line access to research and to the company’s analysts through an inquiry facility. The contract is renewable on an annual, per user basis. Renewal of the contract has been reviewed each year, in accordance with public service guidelines on the procurement of goods and services from sole suppliers. The following amounts have been paid to the company in question for this contract by my Department for each of the years in question: in 1997, nil; in 1998, €8,750.62; in 1999, nil; in 2000, nil; in 2001, €8,686.80; in 2002, €20,328; in 2003, €23,861.30; in 2004, €14,520.00; and in 2005, €14,520. All figures include VAT.

In 1998, my Department paid the company in question €1,185.14 for services with regard to a conference event.

In addition, the Courts Service has entered into the following contracts with the company in question:

Date Amount Purpose
2000 345.69 Registration fee for briefing event in Dublin
2003 1,203.95 Cost of report on Strategic Outsourcing
2005 3,146.00 Registration fee for conference in London
2005 15,125.00 Subscription to Core Research Advisor

[303]All contracts referred to above were in accordance with public service guidelines on the procurement of goods and services from sole suppliers.

Information in respect of any services provided by the company in question to the Garda Síochána is not readily available in the time allowed for response and will be forwarded to the Deputy in due course.

  273.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29579/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The contracts and services provided to my Department by the company in question since 1997 are outlined below.

A contract to supply and implement a financial management system for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Courts Service, the Irish Prison Service and the Garda Síochána was awarded to the company in question in March 2002. The tender was advertised through the EU Journal and all responses were [304]evaluated on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender by a team comprising senior officers from each of the end-user agencies. The project was managed using PRINCE methodology and included a project board which met regularly for the duration of the project and oversaw all aspects of the project, including quality assurance. The scope of the project was subsequently extended to include services for the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

All defined deliverables were completed within the terms of the original contract and as a result of the project coming in under budget, the company in question agreed to include further deliverables outside the scope of the original contract at no additional cost, representing significant value for money for the Department. The cost of this contract to date is €14,124,005.81. This project is yielding very significant results in that the full range of financial management services for all the Departments and agencies, including the Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Courts Service, are being delivered: for example, the payroll element alone comprises salary payments to about 22,000 staff who are paid either every week or fortnightly.

A separate contract was awarded to the company in question in January 2005 for the supply [305]and implementation of a calculation and payment system for the criminal legal aid process. Similar procurement arrangements applied for this contract as for the financial management system project. This contract is for a fixed price of €560,720.40, of which €363,65 has been paid to date. This project also came in on time and within budget and represents value for money and a significant improvement on the predecessor system, which had been in operation for a considerable number of years.

Following an evaluation process carried out by representatives from the asylum agencies and divisions of the Department, a contract was awarded to the company in question for the development of a high level information management and information technology strategic plan for the asylum services. Work commenced in May 2002. This work was carried out under the control of a project board made up of representatives from the asylum agencies and divisions of the Department, including business users and information technology users. Board meetings were held at regular intervals and all deliverables were monitored carefully. The contract was for the fixed price of €127,000, including VAT. The final strategy was delivered in October 2002 and is currently being implemented by the Department I regret it has not been possible in the time available to compile information in respect of contracts or services provided by this company to the Garda Síochána. This will be forwarded to the Deputy in due course.

  274.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the way in which a person (details supplied) in County Wexford must make an application for residency; when this can be done; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29597/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I understand from available records that the person in question has been granted residency in the State until 16 February 2010 on the basis of marriage to an Irish national.

  275.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if consideration is being given by the Government to introducing or amending legislation (details supplied) for the purpose of making the Garda Síochána subject to sections 15 and 16 only of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 as amended. [29599/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The Garda Síochána is one of the bodies under the aegis of my Department that [306]has not to date been made subject to the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003. These Acts have been extended to additional public bodies on a phased basis since commencement in 1998. The Department of Finance conducted a consultation exercise in 2004 aimed at identifying public bodies to whom it would be appropriate to extend the Acts. I decided against any extension of the Acts to the Garda Síochána at that time but directed that the issue be reviewed in 2007.

  276.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on whether it is acceptable that the Garda Síochána has been failing to provide protection to fire brigade crews in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council area who have come under attack while dealing with deliberately started house fires on a council housing estate in Loughlinstown; the reason these arson attacks are not being investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29600/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of Garda resources, including personnel, that Garda support for fire brigade crews is provided when requested. The Garda authorities inform me that the area the Deputy is referring to is a residential complex consisting of three storey properties that are in the process of being demolished. It is anticipated that the demolition will be completed within a short time once the remaining residents have been rehoused. Some units have been the subject of criminal damage, mainly small fires in and around the disused areas of the complex. The local detective unit is currently investigating incidents of criminal damage in the area.

I understand that meetings between local Garda management and local representative groups are ongoing and meetings have also taken place between Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the builders and the site security company. The area receives and will continue to receive extra Garda attention in the form of both mobile and beat patrols. In the period around Hallowe'en, the area will be a high priority and will continue to be the focus of increased high visibility patrolling.

  277.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the normal investigative procedure used by the Garda Síochána in following up a report of a burglary; and if this, as a matter of course, includes the taking of finger prints. [29601/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The question raised by the Deputy is primarily an operational matter for the Garda authorities. However, I have made inquiries with the Garda authorities and I am informed that it is normal investigative procedure for the report of a burglary to be followed up by a visit from the Garda Síochána to the scene to confirm that a crime has taken place and gather evidence in support of a criminal investigation. The gathering of evidence may include finger mark evidence, depending on the circumstances of the case.

The role of the Garda Síochána is to investigate alleged offences, to gather whatever evidence may be available and to submit a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. The question of whether a particular person should be prosecuted and for what criminal offence is the responsibility of the DPP. The DPP, who is independent in the performance of his functions, makes his decision on the basis of the Garda findings viewed against the background of common and-or statute law.

  278.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will re-examine the refusal of his Department to grant visas to persons (details supplied) to join their parents here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29602/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The three visa applications in question were received by my Department on 7 September 2005 for the stated purposes of enabling the applicants to travel to the State to reside with their parents here. The mother of the applicants arrived in the State on 22 September 2002 and made an unsuccessful asylum application. She gave birth on 7 October 2002 and applied for residency based solely on parentage of an Irish born child. This was granted in April 2005. The father of the applicants arrived in the State on 10 March 2005 and made an unsuccessful asylum application. He also applied for residency based on parentage of the same Irish born child. This was granted in September 2005.

Applicants for permission to reside in the State solely on the basis of parentage of an Irish born child were made fully aware of Government policy in this area, namely, that persons granted residency on that basis should not expect to have any entitlement to be joined in the State by other family members. This fact was clearly stated on the front page of the application form for such residency. The application form also included a statutory declaration to be signed by applicants indicating their acceptance, inter alia, that the granting of such permission to remain does not [308]confer any entitlements or legitimate expectation on any other person, whether related or not, to enter the State.

  279.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if additional resources will be made available to the gardaí in Tallaght to allow them take more effective and immediate action in co-operation with South Dublin County Council in respect of behaviour problems in the council’s housing estates in Tallaght; his views on the need for action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29651/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of Tallaght Garda station as on 18 October 2005 was 173 for all ranks. The personnel strength of Tallaght Garda station as on 31 December 1997 was 133 for all ranks. This represents an increase of 40% or 30% in the number of personnel allocated to Tallaght Garda station since that date. Local Garda management states it is satisfied that resources currently available in Tallaght are adequate to meet the policing needs of the community.

I have been further informed by the Garda authorities that Tallaght community gardaí work in close co-operation with South Dublin County Council tackling anti-social behaviour. Community gardaí are assigned to ten specific neighbourhoods or parishes that comprise the Tallaght area and are in close working relationship with statutory and voluntary agencies and community representatives on a daily basis. Specific areas of concern with regard to anti-social behaviour are targeted for more intensive policing.

Regarding Garda resources generally, the accelerated recruitment campaign of 1,100 Garda recruits each year to reach a record force strength of 14,000, in line with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength of both attested gardaí and recruits in training of 14,000 by the end of 2006. The Garda Commissioner will now draw up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources and in this context the needs of Tallaght will be fully considered within the overall context of areas throughout the country.

  280.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress that has been made on a follow-up programme to the equal opportunities child care programme; if [309]the new programme will include capital as well as staff costs in order to deliver subsidised child care places; and when the replacement programme will be announced. [29659/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The equal opportunities child care programme, EOCP, 2000-2006, which is implemented by my Department, has been a landmark development in Irish child care policy. As this very successful investment programme nears its final stage, the full range of child care issues and how we should best address them are being critically examined in a number of fora at this time.

At official level, the issue of a follow-up programme to the EOCP is currently being examined in the context of the broad-ranging consideration of child care issues being undertaken by representatives of a number of Departments taking part in the high level working group on early childhood care and education under the co-ordination of the National Children’s Office. In addition, a number of respected bodies have issued or are about to issue informative reports. These include the recent reports of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, NWCI, and the National Economic and Social Forum, NESF. Other reports expected to be published shortly include the national quality framework for early childhood services by the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, CECDE, and the early years curriculum by the National Council for Curriculum Assessment, NCCA. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is also expected to comment on child care when it issues its expected report. These reports and their recommendations will inform the present consideration of the wide range of cross-cutting issues that affect child care.

While it is not possible at this stage to comment on the nature of any follow-on programme to the EOCP, the Government is already committed to continued expenditure beyond the end of the programme to ensure that its momentum is maintained. I believe this indicates a strong commitment to the adoption of a future programme to further develop our child care infrastructure. EOCP funding commitments have been made beyond 2006 in respect of both capital and staffing grant assistance. The level of demand for capital grant assistance was such that I considered it important to increase the capital provision for the present programme. An additional capital provision of €90 million was made available over the period 2005-09 in the context of the 2005 budget. Of this amount, €50 million is being made available under the present programme and the remaining €40 million will flow under the next phase of the post-2006 EOCP.

Regarding staffing grant assistance and following a detailed review of the existing staffing [310]grants under the EOCP, my Department recently extended the terms of the grants to the end of December 2007 to groups that have received staffing grants for a period of three or more years and which continue to deliver a child care service in accordance with their pre-agreed targets. My Department has been at the forefront of developing quality child care services through the EOCP and I hope to continue this role and its valuable contribution to future Government policy on child care. Pending a decision by Government in this regard, I am not in a position to comment further on the issues raised by the Deputy.

  281.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of persons who have availed of the grant for a child minder in the home in each of the past five years. [29660/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  A total of 33 city-county child care committees, CCCs, were established in 2001 to prepare and deliver a five year child care development strategy plan to address the specific child care needs of each of the 33 local areas. To implement its strategy plan, each CCC prepares an annual action plan, which is funded under the quality measure of the equal opportunities child care programme, EOCP, 2000 — 2006. I allocated over €7.6 million to the 33 CCCs for the implementation of their 2005 action plans.

I also approved annual funding to the 33 CCCs for the implementation of the national child minding initiative, specifically targeted at child minders, who play a key role in the delivery of child care. I allocated €965,000 to this initiative in 2005 which supports training, networking, information needs and a quality awareness programme of lectures. Funding is also available under this initiative to child minders to enhance their service through small developmental capital grants of up to 90% of the total cost with a maximum of €630. I made available a funding allocation of €1.89 million for this purpose in 2004. However, as the numbers seeking the grants were less than anticipated, this allocation was carried over to 2005. My Department is currently reviewing the child minders grants element of the EOCP to assess the future needs in this area.

The national child minding initiative commenced in 2003 and, consequently, figures relating to persons participating are only available from the beginning of 2004. Between January 2004 and June 2005, 547 child minders availed of the child minder development grants and 3,362 child minders attended the quality awareness lecture programme and other training courses provided by the CCCs.

[311]

  282.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the names of the community based child care services receiving staffing grants under the equal opportunities child care programme; the number of children in receipt of child care services funded by the equal opportunities child care programme; the names of groups which have had their funding cut; and the reasons therefor. [29661/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  To the end of September 2005, 832 applications from community based and not for profit projects received staffing grant assistance, totalling over €162 million under the equal opportunities child care programme, EOCP, 2000-06. This is in addition to capital funding of €233.5 million allocated under the programme to the end of September 2005.

Total funding allocated under the programme to the end of September 2005 is expected to lead to the creation of approximately 39,000 new child care places and to support a further 31,500 existing child care places. By the end of June 2005, approximately 26,000 of these new places were already in place. Staffing grant assistance under the EOCP is normally approved for three years in the first instance. Subsequent approval of continuation funding normally follows a review of the extent to which a service is meeting the targets agreed in its contract with Area Development Management, ADM, Limited, which is engaged by my Department to manage the day to day administration of the grants.

To benefit from funding, groups must continue to pay particular attention to supporting disadvantaged families and to the implementation of a fee structure tailored to the differing economic circumstances of their client group, thereby [312]ensuring that child care places subsidised by the EOCP are targeted towards those most in need. Following a detailed review of the existing staffing grants under the EOCP, my Department recently extended the terms of the grants to the end of December 2007 to groups which received staffing grants for a period of three or more years and which continue to deliver a child care service in accordance with their pre-agreed targets.

Where a service is significantly failing to meet the terms of its contract, the level of funding under the EOCP may be revised downwards. The converse is also true and a service significantly exceeding the targets in its contract may have its funding revised upwards. Should the Deputy have a query with regard to the level of funding approved for a specific child care service, my Department will be happy to supply him with the relevant details.

  283.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will give a detailed breakdown of child care spending under the National Development Plan 2000-06; if he will explain the grounds on which the decision to increase the target supply of centre based child care places was based; and if it was due to the increased number of women in the active workforce or labour market needs for more women. [29662/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  As the Deputy may be aware the equal opportunities child care programme is funded as part of the two regional operational programmes under the NDP and receives co-funding under the European Union Structural Funds. The table sets out the progress to date of the EOCP as reported by grant beneficiaries to ADM Limited.

EOCP summary to 30 June 2005

Capital Staffing Quality Improvement EOCP Total
(€ Million) (€ Million) (€ Million) (€ Million)
BMW Region 27.256 31.621 14.404 73.281
SAE Region 64.958 65.654 30.609 161.221
National Total to June 05 92.214 97.275 45.013 234.502
NDP Forecast (to Dec 05) 105.831 152.209 55.042 313.082
% of NDP forecast 87% 64% 82% 75%

[311]The interim evaluation of the EOCP and the mid-term evaluation commented positively on the performance of the child care measures, resulting in the allocation of additional funds to the child care measures. This increased the EU contribution to the child care measures from €170 million to €181 million. The reviews also highlighted the fact that the EOCP was performing well and that it was likely to meet the targets set in 1999 and 2000 well within the lifetime of the NDP.

[312]On this basis my Department proposed revised targets for expenditure under the NDP to the managing authorities of the regional operational programmes. These amendments were agreed with the managing authorities and later approved by the respective monitoring committees of the regional operational programmes. The increase in the targets of the EOCP were a result of positive programme performance and took into account [313]the additional funding for the measures and, as a result, an increase in the target was warranted.

The number of women in the active workforce continues to increase rapidly and has grown from a figure of 400,400 in 1990, to 819,000 in 2005. This increase is clearly an important contributor to Ireland’s growing need for child care service provision, a need which the EOCP was established to address.

  284.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí employed as full-time telecommunications technicians in the Garda Síochána. [29664/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of Garda resources, including personnel, that 65 gardaí are employed as full-time telecommunications technicians in the Garda Síochána.

  285.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí which form the special bicycle theft unit set up as a result of his raising the increase in this crime with the Garda Commissioner. [29665/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that a special bicycle theft unit has not yet been established. I am further informed that an examination of the situation is being carried out, with a view to putting in place appropriate measures to address bicycle theft.

  286.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who are employed in the servicing and repairing of Garda official and unofficial vehicles. [29666/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that two Garda sergeants, five Garda mechanics and one Garda storeman are directly employed in the servicing and repairing of Garda vehicles. I am further advised that the Garda Síochána only services official Garda vehicles.

  287.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí per division who have been employed in drugs units in each year since 1998. [29667/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  It is not possible in the time [314]available to obtain the detailed information requested by the Deputy. I will communicate further with the Deputy as soon as the requested information, to the extent that it can reasonably be compiled, is to hand.

  288.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí per division who have been employed in the special detective unit in each year since 1998. [29668/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  It is not possible in the time available to obtain the detailed information requested by the Deputy. I will communicate further with the Deputy as soon as the requested information, to the extent that it can reasonably be compiled, is to hand.

  289.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí per division who have been employed in traffic duties in each year since 1998. [29669/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  It is not possible in the time available to obtain the detailed information requested by the Deputy. I will communicate further with the Deputy as soon as the requested information, to the extent that it can reasonably be compiled, is to hand.

  290.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who are employed in forensics. [29670/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that there are currently 93 gardaí, all ranks, employed full time at the Garda technical bureau, Garda headquarters. In addition, there are 104 gardaí, all ranks, employed full time in forensics nationally — and 53 gardaí, all ranks, are employed in forensics on a part-time basis nationally.

  291.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who are assigned respectively to the fraud squad, escorts and personnel protection unit, and the Criminal Assets Bureau. [29671/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength, all ranks, of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda bureau of [315]fraud investigation as at 17 October 2005 was as set out in the following table:

Division Strength
Criminal Assets Bureau 28
Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation 57

I have been further informed that for security and operational reasons it is not Garda policy to disclose the number of personnel allocated to escorts and personnel protection duties.

  292.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of persons who are currently in Templemore training to be gardaí; and the stages of training they are at. [29672/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that 825 trainees have been admitted to the Garda College to begin training to date in 2005. A further 275 trainees are due to begin training at the Garda College in November. The number of trainees at the Garda College, Templemore as at 18 October 2005 was as set out hereunder:

Phase Total
Phase I 281
Phase III 161
Total 442

There have been three intakes of Garda recruits so far this year. The first two intakes, of approximately 550 recruits in total, are now at phase II of their training. This means that a total of approximately 992 recruits are in training at present. The current student-probationer education, training and development programme consists of five separate but integrated phases. Phase I, 20 weeks, phase III, 16 weeks, and phase V, four weeks, are conducted at the Garda College with the exception of the final four weeks of phase III which are delivered at operational training stations. Phase II, 22 weeks, and phase IV, 38 weeks, are conducted at designated operational training stations. Garda trainees are attested to the force on successful completion of phase III of their training. On attestation, Garda trainees become serving members of the force. Formal graduation takes place following the completion of the fifth and final phase of training.

The accelerated recruitment campaign of 1,100 Garda recruits each year to reach a force strength [316]of 14,000, in line with the commitment in the An Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of 2006.

  293.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who are assigned respectively to the air support unit, drug unit, mounted unit, special bicycle unit, cash escort duties daily, internal IT duties, Garda national immigration unit; and the number seconded overseas. [29673/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  It is not possible in the time available to obtain the detailed information requested by the Deputy. I will communicate further with the Deputy as soon as the requested information, to the extent that it can reasonably be compiled, is to hand.

  294.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who are assigned respectively as juvenile, gay and lesbian, and ethnic minority community liaison officers. [29674/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that there are currently 86 juvenile liaison officer gardaí and eight sergeants working in the various divisions throughout the country. In addition, the national juvenile office has a staff of one superintendent, two inspectors and two sergeants.

I am further informed that the current number of gardaí assigned as liaison officers to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons is 16. The figure for ethnic liaison officers is 187. With regard to Garda resources generally, the accelerated recruitment campaign of 1,100 recruits each year to reach a record force strength of 14,000, in line with the commitment in the An Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of 2006.

The Garda Commissioner will draw up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of the Garda offices referred to by the Deputy will be fully considered in the context of overall needs throughout the country.

  295.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if, in planning [317]for a new Garda communications system, the Tetra integrated network model used by all the emergency and governmental services on the Isle of Man has been looked at as an effective model for Ireland. [29675/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am advised by the Garda authorities that prior to the installation of the pilot digital radio network into parts of the Dublin metropolitan area, Tetra installations used by other European forces, including the Isle of Man, were examined. Any issues encountered by others were taken into account when the specifications for the system were being compiled.

  296.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí who have undertaken the Garda liaison officers’ familiarisation two day course for officers dealing with the gay and lesbian community; and the grades of those gardaí. [29676/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the number of gardaí who have undertaken the Garda liaison officers’ familiarisation two day course for officers dealing with the gay and lesbian community is 16. The grades of the gardaí in question are as follows:

Grade
Inspectors Two
Sergeants Six
Garda Eight

  297.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason there is no Garda liaison officer for the gay and lesbian community stationed in Kevin Street in view of the number of homophobic attacks in the area in the last year. [29677/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities, which are responsible for the detailed allocation of Garda resources, including personnel, that the Kevin Street policing area forms part of the Dublin metropolitan south central division and is covered by two gardaí who are assigned as liaison officers to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The two officers are based in Pearse Street Garda station. The decision to base them at Pearse Street Garda [318]station was made in consultation with those representing the aforementioned communities.

  298.  Ms Hoctor    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding the proposed updating of garda patrol cars and the proposed new Garda internal communications network (details supplied). [29697/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the preparation of a request for tender documentation for a new national digital radio system is at an advanced stage. It is expected that tender documentation will issue to the marketplace in a matter of weeks. I will provide a detailed answer to a priority question on Thursday, 20 October 2005 with regard to this matter.

I am further informed that the updating of Garda patrol cars is an ongoing process. The fleet is continuously reviewed and updated to ensure the safest and most suitable vehicles, in terms of performance, accommodation and equipment fitted to these vehicles, is purchased to enable Garda members perform their duties. Funds are provided annually to purchase and fit out Garda vehicles and cognisance is taken of the views of Garda members as well as having regard to the costings involved, when purchasing vehicles for the Garda fleet.

  299.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when the Garda investigation into the injuries sustained in a Garda cell resulting later in the death of a person (details supplied) will be complete; if the cell in which the person sustained the injuries has since been renovated in advance of the conclusion of the investigation; the reason for the renovation at such a critical time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29698/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the person in question was arrested on 2 June 2005 and conveyed to Store Street Garda station where he was detained and placed in a cell. During the afternoon of that date he was found in an unconscious state in the cell and removed to hospital where he died on 16 September 2005.

I am further informed that an officer from outside the division was appointed to investigate the incident. He visited the scene on the day and arranged to have a full technical examination [319]conducted. I understand that during the following week, in the interest of the health and safety of other persons who could be placed in the cell, renovations, including recessing the alarm buzzer panel into the cell wall, were carried out. I have received a preliminary report of the investigation and have requested that the Garda submit to me a full report on the outcome of its investigation, which is nearing completion. When the full report of the investigation is received I will consider it.

  300.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if, as part of the current review of Garda divisions, it is intended to alter the make-up of any division which currently services County Kildare; if so, the way in which it is intended that it be altered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29699/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities, which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that there are currently no plans to alter Garda divisional structures as they relate to County Kildare.

  301.  Ms C. Murphy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will implement the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in its report on multi-party litigation to support the introduction of such actions into the Irish legal system; if he intends to implement these recommendations; the timeframe involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29700/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have no proposals at this point to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Law Reform Commission on multi-party litigation published last month. The details of any legislative proposals in this area will be announced in due course on the basis of the Government’s consideration.

  302.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 301 of 5 October 2005, the precise terms of reference for the investigation by the chief superintendent; when this investigation will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29715/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the terms of reference for investigation by the chief superintendent in this case were to conduct a fact finding investigation into allegations made by a complainant against gardaí in Ashbourne station. While it is not possible for me to say when it will be completed, I am anxious that the investigation will proceed as quickly as possible and that everyone with information should co-operate fully with the investigation.

  303.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position of an application for title (details supplied) in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29785/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I wish to inform the Deputy that I have requested the Land Registry to contact him directly concerning the current position of the application in question.

  304.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when folio plans will issue from Land Registry (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29786/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I wish to inform the Deputy that I have requested the Land Registry to contact him directly concerning the current position of the application in question.

  305.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason for the long delay on his Department’s behalf in producing a national women’s strategy which Ireland originally committed to at the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995; if he will provide details on when the strategy will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29833/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The national women’s strategy now being developed builds upon the national plan for women, which was published in 2002 and which effectively covered the period of the national development plan to end 2006. Work on the new strategy is well advanced. It is being overseen by an interdepartmental committee of senior officials and is the subject of consultation with the Equality Authority and with a consul[321]tation group made up of the social partners and the National Women’s Council of Ireland. I am hopeful that the draft strategy will be submitted to Government for its approval within the next few months.

  306.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the amount paid to CIE in 2004 to run the school transport system; the way in which this amount is calculated; if it is calculated per child or per mile; and if she will provide details of same. [29708/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The amount allocated to Bus Éireann, which operates the school transport scheme on behalf of my Department, in the 2004 calendar year was €94.6 million. The expenditure is calculated under several headings including driver costs, running costs, road tax, payments to contractors, wages, insurance, claims and so forth. Receipts from fare paying passengers are also taken into account.

  307.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29565/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The total amount paid to Gartner by my Department since 1997 was €152,936.82. The details are as follows: £7,615.49 — equivalent to €9,669.68 — was spent on consultancy advisory service in 1997; £14,238.52 — equivalent to €18,079.19 — was spent on Datapro communications library-research advisory services in 1998; £273.40 — equivalent to €347.15 — was spent on research advisory services on web in 1999; £32,414.17 — equivalent to €41,157.51 — was spent on research advisory services in 2000; €26,041.30 was spent on research advisory services in 2001; no such payments were made in 2002 and 2003; €47,036.82 was spent on project evaluation in 2004; and €2,141.21 was spent on project evaluation and €8,463.96 on strategic reports documentation in 2005. The correct controls in awarding the contracts and the ongoing monitoring of the projects were applied at all times and value for money was achieved in all cases on behalf of the State.

[322]

  308.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the total amount paid to a consultancy company (details supplied) since 1997; the details of each of the contracts and services provided; the nature of controls applied in the procurement process; and if value for money has been achieved. [29580/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  This company was appointed by the Department in 2002. It was appointed to provide consultancy assistance and advice on the implementation of a new financial management information system. The appointment was as a result of a competitive tender.

The tender outlined in detail the tasks to be performed by the successful company, required the tenderer to outline in detail how they proposed to fulfill the requirements and to provide a detailed breakdown of costs per employee proposed. The contract was awarded on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender. The contract was completed on time during 2003 at a total cost of €99,950 and I am satisfied that value for money was achieved. The Department was billed monthly in arrears.

  309.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when a special classroom assistant will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29603/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The National Council for Special Education — NCSE — has been established as an independent statutory body with responsibilities as set out in the National Council for Special Education (Establishment) Order, 2003. Since 1 January 2005 the NCSE, through local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, is responsible for processing resource applications for children with special educational needs.

Where a pupil with special educational needs enrols in a post-primary school, it is open to the school to apply to the local SENO for additional teaching support and/or special needs assistant support for the pupil. The NCSE has confirmed to my Department that an application for additional teaching support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy has been received recently and is currently being processed. The NCSE has also confirmed that no application for special needs assistant support has been received to date.

  310.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Edu[323]cation and Science    if, under section 28 of the Education Act, a school board is required to meet a parent or student who has a grievance with the school; the remedy which is available to such a parent or student if the request is refused; and if such a meeting takes place, the person who is in a position to decide on a chairperson for the meeting. [29604/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Procedures for processing complaints by parents and students will be prescribed for all schools under section 28 of the Education Act 1998. Currently, most schools use procedures that have been arrived at through national agreements negotiated between management authorities and teacher unions. Under the CPSMA-INTO and the ASTI-JMB procedures that are in common usage in primary schools and voluntary secondary schools respectively, the board of management may invite the complainant to address a meeting of the board. The chairperson of the board of management will normally chair this meeting. In general, similar procedures are followed by post-primary schools in the VEC and community and comprehensive sectors.

If, following the completion of the complaints procedure and the issuing of a finding by the board of management of the school, the complainant remains dissatisfied, she or he may appeal the matter to my Department.

  311.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will consider introducing a postal ballot for parents to elect their representatives on boards of management in order to involve more parents in the process of selecting their representatives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29605/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The rules of procedure for the nomination and appointment of parent representatives to boards of management of primary schools are set out in the handbook Boards of Management of National Schools: Constitution of Boards of Management and Rules of Procedure.

Appendix B of the handbook outlines two methods of election of parent representatives to boards, one of which is a postal ballot. The procedures provide that the method of election of parent representatives shall be determined in consultation with the parent representatives on the outgoing board and any parents’ association in the school.

The procedures for the election of parents to boards of management in post-primary schools do not specify the means by which a ballot should be conducted. At a local level, a postal ballot [324]could be used if a school community felt that it would be conducive to greater involvement.

  312.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will issue immediate approval to Bus Éireann to transport a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny to their home after school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29607/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Bus Éireann, which operates the school transport service on behalf of my Department, plans bus routes in such a way as to ensure that, as far as possible, eligible pupils have a reasonable standard of service while at the same time ensuring that school transport vehicles are fully utilised in an efficient and cost effective manner. The company places special emphasis on safety and, to this end, has a wide range of checking procedures in place to ensure a safe and reliable service.

  313.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason key senior staff are leaving a school (details supplied) in Dublin; the position regarding the crisis following the shock departure of its director. [29609/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, the president of the college in question resigned from that position in April 2005. That matter related to the employee-employer relationship between the head of the college and that person’s employers, which, I understand, was subject to legal proceedings. In this regard, it is considered that it is not appropriate for me to make any comment.

The institute referred to in the question is a private institution and individual employees are employed by the management authorities of the institute. Accordingly, I am not in a position to comment on their reasons for departure. I have, however, been assured by the trustees of the institute that the former members of staff referred to in the Deputy’s question will be replaced immediately.

I have a direct role with regard to the funding provided by my Department to the institute in question. That is why I asked the accountancy firm, PwC, to examine the use of moneys paid by my Department to the institute referred to by the Deputy. The main findings of the report, which I published in early August, revealed that there has been no misuse of the public moneys paid by my Department to the institute.

[325]Although my Department did not have any concerns regarding the use of funding provided for the purpose of training teachers, it was nevertheless important, in view of the level of public and media interest in this matter, to demonstrate clearly that public funding was properly applied for teacher training. I am happy that the findings of the examination confirm this position. The trustees of the institute have also commissioned a report by Farrell Grant Sparks. I am confident that these two reports can be used to develop financial and management practices which will bring greater accountability with regard to moneys paid by my Department. I expect that they will also contribute to the current review by the trustees of the present structure of the institute and facilitate permanent governance and management arrangements which will attract the support and confidence of all concerned.

The trustees of the institute in question have announced that a new interim director and president are in place for the coming academic year. I understand that these interim arrangements are working well at the institute and have the backing of the staff. I have asked that my officials maintain ongoing contact with the trustees and interim director and president at the institute concerned.

In addition, a senior official from my Department has recently joined the governing body of the institute for an interim period. I am sure that the Deputy will agree that these significant developments at the institute demonstrate a clear indication, from all concerned, that they remain fully committed to the future of teacher education at the institute.

Finally, my Department’s inspectorate will continue to monitor the quality of the graduates on an ongoing basis to ensure that the highest quality students leave all colleges of this nature. This is a well established monitoring process and one which has worked very well.

  314.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has received proposals from Educate Together seeking to make multi-denominational education provision an objective of the national development plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29610/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The objective of the national development plan is to support the development of all educational sectors regardless of ethos.

In accordance with the provisions of the Education Act 1998, I, as Minister, am obliged to have regard to the need to reflect the diversity of educational services provided in the State. Applying this provision to the development of multi-[326]denominational education at primary level, my Department has supported the establishment of a significant number of new multi-denominational schools in recent years. Of the 24 new schools granted provisional recognition in the past three years alone, 12 are multi-denominational. At post-primary level, the requirement for multi-denominational education is met by the State sector through non-designated vocational education committee schools.

To underpin the establishment of new schools, my Department has made a number of changes in recent years which have assisted patron bodies in the provision of accommodation. One of these changes, which was strongly welcomed by the patron body for multi-denominational schools, was the abolition of the local contribution to the building costs for State owned school buildings, which had cost up to €63,000 per school. Other innovations include the development of the design and build model to provide permanent accommodation much faster, such as in the case of the new multi-denominational school in Griffeen Valley, Lucan, which was designed and built in less than 13 months.

Many multi-denominational primary schools are established in areas of rapidly expanding population growth. School building projects in these areas are assigned a band 1 rating under the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. This is the highest band rating possible which results in the delivery of permanent accommodation in the shortest timeframe achievable. These measures are a strong indication of my Department’s commitment to supporting an educational diversity agenda, including multi-denominational education provision. It will continue to do so as part of its statutory obligations.

  315.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position with regard to the application for additional facilities by a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [29656/05]

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 management authority of the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects. Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2006 onwards.

[327]

  316.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position with regard to the application for additional facilities by a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29657/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department is not in receipt of an application for major capital works from the school to which the Deputy refers. I am pleased to inform the Deputy, however, that I approved funding in excess of €271,000 under this year’s summer works scheme to enable a window replacement project to be carried out at the school.

  317.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position with regard to the application for additional facilities by a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29658/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school planning section of the Department of Education and Science is in receipt of an application for major capital funding from the management authority of the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects. Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2006 onwards.

  318.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a school (details supplied) in Dublin 4 applied in 2003 and 2004 for a grant for temporary accommodation due to an increase in staffing and was refused; if her attention has been drawn to the cramped conditions that staff have to work under in the school and to the fact that the school was forced to invest in temporary accommodation through funds raised by the parents; the way in which her Department will assist this school in funding the temporary accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29683/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school to which the Deputy refers applied for temporary accommodation in 2003 and 2004. While it was not successful at the time, the Department of Education and Science is making significant funding available under the 2006 summer works scheme for small improvement projects. The closing date for the receipt of applications under the 2006 scheme for the provision of additional classroom accommodation was 14 [328]October last. It was open to the school authority to apply again under the scheme in respect of its additional accommodation requirements. Applications under the scheme are being logged by the Department’s school planning section. Any application made by the school in question will be given every consideration during the assessment process.

  319.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the terrible conditions at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 6; if her Department will assist the school in any way; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29684/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The building project for the school in question is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. Officials from the Department of Education and Science recently examined a stage 3 submission. Approval has been given for the project to advance to stages 4 and 5 of architectural planning. A letter requesting a stage 4 and 5 submission has issued to the school authorities and their design team.

  320.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if assistance will be given to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 6 in dealing with the class size issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29685/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the school’s enrolment on 30 September of the previous school year. The number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule and is finalised for a particular year following discussions with the education partners.

The staffing schedule is structured to ensure that all primary schools operate to an average mainstream class size of 29 pupils. If some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use the school’s teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes. School authorities should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and the smallest classes is kept to a minimum.

I have asked the Department of Education and Science’s inspectorate to monitor the deployment of staff and class sizes, to discuss where necessary with the school authorities the basis on which [329]school policy decisions in this regard have been made and to report to the Department, where appropriate. The mainstream staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy for the current school year is one principal and 12 mainstream class teachers, based on an enrolment of 323 pupils on 30 September 2004. The school also has two learning support and resource teachers.

  321.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will list the grants applied for from all primary schools in Dublin South-East; the extent to which her Department is able to help with each request; the amount given to each school; the number of requests refused; the reason for such refusals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29686/05]

  322.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will list the grants applied for from all secondary schools in Dublin South-East; the extent to which her Department is able to help with each request; the amount given to each school; the number of requests refused; the reason for such refusals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29687/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 321 and 322 together.

The information in the format requested by the Deputy is not readily available. The Department of Education and Science provides a wide range of grants to primary and post-primary schools. If the Deputy can provide a list of the grants and schools to which he refers, the Department will be happy to assist in providing the details required.

  323.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the situation with regard to the application by a school (details supplied) in County Donegal for an extension and renovation. [29688/05]

  331.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the situation regarding the application for the extension and renovation of a primary school (details supplied) in County Donegal. [29782/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 323 and 331 together.

The school referred to by the Deputy has made an application for capital funding towards the [330]provision of additional classroom and ancillary accommodation. It was necessary, to ensure that the planned capital investment will meet the school’s long-term accommodation needs, to review the long-term projected staffing at the school. My officials are nearing the completion of this exercise and will be in contact with the school authority in this regard. A decision will then be made on how best to meet the school’s future accommodation needs. The project is being considered for progression in the context of the 2005-09 school building and modernisation programme.

  324.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her Department retained the services of consultants to advise on the exclusion of radon gas from schools; if so, the name of the consultants; the services they provided; the fees which were paid or are payable to them; if she has satisfied herself that the contractors engaged by her Department have carried out the necessary works in a satisfactory manner; if she has further satisfied herself with the work carried out at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29689/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The position is my Department, in co-operation with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, has been funding a radon detection and remediation programme in schools since 1998. The radon reference set for the workplace under the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order, 2000, S.I. No. 125 of 2000, is 400 Bq/m3. In schools with levels above 400 Bq/m3 the management authorities are advised to secure the services of a suitably qualified consultant architect or engineer to carry out all necessary remedial works and grants are provided by my Department for these works. My Department also issues grants to schools for the installation of suitable vents in classrooms where radon levels are between 200 Bq/m3 and 400 Bq/m3, notwithstanding the fact that the radon reference for workplaces is 400 Bq/m3.

Following completion of remediation works, post-remediation measurements are carried out by the RPII to determine if the remediation has been effective. This process is ongoing and the RPII continues to carry out post-remediation testing in schools.

With regard to the school in question, this was one of a number of schools for which my Department made arrangements on their behalf directly with the consultant architects for radon mitigation works to be carried out. A post-reme[331]diation test showed that the remediation works did not bring the levels down to an acceptable level. On the instructions of the consultant architects a broken fan was replaced and the radon levels are now well below the reference levels mentioned, at levels of 57 Bq/m3 and under.

Regarding the matter of the leak in the roof, which is understood to be in the area of the radon pipe casing, this is the subject of ongoing correspondence between my Department and the consultant architects. In the meantime, my Department’s officials have also been in contact with the school authorities to request an estimate of the works required to repair the leak in the roof with a view to making arrangements for the works to be carried out.

Details of the consultant architects which my Department appointed to oversee radon mitigation works at schools and fees payable will be forwarded directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  325.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a school (details supplied) in County Kildare is to lose a teacher in October 2005; if she will take steps to have the decision reversed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29690/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The mainstream staffing of a primary school for a particular school year is determined by reference to the enrolment in the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners. The guidelines can only be deviated from where a school experiences rapid growth in its enrolment. In such cases, an additional post, referred to as a developing school post, may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30 September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30 September, sanction for the post is withdrawn.

The enrolment in the school referred to by the Deputy on 30 September 2004 was 242 pupils, which warrants a staffing of principal plus nine mainstream posts for the 2005-2006 school year. On the basis of projected enrolments, a developing school post was approved provisionally. However, the required enrolment figure at 30 September 2005 was not achieved.

To ensure openness and transparency in the system an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals. The criteria under [332]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 under developing school criteria. As outlined in the relevant application form, this appeal will be considered by the appeals board at its meeting on 19 October 2005. The board of management will be notified of the outcome of the appeal as soon as possible thereafter.

The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board.

  326.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her Department’s budget for literacy in adults in each year from 2000 to 2005; if there is a separate literacy budget for the Prison Service; the amount which has been allocated to the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee for literacy initiatives in each of the years 2000 to 2005; the number of literacy organisers who are employed in the Dublin area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29691/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department funds the provision of adult literacy, which is delivered by the vocational education committees, from the adult literacy and community education, ALCES, budget. The national development plan committed €93.5 million to the service in the period 2000-06, with a target of reaching 113,000 clients over that period. This target will be met. The Department’s budget for adult literacy for the years 2000-2005 was €10.6 million for 2000; €13.6 million for 2001; €16.7million for 2002; €17.9 million for 2003; €19.2 million for 2004; and €22.0 million for 2005.

My Department, under a separate budget, provides for an education service in the prisons. This prison education budget includes literacy. The amount allocated to City of Dublin VEC for literacy initiatives in each of the years 2001-2005 was €1,194,457 for 2001; €2,718,106 for 2002; €2,687,136 for 2003; €2,734,000 for 2004; and €2,908,406 for 2005. The amount allocated for the year 2000 is not readily available as it is archived. The Department will, however, furnish this information to the Deputy within the next few days. It should be noted that the figure for 2005 represents the provision only.

The returns made to the Department for the year ended December 2004 indicate that CDVEC has four full-time and six part-time adult literacy organisers, ALOs; that Dún Laoghaire VEC has one full-time and no part-time ALO; and County Dublin VEC has five full-time ALOs and six part-time ALOs. Dublin Adult Learning Centre is [333]funded separately to provide literacy services in its catchment area. This funding is additional to the CDVEC funding detailed above but is channelled through the CDVEC for administrative purposes.

  327.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 464 of 17 November 2004 and 278 of 9 March 2005, when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded incremental credit as a special needs assistant based on previous experience. [29704/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  A scheme for the award of incremental credit to special needs assistants in respect of relevant previous experience is currently being prepared. The scheme will then be discussed with the trade union representing special needs assistants with a view to publication at the earliest possible date. Applications from eligible persons will be considered following publication of an agreed scheme.

  328.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that her initiative on extra special needs teachers in primary schools is weighted in favour of large schools and that smaller schools in disadvantaged areas are losing rather than gaining special needs teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29721/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As the Deputy is aware, the new general allocation system is intended to cater for children with high incidence special needs and those with learning support needs. The system was constructed so that allocations would be based on pupil numbers, taking into account the differing needs of the most disadvantaged schools and the evidence that boys have greater difficulties than girls in this regard.

Disadvantaged schools that satisfied the Department’s criteria for additional staffing under the Giving Children an Even Break scheme — a scheme to help schools with high levels of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds — avail of a preferential pupil teacher ratio of 8:1. Small schools not eligible for additional staffing under the Giving Children an Even Break scheme also avail of preferential pupil teacher ratios under the general allocation compared to larger schools. It has always been the case that schools that were in receipt of resource teacher support in respect of pupils with special edu[334]cational needs would lose teacher support — either full posts or part-time hours — when the pupils that triggered the extra support left the school.

The Deputy may be aware that my Department has introduced a new action plan for educational inclusion, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, which aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people, from pre-school to completion of upper second level education — three to 18 years — from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed. The new plan is the outcome of the first full review of all programmes for tackling educational disadvantage that have been put in place over the past 20 years and it will involve an additional annual investment of some €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the creation of about 300 additional posts across the education system generally.

A key element of this new action plan is the putting in place of a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage in our primary and second level schools, which will result in improved targeting of resources at those most in need. The identification and analysis processes are being managed by the Educational Research Centre on behalf of my Department.

As a result of the identification process, approximately 600 primary schools, comprising 300 urban-town and 300 rural, and 150 second level schools will be included in a new school support programme, SSP. The SSP will bring together, and build upon, a number of existing interventions for schools and school clusters or communities with a concentrated level of educational disadvantage.

My Department officials anticipate being in a position to notify participating schools about the outcome of the ongoing identification process by the end of the year.

  329.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when she proposes to provide funding for the construction of a permanent school for the pupils of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29722/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department has an application from the school referred to by the Deputy for a new school building. Officials in the school planning section are considering a number of options for the long-term solution to the school’s accommodation difficulties. It is acknowledged that there is no scope for development of the existing site. Therefore, among the options being con[335]sidered is the possibility of securing a greenfield site in the area and our agents in this regard, the Office of Public Works, will pursue this in tandem with a number of other options being considered by the Department.

The Department acknowledges the need for a solution to the school’s accommodation difficulties and is committed to working to achieve a satisfactory solution as soon as possible.

  330.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress which has been made to date on the implementation of the Grangegorman Development Agency Act 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29723/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Grangegorman is a unique site and is of strategic importance in the context of Dublin as a whole and to the north inner city in particular. The Grangegorman Development Agency Act 2005 makes provision for the establishment of an agency to undertake the development of the Grangegorman site as a location for education, health and other purposes. The agency will consist of 15 members and will include representatives of the principal stakeholders.

The functions of the agency include, inter alia, the promotion of the Grangegorman site as a location for education, health and other facilities, co-ordinating the development or redevelopment of the site, engaging in the planning process, deciding on the appropriate procurement strategy, arranging an appropriate communication strategy and consulting with stakeholders and relevant interested third parties. I am at present giving active consideration to the appointment of the chairman and membership of the agency.

Question No. 331 answered with Question
No. 323.

  332.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will report on the NEPS service available to primary and secondary schools in the Dublin 15 area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29803/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  All schools in the Dublin 15 area have access to psychological assessments for their pupils, either through the national educational psychological service, NEPS, directly or through the scheme for commissioning psychological [336]assessments, SCPA, or from the County Dublin VEC service. In this area at present, 22 out of 25 primary schools and five out of six post-primary schools — two of these are VEC schools — have a direct educational psychological service either from NEPS or, in the case of the two VEC schools, from the County Dublin VEC.

Schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, whereby the school can have an assessment carried out by a member of a panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the psychologist the fees for this assessment directly. Details of this process, and the conditions that apply to the scheme, are available on my Department’s website. NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them.

As the Deputy may be aware, the number of NEPS psychologists has increased almost three-fold from 43 on establishment to 124 at present. On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service has recently conducted a recruitment competition for the appointment of educational psychologists to NEPS, with recruitment being targeted in such a way as to increase the numbers of NEPS psychologists in priority areas. Any increase in the number of psychologists in NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

  333.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the cases where victims of abuse at residential institutions, awarded compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, have had some of their award retained by their legal representatives; the action she advises persons to take in such instances; her role in ensuring that this practice does not take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29820/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Section 27 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 provides that all reasonable legal costs and other costs associated with the preparation and presentation of an application to the redress board will be met by the board. In the event that agreement cannot be reached between the board and the applicant’s legal representative, the matter is referred to the taxing master of the High Court for determination.

The redress board’s published guidelines and other publicity material on the redress scheme specifically highlight the fact that all reasonable [337]legal costs incurred in respect of applications for redress are payable by the board. Furthermore, as solicitors are required under law to fully inform their clients, in writing, of the legal costs payable in their case, it is incumbent on the solicitor to inform an applicant to the redress board that all reasonable legal costs will be met by the board and that the applicant should not have to pay any legal costs.

The Law Society of Ireland is the body responsible under law for regulating the solicitor profession and as such it is a matter for the society to investigate complaints about the conduct of a solicitor. Earlier this year, my Department became aware that the society had taken the view that it was precluded from investigating complaints from applicants with regard to overcharging by solicitors as a result of the prohibition on disclosure of information under section 28 of the redress Act. Arising from this, I included an amendment to this section on Committee Stage of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005 to enable the Law Society of Ireland to investigate such complaints. This Bill was enacted into law on 9 July 2005. In early October, the Attorney General wrote to the Law