Dáil Eireann

22/Oct/2008

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Active Citizenship.

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Order of Business.

Parliamentary Questions: Motion.

Morris Tribunal: Statements.

Priority Questions.

Army Barracks.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Overseas Missions.

Sail Training Vessel.

Toxic Waste.

Other Questions.

Child Care Facilities.

Departmental Staff.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Remuneration.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Army Barracks.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Morris Tribunal: Statements (Resumed).

Financial Resolution No. 15: (General) Resumed.

Medical Cards: Motion (Resumed).

School Staffing.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Social Welfare Payments.

Grant Payments.

Written Answers.

Sail Training Vessel.

Defence Forces Ombudsman.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Overseas Missions.

Naval Service Vessels.

Departmental Staff.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Military Medical Services.

Air Corps Equipment.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Personal Injury Claims.

PDFORRA Conference.

Decentralisation Programme.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Property.

Commemorative Events.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Defence Forces Pensions.

Defence Forces Personnel.

Departmental Estimates.

Overseas Missions.

Departmental Properties.

Defence Forces Personnel.

Army Barracks.

Defence Forces Operations.

Civilianisation Programme.

Overseas Missions.

Departmental Properties.

Departmental Advertising.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Work Permits.

Workplace Accidents.

Fiscal Policy.

Tax Collection.

Public Service Contracts.

Flood Relief.

Tax Code.

Drug Treatment Programme.

Health Services.

Ambulance Service.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Procedures.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Community Care.

Health Service Allowances.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Medical Cards.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Mental Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Care of the Elderly.

Community Care.

Harbours and Piers.

Transport Projects.

Public Transport.

Integrated Ticketing System.

Public Transport.

Bus Services.

Departmental Agencies.

Light Rail Projects.

Departmental Expenditure.

Decentralisation Programme.

Rail Network.

Road Safety.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Residency Permits.

Disposal of Firearms.

Citizenship Applications.

Prisoner Rehabilitation.

Prisoner Releases.

Drugs in Prisons.

Prison Discipline.

UN Convention Against Torture.

Prison Inspections.

Community Service.

Juvenile Offenders.

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Strength.

Departmental Staff.

Garda Promotions.

Garda Strength.

Garda Reserve Force.

Garda Operations.

Garda Regulations.

Garda Reform.

Road Traffic Offences.

Proposed Regulations.

Crime Prevention.

Sentencing Policy.

Garda Training.

Legal Aid Service.

Missing Persons.

Sports Capital Programme.

National Drugs Strategy.

Youth Services.

EU Directives.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Disposal of Firearms.

Overseas Missions.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Departmental Expenditure.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Defence Forces Strength.

Army Barracks.

Community Wardens.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Departmental Expenditure.

Planning Issues.

Toxic Waste.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Telecommunications Services.

Grant Payments.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

Third Level Places.

Higher Education Grants.

Departmental Expenditure.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Physical Education Facilities.

School Accommodation.

School Transport.

Departmental Expenditure.

Site Acquisitions.

Insurance Schemes.

Physical Education Facilities.

Schools Building Projects.

Gaelscoileanna.

Special Educational Needs.

Road Safety.

School Accommodation.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In so far as the education sector is concerned, the programme for Government from 2002 states:

We will continue to reduce the pupil: teacher ratio in our schools. Over the next five years we will progressively introduce maximum class guidelines which will ensure that the average size of classes for children under 9 will be below the international best practice guideline of 20:1.

Next year, 100,000 pupils will be in classes of over 30 and more than 450,000 primary school children will be in classes of more than 20. My understanding is that primary and secondary schools submitted their enrolment figures to the Department on 20 September. In his replies from China, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, stated there will be 200 job losses each in the primary and secondary sectors. I seek a commitment from the Tánaiste that the Government will publish the enrolment figures within the next 48 hours to verify who is telling the truth in this regard——

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——and what will be the scale of cutbacks in the teaching sector.

Education is the future and if the State or the Government are not in a position to provide an educational system for the primary and secondary school children of the nation, we have failed in that regard. These are the people who will be obliged to compete with their international peers from the new European counties, the far eastern countries and throughout the world. As Ireland will not have as many manufacturing jobs as it had previously, we must be able to adapt, be flexible and deal with the future. In this budget, which now is only a discussion document that is open to negotiation at all turns of the road, the Government deliberately went the other way, although it had alternatives. Will the Government publish the enrolment figures for the country’s schools submitted to it on 30 September in order that Members can verify who is telling the truth? Second, what savings are projected by the Government as a result of increasing the pupil-teacher ratio figures?

The Tánaiste:  First, the Department of Education and Science’s budget, which in 2009 will be slightly more than €9.6 billion, represents an increase of €302 million.

[724]Deputy Brian Hayes:  That is not the question.

The Tánaiste:  Overall, that budget will comprise an increase of 3.2% over the 2008 figures.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Fascinating.

The Tánaiste:  The amount of spending on education has been trebled since 1997.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  What is the answer to the question?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  What is the answer?

The Tánaiste:  I will revert to the Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Tánaiste, without interruption.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The league of youth.

The Tánaiste:  On the issue of primary school staffing, Members will have heard the Minister for Education and Science this morning asking, in the context of the economic climate in which we are working at present, for partnership in the process with the teacher unions and the teachers.

Deputy Michael Creed:  What about the students?

The Tánaiste:  That is the most appropriate framework in which we can deal with this temporary impasse in the context of overall expenditure on education.

As a former primary school teacher, the Leader of the Opposition is aware——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Of considerable note, I might add.

The Tánaiste:  Yes, of note.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Does he have a pension?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  He is a legend in his own mind.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Has he got a pension?

The Tánaiste:  As the daughter of a national school teacher with a family history of national school teaching, I would not take away from that. Equally, I would not take away from him being a Mayo man.

The staffing schedule and applications will be based on the figures at the end of September. The figure of approximately 200 teachers each in the primary and secondary sectors is based on the overall allocation this year. The figures from Members opposite do not take into consideration the increases, changes and permutations there always are within the available staffing schedules.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There will be 200 losses in Galway alone.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Will there be 1,000 losses nationwide?

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy asked a question about availability.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There will be 200 losses in Galway alone.

[725]The Tánaiste:  I am unsure whether the Department of Education and Science has completed its analysis.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Members should be provided with a translation service.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Stagg has been around here for long enough.

The Tánaiste:  To advise the schools in question of the changes in the staffing schedule, that circular usually is not available until around Easter time. However, if the leader of the Opposition wishes to spend his time looking at how the Government intends to issue a circular arising from this discussion, I am sure he can be facilitated.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Teachers would like to know whether they are being fired.

The Tánaiste:  However, as he is aware, the pupil-teacher ratio contains flexibilities that always have been there——

Deputy Brian Hayes:  No there are not.

The Tánaiste:  ——dependent on, for example——

Deputy Brian Hayes:  The Tánaiste is waffling.

Deputy Damien English:  Not for pupil-teacher ratios.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please allow the Tánaiste to finish.

The Tánaiste:  For example, in the primary system there is a redeployment schedule that is based on the diocesan framework.

A Deputy:  Blame the bishops.

The Tánaiste:  Unfortunately, that situation does not obtain in some secondary schools. However, the Government hopes that in the context of partnership, as the Minister for Education and Science has noted, this issue also can be dealt with.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  I would not bet on it.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Tánaiste gets two out of ten for that answer.

The Tánaiste:  I did not know I was sitting an examination.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  She was asked two questions but answered neither. The first question was whether the Government will publish the enrolment figures submitted to the Department of Education on 30 September within the next 48 hours in order that Members can verify what the level of job losses will be.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is a simple question.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  Yes or no.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Will the Government publish it?

A Deputy:  The Tánaiste should make a call to China.

[726]Deputy Enda Kenny:  Second, what savings are projected by the Department of Education and Science by increasing the pupil-teacher ratio? I wish to ask a couple more questions. On what figures did the Minister for Education and Science base his assessment? He stated there will be 200 job losses each in the primary and secondary sectors. On what basis did he arrive at that figure?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The lotto.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Teachers from around the country have been in contact with me. From China, the Minister is seeking a partnership with the teachers’ unions. Everybody recognises the economic disaster this Government has brought down on the country, of which pay freezes are an element. A pay freeze on those earning above €50,000 within the teaching sector would save in the region of €128 million, thereby allowing the continuation of the current pupil-teacher ratio, the appointment of language support teachers and resource teachers, cover for sick leave and the visits to Dáil Éireann and the sporting activities which are so important to the lives of children all over the country. Has the Government sought a partnership with teachers’ unions in this matter?

This morning, the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, said from Shanghai——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  In a letter from Shanghai.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——that the reversal of the programme for Government in so far as the pupil-teacher ratio is concerned will be rescinded in two years time.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  We heard that before.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  This is a two year proposal. Has the Government factored a reversal of this decision into its programme for spending for 2011? The budgetary statement for 2011 proposes a reduction in borrowing to 2.9% of GDP. Clearly the budget introduced last week envisaged the continuation of these cuts beyond that date. Will the reversal of these cuts in two years time be factored into the Estimates for 2011? These questions require “Yes” or “No” answers, so let us see how the Tánaiste performs this time.

Deputy Michael Creed:  We need a tutorial.

The Tánaiste:  Given the seriousness of the issue, I will not rise to a retort.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Just answer the question.

Deputy John Deasy:  Get someone else to answer.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  It is under “E” for “education”.

The Tánaiste:  On the staffing schedule, there will be a realisation of savings worth €18 million in 2009 and €96 million in a full year. The issue the Minister described as the suspension of a payment refers to uncertified sick leave and absences on school business. This reverts to the 2003 agreement. However, it does not take from another aspect of supervision pay, namely, an annual payment of €1,789 in return for which 37 hours of substitution or supervision is provided each year.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  That is an agreement which the Government is breaking.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is offering a rain check.

[727]The Tánaiste:  To clarify the matter, that will be retained. The other aspects will revert to the 2003 process.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Breaking an agreement.

The Tánaiste:  To clarify, it is a suspension which will revert back, I am sure, with the advent of changed circumstances.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  That is great comfort.

The Tánaiste:  It is important to have due regard for the quality of teaching and education in this country——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Bigger classes are better.

The Tánaiste:  ——and the capacity of our teachers to teach. That has not been mooted by any Member of the Opposition. On the issue of staffing levels, the Leader of the Opposition has requested the staffing schedule.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  We know that.

The Tánaiste:  From what I can ascertain, the circular will not have been finalised——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Why not?

The Tánaiste:  ——because the figures are being compiled.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  We are seeking the school enrolment figures. We know what the schedule is.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Tánaiste to finish.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  The ratio is 28:1. We know that.

The Tánaiste:  As a practising politician, the Leader of the Opposition will realise these matters have to be checked and rechecked.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  Why did the Government not check the budget? The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, could have done it.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  It is 28:1.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  There are a number of contenders for leadership on the Opposition benches.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  It is another U-turn.

The Tánaiste:  If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to spend his time preparing the staffing schedule for the Department of Education and Science, I am sure we can facilitate him.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Rubbish.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  That is the Government’s job.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy is reverting to type.

[728]The Tánaiste:  At this moment in time, it is not in the better interest of the primary schools in respect of which he asked this question.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  League of youth.

The Tánaiste:  I was asked where the figures were. I am basing my response on the figure of 200 teachers prepared by the Department in the context of the overall increase in primary school enrolment and whatever cross cutting has to be done for special needs, etc. I can certainly ask the Department to forward the staffing schedule to the Leader of the Opposition when it is ready.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Next year.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Every Member of the House will have the opportunity of showing where he or she stands on the education cuts and increases in class sizes when the Labour Party tables a Private Members’ motion on the issue next Tuesday.

I want to pursue with the Tánaiste some of the matters I raised yesterday with the Taoiseach in regard to medical cards for the over 70s. I want her to answer two questions which the Taoiseach did not address. First, is it the case that the Minister for Health and Children will be able to change the income limits which were announced yesterday in respect of medical cards for the over 70s without coming back to the House? Second, is the Government going to index-link these income limits?

I ask the Tánaiste the legal position on medical card entitlements for the over 70s. I put it to her that the statement made yesterday by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children does not change the legal entitlement of people who are over 70 to continue to hold a medical card. I will explain. The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001 gives the over 70s an automatic legal entitlement to medical cards. Yesterday the Government stated its intention to repeal that section of the Act. Repealing the 2001 Act will change the position for those who are not yet 70 but it will not change the legal entitlement to hold a medical card for those who are currently over 70 because the Interpretation Act 2005 states:

Where an enactment is repealed, the repeal does not—

[. . .](c) affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred under the enactment,

In other words, the repeal of the 2001 Act will not change the legal entitlement for people who are currently over 70 to continue to hold the medical card. The only way that can be done is by bringing in a legislative measure to take the medical card off them.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Try that.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Frankly, if the Tánaiste is having problems now in getting her backbenchers to vote for the repeal of the 2001 Act, let us see how they face up to a legislative measure that takes the medical card off the people who currently have a legal entitlement to it.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Deputy White will not go for it.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  Back to the drawing board.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Given that people who are over 70 continue to have a legal right to hold medical cards and given the made-up nature of the figures on which yesterday’s announcement was based, cannot the Government make a decision before the pensioners [729]assemble on Molesworth Street later this morning to do the decent thing and leave them with their medical cards?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  He is looking for socialism.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Ask Joe Behan about that.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  The Minister did not say that in 2001.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That is all we can expect of the Members opposite.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Government Members are reverting to type.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is a legal view.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Bully boy.

The Tánaiste:  If the Labour Party wishes to continue muddying the waters on this issue, that is a matter for itself. However, it is the intention of the Government to repeal the Act. It is also the intention of this Government to introduce the income thresholds in other legislation. Therefore, it is appropriate to say that the Government’s intention is to move with the new income thresholds of €700 and €1,400, respectively, for those over 70 with eligibility entitlements.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  What about the following year?

The Tánaiste:  It is the Government’s intention that the top 5% of earners would stay outside that remit. On the basis of legal advice to the Minister for Health and Children, this is the methodology by which this process can continue and come before the House. This is the legislative measure that will enact the Government’s decision to support those over 70 within the income thresholds of €700 and €1,400.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Tánaiste did not answer the first two questions I asked her, that is whether it is the position that the Minister can change the income limits at the stroke of a pen after 1 January, when these measures will be enacted. Will the Government index-link the new income limits? I would like an answer to those questions and I understand other Members seek answers to those questions before voting on the Fine Gael motion later this evening.

The Tánaiste did not answer my question on the legal position regarding those over 70. It is perfectly clear that repealing the Act of 2001 does not remove the legal entitlement to hold a medical card of those who have already reached the age of 70. Can the Tánaiste clarify the position? Is it the Government’s position that it intends to repeal the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001, which will change the position for those under 70 but not for those over 70? Is it the intention to bring in legislation that expressly provides for taking back the medical card from those who hold them? After a number of interviews on radio and television by the Taoiseach and the press conference yesterday, we are entitled to know what the Government intends, if the Government knows what it intends to do. We need clarity on the three simple questions I asked. Can the Minister change the income limits? Will she index-link the income limits? Is there a legal basis for taking back the entitlement from those who got the entitlement under the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act?

[730]The Tánaiste:  I assure people that whatever is required to ensure that no more than 5% are outside the remit is the intention of the Government.

A Deputy:  Does Deputy Noel O’Flynn know that?

The Tánaiste:  All matters can be dealt with in the context of the legislation.

Deputy Michael Creed:  The Tánaiste is making it up as she goes along.

The Tánaiste:  The legality of any legislation, changes to it and requirements within this House, are done with the best legal advice from the Attorney General. The Minister for Health and Children has been advised by the Attorney General in the context of the legislative framework in which she will introduce this new scheme.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  The Tánaiste does not know.

The Tánaiste:  There will be an opportunity to discuss these issues once the legislation has been brought before the House.

Deputy James Reilly:  Will the Tánaiste not confirm the assertion of her Minister of State on “Prime Time” that this will be index-linked?

The Tánaiste:  Deputy Reilly is not the man to be talking about that.

Deputy James Reilly:  Is that the Tánaiste’s answer? She left her Minister of State out to dry.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  How much does Deputy Reilly get from the GMS scheme?

  1.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the progress made on implementing the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15233/08]

  2.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the recent work of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17137/08]

  3.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19441/08]

  4.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Taoiseach    the progress he has made in implementing the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship as outlined in An Agreed Programme for Government 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20770/08]

  5.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the progress to date in implementing the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24712/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together. Active citizenship is a priority area for the Taoiseach [731]and I am delighted that he has appointed me as Minister of State in his Department to lead this initiative. The Government remains committed to strengthening community activity and increasing civic engagement across all sectors of society in order to develop a nation of diversity with a sense of shared values, of belonging in the community and of pride of place in our townlands. This concept is reflected throughout the agreed programme for Government which includes a number of the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship.

I will be assisted in my active citizenship role by a steering group, especially in the areas of public policy, business and the media, chaired by Mary Davis. Today I am announcing the members of the steering group which will shortly hold its first meeting. The members of the steering group are Mary Davis, Dermot McCarthy, Gerry Kearney, Mary Cunningham, Tony Kennedy, Sr. Bernadette MacMahon, Mary Nally, Colin McCrea, Joyce O’Connor, Conor Harrison, Karin Dubsky, Paraic Duffy and Maurice Coughlan.

The active citizenship office has already been working with relevant Departments under whose remit many recommendations of the task force are to be implemented, and with various business interests in order to encourage greater connectivity to the community through this sector. Consultations have also been held with the wider educational sector with particular regard to raising awareness of the potential for service learning and volunteering. Departments have prepared updates of progress on the public policy elements of the recommendations and I am confident this progress will continue.

Having worked very closely with the community and voluntary sectors in my previous role in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, there is great good will and potential in every community to use time, skills and experience to the benefit of others. I regard active citizenship as a very positive initiative and an opportunity for everyone to become involved.

As citizens we have responsibilities not alone to family but to our immediate and wider community. An onus of duty rests with us to exercise these responsibilities in different aspects of our lives, whether by voting, social interaction in our own areas or through our business connections. We must re-emphasise the values that have sustained us over many generations, cherishing our democratic freedom, guiding our young people towards responsible adulthood, sharing our successes in education, in careers and in business with those who have been less fortunate. I look forward to the challenges in this work.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Will the Minister of State join with me in congratulating Age Action Ireland and the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament for mobilising people in a brilliant example of active citizenship in opposition to the Government’s attack on those holding medical cards aged 70 or over? Regarding the recommendation, what is the status of the task force recommendation that the Government establish an independent electoral commission to encourage everyone eligible to register to vote to do so and to vote in elections, and to support voter education programmes and provide data, research and analysis on political engagement and awareness? What will the Government do with the recommendation for an audit on existing community facilities to be undertaken by local authorities through the county and city development boards, better use to be made of schools at weekends and evenings to act as community hubs and the expansion of education for citizenship in the school and education system and the youth and adult education sectors?

Deputy Pat Carey:  I share the view of Deputy Morgan that the work done by the organisations mentioned has an important role to play in active citizenship. When I was in the Department to which I referred, I worked with those organisations to ensure they were able to participate fully in community development.

[732]There is a long list of key recommendations. I will refer briefly to them but can elaborate if the Deputy wishes. We will lay before the House a report on the status of the implementation of these reports very shortly. Participation in the democratic process was a key recommendation of the task force, one aspect of which was the establishment of an independent electoral commission. This would encourage all those eligible to register and vote through organisational voting, by time, for example, and there would be a publicity campaign with explanatory material on registering to vote and the process itself.

  11 o’clock

A number of things have happened. A Green Paper was issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and several very significant initiatives have been rolled out, most recently one under the aegis of the Ceann Comhairle, whereby research and education officers have gone into schools. Many of us have participated in those programmes in which transition year students, for the most part, have been involved in workshops on how the voting register is compiled and examining the basis of participation in our democracy. From the number of schools I have visited in my constituency, I highly recommend that initiative as worthwhile.

Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of announcing modules for another initiative at the curriculum development unit in Dublin. That unit is working with the Department of Education and Science to prepare programmes for students up to transition year in order that they will understand better the functioning of our democracy and issues around social justice and participation. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is working on a pilot project for post-junior certificate students and I look forward to that being rolled out, with the potential for politics to be developed as an examination subject at a future date.

Deputy Morgan raised the matter of the audit of community facilities. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is conducting an audit of those facilities which is expected to be completed at the end of this year. That will give us a good indication of what facilities are available in every community throughout Ireland.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  That has nothing to do with the report.

Deputy Pat Carey:  The task force on active citizenship included that matter in its report as one of its recommendations. I have it here.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  I have it here and shall read it out in a moment.

Deputy Pat Carey:  That is being rolled out. Several other pilot projects are being developed with regard to the use of schools after hours and funding has been made available through the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with the help of partnerships and Leader companies to examine what best use can be made of that facility.

The cost of insurance and insurance cover, a grey area, was often a concern for all of us who were involved in community affairs. Again with the help of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the voluntary associations have managed to get a policy to cover this at a fairly modest cost.

Another area recommended in the task force report was an examination of how the third level sector might be encouraged to become involved, by recognising volunteering. Universities and institutes of technology have initiated pilot projects in areas such as awards for participation in voluntary organisations associated with the community sector. The area of volunteering, which is only one part of active citizenship, is also being developed through the [733]development of volunteer centres, and Volunteering Ireland and other organisations have been involved. There are a number of initiatives in the business area, for example, Give It a Swirl and Get to Know Your Neighbour, that are promoted by some companies as part of their corporate social responsibility function.

Deputy David Stanton:  I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment to this very important job and I am sure he will do well. The report states that active citizenship involves more than community volunteering. Last March the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, said he would have an implementation plan ready in a few months. When can we expect to see this plan and will it be made available to everybody? At the launch of the report in March 2007, the former Taoiseach said he looked forward to seeing some practical initiatives proceeding on foot of the report. What are these practical initiatives and what is the time scale for them? I understood that one of them would be to establish a national active citizenship week. What is the status of that and when might it happen? What is happening in respect of the national presidential citizenship awards to recognise achievement?

The Minister of State said there are pilot projects with regard to the use of schools after hours. Will he let us have a list of those schools? I appreciate he may not have such a list with him today. How long will this pilot project last and when does he expect it to go nationwide? Will the Minister of State let us know where the volunteer centres are located and how that initiative is proceeding?

Voter turn-out has been recognised as an issue. What is happening with regard to that? Does the Minister of State agree that cutting the youth work budget this year does nothing to serve active citizenship? It does the opposite for young people. In light of the severe cutbacks put in place in the already very meagre allocations to youth services, what plans does the Minister of State have to engage young people?

Concerning the use of schools at weekends and evenings, how will the Minister of State advance this initiative nationally? Schools are closed during those times but young people, particularly young teenagers, have nowhere to go to socialise. We hear much talk about youth cafés but there is very little happening on the ground. How will the Minister of State ensure that young people, teenagers aged from 12 to 16 years, have a place to go to socialise in their own towns and villages, given that they can become active citizens rather than hang around the streets to meet their friends, which is not desirable. This is a significant issue nationally.

Deputy Pat Carey:  Most people understand this issue but I will explain it. The active citizenship unit in the Taoiseach’s office is a facilitator and enabler that encourages others to develop a range of activities. Deputy Stanton mentioned the area of education, for example, and I shall certainly provide him with the list of schools he requested. The use of schools and greater access to community facilities for and by young people is an issue divided between the Department of Education and Science, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. That is one example. As Deputy Stanton will know, a number of youth cafés have been developed throughout the country. The Office of the Minister for Children, with organisations such as the National Youth Council, has been conducting an evaluation of the effectiveness of some of those venues. Some are very well resourced. The Gaff in Galway is an excellent example, as is The Squashy Couch in Waterford and there is another good one in Sligo. In other cases youth clubs will adapt their facilities on one or two nights a week to encourage greater participation by young people. Again, organisations such as the National Youth Council constantly promote the greater engagement by young people in non-formal education of different types.

[734]I propose to lay before the House in the next couple of days the action plan we are discussing. It will be built around the recommendations of the task force. The steering committee will meet in the first or second week of November. I do not wish to be excessively prescriptive about the work it will do as each of its members has extensive experience in areas such as the statutory, community, sports and youth sectors. With the assistance of officials from different Departments, the work of the steering committee will result in the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship.

At the last count, there were 17 volunteering centres in different parts of the country. Supported by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the objective of the centres is to increase the participation of volunteers in various activities. Some centres have development officers, while others use volunteers or existing staff members to increase the level of participation by all sectors of the community in voluntary and community activity.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Does the Minister of State agree that the mean action taken on medical cards has provoked a level of active citizenship which has surprised the Government and forced it to do a U-turn on its decision? Perhaps the Government will consider what other actions it may take to provoke certain other active citizenship revolts against it.

The Minister of State referred to a unit in the Department of the Taoiseach which deals with the issue of active citizenship. How many people are employed in the office and what is the status or standing of staff?

The Minister of State is floundering on this issue to the extent that one would be forgiven for believing the task force report had not been published. The report effectively provides a road map of what needs to be done. It is fine to provide Deputies with information on issues unrelated to the task force and in that respect I compliment the Ceann Comhairle on the initiatives he has taken. However, such initiatives have nothing to do with the task force report. The Government should implement the report, as it promised to do in 2007 when it had lots of money. Despite the Minister for Health and Children’s statement that the Government had money coming out of its ears at the time, it has failed to act. Perhaps if action had been taken, the Ceann Comhairle and others would not have taken individual initiatives.

The task force report on active citizenship makes 19 recommendations, the first of which is to establish an independent electoral commission to encourage everyone who is eligible to register and vote in elections, support voter education programmes and provide data, research and analysis on political engagement and awareness. What action has the Government taken on this recommendation?

The second recommendation is that national presidential citizen awards be introduced to recognise outstanding contributions to civic and community life. My constituency colleague, Deputy Bernard Durkan, has called for the introduction of such awards for 20 years. I have not heard of any action being taken in this regard since the report was published and accepted by the Government. What is the position?

The report recommends the introduction of a formal citizenship ceremony to mark admission to Irish citizenship and engage and welcome newcomers. A similar ceremony could also apply to all Irish citizens when they reach the age of 18 years. It is envisaged that citizens would receive a scroll from the Government or letter from the President when they reach the age of majority. Has action been taken on foot of this recommendation?

The task force recommended the adoption and promotion each year of a national active citizenship theme to stimulate local initiatives and which would culminate in active citizenship week. What action has been taken to give effect to this recommendation?

[735]Has action been taken to implement the recommendation that the group insurance scheme currently open to members of local community and voluntary forums be promoted widely among relevant organisations and groups? The purpose of this measure would be to counter prohibitive insurance costs for many community initiatives. As the Minister of State will be aware, excessive insurance costs have resulted in many community initiatives being dismantled.

What steps have been taken to introduce an initiative to help community and voluntary organisations meet compliance costs and ensure these costs are proportionate, as recommended in the report? Has action been taken to implement the recommendation to introduce a programme in the public service to promote community engagement and participation, for example, by providing time off for voluntary effort and through pre-retirement courses?

The task force report also recommended that local authorities prioritise the provision of community and recreational facilities as part of their planning processes. I am not aware of any specific initiatives taken in this regard in my constituency where a large number of planning decisions are made. Instead, councillors squeeze land for a football field from developers seeking to have land zoned. Offering a football field to the community is a new form of brown envelope and is being used by developers to blackmail local authority members to approve zoning for residential development. Has action been taken to enact in law the task force recommendation to ensure community and recreational facilities are prioritised in planning and made a requirement as opposed to being left to the whim of developers?

Has the recommendation that local authorities undertake an audit of community facilities through the county and city development boards been implemented?

The Minister of State indicated a pilot scheme has been introduced to give effect to the recommendation that better use be made of schools at evenings and weekends. The pilot scheme is a local initiative and has no connection to the task force report. Is it proposed to make civic facilities available for uses outside the relatively short periods in which they are currently used at substantial cost?

What action has been taken on the recommendation to expand education for citizenship in the school system and youth and adult education sectors? What is the position regarding the recommendation to introduce a certificate or award which would be earned through completing at least three months volunteering or community involvement activity in Ireland or overseas? The only recognition available in this regard is when large traders such as Tesco offer a community award to people who cut the ribbon on a new building. The task force recommendation is worthwhile and would be easy to implement.

Will the Minister of State confirm that no action has been taken to implement the recommendation that an initiative be introduced to promote, support and link together initiatives across the higher education sector? Similarly, no action has been taken to implement the recommendation to establish a national observatory which would act as a focal point for research on civic engagement.

The task force also set a number of what it describes as “ambitious but realisable” targets. Will these targets be included in the work the Minister of State envisages will be done by the steering group?

Deputy Pat Carey:  My initial response addressed in general terms the recommendations of the task force report on active citizenship. With the permission of the House, I will discuss in detail the progress made on each of the recommendations. The active citizenship unit has a staff of four.

[736]On participation in the democratic process, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has appointed consultants to carry out preliminary research on issues arising in relation to——

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  More consultants.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  I thought the Government had stopped that nonsense.

Deputy Pat Carey:  I can only provide the information the Deputies seek if they permit me to speak.

When inviting tenders, the report of the task force on active citizenship was identified as a context within which the study is being undertaken to take forward the commitment in the programme for Government. They key elements of the study are: an overview of the current arrangements for electoral administration; an examination of relevant models of electoral commissions in other countries, taking into account relevant international research; identification, assessment and ranking of options for an electoral commission, including scoping of structure, functions and relationships with other bodies involved in electoral policy and administration; and recommendations concerning approaches to the modernisation and consolidation of legislation in the context of the establishment of the electoral commission and the phasing in of its operations. The outcome of the study will indicate the options in terms of moving forward on the issue.

Regarding the schools programme I referred to earlier, a new parliamentary education programme was launched in October 2007 by the Ceann Comhairle. The programme is being delivered to second level students in schools around the country by Oireachtas personnel. The Ceann Comhairle is visiting schools throughout the country to raise awareness about politics and the importance of voting. Dáil and Seanad Members in the relevant constituencies are invited to join the Ceann Comhairle when he visits schools in each county, and I have no doubt Deputy Stagg has participated in these occasions in his constituency.

The new second level schools programme has been developed in conjunction with CSPE, comprising curriculum representatives from the Department of Education and Science. An initial pilot project will be put in place throughout the country and will be reviewed and expanded. Outreach officers from the Houses of the Oireachtas are presenting this programme and it will be in all schools by next September. By the time of the election to the 31st Dáil, young voters will have received an education about the workings of the Oireachtas which has not been available to any previous generation. The Ceann Comhairle will take the opportunity to speak at conferences and other public events to promote participation in politics and the important work that goes on every day in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

An award winning website, www.oireachtas.ie, contains 3 million pages, every document since the foundation of the State. This important resource will be made more user friendly to further encourage public interest. An enhanced press relations unit will help to better inform the media. The e-democracy programme will foster greater connectivity to the Parliament, accessing information sources on-line and leading to greater understanding and engagement with the parliamentary process. The public can make submissions on matters before Parliament etc. More people will be encouraged to visit Leinster House. At present, some 80,000 people visit Leinster House annually.

The recently published OECD report on the public service includes a full chapter on customer services towards a citizen-centred approach. This includes recommendations on how Ireland’s public service might be better integrated and related to the active citizen perspective, [737]and how to make it more user friendly and citizen focused. In this regard, the OECD stressed the importance of making the public service more open to feedback on service policy, planning and delivery. The objective is to match service provision, including delivery channels and service standards, with citizen expectations and needs and to position the public service so that it is able to embrace and utilise the input of citizens. Consultation with customers is the first of the four stages of the customer charter initiatives, the others being commitment, evaluation and reporting.

The issue of consultation with the public and the customers is promoted by the public service management division of the Department of the Taoiseach on an ongoing basis in other ways. In addition to addressing citizens’ needs through the various elements of the quality customer service initiative, the better regulation of the Department of the Taoiseach is addressed in a document, Reaching Out: Guidelines and Consultation for Public Sector Bodies. Another recommendation of the task force was that the group insurance scheme open to members of local community and voluntary forums should be promoted widely among relevant organisational groups.

For the benefit of Deputy Stagg, the update in this regard is that the Irish National Community and Voluntary Forum, INCVF, has renewed the group insurance scheme with the existing insurance broker and there is no change to premiums or the level of cover as previously provided. Previously, INCVF published information packs regarding the scheme and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has supported, via local authorities, the dissemination of the information in electronic format.

The next recommendation was an initiative to help community and voluntary organisations meet compliance costs. As regards that matter, as I said earlier, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs provides funding towards the cost of compliance with company law and other relevant legislation to a broad range of organisations in the community and voluntary sector. These include partnership and Leader companies, as well as the community development projects. Provision is also made for compliance costs through grants funded by the Dormant Accounts Fund. Under the new training grants scheme, funding will be available for training in governance, improved accountability, reporting and so on. The Department is also increasing funding to volunteer centres and now funds centres located in Donegal, Galway, Sligo, Limerick, Limerick city, Kerry, Wicklow, Kildare, Carlow, Dublin city south, Tallaght, Cork, Westmeath, Drogheda, Fingal, Dublin city north, west Limerick, south Tipperary and Mayo. The Department is in discussion with the relevant organisations seeking funding for volunteer centres in four other counties. In rolling out funding for these addition centres, the Department is prioritising areas with larger populations having regard to demands for this type of service.

The next recommendation was that funding schemes be strengthened to support capacity development among community and voluntary organisations in the area of training at both national and local levels. The progress on that issue is that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs supports capacity development and training within the community employment sector through a range of grant supports. For example, the local development programme provides training and education grants through local partnership companies. These companies provide training in community development, capacity building, IT or any other priorities identified by the local community. The community development programme provides premises, development workers and capacity building projects to disadvantaged communities in more than 180 locations throughout the country. These projects are primarily in the most disadvantaged communities. They play a significant role in building community infrastructure and enhancing the capacity of their communities. The Department will shortly advertise a training grant scheme for national and locally based organisations in the community and volun[738]tary sectors. It is anticipated that in excess of €2 million will be made available through this scheme.

The next recommendation was that a programme be introduced in the public service to promote community engagement — Deputy Stagg has the rest of the text of that recommendation. The Civil Service provides special leave, paid and unpaid, in a variety of circumstances, subject to business needs. Special leave is available for specific purposes, such as service with charitable organisations, training with the Defence Forces or call out with voluntary search and rescue organisations and for study for examinations. Opportunities for special needs leave are provided for employees who have been selected to represent their county in various sports. Leave is also provided for volunteer work abroad. In responding to the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship, the Department of Finance determined that the granting of special leave to employees during working hours would require specific regulation. Existing special leave arrangements are subject to formal verification and these criteria also apply to any expansion of the existing programmes.

In terms of recruitment policies and evaluations of job performances, Departments determine the criteria for selection of staff, while the Public Appointments Service undertakes recruitment for the Civil Service in the codes of practice. Central agreements are in place to link the performance management and development system with assessment for promotion.

Deputy David Stanton:  With respect, is it in order for the rest of the Minister of State’s reply to be included on the record, so that other Members can ask questions?

Deputy Pat Carey:  The whole lot, lock, stock and barrel will be made available within the next couple of days. I was asked particular questions and I was just responding to the specific requests.

Deputy Damien English:  I will try not to make a Second Stage speech, but I have a couple of questions on this very interesting topic. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, is in charge of it because he is one Minister who cares, while many of his colleagues do not. We must endeavour to get some real change in this area. A 2003 initiative on volunteering that gave rise to a Green Paper and a White Paper came before the House, but got nowhere. It just disappeared, so hopefully this will deliver results and real change. On that note, I am glad to see that Ms Mary Nally from County Meath, who has done excellent work, is on the body, along with many others whose names I do not know. What type of powers will the body have to implement or enforce its ideas on change across various Departments?

The use of schools at weekends and so on has been recommended. However, when a developer or a builder approaches the Department of Education and Science to talk about building new schools and having community facilities as part of the same complex, they do not get an open door. We have not really changed our thinking in that regard. Will the Minister of State’s group be able to address that aspect so that buildings can be erected that will encompass both education and the wider community for the future? I would welcome the Minister of State’s thoughts in that regard.

Does the use of schools extend to the use of school buses? It is fine having these facilities for young people but we cannot get them there. If the travel cost is too high, or someone is needed to take them, it defeats the purpose. We have plenty of school buses that remain parked most nights and at weekends, and during the day as well, and this is a shame. We are not getting good value for money across the board and I would welcome his comments in that regard. I accept he cannot give me all the answers today, but perhaps he could include them in his replies to future questions.

[739]Is the group insurance scheme widely available to all groups? If it is, does the Minister of State believe it is working well or does it need to be changed? Can the group recommend that we provide grants for the day-to-day running of various groups and organisations? It is all very well providing buildings, putting structures in place and giving grants to start-ups but running costs are an issue for many groups of all ages. Can the Minister of State recommend tax breaks for people who want to fund community facilities or for the day-to-day running costs of different groups?

We are talking here about the education of young people in regard to the political system through the schools. That is all very well and I accept great inroads have been made in that area by the Houses of the Oireachtas and by the Department of Education and Science for those still in school. However, a large number of people who have left school received no education on how politics works or on how the system works, whether at local, national or European levels. We all have a duty to sort this. That will lead on to active involvement, active citizenship and active voting in our democracy. That has not really been discussed.

I presume the Minister of State’s group will hone in on that area because we must try to address that, whether we have political information centres in all our communities. I suggest using the libraries or post offices and using existing staff to do this. We must get the message out about how politics works and why certain decisions are made. We can bring people along with us on tough decisions if they understand why and how they are made and who makes them but not everyone understands. We are lucky we are in the system so we have been educated as a result. However, for those looking in, it is not that easy for them to figure it out.

This is not only about community and volunteering, although that is a key part of it. We need to get people involved in the community and in volunteering and young people need that help. I presume there is a recognition of the pressures on people which might prevent them from getting involved and volunteering. With time pressures, being stuck in traffic, work commitments and so on, we must realise we need to do much more to give people of all ages time to get involved.

We really need to get people who have more time involved. We will see such people out marching today. Those people have many talents which need to be encouraged and put to better use. I hope the group the Minister of State announced this morning will do that. There are many other areas to which I will return.

Deputy Pat Carey:  I appreciate Deputy English’s comments. The terms of reference of the group are broadly to drive forward the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship. The steering group I have chosen will reflect a broad range of people who are active in a wide variety of activities. For example, the National Youth Council is represented. Mary Nally is involved and Deputy English well knows of her wide ranging involvement with older people. There is a representative from the philanthropic area, from business, from the GAA and from other organisations to try to pull together the various issues which arise in this debate. I emphasise the active citizenship office has a co-ordinating, facilitating and encouraging function, which is important.

Deputy English spoke about schools and school buses. As long as I have been involved in youth and community work and in politics, that issue has been around. There has been some progress in regard to the use of school buildings. It is not anywhere near what I would have liked but much more progress has been made. The rural transport scheme uses its buses for youth groups. However, I do not believe the issue of school buses has yet been cracked.

I was very anxious to address the issue of day-to-day running costs in the time I was in that Department. A staff team package is being made available through the Department of [740]Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to help with the management and day-to-day operations of community facilities and so on. It was intended that it would be initially in Leader company areas and in RAPID areas. I understand a number are being operated directly through the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The Deputy talked about how we engage those who have dropped out of the formal education system. The civic forum, which many local authorities have developed over the years, is one way in which such people can become engaged. For example, Dublin City Council, the local authority I know best, has a good project primarily targeting those who have left school and the new Irish who would have had no engagement with the democratic process up to then. These initiatives are being developed.

I am a great believer in the bottom up approach. I do not want the Government telling people that something is good for them and, therefore, they must do it. Some great ideas have come from the ground up. There is also a cross-Border aspect. There is much engagement between areas in Belfast, Dublin and in the west. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, reminded me of other initiatives. He opened a community library in north Kildare yesterday. Every time I go out I see something new.

I was in Deputy Stanton’s constituency a couple of weeks ago launching a tool kit for people involved in trying to further engage people with disabilities in active citizenship and volunteering. Much is being done, some of which is very much under-reported and not recognised. The latest research, although it is a while since it was conducted by the ESRI, shows a dramatic increase in the number of people getting involved in community activity. Believe it or not, one of the highest areas of engagement is in the non-Irish community, although perhaps it is to be expected. That is particularly the case in the universities which have registered with the volunteer centres to get involved in a range of areas. Last year I opened the centre in Kildare which is based in NUI, Maynooth. The volunteers involved in that particular project comprise 60 nationalities and I believe that is replicated in many others throughout the country.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Minister of State has given a very comprehensive reply. Is he, or his Department, aware of the active role the Dublin Docklands Development Authority has played in promoting perhaps the only State integrated active citizenship programme? Would he consider requesting the Dublin Docklands Authority to nominate a person to participate in the group, otherwise he runs the risk of reinventing the wheel? To my knowledge, there is no other organisation which has such an integrated and comprehensive knowledge of active citizenship. I strongly recommend that the Minister of State looks at the work it does and perhaps requests one of its people to join the group. The director responsible for social regeneration is Mr. Gerry Kelly. He could save the group much time by sharing his experience.

Deputy Pat Carey:  I am well aware of the work of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. A member of the group I have chosen is the former president of the National College of Ireland, which is based in the docklands area. NCI has a degree programme starting this year on volunteering and active citizenship. I will bear what Deputy Quinn said in mind. It is a very good example of how a statutory body can drive many useful community initiatives.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Anois, iarratas chun tairisceana a dhéanamh an Dáil a chur ar athló faoi Bhuan Ordú 32.

Deputy James Bannon:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the threat to the safety of house occupants caused by [741]the huge increase in home burglaries and break-ins which have risen by one third in the past year, according to figures published by Eircom PhoneWatch, with €100 million worth of goods being stolen from homes, with the biggest increase occurring in areas outside Dublin and with 80% of robberies and burglaries taking place while occupants are in their homes leaving them open to violent assault.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Tar éis breithnithe a dhéanamh ar an níardaithe, níl sé in ord faoi Bhuan Ordú 32. I do not consider the matter raised in order under Standing Order 32.

The Tánaiste:  It is proposed to take No. 9a, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 16, statements on Morris tribunal reports; and No. 15, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance [2008] (motion 15, resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 9a shall be decided without debate, the proceedings on No. 16 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and immediately following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 44, motion re medical cards (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 9a without debate, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16, statements on the Morris tribunal reports agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  There are three matters I wish to raise with the Tánaiste on the Order of Business. First, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, announced some time ago that he would introduce legislation to put a cap on spending by candidates in the local elections. I asked the Taoiseach about this two weeks or so ago, but he did not appear to know a great deal about it and undertook to come back to me on it. I appreciate he has probably had a lot on his plate over the past two weeks, but will the Tánaiste tell me when the legislation will be introduced to put a cap on spending by candidates in local elections? Has the Government considered the suggestion I made to use the opportunity of the Electoral Bill, which is before the House, to bring in the measure?

Second, in his budget speech the Minister for Finance announced the amalgamation of 31 State agencies. By my calculations, that would require amendment to approximately 15 Acts. Is it intended to do the amalgamation through one Bill or is it intended to have separate Bills? When will we see the legislation before the House to provide for the amalgamation of the State agencies concerned? Third, when will the writ be moved for the Dublin South by-election?

The Tánaiste:  The issue of the cap on spending in local elections has not come before the Cabinet yet, but I will ask the Minister to revert directly to the Deputy on it. New legislation is required for the amalgamation of the 31 agencies and we are currently considering whether it will be possible to have omnibus legislation or whether individual Bills will be required. That has not been finalised and we await the consideration of the Attorney General on the matter. With regard to the writ for the by-election, no date has been decided.

[742]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  On the matter of capping spending limits for local elections, do I understand from the Tánaiste’s reply the Government has not yet made a decision to bring forward legislation on that? If it has not been brought to Government, has a memorandum on the issue been brought to Government?

The Tánaiste:  No.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Therefore, the Government has not made a decision to bring forward legislation.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  It is just spoof.

The Tánaiste:  It may be the Minister’s intention to bring it forward but, as the Deputy knows, although we may make public pronouncements on new legislation to be introduced, it takes time to bring the matter to Government. It has not been brought to Government yet.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Minister needs an extra gear on his bicycle.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The local elections will take place in June 2009 and the Minister sounded serious about introducing it.

The Tánaiste:  I am sure he is. I will get back to the Deputy on the issue today.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I seek clarity on the issue of legislation. Yesterday, we were given to understand the Social Welfare Bill will be published in the first week of November. Will the Minister for Health and Children deal with the element of that Bill that deals with the automatic right to medical cards. Is it the case that the Bill will be taken by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs but that part of it will be taken by the Minister for Health and Children?

The Tánaiste:  Yes.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is reported in today’s papers that the proposal to have a 2% levy on income for persons earning over €100,000 may now be applied to lower thresholds to pay for the cost of removing the 1% levy from those earning below the minimum wage.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy knows that is not in order now. He must find another way of raising that.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is an important issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is my job to make those decisions.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The decision does not apply to the Ceann Comhairle as he is caught for the 2% anyway. Will the Tánaiste clarify whether the Government is considering lowering the threshold for the 2% income levy? It is important to know this as it will affect thousands of people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Tánaiste is a person who likes clarity. On the day the final report of the Morris tribunal was published I listened to an interview the Tánaiste gave and wrote down what she said, “The fundamentals of the report are being rejuvenated in the force.”

The Tánaiste:  What?

[743]Deputy Enda Kenny:  Exactly.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is all very interesting, but the Morris tribunal report will be discussed later. However, we will never get to it unless we move on.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  As the Tánaiste says, “in the context of the methodology”, this is the background against which we are having the discussion. I would like to know what she meant by what she said.

The Tánaiste:  I am delighted the Leader of the Opposition has nothing better to do except listen to what I have to say on radio. I am charmed.

On the legislation dealing with medical cards, it will be dealt with in the Social Welfare Bill and the Minister for Health and Children will deal with the part relating to medical cards. The reports in the newspapers on the 2% are mere speculation. The issue will be dealt with in the context of the Finance Bill.

On the third matter, it is not my intention to make any public pronouncement regarding the Morris tribunal, given my personal circumstances.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Tánaiste did so.

The Tánaiste:  Except in the context of what is before the House.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter. The budget proposes to increase the age at which people can claim disability allowance, which will ensure that these people will lose €14,000 per person each year. With regard to the Interpretation Act, will it be necessary to introduce legislation, similar to that for dealing with removing the medical cards from over 70s, to remove the disability allowance from people with disabilities?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is being very creative.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  May I explain? This concerns promised legislation because the issue must be covered in the Social Welfare Bill when it comes before the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised in this area?

The Tánaiste:  The issue will be dealt with in the Social Welfare Bill.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  The issue cannot be dealt with in the Social Welfare Bill. As Deputy Gilmore pointed out, under the Interpretation Act, the Government cannot remove a benefit that has previously been bestowed through legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has had her run. I cannot go further with this. I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  We are dealing with disability, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made her point.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  With regard to legislation due to be published this session, I understand No. 13, the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill, is to be published shortly. In that context, is the Tánaiste aware of a public statement this morning from the Director of Public Prosecutions who has given a chilling warning to the effect that he will not [744]be able to run his office in an effective and efficient manner from next year due to budgetary cutbacks?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not in order, Deputy.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  In the context of promised legislation, I put it to the Tánaiste that legislation promised, processed and enacted is futile if the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is not sufficiently resourced to deal with the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, I cannot allow that.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  This man is the chief public prosecutor in the State and has issued a warning. What is the Government doing about it?

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other ways of raising that matter. I call Deputy Crawford.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I take it the response is one of silence from the Government.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy should talk to the Department if he wants a reply.

Deputy James Bannon:  The Tánaiste is on her feet.

The Tánaiste:  The legislation will be available this session and the Minister has provided €18 million for its implementation.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I wish to raise three matters. When will the planning and development Bill be introduced in light of issues regarding the spatial strategy and hub status? I ask about the industrial development Bill in the context of the 200 personnel to be removed from jobs in Monaghan Army barracks. We need some jobs created in recompense. Third, and by no means least, I am sure the Tánaiste is aware the former Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Taoiseach have declared that Monaghan General Hospital should be closed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Not at all, no.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  The meeting to do that will take place tomorrow.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot do anything about that.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  We were assured that nothing would be done unless——

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

The Tánaiste:  The planning and development Bill will be introduced in 2009.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  When will the health information Bill be introduced to tell us the truth on that?

An Ceann Comhairle:  What about the health information Bill?

The Tánaiste:  On the health information Bill, I thought a spurious question was being asked. We are not sure when that legislation will be available.

An Ceann Comhairle:  What about the planning and development Bill?

[745]The Tánaiste:  That will be introduced next year.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  What about the industrial development Bill, which comes under the remit of the Tánaiste’s Department?

Deputy James Bannon:  Does the Tánaiste have a date for the landlord and tenant Bill to implement the Law Reform Commission’s report?

The Tánaiste:  We are not in a position to indicate that as of yet.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I believe Deputy Crawford asked a question about the industrial development Bill.

The Tánaiste:  It will not be introduced in this session.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  There is no urgency on it.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Given the ongoing attempts by estate management companies to extort payments from residents, what action has taken place? Has the Attorney General given an indication as to when the legislation will be brought to the House to address that problem which is causing serious anxiety in estates throughout the country?

The Tánaiste:  To which legislation does the Deputy refer?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The legislation to control estate management companies. The next one is the social welfare lone parent and other low income families reform Bill, which is promised legislation. In the present environment, is it intended to withdraw that Bill to recalibrate it in some fashion, or is it intended to introduce it as a matter of urgency to encompass within it some of the Government’s proposed changes announced in the budget?

The last one is the Bill to dissolve the National Council on Ageing and Older People and transfer the staff to the Department of Health and Children, and to subsume the National Cancer Screening Service Board and the National Cancer Registry of Ireland into the HSE. Is it intended to bring those bodies into the Department of Health and Children or to continue as was proposed? Is the Bill likely to be altered again as a result of recent developments?

The Tánaiste:  We will have the social welfare Bill. The other issue the Deputy raised related to multi-unit developments. We hope to put that legislation together as quickly as possible. Further work is being done by the relevant Departments to put together the new legislation necessary to deal with those important issues. The final issue is the one based on an amalgamation. If legislation is required, as I adverted to the Labour Party Deputy, it has not been decided whether it will be omnibus legislation or single legislation. Where no legislation is required it will be an amalgamation with the respective Departments.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is No. 60 on the list of promised legislation.

The Tánaiste:  If the Deputy knows the answers, what is the point in asking?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  There is no sense in asking unless one knows the answer. It is always good to get it.

The Tánaiste:  Regarding No. 60——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  That is the one I said.

[746]The Tánaiste:  ——work on the heads of the National Council on Ageing and Older People Bill is ongoing. The Bill will include the provision to remove age limits for travel insurance provided under the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Act 2006 and it is intended to publish it in 2009.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  An Oireachtas sub-committee is working to ascertain how to deal with the failure to have the Lisbon treaty passed. It appears that nothing has been done to improve our communications with the public regarding what is happening in Europe. Two documents relating to proposals for Council regulations regarding fishing have been laid before the Dáil. In addition, there is a proposal for a Council regulation amending a regulation on the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy. These are EU proposals that are never debated on the floor of this House.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  How do we expect the public to understand what is happening in Europe if documents are just laid before the Dáil and never discussed publicly in this Chamber? Are we serious about communicating with the electorate? When will time be made available on a regular basis for all these proposals to be debated in this Chamber, where they should be debated? These matters eventually become law, but we do not know anything about them. We do not have the details and know nothing about them.

To bring that across to the electorate, when is it proposed to bring the televising of the Dáil and its committees to the public by way of broadcasting directly from these Chambers?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a different question. I call the Tánaiste on the first one.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  That is a second question and it is very important.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I know it is and the Deputy can table a parliamentary question to the relevant Minister.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  We need to communicate on a regular basis what is happening in the Dáil Chamber and its committees.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Tánaiste on the issue of the debates of European legislation.

The Tánaiste:  On EU legislation, I have been advised by the Whip that, subject to agreement, which I hope we will get, the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will be discussed once a month in the Dáil, which should address the Deputy’s concerns. The other issue is one for a line Minister.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  What about the televising of the Dáil?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Barrett knows there is another way to raise that matter.

The Tánaiste:  No legislation is required.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I did not hear that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not a legislative proposal at the moment.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is a matter of deep concern for the public in the context of the Lisbon treaty.

[747]An Ceann Comhairle:  It would make an excellent question to table to the relevant Minister.

Deputy James Reilly:  The oft-promised fair deal legislation has recently been published. When will it come before the House? Will the Tánaiste ensure we will have sufficient time to debate it and get it into law before Christmas as the elderly have been dealt a number of cruel blows by the Government recently and the last thing they need is a further delay in this matter. When will the health information Bill be introduced? Will HIQA be given the teeth to censure hospitals that do not meet standards it has set?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into the detail of the legislation. I call the Tánaiste on the two Bills.

The Tánaiste:  I know everyone is anxious to get the fair deal legislation through the House. We hope to order that very quickly with a view to having it enacted as quickly as possible. We are not in a position to indicate when the health information Bill will be introduced. Public consultation has been completed and is being assessed.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I apologise if the Tánaiste has already indicated this. When will the social welfare Bill come before the House? Will that legislation facilitate the various changes contained in the budget, including those relating to jobseeker’s benefit and the extension of the number of months——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss the contents of the legislation this morning.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——of continuous contribution required to qualify? Does it also address the abolition of child benefit for the over 18s? When will the legislation come before the House? Almost daily we learn of new legislation required as part of the outworking of the Government’s budget of last week. Does the Government have other legislative proposals in preparation as part of the entire package to implement the measures contained in the Minister for Finance’s announcement last week?

The Tánaiste:  All matters pertaining to social welfare will be dealt with in the social welfare Bill, which will be available in the first week of November.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will there be other legislation?

The Tánaiste:  Not that I am aware of.

  12 o’clock

Deputy John Deasy:  Last June I raised the issue of a sixfold increase in the number of licensed handguns in the State. A number of court cases have liberalised the ownership of such guns. The last response from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in June indicated he would implement the remaining Parts of the Criminal Justice Act as quickly as possible and he said he would bring forward technical amendments to enable their commencement in the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which he said at the time would be “published in the coming weeks”. It has not been published yet. Since then I have been contacted unprompted by senior gardaí in Waterford about this. The Minister is not taking this seriously enough. If he says he will publish legislation on an issue as grave as this, he should do so and he should take it seriously.

The Tánaiste:  I am advised by the Minister that he is actively considering this matter. There is existing legislation and he can revert to the Deputy and keep him briefed.

[748]Deputy Joan Burton:  I have two questions. Following the summer recess, the Government announced that the assets of pensions funds of public bodies would be transferred into Government accounts via the National Treasury Management Agency. A brief statement issued on the matter, which was signed by both the Ministers for Finance and Social and Family Affairs. We have had no word since and no clarification on whether this measure requires legislation. The announcement dealt with the assets of the pensions of public bodies and it did not address the liabilities. What is the situation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  If legislation is not promised in this area, the Deputy must address this by way of a parliamentary question. Is legislation promised?

The Tánaiste:  Not that I am aware.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Tánaiste undertake to find out and come back to the House?

The Tánaiste:  This is like a clinic.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is a major issue involving €2.5 billion in the pension funds of all the universities.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not in order. It is not a legislative proposal or promise.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is an important matter for many public servants.

My second question is unfortunately being asked out on the street today and, hopefully, the Tánaiste can being some clarity. As a former Minister for Social and Family Affairs, she will be aware the Christmas bonus is a discretionary payment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss that now. No legislation is promised in this regard.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is a discretionary payment by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Will the Tánaiste confirm it will be paid at the same rate and on time as previously? Given the doubt that has been cast, will she clarify this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has been in the House for some time and she will be aware she can table a parliamentary question on that, if she so wishes.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Tánaiste is a former Minister in the Department and she knows the arrangements for the scheme.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should table a parliamentary question and I am absolutely sure she will be answered.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Tánaiste take the opportunity to clarify this because people are worried about this discretionary payment?

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  When the Government voted down the Labour Party’s Civil Unions Bill, an undertaking was given that it would publish its own legislation sooner rather than later in this regard. When will the civil partnership Bill be published?

The Tánaiste:  Next year.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Can the Tánaiste give us a date?

[749]The Tánaiste:  No.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Can I have a more precise reply than “next year”?

The Tánaiste:  We are not in a position to give anything more precise.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  What about couples who cannot regularise their relationships?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a discussion on it now.

The Tánaiste:  Early 2009. Significant issues must be addressed and it will be brought forward in 2009.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Government gave a commitment.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  On a procedural matter, since you became Ceann Comhairle, Sir, one of your initiatives has been to improve access to the House and it has been a success for which you deserve credit. However, it has been brought to my attention that many schools intending to visit the House have had to cancel their visits planned for next year because of the Government’s decision to get rid of substitution. Could you, Sir, make available to me the total number of schools that visited the House over the past number of years because schools are cancelling their visits next year as a result of the Government’s decision to get rid of substitution from 1 January 2009?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We can have a chat about that but not here.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  You, Sir, as somebody who has taken a huge interest in this, have a responsibility to inform Members as to the cutbacks and the difference it will make to the House.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Be serious.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot go into that now.

Deputy David Stanton:  When Deputy Noel Dempsey was Minister for Education and Science, he passed the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 with our help. We were recently told its implementation would be deferred. As it is statutory, what legislation will be required to defer this Act, which was passed by the House a number of years ago to look after children with special educational needs in our schools and elsewhere?

The Tánaiste:  I am not aware of further legislation.

Deputy David Stanton:  It was announced in the budget. Will the Tánaiste arrange for this to be looked into and to inform us what will happen regarding the Act, the implementation of which is being deferred?

The Tánaiste:  It is 12.05 p.m. I have been asked——

Deputy David Stanton:  I have asked a question. I know the time. Give us the answer to the question.

The Tánaiste:  I can facilitate the Deputy. I will have a clinic afterwards and I will find out the answer for him.

[750]Deputy David Stanton:  The Tánaiste is very clever.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy should table a parliamentary question.

The Tánaiste:  A sum of €10 million has been provided for the legislation and I will revert to the Deputy on the issue.

Deputy David Stanton:  I asked a serious question and if the Tánaiste cannot give a serious answer——

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy should table a parliamentary question. He is here long enough to know how to do that.

Deputy David Stanton:  The Tánaiste does not know the answer and she is bluffing.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Do not go there. That begs the question why people do not attend her clinics.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Does the Government intend to bring forward legislation to reintroduce the young farmer installation aid and the EU farm retirement pension schemes, which were abolished in the budget last week?

The Tánaiste:  That is not a legislative matter.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Government will have a bigger crowd outside the gates this time next week.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey):  I move:

“That, notwithstanding anything in the Resolution of the Dáil of 14th June, 2007, setting out the rota in which Questions to members of the Government are to be asked, Questions for oral answer, following those next set down to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, shall be set down to Ministers in the following temporary sequence:

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Minister for Finance

Minister for Health and Children

Minister for Transport

Minister for Education and Science

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism

An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment

where upon the sequence established by the Resolution of 14th June, 2007, shall continue with Questions to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I thank Mr. Justice Morris and his team for producing eight comprehensive and conclusive reports and for the huge service they have done for An Garda Síochána and the Irish public they serve. They carried out their task with diligence, independence, intelligence and fairness. Having listened to more than 680 days of oral evidence from 812 witnesses, the tribunal chairman reached his conclusions without fear or favour. His practice of publishing reports at the end of each module or set of modules facilitated the previous debates in this House and enabled the Government to give considerable weight to his recommendations in framing the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

Given the widespread and deserved praise for its work, it is disappointing that there has been some criticism of the tribunal in the wake of the publication of its eighth report. This criticism relates mainly to its findings relating to the refusal by former Deputy, Jim Higgins, and Deputy Brendan Howlin to disclose the sources of the accusations they brought to notice regarding two much respected Assistant Commissioners — information that ultimately proved to be absolutely and completely untrue. In fairness to Mr. Justice Morris, and to Assistant Commissioners Tony Hickey and Kevin Carty, who have not had a voice in this, I would like to address this issue.

The allegations passed on by Deputies Higgins and Howlin to the then Minister for Justice, Deputy John O’Donoghue, against the two Assistant Garda Commissioners were of the gravest kind. They were so grave that there was much more at stake than their professional reputations. If true, the allegations meant that a number of persons had been wrongfully convicted and were perhaps wrongfully imprisoned because of evidence that had been unlawfully obtained or planted with the connivance and approval of some of the most senior members of our national police service. Despite the gravity of the allegations and their potentially ruinous effects, neither Deputy Howlin nor Deputy Higgins was willing to reveal his source to either the Garda assistant commissioner appointed to investigate the matter following the intervention of then Minister, Deputy John O’Donoghue, or to the tribunal itself. In fact, the first indication of the source of the information emerged in January 2003 in an interview between Frank McBrearty senior and the tribunal’s investigators, a full three years after the allegations had been made.

Was it reasonable for either the investigating assistant commissioner or the tribunal to look for this information? Let me give Mr. Justice Hardiman’s view, as enunciated in the Supreme Court, when it considered these matters.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Will the Minister read Mr. Justice Kearns’s view into the record as well?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  May I answer?

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister is being selective.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Mr. Justice Hardiman stated:

An inquiry into these allegations which did not seek the evidence of the person who made them would be in clear dereliction of its duty. Indeed, if the tribunal cannot ascertain the identity of that person, and approach him, it is hard to know how they can conduct the portion of their inquiry referred to at sub-paragraph (h) of the resolution passed by both Houses at all.

[752]Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Has the Minister not heard of the Garda confidential line?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Minister without interruption.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It was not only reasonable, but essential, that the tribunal, in carrying out its duties as defined by the Houses, should seek the source of Deputies Higgins’s and Howlin’s accusations.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Committee on Procedure and Privileges decided on them, as the Minister knows.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The terms of reference of a tribunal of inquiry are, as we are all aware, matters of considerable importance. Subparagraph (h) of the Morris terms of reference referred exclusively to the information that Deputies Howlin and Higgins had received on 25 June 2000——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister is showing contempt for the House.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——and that they had made known to the then Minister, Deputy John O’Donoghue. It did not, however, make reference to the fax received by Deputy Higgins on 15 July 2000, which partly contradicted the information previously supplied. The reason is that no other Member of the Oireachtas, including, as far as I know, Deputy Howlin, was made aware of its existence by Deputy Higgins.

The net effect was that the Houses established a tribunal of inquiry that lasted six years at a cost to the taxpayer of some €50 million, which will probably increase, in the absence of this important information of direct relevance to the tribunal’s terms of reference.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Does the Minister believe it should not have occurred?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I appreciate that Deputy Howlin was involved, but it would be a dereliction of my duty and unfair to Mr. Justice Morris and the two gardaí if I did not put the facts on record.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  This is a political speech.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  What the Minister is doing is disgraceful. He is abusing the debate.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  We will have our word on this.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy can have his word.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  What about the seventh report?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  As the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have a duty——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister is politicising the issue.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It is a political whitewash. It is disgraceful.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——to state the facts of the case. I also have a duty to exonerate Mr. Justice Morris and the two gardaí whose reputations were ruined as a result of untrue allegations.

[753]Acting Chairman:  I ask that Members address their remarks through the Chair and that the Minister be allowed to make his contribution without further interruption.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  He is vindictive.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am being factual.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  It is a dereliction of his duty.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It would be a dereliction of my duty were I to do otherwise.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  It is a measure of the Minister’s past performance.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Furthermore, Deputy Higgins stood in this House on the day that the resolution was passed and stated he would have no hesitation in appearing before the tribunal and telling all that he knew. However, he only revealed the existence of this second document to the tribunal some ten months later, more than three years after he first received it. Crucially, the document, in its own terms, exonerated Assistant Commissioner Carty to a significant degree from the false allegations made against him in the information referred to in the terms of reference. The information should never have been withheld. Mr. Justice Morris was satisfied that the significance of the relevant fax of 15 July must have been clear to Deputy Higgins and the tribunal concluded that his stated reasons for not passing it on were “somewhat disingenuous”.

It has been suggested in some quarters that Mr. Justice Morris recommended that the Deputies carry out their own investigation. This is a gross misrepresentation of his comments. It is difficult to completely avoid the suspicion that this is a deliberate overstatement of what the Morris tribunal stated so as to leave its conclusion more open to counter argument. Mr. Justice Morris recommended that the Deputies should have carried out some further inquiries before bringing them to the Minister. He made this recommendation due to the fact the sources were confidential——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  He went further than that.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——and neither the Minister nor any investigators of these matters would be allowed access to them. This is a fairer representation of Mr. Justice Morris’s comments. My purpose in making these points is to redress the balance a little in respect of the public debate that has already taken place regarding Mr. Justice Morris’s findings.

As the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am also anxious to acknowledge publicly and in this House the grave wrong done to two of the State’s finest policemen, recently retired Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey and Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, who have served An Garda Síochána with honour and distinction through the years and whose careers suffered as a result of baseless allegations.

Turning to the bigger picture, what we can all agree on is that the tribunal, thanks to the fine work of Mr. Justice Morris and his team, uncovered a pattern of Garda misbehaviour that was unprecedented, disturbing, at times shocking and called for a strong and effective response. The Garda Commissioner has already stated that the events outlined in the various reports of the tribunal represent a dark period in the history of a proud organisation and do a grave disservice to the tradition of An Garda Síochána.

[754]The second Morris report, which preceded the Garda Síochána Act 2005, characterised the Garda investigation into the death of Richard Barron in Raphoe on 14 October 1996 as “prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent in the highest degree”. This gross incompetence gave rise to a series of subsequent events fully analysed in the sixth and seventh reports. Those reports revealed a continuous pattern of misbehaviour against the McBrearty family and their relatives and associates.

An Garda Síochána exists to serve the State and its people. This sense of public service permeates the force and has made it one of the best in the world. However, the people have been let down by the events outlined in the tribunal reports, as have the 14,000 men and women who put their lives on the line for each of us every day. What occurred in County Donegal will not be allowed to recur. The people deserve better. I know at first hand the determination of the force at all ranks to ensure it does not recur.

In the time available, I do not intend to reprise all of the findings of the sixth, seventh and eighth reports, but I will set out the main elements of those findings and detail the strong action taken by the Government as events unfolded.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister has spent much of the past ten minutes mud-slinging.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The sixth report made serious findings against a number of members of An Garda Síochána arising from the Barron investigation. It found that a number of persons were unlawfully arrested and detained and that some were mistreated in custody. The tribunal does not accept the evidence to it of several members of An Garda Síochána and strongly condemns the instances of mistreatment it uncovered. It goes without saying that members of the Barron family were also victims of this misconduct and I extend my sympathies to them for the grievous loss they have suffered.

The report made a number of recommendations, mainly centred on how improvements could be made to the law and practice relating to the conduct of interviews with persons in Garda custody, but also touching on other aspects of Garda investigations. I am, in consultation with the Garda Commissioner, carefully considering the recommendations, and I will propose any necessary proposals for change. On the positive side, I am happy to note that the report found no truth in the serious allegation that conversations between solicitors and persons detained in Letterkenny Garda station were secretly recorded by members of An Garda Síochána.

The seventh report uncovered a continuing pattern of harassment by some gardaí, as shown by the issuance of 68 summonses against associates of the McBrearty family and the finding that Detective Sergeant White planted drugs on Paul Quinn to “teach him a lesson”. The members of the Garda Síochána impugned in the seventh report have already either been dismissed, have retired early or have resigned. The seventh report also confirms that the Garda Síochána Complaints Board had neither the statutory powers nor the resources to deal effectively with events on the scale of those that emerged in Donegal.

The eighth report concludes that the false allegations against two assistant commissioners were utterly without foundation and were constructed by Mr. Frank McBrearty senior, with the assistance of Mr. P.J. Togher, a former garda, from “numerous half-truths, lies and rumours”. The tribunal also identified Mr. Martin Giblin, senior counsel, as the person who conveyed the information to Deputy Howlin.

The significant reforms which have taken place in the Garda Síochána in the last three years have arisen largely as a result of the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal. [755] These include the enactment of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the imposition of a duty to account on Garda members for any act or omission while on duty, new more streamlined Garda discipline regulations, a new Garda Ombudsman Commission and Garda inspectorate, a new merit based and performance related promotions regime, and the establishment of joint policing committees.

The tribunal recommends that the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of Dáil and Seanad Éireann urgently review the manner in which Members deal with allegations brought to their attention by so-called whistleblowers in order to guard against unfounded allegations being endowed with undeserved legitimacy. It is clear the tribunal is not opposed to the principle of whistleblowing per se. A key issue to emerge from the Morris tribunal’s investigations was the lack of a whistleblower system for members of the Garda Síochána. In its third report, the tribunal recommended that “subject to safeguards, it should be possible for any serving member of An Garda Síochána to ring headquarters, and to speak in confidence with a designated officer, or group of officers, as to real concerns they may have as to misconduct within the organisation”. The Garda Síochána (Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007, which were made in April 2007, allow civilian employees as well as sworn members of the Garda Síochána to make confidential reports on any corruption or malpractice of which they become aware.

The tribunal has stated that the review it recommends should be addressed urgently by both Houses “with a view to ensuring an appropriate balance between the right of access of a whistleblower to his/her public representative, and the right of those subject to those allegations to be fairly treated and not made the subject of unfounded allegations that have been endowed with undeserved legitimacy because they were conveyed cynically and successfully to well-meaning Members of either House”. In view of what happened in this case, the tribunal’s recommendation is eminently sensible. I am sure the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses will consider these matters carefully.

All the reforms that have been undertaken, many of which arise from the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal, are helping to strengthen the Garda Síochána and to assist it in performing its vital role in today’s Ireland. It is now an organisation that is more open to the outside. It has a new professionalism in its management development and selection systems. It is prepared as never before to perform its functions effectively, efficiently and fairly in responding to the needs of local communities. Thanks in large measure to the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal, we now have a system of oversight in place to ensure, as far as humanly possible, that the abuses uncovered by the tribunal do not recur.

I appreciate that Deputy Howlin has a particular interest in this issue. I emphasise that I could have ignored the issues that were raised by Mr. Justice Morris, particularly in the last two reports, which I read from cover to cover. However, it would have been a dereliction of my duty were I not to put on record my view as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law, a view that is shared by the officials in my Department, in terms of how this matter was handled.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It is a pity this debate has been structured in this manner. I telephoned the Office of the Government Chief Whip this morning to inquire whether the main spokespersons might have more latitude. The debate is scheduled to continue throughout the day and there do not seem to be queues of Deputies wishing to speak. It is regrettable that the main spokespersons are confined to 15 minutes each.

It is even more regrettable that the Minister’s contribution consisted largely of a politically partisan broadcast with a view to damaging the reputation of two eminent public representa[756]tives, namely, Deputy Howlin, who will speak for himself, and Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, a colleague of mine and former member of the Fine Gael Front Bench. It is particularly regrettable that the Minister did not concentrate on the major consequences of the tribunal’s findings, including the changes undertaken by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, and the need to ensure further changes by way of regulation and legislation. What is most important is that the lessons learned are acted upon.

The findings of the Morris tribunal have shocked the nation and become the catalyst for historic change within the structures of the Garda Síochána, a body that has done a fine service for the State since its establishment in the 1920s. The Morris tribunal revealed that for many years, County Donegal was a place apart. Much has been made over the years of the centralist nature of government in this State and the associated structures of governance. The negatives of an over-centralised state are exposed dramatically in the Morris reports. The Donegal described is more akin to an independent republic than a fully integrated part of a larger state apparatus. It is obvious that during the period under investigation, Dublin headquarters had other priorities and that this arrangement suited both parties. The Morris tribunal has underlined the importance of a clear chain of accountability and discipline from the top to the bottom of the Garda Síochána — from the furthest geographic reaches of north Donegal to Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park. The people of Donegal have the same rights and entitlements as their fellow citizens in other counties and the need for vigilance in this regard has been highlighted by the eight Morris reports.

The scale of the corruption exposed by the Morris tribunal is truly shocking. It is of fundamental importance in a healthy, functioning democracy that citizens enjoy a relationship of trust with the guardians of the peace. A small number of gardaí in Donegal abused that trust and, in doing so, unfairly damaged the reputation of the entire Garda organisation. Among the key findings of the tribunal was that some gardaí in Donegal used bogus informers, coerced witnesses and planted guns and other explosives. Some lied at the tribunal to cover for their own actions or those of corrupt colleagues. The tribunal found that during the period examined, it was almost impossible to sack a member of the force. Insubordination and indiscipline were widespread and Garda headquarters were neither sufficiently informed nor sufficiently vigilant. The tribunal also concluded that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform failed to put correct procedures in place and that there was an almost total lack of accountability.

A terrible, unforgivable wrong was done to the victims of Garda corruption in Donegal. However, from their horrendous ordeal has emerged a different type of Garda force. A key development was the creation, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, of the Garda Ombudsman Commission. The commission is required and empowered to ensure matters are investigated independently even in cases where no complaint has been made but where it appears a garda may have committed an offence or behaved in a way that would justify proceedings of a disciplinary nature.

The Commission describes its mission in terms of providing an “independent and effective civilian oversight of policing”. It undertakes to deal with the public’s complaints concerning gardaí“fairly and efficiently so that everyone can have confidence in the complaints system”. Moreover, the commission seeks, in the course of its work, to “retain the trust and goodwill of members of the public as well as members of An Garda Síochána”. I can understand how the establishment of such a body might have alarmed certain individuals or groups who feared the commission might conduct some type of witch hunt against them. However, the commission [757]has shown both common sense and fairness in the conduct of its work to date. I commend the commissioners and their staff on this work.

The commission is coping with a large workload. I understand it has been seeking to focus on complaints of a larger scale as smaller complaints are time consuming and something of a drain on resources. However, I caution against a narrowing of the commission’s remit. The previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, received representations from the commission on this matter and undertook to review the legislation with a view towards introducing amendments that would allow for certain complaints of a less serious nature to be returned to the Garda Síochána for processing. I am not sure whether this is a wise proposal. What is the view of the Minister in this regard?

The basis for my caution stems from my work as a public representative. I am sure I am no different from most of my colleagues in receiving from time to time complaints from members of the public about relatively minor issues involving members of the Garda Síochána. It is difficult for public representatives to address these matters as the automatic instinct is to direct people to the statutory structures put in place by the Legislature to deal with complaints in this area. If the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is restricted, it will be difficult for people who believe they have a grievance, justified or not, to achieve closure or to maintain trust in the system. I understand that such cases can be demanding in respect of time and other resources, but in a democracy it is money well spent to have in place procedures to deal with such issues.

Independence must be ensured and the relationship must be at arm’s length at all times. I am sure many of these minor complaints can be dealt with in a relatively time efficient fashion but it is important that people have somewhere to go if they have a problem, and that the place is independent.

The fifth annual report of the now defunct Garda Complaints Board revealed that more than 80% of complaints made against the Garda were groundless. While some gardaí might well feel aggrieved when the GSOC investigates complaints they believe are groundless, the investigation allows the garda to be decisively cleared if innocent of the allegations made against him or her. The GSOC seeks to protect the good name of the Garda Síochána and to uphold the rights of the citizenry.

In its first year, the GSOC received 3,000 complaints, an onerous workload for a new body. While the commission was not fully resourced for some time after its establishment, it belatedly received an increase in its resources, which I welcomed. However, the Government must ensure that the commission’s resources match its large workload. If it becomes paralysed by too many cases and insufficient staff, it will lose the goodwill of the people which it currently holds to good effect. The results of a recent survey reveal that the public has great faith in the commission. Some 83% of people believed it was independent, 50% believed it was effective and 48% believed it was efficient. The commission has earned this trust through its hard work.

In the context of the Morris reports and having regard to lessons learned and structures put in place, it is somewhat alarming that the GSOC has had to set in train a public interest inquiry in a case involving an alleged drug dealer from County Louth. I hope all parties will co-operate and that the commission’s investigation can get under way as quickly as possible and it can carry out its work efficiently.

The establishment of a structure for Garda whistleblowers is also important in the light of the Morris tribunals. However, owing to the extremely sensitive nature of the role, it is difficult for the Oireachtas to scrutinise its effectiveness. Recently, the Minister, in response to a ques[758]tion from Deputy Rabbitte, informed the House that the external confidential recipient, Mr. Brian McCarthy, has, to date, been contacted in respect of three cases by people within the Garda regarding their concerns. In light of the serious revelations contained in the Morris reports, I am concerned about what kind of structures are in place for assessing whether the confidential recipient’s office is functioning as well as it should. I would like the Minister to brief the House or the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on what processes are in place to monitor the implementation of the whistleblowers charter to ensure that it is working in the manner proposed and in the best interests of all concerned.

At a more grassroots level, the issue of community policing is a positive consequence of the Morris tribunal. In an era of rising crime levels, there is a need for a return to basics and community policing must be at the very core of the work of the Garda Síochána. Surveys of public opinion repeatedly reinforce the point that people want to see gardaí on the beat in their communities such as Tallaght, as referred to by the Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O’Connor. They want to know their gardaí and for them to be embedded in their communities. They quite rightly believe that their neighbourhoods are safer when there is a Garda presence, a view I share. I am concerned about the issue of resources and about a statement made this morning by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In an unprecedented and rather chilling warning, he stated that it will be impossible for his office to function next year if the proposed cutbacks proceed in the manner in which he and his office envisage.

I am concerned also about the establishment of the joint policing committees. It would be an unforgivable waste and missed opportunity if these descended into expensive talking shops. The aspect that allows public representatives and the Garda Síochána to communicate in a structured fashion is welcome particularly given that there is little or no formal interaction between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Garda Síochána. It is disappointing there is no procedure in place to allow the Garda Commissioner to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights to discuss justice and crime matters. Merely discussing budgetary matters with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service is wholly insufficient. I would like to see a change in this area.

It is regrettable that Mr. Justice Morris indulged in criticism of former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin in his final report. The Minister was selective in his quotation of Mr. Justice Morris. He stated that the Deputies should have carried out inquiries, interviews, correspondence or meetings in relation to the allegations made before taking them further. It is surprising that Mr. Justice Morris would presume that Deputies have the resources to carry out such a project. The fact that it took the tribunal six years to get to the bottom of the allegations shows how complex the matter was.

I admire former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Brendan Howlin for their courage in this matter and believe they acted at all times in good faith for the common good. It is arguable whether the Morris tribunal would ever have taken place without their efforts or if the sea change that has taken place in the Garda Síochána would have happened as quickly or been as straightforward.

In the context of the separation of powers spelled out clearly in our Constitution, I believe that it is inappropriate for Mr. Justice Morris to criticise in the manner in which he has Members of the Parliament given their role as public representatives and messengers of the people. Deputy Howlin spoke directly with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Can one think of a more important person to whom such information might be passed for the [759]purpose of commencing an investigative process? It is regrettable that the Morris reports showed a lack of empathy and understanding of the difficult position in which both Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins found themselves on that occasion. A mutual respect of the separation of powers between the different branches of State is essential in a democracy. It would be most unhelpful if either branch attempted to publicly undermine the other. Members of this House are always conscious of the need to ensure the separation of powers is to the fore of our minds in the context of all their public utterances.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy’s time has expired.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I regret my time has expired. I hope I will have an opportunity to revisit this issue. Previous reports have been ignored. I refer in this regard to the O’Briain report which, if acted upon by successive Ministers for Justice more than 30 years ago, may have prevented the necessity for the establishment of the Morris tribunal. I hope the Minister will ensure that recommendations yet to be implemented are implemented. It is important ultimately that the Garda Síochána, made up of 14,000 men and women, enjoys the trust and confidence of the people.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  On behalf of the Labour Party and on my own behalf I put on record our appreciation and thanks to Mr. Justice Frederick Morris for his thorough and painstakingly diligent work in no fewer than eight reports that will hopefully lead to better policing in Ireland.

It is almost beyond belief that the Department has written a script for this very lazy Minister — and worse still that he read it out — that in summary means he regrets the Morris tribunal ever took place. I agree with Deputy Flanagan that this is an entirely inadequate amount of time for us to discuss eight reports from Mr. Justice Morris and that the Government contrived until now to ensure that none of the previous reports could be discussed. I will return to this point later.

It would be inaccurate to deny there have been significant changes in the management, control and oversight of the Garda Síochána since the publication of the first Morris tribunal report. It would be inaccurate and ungenerous to fail to recognise that both the Government and the former Minister, Michael McDowell, attempted to grapple with the findings, the implications of those findings for the Garda service as a whole and the changes needed to ensure that such institutionalised corruption of our policing service could never be replicated.

If we have learned anything from the eight Morris reports to date, it is the extraordinary damage that can be done — and was done — to ordinary citizens by the abuse of the tremendous powers we vest in members of the Garda Síochána. The enormity of the task facing us can be measured by the scale of the wrongdoing that was uncovered. Viewed in that light and acknowledging, as I do, the work already done by this Government and the Oireachtas, I believe our work is only half done. All the evidence points to a still pervasive reluctance, an example of which we have just heard, to face up to the challenge and a desire to avoid a full public debate on these issues. I had not heard the Minister’s speech when I wrote that sentence but it bears it out.

I pointed last May to the calculated and cynical slipping out of the previous three volumes — 1,400 pages in all — of the Morris report. The decision to publish a report that had been with the Minister for weeks at that particular time was clearly designed to swamp the bad news of yet more critical findings on Garda conduct in Donegal in the tsunami of news coverage marking the election of the new Taoiseach and appointment of new Ministers.

[760]The exercise engaged in by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the publication of the latest two volumes was, if anything, more cynical. All we got from the Minister was a statement displaying his delight and glee at the poor view taken — in my own opinion, the perverse view taken — by Judge Morris on the behaviour of former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin. The speech we have just heard from the Minister can only be read to mean that notwithstanding the horror of what was uncovered in Donegal and the damning finding that Donegal was, according to the judge, “not an aberration from the generality”, he regrets the Morris tribunal ever happened.

The chairman misunderstands the role of the Deputy and his very limited capacity to investigate matters of public interest brought to his attention. What could be more responsible when put in possession of such information than entrusting it to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and refraining from public comment even in the Dáil? If a Deputy is given information from a professional person alleging child abuse, for example, is he expected to initiate investigation or entrust it to the appropriate authority?

I will repeat my opinion that there is important business before this House in debating the Morris tribunal reports; that the Government has consistently refused to have any one of those reports properly debated in this House; that even today we are confined merely to making short statements and an entirely inadequate questioning opportunity; and that the failure of the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to rein in his partisan instincts for a change and to approach the issue on a constructive basis bodes very poorly for any prospect of those issues being comprehensively addressed or for real and significant reform while he is Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy is not too impartial himself.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister will have time to reflect on what he said today and will come to regret it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will not.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  A Garda sergeant recently outlined to me a case of woeful misconduct in his station. Normally I would go to the Minister, and I would have done so with the current Minister’s predecessors. I did not go to the current Minister and feel I cannot because he is so petty and partisan, he would——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Do we not have the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission? The Deputy should not come to me.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The commission could not be seized of this matter.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The garda could make a complaint.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I will come to that in a minute. One could not go to this Minister in any confidence that he would do anything other than go to the superior of the Garda sergeant to that person’s detriment. It is disgraceful——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That is why we set up the commission, so people would not have to come to the Minister.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  ——I feel I am in such a circumstance.

[761]The issues that arose in Donegal and gave rise to the Morris tribunal continue to arise around the country. Just last week, for example, we read of allegations that gardaí worked with a convicted drug dealer in allowing the distribution of drugs which were later seized by the same officers. Criminal charges relating to a €1.7 million drugs find were later dropped without any explanation. Some of the much touted reforms put in place after earlier reports from the Morris tribunal, around the handling of informers, will now be under close scrutiny again as a result of an inquiry under way by the Garda Ombudsman Commission.

The inquiry will be examining very similar issues to those that arose in Donegal — an informer who told arresting gardaí he was working for members of the force; the nature of the informer’s relationship, if any, with the gardaí; whether he was distributing drugs with the knowledge of gardaí while they used him as an informer; whether he led gardaí to find drugs hauls after he had passed those drugs to other dealers; whether his contact with gardaí was linked to the drugs charges against him being dropped; and whether he was a registered Garda informer.

Both the registering of informers and the logging of contact with them was intended to be a key reform introduced following the Morris tribunal because part of the corruption exposed in the Donegal division involved two gardaí pretending they had an IRA informer who gave them information about bombs the gardaí themselves had planted. Does the Minister seriously think this should not be investigated? If there is anything at all to the subject matter of this latest inquiry — I do not know if there is — then what the Garda Commissioner has referred to as a “dark period in the history of a proud organisation” is far from over.

The latest report from the tribunal has concluded that the McBrearty family and their associates were subject to Garda harassment after the death of Richie Barron in Raphoe in October 1996. While this campaign was run at the level of the local corrupt sergeant, it was permitted to remain in place at the most senior level in the Donegal division. In normal circumstances, these findings of harassment at the hands of the Garda Síochána would be shocking enough but because of the six reports that have come before, we are no longer so easily shocked. If anything, we probably see these findings as tame.

To put the last two reports in context, we have been told that gardaí conducted a prejudiced and negligent investigation into the death of Mr. Barron. He actually died as a result of a hit and run road traffic incident but a confession to his murder was nonetheless obtained. It was not obtained voluntarily. Gardaí engaged in harassment and orchestrated hoax explosive finds and planted evidence. When called to account, they either lied or they covered up for corrupt colleagues.

There were findings of unlawful arrest and detention, physical and verbal abuse of persons in custody and the illegal recording of conversations between solicitors and their clients. There was perjury, insubordination, breakdown of discipline, misuse of informants, attempts to pervert the course of justice and the closure of ranks to protect the guilty.

With all this, the Department has written a script for the Minister devoted to two responsible Members of this House bringing information that caused this tribunal to happen in the first place into the hands of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform while refusing to make public comment inside or outside this House. The Minister has come in here with the audacity to make the kind of contribution he gave.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am entitled to make that contribution and the Deputy will not stop me.

[762]Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  We must remember Mr. Justice Morris’s ominous conclusion that “of the gardaí serving in Donegal, it cannot be said that they are unrepresentative or an aberration from the generality”. Mr. Justice Morris concluded that the Garda risked losing its character as a disciplined force amid “staggering indiscipline and insubordination”. The most serious questions are raised about both the competence of Garda management and the degree to which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform could or did exercise proper supervision over the service.

I am convinced that far from reflecting on a “dark period in our history” as if it has now been consigned to history, both the Minister and the Garda authorities must address insidious and deep-rooted malpractices which continue to damage trust between the Garda and the public every day. The objective is, as the Commissioner acknowledges, to provide professional, fair and effective policing to our community. He also acknowledges that “the powers and authority bestowed on individual members of An Garda Síochána carry immense responsibility”, which must always be exercised proportionately in the pursuance of legitimate policing activity.

The issues probed by Morris are fundamental to our democracy and central to the public interest. Many law-abiding citizens already consider that the penalties imposed for gross misconduct previously identified by Morris were minimalist. From the very first of the Morris tribunal reports, the Labour Party argued there was a compelling case for fundamental structural and organisational Garda reform. There was, and I believe there remains, a culture within our policing service that permits or even encourages the covering up of unacceptable behaviour and goes into denial when it is exposed. Even a minor innovation, such as the Garda Reserve proposed by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, ran into the ground for one basic reason, that is, serving gardaí did not want to do their day-to-day jobs in the presence of outsiders who were not members of the club. Above all, we need a policing service that is unashamed to do its job openly and transparently in the full light of day and under full public scrutiny, which I believe is the intention of all young gardaí on leaving Templemore.

The Garda Síochána has previously operated with significant moral authority within the community, derived from a degree of mutual respect and a long and honourable tradition of trust. This trust has broken down. If we are to ensure that the abuses identified in the series of reports made by Mr. Justice Morris can never happen again, the Labour Party and I consider that two key reforms, thus far rejected by the Government, must be made. Both reforms are aimed at tearing down the veil of secrecy that surrounds the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, behind which they circle the wagons in collective self-defence.

First, we need an independent Garda authority, to stand between the Garda and the Department. Second, we need, as was provided for in the 1997 legislation, the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to include the Garda Síochána. The Labour Party has set out extensive arguments in other documents in support of those two contentions.

Of the reforms put in place, this House has reposed a great deal of hope in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. However, it is not yet possible to give a fair assessment of its impact or performance. Recently I met Christine and Derek O’Toole concerning the matters surrounding the death of their son Derek in March 2007 in a road traffic incident in Lucan involving off-duty members of the Garda Síochána. Mr. and Mrs. O’Toole told me they were expecting a ruling from the commission as to whether it would be investigating their complaint. The Chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, Mr. Justice Haugh, has replied [763]to my queries on behalf of the O’Toole family by confirming the commission is disabled from investigating in this serious case. I had argued that the relevant provision is section 87(3)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act, which provides that a complaint about the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána while the member was not on duty is not admissible “unless the conduct alleged would, if proved, be likely to bring discredit on the Garda Síochána”.

However the chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has taken the view that:

The Commissioners would not subscribe to the proposition that mere involvement by an off-duty member of the Garda Síochána in a fatal accident would per se ordinarily constitute conduct of the sort contemplated by section 87(3)(b) of the Act and thus be appropriate for GSOC attention.

Many people will find the decision not to investigate the Derek O’Toole case surprising and disturbing. I do not believe it was the intention of the Members of this House, when putting in place the legislation, that a case such as this could not be investigated. It is a devastating blow for the O’Toole family and later in the debate, my colleague, Deputy Tuffy, will explain some of the circumstances surrounding this case. The chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, Mr. Justice Haugh, informed me:

I would however accept that there might in exceptional circumstances be a complaint of misbehaviour (within the meaning of the Act) involving grave moral turpitude but not of the sort just mentioned, which might merit the attention of the Ombudsman Commission.

I do not know what happened in the tragic case of young Derek O’Toole. However as a Member who tries to remain alert in respect of what it is we legislate for, I had believed that merely being an off-duty member of the force would not have disbarred investigation in circumstances such as these. It is a great pity if this is the case. Moreover, if this is the case, Members must, if necessary, reconsider the legislation.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Gabhaim buíochas leis an mBreitheamh Morris, agus an foireann a bhí aige le cúpla bliain anuas, as ucht an tréan-iarracht a rinne siad chun teacht ar an fhírinne sa chás seo. D’fhiosraigh siad an méid a bhí ar bun ag an nGarda Síochána i dTír Chonaill sa tréimhse a phléadh. Tá léiriú géar déanta ag an mbreitheamh ina ocht tuairiscí ar an gcaimiléireacht a bhí ar bun ag baill den Gharda Síochána, ag gach leibhéal, i dTír Chonaill. D’fháiltigh mé roimh na tuairiscí eile ón mbreitheamh. Fáiltím arís roimh na tuairiscí is déanaí, atáá phlé againn inniu. Is oth liom an ráiteas sa tuairisc is déanaí— an ochtú tuairisc — i leith na slí a dhein an bheirt Theachta Dála déileáil leis na líomhaintí a tugadh dóibh sa chás seo — na líomhaintí a thosaigh an próiseas seo. Níl an cheart ag an mbreitheamh sa chás seo.

  1 o’clock

I believe the findings of the tribunal in respect of the channelling of allegations to the Minister by the two Dáil Deputies to be wrong. Serious allegations must be investigated by those with the power of investigation. While the Minister has the power to commence an investigation, Deputies do not. Shamefully, this aspect of the tribunal reports has to an extent eclipsed the long overdue vindication of the McBrearty family, who suffered greatly as a result of Garda abuse. Members must concentrate on this aspect, as well as on the other recommendations made by Mr. Justice Morris and his team regarding the Garda Síochána and the manner in which it carries out its investigations and duties.

Thankfully, some of the recommendations have been taken on board in recent times in various legislative items passed by this House. However, not all have been accepted and [764]Members await some of them, which I intend to address in my contribution to this debate. Unfathomably, the language and tone of the Minister when he launched the two final reports earlier this month and in the Chamber today betrays the fact that he remains in denial as to the extent of corruption across the force. He stated, “some persons were treated ... badly by individual members of An Garda Síochána”. He deemed it to be “[t]he disgraceful behaviour of a small number of Gardaí in Donegal during a period in the 1990s”. He reduces, without support, what is a significant problem of systemic Garda abuse to that of a small number of individual gardaí in one location during a single time period. Together with other Members, I am on the record as highlighting cases of Garda frame-ups, beatings and — I believe — manslaughter, as well as a culture which has nurtured such abuse across the island and not merely in County Donegal. There must be an acknowledgement that there was wrongdoing in other areas outside of County Donegal. Mr. Justice Morris himself has stated explicitly the “issues are not peculiar to Donegal”. This underlines the need for such an acknowledgement. Moreover, the wall of silence was not simply maintained by senior officers in County Donegal, as it went beyond that county. As long as successive Ministers remain in denial as to the true extent of the problem, the necessary reforms will never be realised. I acknowledge that some reforms have been introduced but many more are needed.

I want to focus on the systemic shortcomings identified by Mr. Justice Morris and his recommendations for legislative, cultural and practical reforms. I will begin by addressing the findings of the sixth Morris report in regard to covert surveillance and the recording of conversations. As serious organised crime appears to abound unchecked and television shows such as “The Wire” grow in popularity, public demand for the use of covert surveillance is understandable. I have long urged caution, however, because Garda abuse of such investigatory techniques is inevitable in the current legal vacuum. In the cases investigated by the Morris tribunal it was found that gardaí were secretly recording conversations with civilians and other Garda members whenever it took their fancy. Mr. Justice Morris was highly critical of the absence of legislation and guidelines governing the area. He found:

there is little or no, legal or ethical, guidance given to An Garda Síochána by statute or statutory instrument, or in the Garda Síochána Code, concerning covert surveillance whether by Gardaí in person or by means of audio or audio/visual electronic devices or recorders.

The reason for any decision to carry out surveillance should be clear and the level of intrusion . . . . . should be proportionate. . . . .

Mr. Justice Morris also argued that authorisation should be sought from a judge rather than a chief superintendent. I previously stated that judicial oversight is key to preventing opportunities for abuses from arising.

The Law Reform Commission is of the view that covert surveillance amounts to a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it is not based in law, and the recent European Court of Human Rights judgment in Liberty, ICCL and BIRW v. the UK affirms that view. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his predecessor made periodic announcements promising a covert surveillance Bill. I hope the promise in the legislative programme to bring in the covert surveillance Bill in 2009 will be kept. I look forward to debating that Bill and ensuring it meets the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Morris and others. The legislation must include clear provisions governing when it is permissible to engage in covert surveillance in the first instance and the forms of surveillance that are proportionate in specific scenarios. It must also vest the power of authorisation in the Judiciary rather than the Garda.

The issue of the member in charge was highlighted in the reports. The member in charge in a Garda station at any given time is responsible for ensuring full compliance with regulations [765]governing the treatment of persons in Garda custody. In other words, he or she is responsible for ensuring that the rights of detainees are respected and vindicated. The sixth Morris report points to a need for cultural change in this regard. Mr. Justice Morris argues that the role is not vested with sufficient respect and authority and advises that a member in charge should be a garda of considerable experience, at least of sergeant rank. He recommends training and refresher courses for members in charge and senior officers with a view to ensuring that the independence, power and authority of the member in charge is recognised and re-established.

The more recent report of the Hartnett inquiry into the death following custody of 14 year old Brian Rossiter addresses the same issue. In that case, successive members in charge failed even in their most basic duty to keep accurate records of custody during Mr. Rossiter’s unlawful detention. The first member in charge on that occasion had the additional responsibility of acting as public interface for the station. Mr. Hartnett stressed that the responsibilities of the member in charge to those held in custody must have higher priority than all other responsibilities.

In recent years, successive Bills amending criminal justice legislation extended the hours of detention. On this matter, Mr. Justice Morris argues that a proper and authoritative assessment should always be conducted to determine whether the extension is required and the senior officer involved must be open to the possibility that it may not be factually justified. The superintendent should acquaint himself or herself with all the facts necessary to make the decision. The decision, including the reasons for the application, the nature and extent of inquiries undertaken by the superintendent and his or her reasons for extending the period, should be recorded. Current records merely refer to the necessity for proper investigation of the offence. That is not good enough because it does not reveal proper procedure. Níl sé seo maith go leor agus caithfidh athrú teacht ar sin láithreach.

In regard to Garda statements responding to claims against the force, section 6.37(4) of the Garda code requires that allegations made in civil actions taken against the Garda Síochána are addressed and refuted where possible. The manner in which this is being interpreted causes huge problems and the section needs to be replaced. Gardaí should simply be required to give a full, truthful and frank account of incidents and the courts can then decide whether an allegation is refuted. Mr. Justice Morris found: “It is regrettable that such a basic proposition in relation to telling the truth should have to be spelt out in this way.” That sums up much of what he had to endure because of the apparent lack of a culture of truthfulness among the gardaí with whom he dealt. He had to fight tooth and nail to arrive at the truth in his investigations.

Part II of the seventh report of the Morris tribunal highlights the absolute inadequacy of the Garda complaints board, which was found to be beset by conflicts of interest. Mr. Justice Morris found: “The system of Gardaí investigating Gardaí, particularly when faced by a ‘blue wall’ of denial from the gardaí under investigation, was never going to be capable of uncovering the corruption that was endemic in the Donegal division at that time.” The ICCL noted in its comments on the report:

If the events uncovered by the Morris reports prove anything, it is that complaints against the Gardaí must be investigated independently. The answer to the Garda Ombudsman’s funding and workload problems is not the erosion of its independence.

Even the chair of the Garda complaints board, Gordon Holmes, recognises that fact.

The Ombudsman Commission already falls short of the reforms arising from the Morris tribunal or of equivalence with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in terms of powers, [766]independence and resources. Despite stressing these shortcomings, we gave its establishment a cautious welcome because we sincerely hoped that it would amount to an improvement on the Garda complaints board and serve to enhance accountability and public confidence in the Garda. Commissioners were appointed at the beginning of 2006 and the commission became operational at the end of 2006 and commenced receiving complaints from the public in May 2007. For the past two and a half years the jury has been out. It has been fully operational for 18 months and the jury is returning. Sadly, the verdict is less than satisfactory. The stated mission of GSOC is to provide independent and effective oversight of policing and to deal with the public’s complaints concerning gardaí fairly and efficiently so everyone can have confidence in the complaints system. The GSOC is abjectly failing to deliver on this mission and it is not only the fault of the GSOC. Resources are constraining it but it is not sufficiently independent. It is almost entirely dependent on gardaí to conduct its investigations. A number of key staff were seconded from the Garda Síochána and a number were transferred from the old complaints board or retired from the Garda Síochána in order to immediately take up a position in the ombudsman commission.

The experience of complainants thus far has included huge delays, the expiry of the timeframe commitments of the GSOC, the failure to return calls, the failure to keep complainants updated on the progress of investigations despite expressly made commitments to do so, providing misinformation on the remit of the ombudsman, the wording of correspondence from GSOC being almost identical to that of the old Garda complaints board and failure to provide reasons for decisions. All of this eliminates any semblance of transparency or openness.

I have met the commissioners twice to express my concerns. They acknowledged these and said they are totally over-burdened. They confirmed they do not have the capacity to deal with the volume of complaints coming in, which hints at continuous abuse by members of the Garda Síochána of the position they hold and the laws that govern them. This must not be allowed to happen. Rather than cutting funding for the GSOC, it should be substantially increased so that, at the very least, complaints made by members of the public, which could if not addressed properly lead to tribunals similar to the Morris tribunal in the future, can be addressed by the ombudsman with sufficient powers, confidence and remit.

Deputy Niall Collins:  It is beyond doubt that the activities of a tiny number of members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal besmirched and stained the good name of that force that has so loyally served the State and the people for many years. They have brought shame and dishonour to their uniform and to the memory of their colleagues who paid the ultimate price in the discharge of their duty as guardians of the peace. Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Justice Frederick Morris for the exemplary, methodical and ultimately unflinching way in which he uncovered what happened in Donegal.

I wish to focus my address on two aspects of the Donegal affair which have received scant attention either in the House or in comment following the publication of the two most recent reports. These are very important issues which impact on all of us as working parliamentary representatives and crucially go to the heart of our system of justice. The two issues are the genesis of the Morris inquiry and the action of two Members of this house whose behaviour was so heavily criticised by Mr. Justice Morris.

While these issues are separate in many respects, there is also a common thread that ultimately binds them in the same issue. I wish to cite a number of very important conclusions from Mr. Justice Morris. I do this not to try to score political points but to demonstrate to this House that the actions of two Members and the allegations they were peddling were, in the [767]words of Mr. Justice Morris, “given a standing and authority well beyond that which was justified on the material available”.

Mr. Justice Morris points out in his report that:

The Tribunal is satisfied that the interview given by Deputy Higgins to Mr. Connolly made public the core of the allegations contained in the facsimile of the 25th of June 2000. This was calculated to put further pressure on the Minister to convene a sworn public inquiry.
[. . .] Deputy Higgins told Mr. Connolly about his meeting with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There was very little attempt to maintain a confidential umbrella over the core allegations by Mr. McBrearty Senior or Deputy Higgins when dealing with Mr. Connolly. This does not sit well with their attempts to rely upon privilege in seeking to maintain the “confidentiality” of the identity of the source of the facsimile when faced with later requests for information from the Murphy inquiry and the Tribunal.

[. .. ]

The Tribunal is satisfied that like his colleague Deputy Higgins, Deputy Howlin was well aware that the source of the information that he had received was not an independent source in the sense that he was the senior counsel representing Mr. Frank McBrearty Senior, who was by that stage engaged in civil proceedings against An Garda Síochána and had numerous grievances against various Gardaí and was campaigning for a public inquiry into the Donegal affair.

If that were so, why was it necessary to envelop these allegations in secrecy? Mr. Justice Morris went on to state:

The main emphasis of the facsimile of the 25th of June was its attack on the reputations of Assistant Commissioners Carty and Hickey. The attack on Assistant Commissioner Carty, who was conducting the investigations in Donegal, was a completely new allegation and it came at a time when he was believed to be finalising his report in respect of the Donegal affair.

In paragraph 3.130 Mr. Justice Morris states clearly that these two Members failed to use their privileged position as public representatives in a responsible manner. The report states:

The Tribunal is satisfied that when the two Teachtaí Dála received the facsimile and information from Mr. Frank McBrearty Senior and Mr. Martin Giblin S.C. they owed it to themselves, to the Minister, and to those who were the subject of the allegations, to explore the information furnished to them somewhat further. The responsibility of the public representative cannot simply be to receive information and pass it on to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and expect action. If the Minister were to take no action the Teachtaí Dála would undoubtedly subject him to criticism. If he took action as he did, it would inevitably set in train an inquiry of a most sensational kind calculated to undermine the authority, standing and reputation of those against whom these allegations were made.

This report highlights what motivated these Deputies and is clearly critical of how they did their business. The Morris report goes on to state:

The two Teachtaí Dála were quick to crank up the political temperature in relation to these allegations by taking them immediately to the Minister. These serious allegations merited some further exploration before that step was taken. The two Teachtaí Dála were in [768]contact with one another about the McBrearty affair. They coordinated their approach in Dáil Éireann to an extent in relation to the campaign for a public inquiry. Though the Minister was given to understand that there were two separate and independent sources for this information that co-incidentally arrived to the two Teachtaí Dála at the same time, the reality was that the information came from the same source — the sender of the facsimile Mr. Frank McBrearty Senior.

Mr. Justice Morris made it clear that they should not have pursued their actions unless——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  That is not accurate but the Deputy would not know that because he is reading from a script he was given.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  He is quoting from the report. I had no knowledge he was coming in, no knowledge whatsoever.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I believe the Minister.

Deputy Niall Collins:  Mr. Justice Morris made it clear that they should not have pursued their actions unless more detailed information and evidence was produced, in fairness to those who were the subject of the allegations. He stated:

At the very least, Deputy Higgins should have insisted on a meeting with Mr. Togher and Deputy Howlin should have pressed Mr. Martin Giblin S.C. for further detail and evidence. [. . .] It would have been entirely reasonable for the two Teachtaí Dála to say that they were not going to make allegations of such a wild kind about two assistant commissioners and a detective sergeant to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and put them under a cloud, without something more than a facsimile or a late night phone call.

The motivation and the modus operandi of the two Members were severely criticized by Mr. Justice Morris and he made clear what should have been obvious when he said “Confidentiality can of course be abused by those who seek to use their political representatives for their own purposes”. He went on to say that the two Deputies should have carried out some further inquiries before going to the Minister. He said “particularly when it was contemplated that these communications had taken place in confidence and that neither the Minister nor any investigators of these matters would be allowed access to the source of the allegations because of the assertion of a parliamentary privilege”.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  What would Deputy Collins do?

Deputy Niall Collins:  He states: “This was all the more important since the two conduits could be regarded as partisan in their approach to the allegations and were seeking the establishment of a Tribunal: this was also sought by the authors of the facsimile”.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  What would Deputy Collins have done?

Deputy Niall Collins:  It is important that those extracts from the Morris tribunal are put on the record. The direct action of two Members of the House, Deputy Brendan Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins, gave rise to the most grievous, unwarranted and untruthful allegations about the character of two of Ireland’s most senior police officers. This was character assassination at its worst.

[769]Deputy Brendan Howlin:  On a point of order——

Deputy Niall Collins:  The good name and good character of two of our finest gardaí was taken, abused and bandied around——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I am trying to raise a point of order with the Chair.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair must allow a point of order, if it is a point of order.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Deputy is making a most grievous allegation against me. He said that allegations by me and another Deputy gave rise to egregious allegations. That is a scandalous lie that I demand be withdrawn immediately or repeated outside the House and I will take action then.

Deputy Niall Collins:  That is withdrawn.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  It is simply a lie, an egregious lie.

Acting Chairman:  I regret to say this but I suspect that if Deputy Howlin was in the Chair he would ask a Member to withdraw that particular word.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I withdraw the word “lie” because that is an order of the House but I ask the Member to reflect on what he has just said, in fairness to other Members of the House.

Deputy Niall Collins:  It is withdrawn.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The Deputy should rewind the tape recorder.

Acting Chairman:  Members should address remarks through the Chair and I will do my best to protect all Members.

Deputy Niall Collins:  I thank the Chair.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I do not know where Deputy Collins got that script but he should send it back. It is scandalous.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I wish to intervene——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I did not suggest anything about the Minister.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Howlin made an inference that Deputy Collins was given a script. I wish to say I had no knowledge of this. The Deputy is completely entitled to have his own script and his own thoughts with regard to this matter.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  He does not need the Minister to defend him.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I do not want any inference drawn that this was orchestrated.

Acting Chairman:  I ask for the co-operation of all Members in order that Deputy Collins be allowed to conclude his contribution——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  It is scandalous.

Acting Chairman:  ——without further interruption.

[770]Deputy Niall Collins:  I turn now to the second matter. A myth has been propagated in this country and is now taken as a given by those who ought to know better. It casts Deputy Howlin and the then Deputy Higgins as the David of the piece, who somehow managed to slay Goliath in the form of the Government, the State and so on, and the outfall of this was the setting up of the Morris tribunal.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Who wrote this for the Deputy?

Deputy Niall Collins:  At one point, as noted in the evidence given by him to Mr. Justice Morris, Deputy Howlin sought to pretend that he had the power to recall the Dáil because he objected to a line of questioning on his sources by the Garda. His subsequent explanation at the tribunal concerning this matter is that things had become fractious with the Garda.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Who wrote that for the Deputy?

Deputy Niall Collins:  Should anyone in this House or outside it take the trouble to check the record with a view to establishing the genesis of the Morris tribunal, they will find quite a different story from the one peddled around this town by those pushing a particular political agenda.

On 20 November 2001, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform opposed an opportunistic Private Members’ motion that sought to institute a public inquiry into those events and then report on the County Donegal Garda division. Had it been adopted, this motion would have been more appropriate in a——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Can the Deputy even read what was scripted for him?

Acting Chairman:  I apologise for interrupting Deputy Collins but only one minute remains in this slot.

Deputy Niall Collins:  I thank the Chair. It showed utter and complete denial of the fundamental constitutional rights of any citizen of this State. The so-called great liberals of the Labour Party, cast in their self-appointed role as the political guarantors of the civil and human rights of citizens, then showed their true colours. As for Fine Gael, we all know what they are against, then and now. Perhaps some day we will find out what they are for.

There is no gainsaying the facts. First, the Minister appointed an eminent legal person, Shane Murphy SC, to conduct a review of all the papers and facts then known. That was in November 2001. Second, following the completion of Mr. Murphy’s review, the Minister set up the Morris tribunal in March 2002.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The House did so.

Deputy Niall Collins:  Third, on 7 February 2001 and on 28 May 2001, the Minister made it clear that he was not against the principle of a public inquiry, but that he had to be guided by legal advice to avoid prejudicing civil and criminal proceedings. I need hardly spell out to the House what the reaction of the Members opposite would have been had the Minister pushed ahead on their say so, and had such action subsequently led to the collapse of a criminal trial.

For the avoidance of any doubt, and in order to dispel the myths, half truths and self-serving comments of Deputy Howlin and Deputy Higgins, I wish to recall for the benefit of the House the words of the Minister during a debate on an earlier Morris report, 17 June 2005. The Minister stated:

[771]

I want also to refute in the strongest possible terms the politically motivated and mischievous suggestions made that I in any way was opposed to or hindered the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry in this case. The facts speak for themselves and belie these malevolent suggestions.

The Minister made it clear that he was never against the principle of a public inquiry. However, he had legal constraints and due process had to be taken into account, as he outlined.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy’s time has expired.

Deputy Niall Collins:  May I finish?

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy must conclude, quickly.

Deputy Niall Collins:  The Minister stated:

As far back as February 2001, I made it clear to Dáil Éireann that I had an open mind as regards the setting up of a tribunal. I stressed that I wanted to see the truth of this matter determined. I said that I wanted to see public confidence in the Garda restored. However, the question I posed then went to the heart of the problem. How do we do this in an open and transparent way without interfering with potential civil and criminal proceedings? This was a complex matter. I stated that the law, which provides for due process, cannot be shaped or moulded to fit the mood of the time. Rights must be respected. Due process must be protected. In the hierarchy of rights, the right to due process is a superior right. These are the fundamental principles which are the foundation of our legal system. I made it clear that I had not ruled out the option of holding a public inquiry but I was not convinced at that time that it would necessarily be the best way of dealing with the matter.

It is to the great credit of the Minister that, in the face of a hurricane-like storm that had Deputies Howlin and Higgins as chief stokers, he held the line and maintained the rule of law when the populist thing to do would have been to cut and run. For that alone as well for putting in place——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  What a load of hogwash.

Deputy Niall Collins:  ——the machinery and processes which ultimately led to the uncovering of the sordid business in the County Donegal Garda division, history will judge his stewardship of justice well.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Joe McHugh has ten minutes but he will be interrupted by the adjournment at 1.30 p.m.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I am disappointed that Deputy Collins is leaving the Chamber.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I, too, would like to have him present.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I call Deputy Collins.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy had——

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I am not yet addressing the Minister.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  As per procedure.

[772]Deputy Joe McHugh:  The Minister may just sit there for a second.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I was not going anywhere.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The Minister might wish to do so but there are 10,000 people outside.

Acting Chairman:  Through the Chair, please.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  This is a diabolical way to treat a new young Deputy. Deputy Collins is probably a man of integrity and a sincere young politician, but he is caught up in a system. Someone within the Minister’s party made him stand up and do the Minister’s dirty work today. Everything he read out, possibly for the first time, made scurrilous accusations and was an absolute disgrace. One of the two men, at least, was present to defend himself but the other was not. Former Deputy Jim Higgins was not present either to defend himself when the Minister was speaking.

The Minister talked about the bigger picture. He has no idea about the bigger picture in County Donegal and no idea what he is talking about. He has no idea who is on the winning side and who is on the losing side. There have been absolutely no winners, past or present, with regard to the Morris tribunal. There have been only losers in terms of everybody being hurt and conspiracy theories for decades.

In years to come we will talk about this event and the events in County Donegal. People will talk about innuendo, allegations and counter allegations. The hallmark of the Morris tribunal is that it completely pinpoints one part of this country in respect of one, two, three or a dozen particular episodes. This has been a period of hurt for many people, for the families involved such as the McBrearty family, the McConnells and their extended family, Richie Barron’s family and also the gardaí who ended up being caught up either directly or indirectly and their families, including their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, wives and husbands. This goes to the core of the human level. There is a lot of hurt and I say to the Minister that this is the big picture. It took the Minister until page seven of a 14-page transcript to come up with a bigger picture. That is an absolute disgrace and I will return to that aspect.

The only winners with regard to the entire escapade will be in the future and I welcome that. I also welcome that there are recommendations and there have been some positive outcomes in respect of the Morris tribunal. The Garda Síochána Act and the Garda Ombudsman are a result of the outcome of this investigation. It might appear that €50 million is a lot of money and taxpayers will always question who benefited from that type of investment. What we have had in this country, however, was the tipping point of a Garda mechanism that was not working for our society. It happened to occur in County Donegal but it could have happened in any part of the country. It is not a matter of County Donegal in isolation.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is spending 50% of his time here today but he has no interest in this feedback. He wants to talk now about other issues with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan. That is how the people perceive him and the Fianna Fáil Party, in any case, but he has no idea of this as he listens. He has no idea what is going on outside the House or how people feel. He does not know how to listen. The Minister may continue talking but he has come into the Chamber and spent seven out of 14 pages attacking two men who came forward with information. Did they have 20-20 vision? Had Deputies Higgins and Howlin 20-20 vision concerning what to do? I was not a politician in this House when they were given that information. Every member of Fianna Fáil has 20-20 vision when the thing is done.

[773]It is an absolute scandal that the Minister has attacked two politicians of integrity. The former Deputy Jim Higgins suffered. He lost his seat arising from the whole situation, possibly for making this move. Perhaps he did the right thing, perhaps it was the wrong thing, but he and Deputy Howlin introduced a mechanism to stop the pain when there were no such mechanisms in place. The Minister has even admitted that he is to set up a new mechanism under the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in respect of how this should be dealt with in future. The Minister admits there was no mechanism in place

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The judge recommended it.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Judge and jury are not enough. Let the Minister go to County Donegal and listen to the people——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I did not recommend it.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  ——and discuss the matter with these men, and go to Brussels and speak to the other man, but let him not spend 50% of his time making unwarranted accusations in respect of this affair.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  7.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Defence    his reasons for closing the Defence Forces barracks in Longford, Monaghan, Rockhill and Lifford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36423/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The dispersal of personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training and imposes increased and unnecessary overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barracks management, administration, maintenance and security. The consolidation process is designed to facilitate higher training standards, while freeing up underutilised resources and personnel for operational duties.

The funding previously realised from the disposal of surplus barracks and properties has, together with pay savings, provided some of the resources required for infrastructure, training area development and equipment procurement. In this regard, the White Paper states: “The thrust of the Government decisions in the White Paper is based on their recognition of the necessity to enhance the equipment and infrastructure available to the Defence Forces”. The current phase of barracks closure is another important step in achieving the vision of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper.

While the closure of barracks and sale of the properties has provided funding for investment, it was never the driving factor for the consolidation of defence infrastructure. The White Paper acknowledged that the current spread of barracks gave rise to significant inefficiencies in manning and organisation which needed to be addressed. Moreover, as has been pointed out [774]in many independent reports on the Defence Forces, the primary driver for barracks organisation and personnel deployment is the efficient and effective delivery of military capabilities. As I indicated in response to many questions in the House, Defence Forces properties are kept under constant review in terms of addressing Defence Force requirements and ensuring the most appropriate organisation of the Defence Forces, taking account of the operational requirements.

The development and increased capability of the modern Defence Forces, when taken together with improved security along the Border, has removed the rationale for having seven barracks-posts along the Border and provided the opportunity for consolidation of units in a smaller number of locations. It should be noted that the British Army has closed most of its Border posts.

The current plan has been put together in close consultation and co-operation with the Defence Forces general staff and provides an overall package which will serve the needs of the Defence Forces into the future.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  The Government seems to have got itself into another fine mess and has failed to produce a plan for the managed closure of the four barracks in question. For example, senior personnel are unable to brief the 650 personnel who will be moved as a result of the closures. Last Tuesday, when the budget was being announced, a senior officer in Monaghan barracks had no knowledge that the barracks was to be closed.

What savings will the four closures achieve given the costs associated with maintaining and securing the barracks and the substantial cost of moving Army personnel? Additional costs will arise from providing accommodation for personnel and storage facilities for equipment in other barracks. The Minister does not seem to realise that personnel who will be required to relocate as a result of the closures will face significant transport costs. For example, those based in Donegal town will have to make a daily round trip of approximately 150 miles to Finner. That is not good enough.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  While I have not received an exact figure, I am advised that substantial cost savings will be achieved through the closures. Payments will reduce in respect of barrack guard duties, storage, utility costs, maintenance, heating and lighting etc. As I indicated, however, the main driver for the decision was that the Army was too widely dispersed over too many barracks, particularly in light of the size of the Defence Forces and the population of the country. A particular problem that arose on the Border due to the situation in Northern Ireland has been resolved. There was no justification for maintaining no less than seven of our 20 Army barracks in the Border area and for that reason the decision was taken to consolidate.

From conversations with members of the general staff and Permanent Defence Force, their view appears to be that this is a good step for the Army as better collective training and less wider dispersal will ensure greater efficiency in the use of Defence Forces resources.

I take account of Deputy Deenihan’s comments regarding transport costs. Provision has been made for removal and transport costs to be provided for a certain period. However, even when one takes these factors into account, the previous programme of barracks closures resulted in a much better, more efficient military organisation and delivered cost savings. This outcome will also be achieved with the current programme.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Does the Minister agree it is unacceptable to provide a closure date of 31 January 2009? Will he assure the House that the 14 week lead-in period will be [775]extended? Perhaps the Government will make another U-turn on this issue. The Minister stood alongside Deputy Peter Kelly in front of Longford barracks and gave a commitment to the personnel in the barracks and the people of the town that the barracks would not be closed while he was Minister for Defence. This commitment was given on record and a photograph of the Minister and the Deputy is available. The programme should be implemented in a calm, collected, structured fashion, which is not the case. I appeal to the Minister to undertake to postpone the closure of the barracks from 31 January 2009 and extend the lead-in period to between six months and one year.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  It is advisable, when taking steps of this nature, to set a target date. Clearly if the process is not completed by the target date of 31 January 2009, it will be completed at a later date. However, I am assured by the military that it will be able to meet the date.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  There is no way the completion date will be met.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  In so far as doing a U-turn is concerned, I note Deputy Deenihan’s initial statement on the matter did not oppose the closure of the barracks. I do not know whether he supports or opposes the decision in principle. I am aware, however, that Deputy Bannon is opposed to the closures as he has tabled a motion requesting that I reverse the decision to close Connolly barracks. On the other hand, in a television interview given on 28 September, Deputy Varadkar stated the Department of Defence had huge numbers and he did not know what it did. The Deputy wants us to further reduce the personnel available to the Department. Which of the three Fine Gael Deputies represents the party’s position?

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  We have heard typical spin from the Minister. Deputy Varadkar did not advocate the closure of Army barracks.

  8.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made during 2008 in regard to bringing the Defence Forces medical corps up to full strength; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35946/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Military medical services and their facilities exist to maintain the health of the Defence Forces and support them in operational and overseas activities. The focus of the military medical service is on primary care, occupational medicine, acute trauma management, preventative medical programmes and field medical training.

A key issue in the provision of medical services to the Defence Forces has been the shortage of medical officers, that is, doctors, in the medical corps. The services of civilian medical practitioners are used to provide back-up to the medical corps in ensuring the primary health care requirements are met. The difficulties with the recruitment of medical officers have endured for some time despite the concerted efforts of my Department and the Defence Forces. The numbers attracted to work in the Defence Forces have served only to address natural wastage. The pay and allowances of doctors and dentists were increased substantially in consultation with the Minister for Finance. In addition, the Defence Forces have undertaken an intensive recruitment campaign. The results of both of these initiatives have been disappointing.

Apart from the issue of the numbers of medical officers, a review of the provision of medical services, in association with the representative associations, is ongoing as part of the modernisation agenda for the Defence Forces. In view of the complexity of the challenge facing the [776]Defence Forces in this area, I decided to engage consultants to make recommendations on the best means of meeting the medical requirements of the Defence Forces. The consultancy will focus on the sustainable provision of the relevant medical expertise and services to the Defence Forces.

PA Consulting has been awarded the contract for the medical consultancy. I expect its report to be delivered before the end of the year. I eagerly await receipt of the report and assure the House that following consideration of the recommendations I will publish the report and engage with all the key stakeholders regarding its implementation.

The development of the medical corps forms part of An Agreed Programme for Government. I am committed to providing a sustainable medical service to meet the needs of the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. Notwithstanding the current position, I assure the House that Defence Forces personnel requiring medical treatment receive the care they need.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  When the medical corps has been described as being in a state of virtual collapse, the Minister’s last statement requires examination. Essentially, does he not agree, given that 15 doctors have left the medical corps since 2000 and only ten have been recruited, that this represents a very poor situation? I understand there are 22 doctors out of the full complement of 47. The PA Consulting report is expected by the end of the year, but I understand the position has not changed since July. Can the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that the report will be received before the end of the Dáil year, that there will be no restriction in terms of resources in 2009 in the context of implementing its recommendations and that he will do something substantial as regards the suggestion I have made to him on a number of occasions, namely, that student doctors should be given financial assistance on the quid pro quo that they give a certain designated amount of service to the Army or the Defence Forces generally after they have graduated?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  In reply to the various points made by Deputy O’Shea, it is true that more people have left since 2000 than we have managed to recruit. However, it is not true to say that the medical service is in a state of collapse because, as Deputy O’Shea and the House will be aware, where we cannot provide medical service within the Army, we engage outside medical services.

We have done our best to maintain the strength of the medical corps at its establishment level, which is 47 doctors, but unfortunately we have failed. We raised the pay and allowances considerably and undertook a number of intensive recruitment campaigns, but we failed. Therefore, we are bringing in consultants to advise us on how best to approach this problem. Deputy O’Shea wants to know whether I will give a categorical assurance that the consultants’ report will be available before the end of the year. I cannot give that assurance, but I am informed that it is expected. It will be a surprise if we do not have it before the end of the year. The consultants were to consider four items and are on the third already. I am fairly optimistic we will have the report by the end of the year.

Deputy O’Shea’s suggestion about student doctors is a good one and the consultants have been made aware of it. We will see what they have to say about it in their report.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Is there merit in representatives of the Defence Forces at senior level, or indeed senior officials of the Minister’s Department, addressing students in the medical schools with a view to directing their attention towards the Army as a career? It is a fine career and appeals to patriotism as well as professionalism. RACO has made an interesting suggestion [777]to the effect that there will be provision to give training in specialised areas of medicine to attract people.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  There may be merit in that. Obviously, we will be doing something about the situation as soon as we have the consultants’ report. We will not be bound precisely by what they say. Other useful suggestions will be taken on board too and I will bear that one in mind.

  9.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he is satisfied with the air transport support that is available to the Irish mission on the ground in Chad; if the mission has been assigned new security duties outside their area of operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36424/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The issue of the required air transport for the Defence Forces contingent deploying to Chad was considered in detail as part of the planning process for the deployment. A detailed review of the requirements was conducted by the military authorities as is normal in any case of overseas peace support operations. I requested and received the requisite assurances from the Chief of Staff in relation to helicopter medevac and strategic lift. The Chief of Staff advised me that he was fully satisfied with the arrangements in place for the Defence Forces contingent in EUFOR.

Within the theatre of operations, EUFOR has four French attack helicopters and five French Puma helicopters, which are under the operational control of the operational commander. The French also supply EUFOR with one reconnaissance mission per day by a Mirage, as well as having two Mirages on standby for close air support. The Polish battalion has three Mi 17 helicopters in theatre.

The provision of both strategic and tactical lift for Defence Forces personnel in theatre in Chad continues to meet the requirements of the military authorities of the contingent there. Strategic and tactical lift is met both from commercial sources and through support from EUFOR assets deployed in theatre. I am aware that some concerns have been expressed regarding the helicopter lift contracted by the Defence Forces for the contingent in Chad. In progressing planning arrangements for Ireland’s participation in Chad, a requirement for tactical lift in the Irish area of operations to support resupply of the mission and enable forward projection of the contingent during the rainy season in particular was identified by the military authorities. I should emphasise that this was primarily a requirement for the transport of cargo and supplies to the base camp in Goz Beida during the rainy season, along with the forward deployment of forces during this period.

The Defence Forces contracted a civilian company through their standing supplier of strategic air transport to provide this helicopter lift. Two helicopters arrived in theatre on 28 June 2008 to provide for the operational deployment of troops and to facilitate the rapid movement of supplies, stores and equipment from the forward logistic base in Abéché to the battalion base in Goz Beida.

In late September, a question arose in relation to the certification of the two helicopters for use with passengers. The issue that arose was a regulatory licensing one relating to civilian registered helicopters and did not reflect on the safety, technical or operational functions of the helicopters. Notwithstanding this, it was decided that pending the resolution of the matter, the transport of Defence Forces personnel on board the helicopters should be restricted. The [778]helicopters remain operational for the use of cargo and emergency evacuation purposes as required to support the operation in Chad.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In relation to the deployment of Defence Forces personnel to provide a guard at the force headquarter in Abéché, the 98th infantry battalion was requested by the force commander to provide personnel for force protection duties. The background to the request was the withdrawal of the Swedish contribution to Chad at the end of their tour of duty. The Swedish element had provided force protection until their departure and no other country came forward to replace them. Thus, the force headquarters had to seek assistance from the units serving in the field, the Irish, French and Polish battalions.

Following appropriate consideration by the Irish military authorities, it was agreed that the Defence Forces would provide a platoon level commitment on a rotational basis for security at the force headquarters. The platoon comprising approximately 30 personnel took up duty in Abéché for the period from 7 October until 26 October 2008.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Who decided to lease these helicopters, knowing quite well that they could only move equipment and food, but not personnel? The first thing they should have looked into was whether they were licensed to move troops. Parts of the area under Irish control are 300 km from the base in Goz Beida. Surely someone made a mistake, because lives could be at risk over this issue.

Can the Minister assure the House that he now has cover for the Irish mission in its area of operations? Finally, as he may be aware, the greatest challenge now lies ahead, since the rainy season is over. I understand that guerilla forces, bandits and rebel groups are queuing up at this stage to do various things. The Irish mission will be there in the centre and needs this type of support now more than ever. I am sure these helicopters cost a good deal, and perhaps the Minister can tell us how much.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  To address Deputy Deenihan’s last point first, I understand the helicopters were released on 13 June last until next April. We still do not know the final cost, but it will be in the region of €3 million.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  And they cannot carry troops. This is absolutely disgraceful.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  To deal with the Deputy’s first two points, I accept there is a problem. Let me emphasise that there is no question about the safety of these helicopters. It is a question of the air operation certificate, which covers what these helicopters are supposed to do — there is a question as to whether they could carry personnel. The better view is that they cannot, and they are not allowed to carry personnel, only cargo. The primary reason for getting those helicopters into theatre, to supplement what we had already, was to move cargo around, particularly during the rainy season. It was feared that we might become isolated from our supply base during the rainy season. The military entered into that contract. I agree with Deputy Deenihan that something is not quite right. As a result, when it came to my attention, I issued a directive that no more personnel be carried on those helicopters, except in the event of an emergency evacuation, which they are licensed to look after.

I also asked the Chief of Staff to investigate and issue me with a report, which I should have by Friday. I have referred the matter to the internal audit section of my Department and I am awaiting a report from there. As regards Deputy Deenihan’s final question on whether we now have sufficient air support, this is a matter to be dealt with in his report by the Chief of Staff. [779] Having studied his report, we will see where we will go on that. The general view at present is that these things are mainly used for carrying cargo and equipment around and that we have sufficient cover.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I made the case strongly in the House for two helicopters for medical evacuation some time ago. The Minister now tells me that——

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  They can be used for that. Their licence covers them for medical evacuation in emergencies.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Fine. That is a very important point. It seems quite strange that we spent €3 million on something which cannot move people. Under what caveats are the Irish forces operating in Chad? Recently they were asked to protect the headquarters when the Swedes moved out but the commander said it was not part of their role. They said there was no caveat to cover that. Does the Minister have a list of caveats that he can give us telling us what the Irish Defence Forces can or cannot do in Chad?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  That was in the second part of my answer which I did not have time to deliver. A request came in from operational headquarters to supply a platoon sized contingent of approximately 30 troops to provide protection for force headquarters in Abéché. I am not aware that request was actually refused. It was considered.

The people considering the request have to take many things into account such as the extent to which they will still be able to perform their ordinary duties, which is protecting civilians, United Nations personnel and the humanitarian agencies out there. It did not come in at the best time. It came in at the time of the changeover, when the rotation of troops was taking place. Having considered the request, they reckoned that they could supply the 30 troops on a rotational basis. They have been sent there from 6 to 26 October. That is their first stint there.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Will the Minister supply us with the caveats?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Ceist Uimh. 10 in ainim an Teachta Brian O’Shea.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  This is very important.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It might be very important but we have gone two minutes over time. We are restricting time on other Deputies.

  10.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    the report he has received on the sinking of the Asgard II off the French coast; his future plans in regard to the provision of a sail training vessel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35947/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  As the Deputy will be aware, on 11 September 2008, the national sail training vessel, Asgard II, sank in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France. The Asgard II was on a cruise from Falmouth in the UK to La Rochelle. On board were five crew and 20 trainees. All crew and trainees were evacuated successfully and are safe and well.

The decision to abandon the vessel and take to the life rafts was made by the captain because the vessel was taking in water and was flooding. Weather conditions at the time were moderate. All trainees and crew were rescued by the French life boat service and taken to the island of Belle Île. I take this opportunity to compliment the captain and crew of Asgard II on the very [780]professional manner in which all the trainees were quickly and safely taken off the vessel. I would also like to pay tribute to the French life boat service for quickly coming to the rescue of the trainees and crew and bringing everybody safely ashore; and to the authorities in Belle Île on the way they looked after things.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is a statutory independent body, is carrying out an investigation into the cause of the incident. I have no information as to when the result of that investigation will be available.

Asgard II was insured with Allianz Plc for the sum of €3.8 million. Following consultations with insurance company representatives, Coiste an Asgard decided to arrange a survey of the vessel using a remotely operated vehicle in order to establish her status prior to any decisions being made in regard to salvage. This survey, which was carried out between 26 and 29 September, revealed that the vessel is lying upright in 80 m of water close to where she sank and appears to be largely intact. Damage to one of the hull planks has been observed but it is not possible, at this stage, to determine whether this has resulted from impact with the seabed or was the original cause of the sinking.

At a meeting between Coiste an Asgard and the insurance company on 9 October, it was agreed that the insurance company would seek tenders for the salvage of Asgard II and that a decision on whether to proceed with a salvage operation would be made in the light of the outcome of the tender process. I understand that the closing date for the receipt of tenders is 31 October.

Pending a decision on the future of Asgard II, the board of Coiste an Asgard is considering the question of procuring a suitable temporary replacement vessel. At this stage, I am not in a position to indicate when a decision might be made as to whether to procure a replacement vessel.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Like the Minister, I compliment the captain on the very effective way this crisis was dealt with. Everybody came out of it safe and sound. The French authorities also played an important part in the rescue. Having said that, we still do not know what happened. I have read speculation that debris from ships floats around this area and that it is quite a problem.

I understand from the initial under-sea survey that the cause is not readily visible. Effectively, it is not clear whether the damaged plank the Minister mentioned was caused by impact with the seabed or whether it was the cause of the accident.

Salvage is now on the agenda and, obviously, the tenders will have a bearing on whether that happens. I take the points the Minister made that we do not know what happened and that it may be some time before he knows.

Have ships such as the Dunbrody or the Jeanie Johnston been considered by Coiste an Asgard as possible replacement sail training vessels? That project is at an initial stage, if at all. Will something happen before the end of the year?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  As Deputy O’Shea rightly recognises, we will not know the precise cause of the accident until the Marine Casualty Investigation Board concludes its investigation. I assure the House that when it does, I will have no difficulty publishing its report. In regard to Deputy O’Shea’s second question, Coiste an Asgard is considering a number of possibilities for replacement. It has not yet reported back to me on its considerations in that regard.

[781]Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Are the French authorities involved in the investigation? If so, has the Minister received any information from them?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The investigating body is the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Naturally, it must talk to the French authorities and the French life board service, in particular. I understand that nobody other than the Marine Casualty Investigation Board is directly involved in the investigation. It has primary responsibility for the investigation.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Was it not involved in the underwater survey?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I cannot answer that question exactly but I understand the underwater survey was commissioned by Coiste an Asgard. I do not know who it got to do it but I can get that information for the Deputy.

  11.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Defence    when he will publish the consultants’ report which his Department commissioned on toxic waste concerns at Haulbowline, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36425/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Following concerns arising in regard to work undertaken on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, at the ISPAT site, as a purely precautionary measure, I directed that an independent investigation of any potential health issues arising at the naval base in Haulbowline be undertaken. An independent environmental health and safety assessment was commissioned by my Department in July of this year. A comprehensive and detailed assessment of soil, sediment and air quality was carried out in July to assess any potential risks posed to human health.

The initial report by the independent consultants was completed at the beginning of September. This report concluded that any risk arising within the naval base falls within the acceptable range, meaning that there is no exposure to undue risks and that no mitigating action needs to take place. The consultants advised that there was an area in the base, however, where certain levels were elevated. As a result, the consultants were requested to undertake additional testing in these particular areas to confirm the earlier test results. These tests have now been completed and my Department received the addendum report just over two weeks ago and the final consolidated report last week.

Following these further investigations the consultants again concluded that there is no exposure to undue risks. However, to ensure that best practice is followed in regard to matters like this it has been decided to cap one area which will be done by importing a layer of topsoil or by laying hard core.

The now completed report is in the final stages of being examined and I expect to receive a report from the Department and the military authorities next week. Once I have received this report, a joint meeting of the Naval Service and civilian employees partnership committees will be convened locally at the naval base and the report will be presented to them. It will be published immediately after that.

Again, I wish to state clearly that the findings show there is no unacceptable risk posed to personnel at the naval base and this is clearly supported by the independent assessment.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I welcome the Minister’s response. Hopefully, it will go some way towards reassuring naval personnel at Haulbowline that their health is not at risk. The Minister [782]said clearly it is not at risk, despite the fact they are sitting on half a million tonnes of hazardous waste. We can only accept the Minister’s assurance and I am sure it will assuage any concerns they have. The Minister gave a commitment that he will brief the personnel as soon as possible. Will he ensure he does that? Also, will he publish the report as soon as possible?

  3 o’clock

I remind the Minister that traces of chromium 6 found on the site were analysed in a German laboratory by one of the contractors hired to remove some waste from the site. The results gave rise to some concern. Does the consultants’ report rule out any possible contamination or threat from chromium 6 or from the inordinate levels of mercury found in the Cork Harbour area — 25% higher than the acceptable level? Does the report provide an assurance that there is no threat from chromium 6, mercury, zinc or any of the other obvious contaminants on the site, given the half of million tonnes of waste underground there?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Deputy Deenihan mentioned my assurance to the House. I am simply communicating to the House the results of the report. To reiterate, a joint meeting will be convened in Haulbowline, hopefully next week when the report is ready, between representatives of the naval staff and civilians and the details of the report will be explained to them. I will then immediately publish the report and make it available to Opposition spokespersons. It will also be available on the website.

I appreciate what Deputy Deenihan says about levels of certain contaminants being found. However, the report states categorically that the level is far below the risk level identified by the Health and Safety Authority. In other words, the report states the site is quite safe, despite what is buried underneath. I understand that raised levels of contaminants were found in a certain part of the site where lead and zinc batteries had been buried. It is proposed to cap that part of the site, although that part of the site is quite safe as things exist. However, it is best practice to cap such areas. Essentially, the report gives a clean bill of health to Haulbowline.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  A report issued by an official — an engineer from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government — last December pointed out that because of the high levels of mercury, immediate emergency treatment was required for certain parts of the site. I hope that work has been carried out in the meantime.

The Minister is aware of the importance of playing pitches for naval personnel, as exercise and recreation is very important for them when they spend a lot of time on sea manoeuvres. The playing pitches at the naval base have been closed for some time. Can personnel use these pitches again and is it safe to do so? Can the Minister assure them it is safe to do so?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  My interpretation, from what I have been told of the report, is that there is no risk at all. Unless there is some other impediment to using the pitches, personnel should not be prevented from using them on the premise the report has discovered it is in any way dangerous to use them. My information is the report appears to give an absolutely clean bill of health to the site. The report will be published next week, discussed locally at Haulbowline and then published generally, including on the website. We will send the Deputy a courtesy copy.

  12.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made on providing [783]a workplace child care facility in the Curragh Camp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35987/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  A request to provide crèche facilities for members of the Defence Forces has been made by the Defence Forces representative associations.

The Defence Forces partnership steering group, which was established following on from Partnership 2000, has tasked a partnership sub-committee with examining the issue of the provision of child care facilities under a number of headings, including demand for places, location and cost.

The partnership sub-committee has now completed a survey on the demand for crèche places in the vicinity of the Curragh. Work has also been completed with regard to a possible site and estimates of costs. Following on from this, I understand the sub-committee has submitted a draft report to the partnership steering group on the feasibility of the project. I am assured a final report will be available in the near future.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Will the Minister request the report as soon as possible? I asked a similar question in November 2007 and received a similar response. I remind the Minister that apart from personnel on site in the Curragh, it is proposed to move 400 people from headquarters in Dublin there, resulting in approximately 3,000 people being on site in the Curragh. It will be like a small town. Almost every other Department of that size has a crèche facility for its employees. Why, therefore, should there not be a facility at the Curragh?

I understand there is a question mark over the facility on the grounds of costs. Why discriminate against Army personnel in the Curragh? Male and female personnel equally require the crèche facility to help them manage their daily lives. If a facility was available they could have their children cared for close to their workplace, just like other people. Will the Minister demand this report be presented to him? I understand it has been completed, but that there is a reluctance to move on it because of cost factors, but they should not come into consideration. Personnel at the Curragh should receive the same treatment as personnel in other Departments.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  With regard to the initial question, I will study the report. I have not received it yet and do not know what is in it, but I will make inquiries as to when it will be available. With regard to the general issue of cost factors, the position is there is no funding available from the Department of Finance for the infrastructure. Therefore, if we decided to put a crèche in the Curragh, the cost would have to come from the depleted capital budget of the Department of Defence, which has been considerably reduced this year. I am not saying it will not, but that is from where it would have to come.

One of the major factors I would have to consider with regard to making that decision would be the other demands on our capital budget. I would also have to consider whether the crèche would be self-financing. The other crèches provided by the public service are all self-financing and one at the Curragh would have to be the same. That would depend on demand. Those details will be in the report. I will inquire this evening as to when the report will be available, but I understand it will be available quite soon.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I am sure that if the Minister gave Army personnel the opportunity to make that choice, they would welcome it. With regard to the altar of fiscal rectitude within the Department, I am sure the Minister would not discriminate against young children with regard to much needed child care facilities, particularly at a time when the Minister is trying to encourage more female personnel to join the Army. Recruitment in that area is not going too well. I am aware the Minister has said previously that having a child care facility in the Curragh would not be a major incentive for attracting women into the Army, but it could be one of the many incentives necessary to attract women into the Army. Therefore, the idea should not be dismissed. I hope the Minister does not dismiss it.

[784]Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Deputy Deenihan referred to the altar of fiscal rectitude. Many things have been sacrificed by many Governments throughout the history of the State on the altar of fiscal rectitude. I will give this undertaking to the House. If a decision must be taken as to whether I provide money from my reduced capital budget to provide the infrastructure, the decision will only arise if the report indicates there is sufficient demand to make the crèche self-financing. If we get to that stage and I am considering it, I will look at the proposal very sympathetically.

  13.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Defence    the way he will achieve the reduction of 3% in payroll costs for his Department as announced in July 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35873/08]

  31.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Defence    if it is intended to effect a reduction in staffing levels in his private or constituency offices or those of the Minister of State in his Department arising from the requirement intended to achieve the reduction of 3% in payroll costs for his Department. [35874/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 31 together.

My Department will achieve the 3% reduction in payroll costs by adopting a rigorous programme of efficiencies and through the prudent management of its resources. Specifically, a range of measures is being put in place to ensure that the required payroll reduction is achieved, including not filling vacancies arising from natural wastage and anticipated retirements and reductions in overtime.

My Department has 387 whole-time equivalent staff, including four permanent civil servants in my private office and six permanent civil servants in my constituency office. Since the announcement in July, nine posts in my Department remain unfilled, representing more than 2% of posts. Other vacancies that may arise between now and the end of 2009 will be managed on a case-by-case basis in order to stay within budget. In addition to these measures, my Department will continue to seek out savings while maintaining its existing level of service.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  To some extent this question has been overtaken by the budget. Some nine posts are not being filled. Will they remain unfilled?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  For the moment.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  We have read reports that recruitment to the Defence Forces is also being slowed down. Is that taking place as a result of the 3% reduction in payroll costs or the budget?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Nine posts remain unfilled because we are trying to reach the 3% target. The Defence Forces are also subject to the 3% target. The total payroll allocation for the civil servants in my Department is €19.2 million. In 2009, the allocation will be €19 million. It will result in a slowdown in recruitment for the Army. The total payroll allocation for the Defence Forces for 2008 is approximately €486 million. In 2009, the allocation will be €478 million. It will certainly result in a slowdown in recruitment. Up to now the level of Defence Forces personnel has been approximately 10,500. I believe we will be somewhat below that for the foreseeable future.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Earlier we discussed the medical corps. Does this restriction mean in effect that if doctors apply in response to a recruitment campaign, the money will not be found to make those appointments? In other words will recruitment into the medical corps also be slowed down or stopped?

[785]Deputy Willie O’Dea:  That is a very interesting question and the answer is “No”. Whatever happens, Army people who need medical assistance will get it. As the Deputy will be aware from the replies to previous questions, in so far as we cannot provide that medical assistance ourselves, we contract it in from outside. The cost of doing that for this year is estimated at approximately €4.5 million. I would prefer to spend it on a properly constituted medical corps in the Army rather than recruiting private medical expertise from outside.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Does the Minister expect to make a saving in personnel, resulting from the closure of the four barracks? I again ask a question I asked during Priority Questions. How much does he expect to save through the closure of these four barracks?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The answer to the first question is “No”. There will be no reduction in personnel. Some 635 troops and 46 civilian staff are being moved throughout the different barracks. The troops will be moved to the different barracks being organised for them. The civilian staff can accept redeployment if redeployment is available for them. At the moment I am discussing with the Department of Finance a scheme for voluntary redundancy if somebody would prefer to avail of that rather than be redeployed. It is quite possible that some of those civilian posts will not be filled. However, those people are entitled to stay in their jobs until they reach retirement age if that is their wish.

Various estimates have been made of the savings. It will release properties to be sold, but it is very difficult to sell them in the current climate. I understand that across the various subheads for maintenance, stores, lighting and heating, etc., there will be considerable savings. It will enable us to keep within the targets set for us by the Department of Finance for next year.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  What impact will this policy have on the overall strength of the Defence Forces of 10,500?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  It will reduce it slightly. It is currently at approximately maximum strength. We are at approximately 22 or 23 below the 10,500 to the best of my recollection. It will mean that the average figure of 10,500 will drop slightly. I am told it will not drop very considerably.

  14.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which further overseas deployments under the EU or UN flag are contemplated for members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35014/08]

  38.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of Irish troops serving overseas; the location of same; the nature of their duties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34983/08]

  44.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of Army personnel based overseas; the locations of same; the number of personnel in each of those locations; if he is satisfied that all such activity can be justified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35128/08]

  177.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for the future participation in EU or UN sponsored missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36428/08]

  178.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the position in regard to the deployment overseas of Defence Forces personnel; the degree to which Army, Naval Service [786]and Air Corps personnel are currently on such missions; the extent of such proposals in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36429/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 38, 44, 177 and 178 together.

Ireland is currently contributing 746 Defence Forces personnel to 13 different missions throughout the world. Full details, including ranks, of all personnel currently serving overseas are listed in the following tabular statement. While personnel from all services are liable for overseas service and serve overseas, as a matter of policy, Air Corps and Naval Service assets are not deployed overseas.

The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are deployed are the UN mandated EU-multinational mission to Chad and the Central African Republic with 409 personnel, the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 234 personnel and EUFOR, the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 44 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the UN, EU, OSCE and NATO.

The European Union military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, established under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1778, was formally launched by the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 28 January 2008. A total of 409 Defence Forces personnel are currently serving with EUFOR — 18 at the operational headquarters in Paris and 391 in Chad, of whom 23 are at the force headquarters and 368 as part of the 98th Infantry Battalion. The headquarters of the 98th Infantry Battalion are located at Goz Beida in south east Chad. Ireland is the second largest contributor to the mission with 409 personnel. The aim of the mission is to protect civilians in danger, particularly refugees and internally displaced persons, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and protect UN personnel. The mandate of the EUFOR mission is due to expire on 15 March 2009. A United Nations “blue hat” mission is due to take over from the EU mission on that date.

KFOR was established in June 1999 to support the maintenance of civil law and order within Kosovo, so as to develop a climate of safety and security, which will enable the transfer of increased responsibility to the civil authorities. Ireland has participated in KFOR since August 1999. The Irish 39th Infantry group currently serves in the multinational task force centre. In addition to Ireland, the taskforce also comprises troops from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and Latvia. The Irish contribution to KFOR currently comprises an APC mounted infantry group of some 223 personnel and 11 personnel in staff posts at KFOR headquarters.

Ireland has participated in EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina since December 2004, the successor mission to the stabilisation force in Bosnia and Herzegovina with which Ireland had previously been serving since 1997. The Irish contingent with EUFOR currently comprises 44 personnel. The role of the Defence Forces personnel currently serving in EUFOR is to provide personnel for the headquarters, the military police unit, verification teams and the national support element. All Irish personnel are located at Camp Butmir, Sarajevo.

With regard to future deployments, Ireland occasionally receives requests for participation in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. When considering any particular request, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, which has the potential to contribute to a political solution, consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy and the degree of risk involved are among the factors considered.

[787]Members of the Permanent Defence Force Serving Overseas as of 1 October 2008

No.
1. UN Missions
(i) UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ 7
(ii) UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) — Israel, Syria and Lebanon 12
(iii) MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) 3
(iv) UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) 4
(v) MONUC (United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo) 3
(vi) UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast) 2
TOTAL 31
UN Mandated Missions
(vii) EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina) 44
(viii) EUFOR TCHAD/RCA (EU-led Operation in CHAD and the Central African Republic) OHQ — Paris 18
EUFOR TCHAD/RCA (EU-led Operation in CHAD and the Central African Republic) FHQ — Chad 23
EUFOR TCHAD/RCA (EU-led Operation in CHAD and the Central African Republic) 97th Inf Battalion 368
(ix) KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) HQ 11
KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) 38th Inf Group 223
(x) ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) 7
Total number of personnel serving with UN missions 725
2. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
(i) OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
(ii) OSCE Mission in Belgrade — Serbia 1
(iii) OSCE Mission in Skopje — Macedonia 1
(iv) Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna 1
Total number of personnel serving OSCE 5
3. EU Military Staff
Brussels 6
New York 1
4. Military Representatives/Advisers/Staff
(i) Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York 1
(ii) Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna 1
(iii) Military Representatives to EU (Brussels) 4
(iv) Liaison Office of Ireland, NATO/PfP (Brussels) 2
(v) Military Representative to NATO/PfP Co-ordination Cell/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium 1
TOTAL NUMBER DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS: 746

Lt Gen Brig Gen Col Lt Col Comdt Capt Lt CF* Total Offr NCO Pte TOTAL
1 2 12 31 60 41 11 2 160 331 255 746

[788]Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  The Irish deployment in Chad is part of a EUFOR mission, which will end on 15 March. Has the Minister considered making this a blue hat mission because it cost so much? A total of €20 million was expended because of the initial delay to the mission, the transportation of equipment and the putting in place of logistics. Is there a strong case for changing the EUFOR mission to a blue hat mission? Is it likely this will happen after March?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  It is implicit in the Deputy’s question that a request will be made by the UN. However, we have been requested by the UN to contribute to the blue hat mission that will follow the EUFOR mission after 15 March. Before making a final decision, we must consider various issues such as the composition of the proposed mission, its mandate, which countries currently involved in Chad will remain with the UN mission and the important question of logistical support, about which the Deputy rightly has had a great deal to say. I take his point about the cost of the transfer of equipment. The Department has made a significant investment and I am favourably disposed to continuing the mission under the aegis of the UN but it will require a Government decision, which will, in turn, require Dáil approval. We will have the UN mandate and all the information we need by 15 December and, therefore, the decision will be made shortly thereafter. If we decide to contribute to the blue hat mission, that will be put before the House.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  The Oireachtas has sanctioned payment for the mission in Chad. In the context of the Department’s Estimate, is it likely the mission will be extended next year when this round comes to an end?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  As Deputy Deenihan pointed out, transporting the equipment overseas was a major factor in the cost of the mission. We have incurred that cost and it would be bad value for money to rush back on 15 March. The Exchequer is paying for this mission but when the UN takes over, it will carry the cost, by and large, although the organisation pays in arrears and is sometimes a good bit in arrears but that must be discounted. Other factors must be considered and the safety of our troops is always our paramount consideration. We must establish what size mission is involved, the other countries that are prepared to contribute and the logistical support the force will have. For example, it has been hinted the UN will seek a force almost twice the size of the present force in Chad. That will require considerable logistical support because of the terrain and I am not disposed to recommending the deployment of our troops without sufficient logistical support.

We must examine all those factors but, taking everything into account, including the humanitarian consideration, the good work that has been done, which has been effective on the ground, the work that remains to be done in that unfortunate part of the world, the cost incurred and the fact that the UN will pay, I am favourably disposed. However, the Government will have to discuss the matter.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I welcome the fact that the Minister is thinking about this because of the financial and moral logic involved. If he committed the troops to a UN-led mission, we would obtain a return that we are not in receipt of currently. Would that mean withdrawal from the commitment the Minister has given to the EU battle group because the troops would be committed to the Chad mission? As a result, they would not be available because the number deployed on overseas missions is based on a specified percentage of the Defence Forces complement.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Under our UNSAS commitment, up to 850 troops can be deployed overseas at any time. Sometimes that number is slightly exceeded but that is the general position. This equates to 10% of the enlisted personnel in our standing Army. The military auth[789]orities manage the figures and I have been assured by them that our commitment to the battle group will not be affected. We can participate in missions to Chad, Kosovo and Bosnia while maintaining our commitment to the battle group. A battle group will only involve troops being on the ground for a limited period of 30 days, which can be extended to 120 days. I accept that by 2011 a number of troops will be on stand-by in case they are needed because that is the next time the battle group of which we are part will be needed. With regard to the number of troops on the ground, they will be deployed only for 30 days up to a maximum of 120 days. I am assured by those who manage personnel in the military that they can accommodate the battle group while maintaining our current overseas commitments.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  If 800 troops are deployed on a mission, another 800 under the Minister’s rules cannot be committed to an EU battle group even if that is only for 30 days. There is a contradiction.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  There is no contradiction. Ireland is part of the Nordic battle group and our commitment is to 95 troops. A total of 746 troops are deployed abroad currently. If our full complement abroad was maintained and troops were needed to be on stand-by for the Nordic battle group for a period or if troops had to be deployed in one of its operations, we would still be within the 850 troop limit.

  15.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on the concerns expressed by the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the continued payment of Border duty allowance to members of the Defence Forces despite the changed circumstances in regard to the security situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35885/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  In response to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Accounting Officer of my Department stated it was the Department’s view that the conditions that led to the introduction of Border duty allowance, BDA, no longer exist, and I agree with that assessment. The Defence Forces have played a key role in the Border area in aid to the civil power. The overall nature of the Defence Forces activities in the Border area has changed as the political and security situation has evolved. For example, static checkpoints and border patrolling involving the Defence Forces has ceased. The recent announcement in the budget of the closure of the four barracks in the Border area reflects these changed circumstances.

While Border activities such as patrols and checkpoints are no longer necessary, activity by personnel stationed in Border area has not ceased. The Border units are obliged to maintain their capacity to respond to the impact of emergencies and contingencies on the border, normally through the provision of assistance to the civil authorities. Operations in response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak, BSE and the threat of bird flu are examples. Border units are, therefore, required to maintain mobile support units in barracks on a 24-hour basis. A separate security duty allowance is payable to Defence Forces personnel generally when engaged in specified security duties. Personnel in receipt of BDA cannot claim security duty allowance for such duties, which are performed on an ongoing basis. The removal of the BDA would be partly offset by the payment of security duty allowance in these cases.

The Comptroller and Auditor General noted that the changed circumstances relating to BDA was addressed through its inclusion in the Defence Forces modernisation agenda agreed with the representative associations in June 2007 under Towards 2016. The modernisation agenda encompasses a broad range of issues to further improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Defence Forces. As the BDA involves the pay and conditions of service of [790]members of the Permanent Defence Forces, it must be addressed through the Comptroller and Auditor General scheme with the representative associations and this process is under way. It is intended that implementation of changes agreed through the review will begin during the lifetime of the Towards 2016 agreement. The Deputy will appreciate that, as discussions between the Department and the representative associations are confidential to the parties involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the matter at this time.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he explain how €25 million was paid through this allowance between 2003 and 2007 given that, during and subsequent to 2002, there were no Border-specific activities?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  It is not a net cost. Our agreement with the representative associations of the Defence Forces is that members of the Defence Forces who are entitled to security duty allowance for their security duty do not get it if they are also in receipt of Border duty allowance. The net cost is just over half of that €25 million.

The best explanation is that the Defence Forces have undergone a substantial modernisation and reorganisation process. We have reduced the size of the Army considerably and we have reorganised it, the Naval Service and the Defence Forces Reserve. To bring people with us, we needed to negotiate with the representative associations, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA. Over the years, we have needed to bring them along on various tough decisions.

Phasing out the Border duty allowance will not be liked by the Army. We did not try to reach simultaneous agreement on all difficult topics. Rather, we proceeded gradually and are only now discussing the withdrawal of Border duty allowances. I expect the process to conclude in the near future. I will not give a specific timescale.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  As someone living near the Border, I appreciate the service provided by the Army as a backup to the Garda in a difficult situation. The Minister mentioned foot and mouth disease and other matters, but my main concern is that, as part of the reorganisation, Monaghan town barracks will be closed. While this does not relate to the question, the Minister discussed reorganisation and how he has negotiated different matters. Have negotiations been held with the 200 personnel in the Monaghan barracks regarding the facility’s closure? Has the Minister agreed any compensation for the closure with the Government, as occurred in respect of Castleblayney?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This is a question on the Border duty allowance.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  It relates to Border duty, as the closure of the barracks will have a major effect on the area.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  It is okay.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There was a question on barracks closures.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I assure the House that I will table one. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments because the families of the 200 personnel will be affected in a matter of a few weeks.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy piggy-backed his question well.

[791]Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I appreciate that Deputy Crawford has legitimate concerns about the closure of Monaghan barracks. I would prefer to be standing here saying no barracks will be closed.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Particularly when the Minister promised that he would not do so.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The situation has changed considerably, as Deputy Deenihan is aware. We will not discuss that matter now.

On negotiations, the Chief of Staff will tomorrow visit all of the barracks affected by the closures and speak with the relevant personnel by Friday at the latest. There is a compensation scheme for those who incur moving costs, including travel expenses and expenses associated with buying new houses and furniture, storing furniture and so on. It is a detailed scheme. The Army has held discussions with the representative associations, PDFORRA and RACO, concerning a number of claims that will be handled through the conciliation and arbitration process. I have undertaken to give a copy of the compensation scheme to Deputies Deenihan and O’Shea and I will send another to Deputy Crawford.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I thank the Minister.

  16.  Deputy Michael Noonan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he is satisfied that the numbers in the Army Reserve Defence Force will reach 12,000 as stated in the White Paper on Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36016/08]

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The White Paper on Defence 2000 outlines the blueprint for the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, comprising approximately 12,000 personnel. The RDF review implementation plan was formally launched in July 2004 and provides for the phased enhancement of reserve capabilities until the end of 2009. The plan set out the proposed establishment of the reserve. The non-integrated element of the reserve was to have an establishment of 9,692, which came into force in October 2005 when the reserve was reorganised. The military authorities have informed me that the strength of the reserve as at 31 August 2008 was 7,856.

The plan provides for the development of an integrated element of the Army reserve with a proposed establishment of 2,656 personnel. In line with the plan, a pilot integration project was initiated in 2007 and, while numbers participating were much lower than expected, valuable lessons were learned. The pilot was extended into 2008 and the military authorities are currently reviewing the project. A report will be submitted to me outlining options for the further development of the integrated reserve.

I have previously acknowledged that numbers in the reserve have declined in recent years. This trend in reduced volunteerism is not confined to the reserve, but is indicative of broader societal trends. It should also be noted that, as part of the implementation process, a more rigorous approach is now taken to removing the names of non-effective personnel from unit rolls. This accounts for part of the apparent fall in numbers in recent years.

In light of the Government decision of 8 July 2008 requiring savings across the public sector, a planned recruitment and awareness campaign for the reserve has been postponed. It is intended to revisit this important project when the budgetary situation permits.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  The reserve has, more or less, been abandoned by the Government. The Minister has tried to explain the declining numbers, but the current figures fall far short of the projected 12,000 and the revised figure of just over 9,000. It is less than 8,000 and [792]declining rapidly. Does the Minister agree that there may be a correlation between this and the decline in the reserve’s funding? In 2007, funding was at €13 million. In 2008, it was at €10.45 million. It will be further reduced to approximately €10 million. Not enough resources and funding are being invested in the RDF to encourage people to join.

What is the proposed RDF training budget for 2009? What was the man day expenditure in 2008 as opposed to what was budgeted for it? These are important questions.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I deny that the Government has abandoned the reserve. Everyone understands that numerous savings across different sections and Departments are necessary given the current budgetary situation.

Beyond the reserve, there has been a decline in the number of volunteers. This is affecting the reserve’s numbers. Another impact stems from the active attempts to remove non-effective personnel from rolls. Deputy Deenihan referred to a figure of 12,000. The projected figure for the non-integrated reserve is approximately 9,600, but the current complement is approximately 7,800. It has been subjected to a rigorous attitude towards the removal of non-active members from the rolls, which was not present previously.

Deputy Deenihan’s budgetary figure of €10 million is approximately correct. Going from memory, a reason for the declines in 2007 and 2008 was that the numbers coming forward did not necessitate that level of funding. Those figures comprised all of the expenditure incurred. A number of improvements have been made to build up the reserve. For example, we have improved the available weaponry and training. I have instituted a graduated gratuity scheme whereby people training for a certain amount of days get one amount, people training for more days get a larger amount and people training for the integrated reserve get an even larger amount. We were to have a recruitment campaign, but I have postponed it temporarily.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will allow Deputy Deenihan to ask a brief supplementary question because I want to allow another question.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  It is obvious that the integrated reserve is not working. The reaction from PDFORRA and RACO suggests this is an exercise that will not work and that it may represent a waste of valuable resources. Will the Minister consider abandoning the proposal entirely?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Deputy Deenihan is correct that the response to date has been disappointing. Perhaps the requirements are too rigorous. However, there is no intention of abandoning the scheme. Instead, we are considering various ways of making it more attractive and easier for people to come forward.

  17.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will honour the commitment he made to the 12 families who have been living in Cathal Brugha barracks married quarters for more than 30 years in view of the recent notice to vacate the houses issued by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35951/08]

  42.  Deputy Chris Andrews    asked the Minister for Defence    the situation regarding the married quarters at Cathal Brugha barracks, Dublin; if he will report on the meeting held with the residents on 23 September 2008; the options available to the existing residents; his plans to achieve a solution favourable to all concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34616/08]

[793]Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 42 together.

Defence Forces married quarters are provided to serving members until their retirement or resignation. Defence Forces regulations state the quarters must be vacated within 15 days of leaving the service. The current situation has arisen as a result of a failure to do so.

Following previous attempts to resolve the situation regarding the unauthorised occupation of the quarters in question, a letter was sent to the occupiers on 11 September 2008 as a first stage in commencing a process of dialogue. The occupiers were requested to make arrangements to vacate the premises and to make alternative arrangements for their accommodation as soon as possible, but no later than the end of October 2008. On 18 September, a further letter issued to the occupiers inviting them to a meeting with the Department on 23 September. At that meeting they were informed the deadline was not set in stone and that my Department would, if at all possible, welcome the opportunity to work with them to achieve a solution favourable to all parties. It seems all occupiers wish to purchase the quarters.

My officials undertook to review the possibility of selling to the occupiers and a further meeting has been scheduled for the end of October. It is hoped substantial progress will be made by that time to facilitate a solution that meets the needs of both the occupiers and the Defence Forces. I am encouraged that the process of dialogue has commenced and hope it will come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Given that the families concerned have occupied these houses for the last 30 years, the letter of 11 September was most insensitive. It was a strange way of commencing dialogue to tell the families that they must vacate their homes by October. That is not good practice. Given that the people concerned are now to be given an opportunity to purchase their homes, will the Minister ensure that enough time and every assistance is afforded to them in securing finance, which may be difficult to do in the current climate? The matter should be put in abeyance for a time to allow all concerned to purchase their homes. In the event that some — probably only a small number — are not in position to do so, will the Minister afford them further opportunity by lengthening the period of time available to them?

Deputy Chris Andrews:  The decision to allow the residents to purchase their homes represents a welcome step forward in addressing their concerns. Will the Minister confirm that he will be in a position to allow them so to do? Is he confident he can resolve this issue without the need for the families to be dislocated?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I agree with Deputy Deenihan that the first letter may have been a tad insensitive. When it was brought to my attention, a second letter issued. A meeting with the families is to take place towards the end of October. I am aware of the difficulties for people in securing loans in the current economic climate. I assure Deputies Deenihan and Andrews that I will instruct my officials to be as reasonable and sensitive as they can and to do everything possible to assist these people to purchase their homes.

Deputy Chris Andrews:  Is the Minister saying there is no problem in principle with these people purchasing their homes?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Yes.

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 [794]case: (1) Deputy Martin Ferris — the qualification criteria for the installation aid grant; (2) Deputy Joanna Tuffy — the need for the additional permanent accommodation and major refurbishment works that were applied for by St. Brigid’s national school, Palmerstown, in 1999 to be carried out as a matter of urgency; (3) Deputy James Bannon — the urgent need for the Minister for Defence to reverse his decision to close Connolly barracks, Longford town, in the light of the adverse economic effects on the economic viability of County Longford which will result from the loss of 180 full-time jobs and the disruption caused by such dislocation to Army personnel and their families, who are an integral part of the local community; (4) Deputy Olwyn Enright — the filling of a speech and language teacher vacancy at Mucklagh national school, County Offaly; (5) Deputy Joe Costello — the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to take appropriate measures to ensure that churches which have been deconsecrated are secured and maintained as part of the national heritage and that those who perpetrated the vandalism on the Methodist church, Jones Road, Dublin 3 are prosecuted and made restore the church; (6) Deputy Kathleen Lynch — the proposed changes in the disability allowance and the effect these changes will have on families; (7) Deputy Bernard J. Durkan — the payment of a refund under the health repayment scheme; and (8) Deputy Kieran O’Donnell — the need for the 2008 development funding to be made available for the provision of adult day service places for nine school leavers who attended the Daughters of Charity facility for the intellectually disabled, Lisnagry, Limerick.

The matters raised by Deputies Olwyn Enright, Bernard J. Durkan, Kathleen Lynch and Martin Ferris have been selected for discussion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As I am directly party to the matters under discussion, I do not deem it appropriate for me to be in the Chair.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I heard with a mixture of interest and dismay the speech delivered earlier today by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on this important issue. My only conclusion is that the Minister is a political gurrier unfit to hold ministerial office. He used an important report, the final report published by Mr. Justice Morris——

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  On a point of order, Deputy Shatter has referred to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as a “gurrier”. Does the Acting Chairman consider this in order? Will he give the Deputy an opportunity to withdraw the remark?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Brian O’Shea):  Will Deputy Shatter withdraw his remark?

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I will not. The speech delivered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the House this morning and the attack by him on a Member of this House and a former Member was a disgrace——

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I have made a point of order.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  To make that his main offering on the Morris report——

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  On a point of order, is there to be any sanction for a Deputy who refuses to obey a request from the Chair?

[795]Acting Chairman:  Deputy Shatter——

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——shows the level of political stupidity to which the Minister can descend. It was an outrageous misuse of this House to attack, in particular, someone who is no longer a Member, which is, so far as I am aware, contrary to the rules of the House.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Deputy Shatter should show some respect for the Chair.

Acting Chairman:  Order, please.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The Deputy is abusing the House. A request was made to him by the Chair.

Acting Chairman:  I have made a request to which Deputy Shatter has not acceded. I propose to proceed.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  We will see about this.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  In addressing the issues arising from the Morris tribunal report and in referring to earlier reports, the Minister made the centrepiece of his presentation an attack on my colleague, Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, who was formerly a Member of this House and was not here to answer for himself, and on Deputy Howlin, who is well able to speak for himself but who deserves also to be defended. It was Mr. Higgins and Deputy Howlin who, for a period of five years, sought to bring about a public inquiry into the events taking place in Donegal. It was they who brought information before this House and to the attention of successive Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the basis that these were matters of grave public concern into which inquiries should be made and which were ignored for far too long.

I was the Fine Gael spokesperson on justice in the 12-month period leading in to the formation of the Morris tribunal. I became privy to all the information of which Mr. Higgins and Deputy Howlin were aware and formed my own view that there was a need for a public inquiry. On 23 May 2001, in a parliamentary question to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, I asked whether he accepted, in the public interest, that a public inquiry should be conducted into the alleged events in Donegal. I emphasised on that occasion the importance of such an inquiry both in the interest of the many fine members of the Garda Síochána who wished to see the allegations addressed and in the public interest in order to restore confidence in the force. I said at the time that these matters should not have been left festering. On that occasion, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform kicked essentially to touch. I then made the point in this House that a banana republic would not deal with an issue as serious as this in such a manner.

Fianna Fáil was in government for most of the period during which events took place in Donegal that gave rise to concerns that had to be considered by the Morris tribunal. It was Fianna Fáil who in government took five years to reach the conclusion that a public inquiry was necessary. On 20 November 2001, I tabled a motion in the House regarding the holding of the required public inquiry. I was supported in that motion through the contributions of former Deputy Jim Higgins, who had a different portfolio in the Fine Gael Party, and by Deputy Brendan Howlin. We made the case in respect of why an inquiry was required and why issues should not be left unattended to. The response we got from the then Minister was that he was going to appoint an eminent lawyer to examine all the relevant papers and the progress of various investigations into the allegations made. It took from 1998 to November 2001 for the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take these steps.

[796]In March 2002, the Morris tribunal was established. Had these matters not been raised in this House and responsibly in discussions quietly held with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin, there would have been no Morris tribunal inquiry. Without the motion that I brought before this House, which was supported by the Fine Gael and Labour Parties, no eminent lawyer would have been employed to consider the papers then in existence. It is true that if this had not happened the Morris tribunal would not have been established. Also, the initial draft terms of reference for the Morris tribunal, produced by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O’Donoghue, were the subject of discussions between the Minister, myself and Deputy Howlin and without those discussions the terms of reference, as ultimately adopted by this House, would have been deficient and issues that required investigation and on which important findings have been made would never have been addressed.

This House and the State owes a debate of gratitude to former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin for the work they did on this issue. A whole succession of Morris tribunal reports have resulted in revelations of improper Garda conduct that should never have occurred, of individuals being wrongly targeted and persecuted and of individuals’ lives being destroyed. The conduct of a small number of gardaí in Donegal affected the morale of the vast majority of the force who do their duty by this State and on occasion put their lives at risk in the interests of the public. If there is a criticism of a political nature to be made, that criticism is that the Morris tribunal inquiry, only initiated in March 2002, should in fact have been initiated three years earlier.

It is farcical for, of all people, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to come into this House and launch a political attack on the people who primarily put pressure on the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government to hold such an inquiry. The Minister attempted, in a moment of artifice, to suggest that the €50 million incurred by way of public expense in respect of the Morris tribunal derived from one particular issue raised by former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin, on which the Morris tribunal determined there was not a cause of complaint. However, complaints on all other issues were upheld.

This is the Minister who was appointed to check out the corrupt activities of former Minister and Deputy Ray Burke of Fianna Fáil and who, by way of his own investigation, looked up every tree in north Dublin and reported to the then Taoiseach that there were no issues about which he should be concerned, a former Minister and Deputy attached to the Fianna Fáil Party who has been disgraced as a consequence of taking money in circumstances where no Minister should have been taking money or have succumbed to temptation.

If there is a complaint to be made in this House about taxpayers' money being wasted in tribunals, it derives from the manner in which members of the Fianna Fáil Party going back to the late Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, the late former Deputy Liam Lawlor and former Minister and Deputy Ray Burke and others have tried to lead another tribunal a merry dance to avoid making appropriate disclosures and have regularly litigated in a manner that delayed that tribunal doing its work and completing reports.

I would much prefer to deal in this debate with the specifics of the Morris tribunal reports. It was some of the earlier reports produced by Mr. Justice Morris that forced the Government to recognise the inadequacies of the Garda Complaints Board, a body long known to be incapable of fulfilling its statutory functions, as stated by Mr. Justice Morris. It was as a result of these reports that we now have a Garda Ombudsman and new statutory provisions dealing [797]with disciplinary issues in the interests of gardaí and the public with regard to the Garda Síochána.

  4 o’clock

The role of the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform today was to apologise to the public for the manner in which a small number of gardaí behaved in Donegal. Instead, he sought to deflect public attention from the shambles and incompetence of the Government by launching an unwarranted attack on a former Member of this House who could not answer for himself and on a current Member. The Minister should at least have had the humility to acknowledge that he, as part of a Fianna Fáil Government, delayed this inquiry and contributed personally to the damage done to the reputation of the Garda Síochána, to the public perception of that force and to the difficulties that continue to be experienced by individuals to whom this State has already had to pay compensation and to some of whom compensation payments remain to be made.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy must conclude as he has gone well over time.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  In my view, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is not only unfit to hold the office he holds, but he should resign.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  I do not intend to follow the road of that type of grossly politically partisan contribution.

Up to 20 years ago conventional political wisdom had it that the two groups in the South we should never publicly criticise, even where some criticism might by justified, was the Garda Síochána and the church. Today, there are no institutions beyond criticism, scrutiny and accountability and it is healthy that this is so.

When I was a senior adviser, I became aware, albeit second-hand, of serious problems among the Garda in Donegal through proximity to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O’Donoghue, and his senior officials with whom I was in close contact during various stages of the peace process. Unlike the previous speaker, I regard it as greatly to the credit of this State and to then Minister, Deputy John O’Donoghue, that we resisted the temptation to brush matters under the carpet.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Matters were brushed under the carpet for five years so the Minister of State should not try to recreate——

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I listened to the Deputy. Why does he not listen to me?

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The reasonable side of Fianna Fáil is suddenly exposed.

Acting Chairman:  There should be no more interruptions.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  The Deputy should listen to me, please.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Arrogance is extraordinary.

Acting Chairman:  So is ignorance. There should be no more interruptions.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  The temptation was resisted to brush matters under the carpet.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Where did the temptation originate?

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I contrast that with what happened with certain security scandals of a similar or even greater gravity, as people died as a result of them. Examples include the [798]cases of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, where a similar awareness that a can of worms could be opened became evident and the sort of action we took here was not taken.

Given the length of time tribunals take and their cost, it is perfectly legitimate for a Government not to rush into one. It can be stated absolutely and without contradiction that in a similar situation today, any Government or Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would take their time before going down that road. It is naturally legitimate for both parties of the Opposition to claim their share of credit for bringing about the tribunal but they should not deny the credit which also belongs to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the time for bringing it into effect.

One of the drawbacks covering several walks of life, including targets, benchmarks, output statements and performance targets, is the temptation to cheat by manufacturing evidence. We saw that recently with banks and financial institutions. Occasionally it happens in academic research and unfortunately some gardaí in Donegal did it. In an age where we have more of these targets, output statements and performance criteria, we must be conscious of that danger. The planting of false evidence on people or setting them up was and is a reprehensible practice.

There is a problem in any organisation with what one might call esprit de corps. It is particularly serious in a body specifically designated to uphold the rule of law. Garda Síochána regulations have been introduced in the past year to protect and provide a procedure for whistleblowers to pass information to a designated confidential recipient independent of the force with the Garda Ombudsman Commission, which is to be welcomed.

I do not propose to go into the rights and wrongs of the actions in this regard of two Deputies of this House but wish to consider the general issue, as I have been in that position, and the dilemmas facing somebody who receives confidential information. One must consider whether to take such information at face value, the motive behind the person passing on the information, whom to communicate it to and who might be in a better position to evaluate it. Few of us would necessarily be expert in the field in which an allegation is made. This issue also cropped up some years ago with regard to the beef tribunal.

To look through the other end of the telescope, I have been on the receiving end of a whistleblowing exercise which, in my opinion, was not bona fide. It emerged from one of the principals, whom I do not propose to name in the House, appearing before the Morris tribunal who went outside this jurisdiction to the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O’Loan. I have enormous respect for her services and contribution, although I disagree with her actions in this respect.

Very serious allegations were made regarding the Omagh bomb and these were made public to the effect that people in the Garda knew in advance from an informer of an attack, although not the extent of its consequences. It was separately alleged there was political interference, principally by me as an adviser, in the pursuit of those responsible with a view to obtaining a ceasefire deal. As a high level service group established, with full co-operation from me and others, there was no truth in either allegation. These allegations were made on the premise that the best form of defence is attack and the Government could be intimidated into dropping its pursuit of Garda officers who may have misbehaved.

These allegations caused a considerable amount of grief and pain to the families of the Omagh bomb victims, who are still pursuing justice. Many of the leaders of the organisation deemed responsible are in jail, albeit for other reasons. A separate issue regarding British intelligence has arisen recently and was a subject of debate in the British-Irish assembly in the past two days, which was formerly an interparliamentary body. I am glad Unionists were present there for the first time.

[799]Whistleblowers must be protected but the dangers of false witness are real and must be guarded against. I have the height of respect for Mr. Justice Morris and the manner in which he conducted the tribunal. It is unfortunately very easy for various parties to frustrate or delay tribunals and it is particularly difficult to understand people who make complaints that they would not co-operate with the persons and bodies established to investigate them. The tribunal was undoubtedly very expensive, with the €50 million expended demonstrating there are no short cuts to achieving justice. As I stated, long and careful thought is needed before initiating tribunals.

A final point is whether we need a police authority. I do not believe so and in the case of justice and security, it is proper for the Government to be directly accountable to the House rather than invoke some intermediary.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I propose to give two minutes of my time to the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, with the agreement of the House.

The final reports of the Morris tribunal are at last before the House and I regret the time is so short for me to contribute to this debate. It seems to have been an extraordinarily long and painful process for many people, not least myself. Six and a half years of hearings and examinations have led to eight reports and a catalogue of abuses outlined in most of the thousands of pages in those reports. The abuses by some gardaí are unprecedented in the history of the State.

Many will no doubt feel this is ancient history but for the families centrally involved, it was a long, ongoing and living nightmare.

I refer to the McBrearty, McConnell, Peoples, Gallagher, Brolly and Shortt families, as well as many other individuals who have been in touch with me over the years. They have suffered grievously at the hands of agents of this State. That these shocking events could have gone on so long, been so widespread and involved so many individual gardaí is both shocking and frightening for any democracy, let alone a democracy as mature as ours.

I had intended to contribute during my few minutes today on their shocking suffering and how we should map a way into the future. Unfortunately, the opening speech of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, requires me not to do that. I resent this because neither former Deputy Jim Higgins nor I wish to be the centre of this debate. We were mere agents in trying to discern the truth. We are no heroes. We did not, as one backbench Fianna Fáil Deputy suggested today, parade ourselves around looking for great accolades for doing this. It was our duty to do it, nothing less and nothing more. The statement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform today was spiteful, partisan, petty, unfair, selective, mean-spirited and self-serving. I greatly regret that, unfortunately, it was characteristic.

I now am required to comment on a selective series of quotations from Mr. Justice Morris. The Minister stated this morning that the accusations brought by Jim Higgins and me to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform against “two Assistant Garda Commissioners were of the gravest kind”. That is true and I deeply regret the hurt that was caused to those two fine people. However, I did not know them from Adam, any more than I knew any of the other serving gardaí against whom accusations were brought which, if one reads the eight volumes, unfortunately proved to be true. Were these allegations so grievous that they outweighed the others? The other accusations that proved to be true were of framing innocent people for murder, manufacturing and planting bombs, perjury and suborning justice. We did not know what would be the outcome of any of the allegations. Consequently, it is extraordinary that, because it has been determined that Jim and I did not know the outcome in these [800]two instances, in essence, we needed to know the outcome of the inquiry for us to cause an inquiry or seek an inquiry to examine all these matters. That is an extraordinary view to take.

The Minister quoted Mr. Justice Hardiman selectively. The essence of the quotation was that the inquiry had an obligation to find out the source of the information. This constituted selective quoting. The Minister could as easily have read the High Court judgment of the current member of the Supreme Court who found that the action in protecting those sources was absolutely constitutionally right. However, the Minister did not dream of making that choice.

He went on to state the net effect of our actions was the establishment of “a tribunal of inquiry that lasted six years at a cost to the taxpayer of some €50 million”. Does the Minister regret the establishment of the tribunal? Does he regret the uncovering of this awfulness? Some people do and they have worked to resist the outpouring of the truth for a long time. Unfortunately, the Minister made this appalling speech today. On the day the tribunal report was published, the Minister issued his own press release, more than an hour before I had sight of it, to put a political spin on it. While I do not normally divulge conversations, the Minister told me this item was a creation of his Department, not of his, and that he had only changed one word of it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  In the conversation, I stated I had changed it.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister stated he had changed one word of it but other than that, it was a creation of his Department.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  No, more than that.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  In essence, the Minister has compounded everything he has done because the criticism of Jim Higgins and me, of all the issues that were investigated, was that in this narrow instance, we should have caused “inquiries, interviews, correspondence or meetings in relation to the allegations before taking them further”. In other words, we should have done so before taking them to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. How in God’s name were we going to conduct——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Who said that?

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  That is a direct quote from the tribunal.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister left some of that out this morning when he misquoted and twisted it. That will be in the Official Report.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  That was the only substantial criticism of us. However, the Minister twisted that on the day of the report’s publication to seek some political cover on it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  And again today.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I am a politician and can take the brickbats in this regard. However, this is a much more fundamental issue. While I am conscious of the time, I beg indulgence of the Chair as my character has been assassinated by one Deputy this morning, who clearly was given a script. While he withdrew it, the more I read this egregious assault on my character——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  ——that was given to a poor new Deputy, I wonder who scripted it.

[801]Although I wish I had more time, I must conclude on the profound point in this regard, which is that the attitude and role of Jim Higgins and me was supported throughout on a cross-party basis by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which sent a legal team to support us, because the outing of wrong is the collective responsibility of all Members. My great concern in respect of today’s response by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is that he wishes to wind back the clock, as though there never was a Morris tribunal, these truths had never been uncovered and this would be a happier place had none of this awfulness ever come to light. I greatly resent this and Members must fight tooth and nail to ensure that the outing of truth is their priority in this regard.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to use the brief time available to me to put on record as leader of the Labour Party that it stands foursquare behind Deputy Howlin in what he did and in the way he handled this matter from beginning to end. Moreover, I believe the public owes Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins a debt of gratitude for what they did. They behaved responsibly. They were provided with information and instead of going to the press or coming before the House, they went responsibly and appropriately to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to put him in possession of that information. On foot of this, I acknowledge the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O’Donoghue, behaved appropriately by agreeing to establish the tribunal.

What was discovered and unearthed by that tribunal is shocking.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is shocking for the country that such a level of corruption and behaviour should have been taking place in County Donegal and that members of our police force should have behaved like backwoodsmen in the deep south in the worst kind of nightmare movie. It was shocking and the degree to which such behaviour serves to undermine the Garda force itself and public confidence in it, as well as the rights of citizens, are the issues that must be addressed in this House today. I am appalled that instead of addressing those issues and the serious content of those reports, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came into the House and in an exercise of the worst kind of gurrier politics, decided to have a political thump at Deputy Howlin and the former Deputy, Jim Higgins. He spent more time in his speech dealing with Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins than he did with the serious facts and findings that were uncovered by the Morris tribunal.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  I await an apology for the victims of the affair.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  On behalf of the people of this country and the Government through which the Garda reports and is accountable to the public, I expected the Minister to outline how he intends to avoid a recurrence of these events in order to restore a public confidence ruptured by what was discovered in Donegal and defend the vast majority of gardaí who are equally appalled by what happened.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It was wrong to use this opportunity to engage in partisan, cheap and nasty politics. It is unbecoming of the Minister and, before the debate concludes, he should at least have the grace to withdraw his comments.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

[802]Deputy Jim O’Keeffe:  It is unfortunate that so much of today’s debate has been consumed in dealing with the Minister’s comments on Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins, MEP. This should have been a serious debate on the recommendations of Mr. Justice Morris and the huge amount of work done by the tribunal with 680 days of oral evidence and 812 witnesses. Unfortunately, because of the manner in which the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, made his opening contribution, we find ourselves focused on the propriety or otherwise of the actions of Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins.

I disagree with the views expressed by Mr. Justice Morris in regard to our colleagues. I think he was wrong and I will explain my reasons for so thinking presently. I disagree even more strongly with the views expressed by the Minister and the unfortunate manner in which he expressed them. It should have been acknowledged by all sides of the House that Deputy Howlin and Mr. Higgins have done the State an outstanding service.

I acknowledge that Mr. Justice Morris raised the issue of what Members should do when they receive allegations. It is an issue which has confronted all of us at one time or another and I would like it to be addressed by the House in an objective manner. As Deputy Howlin has defended his position with great vigour, I will not attempt to better him on the detail. However, having personally faced that dilemma, it appears to me that he and Mr. Higgins had two options. They could have used or abused parliamentary privilege to make open allegations in the House or they could have dealt with the issue privately with the then Minister for Justice, which is what they did. I am glad they did not abuse parliamentary privilege in any way. They did the right thing by privately presenting whatever information they possessed to the then Minister.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The right man.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe:  Three years ago, I received serious allegations regarding a State agency and enormous sums of money. After raising the matter in general terms, I was invited by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Michael McDowell, to bring to him any information I possessed. Mr. McDowell was reviled by many but in that instance the invitation he extended to me was reasonable and I acted properly by passing on the information I possessed and agreeing to co-operate with the subsequent Garda inquiry. That was the proper course of action.

The question that arises in the aftermath of the present Minister’s performance is whether I would feel comfortable approaching him in a similar situation. He heavily castigated my colleagues for taking what appears to have been a sensible course of action. He seemed to imply that by handing over this information, Deputy Howlin and Mr. Higgins cost the taxpayer €50 million and they were the reason the inquiry lasted six years. Prior to this information coming to light, ample evidence had been submitted to support the need for an inquiry. Is the Minister saying the inquiry was a waste of time and money? Does he not accept that, with the full co-operation of this House, new legislation was introduced and new bodies established, including the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate? These ensued from the revelations that emerged in the course of the tribunal and the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Morris.

What emerged from the inquiries of the tribunal can only be described as the greatest series of scandals involving members of the Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State. Was it not important to expose and deal with these scandals? The 99.5% of the Garda who are fine and upstanding members were happy that the few who let down the force in such a serious manner were exposed. The cancer was treated and new processes were put in place to ensure, as far as possible, that such events would never recur.

[803]It is unfortunate that the Minister’s approach to these issues has led to a singular focus on Deputy Howlin and Mr. Higgins. In respect of the arms trial, Liam Cosgrave went to the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, when information came into his possession. Clearly that was the right thing for him to do. Deputy Howlin and Mr. Higgins were the Opposition spokespersons on justice. Information came into their possession, the veracity of which they could not know. In one instance in particular, the information appeared to come from a highly reputable source. They did not have the resources to investigate the allegations and would have had some cheek if they had attempted to do so. The proper approach was to bring the allegations to the attention of the Minister and leave them with him. The role of the Minister was to ensure a proper investigation.

In regard to the serious allegations I received three years ago, at the invitation of the then Minister I handed to him the information with which I had been furnished. As responsible Members of this House, we attempted to do the right thing at the right time. Members may in future receive legitimate and credible complaints. What will they do? Certainly, the Minister owes the House an explanation, if only from the point of view of what he says to Members who receive serious allegations. Does he say that his door is shut and that this is not a matter for him? He should clear up this matter and then we can focus on the serious, outstanding recommendations of the Morris report and on the need for Members to examine Article 15.10 of the Constitution. Perhaps this is a matter dealt with in the Supreme Court that should be referred to the all-party committee on the Constitution with a view to a recommendation for clarification and change.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I, like others, listened with interest to the Minister’s speech and I was astounded that he made references of a personal nature against the character of two people, both of whom were Members of this House at the time. The Minister would be better advised to examine the report, be objective about it and recognise the need to act on its recommendations and take them on board rather than using such an occasion to target people who were then Members of this House. There is a serious responsibility on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to do so at any time in the public interest, in the interests of the Garda Síochána and in the interests and integrity of this House in respect of an attempt by an officeholder to use a report to pass judgment on the methodology used by any Member as to their right to proceed in whatever fashion they see fit.

During my time as Chief Whip I was called upon to examine all the implications regarding these matters. Instead of attempting to have a cheap shot at the Opposition and off-load some of the blame and responsibility, and in fairness to gardaí who discharge their duties with honour and integrity on a nightly basis, the Minister would be better served to protect that integrity by referring to the issues that needed to be referred to, in the way in which they were referred to in the report, and to follow on accordingly.

The Minister did not do so but sought to denigrate the way in which Members went about their business and sit in judgment on it. That is not the duty of the Minister. His duty, as an officeholder, is to be accountable to the House and not to attempt to smear other Members of the House to which he is elected. I was disappointed in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because he also has a duty to ensure that the good reputation of the Garda Síochána is upheld and adhered to at every juncture but that any wrongdoing is clearly and unambiguously stamped out. If any time was to be used to address this issue, the Minister should have used it this morning. I was disappointed in the attitude of the Minister, who sought to politicise this matter for his political advantage or for what other purpose I do not know. He brought ignominy on himself and the office he holds by virtue of the cheap shots he attempted and the way in which he did it.

[804]Deputy Joe Costello:  I am delighted to speak on the Morris tribunal reports after six and a half years and eight reports. At last, we have an opportunity to look at them in their entirety. Mr. Justice Frederick Morris has done the State a service with his investigation into the activities of certain gardaí in the Donegal division and his detailed reports. However, his criticism of Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins is unwarranted and wrong. It amazes me how he could say that the Deputies should have conducted a searching inquiry themselves before going to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with the information. How were they supposed to do that? It would be impossible for them to carry that out.

I was the recipient of information from the whistleblower and I contacted the then spokesperson on justice, Deputy Howlin, who took the matter from there. To my mind he has carried out the work in an admirable fashion. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform owes him an apology, as he owes an apology, on behalf of the State, to all those who were wronged by the agents of the State who were supposed to be protecting them.

The work conducted by Mr. Justice Frederick Morris was not easy and as he said on page 41 of his first tribunal report:

The Tribunal was fed lie after lie. The spirit wearies at the lies, obfuscation, concealments and conspiracies to destroy the truth.

Amazingly this obstruction came from the gardaí involved who were “consumed” with the belief that Frank McBrearty, Mark McConnell and others were the culprits in an investigation into the “murder” of Richie Barren where no murder had actually occurred. Innocent citizens in Donegal have been harassed, intimidated, threatened, bullied, blackmailed, assaulted and framed by gardaí who were there to protect them from wrongdoing. That is why the Minister should apologise on behalf of the State as well as withdrawing his remarks about Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins.

The second tribunal report had equally bizarre findings. In that report, gardaí, together with their pet informer, were found to have traversed the country from end to end and ventured into Northern Ireland planting home-made bombs, contacting the Garda authorities and the RUC as to the whereabouts of these devices and then taking credit for good detective work in finding them. At one time, indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was moved to congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the valuable work of the Donegal gardaí in thwarting IRA bombers. If he only knew the half of what was going on. The unthinkable had happened in that rogue gardaí were perverting the course of justice for their own ends and particularly to further their own careers. The judge concluded that there were no adequate oversight mechanisms in place to prevent similar behaviour taking place in other Garda divisions.

The Donegal saga was a watershed for the Garda Síochána. It was similar to the corrupt payments for politicians, the DIRT inquiry for the banks and the cases of institutional abuse for the church. The Garda Síochána was the latest pillar of society that was found wanting. The time was ripe for a root and branch review of the role, structures and operation of the Garda Síochána in the 21st century.

As well as the Donegal fiasco and scandal, there were and still are serious concerns about the operation of the Garda Síochána. There has been abject failure to tackle the spread of drugs nationwide and the accompanying gangland feuding; crime prevention and crime detection have declined; anti-social behaviour is rampant and despite the substantial increase in new recruits there are growing concerns regarding Garda professionalism, efficiency and commitment.

[805]However, the independent Garda commission which the Labour Party sought to have established to conduct a thorough examination of policing in Ireland never materialised because the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would not have it. Nevertheless, the Garda Síochána Act 2005 did incorporate some of Justice Morris’s recommendations such as the inspectorate and the ombudsman commission, though Justice Morris was strongly critical of the bureaucratic and convoluted manner in which his recommendations were being transposed into law.

One important series of recommendations which were not included in the Act, but were accepted by the Government and the Garda Commissioner, were the recommendations regarding the handling of informants, on pages 651-654 of the second tribunal report. The Donegal gardaí had been allowed to wallow unhindered in the illegal production of informants and in using them to further their careers. The key requirement of the new informant system that was recommended and was supposedly in place was that all informants would have to be registered compulsorily and that a full assessment of the suitability of the informant would be undertaken by the crime and security branch. Oversight was to be conducted by senior officers and there would be periodic independent audits of the operation of the informant handling procedure. Despite the importance attached to a modern informant handling system by Mr. Justice Morris, it appears that the system put in place by the Garda Commissioner has never got off the ground.

The case of Kieran Boylan raises the most serious questions for the Garda Síochána since the Donegal scandal and reflects many of the same failings in terms of structures and oversight. Last week the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission finally agreed to conduct a full scale investigation, “in the public interest”, into the case. This followed three related investigations by the Garda Commissioner and a further related investigation by the GSOC.

Mr. Boylan is a major drug dealer who has operated in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Continent. He was convicted and imprisoned in Ireland and the UK for serious drug offences. He is a major importer of drugs into this country. In 2006 he was sentenced to a five-year sentence with two years suspended for possession of €800,000 worth of heroin and cocaine at Dublin Port in 2003. This sentence was ridiculously lenient considering the mandatory sentence in law of ten years and his previous convictions for drug dealing. The issue was raised in this House. To compound matters, while on bail in October 2005 he was caught red-handed in Ardee, County Louth, with cocaine and heroin valued at €1.7 million. Incredibly, the charges relating to this seizure were struck out but were re-entered after Members of this House, including Deputy Howlin, the Labour Party spokesperson on justice, asked parliamentary questions in the Dáil in February 2007.

An incredible event happened again on 31 July 2008, the last sitting day of the courts session before the summer recess. The Boylan case was not listed for mention or hearing on that day nor was Mr. Boylan in court. Nevertheless the case came up out of the blue and the charges were dropped again. When the judge questioned the reason for entering a nolle prosequi , senior counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions stated: “it is a matter for very, very careful consideration at a high level.”

I wrote to the DPP requesting him to explain his reasons for withdrawing the charges in the circumstances but he declined to do so. In the light of the DPP’s announcement today concerning his willingness to provide public information in certain cases where he declined to prosecute, I now ask him to reconsider his decision and to extend his public explanation to cases of this nature, particularly with regard to decisions of nolle prosequi in cases of drugs.

I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to request the GSOC to conduct an inquiry in the public interest, as is his specific entitlement, and he replied in a positive fashion. I subsequently wrote to the GSOC requesting that it [806]undertake the inquiry. I believe that the inquiry which is now under way will reveal an appalling vista, not dissimilar to what has been happening in County Donegal. A Garda informer was not registered officially, as required by regulation. He was allegedly used by certain gardaí who colluded with him in illegal entrapment operations involving drug seizures. In this way a blind eye was largely turned towards his illegal drug activities. His threats to disclose details of his relationship with members of the force made him virtually immune from prosecution.

In the first place, questions must be asked how such a state of affairs could operate for years after Mr. Justice Morris’s demands for strict criteria for the management of informants. Second, how many offenders were convicted on the strength of drugs and information supplied by Kieran Boylan? Third, this appalling vista is the one faced by Mr. Justice Morris when he was unable to conclude that the Donegal scandal was not being replicated elsewhere within the Garda force.

If gardaí in County Louth were turning a blind eye to Kieran Boylan’s importation and distribution of hard drugs as long as they obtained convictions against smaller fry who were also involved in the illegal drug business, might the same thing not be happening in other Garda divisions? Might members of the Garda — this is the appalling vista — have contributed significantly to the explosion in the spread of drugs the length and breadth of Ireland in recent years by shielding pet informers to further their own careers?

This is the litmus test case for the new Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to show that it is capable of carrying out hard investigations into Garda conduct without fear or favour. Likewise it is a test for the Garda Síochána which was supposed to have put its house in order after the Donegal debacle.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  While no one is claiming that the sort of behaviour engaged in by some gardaí in County Donegal is par for the course or endemic throughout the force and throughout the country, we should be aware that there are similar allegations in other counties and that these have not been satisfactorily addressed. More importantly, the mechanisms for properly investigating serious complaints of wrongdoing and corruption by the Garda are still not in place.

Establishing such a proper and independent complaints procedure is the only way to ensure that there is adequate investigation and that matters are not allowed to fester, as they were in County Donegal, to the stage where a public tribunal is necessary to get at the truth. Such an independent complaints body would act as a deterrent to any gardaí tempted to abuse their power in the manner witnessed in County Donegal and would be a reassurance to the majority of decent gardaí, as well as to the public.

There have been other cases in different parts of the country, some of which have been referred to during this debate. In my County Kerry there are several which have not so far been adequately dealt with and in which major doubts have been raised in relation to the conduct of certain gardaí. One case that illustrates the inadequacy of the current complaints system is that of James Sheehan of Ardfert who was arrested in August 1989. Gardaí claimed to have found a loaded Webley revolver in his car with five rounds of ammunition. They claimed that the revolver and ammunition were found in an open dash in the front seat of his car and in a follow-up search they claimed that a further 12 rounds of ammunition were found on a mantelpiece during a search of his home.

In March 1990 it was decided to charge him but the charges were mysteriously dropped a number of months later. James Sheehan was unaware of any of this and was never charged. It is extremely unusual for anyone caught in possession of a weapon not be charged. James [807]Sheehan was adamant that neither the gun nor the ammunition had anything to do with him. From that day to this week he has been trying to ascertain the facts of this case. He filed a complaint to the Garda Complaints Board alleging that he had been subjected not only to false arrest but that he had been physically and verbally abused while in custody. The complaint was heard by Garda Superintendent Wall in 1991 who completely exonerated the gardaí involved in Mr. Sheehan’s arrest. The State, which continues to defend itself in an ongoing action by James Sheehan, still bases its case on that report.

Reliance on that procedure continues even though the seventh Morris report cast serious doubts on the Garda Complaints Board with regard to its role in the Donegal cases. It based that criticism on the procedures followed and the fact that the situation was basically one in which the Garda was investigating itself.

Even more extraordinary than the fact that James Sheehan was not charged is that the weapon and the ammunition alleged to have been found, in his car and at his home, were later destroyed during a period when his case against the Garda was still in progress. Finding out exactly what has happened has been a prolonged process, some of it discovered through parliamentary questions that I and other Deputies asked in this Chamber. Replies to parliamentary questions paint a rather strange picture of what has taken place in the case over the years. In an effort to pin down the truth of what had happened to Mr. Sheehan, in 2000 his solicitor requested that the weapon in question be produced. He was told the weapon had been destroyed on 19 July 2000, apparently four weeks before the request was made. It is extraordinary, to say the least, that weapons and ammunition discovered by the Garda were destroyed before legal proceedings had taken place.

In reply to a further parliamentary question tabled on the issue, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, stated the gun and ammunition had been destroyed with a large number of other weapons because the barracks where they were being held had been sold.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  While I am reluctant to interrupt, the Deputy’s contribution is straying slightly from the subject matter.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  The issues I raise are connected to the subject under debate.

Replies to parliamentary questions provided by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, demonstrated that the sale of the barracks in question was not even put to tender until months after the gun and ammunition were destroyed. As in the cases investigated by the Morris tribunal, questions need to be answered in the Sheehan case as clearly something is not right. The State continues to drag its feet. Ironically, it is attempting to have the case thrown out on the basis of delay when it, rather than James Sheehan, has been responsible for the delay and prevarication and produced the contradictory replies to questions.

A further case to have arisen in County Kerry is that of Mr. John O’Shea of Castlemaine who was found dead outside his house in October 2001. Mr. O’Shea had been arrested earlier on the evening of his death. Questions arise regarding his treatment while in custody and the manner in which his death was investigated, specifically the possible influence of the Garda on the initial report written by the then State Pathologist, Dr. Harbison.

Following pressure from the O’Shea family’s legal representatives and a motion passed by Kerry County Council, in 2003 the former Minister, Mr. Michael McDowell, requested the Garda to provide him with a report. I understand this process has come to a standstill for a variety of reasons. Irrespective of the unique circumstances involved in the O’Shea case, the [808]facts of the case make an argument for establishing an independent body which can investigate such issues as soon as they become a source of controversy.

To go further back, the infamous Kerry babies scandal also ended in a tribunal. If, at that time, a different investigative procedure into the Garda had been in place, the subsequent controversy may have been avoided.

What became evident in the Kerry cases, which were echoed in County Donegal, is that when a group of gardaí— members of the special branch or other detective units are almost invariably involved in cases of controversy — becomes accustomed to believing it is virtually beyond scrutiny, its members are more likely to engage in improper practices. Not only does this lead to the abuse of suspects or even the complete invention of cases against the innocent, it also hampers detection of serious crime. I refer here to a small number of gardaí, especially members of the special branch, in various areas. Almost 30 years after the case of the Kerry babies, we are no wiser regarding the death of the baby found on a beach in the county.

In 1976, in what became known as the Sallins case, a prominent member of the Labour Party, Mr. Nicky Kelly, was subjected to abuse. I was present on the night the men involved in the case were brought to Portlaoise Prison after 48 hours in custody and witnessed how they were unable to walk up the stairs of the prison as a result of the brutality they had suffered in Garda custody. Statements extracted from the men during brutalisation by certain members of the Garda were used as evidence against them.

Acting Chairman:  I ask the Deputy to confine his remarks to the discussion of the Morris tribunal.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, by its own admission, is inadequately resourced to deal with the volume of complaints it receives and, consequently, the level of work it is required to do in response. In addition, the office is excessively dependent on the Garda to investigate complaints and does not have sufficient independent staff at its disposal to carry out its work. Sinn Féin argued strongly during the debate on the legislation establishing the Garda Ombudsman Commission that the new body should be independent and properly funded.

The change in policing as part of the peace process in the Six Counties is almost universally praised and many positive developments have taken place, including the establishment of an ombudsman to oversee the PSNI. The State would do well to emulate many of the practices operating in the Six Counties. We should ensure the Garda ombudsman has similar powers, is independent of the body it is tasked with investigating and has sufficient resources to carry out its work.

The events in County Donegal investigated by the Morris tribunal were wrong, as every Member who believes in upholding the integrity of the Garda will agree. The events I refer to in County Kerry were also wrong. Last Saturday, at a public Sinn Féin convention in the Earl of Desmond hotel in Tralee attended by 390 people, two members of the special branch videoed and photographed everyone entering and leaving the event. It is unacceptable that a public assembly of a legal, registered political party should be subject to this type of political intimidation. Unfortunately, it was done in the name of the Minister and it is his responsibility to address the matter. The events which took place in County Donegal and other areas must not be repeated.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  In describing the strong action taken on this matter, the Minister referred to significant recent reforms of the Garda Síochána, including the establishment of [809]the Garda Ombudsman Commission. He stated: “Thanks in large measure to the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal, we now have a system of oversight in place to ensure, as far as humanly possible, that the abuses uncovered by the tribunal do not recur.”

In that context, I will expand on an issue highlighted this morning by my colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, namely, a complaint made to the Garda Ombudsman Commission concerning the tragic death of Mr. Derek O’Toole who was fatally injured when a car driven by an off-duty garda drove over him in Lucan on 5 March 2007. Subsequent to this tragic incident, I and Mr. O’Toole’s parents, Christine and Derek O’Toole, made a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman Commission. The commission’s report on Derek’s death was published on Monday evening and is significant in that it is the first and only report into a complaint or investigation to be published by the Garda Ombudsman Commission. On the substantive complaint, the report states:

The Commission considered a number of other aspects of the incident that caused the death of Mr. Derek O’Toole and the handling of that incident by the gardaí.... The Commission is satisfied that these other matters complained of did not constitute allegations of any conduct by gardaí that might be an offence or a breach of discipline. Accordingly, these complaints were determined not to be admissible.

Essentially, the commission found that the incident which resulted in the death of Derek O’Toole did not meet the bar of seriousness, as provided for in the relevant legislation, and was not, therefore, admissible. As to the handling of the case by the Garda, I was verbally informed that the commission’s view was that as an operational matter the issue could not be investigated by the commission.

  5 o’clock

The Garda Ombudsman Commission found it was in a position to investigate the alleged leaking to the media of information indicating that Derek O’Toole was known to the Garda. This matter forms the substance of the report, which has been published on the commission’s website. While the investigation has some value, it found that the journalist in question, who is employed by the Irish Independent, would not reveal his source. Although the Garda Ombudsman Commission formed the view that it was most likely that this information emanated from a Garda source, it could not link a specific member of the Garda to the subsequent passing on of this information to the journalist concerned. The problem is that the investigation came to nothing and a very minor recommendation was made by the Garda Ombudsman as regards that particular aspect.

Acting Chairman:  I am reminded that the Deputy really has to deal with the Morris tribunal and matters relevant to that.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  This is relevant in that it relates to the Garda Ombudsman’s office, which was set up by the Minister because of the Morris tribunal — and this relates to that.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Who is reminding the Acting Chairman?

Acting Chairman:  My guardian angel.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Just as long as it is not the Minister.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  There is an issue concerning the Garda Ombudsman’s office and how it operates now. The issue of concern to the parents of Derek O’Toole was the incident that led to the death of their son and the handling by the Garda of the subsequent investigation. The parents are motivated because they would like to know what happened on the night in question and whether the incident was properly dealt with by the Garda. He was their eldest child and [810]an exemplary character. They believe he deserved at least that, and this is what motivates them. It is a matter of public interest because I believe what they want investigated by the Garda Ombudsman is exactly what that office was set up to deal with.

If the Garda Ombudsman cannot investigate this type of incident, where can one go? There was never any transparent investigation of the incident and its subsequent handling by the Garda. Even if the family were to look to the inquest, no statement was proffered there by the arresting garda, for example. Therefore there was no transparency at the inquest as regards what happened that night. A case was taken in relation to an aspect of the incident against the garda concerned. However, that was thrown out on a technicality. The parents were brought into a room by senior gardaí and allowed to ask questions verbally, but they were never given anything in writing. There was no proper report that could be transparently considered by them. They have many legitimate questions to ask about the incident. Many of these have been aired in media coverage. There were unusual aspects to the case that demand answers. In so far as we could we set those questions out in the complaint and there has never been an attempt to answer them, so that the answers, regardless of whether they were satisfactory, could be subjected to scrutiny.

As regards the issue of operational matters, surely the way the Garda Síochána carries out an investigation into an incident that involves one of its members must be considered an operational matter. That is my understanding of it. Surely that is the very type of thing that needs scrutiny. We want assurance that a member of the Garda will be treated in an investigation in the same manner as a member of the public. Surely, there is some way a member of the public who has an interest in an incident which involves a member of the Garda Síochána can resolve the question whether the investigation carried out by the Garda was of the same standard as that applying to any member of the public. If the Garda Ombudsman cannot investigate that, where or to whom does a member of the public go?

I shall conclude on that. As Deputy Pat Rabbitte said this morning, it is too early to judge the Garda Ombudsman on the outcome of this complaint, but it is very disappointing for the family concerned. It is very disappointing, too, as a matter of public interest, that the Garda Ombudsman decided he could not investigate the incident or its subsequent handling. It gives rise to very important questions in the context of the future — and that relates to the Morris tribunal findings and the whole issue of transparency concerning the Garda. The questions that arise include whether the Garda Ombudsman has correctly interpreted the legislation as regards this particular complaint. Is the legislation strong enough or is there a loophole? Should a gap be filled so that the public and families such as the O’Tooles have somewhere to go where they may get clarity as regards such a tragic incident relating to their son? They need to be able to put their questions and have them answered, so that the replies may be subjected to public scrutiny. I hope the Minister, in his reply, will answer these questions because it is important in terms of the operation of the Garda Ombudsman Commission and in terms of how the Garda Síochána operates in the future.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Johnny Brady):  The Minister will now take questions for 30 minutes. I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  In the light of the Minister’s opening address and having regard to the fact that he has had the opportunity to hear most of the debate and commentary during the day, is he prepared to revise his earlier assessment? In view of the fact that he has engaged in the most blatant act of party political partisanship of the most narrow kind and the most base type this House has seen for many years, will he not accept that in doing so, he has [811]undermined and belittled the role of Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform under the Constitution?

I do not believe his comments today on this issue can be equalled in terms of the damage he has done to the office. He might look, in particular, at what his penultimate predecessor, former Deputy Michael McDowell, has done in the context of these reports, a man who was justifiably criticised by Deputies on this side of the House, and indeed by some on the Government side, for many of his actions as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at times, for his hasty reactions and statements. However, nothing any Minister has said can equal what this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has done today in terms of the blatant attack on a Member of the House who is present and more than capable of defending his interest and also on former Deputy Jim Higgins, who is not even in the country to defend his good name following what was a most vicious political smear from a man whose trademark and stock in trade appears to be narrow partisan political point scoring on every possible occasion.

What type of investigation does the Minister believe the Deputies might have engaged in, having regard to the fact that he probably has an advantage of understanding that Mr. Justice Morris does not have, in the context of his position as a Member of the House of many years standing, engaged in the parliamentary role, function and duties of a public representative, particularly at constituency level? If he reflects on the many representations he has received over the years, surely the Minister realises the position. Has he become so far removed from reality, in the ivory tower of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and before that the Department of Foreign Affairs — where he may have seen a greater level of detachment from other Departments — that he does not realise Deputies do not have the type of resources envisaged by Mr. Justice Morris when he stated they should have conducted an investigation, a review, meetings etc.? This was a reference which, in a deceitful manner, was twisted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in his selective quotation of Mr. Justice Morris.

If, as they did, the Deputies came into possession of some information, what better course of action could they have taken than to report the matter privately and in confidence to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, rather than speaking publicly in the House under the cloak of absolute privilege? Perhaps, on reflection, the Minister might consider revising his view. I ask that Deputies deal with this fundamental issue in the first instance before embarking on other questions, having regard to the very serious and deliberate slur on Members of the House that were cast in a most deliberate way by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This was not just in passing; it was the main body of his contribution. As Deputies said, it took up more time in the debate than comment on the 680 days of sittings and the 840 or so witnesses. The Minister chose the narrow political route and, as such, has damaged considerably the Office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have been asked to revise my assessment. The more I listen, the more I confirm what I said earlier. I very much regret the name calling embarked upon by Deputy Shatter in particular. I did not hear any other Deputy, although I heard one Deputy referring to gurrier politics. The name calling is not untypical of Deputy Shatter. It is obviously the last refuge of somebody who has no good argument to make when he starts to delve into name calling.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister might just deal with the question.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It has never been my style in this House.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  On a point of order, by order of this House——

[812]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will come to the question.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Flanagan, on a point of order.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will come to the question.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Government, through the Minister, curtailed this debate to a 15 minute contribution by Members.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I very much regret——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  On a point of order, this is the order of the House.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——that the debate has been curtailed.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  This is the order of the House.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I very much regret that there are people——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister should allow me to address the Chair as a Member of this House. I ask the Chair to confirm that the order of this House today curtailed Members to a 15 minute contribution, in spite of a request to the Office of the Government Chief Whip to allow for further consideration.

Acting Chairman:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  On a point of order, will the Chair confirm——

Acting Chairman:  I have no control——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Chair has control over questions and answers. Will the Chair allow——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  May I answer the question?

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I ask that the Ceann Comhairle be brought in.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair has no control over answers.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  If the Acting Chairman is unable to handle the Chair, I ask that he bring in the Ceann Comhairle.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair has no control over answers.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  There are 30 minutes for questions.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  May I answer the question?

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I asked questions and I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to answer them.

Acting Chairman:  I call on the Minister.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Acting Chairman should have control over the House when he is in the Chair.

[813]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I felt it was necessary to refer to the name calling. The more I listened to the debate——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister is not replying to the debate.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——the more the old phrase “shooting the messenger” came to mind. The reality is that what I said in my contribution is no more and no less than what was in the conclusions of the eighth report of Mr. Justice Morris. Mr. Justice Morris is not able to answer. The Government absolutely abhors what went on among members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal and, indeed, elsewhere, if it happens elsewhere, and anyone who suggests that I do not is incorrect.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That is the first time the Minister said that.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We gave Mr. Justice Morris a job and asked him to report. I read the reports in the run-up to their publication — I had them for a week prior to publication — and I heard what was said subsequently by some of the main players in regard to the eighth report. We are often accused of spinning. I challenge anyone who doubts what I said, which was relatively mild in comparison with what was in Mr. Justice Morris’s conclusions on page 156 and beyond.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to Mr. Justice Morris——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister should answer Deputy Flanagan. He can deal with me in a minute.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am not in any way unhappy with what I said and I will not withdraw anything I said because there are people whose careers have been blighted as a result of the base allegations that were made. I welcome the fact that Deputy Howlin regretted what happened, particularly to Assistant Commissioner Carty, who has not been able to defend himself in regard to this, and to Tony Hickey, who was brought into this. I regret that other people who were involved in this were not able to come in to give their views.

I have been accused of being in denial. I am not in denial. Deputies should read my contribution. As was acknowledged, I was a member of a Government which made immense changes to the way in which the Garda is overseen.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I said it was partisan, narrow and petty.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It was not partisan. All the Deputy has to do is read what is in the report. The tribunal was satisfied that when two Deputies received the facsimile, they owed it to themselves, the Minister and those who were the subject of the allegations to explore further the information furnished to them.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the report as perverse.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I did not.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Some Deputy on the other side——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  On the other side.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Some questioned whether Mr. Justice Morris understood the role of a Deputy.

[814]Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Who scripted that?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Mr. Justice Morris fully understood the role of a Deputy, particularly when he referred to the information being brought to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He said the responsibility of public representatives cannot simply be to receive information and pass it on to the Minister and expect action. If the Minister were to take no action, the Deputy would undoubtedly subject him to criticism and if he took action, as he did, it would inevitably set in train an inquiry of a most sensational kind calculated to undermine the authority, standing and reputation of those against whom the allegations were made.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  That is patently absurd.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  He went on to state that the two Deputies were quick to crank up the political temperature in relation to those allegations by taking them immediately to the Minister.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  That is not true.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That is in the report. The Deputy is shooting the messenger.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is the Minister going to waffle on for the entire half an hour?

Acting Chairman:  There are only 30 minutes. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Kathleen Lynch is shooting the messenger

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister is shooting the messenger.

Acting Chairman:  I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is this not the first time the Dáil has discussed any of the eight reports of Mr. Justice Morris? Is it not the case that we are dealing with a confession of murder where no murder existed, orchestrated hoaxes in terms of explosive finds, cover-up and lies, unlawful arrest and detention, physical and verbal abuse of persons in custody, perjury, insubordination, breakdown of discipline, misuse of informants and attempts to pervert the course of justice? The Minister’s response is to come into the House and devote half of his contribution, whoever gave it to him, to attack the two Deputies who caused all this to come to public light.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Outrageous.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I did not say that it was a perverse report, I said that the opinion on the very narrow area that related to Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins was perverse and I explained why it was a misunderstanding of the role of the Deputies to think that they have a chain of investigators who they can send out to uncover something which took six years to do with all the resources of the State behind it.

In this inadequate provision of time, will the Minister apologise to the victims of this Garda corruption in Donegal before he leaves the House? Will he also apologise to Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins, who cannot be here, for the way he misrepresented their role in this? To think that after eight reports what the Minister has singled out is the two Deputies who caused the inquiry.

What did the Minister cause? He caused a new Deputy wet behind the ears to come into the House and read out a slurry pit of allegations against two Deputies on an issue about which, I [815]suggest, he knows little. The Minister caused that script to be produced for him. He must think we came down in the last shower.

The Minister said he read eight reports. He did not read eight pages because that is plain. When I told him today about the Garda sergeant who came to me with problems, he asked me why I did not tell him to go to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The whistleblower.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Does the Minister not understand that gardaí may not go to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, that it is for the public? He would not tell me where the whistleblower was. I could not find out where he resides and what he does. The Minister said he is a confidential recipient. He is so confidential that the Minister will not tell me where he is.

The Minister has done a very bad day’s work for the Ministry he holds. He ought to be ashamed of the contribution he made and of the denigration of his colleagues in this House. He ought to apologise to them and to the victims of this disgraceful episode in Donegal.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  On behalf of the State, I apologise to those people who were adversely affected by the awful actions of some members of the Garda Síochána. However, I do not apologise for anything I have said with regard to the two Deputies, although that does cause me a problem in that I have to come in here to defend it.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  That is no problem at all for the Minister.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I could have glossed over this issue, but did not because the eighth report was very pertinent to the way in which we deal with our business. I am fully in favour of proper regulated whistleblowing. I was asked what I would do in that case. Over the course of my career I have been the recipient of anonymous allegations. I well recall one occasion when I was in opposition, just before an election and I was the Whip. The then party leader, Deputy Bertie Ahern, called me into his office because he had received a serious allegation about a member of the Labour Party. He was looking for my advice and wanted to know what he should do about it. I told him to throw it in the bin, because he could not get information on from where the allegation came.

This is the point I make with regard to what Mr. Justice Morris has to say about the Deputies’ involvement in this, particularly that of former Deputy Jim Higgins. The fact is that he had a second fax which he did not produce for ten months. He held it back and that fact is in the report and cannot be denied. That fax would have completely exonerated Assistant Garda Commissioner Carty and that is the reason I felt it was my duty as Minister to say what I did.

I will not be lectured by Deputy Rabbitte on this and I will not allow him to denigrate any Deputy, regardless of whether they are new. I did not ask him to come in. I did not have a clue he was coming in.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Of course the Minister knew. Does he think we came down in the last shower?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Rabbitte is a disgrace and it is he rather than I who has let himself down by his remark.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister has clearly misjudged not just the mood of the House, but the mood of the country with regard to these matters. The country is scandalised by the hurt caused to individuals. It is only through a cursory throwaway remark that the Minister [816]finally gets around to apologising to them. He did not apologise in his main speech or contribution, which was reserved for his political bile.

The bulk of the Minister’s speech was concerned with two criticisms of former Deputy Jim Higgins and me. First, he agreed with the tribunal that we should have carried out “inquiries, interviews, correspondence and meetings into the allegations before bringing them further”. In his view, should we have done that just with regard to the allegations relating to the two assistant commissioners or should we have had the same investigations, correspondence and meetings on all the other issues we brought to the Minister, issues such as the planting of bombs, etc.? Is it his view that we should have set up parallel investigations into all of these?

Has the Minister read the Abbeylara judgment? It circumscribes in a clear way the role of parliamentarians in inquiring into the wrongdoing of any citizen. Has he read it? What sort of inquiry should we have been involved in that would be consistent with the determination of the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case?

The second criticism the Minister makes is that we were wrong to protect our sources and he selectively quotes a Supreme Court judge in that regard. The judge basically said the tribunal had a right to look after that. Has the Minister read the entire judgment of Mr. Justice Kearns in the High Court, which quashed the order of discovery and laid out in clear legal terms a compelling legal basis as to why Members not only had the right, but an obligation to protect their sources? Former Chief Justice Hamilton found in a case in which my colleague was involved — in the beef tribunal — that Members not only had a right to protect their sources, but an obligation to do so.

Perhaps the Minister will soon finish discussing matters with his civil servants here. I am interested in discovering who provided his script and that of the other Member and no doubt we will find out because there is a mindset among circles in the country that does not want the light of day to shine on many of these matters.

Is the Minister aware of the role of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in this matter? It entirely supported my view that we needed to protect sources. It engaged counsel to argue that to the High and Supreme Courts. Subsequent to the Supreme Court judgment, a memo was prepared by the Chief Whip to see how we could go about the rights of Members to protect their sources. Is the Minister aware of any of that or has he just no regard for it? The memo was prepared so that in the future a Deputy placed in my position or that of former Deputy Jim Higgins — I did not want to be in that position — would be able to act in a way that was in the best public interest, but that would ensure the truth was outed.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I very much agree with Deputies and people in public life being able to make whistleblowing allegations. It is incumbent on us to provide both for how we do our business in the House and for how we give the Garda Síochána or other professional bodies the opportunity to make allegations in a way which is regulated and properly organised. That fact cannot be denied.

With regard to the issue pertinent to the eighth report and to how Deputies of this House dealt with allegations on the matter——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Mr. Justice Morris did not understand the position, but the Minister did.

Acting Chairman:  Allow the Minister to continue.

[817]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Mr. Justice Morris clearly understood the way political life happens when he said——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  On a point of order, he did not even know the name of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. He called it the committee on practice and procedure and misunderstood the position.

Acting Chairman:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am quoting from his report. He said the two Teachtaí Dála were quick——

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister is twisting and turning the facts for his own purposes. He has been doing it all day.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  He said the two Teachtaí Dála were quick to crank up the political temperature with regard to the allegations by taking them immediately to the Minister. Again, he refers to the fact that the Minister——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  How else would we have investigated them? The Minister should stop hiding behind the book. How would we have investigated them?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am not hiding behind the book. We are discussing the Morris tribunal report.

Acting Chairman:  Please allow the Minister answer the question.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We are discussing the report, but because there is a criticism of the Deputy, he is shooting the messenger, and he shot the messenger when this report was published.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  How should we have inquired? Should we not have called in the Minister?

Acting Chairman:  Has the Minister finished?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The full conclusions are in the report.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  If that is the Minister’s contribution, it is a disgrace.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Minister made no comment on Abbeylara nor did he give his view as asked.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will comment on Abbeylara. I am well aware of the ability or non-ability of the Oireachtas to inquire into issues. Deputy Howlin tried to suggest that Mr. Justice Morris wanted him to set up a full inquiry as to the source of his allegations.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  What did he want?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  What he said was that the Deputies should have returned to their sources and pressed them further for more information or evidence backing up the allegations. He said the tribunal was concerned that public representatives would receive and act upon such serious and sensational allegations without pressing their sources of information. That is [818]all he was asking, not for a full inquiry as Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins suggested when the report was published.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Should we have done the same for all allegations? That is a twisted, mean view.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Imagine, we have spent the day discussing Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins. The Minister should be ashamed of that.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  If I ignored that, it would have been a dereliction of my duty.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  There are a number of other issues in the report, but what has been discussed is important. In his reply the Minister appeared to suggest that if people made allegations of a crime, people should bin them. Does he seriously suggest that, given what has transpired and what is contained in the Morris report? My remaining questions relate to other aspects of the Morris tribunal report. Will the promised Garda Síochána amendment Bill introduce wider provision for retrospective inquiries given the Minister has heard in the Chamber today that abuse of power was not confined to the Donegal area? Will the Minister give a commitment not to use that legislation to allow the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to “lease” back some or many of its complaints to the Garda to investigate itself, which was found to be quite flawed by the Morris tribunal?

Will the covert surveillance Bill vest powers of authorisation in the Judiciary as suggested in the Morris tribunal report? What steps have been taken to address the cultural problems surrounding the member in charge, as mentioned in the Hartnett report and the Morris tribunal report, by introducing specific refresher training for members in charge to address the problems of additional work being put on a member in charge? Have steps been taken to make the procedures relating to the approval of applications for the extension of detention periods more robust and accountable? In my earlier contribution I gave examples in this regard.

Will section 6.37(4) of the Garda code, requiring a garda first to refute claims against the force, be replaced so that the garda has a duty to tell the truth first and foremost and that the courts will refute any charges?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  On the first issue the Deputy mentioned about allegations coming to my attention, it has always been my practice with anonymous allegations, of which I have received many in my 21-year career in this House, if I cannot in some way make inquiries as to their source, to bin them. I particularly instance the issue to which I referred earlier where it was clear that we were not able to stand it up in some shape or form and again that goes to the core of what Mr. Justice Morris stated regarding the issue he had to deal with. By and large I bin them because I cannot be satisfied — I am not even talking about evidence — through just my own feeling as a public representative as to whether they are legitimate allegations. If I were able to stand them up in some shape or form or be satisfied, it would be different. I do not in any way criticise Deputy Howlin or former Deputy, Jim Higgins MEP, for approaching the Minister at that time. I make the point mentioned by Mr. Justice Morris as to how he felt it was necessary for them to go back to their sources before bringing them forward.

Deputy Tuffy spoke about the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in connection with the Derek O’Toole case. Obviously, I very much regret the death of Derek O’Toole. We are considering legislative proposals to make the running of the commission more efficient. It was accepted by the Government that we change the Garda Síochána Complaints Board. That aspect of the report has not got much mention. It has been replaced after the Government [819]proceeded to introduce the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission which now has five times the staff the Garda Síochána Complaints Board had. We would consider suggestions from the House as to how we might make the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission better.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is not much good to the O’Toole family that it is staffed better.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Regarding the covert surveillance Bill, we wanted an independent Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission so that it could investigate these.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Did anyone intend that a case like Derek O’Toole’s could not be investigated?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  As far as I am concerned some problems with its modus operandi may need to be ironed out because it is in a learning process and not operational that long. The covert surveillance Bill is well advanced and I will shortly ask Government to allow publication of the scheme of the Bill. The general approach in the Bill will be that applications will be made on judicial authorisation although there are exceptions in very urgent circumstances. The overall situation will be subject to judicial oversight.

Regarding the members in charge and the issue of detention, I can confirm that there is an ongoing system of training of gardaí. There is an emphasis on the issue of detention. The tribunal recommended that the system whereby senior Garda officers approve an extension to the period of detention of a suspect should be improved by enhancing the decision-making process through better recording of the decisions. I believe the Garda Commissioner has already anticipated that in a directive that issued in 2005.

Acting Chairman:  I will take three brief questions starting with Deputy Joe McHugh, followed by Deputies Joe Costello and Charles Flanagan. We have only two minutes left.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Deputy McHugh was not in the House when the Chair agreed to call me.

Acting Chairman:  I apologise. I call Deputy Costello first.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  On a point of order, the order of the House was that this debate could continue until 7 o’clock.

Acting Chairman:  There are 30 minutes for a Minister or Minister of State to take questions.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It did not specify they would be taken at the end.

Acting Chairman:  Regardless of what was agreed before I came in, that is what I have in front of me.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Chair should read the Order Paper.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The House can agree.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It did not state that questions were to be at the end.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Minister is agreeable to changes.

Acting Chairman:  That is the agreement of the House and I must go with what is in front of me.

[820]Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Acting Chairman has not even read it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I welcome, for the first time in this House, a statement of apology by a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the victims of the Donegal scandal. While it came belatedly, it is good that it has come. I did not hear it before and it was not contained in his speech. I am delighted he has put it on the record of the House. It is the first time, but it is an appalling situation.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  On a point of order, it was contained in my speech this morning. To the best of my recollection it was in the press release I issued some time ago.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  What did the Minister say this morning?

Deputy Joe Costello:  I did not hear it. The Minister can reply later. I believe the Minister is wrong on the whistleblowing issue as was Mr. Justice Morris. I know the source of the material, which was very credible. Deputy Howlin and the former Deputy, Jim Higgins MEP, were quite right in approaching the line Minister and asking him to deal with it. That is responsibility. There was no template in place at the time. In fact there is still no template in place. However, as a result of Mr. Justice Morris’s recommendations a template has been put in place in the 2007 regulations arising from the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for the gardaí and other employees to be whistleblowers. At that time they acted responsibly and were quite right to do as they did. The Minister should withdraw what is, in effect, a slur on their good names.

I ask the Minister to reconsider having a commission into policing in the 21st century in Ireland. Although it was rejected by his predecessor, it would be very welcome to deal with the situation. One serious issue to which Mr. Justice Morris repeatedly returned was the registration of informants and how there should be proper oversight of informers to ensure they would not operate out of control, furthering the careers of individual gardaí and that they would not be perpetrating crime with the collusion of gardaí who might turn a blind eye to it. This was precisely what happened in the Kieran Boylan case. The rules and regulations put in place by the Garda Síochána at the highest level have been breached atrociously in this case. One of the major drug dealers in the country is operating with impunity. This issue was supposed to have been dealt with effectively by the recommendations of the Morris tribunal.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy should ask his question.

Deputy Joe Costello:  What will the Minister do about that?

Acting Chairman:  I call Deputy McHugh.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  On what page of the Minister’s speech is the apology?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I said it goes without saying the Barron family were also victims of this misconduct and I extend my sympathies to them for the grievous loss they have suffered.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  That is not an apology.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister would twist anything.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That is semantics. I apologised on behalf of the State in the response.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is the Minister taking us for fools altogether?

[821]Deputy Charles Flanagan:  A vote of sympathy is not an apology. This is not semantics. It is more twisting.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I refer to the Minister’s comment about a mistake. He welcomed the approach of the two Deputies to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O’Donoghue, but he said their mistake was not to press for more information. Tomorrow morning if I am given sensitive information and a new Committee on Procedure and Privileges is in place, according to the Minister, I should press my sources before contacting the committee. How do I press them? What is his definition of “press”? Do I interrogate them? Should I obtain legal advice? As a new Member, will he explain how I go about this? After the Minister’s shambolic performance, I have no confidence in approaching him or any committee with sensitive information.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  First, the Deputy should approach the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which was set up to independently investigate allegations against the Garda.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The Minister said I should press my sources.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  If I was approached by the Deputy, I would say: “Go away from me and give those allegations to the GSOC”. With regard to the specific issue the two Deputies had to deal with, Deputy McHugh only has to read the conclusions of Mr. Justice Morris as to how he felt. He suggests very strongly there was an issue regarding sensational allegations calculated to undermine the authority, standing and reputation of the people against whom they were made.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The Minister has his own interpretation but he does not have an opinion. Mr. Justice Morris should be present.

The following motion was moved by the Taoiseach on 14 October 2008:

THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to inland revenue (including value-added tax and excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Barrett was in possession and he has 20 minutes remaining.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is difficult to get into the mood to discuss the budget following such a heated debate. One must be very careful.

When I adjourned the debate yesterday evening, I was addressing my criticisms of the Government in failing to tackle the big picture. That failure has led to a series of silly cutbacks, which will cause untold harm and political damage to the entire system. I appeal to the Minister to ask the Fianna Fáil scriptwriters why they must always compare what is happening nowadays to what happened 12 years ago. Can we not move on and be more mature in dealing with issues? The circumstances 12 years were entirely different. Every time I hear a Government spokesperson, he or she makes comparisons with 1994, 1997 and 1982. This is so ridiculous that it is hardly worth commenting on because Fianna Fáil has been in power for 19 of the past 21 years.

[822]Its Ministers have had 19 years to put the economy straight and there is no point comparing what they have done to what the coalition did between December 1994 and June 1997. They have had 19 out of the past 21 years to put everything right. They will have to admit they took over a healthy, strong economy in 1997. It was the first time in the history of the State that a budget surplus was achieved. This is an undeniable fact. I was pleased to be part of the outfit that handed over a strong economy to the Minister and his colleagues even though I had to surrender the keys of the Mercedes to people such as his good self. We are proud of what we did during the tenure of that good Government.

I refer to the cutbacks in health services. Fianna Fáil and its partners set up the HSE. They amalgamated all the health boards without putting in place a new management structure. The Minister for Finance said in his Budget Statement that he had suddenly discovered the HSE, since its establishment, had increased its workforce by 12% and created 1,900 administrative posts. He said he will have an investigation carried out and redundancy will be offered. People over 70 are being asked to surrender medical cards while everyone is being asked to pay increased charges for other services, yet the HSE has a budget €15 billion to cover the needs of a population of less than 4 million and has established an additional 1,900 posts since it was set up. How many medical cards would that buy? However, we must go through a process of persecuting groups of people who are badly in need of services.

The new charges include an increase of €34 for a visit to an accident and emergency department; an increase of €9 in the public hospital bed charge to €75; a 20% increase in the cost of private beds in public hospitals; and an increase of 20% in the long stay charge. One can imagine the hike in VHI charges a result of these increases. This has resulted from a failure in proper management and administration by the HSE and, lo and behold, the Minister for Health and Children, together with her Cabinet colleagues, has taken a political decision to deal with cutbacks in her budget by persecuting people aged over 70. If she cannot find €100 million in savings out of a budget of €15.8 billion without persecuting these people and increasing charges for those who are ill and need services, there is something radically wrong with the Government’s management.

The Minister for Finance should not ask Opposition Members to be patriotic and to support these mad cutbacks when no one else supports him. I have no intention of supporting of such cutbacks. If there was no other option and the country was on its knees, I might consider it a form of patriotism. However, the HSE was allowed to go out of control and recruit 1,900 additional administrative staff. The failure of the Minister and the Government to put in place a new management structure for the body from day one leaves a great deal to be desired.

I refer to education cutbacks, including a reduced schools building programme, the abolition of substitute teachers from January 2009, the abolition of the equipment for resource teachers, a reduction in the Traveller education budget, the abolition of grants for physics and chemistry at a time our young people need to be educated in such subjects and a €7.5 million cutback in the funding for school books. Where are we going? College registration fees have been hiked to €1,500 despite there being no increase in the student maintenance grant. I have listened to various Government politicians saying how important it is to help children from disadvantaged areas to benefit from third level education, with which I agree, but how will these provisions help a child from a disadvantaged area to undertake third level education? It is not a question of merely getting into college, but of staying there as well. One needs bus fares to get to and from college. If one does not live nearby, one must stay overnight. One requires assistance with books and one needs pocket money.

[823]I will give the House an example. I came from a local authority housing estate. My father was a postman and, because I grew up in an era without free education, I saw him working a turnstile at Croke Park on Sundays to pay for my second level education. I saw people’s struggles. Today, those are the same people we are punishing. We are asking them to carry the burden of the problems created by the Government. Given that 19 of the past 21 years saw Fianna Fáil in government, it cannot blame anyone other than itself.

The Government is telling us that children from disadvantaged areas should be given every chance to attend college. However, it is not just a question of getting enough points to enter third level if one comes from a local authority housing estate and one’s parents do not have any money. Who will pay for bus fares? Who will buy——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  A €1,500 registration fee.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Yes, one must spend €1,500 at the start, then find money for books, to dress oneself, to pay bus fares and to feed oneself. Given the cuts, it is hypocritical to state that we are trying to give everyone a chance to attend a third level institution. The cuts are due to the fact that the Government failed to see the big picture.

As the Minister will admit, 80%-85% of the education budget is spent on salaries and wages. If one does not tackle this problem and the issue of numbers, one must consider cuts in the remaining 15%-20%. In this light, one is bound to make silly, stupid cuts that affect people who pay taxes.

I do not want more hearts bleeding for children who should get access to third level education. I want practical help to be given to them. They can appear at a social welfare office to get assistance before walking the streets. Would we not be better off spending the money helping every child to become skilled, to attend college and to have a positive and creative way to fulfil his or her life? These are the practical day-to-day problems that people must face, not theories or seminars on how to spread wealth. Given the fact that people need education and skills for today’s society, how can anyone in the Government increase registration fees, not increase the maintenance grant and abolish grants for school books? It is a disgrace. Let us cut out the hypocrisy and address reality.

I will address climate change and carbon emissions. I have the pleasure of chairing the all-party Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. I am proud of my position and of the committee’s members, who work hard. We have noticed the various Government statements on targets and the actions to be taken. Ireland is running out of time and the failure to meet targets will cost the taxpayers money.

We discuss transport often, but what are we doing? What movements has Iarnród Éireann made to shift freight from our roads onto trains? What advances are we making in terms of additional sources of public transport so that people can leave their cars behind? There are quality bus corridors, QBCs, with no buses on them. To worsen the insult, they are 24 hours per day, seven days per week QBCs, but I have yet to see a bus running at 4 a.m. It is shambolic symbolism.

What are we doing about our targets? We are sitting down and agreeing further cuts with our European partners despite not having achieved our current targets. For example, if someone wants to go on a cycling holiday to County Kerry, how can he or she bring a bicycle? I have written to Iarnród Éireann to ask whether it has small carriages at the back of trains in which to store goods. That way, one would have somewhere to put a bicycle, but what can one do with a bicycle now? We are being given grants for bicycles, but how can the latter be carried to County Kerry? Should one put it on top of a car and drive? It is a contradiction.

[824]In most other countries, one can put a bicycle on a train. If one wanted to cycle into work from where I live and it is raining in the evening, surely one should be able to get the DART home and put one’s bicycle in a small carriage at the back. It is simple. In Copenhagen, for example, taxis have been encouraged to carry rear fittings so that, if it is a wet evening, one can put a bicycle on the taxi and hop inside. We have not even reached that point, yet we are discussing entering into commitments on further cuts.

Transport is one of our greatest emissions problems, but agriculture is an equal problem. Will we halve our cattle stock? How can we achieve the targets? Have we negotiated within the EU to transfer our savings in other sectors to compensate for our inability to reduce agricultural emissions? If we are to be the food basket of Europe, surely it is in the EU’s interests that we produce food for European citizens. Will we cut back, making food more expensive due to its scarcity? No one has attempted to negotiate on behalf of Ireland in this regard. We are blindly walking into and accepting targets without realising what we are entering into. It is not a question of simply brushing off the failure to achieve the targets as just another failure. If we do not achieve them, we will pay a considerable amount of money to purchase credits to compensate for our inability to effect reductions.

  6 o’clock

Before leaving the topic of transport, I want to mention something. In our final days in government some years ago, we considered opening Baldonnel Airport to commercial flights. As the then Minister for Defence, I held discussions with the Defence Forces. The Air Corps reverted to me to state that it would be only too pleased to see the airport being used for commercial flights provided facilities were ring-fenced for Air Corps activities. It would have suited everyone. The runway would have been used for both purposes and the Air Corps would have been relieved of maintenance duties. The airport at Collinstown is packed on a daily basis. I see no reason that internal flights should not leave from Baldonnel.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  Deputy Barrett’s party leader has already opposed a similar proposal for Westin Aerodrome, which is only some miles down the road.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seamus Kirk):  Deputy Gogarty will have a chance to speak in due course.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I ask Deputy Gogarty to continue playing with his laptop until I finish my contribution. He will have a chance to respond to my comments when his turn comes. In the meantime, I ask him not to interfere with my train of thought.

I see no reason that Baldonnel cannot be used for internal flights. It is located off the N7, close to the M50 and convenient to developing areas in Kildare and elsewhere. It could even be used for flights to the United Kingdom and for charter flights. This would relieve congestion at Dublin Airport and on the roads surrounding it. Every time there is a traffic jam, more emissions are released. We have gone to great trouble to regrade motor vehicle taxation in order to encourage people to purchase vehicles that emit less CO2, yet we are not dealing with the problem of traffic jams. A greater level of emissions may arise on Pearse Street on a wet Friday afternoon than may accrue from 100 cars driving in and out of the city centre. Will the Minister report back to the House on the difficulties, if any, that present in terms of using Baldonnel Airport for the purposes I have outlined? It makes perfect sense, offering an ideal location and with the prospect of helping to lower considerably our emission targets.

The current difficulties in the financial markets have arisen because there has been a breakdown in trust between banks. Banks are no longer prepared to lend to one other because [825]they do not trust their counterparts’ ability to make repayments. This breakdown of trust is a consequence of the sheer greed which saw bankers lending money to those who could not afford to make the repayments. Bad debts were bundled up and sold on and the result is that the trust between banks has broken down. We may ask about the role of the supervisors who were supposed to manage all this. The reality is that this type of supervision was considered unimportant as long as money was being made.

The problem throughout the financial sector is that banks want to be building societies or insurance companies and vice versa. One calls to mind the old saying that plumbing is for plumbers. If I have a plumbing problem, I do not seek the services of a carpenter. Throughout Europe, we must restore standards in financial dealings so that people can have trust in the system. We must return to a position where utmost good faith is a basic principle in any contract law. For example, insurance cannot be underwritten unless there is good faith.

There is much talk of re-financing and so on in the financial markets. Ultimately, however, trust is everything. I read an article in the business section of the Sunday Independent which detailed how the Irish Nationwide Building Society has pitched in for Mohamed Al Fayed at Fulham Football Club. How is it that a building society which was established to provide mortgages is investing in Fulham Football Club? This is apparently the second time it has made such an investment, having already invested €22 million via a group of property developers involved in the purchase of Craven Cottage. The same article reveals that Bank of Ireland is involved with Arsenal Football Club and Wembley Stadium. We have spent recent weeks discussing how we may restore confidence. It is only through effective regulation and control that we can hope once again to enjoy the benefits of a successful financial sector.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I propose to share time with Deputy Conlon.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  Deputy Barrett proposed that Baldonnel Airport should be used as an international airport.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I did not refer to an international airport.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  He referred to it being used as a commercial airport of some description.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  There is a great difference.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  His colleague, Senator Fitzgerald, may have something to say about that. Deputy Barrett dismissively suggested that I should busy myself in twiddling with my laptop. That is precisely what I did during the conclusion of his speech. I used the time to respond to constituents and also to do some searching via Google, which yielded two interesting articles from the Sunday Independent of 14 January 2007. These relate how a confidential document shown to the newspaper indicated that Deputy Kenny and Fine Gael rejected plans to develop a second airport at Baldonnel while in government 11 years ago. The article notes that this revelation comes “as the country’s main Opposition party leader pledged to build a second airport in the west Dublin area if elected Taoiseach this summer”. Deputy Kenny has made a similar suggestion in regard to Westin Aerodrome, which is in my constituency, before executing a U-turn after coming under pressure from Senator Fitzgerald. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that Deputy Barrett discuss the matter with his party leader before floating his ideas for Baldonnel Airport. My constituency colleague, Senator Fitzgerald, will have much to say about the matter.

[826]Deputy Seán Barrett:  Members on the other side of the House cannot stand up to speak without mentioning 1997. That was 11 years ago.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I referred to a statement made by Deputy Kenny in 2007.

Acting Chairman:  I ask Deputy Gogarty to desist from inviting retaliation.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I enjoy a debate. However, I will proceed to talk about the budget. I welcome the changes to the income levy and to the medical card scheme for the over 70s. I worked with my Green Party colleagues to secure changes to the original plan once the stress, hurt and anxiety being caused to elderly people became apparent. I take this opportunity to apologise personally to my constituents for any hurt or distress caused to them and for which I am collectively responsible.

Since the announcement of the attention to withdraw universal provision of medical cards to over 70s, I have made various suggestions in writing to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, as to how the moneys involved might otherwise be saved. I also wrote to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, to suggest that the greyhound and horse racing fund, which amounts to some €70 million in this year’s budget, be diverted. That particular fund accounts for almost one third of sports funding which might be better allocated elsewhere, such as minority sports, swimming pool programmes and so on. In my constituency, for example, Collinstown Park Community College’s sports hall faces the possibility of closure, as does Pobalscoil Isolde’s public community facility. As I said in my letter to the Minister, a root and branch analysis of these profitable industries — horse racing and greyhound racing — might be helpful. The latter is associated with a significant degree of wanton cruelty. Such an analysis might indicate a capacity for self-funding. If some Exchequer funding is required, I would suggest the introduction of a betting tax.

I propose to deal mainly with the education provisions in the budget. We all must acknowledge that this could never have been other than a very difficult budget. Growth for this year is -1.5%, with an expected rate of -0.75% in 2009. That situation has not arisen, as I understand it, since the 1980s. While I was only a child in the 1980s, I knew times were tough. Once again, we must prepare for tough times.

There has been much comment in regard to the Minister for Finance’s call to patriotic duty. I am happy to answer that call and to act in solidarity in regard to the collective hard times facing us. However, let this not be seen as my condoning certain aspects of the budget which, I believe, could have been better and could be improved. The Green Party made representations in regard to medical cards and is currently making representations in regard to the education budget. In a few minutes I will read into the record an open letter to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, in regard to the cutbacks I am unhappy about and from where possibly this money can be recouped.

In the meantime, as a Green Party Member I very much welcome the protection extended to local government funding in terms of the 19% increase in water funding, the strong green measures within the budget, the retention of a number of public transport initiatives, substantial increases in social welfare spending, the ongoing progress of the carbon budget and increases in indirect taxes on petrol, which I welcome, and on tobacco. I believe more could have been done in regard to alcohol and betting but I will deal later with these issues.

I welcome the airport departure tax as a painless way of raising revenue. Reference was made only a few minutes ago to Weston and Baldonnel airports. It strikes me as odd that private airports are not subject to a similar tax. Perhaps the more well-off travellers taking off [827]from and landing at these airports should be asked to pay a higher levy. I would welcome an initiative in this regard.

My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will bring forth a raft of measures in the coming weeks to build on the progress made last year in regard to energy, including tax allowances for the purchase of sophisticated equipment for electricity provision and more efficient data server systems. I welcome the ending of decentralisation and the costs associated with same. I stated that I welcome the social welfare allowances, including the €10 increase in the threshold for the family income supplement.

I want to deal with education. There is much to welcome in the education budget. While I am conscious the increase in the budget for the Department of Education and Science was not enough, it is one of three Departments that received an increase. There are some measures worth welcoming, including the €80 million increase in the allocation for 2008 on the capital side. This includes €581 million for the schools capital programme which is, unfortunately, marginally down to a figure of €586 million. However, it will allow the Department, as the Minister outlined, to complete 26 major projects, commence construction on a further 62 projects and meet the requirements of 100 other smaller projects.

I welcome the 44% increase in third level funding and the increase in research and development. I pay tribute on the substantive increase in capitation funding by €21.42 at primary level, giving a total of €200 per pupil, which is real progress, and the continuing progress on the second level side. I welcome the additional €10 million to fund and enhance measures for children with special educational needs pending full implementation of the Education for People with Special Educational Needs Act. I regret that Act has not yet been implemented and I concur with the remarks made by Opposition Deputies in that regard. The increase of €40 million to cover the full-year costs of additional special needs assistants is also welcome.

While one cannot criticise the entire education budget, some valid concerns have been raised. I am aware the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is in China. I will e-mail the following letter to him later. It is an open letter which I will read into the record lest anyone thinks I am not willing to go on the public record in respect of this matter.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Why did Deputy Gogarty not give it to him before the budget?

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Connaughton, please desist from interrupting Deputy Gogarty.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Deputy said he spent all day speaking with the Minister on budget day.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I have been in touch with the Minister. Members heard my budget speech last year. I am not afraid to put my money where my mouth is. I will read the letter following which Deputies will have an opportunity to respond to it.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Deputy did not walk when he should have.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I would like to see the Taoiseach’s face when the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, gives him this letter.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter reads:

Dear Minister O’ Keeffe,

[828]

I have not until today been given the opportunity to comment publicly on the Education Budget and to put my feelings onto the Dail record.

We are living in tough economic times and I do admire your ability to stand firm in the face of public criticism of the difficult but necessary budgetary constraints you have been placed under.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

However I cannot in all credibility stand by some of the proposals made by your Department. I welcome many of the progressive elements of the Education budget, which I alluded to earlier in my contribution. But I must take issue with many of the cutbacks.

Sometimes a decision is just plain wrong and in this context I am asking you and the Minister for Finance to revisit some of the more questionable cuts to our Education service.

For many years, both as a member of a Government party and in opposition I have been unwavering in my calls for education to be taken seriously and given the funding it deserves.

I do not have to repeat what I have said about education being a building block for future prosperity and social cohesion and the collective failure of the body politic — Government and opposition — to give real commitments to education so that we may reap the real rewards, albeit in some cases beyond the narrow five year electoral cycle. Funding education pays back in so many ways. And making cuts in the wrong place can cause irreparable damage.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Has that letter been sent to the Minister?

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

Having been consistent in my calls for much greater education funding, I must once again say that we have missed an investment opportunity. Additional borrowing or additional income tax could have provided the necessary leverage to take advantage of any change in economic circumstances.

However I am not so optimistic as to hope beyond hope that this Government or indeed any potential Government is suddenly going to wake up with a messiahanic zeal for turbo charged educational investment. At this stage all I can hope for is that the hardest hitting of the educational cuts can be reversed and funding found from other sources.

A response in this manner would show that this Government will listen and respond to the cries for help that are now coming from teachers working on the ground and the parents of the children they teach.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  There will be a response when the 10,000 teachers turn up outside the gates next week.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

We responded to one vulnerable part of our society over the medical cards issue. We responded in relation to the income levy for those on the minimum wage. Now we must [829]respond, proactively, on a number of areas, if not to increase funding, but at least to try and maintain the status quo.

Class sizes is the single biggest issue. Various figures have been bandied about ranging from the 400 overall cuts you have suggested, to a figure of over a thousand at each level by the teaching unions.

I think at a minimum in these times of dwindling state revenues, we must ensure that the pupil teacher ratio is not reversed. It should be further increased but in the worst case scenario, it must remain at current levels at both primary and second level.

Taking an average figure for retaining the ratio which ignores the higher wages of retiring teachers, I estimate that the total cost of keeping the class size average of 27 per class at primary and 18 per class at post primary is in the region of €151 million.

Another area that has been cut back is in the area of school books. This to me is an essential part of a child’s development and in this context the €7.5 million cost for school book aid and the €2.19 million in library grants has to be reversed. The figures are so small relatively, but the impact goes way beyond that.

I am surprised Minister and disappointed that the €97,000 for the Centre for Talented Youth has been cut. By all means carry out a cost benefit analysis, but to curtail a service that enhances and encourages our best and brightest who could have a major role to play in our future development does not make sense, particularly for such a paltry sum.

Speaking of Youth, our Youth Services were bracing themselves for no real increase in their budget, but little did they imagine that their budgets would be cut. This €4.4 million cutback will have a devastating effect on frontline provision which will well outweigh the saving. Again it needs to be reinstated.

Similarly the €8.5 million grabbed out of the Back to Education initiative is a regressive step when this facility will be needed by more and more people. Under the current proposal 500 people will be affected, 500 who could be major net tax contributors in a few years time.

The Education Welfare Board should at least have had its current funding retained, for the sake of €120,000. If anything this should be increased of course, given its important role.

Then there are the amalgamated grants to post-primary schools, including those for choirs and orchestras, home economics, physics and chemistry, the junior certificate schools programme, leaving certificate applied, LCVP and transition year. These combined will save the state €5.35 million but will actually probably cost the state more in the long run.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Does Deputy Gogarty think the Minister will read the full letter?

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter further continues:

There are other issues that I would like you to reconsider including Traveller Education funding, after a review of outcomes has been carried out. Not to mention a reassurance that the special protection afforded to the minority Protestant Education community is not being stripped away by the regulation of the situation vis a vis the majority Catholic fee paying schools.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister will be up all night reading this letter.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  He will be delighted to see it coming.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

[830]

And I could go on. One does not like the increase in registration fees, even in the current economic circumstance. However this is nothing compared to my views on the reintroduction of third level fees. But I suppose I will finish with the decision to amend substitution cover for absences arising from uncertified sick leave in all schools, as well as for school business absences in post-primary schools. This needs to be reviewed. I have not been able to work out how much will actually be saved here in not employing substitutes without certification. But if one assumes it will cost no more than €5 million annually, what about the loss to the educational welfare of our children? By all means investigate absenteeism but come back next year with a more focused proposal that does not affect front line services.

To briefly break from reading the letter to the Minister, I am sure all of us as Deputies have been receiving e-mails about how these frontline services will be cut according to the schools in question. There is an element of pressure but there is also a real truth behind those figures.

I return to the letter:

The amount of savings referred to above by my calculations comes to an approximate total of €184 million. I do not have the information to be entirely accurate, but assuming the general thrust is correct, would you not agree, Minister O’Keeffe, that if funding can be found elsewhere, these cutbacks could and should be reversed?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The man will be up all night.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I hope he will be up for days.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy can always vote against it.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

I suggest, for example, adding a travel surcharge to private jets or increasing the second home tax by a measly €100 euro. What about increasing the levy on incomes over €200,000 or placing more on the cigarettes? I was amused to see one of the headlines refer to the pint as having been saved in the budget. Slap more excise duty on the pint of plain if it means extra funding for our children any day. And what about the dogs and horses grant referred to earlier, although I would prefer if that went towards minority sports? I was also interested to hear about savings in Minister O’Dea’s Department. Is any of this up for grabs?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  There are many aspects which could finance education.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  There are two other lads in the Cabinet.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  It continues:

Specific suggestions include:

Halving the reductions in stamp duty on commercial properties, which would raise €90 million. Reverse the reduction in the charge on ATM cards from €5.00 to €2.50, which would raise €14 million. Redirect 10% of the home choice loan fund of €500 million, which would raise €50 million.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is the Deputy sending a copy of the letter to all of us?

[831]Deputy Paul Gogarty:  The letter continues:

According to CSO figures on second properties, the levy of €200 should bring in €80 million rather than €40 million as estimated in the budget summary, which frees up an additional €40 million.

The total of these suggestions equals €194 million, which exceeds the cost of the cutbacks. And if any specific suggestion is unpalatable to any specific Minister, there are more suggestions that can be made in relation to the general taxation, the PRSI, an increased income levy etc.

To once again take a brief break from the letter to the Minister, constituents to whom I spoke on the medical card issue have indicated they are more than willing to take up some of the flak in hard economic times but they do not want the young or the elderly to be affected.

The letter concludes:

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, Minister. I hope you will have the courage and the common sense to work with the Minister for Finance and other colleagues to redress these damaging cutbacks by obtaining the funds from other sources. It is not a capitulation to take a position but change it in the light of new information regarding the impact of such a position. I would say, Minister, it takes more courage to reverse the cutbacks than it does to defend them. You have already shown yourself well able to tackle various interest groups. However our children are a particularly special interest group who cannot speak up for themselves.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  I conclude:

Make the right decision Minister. Reverse the most damaging cutbacks.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Gogarty TD, Green Party Education Spokesperson, Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Fair play to the Green Party Deputy from Dublin.

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  Chuir an t-Aire Airgeadais an buiséad os comhair na Dála Dé Máirt seo caite. Ag an am seo, tá a lán cainte go bhfuil geilleagar na tíre ag dul i ndonacht. Inniú, tá na scaireanna ag dul i laghad arís. Bhí ar an Rialtas cinneadh a dhéanamh. Tá gach éinne ag fulaingt. Tá eagla ar a lán daoine faoi na ciorraithe. Caithfimid dul ar aghaidh agus feabhas a chur ar chursaí na tíre. Tá sé sin an-tábhachtach ar fad.

For the past week, the airwaves, newspapers and on-line media have discussed nothing else except the budget. My constituency and Dáil office, and I personally, have been inundated with calls, e-mails and visits from people who are worried and stressed. The need to restore stability to the public finances left no option but to take difficult decisions on public expenditure. The budget’s bona fides are without doubt; they aimed to be in the best interests of the future of the country. However, we as a Government erred in our delivery of the message about the medical card changes. I welcome yesterday’s amendment, which means the income threshold for medical card eligibility will allow 95% of people to qualify.

[832]The income limits announced by the Government are generous and take into account the increased need for a medical card for those aged over 70. Single people who earn €700 per week, or €36,500, per annum and couples who earn €1,400 per week, or €73,000 per annum, will be eligible. That is a lot of money. This effectively means 95% of people aged over 70 will be eligible for the medical card and I welcome that progressive step.

People were also very worried about their savings and it is prudent that these will also be exempt. Income from savings up to the first €36,000 for a single person and €72,000 for a couple are not counted. A sign that Fianna Fáil looks out for its citizens and does not merely spout out niceties is that anyone with an income above the threshold who has difficulty in meeting their medical needs will be eligible to apply for a medical card under the HSE’s discretionary medical card scheme.

This issue has caused much concern and anguish, which I very much regret. I received many calls from concerned people in the past week and I hope yesterday’s announcement will reassure people that we are concerned about their status. With 95% of people now eligible under the new income limits, only those at the top of the income bracket will not qualify. It was never the intention of the Government to upset or distress any elderly person and I am sorry that happened.

The Government consulted the Irish Medical Organisation on the position arising from the Taoiseach’s statement. A process of intense engagement with the IMO and those with particular expertise in this area has been established to develop recommendations for good practice, which will secure safe and effective prescribing for patients, while maximising the potential for the economy in the use of public funds. I encourage all relevant groups to make their submissions by Friday, 24 October to Mr. Eddie Sullivan so he can accurately recommend a new rate.

I welcome the announcement in the budget that the maximum personal rates of payment for State pension, contributory and non-contributory, and State pension transition are being increased by €7 per week from the start of January 2009. Fianna Fáil has historically delivered for the elderly and we will continue to do so even though we got it wrong last week on the medical cards. State pensioners will also receive an extra €6.30 per week for a qualified adult dependant, such as a spouse aged over 66, and an extra €4.70 per week for contributory-qualified adults under 66.

The fuel allowance is being increased by €2 to €20 per week, or 11%, with effect from January. The duration of the fuel season is also being extended by another two weeks from April 2009, bringing it to 32 weeks in total. That is a direct budgetary provision that will benefit our senior citizens and one which many of my constituents were looking for.

I am glad the 1% income levy announced in last week’s budget will not apply to people on incomes less than or equal to the national minimum wage. Thus, anyone on €17,542 or less will not have to pay the levy. The Government made this decision in the context of social partnership so as to ensure that those who earn the least are protected. While this is a small adjustment to the measure, it is important nonetheless.

I am disappointed Monaghan Army barracks are to close. I know people in the town and county will be sorry to see that facility lost. The Government made that decision as part of this year’s budget, which was prepared in very unfavourable economic circumstances. The decision to close that and four other barracks throughout the country was made following an analysis of the Defence Forces to make the force more efficient and effective.

[833]The approximately 200 personnel in Monaghan will be accommodated at Dundalk, where better facilities exist, from January next year. I am relieved that no one will lose his or her job as a result of this closure.

Force regulations also will provide for the payment of certain allowances and I am assured by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, that civilian workers at the base, in conjunction with their unions, also will be eligible for allowances. An alternative use for this site now presents a real opportunity for the town in the future and I will work hard to ensure that maximum benefit is derived from it. All potential stakeholders should strive to have this facility used widely, innovatively and efficiently.

I note that total expenditure by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 2009, including EU funding, in support of the agriculture, fisheries, food and forestry sectors will be €3.26 billion. Spending on REPS will increase by 7% to €355 million, including a 17% increase in the payment to participants in REPS 4. The focus of the 2009 budget is on prioritising spending to protect the most productive elements of the agrifood sector.

However, I am disappointed to note there will be a 14% reduction in area-based compensation payments. The rate of payment under the suckler welfare scheme will be reduced from €80 per cow to €40 per cow in 2009. Moreover, the 2009 payment will be deferred until 2010. However, the partnership agreement to spend €250 million on this scheme will be honoured in full. I also was disappointed to learn of the suspension of new entrants to the early retirement and young farmer installation aid schemes with immediate effect. However, a sum of €56 million will still be spent on the schemes in 2009 on existing participants. I will seek a meeting with my constituency colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, to discuss these matters with him at the earliest available opportunity.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Has he gone to China?

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  I can sympathise and empathise with those who are worried about the education budget. As a former deputy principal, I too have concerns about the potential impact on the day-to-day management and running of schools and how it will affect the pupils. While I will not be writing letters or sending e-mails, I will discuss my concerns with the Minister for Education and Science as soon as he returns from China. I have no doubt that other savings can be made to ensure that our children will not suffer. I encourage all partners in education to discuss potential savings with the Minister, as I believe there are areas in which savings can be made. I appeal to all sides to engage in meaningful talks to ensure this happens.

Members must rise to the challenges presented by the dire economic situation. Were Fianna Fáil and the Government trying to be popular and populist, they would not have taken any tough decisions in the budget. However, Governments must take tough decisions and govern, while Oppositions will oppose. Before the budget last Tuesday week, everyone agreed that tough decisions and sacrifices had to be made. This budget directly affects everyone. While it may be unpopular, tough times call for tough measures to be taken and we must cut our cloth according to our measure. The beauty of being in opposition is that one can call for everything to be increased and retained without raising taxes. However, such an easy policy is totally unrelated to the reality of being in government.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I agree with my constituency colleague that when times are tough, tough decisions must be made. I remember that some years ago, such tough decisions were made by Governments, only to be voted down over small technicalities. I can remember that not much support was forthcoming from the Opposition during the BSE crisis. The only thing done was that people were dragged through this House in the worst possible situation.

[834]While the Taoiseach and the Government have tried to hide their miserable performance behind the international banking crisis, no one can deny that in two years, they have brought this country from being €6 billion in surplus to its present position in which it is €15 billion in debt. Unquestionably, this is a remarkable achievement and certainly constitutes a record within the European Union.

On 24 April 2007, the Taoiseach advised people how he, as Minister for Finance, had brought about such a successful economy and claimed full responsibility for it. Consequently, he now must take full responsibility for the current disaster. While addressing the Federation of International Banks in Ireland on that date, he stated:

Our economy is stronger than at any time in our country’s history. The fear of unemployment has been replaced with the reality of good jobs paying good wages and offering good prospects. . . . We live in truly exceptional times.

He further advised that the Government would:

invest in education, skills and infrastructure to raise productivity, to enhance competitiveness and protect prosperity, reduce taxes to reward work, promote enterprise and spread the burden fairly across society [and] increase spending on services to improve the lives of citizens.

How could things have gone so badly wrong?

In recent weeks, the people of Ireland have been indoctrinated through the media to expect a harsh budget and were assured by different Government spokespersons that it would take the necessary steps to bring about a recovery. While the Taoiseach consistently advised that the Government would deal with the overstaffing of the HSE and other organisations, he has opted out completely from any responsibility for curtailing costs and has opted solely for a budget that ensures a cost to every individual, regardless of how little they earn.

I believe this budget will cost a family that earns €60,000 per annum an additional €2,500 between indirect taxes and direct charges. While I wrote the following comment a few days ago, it is still relevant. Possibly the most difficult cut of all is what was done to those who are over 70. The excuses proffered by the Taoiseach and other Ministers about not understanding the position of those over 70 and putting them and their families through such trauma in recent days are nothing but a complete disgrace. The feelings of those people about how they were let down by the Government were to be seen outside Leinster House today. While I welcome the U-turn, it did not go far enough. It should have involved a complete reversion to the previous system. I also welcome the U-turn in respect of the 1% levy. This also was a measure that, good bad or indifferent, was not thought out.

It must be remembered that when the scheme for the over 70s was brought into being in 2002 for election purposes, the then Minister for Health and Children advised that the scheme would cost between €17 million and €19 million. I heard the Taoiseach remark recently that he had thought it would only cost €15 million. However, in the scheme’s first year of operation, it cost €57 million, due to mismanagement and an inability to deal on behalf of the public. In general, health cuts clearly will have a serious effect on the aged and disabled. The fair deal proposal again has been put on hold for up to 12 months and no two members of the Cabinet can give the same advice on what will happen to those needing long-term care in the meantime.

In the limited time I have available, I must condemn the closure of the Army barracks in Monaghan. It has served our country well during one of the most delicate periods in the history [835]of our State. While the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement have improved the situation dramatically in the North and the Border areas, one has only to recall the tragic death of Paul Quinn 12 months ago, the efforts in recent months to take the lives of PSNI personnel and the closure due to a bomb threat of the main road from Clones to Cavan at Wattle Bridge to realise the continuing need for proper security. It is cause for further concern that it is proposed to transfer personnel from Monaghan to either Athlone or Dundalk. The failure to mention Cavan barracks, which is the nearest base, raises questions regarding its long-term prospects. I visited Monaghan barracks on numerous occasions, most recently last Saturday. Dundalk barracks must be a marvellous facility if, as Deputy Conlon suggests, it is an improvement on Monaghan. She must not have visited Monaghan barracks because it is a first-class base which I hope will continue to be used. It is located on a valuable 20-acre site. Why are all the barracks due for closure located in the north of the country? None is located in the Minister for Defence’s constituency or, for example, in Clonmel.

As a representative of counties Cavan and Monaghan, which have a proud record in agriculture, I am extremely disappointed with the removal of the early retirement pension scheme and the young farmers installation grant, as well as the payment reductions under the disadvantaged areas scheme. The new suckler cow scheme is not even in place. In light of the amount of red tape with which farmers must contend, how can any Government Deputy claim that the schemes will still be worthwhile after being cut by 50%? The money will not even be sufficient to pay them for the difficulties they face. Deputy Connaughton will be able to outline these issues more clearly. The cuts in farming generally will be in the order of €3,500 to commercial farmers. That is extremely serious.

It is difficult for farmers to understand that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food failed to get an extension for slurry spreading until the end of the year, which is the period achieved for their counterparts across the Border in Northern Ireland. Clearly, the Green Party has once gain made its influence felt, and not for the good of farming or the environment.

Cavan-Monaghan has lost out under the decentralisation programme. While it was clear from the beginning there was no chance that the Combat Poverty Agency would come to Monaghan town, the loss of 85 jobs in Carrickmacross and 250 in Cavan will have serious consequences during a turn-down in industry and job creation generally. It is interesting to note that decentralisation will come up for review in 2011, which is some time before the next election. Fine Gael has always been in favour of decentralisation provided it is properly organised rather than done purely for political purposes and without pre-consultation. Furthermore, everyone living in rural Ireland will be hit by the increased costs associated with buying, taxing and running cars. The increase of 8 cent on a litre of petrol cannot be justified and may lead to further losses of revenue in the Border areas.

The closure of Monaghan Army barracks is one matter but the almost certain closure of Monaghan General Hospital from tomorrow is quite another. It is nothing short of a disgrace. The Government at least had the guts to change the regulations on medical cards for the over 70s. People have died while Monaghan hospital was previously off call because they could not reach alternative hospitals in time. As the party in power, Fianna Fáil can decide whether the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, will allow the hospital to remain open and it has one more chance to do so. I urge the Minister to stop the meeting from proceeding tomorrow and ensure that the people of Monaghan retain their service. We were guaranteed that alternative services of equal or better quality would be made available before Monaghan hospital was closed or downgraded, but that guarantee has not been met. We will be given four beds in Cavan hospital to replace 58, including an intensive care ward, in Monaghan. My colleagues from Ennis and Galway, Deputies Breen and Connaughton, respectively, will have [836]to deal with similar issues if the Government is not stopped from breaking down our services even as it wastes our money on major increases in administration.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I regard last week’s budget as one of the most unbalanced in the 30 years I have been in this House. Like other Deputies, I realise that we have a huge economic problem on our hands and that if we were to convince the Irish people that they would have to face pain we would need to introduce a budget which balanced pain with the ability to pay. That did not happen, however. The budget struck the wrong balance because it was flawed from the outset. Last week was the first time in many years that every Government Member, including Deputy Gogarty and his Google, stood up to applaud a Budget Statement. As far as Government backbenchers were concerned, there was nothing wrong with the budget. They would not have accepted it if they thought otherwise.

This gives rise to a fundamental question. The elderly people who protested outside the gates today had to ask themselves whether the Government genuinely knows what a medical card means to ordinary people. After what they have heard in the past week, they would have to say the Government does not understand the importance of what I regard as a passport for ensuring the elderly have access to the medical services they need. I do not have time at present to develop this argument but I will get a further opportunity to do so tonight.

I have been an observer of the Government for many years. I was a Deputy in 2001, when the decision was made, correctly in my opinion, to give a medical card to everybody over the age of 70. The problem with the decision was, however, that a general election was held in 2002. I was here on the day in 2004 when the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, stood up to announce out of the blue the decentralisation of 10,000 civil servants. That programme was to be in place by 2007. We decentralised the Department of Defence to Renmore and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to Castlebar during the worst of times 20 years ago. It is a good scheme but the Government has managed to give decentralisation a bad name forever. It also gives part of the health scheme a bad name every time a Government Deputy stands up. All Deputy Gogarty could do was come in with a letter he sent this evening to the Taoiseach in faraway China. I am sure the Taoiseach will be delighted to get a letter from him, given that Deputy Gogarty saw nothing wrong on budget day. It only changed when the decent people of Ireland, many of whom spent a lifetime working in the worst of conditions, had to take to the streets. That is why the letter was sent to the Taoiseach in China, not that he will spend too much time reading it.

I could see straight away that the 1% levy would run into horrible trouble. Why would one ask people on the minimum wage, living hand to mouth, for even the smallest subscription to the Exchequer? It made no sense at all and would have cost more to collect than it was worth, but nobody around the ministerial tables knew that.

That was nothing compared to what was coming down the line. Through the years, we have believed that education is our touchstone. We related any economic success we had over the years to what we have done in education. Primary education is the foundation stone and all Governments have done their best with the resources available to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio. It has not come down nearly enough. It is hard to believe that any Government would be so insensitive as to increase the ratio, thereby ensuring we will lose several hundred teachers. There are two three-teacher schools in my constituency at Fohenagh and Clontuskert. There are 48 pupils in each school and those schools will each lose a teacher next year. Instead of a very good pupil-teacher ratio, there will be a very poor one. If one of the two teachers gets sick, under the details of the budget it may be that one teacher will have to teach 48 pupils alone for a week. That is the poor thought put into the budget.

[837]Particular treatment was given to the farmers of Ireland. In 25 years I never saw this country without an installation aid grant to get young people into farming. I negotiated it in Brussels in 1983 with the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Austin Deasy. We train carpenters and plasterers through FÁS and it is money well spent. Why would we not train and pay a young person to go into agriculture? If they are not trained and highly skilled, we are going nowhere. In one fell swoop, the Government took €15,000 from the pockets of those small farmers. In a double blow, it ensured the EU retirement pension scheme was scrapped as well.

The Government went further in putting its hand into the pocket of every Irish farmer. When the Government brought the hand out it had an average of €4,000 in it. This was done on the basis of the €80 suckler cow welfare scheme, introduced before the last election by the then Minister for Agriculture and Food. Many in the House know that farming is my background and I am involved in the scheme. The ink was not dry on the contract between the Department and me before I was told, after the election three months later, that the sum was not €80 but €40 and, worse, I would have to wait an extra year. That is not a way to do business. One cannot engage in forward planning.

Since we joined the EU in 1973, we have always had headage payments for the worst land areas in the country. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Kirk, was involved in this. We always ensured there was an area-based payment or headage payment for the poor land areas. What did the Government do? Down with the hand again, taking another €1,000 from the top rate. The Government talks about balance in government. I do not have time to go into other things the Government has done. Sectoral interests will be outside the gate because the Government has hit them too hard and is showing that it is not in charge of the ship. I assure Deputies that it will be a winter of discontent.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I am delighted to speak on the budget. Many Ministers were not too happy in Government Buildings today when they read the report about what they thought would solve the problem of the medical cards. A political correspondent had three wise words in the Irish Independent, “listen, learn and inform”. Unfortunately, this Government does not listen, does not learn and fails to inform the public. It will pay the political price for its incompetence.

This was the worst budget in history, as previous speakers have said, and it has tarnished the reputation of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Health and Children and other Ministers. Hubert Humphrey, the American politician, stated: “It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” This budget failed miserably with all those groups, particularly our older people. Many Deputies, particularly those in Opposition, saw the large crowd turning up in Dublin, more than I have ever seen gathered in frustration and despair. The decision to withdraw medical cards for the over 70s shows how out of touch is this Government. A budget that was supposed to tax the fat cats and protect the vulnerable achieved the opposite effect. Since the budget was announced, we have had a series of announcements from the Minister for Finance. We had a panic reaction from him, the Taoiseach and various Ministers. The Taoiseach’s intervention failed and prolonged the anxiety for many people.

We must have a universal health system. For those who have lived their lives, paid their taxes and reared their children, this is what they call patriotism, not what the Minister does. The Government must admit it got it wrong. During Private Members’ Business, there will be an opportunity for the Government Deputies to support this Fine Gael motion.

[838]The Government also got it wrong for our children.

Debate adjourned.

The following motion was moved by Deputy James Reilly on Tuesday, 21 October 2008:

That Dáil Éireann demands the immediate reversal of the Government decision to withdraw the automatic entitlement to a medical card from citizens aged over 70 years.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“—acknowledges the Government’s expression of regret for the anxiety caused among older people in recent days and welcomes the new initiative to allay that anxiety;

supports the decision by the Government to introduce a revised scheme with a gross weekly income threshold of €700/€1,400 (single/couple) (€36,500/€73,000 p.a.) for eligibility for a medical card for persons aged 70 and over so that approximately 330,000 persons aged 70 and over will continue to have a medical card;

recognises that this initiative is within the context of the budgetary parameters set by the Government for the Health Service Executive;

supports the Government’s move towards a single capitation payment to general practitioners in respect of medical card holders aged 70 and over and the process now to be undertaken to advance this;

looks forward to the work to be undertaken in association with the Irish Medical Organisation under the chairmanship of Dr. Michael Barry to achieve savings in drug usage, without compromising patient care; and

supports the Government’s policies to build a fair and equitable health care system by focusing public resources on those in most need.”

—(Minister for Health and Children).

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  It is beyond belief that the Government should seek to make savings on the backs of those aged over 70 years of age. The distress and anger caused by this proposal is palpable and resulted in many thousands of pensioners taking to the streets this afternoon to express their outrage at the Government. They came from all parts of the country to give a clear message, saying to the Government: “Hands off our health care. Hands off our medical cards.”

Not since the tax marches of the 1980s has there been such a display of public anger. In recent days several Government representatives, including the Taoiseach, have tried to make out that their mistake was in not communicating their message properly. This is nonsense because their message was the problem. It was and remains the case that the Government chose to abolish the legal right of everybody over 70 years of age to free medical care. There is no way of dressing this up in order to make it look any different.

Not only did the Government do that but it then decided to cut in half the income limits that apply to the over 70s. It reduced the income limits for a couple from €596 to €298 per [839]week. This savage cut was not mentioned on budget day. I really want to know who gave the instruction to the Health Service Executive to do that. Perhaps the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has just arrived in the Chamber, will clarify that for us. There was no mention of the halving of income limits on budget day. That only became apparent the following day.

Did the Minister approve that savage cut in income limits and give that instruction to the HSE? I cannot see that organisation doing that off its own bat. The real problem, the killer blow in many ways, was cutting the income limits in half. I would like the Minister to clarify for the House tonight whether she gave that instruction.

On two occasions yesterday the Taoiseach misled us by claiming that 70% of people would have qualified for medical cards under the budget changes. This is simply not true.

Deputy James Reilly:  Hear, hear.

  7 o’clock

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  Under the budget changes the income limit was €298 for a couple. Two days later, after the Minister, Deputy Harney’s rushed changes, this was increased to €480.60, which equates exactly to the top rate of the State pension. Therefore, a pensioner with even the smallest occupational pension would lose his or her medical card. In effect, the changes the Minister announced last Thursday made little or no difference to pensioners with regard to their entitlement to a medical card. We know the rule was in place which stated that if one’s only income was from social welfare one would receive the card, irrespective of what income limit was stated. The Minister’s increase, announced with a fanfare on Thursday, made absolutely no difference to the numbers of people who would qualify for a medical card.

Old age brings with it great uncertainty, not least with respect to people’s fears for their health. The greatest fear of many older people is that if their health fails with advanced years, they may not be able to access adequate health care. The automatic entitlement to a medical card gave older people certainty and peace of mind. This budget decision shattered all of that.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  It is hard to believe that a Government that once prided itself on having its finger on the pulse of the people should now be so clearly out of touch with what old people feel about their health. I could not help smiling last week when I heard Councillor Maurice Ahern say that his brother Bertie would never have done this. There are many things about Deputy Ahern I bitterly disagreed with but I will give him one thing. He understood people and he understood human nature. That trait has not been inherited by his successor.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The Deputy and her party could not get Deputy Ahern out quickly enough.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  We kept him for a long time.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  Fianna Fáil kept him for a long time.

After Friday’s climbdown, the Taoiseach now claims that only 5% of pensioners will be excluded from having a medical card. There is no basis to that figure. Under these income limits a great many more than 5% will be excluded from the right to a medical card. One only had to look at the news this evening to see this. In the same vein I had calls to my office this afternoon. Teachers, gardaí and nurses who are retired will now find themselves above those limits and excluded from the free medical card. So, too, will many others, including those the [840]Minister likes to refer to as the “high rollers”. Very ordinary people will lose out under these limits and there is no basis for the claim of only 5%.

Apart from where income limits are set, far more important for many older people is the removal of the legal right. That issue brought people out on the streets today. Once that right has been removed, the Minister can reduce income limits at the stroke of a pen. If the Government could savagely slash income limits last week, is it not very likely it will do the same next year when the economic situation will probably be even worse?

From an economic perspective, retaining the automatic entitlement to a medical card is a no-brainer. The easier the access to primary care, the healthier people stay, and the less likely they are to need hospital care and expensive treatments. The past seven years have proved that. A medical card provides access to community care services which cannot even be bought in the private sector. Drugs costs are far more expensive under the drugs refund scheme than on the medical card.

It is increasingly difficult to stomach Government Ministers telling older people that it is they who must pay for the mess that the Government has created. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, has a cheek to preach to older people about patriotism. He has a cheek to expect people in their retirement to pick up the tab for our economic difficulties while he allows the rich to get away scot free. Contrary to what the Minister claims, it does not have to be like this. The Government had choices to make about how it would balance the budget and rather than protecting the vulnerable, it chose to target them. That choice is morally indefensible, grossly unfair and economically stupid. I support the motion.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  In bringing forward these draconian measures the Government has alienated the most vulnerable section of our society. Those who have reached the autumn years of their lives once had the cushion, the safety and the peace of mind of knowing they could go to a GP in an hour of need, but that luxury is no longer afforded to them. We had lectures last week from the Taoiseach about his republican and egalitarian ideals. What was done and visited upon these people last week was neither republican nor truly egalitarian. It ran counter to anything that is republican or egalitarian.

In the short time I have, I implore the Government to reverse this decision. If the thousands of people who came onto the streets of Dublin today are anything to go by in terms of delivering a short sharp message to the Government, today was the day it happened. The Government must listen to those people who have reached their autumn years and are now worried and full of angst about these measures. If we are truly to be a republic in the purest sense of that word, we must reverse this measure.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  I propose to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Mary Wallace, Deputy Mary White, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, Deputy Timmy Dooley, Deputy M. J. Nolan and the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Mansergh.

As Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I express my sorrow that people felt compelled today to take to the streets in numbers to speak out against the Government, despite the fact that more than nine out of ten people aged over 70 years will retain their medical cards following the decision taken by the Government yesterday. All of my colleagues fully recognise the deep sense of anger people felt on this issue. We have listened, however, and I am pleased that action has been taken to address the matter. The new income thresholds [841]are designed to ensure that the vast majority of people aged 70 years and over will continue to have a medical card and only those on higher incomes will lose their entitlement to a card.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Elderly people are still angry.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  The new income thresholds effective from 1 January 2009 will ensure that more than 90% of people aged over 70 years will retain the medical card.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  That is untrue.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  It is true.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Government’s figures do not add up.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Like the budget, they are full of holes.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  Deputies referred to retired teachers, superintendents and gardaí. In the case of these groups, unless the spouses of those in question have similar income levels, they will not exceed the threshold and will not lose the medical card.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  There are too many Marys in the Government.

(Interruptions).

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

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  Deputy Rabbitte should check the spelling of my name.

A single person aged 70 years and over and earning €36,500 or less per annum and couples earning €73,000 or less per annum can be certain that they will retain their medical card. Persons aged 70 years and over who earn above these amounts will, if they so wish, be considered by the Health Service Executive for a discretionary medical card based on their personal circumstances and medical needs.

Deputies will be aware that 1.3 million people currently have a medical card. The general medical service scheme has worked well since its introduction in 1972. The objective of the scheme is to ensure the medical card benefit is available to those who are unable, without undue hardship, to meet the costs of health services for themselves and their dependants. The number of people with medical cards continues to grow because of the increasingly difficult economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  It is because their income is so low.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  As a result, the cost of the GMS scheme continues to increase, which must be a cause of concern to everyone.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It should especially concern those who have lost their jobs.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  The Deputy is correct as the rise in unemployment adds to the figure. I ask persons aged 70 years and over who have savings not to be concerned. Single persons in this age group may have savings of up to €36,000 without it having an impact on the medical card assessment process.

Deputy Joan Burton:  What if they are saving for a nursing home?

[842]Deputy Máire Hoctor:  I will address that issue in due course. Couples may have twice that figure in savings and only the interest accruing on amounts above these figures will be assessed as income. The Government has taken effective measures to allay concerns by introducing the changes announced in recent days.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  That does not explain the reason 15,000 people gathered on the streets today.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  As the Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I will continue to work with many groups such as Age Action Ireland, the Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament and Active Retirement Ireland with which I have a good working relationship.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister of State should do the honest thing and resign.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  The Government has provided an unprecedented level of funding for older people, with an additional €500 million allocated for services for older people. In addition, more than 10,000 people are availing of home care packages. This figure will be maintained and additional funding of €454 million for the health budget in 2009 will ensure people can remain at home for as long as possible and receive good quality care. Where this approach has worked well, it will also be expanded.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  There is not a Member of the House who does not regret how events have panned out in the past week.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  The Minister of State should spare us the crocodile tears.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  My office, like the offices of all Deputies, has been inundated with queries from older people, sick with anxiety and fear who genuinely believed they would lose their medical cards.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  This is pathetic.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  Under the original guidelines proposed in the budget last Tuesday, 215,000 people aged over 70 years would automatically retain their medical card. Unfortunately, this message was not properly conveyed.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  The Minister of State is misleading the House.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  One 90 year old lady living in a granny flat whose sole income was the old age pension and who had a small amount saved telephoned me last week. When I informed her that there would not be a problem with keeping her card because her only income was the old age pension, she said she understood that everyone aged over 70 years would lose their medical card.

In addition, complications arising from general medical card assessment guidelines added to the confusion. Clearly the Government’s message that 70% of those aged 70 years and over would continue to qualify for a medical card did not get across.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  That is not true.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  People were convinced that their card could be withdrawn and thousands of older people experienced serious anxiety and worry. I am sorry this occurred as it was not the Government’s intention.

[843]Deputy Joan Burton:  The Government is responsible.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  The improved income thresholds announced by the Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children will mean 95% of those aged over 70 years will continue to have a medical card. For the small minority who will no longer be eligible, discretion will be used to take account of difficult personal circumstances. Already, 70,000 medical cards have been issued on these grounds.

There is no doubt given the serious state of the country’s finances that the Government was required to make tough decisions which would have been unthinkable even one year ago. For this reason, it made the difficult decision not to give very wealthy people aged over 70 a medical card. The Fianna Fáil Party and Government have a strong record of supporting the elderly. A few years ago, hardly any older persons received nursing or therapy care at home because such care was confined to hospitals. Currently, 10,000 older people benefit from home care packages and 2,500 additional places have been provided in day and respite centres in the past three years. A sum of €55 million has also been provided for the fair deal scheme.

We can be proud that life expectancy in Ireland has increased by four years since 1996. This rate of progress is unmatched in any other European Union country. I share the concern about the anxiety which was needlessly caused to older people in the past week. There is no doubt that the Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children worked hard over the weekend to find a solution to the problem.

We understand the difficulty of respecting the broad budgetary parameters while taking on board the depth of feeling expressed to us by elderly people and their families in the past week. The work on a new single capitation rate paid to general practitioners for people aged over 70 years who hold a medical card is important. It was difficult for older people to understand the reason a GP would receive €161 per annum for one person and €640 for another person in the same age group.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That was a Micheál Martin special.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption, please. Time is limited.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  Despite the economic difficulties Ireland is experiencing, it is important to have a sustainable scheme in future.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  It is a James Reilly special.

Deputy James Reilly:  I did my job.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  I welcome the fact that Deputy Reilly is taking responsibility.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Where is the Minister, Deputy Martin?

Deputy Mary Wallace:  It was very important that the Government found an alternative solution to deal with the reasonable concerns held by genuine people. Under the revised scheme, the vast majority of older people will continue to benefit from a medical card. It is up to the House to ensure that this message gets across and older people and their families are made aware of that to which they are entitled.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I propose to share time with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

[844]I will not take lectures from any Deputies on the Opposition benches.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  The Deputy was prepared to walk yesterday.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Deputy to speak without interruption.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  My party has responded to and apologised for the hurt caused by the medical card debacle. While we take our share of the blame, we worked hard to reverse the inequities of the scheme. Not so long ago, Fine Gael and the Labour Party opposed universal medical cards. Both parties have shown hypocrisy in preying on the fears of vulnerable people for selfish political gain. Shame on Deputy Kenny and his party.

I have some juicy information about Deputy Reilly. I propose to quote him.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Did the Deputy say the Green Party would pull out of Government? I will lead her across the lobby if she wishes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Deputy to be heard.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Come up those stairs and vote with me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, allow the Deputy to speak.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  It is very interesting to hear what Deputy Reilly had to say a few short months ago: “What I meant was, I did not want 70 year old millionaires——

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  The Deputy is doing Fianna Fáil’s dirty work now. She got that outside in the corridor from Deputy Michael Kennedy.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  ——getting a medical card when Johnny is on two inhalers and his dad is on 15 grand a year and does not have it.” Talk about political cant and hypocrisy.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Deputy should talk about herself, out on the plinth.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  The Deputy should say what she said on local radio in Wexford this morning. The Green Party is the junior partner in Government.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  Let us turn to the Labour Party if we really want to be strong tonight. The last Labour Party Minister for Health said the same thing in 1984 and Deputy Liz McManus in 2004 described universal access as an obscenity.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Deputy to address the House and be heard. I shall ask her to provide the source of her quotation for the records.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. This scheme will support 95% of people with a medical card and that is good.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  The Deputy should repeat what she said on local radio this morning.

(Interruptions).

[845]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Deputy to speak.

Deputy Michael Ring:  You could not allow her — it is hypocritical

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I hate hypocrisy — hypocrisy kills me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to give the source of her quotation.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I thank the Leas Cheann Comhairle. This scheme will support 95% of people with a medical card.

Deputy Michael Ring:  What about the Deputy’s budget speech? I hate hypocrisy. I like straight talkers.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I said from the start that I would not stand over the savage cuts to people who needed medical cards for their medical needs. This new scheme——

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  She said she had not said it in the budget speech.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Hypocrisy kills me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Deputy to be heard.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  ——will target finance to those who need it. I have one sentence to say and I should like to be heard.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy McCormack should please allow Members to be heard in the House.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I want to be heard, too.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy will be called.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  Looking at figures is not enough. Compassion has to be factored into accounting. Last week accounting took over. It must never happen again.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Government is about the allocation of scarce resources. We are at a time of increasing scarcity in our financial resources. I believe it is right for us to try to direct those scarce resources to those with the least means. I very much apologise for the fear and hurt that was caused last week.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That is appropriate.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I do. However, we need to get agreement and certainty on a fundamental issue. Was it right for us to have a scheme when we have scarce resources that have to be allocated, where someone gets a payment of some €660 while someone else, the same age, but in different circumstances is given €160?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Tell Mary.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Ask Deputy Micheál Martin.

[846]Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Deputy Liz McManus, in Opposition at the time, in fairness said——

Deputy Joan Burton:  Where is the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin? Call him in, we want Micheál. Deputy Ryan should let him answer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——GPs were awarded three or four times as much to pay for one group of medical card holders and that this could create an incentive to attract GPs out of areas of deprivation. Deputy McManus said it was inequitable and——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  She was right.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——she was right. It was appropriate for us in Government, when we have a decision to make around scarce resources, to address that fundamental unfairness.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Deputy Gogarty does not agree with the Minister.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The scheme we have ended up with will not satisfy everyone, and I have said I regret very much the insecurity and fear that has occurred. Nobody in politics ceases to be unpopular, but sometimes in Government unpopular decisions have to be taken.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Fair play, full marks for that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The House has a choice tonight to make a real difference between what we all know, in all fairness, is right and what is popular.

A Deputy:  A bunch of fakes, the Greens.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I believe that if we do what is right, fundamentally we will give people the confidence that we can manage our way through what will be a time of real scarcity where we have to manage our resources.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Correct and withdraw this amendment.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  With permission, I shall pass over to my colleague after four minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Certainly. The Deputy is down for five minutes, Deputy Nolan for five and Deputy Mansergh for five.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I believe it is two fours and a two.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That sounds like the size of a floor board.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I deeply regret the confusion——

(Interruptions).

[847]Deputy Timmy Dooley:  ——anxiety, uncertainty and fear suffered by so many people. For several days, on all sides of this House, we have found it very difficult. I am aware that on the other side, constituency offices were inundated with calls, as indeed were mine and those of my colleagues.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I sent them up to the Deputy.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I am sure Deputy Breen did, and rightly so. People wanted to communicate with those whom they had elected to represent them in this House. I want to thank all those who contacted me, whether by phone or e-mail. I have made best efforts to contact most of them and I shall continue over the coming days to reach those I have yet to contact. Many of those I have spoken to are more than happy with the new arrangements announced by the Government.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is like the budget, it does not add up.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  Those to whom I have spoken are clearly happy with the announcement that has been made. It is their view that they will come within the income limits. This, I believe, will help to instil a level of confidence again in the people, and indeed in the Government.

I welcome the efforts of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health and Children over the weekend to respond to the outcry we have seen over the past week and to find a solution to the problem. The process put in place, through consultation with the GPs and the increases in the income limits, while maintaining the budgetary framework, which is important from the Government’s viewpoint, will help to instil confidence in those who were most worried and concerned. Unfortunately, the confusion that arose was of our making and we must take responsibility for that. However, there is a duty now on us to try to explain the message, the mechanism and the system that will be in place from here on, which as many speakers have indicated will more than adequately cover 95%.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is untrue.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  There were untruths on all sides. I heard Deputy Shortall say——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputies know it is not parliamentary to accuse Members of untruths.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The Deputy said that——

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  ——a number of individuals, because they were on the income threshold, would not receive a medical card. There was no reference to medical costs which act as a disregard, and that clearly would have brought them below the threshold for a medical card.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  Like others on this side of the House, I have played my part over recent days in passing on to the Minister the views and concerns of our constituents and we have come up with a disregard.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  The Deputy said the same about Shannon.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy Kehoe.

[848]Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I said at the outset that many people on all sides were concerned about this, but clearly a minority on the other side have sought to whip up fear and have had no regard for the elderly. They have exploited the fears of many people throughout the country.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Deputy Joe Behan, their own man, walked out.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The pensioners are clever. They have been around for a while and they will forgive a mistake. However, they will not forgive the hypocrisy of a number of people on the other side of the House.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael Ring:  Come with us tonight.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Dooley is eroding his colleagues’ time. Deputy Ring, please desist from interrupting.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael Ring:  Deputies opposite have the opportunity to do the right thing and vote with us tonight.

Deputy M. J. Nolan:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I want to put it on record that I will vote with the Government. This has been a difficult time, not just for politicians. It has been a particularly difficult time for the pensioners and their families. I am glad the Taoiseach and Government have admitted they made a mistake. They have apologised and we can move on from here.

It is important to remember that when this scheme was introduced in 2002-03, it was costing something in the region of €20 million to €25 million. Today it is costing €245 million. This scheme was approved at a time of plenty. Now that we are in far more difficult times, changes have to be made and are being made. I think of the families receiving home help. We were told this was one of the areas being considered by the Department and the Government for cutting. We must recognise that it is not going to be easy and that even more difficult times lie ahead. We will have to accept that harsh and difficult decisions will need to be taken.

I am glad that the Minister has asked for a report by Tuesday next and that the Government will make a decision on it at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Moneys should be put into primary care where we are getting best value for it. I commend the Minister for accepting a mistake was made and the Government for rowing back from last week’s position.

It is important to recognise that 30% of Government spending is in the area of health, that we have come from a low base and that we will have to continue to increase that spending. How much time do I have remaining?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Two minutes.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Two years.

A Deputy:  Deputy M. J. Nolan is running out because he is shocked.

Deputy M. J. Nolan:  I am not one bit shocked. As I said at the outset, I have no problem supporting this. The Government recognises its mistake and has now come forward with new proposals.

[849]The problems we are experiencing are not of our own making. There is an international global financial crisis for which we are not responsible. It is partly due to irresponsible lending by banks in the UK. We are in a recession and whether one likes it or not, we will have to make far more difficult decisions in the coming years.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Tax the elderly.

Deputy M. J. Nolan:  We cannot isolate ourselves from what is going on globally. Let us get that straight. Those opposite are going to have to recognise that as much as we are.

Funding should be put into primary care where we are getting best value for it. If the Minister can negotiate, agree and approve the proposal next week whereby one fee will be charged for all medical cards, irrespective of the age of the holder, we will be going a long way towards ensuring we have a better health service.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher:  I did not have to return to the constituency of Donegal South-West to appreciate the anger caused by last week’s decision on medical cards for the over 70s. I first entered this House in 1981 and I have never experienced such anger, anxiety and fear among the over 70s and their families. Even among those who would have qualified under the initial decision, there was the fear of the unknown.

Deputy Joan Burton:  What about the unknown unknowns?

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher:  Perhaps we did not express this in detail. However, I, like many others in my party and on the backbenches, highlighted the issue in the parliamentary party and outside it. I felt it was necessary to do so to give comfort to the people I represent and that I should fight their cause. The Government, including the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance, took on board our concerns. Others in this House might claim they are responsible for the pragmatic change but it was the members of this party who were responsible for it.

Our concerns were taken on board and that culminated in last Monday’s announcement raising the threshold to realistic levels which will ensure that in my constituency in excess of 95% of people will maintain their medical cards. This will ensure that those with State pensions and additional income from occupational pensions are covered. I am confident that the threshold will be linked to the consumer price index but that is a matter for Government.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  It has not been for the past ten years.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher:  The Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach took on board the concerns of people on this side of the House, culminating in this announcement.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher:  I will not be shouted down. I want to apologise to the people of my constituency. I know the threshold will accommodate practically all of those affected.

On 7 December 2000, it was said by none other than the Opposition health spokesperson, Deputy James Reilly: “It is not acceptable that the Government is handing out free medical cards to people who can afford golf club fees and at the same time neglecting those who cannot afford to attend to their children’s health.”

[850]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should identify the quote for the record.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher:  It was said by Deputy James Reilly, as chairman of the IMO general practitioners group, in an interview in The Irish Times on 7 December 2000.

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  It is always regrettable when the Government must take away an entitlement, actual or anticipated. It is doubly regrettable when confusion about those who may be affected causes anxiety among older people who deserve to be treated well by us. Nevertheless, I am happy that arising from the controversy, a fair and well-judged balance has been arrived at between, on the one hand, the cold realities of what the wider community can sustainably afford by way of support for the extended scheme and the genuine needs of a steadily growing number of older people.

There are broadly three categories of people in the over 70 age group — those who have always been eligible for medical cards, others who would have been less well off but ineligible under what was originally proposed and who would struggle to meet heavy medical expenses out of their own pocket even with the support, in many cases, of otherwise strapped family members, and the comfortably well-to-do who are not necessarily wealthy but are, broadly speaking, able to look after themselves, who have health insurance and who, in most circumstances, neither need nor particularly want medical cards. The situation of the middle category especially needed to be addressed following the withdrawal in principle of universal entitlement and I am glad that has been done sooner rather than later and before any changes come into force.

Medical cards mean not merely free general practitioner services and prescriptions but are used as a reference guide for the provision of various free medical aids and home care. They do not affect eligibility for hospital care. This universal entitlement is of recent origin and only a few years standing. While a laudable step which I supported at the time, it has proved a bridge too far achieved only at an excessive cost which now must be revisited.

General practitioners in this country earn a high income compared to their counterparts abroad between, in many cases, large GMS practices and private patients. Perhaps Fine Gael’s health spokesperson, Deputy James Reilly, would enlighten us as to what medical reason lies behind charging a capitation fee of €139 for an existing male medical card patient over 70 living within three miles of the doctor’s clinic——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  ——and demanding a €640 capitation fee, or nearly for times as much, for a better off patient.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister of State without interruption.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Was it simply done——

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow Members to be heard.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  It is hard to listen to that.

[851]Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Was it simply done for income compensation? The vested interests, certainly in this instance well represented on the frontbench, trump value for money considerations in Fine Gael.

The Fine Gael spokesperson on health now claims he is working on a universal health policy scheme. The primary beneficiaries would be, in the first instance, the comfortably well off with medical insurance. Although I accept there are benefits to all in a universal system, it is not a panacea as the NHS experienced resource problems too.

In any case, for better or for worse, the medical profession saw that idea off between 1946 and 1951 when a doctor or doctors forced the resignation first of Dr. Con Ward, as Parliamentary Secretary in charge of health, and five years later, the Minister, Dr. Noel Browne. I hope the Fine Gael policy will have an answer to the key question as to how high a price the medical profession in the IMO and the IHCA will demand to participate, a topic into which Deputy Reilly may have a special insight.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Deputy Mansergh is obsessed with Deputy Reilly.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Next year when the Government deficit will be €12 billion, the cost of the unaltered GMS scheme will have arisen by 20% from €1.7 billion to around €2.05 billion in the context of a total health budget of €15 billion or a doubling of expenditure since 2003. This is not sustainable going into more difficult times. Changes to the capitation fee are essential. The implications for public expenditure of the striking deterioration in the public finances do not seem to have been fully taken on board.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Who was in Government all of this time?

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  This may be the first of several difficult years. My concern would be that if the savings in the budget are not made and if the situation deteriorates more than expected, our ability to maintain the broad level of public services, which are now taken for granted, may be undermined, possibly forcing even more difficult decisions and less discriminate ones.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I must call the next speaker.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  It is essential for confidence and for people’s longer-term welfare that the overall bottom line of the budget be adhered to. That will require some contribution and understanding by everyone in a position to give it, regardless of status, and a readiness by political partners in Government to take a stand on defensible ground with determination.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  What people will remember about this budget is whether we rose to the challenge of helping the country safely through a very difficult time.

Deputy Dan Neville:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Catherine Byrne, Fergus O’Dowd, Kieran O’Donnell, Paul Kehoe, Terence Flanagan, Pat Breen, Andrew Doyle, Billy Timmins, Paul Connaughton, Joe Carey, Michael Ring and Tom Hayes and Deputy Liz McManus.

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

Deputy Dan Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I wish to direct my comments first of all at the backbenchers who claim to have saved the day with regard to [852]the medical cards. Did they listen to opinions and feel the emotions opinions expressed outside the Dáil today or understand the views, reactions and concerns of the people who contributed most to the building of the State and to the standard of living we enjoy? The emotion most expressed was a feeling of betrayal as a result of the withdrawal of a service on which they depended.

How can we respond to people who believed that until they died they would have a medical card and the full services that come with it? How can we respond to those who trusted the Government on that and withdrew from paying private insurance, only to be left now in limbo? How does the Minister propose to deal with that?

There is a fear among the people that once one benefit is removed, another will follow. People have cried talking about this. It is unbelievable to think that the people who are so emotive and upset about what has been taken from them may need to be concerned about losing their other benefits, such as the free fuel allowance and free travel. Once one benefit goes because of cuts, what is to stop the Government removing other benefits?

We have not heard any mention of another group of people, namely, those who expected that at the age of 70, they would receive a medical card. These people, now in their 60s and approaching 70, expected they would get a medical card, but they too have been betrayed. Some Independent Members have said they want clarification. Clarification of how people feel was clearly given today in Kildare Street and Molesworth Street. That clarification must be responded to in the vote tonight.

I will not mention the Green Party, because its position depends on what radio station one listens to. If we listen to a local station, we understand the Green Party is responsible for the changes that have been made, but if we listen to a national station, we understand the party rowed in all the way with the Government.

We put the issue to the backbenchers who wanted change and who must face the people and to Independent Members. I urge them to be accountable now and to vote for our motion and give elderly people who have experience of the university of life their support. These people will not be waved aside any longer. We must listen to them, especially in this regard.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  We in Fine Gael, like the rest of the country, are appalled at the measure to cut the medical card for the over 70s. The elderly population of the country is up in arms following last week’s budget announcement that the Minister for Finance had cut the automatic entitlement to the medical card for the over 70s. The Taoiseach acknowledged there would be some unease at this decision. He certainly knows now the level of unease it has caused throughout the country.

Like other Deputies, I have been inundated with calls and e-mails from worried elderly people and their families. This cut to medical cards will have a devastating effect on their daily lives. Elderly people can be anxious at the best of times, but now they feel their lifeline has been removed. The worry and anxiety being felt throughout the country is being ignored by a Fianna Fáil Government that is hell bent on bringing the country to its knees.

In 2001, when the country was thriving, the Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance at the time, Charlie McCreevy, granted everyone over 70 a medical card, with no strings attached. The Government prided itself on taking care of the elderly and gave itself a tap on the back for this gesture. Seven years later, when the going gets tough, they ask for their money back. Why pick on the elderly? The elderly have shown us that they will not take this lying down. Their response has left us in no doubt that age is no barrier to challenging injustice. Their actions have been an inspiration to us all.

[853]Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  Last weekend, on Thomas Street and in Ballyfermot, people queued to sign a petition calling for the reversal of this decision. I have never seen such outrage. Young and old were appalled by the Government’s decision to cut back on the medical card. The elderly have paid their taxes, done their duty and contributed to the boom over the past 15 years. This is how Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Independents repay them. The Government seems to be all over the place at the moment. The euphoria that first greeted the budget has now diminished, leaving the Government back-pedalling. One Independent Deputy declared he has now seen the light. What a pity he had to go to his constituency before he saw that light.

The Minister now wants to confuse everyone further. Thousands of pensioners will soon receive forms from the HSE to establish whether they are entitled to keep their medical cards. This is a useless red tape exercise that will place an unnecessary burden on the elderly, causing them even further stress and confusion. At yesterday’s press conference, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, stated that she would rely on the honesty of the majority of our senior citizens to declare their entitlement. Are all senior citizens not to be trusted? I reject her choice of words.

Today, outside the gates of the Dáil, people’s actions spoke louder than words. Young and old voiced their anger. The Government must surely realise it has made a huge mistake and must reinstate the medical card. Last night, I attended a meeting in Ballyfermot on the issue, but not one Fianna Fáil representative turned up. The message given to me by the people of Ballyfermot last night was that Ballyfermot will remember that those Deputies did not have the decency to show up; they will not forget it.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  All remaining speakers in this slot will have only two minutes to contribute. Deputies will squeeze others out if they go over time.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  As someone who has campaigned for nursing home care and quality care, I believe I have some standing in this debate. The key difference between what the Government says and what we say is 20,000 people. The Government says that only 5% of those over 70 will not have medical cards, approximately 20,000 people. In effect, that is the number of nursing home beds in the country. It is as if the Government was taking the cards from everybody in those nursing homes only. That is the number it is talking about with regard to this serious issue.

Many of those who will lose their medical card will have held them for seven years or over. They are now 77, 87, 97 or 100 years old. Old people worry disproportionately about these issues. I charge the Minister and the Government with lack of concern and care for these people. We all know that cancer, heart disease and stroke have no respect for age or income. Whether one is a millionaire or a pauper, when cancer visits one’s home, family, father or mother, we want care and comfort for that person. The care and comfort medical cards give is unbelievable and that is what brought people onto the streets today. The medical card is the comfort society must give to those most in need, both the very young and the sick and dying. The Government cannot and must not remove these 20,000 cards. That is unacceptable in a modern democracy.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I fully support the Fine Gael motion. On tonight’s news the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was quoted as saying the Government had learnt [854]from its mistakes and the matter was now resolved. It is far from resolved. The Government is completely out of touch. It has broken a sacred bond with the people. It has broken their trust. The people voted the Government in and it has broken the bond of trust with the elderly. When the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, introduced the medical card scheme for the over 70s in May 2001 he said in this House:

It is important that we as a society show our commitment to the elderly and our appreciation for what the older generation has done to build this country. Elderly people have greater medical need than other age groups.

Shame on the Government, which is turning its back on the elderly. The same circumstances still apply. In pointing out that at the time only 30,000 people did not qualify for a medical card, the then Minister, Deputy Martin, said: “More than 1.15 million people in the country have a medical card so 30,000 is not an enormous figure”. A figure of 20,000 is even smaller and is still not an enormous figure. The Minister, Deputy Harney, has said that only 5%, one person in 20, will not have a medical card. It is one in seven out of 140,000 who will lose a medical card. Like in the budget, the Government’s figures do not add up.

This is a poor public health decision. If it costs €1,650 for a medical card, the cost of two nights in a hospital is far in excess of that figure and puts the Government’s primary health care model to shame. The Minister, Deputy Harney, is quoted as saying the 2% health levy would not apply to anyone over 70 who previously had a medical card. Does that still apply because I saw nothing in yesterday’s announcement to confirm that? I would like the Minister to put it on the record. Shame on the Government.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  I very much appreciate having the opportunity to speak on this motion. It saddens me to need to come to the House to speak on such a motion which arises because the Government is so shameless. Thousands of people over 70 years of age were on the streets of Dublin today. I heard on the news this morning that some of them had got out of their beds at 3 a.m. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Harney, was not out of her bed or even awake in her bed at 3 a.m. thinking about people on pensions, some with diabetes, some in wheelchairs and others who have had strokes or heart attacks. They got out of their beds and travelled from throughout the country.

I heard Deputy Mary White speak on our local radio station this morning. She was asked why she gave the Minister for Finance a standing ovation after his Budget Statement. She said that she was so overwhelmed by the budget that she gave him a standing ovation. She said that at no stage in the Minister’s speech did it mention taking the medical card form the over 70s. I am very disappointed that Deputy White has left the House.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  All the Government backbenchers have left the House.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  In his Budget Statement the Minister for Finance told the House: “The Government has decided to abolish the automatic entitlement to a medical card for those over 70 who are above the eligibility criteria”. How plainly can the Minister put it for Deputy White to understand?

Deputy Michael Ring:  She was blinded by the lights.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  Deputy White is like a junior infant partner in Government who claims that it was the bigger boys and girls in the Fianna Fáil Party who got it wrong. If there is collective Cabinet responsibility, what about the Ministers, Deputies Gormley and Ryan? What [855]are they doing at the Cabinet table? Are they there just holding up the table for the Government? The Green Party is like global warming in Iceland — it cannot stick the heat.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  I thank my colleagues, Deputies Kenny and Reilly, for tabling this motion. Like most Members across this House I am angered and enraged with the harsh realities of the budget. After almost ten years of unprecedented wealth in the economy being blown, the Government has let the people down. It has especially let down senior citizens, some of whom are here tonight. Their work helped sow the seeds of the Celtic tiger and some of them needed to pay up to 77 p in the pound to the Exchequer during their working lives. It is obvious in recent days that the Government decision to means test for the medical card for the over 70s has backfired very badly.

Having attended both the Age Action protest yesterday and the Irish senior citizens rally today, and having stood shoulder to shoulder with those senior citizens it is obvious the real power does not lie in here in Leinster House with the politicians but with our senior citizens. We owe them a debt of gratitude for all the work they have done for the country. We should certainly stand by them in their hour of need. Fianna Fáil should not take back their medical cards nor should it start tinkering with income limits.

The budget announcement created unnecessary fear, anxiety and unrest among the elderly. The decision to means test all over 70s for a medical card was cruel, wrong and a bad day’s work by the Government. The change announced yesterday still imposes means testing on all new applicants. Although the Government has stated that almost 95% of the people will retain the medical card, I would not believe it. I do not trust the Government because it has not been upfront and has not published the figures. The Minister has not given a guarantee that the income thresholds will not be reduced again in future years. Fine Gael wants universal health care. We want everyone to be treated equally and we want all Members in the House to support the Fine Gael motion.

Deputy Pat Breen:  Today many of us witnessed scenes reminiscent of the French Revolution’s storming of the Bastille. One could almost hear the tumbrels going down Kildare Street where people from all parts of the country were forced to take to the streets of Dublin. I congratulate them on taking part in today’s march and I pay tribute to them for coming out in such great numbers. Many of them even travelled from my constituency of Clare.

The Minister and the Ministers of State present tonight should hang their heads in shame. Last week many of them could not wait to applaud their colleague. My God, one week makes an awful difference in politics. The former US President, Harry Truman, once said: “If you can’t convince them, confuse them”. For the past eight days the Government has been confusing the people.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  It was Opposition Deputies who did that.

Deputy Pat Breen:  However, the Government cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the older people. No amount of tinkering with the scheme’s income limits will mask how it got it so wrong. The only reason it was forced into a climb down was to save the blushes of the backbenchers.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  They have an election coming.

Deputy Pat Breen:  When the tactic of confusion did not work, it sent out a south Tipperary Deputy on a national radio station looking for the head of the Minister for Health and Children in order to blame somebody else. Before the Taoiseach took the slow boat to China he said [856]on RTE news on Friday night that he knew there would be a problem and defended the decision in the House. This was the Government’s fifth attempt to explain the new income limits. It got it wrong and it is time for it to allay the fears of the pensioners it has punished. The former US President, Harry Truman, also said: “If you can’t stick the heat, get out of the kitchen”. I am urging everybody, including Government backbenchers, to join the revolution. Come with us in Fine Gael and vote with us tonight. The Government got it wrong and should admit it. It should rescind this disgraceful decision.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  The first line of the Government amendment seeks for Dáil Éireann to acknowledge “the Government’s expression of regret for the anxiety caused among older people in recent days and welcomes the new initiative to allay that anxiety”. Anyone in Bray last night or outside here today will recognise that statement is not true and is not believed. Yesterday evening I heard on the radio a description of the coalition that had been put together last year as a rocket, assembled by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, with several booster jets to make it secure. One of the booster jets, Deputy Finian McGrath, fell off the day before yesterday. I wonder why we are here at all because on several occasions he enunciated that he had done a €250 million deal with the Government. I presume that is now null and void. Perhaps we should investigate that deal to ascertain if we can save any money from it.

  8 o’clock

I ask those on the Government side to stop putting out the figures that this scheme originally cost €15 million and is now costing €245 million. It was looking to save €100 million. An amount of €145 million was there all the time. The Government should not claim it started at €15 million and is now costing €245 million. It never was. A total of €145 million is still intact on the basis of people who qualify under the social welfare system, as outlined in the Budget Statement. The only thing wrong is not that the Government fails to recognise this is a mistake and it is stubborn and obstinate but that it will not give in completely. The people do not trust the Government to leave the universal care for people with medical cards intact. It is open to manoeuvre by reducing income limits or raising age limits. Somebody said the age limit would be raised to 90, which illustrates the level of distrust among the elderly. It is not a sin to make a mistake but it is a sin not to acknowledge and rectify it.

Deputy Billy Timmins:  I have great pleasure in supporting the motion. The Government has spent a political generation flinging money at every problem. The only decision it had to make was how much. As a result, there is nothing in the coffers and the Government cannot tell right from wrong, good from bad, as evidenced by the budget it produced. Many Government Deputies and, in particular, the two Ministers of State at the Department of Health and Children referred to the need to assure people and to make sure there was no confusion while the Minister of State at the Department of Finance used the rather crass term “the comfortable well to do with private health insurance”. Many people who are not comfortable nor well to do have private health insurance because they have no confidence in the system over which the Minister for Health and Children and her Government partners have presided during an unprecedented boom because it was not improved.

I recently had discussions with Age Action Ireland and a number of elderly people who drew my attention to their concerns about the VHI abandoning community rating. Has the Minister had meetings with VHI officials at which they proposed to abandon this policy? If she has information, perhaps she will brief the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, who is replying on behalf of the Government. Has the VHI plans to abandon community rating, which is in place to ensure people can afford health insurance? Many people who were granted a medical card gave up their health insurance but they may have to rejoin the VHI in more difficult circum[857]stances. It is imperative that the Minister brings clarity and reassures people about what she knows about this issue.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Minister and the Government even now cannot get into their heads the importance the elderly people attach to the simple medical card because the power and the privilege have gone to their heads over the years being driven around on the best leather seats with their backsides on the back seat of the Mercedes. They are completely out of touch. It is unbelievable that in a country of 4 million people, 14 Ministers around a table could be so far removed from how the other half live. That is why there was so much anger outside the gates earlier. Given the Government’s proposals regarding education services, there will be even more people outside next week.

The collective arrogance of the Government is breathtaking. Many people said today — I know this given my background — a medical card is a passport to health services that they otherwise would not be able to access. The Minister still does not recognise this. Do people with cancer aged under 70 have to go through a means assessment to obtain a medical card? I understand they must but a Government Deputy stated on Galway Bay FM earlier that they would have a card by right. Is that right or wrong?

Deputy Joe Carey:  Politics is about people and Fianna Fáil has forgotten this principle. Last week the Government parties began a holy war against the very people who elected them to represent them in this Parliament. If Fianna Fáil and the Green Party vote down the motion, they must understand they are doing away with the automatic entitlement to a medical card for the over 70s. In two years the Taoiseach has managed to blow the boom. We are faced with a deficit in the public finances of €15 billion because of his incompetence and, to add insult to injury, he has turned on the pensioners to make them pay for his mistakes.

In the past week, untold confusion, hurt and pain has reigned among the senior citizens of the State. My colleagues and I have been inundated with calls from people in distress crying on the telephone, which is terrible. The Government parties have brought this on them. Shame on them for that. Following five different announcements on the public airwaves and a great deal of confusion, the Government is still holding its ground and it will take the medical card off the over 70s. If the Government is allowed to proceed with this drastic measure, where will it stop? Will the free travel and free electricity schemes be abolished? Shame on the Government parties for establishing the principle of hitting the most vulnerable in this budget. Elderly people in their tens of thousands travelled to our capital city today, many of theme from my constituency in Clare. The very people who built this country have been let down with a bang by the Government. All eyes are on Leinster House and on the Government parties and Independent Deputies. I call on them to support Fine Gael and reverse this lunatic decision.

Deputy Michael Ring:  W. B. Yeats once wrote, “This is no country for old men”. I would like to add that this is no country for old men and old women. Last week my blood pressure went up when I looked behind the Government front bench as the Fianna Fáil choir clapped and roared. The only thing they did not do was sing The Soldier’s Song, Sinne Fianna Fáil, because they were clapping and roaring for this wonderful budget. What happened since last Tuesday? They all went home at the weekend and I told them the people would respond. I put it on the record of the House over the past few years that the people would soon be on the streets. I say well done to the women of Ireland and to the men of Ireland, the over 70s and the under 70s for coming on to the streets today because this is the second time this year they have put two fingers up to the Government. What is wrong with this Government is it is run by the Civil Service while Ministers sit in their Mercedes or in the front seats of Aer Lingus aeroplanes. Many Ministers spend more time in the air than any aeroplane of Aer Lingus. [858] They have lost touch with the people, they have lost contact with the people and it is time to get them out of Government. The people should not forget them this time. They have codded the people for 50 years and it is time to get rid of them, get them out of power and put in a new Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I remind people in the Visitors Gallery that applause is not appropriate.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I thank Fine Gael for tabling this important motion and for giving me a few minutes to set the record straight. During my time in the House, I have become used to Fianna Fáil spinning the truth out of recognition but the deputy leader of the Green Party sank to new lows earlier.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  She is a fake.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I now understand that the Green Party is craven, dishonest and despicable in its politics.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I have stood, as the Labour Party has stood, for universal values and for free access to primary care. The Minister could stand over that. I have been highly critical of the deal done with the doctors but my stand for many years has been for free access to primary care. I remind the Green Party that the Labour Party stands for universal values. We opened the doors of the universities——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Liz McManus:  ——through Niamh Bhreathnach’s decisions and contributions in Cabinet. We opened the doors to hospitals. We will ensure that the elderly have the security of free primary care, as will younger people who need that peace of mind. That is what we stand for.

We had to listen to the distortion voiced by the deputy leader of the Green Party, Deputy White.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  A rant.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I will tell the House what an obscenity is. An obscenity is to see a man with an oxygen tank outside the doors of his Parliament, pleading to get some protection in his old age. It is a woman on a zimmerframe, as we all saw today. That is what a real obscenity is and that is what Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats are presiding over. I condemn them and urge anyone with a conscience to vote with this side of the House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will now call on the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney. I need hardly remind Deputies that he should be afforded the same courtesy and be listened to in the same silence as he showed when listening to other contributors.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Hear, hear.

[859]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I take the opportunity to apologise for the concern and hurt——

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  The Minister of State’s apology is no good.

Deputy John Moloney:  Did I say something wrong?

Deputy Michael Ring:  The Government was caught.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am sorry if Deputy Shortall is hurt by my apologising.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  He is sorry for himself.

Deputy John Moloney:  I do not have to be, thank God.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Why is the Minister of State sorry?

Deputy John Moloney:  I will continue. I wished to reaffirm my apology. I also take this opportunity to reaffirm my full support for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I am delighted to work in the same Department as she does because of her integrity——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Ministers for Finance and Defence blamed her.

Deputy John Moloney:  ——and, more importantly, because I believe she has the integrity to carry out her task of reforming the health service.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister of State to finish.

Deputy John Moloney:  In recent days, much confusion has been set among the elderly.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Minister of State used to be an undertaker. He is doing a great job.

Deputy John Moloney:  Whatever I was, I am very proud of it. For the record, I am proud to be a sixth generation undertaker.

An Ceann Comhairle:  And so you should be.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  The Minister of State will be getting more business.

Deputy John Moloney:  I want to make a point without interruption, if possible. The confusion last week was aided and abetted by some members of the Opposition——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Government did not need any help.

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Moloney:  ——who tried to sow the seeds of concern.

An Ceann Comhairle:  In all fairness, the Minister of State sat and listened in silence to other contributors. He deserves the same courtesy.

Deputy Michael Ring:  He knew we were right.

[860]An Ceann Comhairle:  This is a democratic forum and people must be heard.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  Fair is fair.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am sure that I will get another minute from the Opposition.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He is provoking us.

Deputy John Moloney:  The confusion, set in the main by the Opposition, created the impression among everyone over 70 years of age that they would lose their medical cards. It was never the case.

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Moloney:  I was one of those who stood to support the budget and I still do. I do so because it was an attempt to separate those who could afford medical care from those who could not, so that we could provide funding for new services such as the cancer control programme, the fair deal and, in my area of responsibility, support for 125 therapists. I am proud of this.

I will also make the point, without interruption if possible, that I am proud of Fianna Fáil’s involvement in government over the years, particularly our care of the elderly.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Was the Minister of State proud of the 15,000 people outside?

Deputy John Moloney:  I am delighted that the Minister has, in the past three years, provided €500 million for care of the elderly.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There is still confusion.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am happy to know that much needed funding for the care of the elderly, the fair deal for nursing home subventions and many other provisions will be supplied.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  What about the fair deal? Where has the Minister of State been?

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Moloney:  As a Government party, we took the initiative and provided free travel, which was much maligned by the then Opposition, and other support programmes. I am proud of the fact that, as a local Deputy in County Laois, I have provided 29 houses for the elderly, which I opened in my home town of Mountmellick three years ago. I got €3.4 million from the Department.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  From where did the Minister of State get it?

Deputy John Moloney:  From the Department responsible for housing.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Taxpayers paid for it.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am pleased with that and I would challenge any member of the Opposition to state what he or she has done in this regard.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister of State to finish.

[861]Deputy John Moloney:  I wish to clarify an issue raised a few minutes ago regarding private health care, another ruse used in recent days. I thank a correspondent with The Irish Times for information I gleaned from that newspaper. In 2001, 88,989 people over the age of 70 years had private health care. I have spent the day listening to comments about how people in that group have withdrawn from private health care, but the reality is that there are currently 121,776 people——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The population has changed.

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Moloney:  I am sure that all of the immigrants have private health care. Is that what Deputies are suggesting?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Is that something of which we should be proud?

Deputy John Moloney:  If I can, I wish to take a minute to——

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister of State’s time has concluded.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Thankfully.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Minister of State’s time is up.

Deputy John Moloney:  I thank the IMO for entering into negotiations and——

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Moloney:  ——I congratulate Deputy Reilly on his excellent performance. While I agree with him on his negotiating skills, it is difficult to believe that he has the hypocrisy to table a motion before the House when, last December, he stated that he did not believe in cover for everyone over 70 years of age.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Fianna Fáil has been in government for the past seven years.

Deputy Michael Ring:  He is sorry that they were caught.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  I would like to share time with Deputies Gregory, Reilly and Kenny.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  In the good times, the House got used to budgets being produced on the back of an envelope. When the Government introduced the early child care supplement, it had no idea that it would need to pay for children whose parents were in this country while the children were not resident here. It cost millions of euro more than expected.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  When the Government announced decentralisation, it chose a pick and mix of towns around the country, no deal was negotiated with the public service unions, it cost a fortune and it was not delivered. The same applies to the over 70s medical card. On the [862]news last Friday night, the Taoiseach stated that it was originally to have cost €15 million but by the end of the year it cost €51 million. Whose fault was that? It was not the fault of the man on my left. It was the fault of the Government opposite who did such a bad job of negotiating the deal.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The then Minister, Deputy Martin.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  Now that we are in recessionary times, our budgets are still being written on the back of an envelope. The Government is making it up as it goes along. The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, believes that the confusion has mainly been caused by the Opposition. This decision was announced in last Tuesday’s budget, it was explained later in the day by the Minister for Health and Children, it was supposedly clarified in the Dáil by the Taoiseach on Wednesday, it was confused in the Chamber by the Tánaiste on Thursday; we were told on Friday night that there would be a process and a fee structure, on Sunday we were told that there would be an announcement and, when the announcement was finally made on Tuesday, it inspired such confidence that 15,000 real patriots were out on the street today to tell the Government what they thought of the decision.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  All that the Government can tell us is that it regrets the confusion and fear. It is the Government’s incompetence——

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  ——that has whipped up this fear. The real fear is that the Government is still supposedly in charge. The Taoiseach further muddied the water in the House yesterday when he failed to give a clear answer to Deputy Kenny on the other free schemes. He told Deputy Kenny that anyone with a cursory knowledge of social welfare knows that it is the entitlement to pensions that provides the link. In the case of free travel, it is not the entitlement to a pension that provides the link. Rather, it is being over 66 years of age. It is a universal payment. People are right to wonder whether it will remain so.

The Government tells us that the scheme is not sustainable as structured. It is the Government’s structure. I do not believe the figures of 5% because the Government is not capable of making the assessment. Some 15,000 people outside Leinster House today agreed.

Several people asked me today whether it was not only bad enough to lose a spouse without immediately losing one’s medical card because one is suddenly over the limit and, consequently, fails the income test. The loss of someone’s husband or wife will become a financial gain for the Government. The Minister of State did not clarify the issue when asked. This is the reality.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  He did not clarify it last night either.

Deputy Máire Hoctor:  That is rubbish. The Deputy should get her facts right.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is not rubbish.

Deputy Joan Burton:  She is right.

[863]Deputy Olwyn Enright:  The Minister of State’s false regrets and speeches show that he does not listen and understand. When he walks up the steps tonight, he will show people that he does not care.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Tony Gregory:  I welcome the opportunity to put on record my support for the elderly and for their just demand to retain the entitlement to a medical card for the over 70s in the face of this Government’s shameful attempt to renege on that entitlement. In recent days, the elderly have demonstrated to all vulnerable sections the real meaning of people power and how to respond to injustice. I sincerely hope other vulnerable sections will learn from the pensioners’ example of how to mobilise and fight back.

We all know there is a financial crisis, but who created that crisis? It was certainly not the over 70s who built this country. It was the bankers, the developers and their political friends who caused the crisis. What does the Government do? It bails out the bankers and victimises the elderly and other vulnerable sections. Of course, there is always €70 million to be found for the horse and greyhound racing fund. The Government thought it had some easy, soft targets, but the elderly have put paid to that illusion. Pensioners have achieved in six days what the cosy partnership led by the ICTU constantly fails to achieve — a real defence of the disadvantaged in society.

Last week’s Budget Statement was an exercise in hypocrisy, with its constant references to protecting the vulnerable when it did nothing of the sort. The elderly have changed all that by forcing this Government into a humiliating U-turn with a very clear message that the people do not want a two-tier health service. They want equality of treatment for all, based on medical need. That is the essence of automatic entitlement to the medical card for the elderly and that is why I support them.

Deputy James Reilly:  Many people have questioned why I might have changed my stance on this issue. After seven years of universal provision of the medical card for over 70s, what was originally a political stroke has proven to be a serious social and public health gain for all the people in that age group. This has been one of the most important debates in this House in many years and I am honoured to be part of it. I also feel honoured to be able to stand up in this Chamber for my father’s generation. This is the generation that paid 60% tax, that educated itself in the absence of free education, that emigrated en masse before returning to work to make this country what it is today.

The motion before the House is a simple one. It calls on the Government to reverse its decision to remove universal health care from the over 70s. It urges the Government to stop tinkering at the edges, with its confusion and minimalist concessions. We have had five changes to the income threshold in recent days. To cause even further confusion, the thresholds have moved from net income to gross income. We have been told that the people at whom this measure is aimed are millionaires. The reality, however, is that the gross threshold means that the garda married to the nurse will not be entitled to a medical card. The nurse married to the teacher may not qualify. These are not millionaires. They are the ordinary people of middle Ireland, the people who have worked hard, defended us, raised us and nourished us.

I said in this Chamber last night that the Government is out of touch with the people and out of sync with its backbenchers and that thousands would descend upon this House today if it did not reverse its decision. That is what happened. I was out there today and it was an extraordinary sight to see people on walking aids and in wheelchairs — 15,000 elderly people from the four corners of this country. And what was it all for? For the sake of €20 million, as [864]the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, told us yesterday. This sum could have been found by putting an additional 10 cent on a packet of cigarettes. Some €20 million, and much more besides, could have been secured from the bankers who got off very lightly.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy James Reilly:  An additional €100 million or €200 million from that source would not have gone astray. Instead, however, the Government went after the elderly whom it perceived as the soft option.

This was a lazy budget, but its laziness reveals the true face of the Government. It is a Government that talks about protecting the elderly, the vulnerable and the young but let us look at what it does. It performed a dawn raid on the elderly, taking their medical cards from them at a time when their pensions have evaporated in the turmoil of the international markets. This is the Government that failed to support the elderly with the long-term nursing home legislation which has been repeatedly promised and which has signalled its intention to impose an additional €200 a week on nursing home costs by reducing the relevant tax relief.

This is the Government whose meanness is personified by the removal of the disabled person’s allowance from children aged 16 to 18 years and its replacement with the domiciliary care allowance, resulting in an annual loss of €6,000 to the families concerned.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy James Reilly:  This is the Government whose meanness will result in the terminally ill, who were always entitled to a medical card heretofore, having to undergo a means test, with many of them likely to fail that test. Will we now have a situation where a 75 year old man lying on his deathbed must wrestle with his conscience as to whether he should give up his medical card or not, with the Minister for Health and Children’s words ringing in his ears: “The Paymaster General knows your salary”?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy James Reilly:  Fine Gael believes in universal health care for all. We will strive to achieve that through our policy commission. Our neighbours across the water were able to introduce it in 1948, despite having been brought to their knees by a world war that lasted six years.

The bottom line is that the trust is broken. Once the principle of universal provision is gone, the Minister can reduce thresholds with a stroke of her pen whenever she likes. We are at a crossroads. We can vote one way for liberty — the liberty of the elderly to live without the worry of medical expenses. We can vote one way for equality, so that all over 70s are treated the same. We can vote for fraternity, all of us standing together on this issue. Or we can vote for the way of the Minister for Health and Children, Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and their discredited Ireland which robs the elderly of their medical cards.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The motion before the House is simple. It calls on the Government to reverse the decision that was taken to withdraw the universal principle of a right to a medical card for persons over 70 years of age. In my long experience in this House, I have never witnessed what I saw on the streets today. We saw the ignominy brought down on the elderly by this Government, forcing them to travel from the four corners of Ireland to stand up for [865]what they believe in, in the country they built. The deep sense of guilt was not appreciated by the Government.

When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, came into the Chamber to deliver his radical budget, he quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Franklin Roosevelt also said that a radical was “a man with his feet firmly planted in the air”. The Government is doomed by its own hand. The carry-on in recent weeks is evidence of the greatest incompetence of any Government of the last 40 years.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Government could have done it so differently. There have been three botched attempts to quell a backbench revolution. There have been three botched attempts to quell the fears of thousands of elderly people. The Government could have made the savings required by a switch from branded to generic drugs, via pay freezes, through redundancy savings in targeted schemes or by means of a far more aggressive quango reduction. It did not do so. Instead, it chose to use the elderly as a tool or weapon, reducing them to economic statistics.

As Deputy Connaughton remarked, cosseted as the Ministers are in their State cars, they forgot that people are the centre of politics. They sat around the table in Government Buildings and decided on the proposal by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to end the universal right to a medical card for people over the age of 70. The Government forgot that people are central to politics. In the US, such complex matters are dealt with by way of KISS, keep it simple stupid.

Elderly people do not want to be pressurised about means tests and application forms or have to worry about their property, their savings, what they have in the bank, whether a man from Government will call to their home or if they will lose their right to the medical card. They do not want that. There are anxious about what might happen to themselves and their families. As has been pointed out, they know, understand and appreciate the value of that little card, which is a psychological comfort to them. They know it brings medical benefits when they need them. It is the one certainty of which they are sure in their twilight years. It might not be the best of service; it might not be world-class, as we would like, but the medical card is a passport to a service. It is this psychological relief that the Government has done down. It has completely misread the situation.

The Government has been surrounded by creature comforts and has forgotten that people are central to politics. People will not forget what the Government has done on this night, 22 October 2008. They will remember that members of the Fianna Fáil Party, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats Party and, apparently, two Independents voted in Dáil Éireann to bring to an end the universal entitlement to a medical card for people on reaching 70 years of age.

The great Thomas Jefferson said: “Take not from the mouths of those who labour the bread that they have earned.” Not alone did the elderly earn this medical card but the Government told them they earned it and they trusted and believed Government, a trust and belief now trampled upon and left broken by the actions of Government. I say to the Members opposite that courage and principle is what they need now. I invite them, when they walk up the steps, to think not of me or of Fine Gael but of the faces of the people who voted for them in the last election.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is well over time.

[866]Deputy Enda Kenny:  They are the people who shook their hands and wished them well in their work for the country. They should think of their sense of disappointment at what they are now doing and of their own sense of guilt when they walk through the division gates to end a right given to the elderly seven years ago.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is well over time.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I believe that when they walk through those gates they are making a statement to the effect that they believe that should end. I reject that. Let it be said that Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats and some Independents will have inflicted a scar on the body politic of this country, the likes of which has not been seen for 50 years. Long after we all leave here, people will not forget what the Government has done.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny, I must put the question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That scar has been created by Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats Party. It has been created by cynicism and a lack of respect, appreciation, competence and confidence. Surely, this Judas response to the elderly will be the Government’s epitaph.

I commend the motion to the House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  For the aged and elderly of this country, I propose that under Standing Orders the vote be taken by other than electronic means. I ask the Government to walk through the lobbies. If the Greens wish to cycle through the lobbies, they are welcome to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The vote will proceed.

Amendment again put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 81; Níl, 74.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Dermot.
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Andrews, Chris.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gallagher, Pat The Cope.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McDaid, James.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 Mansergh, Martin.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Bannon, James.  Barrett, Seán.
 Behan, Joe.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gregory, Tony.  Hayes, Brian.
 Hayes, Tom.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Hogan, Phil.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Shatter, Alan.  Sheahan, Tom.
 Sheehan, P. J..  Sherlock, Seán.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

[868]Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  As provided for under Standing Orders, we are giving the Government one more chance to support the Fine Gael motion, especially the backbenchers who have been so vocal over the past week, saying one thing in their constituencies and another in Dublin. I call a vote to be taken by other than electronic means.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That vote will now proceed.

Question again put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 81; Níl, 74.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Dermot.
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Andrews, Chris.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gallagher, Pat The Cope.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McDaid, James.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 Mansergh, Martin.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Behan, Joe.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Creed, Michael.
 Creighton, Lucinda.  D’Arcy, Michael.
 Deasy, John.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gregory, Tony.  Hayes, Brian.
 Hayes, Tom.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Reilly, James.  Ring, Michael.
 Shatter, Alan.  Sheahan, Tom.
 Sheehan, P. J.  Sherlock, Seán.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  Who is taking the Adjournment matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Mary Wallace.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  I am disappointed the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, did not remain in the House for another five minutes to listen to this issue because it is important.

[870]We have just had a vote about protecting the vulnerable in society and this is another issue whereby the vulnerable are being made pay for the waste of this Government. Eight primary schoolchildren from across counties Laois and Offaly attend St. Colman’s national school in Mucklagh outside Tullamore for the specific purpose of attending a speech and language class. Some of these children, particularly those from County Laois, leave home at 8 a.m. and make a two-hour round trip because this is the only speech and language class for their age group in these two counties. Their parents made a difficult decision in choosing to take them out of the far more convenient local schools in which they were settled but in which they did not have the assistance they needed. Their schools could not give them the intensive therapy they required.

On average each child gets the opportunity of only two years of such intensive therapy. They get it because they were assessed as needing this assistance by both an educational psychologist and by a speech and language therapist. They need it because, without it, despite having average IQs like every other child in their schools, they will not be able to read, do mathematics or access the school curriculum. Some of these children started in St. Colman’s only last September.

  9 o’clock

Last Friday the parents of each child received a letter from the Health Service Executive telling them that the speech and language therapist is to commence maternity leave at the end of October. I hasten to add that she is perfectly entitled to do this. However, there will be no cover for her when she leaves next week. When the speech and language therapy manager applied to the HSE to recruit a locum to help these children that permission was denied. From next week, therefore, these eight children who attend this special class will be taught by their regular teacher and will have no speech and language therapy.

We have been told time and again by this Government that frontline services will not be cut and that the vulnerable will be looked after. It seems, however, that this Government cannot resist the chance to give the vulnerable a kick at every opportunity. These children have already received therapy in clinics in counties Laois and Offaly but it was found not to work for them because of the level of their difficulty. That solution is not an option for these children. They have a lifelong disorder but can achieve full and active participation in education and in life if they get the help they need.

Their therapist will be absent for the remainder of the school year and these children will only have received seven weeks of therapy in the 2008-09 school year. This is an utter disgrace especially when one considers there are plenty of unemployed speech and language therapists around the country who could do this work. Instead of helping this vulnerable group of children, the Government and the HSE have chosen to assign them to exclusion and isolation. They are excluded from the help they need and also excluded from the ability to read, to learn and to participate. They are excluded from the very act of being able to communicate.

The Department of Education and Science pays to transport these children to this school for the specific purpose of getting this service but the service will not now be available in the school. What stage have we arrived at when we cannot even cover maternity leave and ensure that these children get the help they need? How can such a cruel decision be made? Two therapists in counties Laois and Offaly will go on maternity leave next week. The other person is attached to the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore and her leave is to be covered by a locum. What is the difference between the two? Why cannot the leave of the person in the school be covered? What happened to the supposed commitment to community care?

[871]The Government has the opportunity to reverse this decision and the lives and futures of eight bright young people and their families depend on it. I ask the Minister of State to reverse the decision and provide these children with their full and assessed entitlement to this service.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, is just leaving the Chamber. He said today that he had learned from the medical cards controversy but this decision shows that he has not done so. As Minister of State in the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney will be aware that a similar situation pertains for another group of children in Portlaoise who are also affected. Much of their therapist’s leave fell during the summer, however, so they lost three months of therapy. This is still significant when only two years are provided.

The State will pay more for this decision in the long term in terms of the costs incurred by these children missing out. However, what they will have lost is incalculable. I hope the Minister of State will be able tell these eight families tonight that their children will get a proper speech and language therapist and that the woman who is to go on maternity leave will be able to take her leave knowing the children for whom she has worked so hard will receive proper care.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  The Deputy is referring to the forthcoming maternity leave of a speech and language therapist who provides services to children in the speech and language disorder, SSLD, class in Mucklagh national school, County Offaly.

As the Deputy may be aware, an arrangement currently exists between the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Education and Science to provide school-based speech and language therapy to children via attendance at a specific speech and language disorder class. These classes are based in mainstream schools and usually have a pupil to teacher ratio of 7:1. Speech and language therapy is provided by arrangement with the Health Service Executive and the therapy delivery is integrated with the educational provision. There are currently 54 specific speech and language disorder classes in the country.

Currently the only model of intensive speech and language therapy provision available to children with specific speech language impairment, SSLI, is through attendance at a specific speech and language disorder class.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  That is the problem.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  Children attending such a class do so on a full-time basis, for an average of two years.

The HSE has informed the Department of Health and Children that it has consistently endeavoured to prioritise the provision of speech and language therapy to children with speech and language delay or disorders. This prioritisation of speech and language therapy is evidenced by an increase in the number of speech and language therapists employed by the HSE from 498 whole-time equivalents in December 2004 to 733 whole-time equivalents in September 2008.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  Do the children in question not deserve to be prioritised?

Deputy Mary Wallace:  With regard to the temporary vacancy arising in the specific case raised by the Deputy, the Health Service Executive is required to work within its current overall approved employment ceiling and the financial resources available to it. The ability of the executive to provide locum cover in this instance must be considered in that context.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  The Government’s cut excludes and isolates the children in question. It is pathetic.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise this important issue on the Adjournment. Many people await a response in respect of the health repayment scheme. The issue I raise concerns a lady in my constituency, God rest her, who died on 5 January 2002. Numerous representations and requests have been made by her family and a second application form was submitted under the repayment scheme when the first form went missing.

Since the establishment of a process to make repayments, parliamentary questions submitted in 2006, 2007 and 2008 have been met with the same extraordinary response, one which I specifically reject as inconsistent and incompatible with the rules applying to the Houses of the Oireachtas. As parliamentary questions pertaining to this matter are forwarded to the Health Service Executive, Deputies do not receive a reply in the House. Instead we receive letters thanking us for our recent correspondence seeking information regarding an application and stating that data protection rules governing the repayment process are particularly strict and primarily aimed at protecting privacy. This is a load of rubbish and the suggestion that the Data Protection Act precludes the HSE from providing an answer is nothing more than an attempt to cover up inadequacies and inefficiencies.

The Data Protection Act does not apply to Members of the House as we are registered under the Act. I reject any attempt by external bodies, agencies or individuals to withhold information from the Parliament on the basis that they are prevented from supplying such information under the terms of the Data Protection Act. No such rule or regulation applies to Parliament and any attempt to subvert the activity of the Oireachtas by making a suggestion of this nature is illegal and unconstitutional.

I am sure many other people find themselves in the same position as the family of the woman in question who has made regular inquiries. An agency received a substantial amount of money to operate the repayment scheme. While I do not propose to provide a figure because it does not improve with repetition, it irritates me to receive letters suggesting I cannot be given information because the HSE is precluded from imparting such information under the Data Protection Act. This is not the case.

I ask the Minister of State to get hold of the relevant person by the scruff of the neck, give him or her a good shake and inform him or her that Deputies have had enough of this nonsense. Let us deal with the issue and pay the bills. Failing that, we should walk off the pitch.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this matter. I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out the position regarding the health repayment scheme.

Following consideration of the implications of the Supreme Court judgment of 16 February 2005, the Government approved a statutory based repayment scheme. The Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006 provides a clear legal framework to repay recoverable health charges for publicly funded long-term residential care, including contracted beds in private institutions. All those fully eligible persons who were wrongly charged for publicly funded long-term residential care and are alive will have their charges repaid in full. The estates of all those fully eligible persons who were wrongly charged for publicly funded long-term residential care and died since 9 December 1998 will have the charges repaid in full.

Recoverable health charges are charges that were imposed on persons with full eligibility under the Health (Charges for In-patient Services) Regulations 1976, as amended in 1987, or charges for inpatient services only raised under the Institutional Assistance Regulations 1954, as amended in 1965. It is only these charges which are repayable under the scheme.

[873]

The health repayment scheme was launched in August 2006 and is administered by the Health Service Executive in conjunction with the appointed scheme administrator, KPMG-McCann Fitzgerald. The scheme is progressing as speedily as possible and every effort is being made to settle claims as quickly as possible. The HSE has advised that the vast majority of offers under the scheme will have been issued by November of this year. It has also indicated that as of 10 October 2008, more than 34,500 claim forms have been received, 13,843 payments totalling more than €288 million have been processed and 18,365 offers totalling more than €344 million have been made.

The time taken to process an application under the scheme is dependent on the complexity of the application, namely, the number of institutions in which the patient resided and the availability of accurate information on the amount of repayment due. In this regard, all relevant HSE facilities, more than 350 in total, have been visited by the scheme administrator to retrieve records of payment. In addition, the HSE has been working closely with the scheme administrator to put in place the necessary protocols to facilitate the processing of any claims where there are incomplete records available on a patient’s period of long-stay care or on payments made. These protocols have been developed in accordance with section 6 of the Act.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Minister of State should not insult my intelligence by reading the rest of the reply.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  I will not upset the Deputy by referring to the Data Protection Act. In regard to the specific claim raised, where the mother of the applicant was a resident in an institution who died in 2002, an application form was received by the scheme administrator in August last year and the repayment is being processed.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  That was the second application.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  It is expected that the claimant will receive the scheme administrator’s decision in regard to the application in the coming weeks.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I ask the Minister of State to call the HSE and ask that it put an end to this nonsense.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  After the day we have all had, one could be forgiven, in considering the unprecedented scenes we witnessed outside the House, for believing that measures related to medical cards for those aged more than 70 years were the only major mistake in the budget. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The disability sector has been decimated by the budget. I will explain in case Deputies are not aware of some of the measures. The budget was peculiar in so far as some of the detail did not emerge until individual Ministers spoke afterwards. While the Budget Statement provided a global picture, it was only when Ministers spoke afterwards that we learned the detail of other budgetary measures.

Until now, children with special needs or a disability received the domiciliary care allowance worth €299.50 per month until the age of 16 years, at which point they automatically received the disability allowance. Under the budget, the disability allowance will increase to €204 per week, leaving a difference between the two payments of approximately €500 per month. The Government sank to a new low in this budget by providing that children with a disability or special needs will no longer automatically transfer to the disability allowance but will instead [874]wait until they reach 18 years before receiving the payment. This will result in a reduction in payments of €7,000 per annum for each child or €14,000 for the two-year period during which, as a result of a Government decision, children between 16 and 18 years will no longer be eligible for the payment.

Teenagers with special needs have similar, if not greater, needs than other teenagers. Will the new provision be retrospective? Will the disability allowance be withdrawn from those children aged 16 or 17 years who have been in receipt of the allowance for six months or a year? This is the first time I have noted that measures have been introduced retrospectively in the budget.

Other benefits associated with the disability allowance, including eligibility for a medical card, do not attach to the domiciliary care allowance. Will the medical card be removed from people with a disability or special needs who, under the new measure, will receive the domiciliary care allowance until the age of 18 years? When people become aware of this measure, they will arrive in droves outside Leinster House. Will the entitlement to free travel also be removed for teenagers who have to travel to schools outside their parishes? In tonight’s reply we will be told about the increase in funding that has been provided for the disability sector over the last number of years, but there will be no mention of what we have gained for this extra spending. Reality on the ground is that there is over a two year waiting list for occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and social skills training — if that ever existed. Early intervention is key to providing for the future of children with disabilities. For a child with disability, every day without these essential therapies is a day lost, never mind two years.

Families use the allowance provided to bypass the waiting list and seek the care and intervention necessary for their children. A cut in their allowance, €7,000 a year, will result in many children not getting the help they so urgently need, and they will not become the fully functioning adults that we had desperately hoped they would be. On RTE Radio 1 on Saturday, 18 October, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan said, “We have to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and these are the people on social welfare payments”. This underhand move to withdraw payments from the very people he purported to protect is another example, along with the medical card fiasco for the over 70s, of this budget targeting the most vulnerable. It has been clear for a number of years that this Government cannot protect the sick and it is now clear that it does not want to protect the elderly or those with disabilities. The question is very clear. This particular move has to be reversed, and it will be, by force of public opinion. In the meantime, to clarify certain positions, will people who are now between 16 and 18, on disability allowance, have their allowances removed? What is to happen in relation to the medical card that normally comes with this, and the free travel pass? Is this Minister prepared to stand over that? These savings are colossal for those least able to give them up, so what is going to happen to that money?

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  I thank Deputy Lynch for the opportunity to set out the background and context for the changes being introduced to the disability allowance, DA, and domiciliary care allowance, DCA, schemes. The current arrangements provide that DA, a weekly payment made to persons with a disability whose employment capacity is substantially restricted by reason of his or her disability and whose means are insufficient to meet his or her needs and those of dependents, can be paid from age 16. This age limit was established in 1953 as a qualifying condition for the disabled person’s maintenance allowance, DPMA, and was carried into the DA when it replaced the DPMA in 1996. It was linked to ability to work at a time when most young people would have left school by the end of 16 years to enter the workforce.

[875]The social welfare system does not, in general, provide benefits which could be viewed as encouraging early school leaving and, accordingly, 18 is normally used as the minimum age for qualification for means-tested payments in a person’s own right.

The National Federation of Voluntary Bodies is an umbrella organisation for 63 voluntary agencies which provide direct services to people with intellectual disabilities. Its members account for in excess of 85% of this country’s direct service provision to people with an intellectual disability. In its submission to the Department’s review of the DA, the federation argued:

At present the age for receipt of DA is 16 years. We deem this to be too young. This does not give an incentive for a child to pursue work/education options. Subsequently a child may fall into the dependency trap too early. Instead parents should receive the Domiciliary Care Allowance for the child until they are 18 years old.

The Government has decided to implement this change. The age of eligibility for entitlement to DA is being increased from 16 to 18 for new claimants only. This change will not affect existing 16 and 17 year olds on DA.

The DCA has hitherto been payable to parents of children from birth to the age of 16 who are living at home and have a severe disability requiring continual or continuous care and attention which is substantially in excess of that normally required by a child of the same age. As an alleviating measure for the change in the DA scheme, the age for entitlement to the DCA is being increased from 16 to 18 years. The Deputy will be aware that the medical card is means tested and can also be given as a discretionary card to people with severe needs — and of course, those young people may be eligible for that as well.

Parents who are caring for a disabled 16 or 17 year old on a full-time basis may also qualify for carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance if they are receiving the DCA. In practice, children in respect of whom DCA is in payment are deemed to require full-time care and attention, thereby satisfying one of the key conditions for receipt of carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance. Those who are already in receipt of one of these carers payments will, of course, continue to receive the payment.

The Deputy asked about free travel to take these young people to special schools outside the parish. Young people who are attending special schools also qualify for free travel to and from such a school. I can assure Deputy Lynch that the Government will continue to prioritise enabling young people with disabilities to reach their potential through education and access to work, while also supporting their families as carers.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  As Deputies will be aware, among the cuts made in last week’s budget was a decision to close off the early retirement scheme and the installation grant scheme for farmers. Overall, the allocation to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was reduced by 13%, over €210 million, with particular impact on the crucial area of research and development as, for example, with the cut of over €10 million in the Teagasc budget.

The actual size of the cut in the allocation for the two schemes I refer to is small within the context of the overall budget, but it represents a severe blow to those directly concerned. In my motion I specifically refer to those young farmers who qualified earlier this year for their farm certificate, awarded by FETAC, but whom, it would appear will not now be granted installation aid. I have details of 23 young farmers in County Kerry who are in that position. They were all informed in July that they had qualified for the certificate and assured in writing [876]by Teagasc that the certificates would be issued to them within six weeks. I have a letter from Teagasc to the students, dated July 2008. It says:

I enclose a statement of your results in the above programme. If you have any queries about your results you should lodge an appeal, in writing, with your College Principal or Education Officer within ten working days of receipt of this letter.

Your FETAC certificate will be forward to your college or local training centre and FETAC tell us that this could take up to six weeks. The college/centre will then arrange to have it forwarded or presented to you. Please retain it carefully for future reference.

This is a letter from Teagasc certifying that these 23 young farmers, after doing a two year course, had qualified for the green certificate. That was in July, but as of yet they have not received it. Theoretically, at least, they are not now in a position to apply for installation aid and that is a major setback to young farmers starting out in life.

I also make the general point that closing the two schemes, as already mentioned, is a grave mistake. During the summer I met farmers in the west as regards the report being compiled for the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. One of the issues raised regularly is the fear that young family members will not continue to farm and that a family tradition will come to an end. Where there is no interest in taking over a farm, there is nothing anybody can do but we are talking about young men who want to farm, who have trained themselves to farm and badly need whatever aid is available to get a start. Abolishing such schemes represents a vote of no confidence in rural Ireland.

There are massive areas of potential within farming which can be tied in to the overall rural economy and farmers have been encouraged as part of the reformed CAP to examine new systems such as energy crops and other non-traditional enterprises. Therefore, to reduce the resources devoted to research and development and to discourage young people from taking up farming makes no sense. People want to continue in farming, but massive obstacles are being placed in their way. The closing of the retirement and installation schemes is yet one more such barrier.

I tabled this motion particularly on behalf of the 23 young farmers who come from all over County Kerry. As I said, it took them two years to do the course — two days a week, travelling to the Teagasc centre in Killarney, putting in a huge effort. Part of the reason for doing that is to qualify for whatever start up grants are available for young farmers. I ask the Minister to look at this. The very fact they qualified in July makes them eligible for such grants. To do otherwise would be an abnegation of all responsibility to these young people by the Department.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Trevor Sargent):  Is mian liom ar dtús buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Ferris a thug an deis dom an rún seo a phlé. Ireland is currently experiencing a period of economic turbulence stemming from both international and domestic factors and the context for this year’s budget differs very considerably from those in the past 15 years. The most recent figures from the Department of Finance show that revenue is anticipated to fall by 13% compared with the 2008 budget estimate. This shortfall highlights the precariousness of the current situation. Based on these figures, it appeared that the Government deficit would be approximately 8% next year.

This is why this Government has had to act to take remedial action over the budgetary situation by utilising prudent measures. This will ensure that the Irish economy is in a position [877]to ride out the current economic storm and to move back to higher levels of growth in tandem with the global economy.

Some of these remedial measures relate to schemes operated by my Department, including the installation aid scheme. This scheme was established under the aegis of the National Development Plan 2000-06 and provided a grant of €9,523 to successful applicants between the ages of 18 and 35 years who set up in farming for the first time on or before 31 December 2006. Its aim was to encourage young trained people to engage in farming.

The principal requirements of the scheme were that applicants must be first set up on a holding of at least five hectares of eligible land and be between the ages of 18 and 35; generate a minimum of 20 income units from farming within 12 months of the date of set up and have a total income of at least 50 income units within two years of set-up; and complete the educational requirements within two years of set up. To date 5,377 applications have been received and 4,147 payments made totalling €38.5 million.

The installation aid scheme was replaced by the young farmers installation scheme and was introduced in June 2007 under the aegis of the 2007-13 rural development programme. It provides a higher grant level of €15,000, an increase of 58%, to farmers between the ages of 18 and 35 years who are set up in farming for the first time on or after 1 January 2007.

The principal requirements of this scheme are that applicants must generate a minimum of five production units from farming at the time of first setting up or within 12 months of that date; fulfil, within two years of first setting up on the farm the educational requirements of the scheme; submit and complete a business plan; obtain title-leasehold title to at least 15 hectares of eligible lands in less favoured areas or 20 hectares in other areas; and have not more than €50,000 in non-farm income in a designated tax year. Since the launch of the young farmers installation scheme in June 2007, 983 applications have been received under the scheme and 311 payments made totalling €4.7 million. All commitments entered into under the young farmers installation scheme up to and including 14 October 2008, budget day, will be honoured by my Department.

On the specific point raised by the Deputy, the scheme includes a wide range of educational certificates available to determine eligibility. An applicant has two years from date of set up to complete the agricultural experience and training requirements of the scheme. It is recognised that it may take some time to be presented with the actual certificate from the awarding body. In such cases, Teagasc or the awarding body can confirm achievement of the award thus ensuring the applicant can be paid. The young farmers installation scheme is fairly broad in the number of awards that it recognises towards eligibility.

I also emphasise that a number of farm tax measures were renewed in budget 2009. These are part of a number of schemes and reliefs that have been put in place in recent years to bring about improvements in land mobility that will, in turn, improve productivity and efficiency, particularly for young farmers.

These reliefs include the renewal of stamp duty relief for four years until 31 December 2012, worth an estimated €53 million in a full year; the renewal of stamp duty relief for farm consolidation for two years from 1 July 2009 to 31 June 2011; the renewal of both the general and the young trained farmers rates of stock relief for a further two years, estimated cost to the Exchequer of €2 million in a full year; and the extension of the accelerated capital allowance for necessary farm pollution control facilities from 31 December 2008 to the 31 December 2010, worth an estimated €10 million in a full year.

[878]

When combined these farm tax measures are estimated to be worth over €65 million in a full year. In addition, the top rate of stamp duty on agricultural land transactions is being reduced with effect from 15 October. This should reduce the cost of agricultural land to purchasers and encourage a higher number of transactions. All these measures will help young farmers to improve land mobility, increase land swaps and attain higher environmental standards.

I want to confirm to the Deputy that payments under the scheme will be made to an applicant who has met the education and training requirements provided that the other criteria of the scheme are met.

Ar deireadh, má tá litir nó eolas ag an dTeachta Ferris maidir le cás nó cásanna faoi leith, gheobhaidh mé freagra dó, má thugann sé an t-eolas sin dom. I wish to be of assistance and if there are specific details which I did not have when the matter was tabled, I would like to get them in order that I can give the Deputy a more detailed reply.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 23 October 2008.

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

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Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, answered orally.

Question No. 6 resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 7 to 17, inclusive, answered orally.

  18.  Deputy Darragh O’Brien    asked the Minister for Defence    when he expects to receive the marine accident investigation report into the sinking of the Asgard II; when he expects to be able to make a decision on replacing or restoring the Asgard II; the arrangements that will be in place pending the restoration or replacement of the vessel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34750/08]

  23.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Defence    if a survey has been carried out on the Asgard II which sank on 11 September 2008; if it is considered beyond repair; his views on replacing it with the Jeanie Johnston as the national sail training vessel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36264/08]

  46.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    the investigations that have been held into the sinking of the Asgard II off the French coast in September 2008 ; the results available from any preliminary investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35872/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 18, 23 and 46 together.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is a statutory, independent body, is carrying out an investigation into the cause of the sinking of Asgard II on 11 September. I have no information as to when the result of that investigation will be available.

Asgard II was insured with Allianz Plc in the sum of €3.8m. Following consultations with insurance company representatives, Coiste an Asgard decided to arrange a survey of the vessel using a remotely operated vehicle in order to establish her status prior to any decisions being [880]made in relation to salvage. This survey, which was carried out between 26 and 29 September, revealed that the vessel is lying upright in eighty metres of water close to where she sank and appears to be largely intact. Damage to one of the hull planks has been observed but it is not possible, at this stage, to determine whether this has resulted from impact with the seabed or was the original cause of the sinking.

At a meeting between Coiste an Asgard and Allianz on 9 October, it was agreed that Allianz would seek tenders for the salvage of Asgard II and that a decision on whether or not to proceed with a salvage operation would be made in the light of the outcome of the tender process. I understand that the closing date for the receipt of tenders is 31 October.

Pending a decision on the future of Asgard II, the board of Coiste an Asgard is considering the question of procuring a suitable temporary replacement vessel. At this stage I am not in a position to indicate when a decision might be made as to whether or not to procure a replacement vessel.

  19.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has provided the improved accommodation and additional human resources promised in Dáil Éireann on 2 July 2008 to help the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces deal with their increased work load; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36031/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces was established under the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004. On 19 September 2005, Ms. Paulyn Marrinan-Quinn SC was appointed by the President, upon the recommendation of the Government, as the first Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. Her term of office was recently extended for a further three years from 19 September 2008.

I am advised that the Ombudsman has a staff level of four (4), consisting of the Ombudsman, an investigating officer, an office manager and clerical support. My officials have had discussions with the Ombudsman about the workload of the Office. However, in the light of the restrictions on public service payroll costs there are no current plans to assign additional staff to the Office.

The Office of the Ombudsman is currently located in Hatch Street, Dublin 2. I have supported the request from the Ombudsman to the Office of Public Works for alternative accommodation. I have been informed by the Office of Public Works that they have identified a premises which might meet the accommodation needs of the Ombudsman. This building has been inspected by an official from the Ombudsman’s office and a response is awaited from them.

I am confident that the Ombudsman will utilise all existing resources in continuing to fulfil her role. The situation will be kept under review with the Ombudsman.

  20.  Deputy Noel O’Flynn    asked the Minister for Defence    the safeguards the Defence Forces have in place to ensure that replica weapons are not substituted for real weapons held by the Defence Forces; if the Defence Forces conduct regular audits of their arsenals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35006/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  There are existing controls in place to ensure that there can be no interference to inventoried weapons assigned to a Unit of the Defence [881]Forces. All weapons are stored in sound and secure premises where access is restricted to designated personnel. There are frequent and detailed inspections of the serial-numbered assets and items of controlled stores.

Defence Force Regulation L2 on Weapons, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Items of Ordnance and Defence Force Regulation S2 on Financial and Accounting Instructions comprehensively outline the schedule of checking required in respect of all serial-numbered items.

A check of all items within an armoury bearing a serial number, including all weapons and calibre, is conducted at least once per week. The check of all serial numbered items is certified with a report to the Unit Commander. The discovery of any deficiencies is notified immediately to the Unit Commander. Any such instance, where theft or fraud is involved, must be notified to the Chief of Staff who is required to report the matter immediately to the Secretary General of my Department. An annual stocktaking of all Unit Ordnance Stores is carried out by a Stocktaking Board. The Board is required to complete a certificate outlining all items checked. The certification is furnished by the Officer Commanding the Unit to the General Officer Commanding the Brigade/Formation or Service concerned.

A routine inspection of all weapons and ammunition assigned to the Defence Forces is initiated by the Director of Ordnance at least every twelve months.

  21.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason for the 49% decrease in the estimate of expenses for the Defence Forces in regard to travel and freight services. [35868/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The reduction in funding is due to the fact that substantial travel and freight costs incurred this year on the initial deployment by the Defence Forces to the EUFOR Chad mission will not arise in 2009.

  22.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will proceed with the Naval vessel replacement strategy to cover the period up to 2012 to ensure that the operational capability of the Naval Service is commensurate with the roles assigned to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36266/08]

  29.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to proceed with the acquisition of three new vessels for the Naval Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35891/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 29 together.

The Naval Service provides the maritime element of the Defence Forces and has a general responsibility to meet contingent and actual maritime defence requirements. In the 2000 White Paper on Defence, the Government decided that the Naval Service would be based on an 8-ship flotilla and committed to a modernisation and replacement strategy to maximise the operational capacity of those 8 vessels consistent with the roles assigned to the Naval Service. The White Paper specifically provides that “New vessels will be brought on stream to replace older ones as these fall due for replacement”. Naval Service Vessels are replaced when they have come to the end of their useful life, which is normally around 30 years. Three ships will fall [882]due for replacement over the next 3 to 5 years — LE Emer, commissioned in 1978, LE Aoife, commissioned in 1979 and LE Aisling, commissioned in 1980.

Following a detailed examination of the needs of the Naval Service within my Department, a vessel replacement strategy for the Naval Service was put in place to cover the period up to 2012. The strategy combined with a continuous process of refurbishment will ensure that the operational capability of the Naval Service is maintained at a satisfactory level.

Following Government approval in July 2007, notice of a tender competition for the purchase of replacement vessels for the Naval Service was sent to the Official Journal of the European Union on 24 August 2007. The competition is for the purchase of two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) with an option of a third and one Extended Patrol Vessel (EPV) with an option on a second. The options provide an effective value for money opportunity, at locked in prices, to provide replacements for Naval Service vessels which will reach the end of their service life in the years immediately following the current replacement programme.

The closing date for stage 1 was 26 October 2007. Stage 2 of the competition for the OPVs, which included a very detailed ship specification, commenced recently with the issue (on 12 September last) of an Invitation to Tender to the shipbuilders who had been short-listed following Stage 1. Detailed tender responses are due back in the Department from the shipbuilders on or before 11 November next. Tender evaluation will commence immediately afterwards and, subject to Government approval on funding, it is intended to award a contract for the OPVs to the preferred bidder in the first half of 2009. Subject to Government approval on funding, it is expected that the new vessels will be delivered for acceptance by the Naval Service on a phased basis between 2011 and 2013.

In relation to the larger EPV, the Department intends to undertake further analysis of the proposals received, following Stage 1, before the second stage is initiated. As with the OPVs, any decision to award a contract for the purchase of an EPV must be approved by the Government.

In the current difficult economic environment, it will be important that we look to the efficiencies which all parts of the public sector can make so as to continue to deliver high quality public services within a more constrained financial resource envelope. However, it is also important that we continue to invest in public services so as we can maintain service levels into the future. We need to continue the process of modernisation and reinvestment in the Defence Forces into the future and in particular, in the Naval Service Ships Programme.

The acquisition of these modern new vessels will ensure that the Naval Service will be fully equipped to carry out its day to day roles in enforcing the states sovereign rights over our waters and our fisheries and meeting Ireland’s obligations in the area of maritime safety and security and fisheries protection.

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 18.

  24.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of personnel on the payroll of his Department in 1997, 2002, and 2007; the number in each year who were members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and civil service staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34984/08]

[883]Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The total number of personnel on the payroll of my Department is as follows:

Permanent Defence Force Civilian Employees Civil Service Staff* Total
31/12/97 11,472 1,260 426 13,158
31/12/02 10,559 1,025 415.1 11,999.1
31/12/07 10,434 829 385.4 11,648.4

The figures for civil service staff in 1997 and 2002 include staff of the Civil Defence Branch which was set up as a statutory board in 2003. The branch had a staff of 25.5 in 1997 and 21 in 2002.

  25.  Deputy Darragh O’Brien    asked the Minister for Defence    the certification difficulties regarding the helicopters used by Irish troops in Chad; the implications for Irish troops and the mission; the steps being taken to resolve this issue; the measures he has taken to ascertain the way that this difficulty arose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34751/08]

  50.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    if the two Ukrainian crewed helicopters hired to support Irish troops serving with EURFOR in Chad are still available; if these helicopters are certified to carry passengers; the cost to date of hiring these aircraft; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35882/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 25 and 50 together.

I am advised that the Defence Forces signed a contract at the end of May 2008 with a UK company, Air Partner Commercial Jets, for the charter of two Ukrainian Mi -8T helicopters. Air Partner contracted the two Mi-8Ts helicopters from the Ayr Group UK, the owners of both helicopters. The helicopters operate on the civilian register under a company based in the Republic of Moldova called Pecotox — Air. Mi-8Ts are a standard helicopter and are familiar to the Defence Forces as they are used by the UN on many peace support operations in Africa and were the type of helicopter made available for the Defence Forces most recently when they were deployed on the UN mission in Liberia.

The two helicopters arrived in theatre on 28 June 2008. The Defence Forces contracted the helicopters for the operational deployment of troops and to facilitate the rapid movement of supplies, stores and equipment from the Forward Logistic Base in Abéché to the Battalion base in Goz Beida. Each helicopter has a lift capability of twenty-four personnel or four tonnes of cargo, with the ability to carry 3 tonnes under-slung.

The contract duration is scheduled for ten months, expiring in April 2009. The cost of hiring the helicopters to end September was €820,000. The full contract value will ultimately depend on the number of hours flown by the helicopters over the duration of the contract but is expected to be in the region of €3m.

The aircraft are based in Goz Beida, in South East of Chad, where the main body of Irish troops is located. The contract for the helicopters includes the provision of crew, maintenance [884]and insurance, with the Defence Forces liable for the cost of the aviation fuel required for the operation of the helicopters. The flying and maintenance crew of the helicopters are Ukrainian.

In late September, a question arose in relation to the certification of the two helicopters for use with passengers. The issue that arose was a regulatory, licensing issue relating to civilian registered helicopters and did not reflect on the safety, technical or operational functions of the helicopters.

Pending the resolution of the matter, the transport of Defence Forces personnel on board the helicopters was restricted. The helicopters remain operational for the use of cargo and emergency evacuation purposes, as required, to support the operation in Chad.

I have requested a report from the Chief of Staff in the matter. In tandem with my request, the Secretary General of my Department has asked the Internal Audit Unit in the Department of Defence to carry out a full audit into the placing of the contract for the helicopters. The audit is under way at present and it is the intention to pass the findings of the audit to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I am taking a keen interest in this matter. The safety of our troops on overseas missions is paramount and the decision to suspend the carriage of military personnel on the helicopters is absolutely necessary.

The report from the Chief of Staff and the audit report from the Internal Audit Unit in the Department are a prerequisite in deciding the best course of action on the issue and any further action will have to await the completion of the reports.

  26.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    when he expects to receive the report of the consultancy on the sustainable provision of the relevant medical expertise and services to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35892/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  Military medical services and their facilities exist to maintain the health of the Defence Forces and to support them in operational and overseas activities. The focus of the military medical service is on primary care, occupational medicine, acute trauma management, preventative medical programmes and field medical training.

The challenges in the medical arena have been recognised for some time and a review of the provision of medical services, in association with the representative associations, is ongoing as part of the Modernisation Agenda for the Defence Forces.

In view of the complexity of the challenge facing the Defence Forces in this area, I decided to engage consultants to make recommendations on the best means of meeting the medical requirements of the Defence Forces. The consultancy will focus on the sustainable provision of the relevant medical expertise and services to the Defence Forces.

PA Consulting has been awarded the contract for the medical consultancy. I expect the report to be delivered before the end of the year. I eagerly await receipt of the report and I can assure the House that following consideration of the recommendations I will publish the report and engage with all of the key stakeholders on its implementation.

The development of the Medical Corps forms part of An Agreed programme for Government. I am committed to providing a sustainable medical service to meet the needs of the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. Notwithstanding the current situation, I can assure [885]the House that Defence Forces personnel requiring medical treatment are getting the care they need.

  27.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    if a decision has been made in regard to the replacement of the Air Corps Cessna fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35896/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The issue of the replacement of the Air Corps Cessna Fleet is under consideration. The question of funding the replacement programme has to be considered in tandem with the overall equipment requirements of the Defence Forces generally and the funding available for this.

As the Deputy may be aware, a very significant level of investment in new equipment for the Air Corps has taken place in recent years.

The comprehensive investment programme included: The delivery of eight Pilatus training aircraft at a total cost of €60m, inclusive of VAT; Two light utility EC 135 helicopters acquired from Eurocopter S.A.S. at a cost of €12.8m, inclusive of VAT; Six utility AW 139 helicopters acquired from AgustaWestland, Italy at a cost of €75m inclusive of VAT, the final helicopter is scheduled for delivery this month; A major mid life upgrade on the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft, at a cost of €16.5m.

  28.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    if it is intended to proceed with the acquisition of new light tactical armoured vehicles for the Defence Forces; when these vehicles are expected to be acquired; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35890/08]

  54.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Defence    if the new economic circumstances will prevent him entering the contract for the purchase of 27 light tactical armoured vehicles as planned; if a final purchase price has been agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35003/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 54 together.

A tender competition is well advanced for the acquisition of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles for the Defence Forces. The intention is that the LTAV will complement the Mowag Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) in the conduct of conventional and Peace Support Operations and will fill a gap that exists between soft-skinned vehicles and the Mowags.

The acquisition of Light Tactical Vehicles is regarded as a priority by the Defence Forces given the nature of their roles on overseas Peace Support Missions, the threat from improvised explosive devices and the potential for hostile fire in certain threat environments. As Deputies will appreciate, force protection is a key issue in overseas peace support operations. Taking account of recent operational experience of overseas contingents, it is important that any potential gaps identified are addressed as a matter of urgency so as the State can discharge its duty of care to deployed troops.

The proposal is to acquire an initial twenty-seven vehicles (17 for overseas mission and 10 at home for training). The tender competition will allow for the option to acquire another twenty-seven vehicles over the next few years to meet its requirements depending on the threat [886]faced by the Defence Forces in operational deployments. There is a sum of €6m in this year’s Estimates provision as a down payment on an LTAV contract. The results of the tender competition will dictate the overall cost of the project.

Three vehicles have been selected to go forward to the trials stage of the tender competition. They are the RG 32M from BAE Systems, the LMV from Iveco Defence Vehicles and the Eagle 4 from Mowag. A standard vehicle from each company has now arrived in the Curragh Camp and the trials are in process. The trials will continue until November 2008.

It is my intention to have a contract for the acquisition of the LTAVs in place by the end of the year. As I mentioned already, the acquisition is seen as a top priority for the Defence Forces and the cost of the programme will be covered over a number of years taking into account the current economic conditions. The purchase of the vehicles is in line with the commitment given in the Programme for Government to continue investment in the most modern of equipment for Defence Forces personnel and the obligations of the State to provide appropriate support and force protection assets to deployed personnel.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 22.

  30.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of claims for compensation received from members of the Defence Forces arising from road accidents involving Defence Forces vehicles in each of the past five years; the number of cases settled in respect of each such year; the total amount awarded in compensation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35888/08]

  75.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of claims for compensation received from members of the Defence Forces arising from injuries that they received in accidents, other than road accidents; the number of cases settled in respect of each such year; the total amount awarded in compensation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35889/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 75 together.

Since 2001 the State Claims Agency handle all personal injury claims arising from accidents in this jurisdiction involving Defence Forces vehicles. The Agency has provided the information requested in relation to this category of claim. The Department and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office deal with such claims where they arise from accidents involving Defence Force vehicle overseas. The consolidated information in respect of both of the above is in the form of a Tabular Statement, which I propose to circulate in the Official Report.

With regard to non road-traffic accidents and claims, the State Claims Agency deals with such claims in accordance with its enabling legislation and delegation orders. These define the categories of claims that are delegated to the State Claims Agency. The Department and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office handle non-delegated claims such as those arising from incidents overseas and claims in relation to allegations of bullying and harassment. The consolidated information on this category of claims is also provided in the form of a Tabular Statement, which I propose to circulate in the Official Report.

For the purpose of this reply hearing loss claims have not been included in the tables.

[887]Table 1: Number of Claims received per annum from members of the Defence Forces arising from road accidents involving Defence Forces vehicles and from non road traffic accidents in the period 01 January 2003 to 2008 (to date)

Year Number of Defence Force Claims received (Road Traffic Accidents) Number of Defence Force Claims received (Non Road-Traffic Accident)
2003 14 68
2004 17 54
2005 13 30
2006 7 48
2007 5 52
2008 (to date) 20 30
Total 76* 282*

Table 2: Number of claims resolved each year and the amount of compensation paid in respect of claims in
Table 1

Year Number of Resolved Defence Forces Road Traffic Collision Claims Compensation paid out (Rounded to the nearest €1,000) Number of Resolved Defence Forces Non Road Traffic Collision Claims Compensation paid out (Rounded to the nearest €1,000)
2003 10 227,000 77 5,463,000
2004 13 585,000 61 2,123,000
2005 12 456,000 56 2,157,000
2006 10 356,000 36 1,489,000
2007 7 267,000 18 672,000
2008 (to date) 6 186,000 27 1,176,000
Total 58* 2,077,000* 275* 13,080,000*

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 13.

  32.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on his address to the Annual Conference of PDFORRA on 8 October 2008. [35897/08]

  71.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on his attendance and address to the recent PDFORRA Annual Delegate Conference in Westport, County Mayo; his plans to address the issues that arose during the conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35125/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 71 together.

On 8 October 2008, I addressed the Annual Delegate Conference of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA). I sought to make my address relevant, positive and informative.

[888]I addressed such diverse issues as the Defence Forces continuing high profile commitment to overseas service, investment in infrastructure and equipment, and promotional opportunities. I also addressed the current economic climate and I stated that the Defence Forces, like all areas of the public service, must contribute towards resolving the current challenges facing the country. I also emphasised that the budgetary situation does not diminish my commitment, as Minister for Defence, to the continued modernisation of the Defence Forces as set out in An Agreed Programme for Government.

The Deputies’ interest in my speech is appreciated and it can be accessed from the Department of Defence website — www.defence.ie

  33.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the implementation by his Department of the decision on decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35898/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department’s Dublin-based civil service staff, together with a number of military personnel, to Newbridge, Co. Kildare and for the decentralisation of the Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ) to the Curragh.

The number of posts to be relocated to Newbridge is approximately 200 civil service posts together with 43 military personnel posts. A further 335 military personnel posts together with 78 support staff posts will decentralise to the new Defence Forces Headquarters building in the Curragh Camp.

While close to 90% of clerical/administrative staff are now in place in preparation for the move to Newbridge, no staff have been moved to date. The building is under construction and is expected to be ready for occupation by December 2009.

In relation to costs for the Newbridge project, site acquisition, building construction and fit-out costs are borne on the Vote of the Public Works (OPW). I understand that the total estimated cost of the project is approximately €30 million.

In relation to the decentralisation of DFHQ to the Curragh, a state owned site in the Curragh has been chosen for a new building. The total cost and timescale for completion of the project will be determined by the outcome of the proposed tender competition which is being prepared by OPW.

The recent Government decision on the decentralisation programme means that this project can now proceed to the next stage. Expenditure on the project will be borne on the Vote for the OPW.

  34.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of occasions during 2006, 2007 and to date in 2008, on which the Army bomb squad has been called out to deal with suspected explosive devices; the number of instances in each year in which the devices were hoaxes and authentic explosive devices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35886/08]

  61.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of times the Army bomb disposal team has been called out in 2007 and to date in 2008; the procedures in place for deciding to call them out; the number of hoaxes they have had to deal with since January [889]2007; the estimated average costs involved each time they are deployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35124/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 61 together.

The primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with An Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the Gardaí as required. Requests for aid to the civil power are normally made by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of Inspector.

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team respond when a request is made by An Garda Síochána, to the relevant Brigade, for assistance in dealing with a suspect device or for the removal of old ordnance.

Information on the number of callouts in 2006, 2007 and 2008 (to date) are set out in the following table.

Year Total Number of Callouts Number of Hoaxes (included in total)
2006 101 8
2007 98 11
2008 (as of 16 Oct’08) 143 51

An EOD team normally consists of the following configuration: one officer, one NCO and one driver. The cost of each individual callout is not recorded separately but costs would include: the salary and allowances of the team, fuel for the distance travelled by the vehicle to and from the location of the incident and any ordnance used to dispose of the device.

  35.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    his proposals to ensure that Irish Troops serving in Chad will have their Christmas gifts delivered to them in time for Christmas 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35865/08]

  36.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    if equipment of members of the 98th infantry battalion had to be left behind when the battalion was recently flown to Chad; if the equipment left behind included important equipment such as helmets and combat equipment fighting orders; the steps being taken to ensure that such equipment does not have to be left behind in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35883/08]

  43.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by an Army logistics expert (details supplied) expressing concern at the lack of Irish transport aircraft to support the deployment of troops within Chad; his views on the points made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35881/08]

  49.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the progress of the EURFOR military mission in Chad. [35878/08]

  51.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has satisfied himself with the level of backup support being provided to Irish troops in Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34745/08]

[890]

  52.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Defence    if it is intended to extend the mandate of the Irish contingent serving with EURFOR beyond March 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35879/08]

  56.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Defence    the estimated cost to the Exchequer of the Army mission to Chad; if any of the costs will be met by either the United Nations or the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35880/08]

  57.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    if the Defence Forces have agreed to a request from EURFOR to undertake security duties around the force headquarters in Abeche; if the initial request was refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35884/08]

  62.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will provide an up to date risk assessment regarding the safety and security of Irish troops in Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34912/08]

  69.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    the effect stringent conditions in Chad have had on the health of the Irish Troops serving the EURFOR; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35870/08]

  70.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Defence    the circumstances under which 300 kg of equipment was not permitted on the plane carrying a contingent of Defence Forces personnel travelling to Chad on 21 September 2008; the nature of this equipment; when this equipment was transported; if the delay in transporting this equipment hampered the troops in performing their duties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34746/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 36, 43, 49, 51, 52, 56, 57, 62, 69 and 70 together.

The EUFOR Tchad/RCA Mission is progressing most satisfactorily. The 97th Infantry Battalion has just completed its four month tour of duty and has been replaced by the 98th Infantry Battalion drawn from the 1st Southern Brigade. The operational situation since July has been relatively quiet due mainly to the rainy season which seriously restricts vehicular movement in the Area of Operations. The Irish deployment in Chad continues to provide for a safe and secure environment for the local population and protection for NGOs working in the area.

The Chadian Armed Opposition Groups remain a viable military threat to the Government of Chad. Traditionally the rainy season has been used as a time for the re-organisation, re-armament and consolidation of rebel forces; this has then been followed by a resumption of hostilities against the Government of Chad. There are no indications that this year will prove any different. Notwithstanding this, the current threat to Irish forces as a direct result of rebel activity is assessed as LOW, and MEDIUM as a result of possible indirect involvement in clashes between the Chadian Armed forces and the Chadian Armed Opposition Groups.

It should be noted that the Defence Forces, as is routine for operational deployment both at home and overseas, carries out ongoing risk assessment. These assessments have been carried out for EUFOR Chad. They are initiated in the planning stages of such missions and are constantly reviewed and regularly updated.

All costs associated with deployment of personnel and equipment to the EUFOR Tchad-CAR mission are borne by the troop contributing countries. All EU Member States, irrespective of participation, are contributing to the common costs of the operation. The estimated cost [891]to the Defence Vote arising from the Defence Forces participation in this mission will amount to approximately €57m.

Because of the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, force protection is a key consideration. The Defence Forces have deployed a full range of Force Protection assets including Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). In addition, the Defence Forces have deployed a suite of secure, robust, state-of-the art tactical communications systems to the EUFOR mission. These systems have been deployed in appropriate quantities to support the effective conduct of operations. The Defence Forces is fully satisfied with the respective procedures it has established for overseas deployment and sustainment via commercial arrangements. These arrangements have been tested and proven through significant past experience in this area.

The baggage weight allowance for Defence Forces personnel travelling by air to overseas missions reflects best international practise for same (i.e. an allocation of 45kgs/man). Due to the arduous nature of the EUFOR Tchad-CAR operation, the Defence Forces increased this allocation to a total of 65kgs/man, with the balance of excess allocated weight being airlifted to theatre via pre-arranged commercial cargo means.

The actual baggage payload for Defence Forces personnel travelling via charter air during deployment or rotation into overseas mission areas is determined under international regulation by the Captain in command of the transporting aircraft. In the context of the projection by air of Defence Forces personnel from Dublin to arrive in N’djamena on 22 September 2008, the Captain of the charter aircraft concerned made a decision, based on weather conditions and how this may have impacted on fuel weight necessary for flight, to restrict the maximum baggage allowance at Dublin Airport. This resulted in some 300kgs of luggage — consisting of light Patrol Packs — being left in Dublin for consignment to theatre by pre-arranged alternate means. No important equipment was left behind which would have hampered personnel in the execution of their duties. All personnel travelled with their Cabin Sack, heavy Main Pack and key items of Personal Protective Equipment (e.g. Helmets and Fragmentation Jackets). All excess baggage allocation not conveyed on the flight that arrived in theatre on 22 September was airlifted from Dublin by commercial cargo means on the 25 September, and arrived into N’djamena on 30 September 2008.

Subject to the provision of a re-supply flight for the sustainment of Defence Forces elements and the 98 Infantry Battalion, the Defence Forces will facilitate the carriage of Christmas gifts to personnel serving in Chad in 2008. Normal postal arrangements in relation to letters have been arranged by the Defence Forces and are continuing with An Post.

In relation to the deployment of Defence Forces personnel to provide a guard at the Force Headquarters in Abeche, the 98th Infantry Battalion, was requested by the Force Commander to provide personnel for Force protection duties. The background to the request was the withdrawal of the Swedish contribution to EUFOR Tchad/RCA at the end of their tour of duty; the Swedish element had provided force protection until their departure; no other country came forward to replace them. Thus the Force HQ had to seek assistance from the units serving in the field, the Irish, French and Polish Battalions.

Following appropriate consideration by the Irish military authorities, it was agreed that the Defence Forces would provide a platoon level commitment on a rotational basis for security at the Force Headquarters. The platoon, comprising approximately 30 personnel, took up duty in Abéché for the period from 7 October until 26 October 2008.

The incidence of health problems among Irish Personnel serving in Chad has not been significantly greater than in other overseas missions. It must be understood that the medical standards [892]applied to the selection of personnel for this mission have taken into account the particular rigours of the mission. Therefore, in general terms, those serving in Chad can be expected to be in the best possible state of health to withstand any health risks they might be exposed to in theatre. Our experience in Chad and previously in Liberia has been that our personnel closely follow all advice issued to them in regard to preventive medical procedures and hygiene. Adherence to such advice is a cornerstone of disease prevention. In cases where personnel have become ill, the medical support in place has proved fully capable of meeting the challenge, thereby avoiding minor illnesses becoming exacerbated.

Ireland has received a request from the United Nations to consider putting the Irish troops, currently deployed in CHAD with EUFOR, under the command of the United Nations after 15 March 2009, when EUFOR mandate expires.

I would be positively disposed to continuing our participation in the follow-on mission with the same type of contingent as is currently deployed in Chad. However, this would be subject to Government and Parliamentary approval. In arriving at a positive decision we would have to factor in the extent to which other current EU contributors also remained on board. The level of logistics support, currently available to EUFOR, would also be a vital consideration for our participation in follow-on operation.

  37.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the future of St. Bricin’s military hospital, Dublin. [35877/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  As part of the implementation of the Government decision to locate the Defence Forces HQ under decentralisation, services currently provided by St Bricins Military Hospital will transfer to the Curragh.

St Bricins will remain in operation as a military medical facility (MMF) serving the Eastern Brigade until a modern facility suitable for the Brigade is provided. Planning for the new facility has just begun and it is unclear at this stage when it will come on line. The future use of the facilities in St. Bricins will be considered in due course in the light of these developments.

It is my intention that the best possible medical facilities be provided for the Defence Forces. I can assure the Deputy that the planned changes in the way services are provided are designed to enhance the services for all concerned.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 14.

  39.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    when the committee to consider plans for appropriate commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016 will be convened; the reason for the delay in convening a meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35899/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  A meeting of the Oireachtas Consultation Group is being arranged for an early date. I am very grateful for the nominations by party leaders of Deputies Jimmy Deenihan, Joe Costello and Aengus Ó Snodaigh as representatives. A representative of the independent members will be added to complete the Group. The inaugural meeting of the re-constituted group will be informed of progress on current heritage projects related to the Independence period and the consideration towards a framework for the Centenary commemorative programme.

  40.  Deputy Chris Andrews    asked the Minister for Defence    if serving Irish members of the Defence Forces will be serving with either the EU or OSCE cease-fire monitoring mission in Georgia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34615/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  It is not planned to deploy members of the Defence Forces to serve with either the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Cease-fire Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

One of the reasons for deploying troops in particular missions is the opportunity to demonstrate Ireland’s support for relevant organisation. In the case of the OSCE, the extent of our contribution to OSCE missions is relatively small and opportunities to provide personnel in appropriate situations do not arise that often. Having regard to the conflict in Georgia, and following a request from the OSCE for additional Military Monitoring Officers (MMOs) for Georgia, it was agreed to deploy one officer in the rank of Comdt. This officer was due to deploy in mid-October. However, due to problems with the deployment, the OSCE ended its recruitment process and this officer will not now deploy to Georgia.

The EU mission in Georgia is a civilian mission, although it allows for the deployment of unarmed military personnel in a civilian capacity as monitors. I understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs is proposing to contribute financially to the ESDP Mission in Georgia. In addition four Irish civilians are also participating in the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

The same considerations regarding participation as arose in relation to the OSCE request do not arise in relation to the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia. The Defence Forces are already contributing extensively to ESDP missions with two of our largest contributions in Chad/RCA and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Given these commitments, together with the fact that the EU Monitoring Mission is primarily a civilian mission and that Ireland is also contributing financially to it, it has been decided not to deploy any Defence Forces personnel to the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia at this time.

  41.  Deputy Noel O’Flynn    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received the report from the Defence Forces reviewing its policy on laser eye surgery especially as it applies to persons applying to join the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35007/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The position is that there are a number of physical and medical standards laid down by the Military Authorities for entry to the Defence Forces. These requirements are based on the professional advice of the Medical Corps and having regard to the nature of the job, the duties of military service and the training exercises undertaken by members of the Defence Forces.

The Medical Corps regularly reviews the medical standards for entry to The Defence Forces. The question of the suitability for military service of persons who have had laser surgery to correct their visual acuity is complex. It depends on a number of factors including the exact type of surgery and the amount of visual correction effected. I have asked the Military Authorities to report to me specifically on the issues relating to laser eye treatments and I will review the vision requirement in light of that report.

I have been advised by the Military Authorities that a report will be presented to me by 1 December.

[894]Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 17.

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 35.

Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 14.

  45.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Defence    the safety improvements that have been made to Army vehicles in view of recent road accidents involving Army lorries on the M50 and in Granard, County Longford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35887/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  Arising from the accident in Granard, Co. Longford in June 2007, a Study Group was formed to advise on the introduction of a roll over protection system for troop carrying vehicles incorporating roll bars and safety belts.

The total requirement identified by the Study Group included the fitting of the system to 135 trucks. The fleet is made up of 4 different makes/models of vehicles with vehicle bodies of different specification across the model range. There is no standard roll over protection system for military vehicles in service with the Defence Forces. For that reason, the evaluation of a suitable system to satisfy all demands, requires the examination of solutions from a number of potential suppliers.

The provision of a roll over protection system to military vehicles is still at an early stage. A roll over protection system was fitted to a DAF 4x4 troop carrying vehicle in July 2008. This vehicle is currently in service with an operational unit for evaluation purposes.

Other systems are due to be fitted to selected vehicles in the coming weeks. Following a period of evaluation and user feedback, tenders will be sought for the provision of a suitable restraint system.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 18.

  47.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Defence    the average number of years served by Defence Forces personnel who have retired in each of the past five years; the average age of retiring personnel in each of the last five years; the annual cost to the Exchequer of Defence Forces pensions for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35004/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The gross cost of Defence Force Pensions for the years 2003-2007 is set out below.

2003 —€133m (million)

2004 —€143m

2005 —€150m

2006 —€164m

2007 —€177m

These amounts include all superannuation type benefits (pensions and gratuities) payable to ex-members of the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF) and their dependants.

[895]Details of the average ages and service of all personnel who left the Permanent Defence Force in the last five (5) years is presented in the form of a Tabular Statement below. The higher incidence of turnover in the case of enlisted personnel, as against commissioned officers, is due to the different conditions of service under which these two groups operate.

Average Age and Service of all Members who Left the PDF

Officers
No. retired / resigned Average years service Average age
2003 42 26.27 48.62
2004 39 26.23 47.62
2005 54 22.19 45.65
2006 54 24.29 45.89
2007 62 28.24 49.29
Overall 251 25.43 47.36

Enlisted Personnel
No. Discharged Average years service Average age
2003 571 12.93 33.17
2004 559 13.97 34.22
2005 509 13.20 33.68
2006 589 15.58 36.09
2007 632 14.35 35.06
Overall 2860 14.17 34.58

  48.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of medical staff within the Defence Forces; the number who have a psychiatric qualification; the number in each category serving in a medical roll here and overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34744/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The number of medical staff within the Defence Forces is thirty-two (32) comprised of twenty-two (22) Medical Officers, one (1) Psychologist, four (4) Dentists, one (1) Periodontist and four (4) Pharmacists. In addition, there are twenty-three (23) members of the Army Nursing Service. The number of medical staff who hold a Psychiatric qualification is one (1).

The number of medical personnel serving in Ireland is twenty nine (29). The number serving or assigned for service overseas is three (3). There are currently two (2) Doctors and one (1) Dentist assigned to Chad.

The key issue in the provision of medical services to the Defence Forces at this time is the acknowledged shortage of Medical Officers (Doctors) in the Medical Corps. The establishment for doctors is forty seven (47). The current strength of Medical Officers serving in the Defence Forces is twenty two (22).

[896]The challenges facing the Medical Corps have been recognised for some time and a review of the provision of medical services is ongoing as part of the Modernisation Agenda for the Defence Forces.

Given the ongoing issues and mindful of the need to make progress in this area, earlier this year I engaged consultants to make recommendations on the best means of meeting the medical requirements of the Defence Forces. I expect the consultant’s report to be delivered before the end of the year.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 35.

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 25.

Questions Nos. 51 and 52 answered with Question No. 35.

  53.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the Estimate for his Department for 2009. [35871/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The gross total allocation for my Department in 2009 is €1,061m, comprising €852m in the Defence Estimate and €209m in the Army Pensions Estimate. When compared with the allocation for 2008, this represents a reduction of 4% in the Defence Estimate and an increase of 10% in the Army Pensions Estimate, giving an overall reduction of 1.6%.

The reduction in the Defence Estimate will be achieved by making savings across a number of subheads, both pay and non-pay. In common with other areas of the public sector, a payroll cut of 3% has been applied in the case of the civil service staff of my Department, the Defence Forces and civilians employed with the Defence Forces. This will entail restrictions on the filling of vacancies, including the temporary deferral of recruitment, throughout the Defence organisation.

A number of capital building projects will be deferred and some equipment replacement programmes are likely to be spread over a longer period. However, the allocation provided for 2009 will enable the Defence Forces to maintain their current level of operations at home and abroad, including the overseas peace support operations in Chad and Kosovo.

In the current economic situation, it is not possible to continue the same rate of expenditure on equipment and infrastructure as has taken place in recent years. However, I am satisfied that priority programmes of investment will be maintained.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 28.

  55.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason for the 44% decrease in regard to the allocation in the 2009 Estimate for expenses in respect of equipment and expenses in respect of the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35867/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The significant decrease referred to by the Deputy is due to the completion of two major projects for the Air Corps during 2008.

Firstly, a provision of €14 million was included in the 2008 estimates to complete the purchase of two additional AW 139 helicopters from AgustaWestland in Italy. This contract will be completed this month with the acceptance of the last helicopter and will result in the Air Corps having a total of six AW 139 helicopters.

[897]Secondly, provision was made for the upgrade of the second CASA aircraft. In this regard a sum of €5.5 million was provided in 2008.

Due to the completion of both contracts, there was no requirement to include provision for either project in the 2009 estimates.

The decrease in the allocation for 2009 has to be seen against the very significant level of investment in new equipment for the Air Corps in recent years.

The comprehensive investment programme included: the delivery of eight Pilatus training aircraft at a total cost of €60m, inclusive of VAT; two light utility EC 135 helicopters acquired from Eurocopter S.A.S. at a cost of €12.8m, inclusive of VAT; six utility AW 139 helicopters acquired from AgustaWestland, Italy at a cost of €75m inclusive of VAT, the final one is scheduled for delivery this month; and a major mid life upgrade on the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft, at a cost of €16.5m.

Questions Nos. 56 and 57 answered with Question No. 35.

  58.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on committing the full complement of Defence Force members available for overseas missions only to UN led missions once current commitments have expended in view of tightening financial conditions. [35859/08]

  66.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Defence    if in the context of the requirement on all Departments to reduce spending he has considered committing the full complement of Defence Force members available for overseas missions only to UN led missions once current commitments have expended. [35860/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 66 together.

The nature of peacekeeping operations is changing from traditional UN led missions to regionally led peace operations with the onus being placed on regional states to organise and assemble peacekeeping troops for the purpose of discharging a UN Mandate. These missions represent the trend in UN peacekeeping where missions operate under the control of an established command structure or a lead nation rather than under direct command of the UN. This change has implications for the manner in which these operations are organised and structured, with a much greater emphasis on bilateral relations with established military command structures, and between participating states and troop contributing countries. However, irrespective of the lead role in the mission, decisions in relation to participation on any particular mission remain a sovereign issue, which in Ireland’s case means, the mission must have a UN Mandate and must be approved by the Government and by Dáil Éireann, in accordance with Irish Law.

Having regard to the changing nature of international peace support operations, the question of committing the full complement of Defence Forces members available for overseas missions only to UN- led missions, once current commitments have expended, does not arise. Given Ireland’s strong commitment to the United Nations, it would be entirely inappropriate for us to restrict our potential to respond to requests from the UN, which include requests for force contributions other than in Blue Hat operations, in this manner.

A decision to commit Defence Forces personnel to any mission is made following very careful consideration of many issues. The following factors are taken into account by Ireland when considering any particular request: an assessment of whether a peacekeeping operation is the [898]most appropriate response; consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy; the degree of risk involved; the extent to which the required skills or characteristics relate to Irish capabilities; the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, which has the potential to contribute to a political solution; whether the operation is adequately resourced; and the level of existing commitments to peacekeeping operations and security requirements at home.

Although, Ireland is refunded certain costs in respect of UN missions and, not in respect of other missions, this is not a consideration in evaluating whether Ireland will participate in a particular mission. I am satisfied that the Defence Vote in 2008 and in future years will be sufficient to allow the Defence Forces to continue to participate in UN mandated peace support operations overseas, irrespective of whether or not these are “Blue Hat” operations.

  59.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for the disposal of any land or buildings owned by his Department or any section of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35876/08]

  72.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will confirm that the continued development of the Defence Forces will not require the sale of military installations in 2009 or in the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35013/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 72 together.

The Defence property portfolio is kept under ongoing review by military authorities and the staff in my Department to ensure the most effective use of military resources having regard to the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces. This includes ongoing review of the organisation, structure and formation of the forces and the consequential requirement for military barracks and other properties.

The funding realised from the disposal of surplus military barracks together with pay savings has provided resources for the modernisation of the Defence Forces and has been invested in new infrastructure, equipment and training area development. Any further properties which are deemed to be surplus to military requirements will continue to be disposed of and the funding invested to meet the current and future equipment and infrastructure needs of the Defence Forces. That said, the question of disposal in the current market is an issue which will require detailed and prudent consideration to ensure that we maximise the return to the Defence Forces for properties sold.

  60.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Defence    if the proposed reduction of 3% in payroll costs will be applied to the Defence Forces; the way in which this will be achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35875/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The reduction of three percent (3%) in payroll costs will apply to the Defence Forces.

Recruitment to the Defence Forces will be rescheduled in order to stay within the revised allocation. The Defence Forces will continue to undertake the roles laid down for them by Government. The position will be monitored on an ongoing basis during 2009.

Question No. 61 answered with Question No. 34.

[899]Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 35.

  63.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of personnel based in each of the Army barracks in Monaghan and Cavan; his views on whether it is essential that these personnel remain in this area until the Good Friday Agreement and St. Andrews Agreement are fully settled in and security has been taken over in full by the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35127/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The number of personnel serving in Monaghan and Cavan Barracks is 200 and 128 respectively.

I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the return to normality in the border area arising from the peace process. A consequence of this has been the withdrawal of the British Army deployments together with reduced paramilitary activity. This in turn has removed the rationale for us retaining seven barracks/posts along the border. Accordingly I welcome the Governments decision, announced in the Budget, that a number of border posts including Monaghan are to close with personnel there being transferred to Dundalk.

The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations in a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The dispersal of Defence Forces personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training and the consolidation process is designed to facilitate higher training standards, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties. The recently announced closures will enhance the Defence Forces capability to engage in collective training.

  64.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of occasions the Defence Forces have been asked to assist in searches for missing persons since 1998; the locations of these searches; the expertise and specialised equipment the Defence Forces hold that would be useful in such searches; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34747/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Defence Forces maintain specialist Search and Clearance teams for deployment in each brigade area of the Defence Forces and on most overseas deployments. These teams comprise of specially trained personnel from the Corps of Engineers. They are trained to operate a wide range of specialist detection equipment, including metal detection systems.

The Defence Forces provide assistance to An Garda Síochána in searches for missing persons as aid to the civil power. The information requested in relation to searches conducted since 1998 is set out in the following table.

Date Location
August 1998 & June 2001 Newbridge/Curragh, Co. Kildare
January 1999 Wicklow
June 2003 Clare/Limerick
January 2005 East Cork
April 2006 & September 2006 Limerick
October 2006 Waterford
June 2007 Wicklow
September 2008 Slieve Bloom Mountains

  65.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made in the civilianisation of the Defence Forces arising from the pay agreement and modernisation agenda agreed with the Defence Forces representative associations in the context of the Towards 2016 Partnership Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35894/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The White Paper on Defence (2000) covers the potential benefits of civilianisation and contracting out of certain military posts. It recognises that civilianisation could “..release personnel for operational duties for which they are specifically trained”. It could release them “from essentially administrative and other tasks which can more appropriately be undertaken by civilians.”

It further states that “The argument for civilianisation and contracting out is that it is generally more cost effective.” The White Paper also recognises that there may be additional benefits such as enhancing continuity in certain appointments which can be lacking due to the frequent transfer of military personnel.

The Review of Implementation of the White Paper on Defence was published in April 2007. The Review emphasised that the primary objective of civilianisation centres on releasing soldiers for operational duties and increasing the operational capacity of the Defence Forces. The Review recommended further civil/military exploration of options for civilianisation.

Subsequent to the publication of the Review of Implementation of the White Paper, civilianisation was incorporated into the “Pay Agreement and Modernisation Agenda” agreed with the Defence Forces Representative Associations in the context of the Towards 2016 Partnership Agreement.

My Department has engaged in discussions with the military authorities to identify military posts that may be suitable for contracting out and civilianisation. As I have previously outlined, this work requires careful consideration of the costs and benefits arising from the civilianisation of any identified posts and assessing the feasibility of any such proposals, with particular reference to resource constraints.

In light of the Government decision requiring pay savings across all elements of the Defence organisation, further action on civilianisation has been deferred for the present.

Question Nos. 66 answered with Question No. 58.

  67.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    his proposals in regard to the Defence Forces participating in EU battlegroups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35866/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  With regard to Ireland’s participation in future Battlegroups, we are committed in principle to participation in the Nordic Battlegroup (NBG), which will be on stand-by for the first six (6) months of 2011. Other contributors to the Nordic Battlegroup are Sweden, acting as Framework Nation, Finland, Norway and Estonia.

Informal discussions have also taken place between staff in the Department of Defence and representatives from Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding Ireland’s possible participation in the proposed [901]Austrian/German Battlegroup. This Battlegroup will be on stand-by for the second six (6) months of 2012.

  68.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for his Department’s land in Templebreedy, Crosshaven, County Cork; the effect these plans will have on the local pitch and putt club that is located on this land and his Departmental staff working in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35126/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The lands owned by the Department of Defence at Templebreedy, Co. Cork consist of approximately 37 acres. These lands are surplus to military requirements having been vacated a number of years ago. It is intended to dispose of these lands through a sale on the open market.

The Pitch and Putt Club referred to by the Deputy has not operated since October 2005 following an instruction from the Department that, due to health and safety reasons, it was to close permanently.

In relation to the civilian employees based at Fort Templebreedy, the position is that the three employees concerned have been given the option of either (i) redeployment to the Naval Base and Dockyard, Haulbowline, or Collins Barracks, Cork or (ii) acceptance of a voluntary redundancy package.

Questions Nos. 69 and 70 answered with Question No. 35.

Questions No. 71 answered with Question No. 32.

Question No. 72 answered with Question No. 59.

  73.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    if the contract has been awarded in relation to the publicity and awareness campaign to promote recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35895/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Government decision of 8th July 2008 set out a requirement for savings to be achieved across the public sector. In this context, the planned recruitment and awareness campaign for the Reserve Defence Force has been postponed.

This decision was not taken lightly and it is intended to re-visit this important project when the prevailing budgetary situation permits.

As you will be aware there has been significant investment in new equipment, clothing and enhanced training opportunities for the Reserve over recent years. These factors were also identified as being important motivators in both recruitment and retention in the Reserve.

I would like to assure you that I remain fully committed to the continued development of the Reserve Defence Force.

  74.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of recruits that will be taken into the Defence Forces throughout 2008, broken down in respect of the Army, Air [902]Corps and Naval Service; the number expected to be recruited during 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35893/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  Earlier this year the projected figure for recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force in 2008 was in the region of 690 general service recruits, 30 apprentices 45 Cadets.

To date in 2008 a total of 506 general service recruits have been enlisted of which 440 were to the Army and 66 to the Naval Service. Following the Cadetship Competition 41 Cadets commenced their cadet training on 29 September, 2008. I have been advised by the military authorities that the Permanent Defence Forces is currently at its maximum permitted strength.

In common with other areas of the public service a payroll cut of 3% has been applied to the Defence Forces for 2009.

Recruitment to the Defence Forces will be rescheduled in order to meet the revised allocation. This will be planned so as to ensure that key roles of the Defence Forces are not affected. It is not therefore possible to provide details of the expected level of recruitment for 2009 at this time.

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 30.

  76.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will grant an employment permit to a person (details supplied) in view of the additional information submitted by way of appeal. [36380/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The Employment Permits Section has informed me that a Green Card has issued in this case.

  77.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 4 of 15 October 2008, the details of the membership of the Construction Industry Group which acts as an advisory group to the board of FÁS; the dealings she has with the Construction Industry Group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36574/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The Construction Industry Group was established to advise the Board of FÁS on training related issues for the construction industry. The Group is chaired by Mr Brian Keogh and has representatives from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), the Health & Safety Authority (HSA), my Department and the Department of the Environment & Local Government and Enterprise Ireland.

There are currently twenty positions on the Group one of which is filled by an official from my Department. The membership of the Construction Industry Group is as follows:

No. Name
Chairman (FÁS Board Member) 1 Mr Brian Keogh
Construction Industry Federation 3 Mr Dermot Carey
Mr Bill Baldwin
Mr Michael Stone
Irish Business & Employers Confederation 1 Mr Gerry Farrell
Irish Congress of Trade Unions 4 Mr Eric Fleming
Mr Fred Hosford
Mr Niall Irwin
Mr Peter Kenny
Local Authorities 2 Mr Ray O’Dwyer
Mr Ned Gleeson
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government 1 Mr Frank Gallagher
Enterprise Ireland 1 Mr Picardo Valez
Health and Safety Authority 1 Mr Martin O’Dea
Dept. of Enterprise, Trade & Employment 1 Mr Patrick Hayden
Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI) 1 Mr Kevin Whooley
Environmental Protection Agency 1 Vacant
FÁS 3 Mr Joe McGuinness
Mr Robert Byrne
Mr Jim Jenkinson

The Construction Industry Group assists FÁS in responding to the needs of the construction industry particularly in relation to ensuring that appropriate training in health and safety and general construction skills is provided. The Group is responsible for overseeing the Safe Pass programme, the Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS), and for approving new programmes under the CSCS.

  78.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    if the revenue generated by the proposed €200 car park levy will be used to advance public transport building works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36309/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The detailed provisions of the car parking levy are currently being finalised and will be included in the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008, which will be published on 20th November next.

The proceeds of the levy will accrue to the Exchequer as tax receipts. Expenditure on public transport building works is provided for in the Estimates for Public Services and the Public Capital Programme.

  79.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    the way he will implement the proposed €200 car park levy; if he will define urban areas; if it will apply to areas poorly served by public transport; if it will apply to commuters who travel from the greater Dublin area [904]commuter towns into business parks in suburban Dublin; if it will apply to civil servants who have their car park space rented for them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36310/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The detailed provisions of the car parking levy are currently being finalised and will be included in the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008, which will be published on 20th November next.

  80.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which the planned €200 car park levy will apply in cases in which car spaces are rented in respect of civil servants at an average cost of more than €2,000 per year; his plans to reform the policy of renting spaces for civil servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36311/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The detailed provisions of the car parking levy are currently being finalised and will be included in the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008, which will be published on 20th November next. While the extent to which car parking is provided in association with Government offices varies, the number of spaces provided is always a fraction of the number of staff serving in the office and there are no immediate proposals to change policy in this regard.

  81.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Laois will be furnished with a P21 balancing statement for 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36271/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the person concerned has been requested to submit details of income from 24/09/2007 to 31/12/2007, once details are received a P21 balancing statement for the year 2007 will issue.

  82.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Laois will be furnished with a P21 balancing statement for 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36272/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a P21 balancing statement for 2007 issued to the person concerned on 27th May 2008. A further copy of that statement reissued on October 20th.

  83.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works if the construction phase of a project (details supplied) in County Mayo will proceed on land specifically purchased for this purpose; and when the construction phase will commence. [36273/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Office of Public Works (OPW) has confirmed that the project will proceed on the site purchased for that purpose. Tender documents are currently being finalised and tenders will be invited in the near future.

The new offices will be procured on a Design and Build basis. The project will also include the provision of accommodation for local staff of the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Social and Family Affairs, and staff of the Private Security Authority. In addition, [905]it is proposed that a new district court facility will be provided as a separate stand alone building on the site.

Following receipt and evaluation of tenders by the OPW, the preferred tenderer will be required to apply for the necessary planning permission. On receipt of satisfactory planning permissions, the preferred tenderer will be instructed to prepare contract documentation, including working drawings, specifications and Bills of Quantities, with a view to a contract being placed and construction work commencing on site.

  84.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    when funding will be released for the Mornington River flood alleviation and surface water drainage scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36287/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  A scheme has been prepared by the Commissioners of Public Works. A decision on whether to proceed with the scheme will be made shortly.

  85.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Finance    if there is a Government levy on insurance policies here; if so, the amount raised through this levy; the reason it is imposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36375/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  A 2% stamp duty which was introduced in 1982 is charged on most non-life insurance premiums and is part of the normal stamp duty system. The exceptions are re-insurance, voluntary health insurance, marine, aviation and transit insurance and export credit insurance. The yield to the Exchequer in the most recent two calendar years was as follows.

Year Yield
(€m)
2006 88.3
2007 85.4

The purpose of the non-life levy is to broaden the stamp duty base while maintaining low direct tax rates.

  86.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has identified the location on the two cocaine specific treatment centres to which she committed in the programme for Government of 2007. [36470/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  In recent times, the Health Service Executive has re-oriented its addiction services to address the needs arising from changing patterns of drug use in the population e.g. evidence shows that most cocaine users are poly drug misusers and need to be treated for poly drug misuse and not solely for cocaine use. The HSE is also involved in developing community based stand-alone stimulant intervention services which includes additional training for its staff on issues such as cocaine and it is re-engineering existing addiction services to meet emerging needs. Evidence also indicates that [906]many approaches already in use in general addiction services work well with cocaine users. The commitment in the Programme for Government is being considered against this background.

  87.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of detox beds available in each year for the past five years; and the number of additional beds for which funding has been provided in 2009. [36471/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary 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.

  88.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason there are two public ambulance services in Dublin; if a single service would be more effective; if savings would result that could be spent on acquiring more ambulances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36685/08]

  94.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason her Department continues to pay a local authority (details supplied) in County Dublin for the operation of an ambulance service which duplicates the Health Service Executive service already in existence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36299/08]

  99.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will confirm there are two ambulance services covering the city of Dublin, one operated by Dublin City Council and the other operated by the Health Service Executive and that the HSE pays Dublin City Council in excess of €10 million to provide a service in competition with the HSE service; if she will further confirm that the competing services do not have an integrated communication system and that frequently two ambulances arrive at an incident at which only one is required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36339/08]

  104.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason, in view of budget 2009 and cuts in Government spending, Dublin City Council continues to be paid in excess of €10 million per annum to operate 11 ambulances in the city of Dublin on behalf of the Health Service Executive, when she has at her disposal the HSE national ambulance service that could operate the 999 system in Dublin at less cost; her views on same and the fact that, effectively, there are two ambulance services in Dublin competing with each other with no communications system leading to inefficiencies and duplication. [36364/08]

  105.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is satisfied with the arrangement for the provision of ambulance services in the Dublin City Council area; if it is the case that there is a separate Dublin city ambulance service as well as a National Ambulance Service; her views on whether this duplication represents value for money; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36365/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 88, 94, 99, 104 and 105 together.

[907]For many years Dublin City Council, through Dublin Fire Brigade, has provided the emergency ambulance service in Dublin City on behalf of the statutory health authorities. The relevant authority since 2005 is the Health Service Executive. The HSE provides mainly the non-emergency patient transport in the Dublin area under the auspices of its National Ambulance Service. It is not correct to say that the HSE and DFB services operate in competition, or that one service simply duplicates the other.

I am committed to ensuring that ambulance services throughout the country are both safe and effective. The arrangements in the Dublin area have been in place for many years. There are potential benefits to be gained from a close alignment of ambulance and fire services, as occurs in Dublin. Equally, a case can be made for applying the model that operates in the rest of the country, where ambulance services are provided separately from the fire service.

Safety is, of course, the primary concern. For this reason, work is at present being undertaken by the health and local government sectors to consider the best long-term approach to the provision of emergency ambulance services in Dublin. This includes examination of the potential for improved efficiency in the delivery of these services, to ensure that the best value for money is obtained.

  89.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding a sheltered workshop (details supplied) in County Mayo; the reason it is proposed to close this facility; the number of people who currently attend the facility; and if she will intervene to ensure that the facility remains open as it provides a valuable service. [36274/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this case investigates and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  90.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the situation that prevents umbilical cord blood collection at the time of a baby’s birth at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36283/08]

  91.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the clinical indemnity schemes cover the medical procedure of umbilical cord blood collection at the time of a baby’s birth, specifically at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36284/08]

  92.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the hospitals here which carry out the procedure of umbilical cord blood collection at the time of a baby’s birth. [36285/08]

  93.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if it is possible for parents to have the collection and storage of a baby’s umbilical cord blood and stem cells carried out at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth when they are willing to fully fund this procedure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36286/08]

[908]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 90 to 93, inclusive, together.

The collection of cord blood for the purpose of potential later human application comes within the scope of the European Communities (Quality and Safety of Human Tissues and Cells) Regulations 2006 (No. 58 of 2006). The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) has been designated as the competent authority under the Regulations. The purpose of the Regulations is to ensure the quality and safety of tissues and cells, to protect donors and recipients, whether the donor and recipient are the same person or not, and to prevent the transmission of diseases.

Under the Regulations, any entity which collects material such as umbilical cord stem cells as well as any entity which is involved in testing, processing, preservation, storage and distribution of human tissues or cells intended for human use is required to apply to the IMB for an authorisation to perform such activities. The IMB is obliged to ensure that tissue and cell procurement is carried out by persons with appropriate training and experience and are authorised for that purpose and that it takes place in conditions which meet quality and safety standards.

Under the Regulations, it is permissible for a maternity hospital, or other institution, to apply for an authorisation to procure umbilical cord blood on its premises. It is also permissible for an organisation, company or person to apply for an authorisation to procure umbilical cord blood at premises other than their own. In this latter instance, the applicant is required to have a written contract or service level agreement in place with any hospital, clinic or person carrying out the actual act of procurement.

The Clinical Indemnity Scheme (CIS), which has responsibility for the indemnification and management of all clinical negligence claims in the Health Service Executive, public hospitals and certain scheduled agencies issued a notice on 29th September 2008 on collection of umbilical cord blood. The notice clarifies that collection of cord blood for personal banking by a commercial organisation does not come within the definition of “professional medical services” as defined in the National Treasury Management Agency (Delegation of Functions) Order 2003 (No. 63 of 2003). A doctor, midwife or nurse who procures blood on behalf of a third party is not covered by the CIS for such procurement.

The HSE has made provision for directed donation of umbilical cord stem cells for high risk cases. In such cases, collection on foot of a request by a Consultant Haematologist in respect of the treatment of a named individual is organised by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, which is authorised by the IMB for this purpose and is covered by the CIS.

The specific information sought by the Deputy in respect of the position in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Health Service Executive. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Question No. 94 answered with Question No. 88.

  95.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if there is a site available to a centre (details supplied) in County Tipperary for the provision of a residential facility for persons with special needs; and if a site is available, when work will commence on same. [36316/08]

[909]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which under the Health Act, 2004 are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  96.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the funds that have been made available by her Department for the provision of a community hospital at Tuam, County Galway; the stage of progress of the project; when the ambulance base will be provided at this location; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36330/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services including projects such as Tuam Community Project was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  97.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the different rates for mobility allowance that will apply in 2009; and the date from which it will apply. [36334/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  From 1st January 2009 the rate of Mobility Allowance for non-beneficiaries of the Revenue Commissioners’ Disabled Drivers/Disabled Passengers Scheme will be €208.50 per month. The rate of Mobility Allowance for eligible beneficiaries of the Disabled Drivers/Disabled Passengers Scheme will be €104.25 per month.

  98.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the rate of domiciliary care allowance that will apply from 2009; and the date from which it will apply. [36335/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  From the 1st January 2009 the rate of payment for the Domiciliary Care Allowance will be increased from €299.60 per month to €309.50 per month.

Question No. 99 answered with Question No. 88.

  100.  Deputy Eamon Scanlon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will receive payment in respect of a claim under the nursing home refund scheme. [36345/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

[910]My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

  101.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the cost to administer the means test for the over 70s medical card [36354/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for the medical card benefit. Therefore, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  102.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of the commitment in the Programme for Government to index the income thresholds for medical cards to increases in the average industrial wage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36359/08]

  103.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of the commitment in the Programme for Government to double the income limit eligibility of parents of children under six years of age and treble them for parents of children with an intellectual disability of less than 18 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36360/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 103 together.

In conjunction with the development of a new legislative framework to provide for clear statutory provisions on eligibility for health and personal social services, my Department is currently reviewing the assessment criteria for medical cards in the context of financial, medical and social need in line with the commitment in Towards 2016. A Steering Group has been established to undertake this review and is expected to complete its work and report to me within the next few months. Upon completion of this report, it is my intention to then consider how best to progress the commitments in the Programme for Government in relation to medical card eligibility.

Questions Nos. 104 and 105 answered with Question No. 88.

  106.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the way the funding announced in the budget for implementing the Disability Act 2005 will be used; if she will ensure that a child (details supplied) in County Galway with Down’s syndrome will get the supports they need at the time in their development when they need them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36377/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  One of the principal elements of the National Disability Strategy is the Disability Act 2005. Part 2 of the Disability Act provides people with disabilities with an entitlement to: an independent assessment of their health and education needs; a statement of the services it is proposed to provide; pursue a complaint through the HSE complaints process if necessary; and make an [911]appeal to the independent Disability Appeals Officer. Part 2 of the Act commenced for children aged under 5 years with effect from 1st June 2007. Children under 5 years were chosen as a priority for the introduction of the assessment of need process under the Disability Act because of the importance of intervention early in life. This can have a significant impact on the disabling effects of a condition or impairment.

In Budget 2009, an additional €10m was allocated to the HSE to enable further progress to be made in this vital area. The funding will provide for an additional 125 therapy posts in the HSE targeted at children of school-going age. 90 of these 125 additional posts will be allocated to disability services, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. 35 additional posts will be provided for child and adolescent mental health services, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists for new and existing multi-disciplinary teams.

The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which under the Health Act, 2004 are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  107.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that adequate funding is allocated to a service provider for persons with intellectual disabilities (details supplied) in County Limerick recognising that allocations over a number of years have not been in accordance with the amount needed to provide the level of service undertaken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36378/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which under the Health Act, 2004 are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  108.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the €50 million multi-annual funding, promised in 2004, has been made available to the disability sector for 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36383/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  In recent years, very significant additional resources has been provided by the Government for services and supports in the Disability area. The Multi-Annual Investment Programme, which is a key component of the Government’s Disability Strategy, will by the end of 2008 have provided for 980 new residential places; 313 new respite places, and 2,505 new day places for the intellectual disability service, and 300 new residential places, and 950,000 extra home care/personal assistance hours; for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

Funding was also provided for the targeted transfer of persons with intellectual disability/autism from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements. Since 2006, over €550m has been allocated to the HSE under the Multi-Annual Investment Programme, of which €425 million was for disability services and €125 million for Mental Health.

In Budget 2009, an additional €10m was allocated to the HSE. This funding will provide for 125 additional therapy posts in the disability and mental health services, targeted at children [912]of school-going age. These funds will be ring-fenced for this purpose in the HSE’s letter of allocation, along the lines used for disability development funding in 2008. 90 of these additional 125 posts will be provided in the disability service area. In the light of the current financial circumstances, no additional MAIP funding has been allocated in 2009.

  109.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the €50 million required for the implementation of a Vision for Change has been made available in Budget 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36384/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The estimated additional cost of implementing the recommendations of the Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, ‘A Vision for Change’ is €150 million over a 7 — 10 year timeframe. A total of €51.2 million has been allocated since 2006 for the development of mental health services in line with the Report which represents over a third of the overall requirement.

Implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ is dependent to a much greater extent on the remodelling of existing resources than on new additional funds. Additional investment must be phased in parallel with the reorganisation of mental health services and resources. Funding will be provided in 2009 for 35 additional posts for child & adolescent mental health services, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, speech & language therapists and social workers for new and existing multi-disciplinary teams.

Once-off funding of €1.75 million in total will also be provided in 2009 for suicide prevention initiatives and mental health projects supporting service users and carers.

  110.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the funding being provided for the implementation of the fair deal scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36385/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  Budget 2009 provided €55 million for the implementation of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme next year. This brings the total funding in the subhead for long-term residential care to €909 million. The scheme will be introduced, in the context of this funding allocation, once the legislation has been passed and the Act commenced.

  111.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the locations at which the €120 million to provide services for a growing and aging population will be allocated and spent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36386/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  I understand that the Deputy is referring to the €120 million additional funding provided by the Government for Home Care Packages over the period 2006-8.

As the Deputy is aware operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the issues raised by the [913]Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  112.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position in relation to home help or carers assistant required by persons (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36441/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  113.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the increase in harbour fees was willingly accepted by the local fishermen based on promises made of improvements to the facilities, that those improvements have not been made and the existing facilities are inadequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36289/08]

  114.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to or if he will examine the plans for the development of Arklow Harbour; if he will direct the Arklow Harbour Board to ensure that the proper facilities for continued use of the harbour by fishermen are provided for as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36293/08]

  118.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the agreement regarding the increase in fees at Arklow Harbour; the reason for the differences in fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36297/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 113, 114 and 118 together.

Policy in relation to the regional harbours such as Arklow, as published in the Ports Policy Statement in 2005, is that their continued operation under the outdated provisions of the Harbours Act, 1946 is unsustainable on the grounds of good governance.

The Policy Statement reiterated the view that most of these harbours would best achieve their potential through their transfer to local authority ownership. The Department is working with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to advance the implementation of this aspect of the Ports Policy Statement.

For over three years now, my Department has been funding essential works to protect the fabric of the regional harbours, including Arklow, at an average cost of approximately €4m per annum in total pending the transfer of the harbours to local control. This Department is considering with the Arklow Harbour Commissioners the current position regarding harbour rates.

  115.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will examine the plans for the disposal of the material dredged from Arklow Harbour to ensure that it is disposed of safely and appropriately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36294/08]

[914]

  116.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if financing will be made available to the Arklow Harbour Board to proceed with the overdue dredging of Arklow Harbour, which is in an unsafe condition; when it will be possible to obtain a licence in order that dredging on the harbour can begin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36295/08]

  117.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing damage being incurred by fishermen in Arklow Harbour due to the shallowness of the harbour and the inadequate facilities; if he will ensure that these issues will be addressed before the onset of winter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36296/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 to 117, inclusive, together.

Dredging of Arklow Harbour is a matter in the first instance for Arklow Harbour Commissioners. The issue of a licence for dredging is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who may grant such licences under the Foreshore Acts.

For over three years now, my Department has been funding essential works to protect the fabric of the regional harbours, including Arklow, at an average cost of approximately €4m per annum in total pending the transfer of the harbours to local control.

Question No. 118 answered with Question No. 113.

  119.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the revised timeline for all Transport 21 projects; when planning, construction and operation phases are due to commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36302/08]

  120.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the effect the €70 million cut in the public transport investment programme budget will have on Transport 21; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36303/08]

  121.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    if 2015 is still the completion date for all Transport 21 projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36304/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 to 121, inclusive, together.

Following on from the Budget announcement, by the Minister for Finance, of the capital funding available to my Department in 2009 and the coming years, I will keep the priorities and timescale for Transport 21 projects under continuing review. The provision of increased capacity will be a key consideration in determining public transport investment priorities in the period ahead.

The reduction in capital funding in 2009 will not have a significant effect on the roll out of the Transport 21 public transport programme and will not result in the postponement of the start of construction of any public transport project.

Thirty-seven projects have already been completed since the beginning of Transport 21 in 2006 and twenty-five are currently under way. A list of these projects is provided as an Appendix.

[915]The start and completion dates of projects, which have not yet commenced will be determined by the funding allocation available during the current difficult economic climate. The commencement dates for these projects will also be influenced by the time taken for public consultation, the relevant statutory process and the procurement and contract award processes.

Completed projects

Project Completion Date
N2 Monaghan Town Bypass 2006
N2 Ashbourne Bypass
N4 Edgeworthstown Relief Road
N7 Naas Road widening
N8 Rathcormac-Fermoy (PPP)
N8/N73 Mitchelstown Relief Road
N15 Ballyshannon-Bundoran Bypass
N21 Castleisland-Abbeyfeale
N25 Kinsalebeg
N25/27 Kinsale Road Interchange
N30 Enniscorthy-Clonroche Realignment
Dublin Port Tunnel
N52 Mullingar Eastern Bypass
N55 Cavan Bypass
N56 Mountaintop to Illistrin Phase 1
Docklands Railway Station 2007
Introduction of first intercity railcars on Dublin — Sligo route
67 new intercity rail carriages deployed on Dublin-Corkline and introduction of hourly rail services Dublin-Cork
N1 Dundalk to Border
N2 Castleblaney Bypass
N4 Dromod-Rooskey
N5 Charlestown Bypass
N6 Tyrellspass to Kilbeggan
N11 Arklow to Gorey Bypass
N11 Enniskerry junction improvements
N18 Ennis Bypass/N85 Western Relief Road
N52 Mullingar to Belvedere
N56 Mountaintop to Illistrin Phase 2
N77 Kilkenny Ring Road Extension
New Portlaoise train depot 2008
M50 Upgrade (Phase 3) and introduction of barrier freetolling
Capacity enhancement luas Red Line — all trams extended from 30m to 40m providing a 40% increase in capacity
N6 Kilbeggan to Athlone
N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown
N9 Carlow Bypass
N11 Kilpedder-Delgany Junction
New intercity railcars introduced on Dublin-Limerick, Dublin-Westport, Dublin-Galway, and Dublin-Waterford lines

[916]Completion dates for projects currently underway

Project Indicative Completion Date
M50 Upgrade (Phase 1) 2008
Completion of delivery of 200 new buses for Dublin Bus
Cork commuter rail service to Midleton 2009
Luas extension from Connolly to Docklands
Western Rail Corridor (Phase 1) Ennis-Athenry
Completion of roll-out of 183 intercity railcars
N4 Leixlip/M50 junction (Lucan bypass upgrade)
N6 Athlone to Ballinasloe
N7 Nenagh to Limerick
N8 Cullahill-Cashel
N9 Waterford-Knocktopher
Kildare rail upgrade 2010
Luas extension from Sandyford to Cherrywood
M3 Clonee to North of Kells
N6 Galway to Ballinasloe
N7 Limerick Tunnel
M7/M8 Portlaoise to Cullahill/Castletown
N7 Castletown to Nenagh
N8 Fermoy-Mitchelstown
N9 Kilcullen-Carlow
N9 Carlow-Knocktopher
N25 Waterford City Bypass
M50 Upgrade (Phase 2)
N52 Tullamore Bypass
Completion of delivery of 239 new buses for Bus Eireann

  122.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of plans to remove pinch points on quality bus corridors and other bus routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36305/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Quality Bus Network plays a vital role in transport in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA). This is recognised in my Department’s ten-year investment plan, Transport 21, which provides funding for the extension and improvement of the Network.

Over time, various pinchpoints on the Network have emerged and, earlier this year, the Quality Bus Network Project Office (QBNPO), in conjunction with the local authorities, drew up a list of these pinchpoints and has identified appropriate corrective measures in each case. These measures have been incorporated into QBNPO work programme, and I have asked that they be addressed as a matter of priority.

  123.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of plans to introduce integrated ticketing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36306/08]

[917]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  A smart card for public transport services in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) is now available on Luas and Dublin Bus services. In recent months all buses in the Dublin Bus fleet have been fitted with smart card validators. Smart cards are now in use on these buses in respect of a number of ticket products such as annual and monthly bus tickets, as well as integrated annual and monthly bus and rail and bus and luas tickets and 5-day rambler tickets.

From late next year, a smart card will be introduced for ticket products on Dublin Bus and Luas services which will also have an electronic purse capability for use on both services.

This system will then be extended to Irish Rail DART and commuter rail services within a further 12 months, and to Bus Éireann on a pilot basis on a number of its commuter routes. It is also envisaged that private bus operators will join the scheme over this timeframe.

The new gating systems at Irish Rail stations in the GDA have also been designed to handle the new smart card.

  124.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of plans to make available real time passenger information at bus stops and on mobile phones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36307/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In accordance with the recently enacted Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the Dublin Transport Authority (DTA), when established, will have statutory responsibility for provision of integrated public transport information to passengers and the general public. This encompasses the provision of integrated public transport information in real time to passengers.

Bus Éireann is currently providing real time information on mobile phones on a limited trial basis, with plans for a wider launch shortly. Dublin Bus plans to provide a similar service over the next two years. I am not aware of any such plans by private sector bus operators.

I also support plans for real time passenger information at bus stops and I am informed that Dublin Bus and Dublin City Council are working on a solution to achieve this while taking account of regulatory issues and the likely changes next year to bus routes in Dublin arising from the construction of Metro North, Luas extensions and the Interconnector.

  125.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    when the efficiency study of the Dublin Bus fleet began; the resources allocated to the study; when he expects the results from the study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36308/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann began on 2 July 2008. A budget of €285,000 excluding VAT, has been allocated for the review and it is expected that a final report will be received in the coming months.

  126.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the way the cut in the budget for the Road Safety Authority will affect the roll out of many planned safety initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36312/08]

[918]Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The Government is allocating €35.6 million to the Road Safety Authority for 2009. While this amount is less than that provided in 2008 (€39.1 million) the 2008 allocation included a provision to reduce the driver testing backlog. This objective was achieved and the RSA is maintaining the driver test waiting time at 10 weeks.

The 2009 level of funding coupled with the fee income which the RSA earns will enable the Road Safety Authority to continue implementation of the Road Safety Strategy into 2009 and ensure that reductions in road fatalities secured in recent years are continued. While my Department provides annual funding to the Road Safety Authority, the allocation of resources to the various programmes is a matter for the Authority itself.

  127.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    when the decision on whether metro north should proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36313/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The target date for the completion of Metro North is 2013 but this is dependent on the outcome of the planning and procurement processes. A final decision on the project will be taken once the planning and procurement processes are complete.

The RPA continues to make good progress on the PPP tender process for Metro North. The initial phase of the PPP public procurement process was conducted in 2007 resulting in the formation of four pre-qualified consortia for the purpose of tendering for the project. Tender documentation was formally issued to the four pre-qualified consortia on 12th May 2008. Since then the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) has held a number of meetings with the consortia. Following on from a request from some of the consortia, the RPA recently agreed to extend the closing date for submission of tenders by two months. Receipt of tenders is now required by 6 February 2009.

In addition, good progress is being made in the planning process. The RPA placed copies of the Railway Order application on display on 17 September in accordance with the 6 week statutory public notice requirement pursuant to section 37 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001. I am not prepared to speculate on what might or might not happen following any particular Government decision.

  128.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason there was a 61% increase in the budget for vehicle and driver licensing expenses; the activities which require the additional funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36314/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The allocation is devoted to the support and maintenance of the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF), which is critical for the delivery of the national motor tax and driving licensing services involving the collection in excess of €1 billion in 2008. As well as the NVDF technical environment, the allocation also covers other ongoing expenses including, in particular, the online motor tax service and postage charges arising from motor tax and driving licence renewal reminders, vehicle registration certificates and penalty points notices all of which experience substantial year on year increases. The provision for 2009 (€22.534 million) which represents 2% of overall motor tax revenue takes account of arrangements associated with the transfer of the NVDF systems from the Dept of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to my Department and redresses imbalances between allocations and actual expenditure for a number of years. The 2009 [919]requirement which will continue to be refunded from the Local Government Fund has been agreed with the Dept of the Environment Heritage and Local Government. It represents a 12% increase on the revised expenditure for 2008 (€20.142 million) with the additional allocation being primarily devoted to increases in the expenditure items referred to above due to year on year increases in driver and motor vehicle numbers.

  129.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the way the Budget 2009 announcement on decentralisation affects his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36315/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In light of budgetary developments, the decision was taken by Government to defer a number of decentralisation projects pending a review in 2011. This includes the moves of the National Roads Authority to Ballinasloe, the Irish Aviation Authority to Shannon, the CIE Group to Mitchelstown and the Railway Safety Commission together with air and marine safety investigative functions to Drogheda.

  130.  Deputy Ciarán Cuffe    asked the Minister for Transport    if, with the imminent reopening of the Youghal railway line as far as Midleton, there are temporary or permanent developments or obstructions on the Midleton-Youghal section; and the measures Iarnród Éireann has undertaken to keep this right of way fully intact. [36366/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I understand from Iarnród Éireann that the Midleton to Youghal section of the railway line, although disused at present, remains in CIE ownership and there have been no developments that would compromise its future use as a railway. Furthermore, I understand that Iarnród Éireann will continue to protect the alignment whilst it remains in CIE ownership.

  131.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if cutbacks have affected plans to purchase speed cameras for deployment and operation here; the most up to date time line for purchasing and deployment of these cameras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36292/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  €10 million has been set aside in the 2009 Estimates for the provision of an outsourced safety camera network as part of the Government’s strategy to reduce fatalities on our roads, in line with the Road Safety Strategy.

A tendering process for procuring an outsourced safety camera network is under way, the contracting authority for which is An Garda Síochána. A preferred bidder has been identified, and I have been informed by the Garda authorities that they have been dealing with a number of issues which have been raised by some of the tenderers. An Garda Síochána will shortly commence contract discussions with the preferred bidder, with the aim of concluding them as expeditiously as possible. It is intended that roll out of the network will be under way as early as possible next year.

  132.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if [920]he will introduce legislation to control the location, time, date and manner in which street begging may take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36332/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  My Department has been examining the High Court’s judgement in the case Niall Dillon v. The DPP in which the Court held that the current law under which prosecutions for begging were brought, i.e. section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847, was unconstitutional. I hope to be in a position to bring proposals to Cabinet shortly that will entail the introduction of new legislation to address the question of begging, having regard to the High Court’s judgement.

  133.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on correspondence regarding the exceptional circumstances of a person (details supplied) who wishes to remain in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36344/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have been informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that they have recently been in contact with the person referred to by the Deputy in relation to her immigration status. Further documentation has been requested from the person concerned in order to facilitate the Immigration Division in examining her case.

  134.  Deputy Tony Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the dates on which firearms and ammunition stored at Clancy Barracks were destroyed on behalf of the Garda Technical Bureau between 1 July 2000 and 31 August 2000; the nature and quantities destroyed; and the date on which tenders were invited for the destruction of firearms and munitions at Clancy Barracks during the years 2000 and 2001. [36368/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Approximately 3,850 firearms, which had been held at Clancy Barracks, were destroyed at a secure location on 32 occasions between 1st July, 2000 and 31st December, 2001. Ammunition which had also been stored at Clancy Barracks, was removed and temporarily stored at the Garda Technical Bureau before disposal and destruction. Any ammunition required for evidential purposes was removed. Information on related tenders is not, in the time available to answer this question, readily to hand, and I will communicate directly with the Deputy again on this issue.

  135.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for naturalisation in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Kildare; when these applications are expected to be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36442/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have approved the applications of the persons in question and certificates of naturalisation will issue once documentation requested by the Citizenship Section of my Department has been received.

Officials in the Citizenship Section inform me that letters seeking this documentation issued to the persons concerned on 12 August 2008, 2 September 2008 and 24 September 2008 to the address on file. Further letters issued on the 20 October 2008 to the address now supplied by the Deputy.

[921]I should point out that if the persons in question have changed address since lodging their applications for naturalisation, they have an obligation to inform the Department accordingly.

  136.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the rehabilitation goals and targets set for prisoners annually since 2002; the annual targets and goals set for 2009 and 2010; the funding provided in each of these years for rehabilitation services; and the performance targets against which this is measured. [36448/08]

  137.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of existing rehabilitation programmes in each prison; the number of staff allocated to each rehabilitation programme; the number of prisoners on existing programmes; the capacity of each programme; and the average cost to rehabilitate a prisoner on each programme. [36449/08]

  138.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the cost of fully resourcing and staffing rehabilitation programmes in respect of the entire prison population. [36450/08]

  139.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if prisoners rehabilitation needs are assessed on entering prison; if so, the percentage of prisoners deemed to require rehabilitation on arrival; the waiting time for entry into rehabilitation; and the average time spent on a rehabilitation programme. [36451/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 136 to 139, inclusive, together.

Prisoner rehabilitation involves significant multi-dimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service and in-reaching statutory and non-statutory services. Amongst these are healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, educational, vocational, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. These services are important in addressing offending behaviour, drug and alcohol addiction, missed educational and vocational opportunities, anger management, and self management in the interest of encouraging positive personal development in prisoners, and preparing them for re-integration and resettlement on release from custody.

As a result of the Programme for Organisational Change, there has been significant expansion and development of vocational training programmes. For example, the Work Training Service now has an authorised complement of over 250 prison service posts and over 90 workshops cater for in excess of 800 prisoners each day.

Educational services are now available at all institutions and are provided in partnership with a range of educational agencies in the community including the VECs, Public Library Services, Colleges and the Arts Council. Broad programmes of education are made available which generally follow an adult education approach. The Department of Education and Science provide an allocation of whole-time teacher equivalents to the prisons through the VECs (220 in the academic year 2007/08). This enables education to be offered in all prisons including provision for the summer months and also special teaching arrangements where prisoners are segregated.

The Irish Prison Service is also engaged in introducing an enhanced model of sentence management for prisoners (Integrated Sentence Management — ISM). ISM will involve a new emphasis on prisoners taking greater personal responsibility for their own development through [922]active engagement with both specialist and non-specialist services in the prisons. The end result will be a prisoner-centred approach to working with prisoners with provision for initial assessment, goal setting and periodic review to measure progress. The development and roll-out this model is planned to take place on a phased basis over the lifetime of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. The new system is currently being piloted in two Dublin prisons. Following the conclusion of these pilot programmes, an evaluation will take place which will inform future policy in this area.

The 2008 gross estimate provision for the Irish Prison Service is €394.346 million. Due to the multifaceted nature of rehabilitation it is not possible to disaggregate from this total the element that relates solely to this particular area of expenditure.

Finally, the Probation Service also has an active role during the course of the prisoner’s sentence in helping maintain links with family and community agencies, encouraging prisoners to address their offending behaviour and engaging prisoners in individual counselling and group counselling programmes. The Service also provides supervision in certain cases under temporary release provisions.

  140.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will provide details on the proposal to only permit prisoner remission based on participation in rehabilitation; and when this policy will be put in place. [36452/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Programme for Government set out targets for fully resourced and staffed rehabilitation programmes to be available for the entirety of the prison population by 2012 and the linking of remission with rehabilitation.

The Prison Rules provide that prisoners shall be eligible, by good conduct, to earn a remission of sentence not exceeding one quarter. The Rules provide for the granting of further remission where a prisoner has shown further good conduct by engaging in authorised structured activity and the Minister is satisfied that, as a result, the prisoner is less likely to re-offend and will be better able to reintegrate into the community.

Matters being further explored include whether changes to remission can be applied retrospectively where such application might have adverse implications on the liberty of the person in question. There are also rulings from the European Court of Human Rights that may be relevant in this context. In addition there are issues as to whether rates of remission can be varied by reference to the nature of the offence, what type of conditions can be imposed on a person granted remission and the implications of linking remission solely to rehabilitation without reference to behaviour while in prison.

My Department continues to examine how best to implement the commitments in the Programme for Government with particular reference to any possible legislative amendments that might be required.

  141.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the measures put in place in 2008 to make prisons drug free; and the further measures planned for 2009. [36453/08]

[923]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am committed to ensuring that all prisons are drug free in line with the commitments contained in the Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy and Strategy and I will continue to pursue strategies to achieve that objective.

With regard to supply elimination, the implementation of the Policy and Strategy has seen an intensification of efforts to eliminate the availability of illicit drugs within prisons. In addition to the introduction of mandatory drug testing, other elements include enhancement of CCTV, utilisation of video scope camera cell search and enhanced security generally. Also, new visiting arrangements are in place, or in the course of being put in place, in closed prisons whereby only persons who have been nominated by the prisoner and pre-approved by the Governor are permitted to visit.

Facilities for screened visits have been installed in all closed prisons. In accordance with the Policy and Strategy, prisoners in respect of whom the Governor is satisfied that there is no risk of contraband being passed may be facilitated with open visits. Prisoners who are caught receiving drugs or who test positive for drugs will be facilitated with screened visits only.

As regards enhanced security, the Deputy will also be aware that sanction was secured by my Department for an additional 155 staff to implement a range of security measures, coordinated nationally by a dedicated Governor, aimed at keeping contraband out of our prisons. In 2008 these measures included the establishment of a drug detection dog service within the Irish Prison Service; the first 10 Units of the Irish Prison Service Canine Unit are now in place. A further 6 will be added prior to the end of the year. These units are supported by a private contractor. They included the establishment of Operational Support Units in each prison dedicated to, and developing expertise in, searching and gathering intelligence. They also included the introduction of enhanced security screening and searching of all persons (visitors and staff) entering our prisons. Airport style scanners, x-ray machines, etc., are in operation at the entrances to most of our closed prisons and the installation programme for the remaining prisons is nearing completion. The measures called for cell and area searches for contraband such as mobile phones take place in all our prisons on a daily basis. These include random, targeted and intelligence led searches, many of which are now carried out by the recently established Operational Support Group.

The third and final phase of the installation of a pilot scheme of mobile phone inhibition at the Midlands Prison is almost complete. The indications so far are positive; enough to convince me that it is a worthwhile programme and merits commencement of the second module of the scheme. This will see the installation of an inhibition system beginning in Portlaoise Prison in the coming months. The measures also included the use of modern cameras and probe systems which assist in searching previously difficult areas such as hollow chair or bed legs, under floor boards and other cavities. and the introduction of a “Boss Chair” in Cloverhill Prison which is used to scan all prisoners for contraband secreted in their body cavities.

Further measures planned for 2009 include: the establishment of a further 14 Units of the Irish Prison Service Canine Unit. Upon successful completion of the module of the mobile phone inhibition scheme, roll out will commence across the prison estate — and further “Boss Chairs” are to be rolled out in closed prisons.

  142.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made on the introduction of the prison discipline strategy; and the timeframe for its introduction. [36454/08]

[924]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Part 3 and section 35 of the Prisons Act 2007, both of which came into operation on 1 October 2007, provide a legislative basis for disciplinary and governance related issues within the State’s prisons.

Section 35 of the Act permits the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make rules for the effective governance of prisons. In that context the Prison Rules, 2007, came into effect in October, 2007 and represent the first major reform of prison regulation in this State since 1947. The rules themselves reflect the Council of Europe’s European Prison Rules and best practice internationally and regulate the behaviour not just of prisoners but also that of prison governors and officers.

Part 3 of the Act provides a new appeal mechanism for prisoners to appeal a penalty involving a loss of remission imposed by prison authorities following a finding that they have breached prison discipline. The Act provides for a hearing before an independent Appeal Tribunal and independent professional legal representation for the prisoner where this is requested. The Tribunal may uphold or quash the original finding and may affirm, vary or quash the original sanction applied.

I wish to advise the Deputy that to date five prisoners have appealed disciplinary penalties which consist of or include loss of remission and arrangements are being made to hear these appeals.

  143.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his plans to ratify the optional protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture. [36455/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and All Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December, 2002. Its provisions came into force on 22 October, 2006. Ireland signed it on 2 October, 2007. The Protocol is an important addition to the 1984 UN Convention against Torture which Ireland ratified in accordance with the Criminal Justice (UN Convention against Torture) Act 2000.

The Protocol establishes a national and international inspection system for places of detention which is modelled to a significant extent on the existing system in operation under the auspices of the Council of Europe Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We have been a party to that Convention since 1989. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) set up under that Convention has already conducted and reported in detail on 4 inspection visits to Ireland in 1993, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

The Attorney General has advised that legislation will be necessary for the creation of the National Preventive Mechanisms provided for under the Protocol. Preliminary work has commenced in my Department in that regard.

  144.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of independent prison monitoring inspections that have taken place in 2006, 2007, 2008 and the proposed number for 2009; and the criteria on which these inspections are based. [36456/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Irish prisons are subject to inspection by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrad[925]ing Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Office of the Inspector of Prisons and the Visiting Committees appointed to each prison.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), which operates under the aegis of the Council of Europe, was established under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in 1987. The Committee has the right of unimpeded access at any time to any prison and are entitled to speak in private to any person detained therein. The CPT has visited Ireland for inspection purposes in 1993, 1998, 2002, and 2006. The CPT last visited Ireland in October 2006. The official report on their visit and the Irish Government’s Response was published on 10 October, 2007, and is available on the Council of Europe website at http://www.cpt.coe.int.

An Office of Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention was created on a non-statutory basis in 2002. The office became statutory on the 1st October 2007 with the passing of the Prisons Act, 2007. The primary role of the Inspector is to carry out regular inspections of prisons and to report and make recommendations on what he finds. The Office of the Inspector of Prisons published reports on five prisons in 2006 and four in 2007. The reports are available on my Department’s website, www.justice.ie. Further reports by the Inspector will be published in the coming weeks. As an independent statutory body, it is entirely a matter for the Inspector, which and how many prisons he chooses to visit and report on in any given year.

Under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925, a Visiting Committee is appointed to each prison institution. They are required to report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they think may be urgently needed. Their Annual Reports are also available on my Department’s website.

.

  145.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his plans to introduce a community payback scheme requiring offenders to provide real services for the community; and the role he will give victims and communities who are affected by this scheme. [36457/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act, 1983, provides that a Court may make a Community Service Order as an alternative to a sentence of imprisonment or detention in respect of any individual over the age of 16 years who has been convicted of a criminal offence and who consents to the Order being made. As the Deputy will be aware, the Community Service Order requires an offender to perform unpaid work for between 40 and 240 hours, usually to be completed within 12 months. The aim of a Community Service Order is to rehabilitate the offender and make meaningful reparation to the community for his or her crime. The Probation Service of my Department has responsibility for the supervision and management of Community Service Orders.

The Programme for Government provides for a Community Pay Back Scheme which will build on the Community Service Scheme, currently the subject of a Value for Money and Policy Review by an Independent Evaluator.

The Review which is nearing completion, will influence how best to progress this aspect of the Programme for Government currently under examination by my Department.

  146.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will provide details of his parental responsibility proposals; the progress made to date; the number of local programmes that have been established to help parents; and when he will commence the system of parental responsibility for criminal damage and cost incurred. [36458/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I presume the Deputy’s question relates to the Children Act 2001, as amended. I can confirm that the Children Act, 2001 is fully operational and that the various provisions relating to parental responsibility are all commenced. In this connection I wish to refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 48 dated 2 October 2008.

In the case of children referred by the Court to the Probation Service, the Service can provide parenting support programmes where appropriate. In this connection I wish to inform the Deputy about the Strengthening Families Programme. This is an inter-agency initiative delivered, financed and resourced by a number of different agencies including the Probation Service, Local Drugs Task Forces, the HSE and the National Juvenile Office of An Garda Síochána.

The Programme runs over 14 weeks and comprises 3 modules namely Parenting Skills training, Teen/Children Skills training and Family Life Skills training. The goal of the programme is to enhance and protect the family by encouraging and supporting parents and their children to develop good parenting and communication skills. This programme has initially been delivered in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

The Probation Service is now in the process of extending their involvement with this programme to 12 locations around the country through its bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Portlaoise and the North-West. This extended programme will be run through Le Chéile, a Community based organisation working with the Young People’s Probation.

In addition, Barnardos, in conjunction with the Probation Service have delivered a “Parenting Plus Skills” programme in 2 locations in Dublin in 2008 and the Le Chéile Mentoring Programmes is currently piloting parent-to-parent mentoring.

  147.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of anti-social behaviour action teams that have been established in each local authority; the plans for the expansion of this scheme; and the funding provided for it annually since its establishment. [36459/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Agreed Programme for Government contains a range of commitments to combat anti-social behaviour. One of these is the creation of Anti-Social Behaviour Action Teams (ASBATs) which would operate in areas experiencing serious problems of anti-social behaviour.

The purpose of ASBATs is to tackle local, previously intractable, problems of anti-social behaviour, in a way where joint working makes a real difference. Given the need for close and effective inter-agency working, typically an official from the relevant local authority or a police officer is appointed as a designated co-ordinator.

My Department is researching the development of an ASBAT model which will ensure a coordinated approach to dealing with and preventing anti-social behaviour at the local level, taking into account the financial and personnel resources available to local and national agencies and Government policy on using to the greatest extent possible existing structures for co-[927]operation among agencies. This will involve consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Garda authorities.

  148.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when he will establish the special Garda units to deal with anti-social behaviour on public transport. [36460/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Agreed Programme for Government contains a broad range of commitments to combat anti-social behaviour. One of these is to establish special Garda units to deal with anti-social behaviour on public transport. I am informed that currently An Garda Síochána carries out patrols on public transport to deal with specific incidents and complaints as they arise, primarily in late evening when incidents of anti-social behaviour are most likely to occur.

Implementation of this commitment is being considered by the Garda authorities in the context of the overall allocation of the resources available to them and existing security arrangements made by transport providers.

  149.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí nationally; the number of trainee gardaí in Templemore; the timeframe for the existing trainees to graduate; and the number of people who have been accepted to the Garda Síochána but have yet to commence their training. [36462/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the total strength of the Force as of the 30 September 2008, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 14,284 with a further 1,074 in training.

There are currently 513 students undergoing training at the Garda College in Templemore with a further 561 in training at Garda Stations throughout the country.

The current Student/ Probationer Education, Training and Development programme course in An Garda Síochána consists of five separate but integrated Phases. Phase I (20 weeks), Phase III (16 weeks) and Phase V (4 weeks) of the Training Programme 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 and are accounted for in the total strength. Formal graduation takes place following the completion of the fifth and final phase of training. The following are details of the Student/Probationer Gardaí currently in training and their respective Graduation dates.

Phase Strength Graduation Date
I 282 July 2010
II 561 January and April 2010
III 231 October 2009
IV 831 January, April and July 2009
V 273 October 2008

[928]I am further informed that the next intake of trainees to the Garda College is scheduled to take place on the 5th November 2008 at which one hundred students will be admitted to the training programme.

  150.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will provide in tabular format, the number of civilian staff working in the Garda Síochána in each year for the past five years and to date in 2008; and the ratio of civilian staff to Garda officers in each year for the same period. [36463/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the number of whole time equivalent civilian personnel working in An Garda Síochána as at the 31 of December 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 30 September, 2008 was as set out as follows. The total strength of An Garda Síochána at these dates and the ratio of civilian staff to Gardaí is also set out.

Date No of Civilians (WTE) Garda Strength Ratio
31/12/2003 1,062 12,017 1 : 11.32
31/12/2004 1,119 12,209 1 : 10.91
31/12/2005 1,161 12,259 1 : 10.56
31/12/2006 1,282 12,954 1 :10.10
31/12/2007 1,688 13,755 1 : 8.15
30/09/2008 2,039 14,284 1 : 7

During the period in question there has been a 92% increase in the number of civilians and a 19% increase in the number of Gardaí in An Garda Síochána

  151.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of promotional posts that have been created in each of the past five years and to date in 2008. [36464/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  At the outset, I should say that my Department does not create promotion posts per se. Rather, it manages the staffing of the Department (and its Agencies) in accordance with Government policy, including in relation to the filling of posts. The manner of the filling of posts is not straightforward and can vary depending on factors such as: how the vacancy arose; the nature of the post and where it is located; and the availability of staff. Posts are filled from a number of sources, including lateral transfers within the Department, surplus staff arising from decentralisation, secondment of staff from outside the Department, as well as internal and inter-departmental promotion competitions, and external recruitment. In relation to the latter, it is worth noting that posts up to and including the most senior levels in the Civil Service can now be filled through open competition, so that posts that would previously have been classified as promotion posts can now be filled by new recruits.

In the circumstances, it is not possible to distinguish promotion posts from other posts in a manner that is meaningful.

  152.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the analysis conducted most recently on Garda to population ratios; if he will provide a breakdown on a district by district basis for 2007 and to date in 2008. [36465/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The population statistics were last collected by the Central Statistics Office in April 2006. On that basis the ratio of Gardaí to head of population in each Garda District at that time is as stated in the following table.

Changes to the boundaries of Garda Districts and Divisions have altered the make up of some of the Garda Districts throughout the country. For that reason, together with population changes, it is not possible to give the Garda strength per head of population comparisons in 2007 or 2008. I have however, listed the Garda strength for each of the Districts for the year ending 2007 and on 30 September 2008.

District Population Garda Strength on 30/04/06 Ratio Garda Strength on 31/12/07 Garda Strength on 30/09/08
Blackrock 88,584 177 500:1 194 193
Dún Laoghaire 68,739 189 363:1 210 275
Bridewell 22,182 170 130:1 182 185
Fitzgibbon Street 41,390 204 202:1 216 222
Store Street 15,953 271 58:1 296 305
Balbriggan 47,384 59 803:1 73 82
Coolock 121,693 191 637:1 242 241
Raheny 82,221 172 478:1 181 187
Santry 57,051 238 239:1 265 267
Donnybrook 49,772 177 281:1 192 185
Kevin Street 47,383 200 241:1 226 229
Pearse Street 16,661 328 50:1 355 350
Crumlin 52,064 157 331:1 186 188
Rathmines 51,874 166 312:1 176 182
Tallaght 130,905 235 557:1 261 269
Blanchardstown 141,830 312 454:1 348 368
Clondalkin 66,702 185 360:1 215 222
Lucan 76,931 184 418:1 195 195
Carlow 54,859 87 631:1 104 119
Kildare 62,876 73 861:1 85 97
Naas 77,645 128 606:1 145 156
Abbeyleix 20,112 39 515:1 44 44
Birr 24,448 45 543:1 45 47
Portlaoise 46,385 122 380:1 130 141
Tullamore 45,045 70 643:1 93 106
Athlone 38,618 65 594:1 84 89
Granard 19,329 41 471:1 43 45
Longford 22,554 62 363:1 72 75
Mullingar 42,017 94 446:1 119 123
Ashbourne 45,249 74 611:1 86 85
Kells 25,656 47 545:1 58 58
Navan 57,641 66 873:1 75 101
Trim 27,935 41 681:1 49 53
Baltinglass 35,799 62 577:1 68 58
Bray 74,999 189 396:1 214 169
Wicklow 35,560 58 613:1 70 104
Bailieboro 31,452 61 515:1 68 69
Ballyconnell 13,436 43 312:1 38 42
Carrickmacross 26,696 77 346:1 84 92
Cavan 27,566 76 362:1 83 88
Monaghan 28,623 123 232:1 129 133
Ballyshannon 22,640 91 248:1 94 94
Buncrana 31,819 82 388:1 90 94
Glenties 19,789 51 388:1 54 57
Letterkenny 51,494 164 313:1 195 191
Milford 21,522 48 448:1 52 55
Drogheda 69,996 110 636:1 118 135
Dundalk 51,138 143 357:1 147 149
Ballymote 13,607 33 412:1 35 32
Carrick-on-Shannon 16,709 52 321:1 57 57
Manorhamilton 12,415 55 255:1 50 48
Sligo 39,582 139 284:1 158 180
Cahir 20,499 47 436:1 57 63
Clonmel 40,758 64 636:1 74 75
Nenagh 23,722 42 564:1 47 50
Templemore 20,031 50 400:1 59 61
Thurles 25,342 73 347:1 83 90
Tipperary Town 23,386 38 614:1 41 42
Dungarvan 25,357 52 487:1 60 60
Kilkenny 45,372 76 591:1 107 108
Thomastown 24,103 35 688:1 41 45
Tramore 26,050 42 620:1 47 52
Waterford 63,730 153 416:1 173 176
Enniscorthy 33,240 46 722:1 50 51
Gorey 45,476 83 547:1 90 62
New Ross 28,060 46 610:1 51 53
Wexford 44,607 90 495:1 104 113
Anglesea Street 37,339 290 128:1 335 329
Gurranabraher 47,783 93 513:1 90 91
Mayfield 39,677 108 367:1 105 114
Togher 92,276 133 693:1 126 133
Cobh 41,188 55 748:1 56 63
Fermoy 30,209 72 419:1 87 91
Mallow 32,072 58 552:1 65 67
Middleton 38,400 66 581:1 77 81
Bandon 34,549 87 397:1 108 110
Bantry 20,051 41 489:1 49 49
Clonakilty 28,096 42 668:1 49 52
Kanturk 21,221 41 517:1 45 50
Macroom 25,612 38 674:1 44 53
Caherciveen 19,696 41 480:1 43 46
Killarney 43,955 74 593:1 91 95
Listowel 27,709 51 543:1 56 63
Tralee 45,725 106 431:1 131 134
Askeaton 23,419 42 557:1 41 43
Bruff 22,533 41 549:1 41 44
Henry Street 74,542 250 298:1 330 352
Newcastle West 25,347 46 551:1 47 49
Roxboro Road 44,348 108 410:1 134 137
Ennis 53,821 159 338:1 199 208
Ennistymon 17,251 33 522:1 31 35
Killaloe 20,944 36 581:1 47 48
Kilrush 14,945 38 393:1 37 39
Clifden 10,051 31 324:1 30 33
Galway 87,543 203 431:1 243 256
Gort 16,631 33 503:1 36 36
Loughrea 19,454 47 413:1 49 51
Salthill 46,659 67 696:1 66 69
Ballina 28,820 51 565:1 62 66
Belmullet 9,091 26 349:1 28 29
Castlebar 27,369 68 402:1 88 90
Claremorris 21,021 39 539:1 46 44
Swinford 23,718 42 564:1 50 60
Westport 20,461 35 584:1 39 42
Ballinasloe 25,412 53 479:1 54 57
Boyle 12,828 38 337:1 40 41
Castlerea 15,033 43 349:1 45 48
Roscommon 20,591 63 326:1 78 81
Tuam 27,195 55 494:1 63 63

  153.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of people in the Garda Reserve at year end 2006, 2007 and to date in 2008. [36466/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The total personnel strength of the Garda Reserve at the end of years 2006, 2007 and to date in 2008 is as follows:

2006 2007 30/09/2008
Attested 36 217 254

There were also 157 Garda Reserve trainees at 30th September 2008.

  154.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his progress to date on introducing conditions to govern the use by a suspect of the Garda interview video. [36467/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Section 56 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 governs the circumstances in which a copy of the recording of interviews conducted by the Garda Síochána may be given to an accused.

Specifically the section provides that only a person charged with an offence before a court, or his or her legal representative, may be given a copy of any recording of the questioning of the person while he or she was detained. The decision is a matter for the court and it may be subject to such conditions (if any) as the court may specify. A breach of the court order is punishable as a contempt of court.

This section repeals provisions in the Criminal Justice, Act 1984 (Electronic Recording of Interviews) Regulations, 1997 which provided that a copy of the recording be provided by the Superintendent, subject to certain exceptions, to the person interviewed or his/her legal representative on receipt of a written request irrespective of whether the person was charged with an offence. Section 56 creates a more restrictive framework while at the same time ensuring the accused’s right to due process.

  155.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his view on the new code of discipline and whistleblowers regulations in view of the conclusion and remarks of the Morris Tribunal. [36468/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am satisfied that the Garda Síochána Discipline Regulations which were enacted in 2007 are working well. The regulations, along with the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act take into account the findings of the earlier reports of the Morris tribunal. The system of discipline in the Garda Síochána is fairer, more efficient and more effective as a result. I will, of course, in consultation with the Garda Commissioner, consider the recommendations contained in the most recent reports of the Tribunal as part of a planned review of the discipline regulations.

The Garda Síochána Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice Regulations were inspired by the recommendations contained in the Tribunal’s third report, but go beyond the Tribunal’s recommendations in providing: for an external party independent of the Force as well as internal parties to whom a whistleblower may turn; that civilian employees as well as sworn members can make confidential reports; for the Garda Ombudsman Commission to be kept fully informed of all investigations into confidential reports of corruption and malpractice; and for the Garda Inspectorate to be kept informed of reports relevant to its remit. Two key aspects of the regulations are that they require the whistleblower to make a complete disclosure of all facts in their possession and that they identify themselves to the confidential recipient so that, if necessary, and subject to strict conditions, their identity can be disclosed to a court or the Garda Commissioner or the Minister.

  156.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress on the implementation of the Barr Tribunal recommendations and the recom[933]mendations contained in the report of the Garda Inspectorate relating to barricade incidents. [36469/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Following the publication of the Barr Tribunal Report, the Garda Inspectorate was tasked with reviewing the report to assess the reforms already introduced in the Garda Síochána and to recommend any additional steps required to bring the organisation into line with best international practice, particularly relating to barricade incidents.

The Garda Síochána Inspectorate’s Report No. 2, Review of Garda Síochána Practices and Procedures for Barricade Incidents, contained 84 recommendations. I am informed by the Garda authorities that to date, 60 of those 84 recommendations (71%) have been implemented in full, including continued training for On-Scene Commanders and Negotiators, the establishment of the Regional Support Unit pilot programme in the Southern Region, and the acquisition of 4 Command Vehicles for the management of Critical Incidents.

Full implementation of the remaining 24 recommendations is ongoing.

  157.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the funding he has committed to combating drug driving in 2008 and for 2009; the progress to date on increasing garda search powers in relation to drug crime. [36474/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which comes under the aegis of the Department of Transport, analyses blood and urine specimens received under the Road Traffic Acts for the presence of a drug or drugs. The Department of Transport provides annual funding to the Bureau.

The matter of increasing Garda search powers in relation to drug crime is under consideration in my Department, having regard to the sensitivity and complexity of the issues involved in any significant extension of search powers, including issues of constitutional importance.

  158.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress to date on the requirement of all mobile phones to be registered with name, address and proof of identity. [36475/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Consultations are taking place with An Garda Síochána with a view to progressing this matter.

  159.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when he will introduce divestitures and trusteeships in relation to gangland crime as committed to in the Programme for Government 2007. [36476/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Agreed Programme for Government contains commitments in relation to the use of divestitures and trusteeships in the fight against organised crime. As Minister, I am determined to take whatever steps are required to disrupt the activities of criminal gangs through the seizure of assets and the targeting of businesses and other enterprises used by them in furtherance of their criminal objectives. In this regard, the Criminal Assets Bureau is being actively utilised to identify and target assets accumulated by crime gangs, in order to seize such assets and to deprive criminals [934]of the profits of their illegal activities. The measures which the Criminal Assets Bureau continues to take against crime groups involve the restraint and seizure of assets by way of the Proceeds of Crime legislation, the raising of tax assessments and the collection of money under revenue legislation and through the implementation of actions as deemed appropriate under Social Welfare legislation. This work continues to cause major disruption to these crime groups by removing the profit generated by their criminal activities and such action will continue to be vigorously pursued by the Bureau. My Department will continue to consider how to advance additional measures, such as the use of divestitures and trusteeships, designed to assist in the fight against organised crime.

  160.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when he will establish the Judicial Sentencing Commission; and the time-frame once established to publish sentencing guidelines. [36477/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In considering this matter, my Department is guided by the ongoing work of the steering committee established by the Courts Service Board to plan for and provide information on sentencing. The committee, under the chair of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court, comprises a judge from the High, Circuit and District Courts and a university law lecturer with expertise in sentencing law.

The project, known as the Irish Sentencing Information System (“ISIS”), involves an examination of the feasibility of providing a computerised information system on sentences and other penalties imposed for criminal offences. This will assist judges when considering the sentence to be imposed in an individual case.

The objective of a sentencing information system is to enable a judge, by entering relevant criteria, to access information about the range of sentences and other penalties imposed for particular types of offence in previous cases.

The Committee established a pilot project in June 2006 in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. A further pilot commenced in Cork Circuit Court in April 2008. An appropriate IT system has been developed incorporating a database where the information collected is electronically stored for subsequent retrieval and searching.

  161.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when he will introduce an annual formal review process to assess the effect of both the new mandatory sentencing regime for drug crime and for bail. [36478/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Section 27 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (as amended by the Criminal Justice Acts 1999, 2006 and 2007), provides for mandatory minimum sentences of not less than 10 years imprisonment for individuals convicted of a first offence under sections 15A and/or 15B of that Act.

The mandatory minimum sentence, or to give it its more accurate description, presumptive minimum sentence, is to be imposed in all cases save for those with very specific and exceptional mitigating factors.

Where an individual is convicted of a second or subsequent offence under sections 15A and/or 15B a court must always impose a sentence of not less than the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The maximum sentence available for section 15A and 15B offences is life imprisonment.

[935]Having regard to concern about the degree to which the presumptive minimum sentence was being imposed, notwithstanding the amendments introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 further amended section 27 of the 1977 Act in order to insert an interpretation clause.

The clause emphasises that a decision to depart from the presumptive minimum sentence must be based on the presence of exceptional and specific circumstances relating to the offence or the offender which would make it unjust in all the circumstances to impose a sentence of not less than 10 years.

Referring to the damaging effects of drug related crime on society the clause states that a court must, as a general principle, always impose the presumptive minimum sentence on persons convicted of an offence under sections 15A and 15B.

The Agreed Programme for Government includes a commitment to conduct a formal annual review of the effect of these provisions concerning the mandatory sentence regime for drug crime which were introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2007.

As the provisions in question which are contained in Section 33 of the Act have only been in operation since 18 May 2007, the issue of establishing a formal review mechanism will be addressed at the appropriate stage.

With regard to the issue of bail, I can assure the Deputy that the Government has monitored the operation of the bail laws and continuously made them more stringent.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution allows for bail to be refused to a person charged with a serious offence, where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person.

The Bail Act 1997 gave effect to this Amendment and also tightened up the bail regime generally. One of the provisions introduced by this Act is that an offence committed while on bail is to be treated as an aggravating factor when sentence is being imposed by the Courts.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 1984, a sentence imposed for an offence committed while on bail is to run consecutive to the sentence for the original offence.

New powers were introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2007 including a requirement that applicants for bail may have to provide a statement of their means, their previous criminal record and details of any offences committed while previously on bail.

This Act also provides that the opinion of a Garda Chief Superintendent that bail should be refused on the grounds that the applicant is likely to commit a serious offence if granted bail is admissible as evidence.

I am keeping all aspects of the operation of our bail laws under review.

  162.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his plans for the provision of a specialised team trained in the area of domestic violence in each garda region. [36479/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  During initial training all members of An Garda Síochána receive instructions in the handling and investigation of incidents relating to domestic violence. Additional training is given in the Garda College through a number of outside agencies which include Women’s Aid, MOVE and AMEN.

While ‘domestic violence’ is not the subject of specific definition in law, provisions of the following legislation can pertain in such situations:

[936]Domestic Violence Act, 1996 (as amended)

Criminal Damage Act, 1991

Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act, 1997

Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act, 1990

Criminal Justice Public Order Act, 1994

Children Act, 2001

Breach of the Peace at Common Law. The Garda Síochána Policy on Domestic Violence Intervention was the subject of review and revised instructions were issued in 2007 on outline procedures to be adopted in investigating such incidents. There is a duty on all members of An Garda Síochána to investigate all incidents of domestic violence, including reports received from a third party.

Members of An Garda Síochána have at their disposal a number of dedicated suites throughout the State for dealing specifically with children and in some cases adults, who have been the victims of specific offences including domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit within the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, under Assistant Commissioner, National Support Services, has national responsibility for the implementation of Garda Policy on Domestic Violence within the State. There are monitoring mechanisms in place, with a Garda Inspector appointed in every Garda Division, to ensure uniform enforcement countrywide.

  163.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his commitment to provide an entitlement to free full separate legal advice, assistance and representation to complainants in cases of sexual violence. [36480/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can inform the Deputy that the Legal Aid Board provides legal advice to complainants in a prosecution for a defined range of categories of sexual assault, including rape. In addition, legal representation in Court is also available to a complainant in certain sexual assault cases where the prior sexual history of the complainant is being raised by the accused person. No means test applies in any of these cases.

  164.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress to date on establishing a dedicated missing persons unit and a response network similar to the amber alert in the USA. [36818/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In June 2008, I asked the Garda Inspectorate to undertake an assessment of the need to establish a dedicated Missing Persons Unit, including a response network similar to ‘Amber Alert’ in the USA. This was in accordance with the commitment made in the Programme for Government.

I understand that the Inspectorate is currently making progress on its assessment and I look forward to examining its report in due course.

  165.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will direct resources for a two-year period towards the provision of sports and community projects and the provision of physical education facilities in schools at primary and secondary level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36320/08]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen):  Under the sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, funding is allocated to sporting and community organisations and, in certain circumstances to schools and colleges, throughout the country. It is the main vehicle for development of sports facilities at local, regional and national level throughout the country. Under the programme priority is given to the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities

Primary and post-primary schools wishing to be considered for funding under the programme may apply for funding jointly with local sports clubs or community groups and must meet other conditions including a requirement that the local community will have significant access to the proposed facility, at least 30 hours a week throughout the year, when it is not being used by the school itself. Any sports facility proposed for funding by a sporting organisation and which would be located within school grounds would have to meet these same conditions.

Applications from primary and post-primary schools and colleges on their own are not considered under the programme. Responsibility for the provision of sports facilities in schools and colleges is a matter in the first instance for my colleague the Minister for Education and Science.

  166.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if he has fully implemented the recommendations of the working group on drug rehabilitation. [36471/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  The Report of the Working Group on Drugs Rehabilitation made a series of recommendations for the development of a comprehensive rehabilitation pillar under the National Drugs Strategy. As agreed by the Working Group, the HSE is taking the lead role in this area.

In this context, I understand that the post of Senior Rehabilitation Co-ordinator will shortly be filled by the HSE. In addition, the first meeting of the National Drugs Rehabilitation Implementation Committee will be held in early November, dovetailing with the appointment of the Co-ordinator, who will chair it. My Department will be represented on that Committee.

Meanwhile, a number of other rehabilitation initiatives are also being progressed, including the following: my Department is providing funding of €750,000 for rehabilitation initiatives at Local and Regional Drugs Task Force level this year; increased funding is also being provided to the Family Support Network and this will support the role of families in the rehabilitation process; the Irish Prison Service is working to improve the operation of the Local Prisons Liaison Groups and to endeavour to ensure a continuum of care for problem drug users when they leave prison; the Dept of Education & Science is developing proposals for an education fund for drugs rehabilitation; and the Dept of Environment, Heritage & Local Government is establishing a Working Group to progress the report’s recommendations in regard to accommodation issues for recovering drug users.

[938]Overall progress on the implementation of the Report of the Working Group on Drugs Rehabilitation will continue to be monitored through the Inter-departmental Group on Drugs which I chair. While the Deputy will appreciate that it will take some time to give effect to all the recommendations of the Working Group, I can assure him that I will pursuing their implementation over the coming period.

  167.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of local and regional drugs task forces around the country; the funding they have received in each of the past five years; and the progress to date on the development of additional projects to these drugs task forces. [36472/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  There are 14 Local Drugs Task Forces (LDTFS) and 10 Regional Drugs Task Forces (RDTFs) covering all parts of the country. The locations of the Task Forces and expenditure — current and capital — from my Department to each of them for the last five years are set out below in Appendix 1.

With regard to the work of the Task Forces, the Deputy should note the following. Over 440 LDTF projects, including those under the Emerging Needs Fund, have been approved funding of €22m for 2008. Some €10m is being provided this year to advance the implementation of the RDTF plans. This will support approx. 155 community projects already in operation in the different areas and will allow for another 40 projects or so to get started this year. Earlier this year, I approved dedicated funding for 8 projects, totalling nearly €900,000, to tackle the problem of drug misuse in Limerick City and a further €500,000 is earmarked for a capital proposal which is currently being developed. I have also provided further funding of €100,000 to develop “Dial-to-Stop Drug Dealing Campaigns” in several Task Force areas.

In addition, further funding of almost €2m was approved earlier this year for projects in Task Force areas aimed at supporting rehabilitation (€750,000) and addressing cocaine use (€1.2m approx). Some €500,000 has been provided to Task Forces to run cocaine awareness campaigns in their areas to dovetail with the national awareness campaign. I recently approved capital expenditure of nearly €2.3m under the Regional Youth Initiative. This initiative will provide capital funding for the development of 16 dedicated youth facilities in RDTF areas not covered under the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund (YPFSF). This funding is additional to the €4m approved in 2008 for 15 capital projects under the Premises Initiative Fund, which addresses the accommodation needs of community drugs projects in Task Force areas.

Finally, the Deputy should note that expenditure under the YPFSF — which operates in the LDTF areas and four urban centres — is not included in any of the figures provided.

Appendix 1

Local Drugs Task Forces 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 to 20/10/08 Total
€000m €000m €000m €000m €000m €000m
Ballymun 0.72 1.31 1.15 1.32 0.95 5.45
Ballyfermot 0.60 1.20 1.52 1.37 2.29 6.99
Blanchardstown 1.06 1.12 1.27 1.13 0.72 5.31
Bray 1.13 1.33 1.39 1.65 1.15 6.65
Canal Communities 1.33 1.29 1.30 1.65 1.68 7.26
D/Laoghaire Rathdown 0.47 0.93 0.61 0.92 0.61 3.54
Dublin 12 0.30 0.85 1.00 1.07 1.34 4.56
Finglas/Cabra 0.21 0.69 0.89 0.95 0.67 3.40
North Inner City 1.66 1.82 2.58 2.67 2.77 11.50
South Inner City 1.61 1.32 1.94 2.00 2.71 9.58
Cork 1.23 1.25 1.61 1.67 2.10 7.86
Dublin NE 0.55 1.22 1.05 1.14 0.90 4.85
Clondalkin 1.27 1.30 0.94 1.40 1.52 6.42
Tallaght 0.66 0.95 1.01 1.17 1.19 4.98
Cross Task Force 0.07 0.09 0.34 0.34 0.48 1.31
Total 12.87 16.67 18.61 20.43 21.08 89.66

Regional Drugs Task Forces 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 to 20/10/08 Total
€000m €000m €000m €000m €000m €000m
Northern 0.05 0.00 0.32 0.58 0.15 1.10
North Dublin City and Fingal
South Western 0.03 0.06 0.38 0.46 0.76 1.68
South Dublin City, South Dublin, Kildare and West Wicklow
East Coast 0.05 0.03 0.42 1.14 0.50 2.14
Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown and East Wicklow
Midland 0.03 0.03 0.16 0.26 0.57 1.04
Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois
Mid-West 0.03 0.05 0.36 0.39 1.15 1.98
Clare, North Tipperary and Limerick
North East 0.05 0.36 0.59 1.14 1.02 3.16
Monaghan, East Cavan, Meath and Louth
North West 0.05 0.03 0.19 0.28 0.37 0.91
West Cavan, Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim
South East 0.04 0.01 1.02 1.07 1.54 3.68
Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary South and Waterford
Southern 0.04 0.03 0.32 1.23 0.94 2.56
Cork County and Kerry
Western 0.05 0.03 0.42 1.18 0.86 2.54
Mayo, Roscommon and Galway
Total 0.40 0.63 4.18 7.73 7.86 20.80

  168.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the funding provided to the young people’s facilities and services fund each year since its establishment; and if he will provide details on the expansion of the fund to Leinster. [36473/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  Details of the funding provided each year since 2002 — when responsibility for the Young Peoples Facilities & Services Fund transferred to this Department — are set out in the table.

The figures include funding provided for projects mainstreamed in 2004 and 2006 to the Departments of Education & Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In relation to the Fund, the Deputy should note that arrangements to give effect to the transfer of the Fund to the Office of the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs (OMCYA) — in line with the Taoiseach’s announcement last May — are expected to be completed shortly.

It was also announced earlier this year that the Fund is being extended to 4 new towns in Leinster — Arklow, Dundalk, Wexford and Athlone. The Deputy will appreciate that this will now be a matter for the OMCYA to progress in the context of funding available to them for 2009.

YPFSF Funding provided since 2002

Year Funding by Dept of CRGA Funding transferred from D/CRGA to D/JELR and D/ES for mainstreaming Mainstreamed projects funding (DJELR & DES) Total YPFSF funding provided
2002* 15,223,390 N/A 15,223,390
2003 20,003,265 N/A 20,003,265
2004 11,878,212 6,405,370 N/A 18,283,582
2005 14,241,929 7,095,980 21,337,909
2006 15,451,574 1,021,210 7,270,605 23,743,389
2007 20,274,778 8,642,000 28,916,778
2008 to date 19,812,231
(to date)
8,885,000 28,697,231
Total 116,885,379 7,426,580 31,893,585 156, 205,544

  169.  Deputy Tony Gregory    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    her views on the question raised in correspondence (details supplied) regarding EU Directive 2006/54/EC; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36367/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation was adopted on 5 July, 2006. This Directive simplifies, modernises and improves Community legislation in the area of equal treatment for men and women in employment and occupation by bringing together in a single text the relevant provisions from the earlier [941]directives relating to this subject in order to make them clearer and more effective for the benefit of all citizens.

There are three main subject areas covered by this Directive: access to employment, including promotion, and to vocational training; working conditions, including pay; and occupational social security schemes.

Article 2(1)(f) of this Directive defines occupational social security schemes as schemes “whose purpose is to provide workers, whether employees or self-employed, in an undertaking or group of undertakings, area of economic activity, occupational sector or group of sectors with benefits intended to supplement the benefits provided by statutory social security schemes or to replace them, whether membership of such schemes is compulsory or optional”.

While this Directive applies to occupational social security schemes such as occupational pensions and benefits provided by the employer, it does not apply to statutory social security schemes, such as the Irish child benefit scheme. This position is made clear in the recent reply by the European Commission to a European Parliament question on this matter. In its reply the Commission clarifies that family benefits, including child benefit, are covered by the Directive provided that “such benefits constitute a consideration paid by the employer to the worker by reason of the latter’s employment” in accordance with Article 7(1)(b) of that Directive.

Accordingly, the Directive only applies to family and child benefits provided by an employer as part of the person’s remuneration package or package of other work-related benefits. It does not apply to family or child benefits paid as part of the statutory social security system. A technical review of the entire social welfare code, including Child Benefit, is currently being undertaken to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act, 2000. This review, which is examining the social welfare schemes and services provided for both on a legislative and administrative basis, aims to identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination on any of the nine grounds listed under the Equal Status Act, including: gender, marital status and family status, that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate. The review is due to be completed early in 2009.

  170.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved and awarded disability allowance. [36575/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Disability Allowance is a weekly allowance which is currently paid to people with a specified disability who are aged 16 or over and under age 66. With effect from January 2009, as part of the Budget 2009 measures, the minimum age for receipt of Disability Allowance has been raised to 18 years for new claimants. The disability must be expected to last for at least one year and the allowance is subject to both medical assessment and a means test.

The person concerned made an application for disability allowance on 31 July 2008. He was recently interviewed by a Social Welfare Inspector and the Inspector’s report has been forwarded to the Disability Allowance Section in Longford. Upon receipt of the file in the Section, the medical papers relating to the person concerned will be assessed by the Department’s Medical Assessor to determine if he satisfies the medical criteria for eligibility to disability allowance.

This person is currently in receipt of basic Supplementary welfare allowance at the reduced rate of €78.20 per week.

[942]A final decision will be given on this person’s application for Disability Allowance upon receipt of the Medical Assessor’s and Social Welfare Inspector’s reports. He will be notified directly of the outcome.

  171.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a jobseekers allowance appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be finalised. [36578/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The claim for jobseeker’s allowance by the person concerned was disallowed by a deciding officer of the Department on 24 August 2008 on the grounds that his means exceeded the statutory limit.

An appeal was opened on 17 September 2008 and I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that, in accordance with statutory requirements, the Department was asked for the documentation in the case and the Deciding Officer’s comments on the grounds of the appeal.

On receipt of these, the case will be referred to an Appeals Officer for early consideration.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office is an office of the Department that is independently responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

  172.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when an oral hearing will be scheduled to finalise a half-rate carers allowance appeal by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [36579/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The claim for Carer’s Allowance, by the person concerned, was refused by a Deciding Officer of the Department on the 10th April 2008 on the grounds that he was not providing full-time care and attention in respect of the care recipient and that he was employed outside the home for more than 15 hours per week.

An appeal was opened on 17 April 2008 and I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that, in accordance with the statutory requirements, the Department was asked for the documentation in the case and the Deciding Officer’s comments on the grounds of the appeal.

These have been received and her case has been referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral appeal hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office is an office of the Department that is independently responsible for determining appeals against decisions on Social Welfare entitlements.

  173.  Deputy Bobby Aylward    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of recruits who have enlisted in the Reserve Defence Force, the Army Reserve, since its reorganisation on 1 October 2005; the number of reservists who have resigned or left the Reserve Defence Force; the number of reserve officers who have resigned their commission since reorganisation; if the strength of the Army Reserve meets the establishment strength; his proposals to deal with the shortage of manpower in the Reserve Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36363/08]

[943]Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  A detailed breakdown of the number of recruits enlisted in the Reserve Defence Force and the number discharged since the reorganisation of the Reserve Defence Force on 1 October 2005 are in the form of Tabular Statements.

Recruited to Army and Naval Service Reserve

Year Number
2005 1,069
2006 1,124
2007 972
2008 to 31 August, 2008 890
Total 4,055

Discharged from the Army and Naval Service Reserve

Year Number
2005 3,085
2006 1,948
2007 1,497
2008 to 31 August, 2008 1,239
Total 7,769

A total of 26 Reserve officers resigned their commissions from 1 October, 2005 to date.

The Reserve Defence Force Review implementation plan set out proposed establishment strengths for the Reserve Defence Force. The Non-Integrated element of the Reserve was to be comprised of 9,692 personnel (9,292 Army Reserve and 400 Naval Service Reserve) and accordingly new organisational structures which give effect to this establishment, were introduced in October, 2005.

The integrated element of the Army Reserve has a planned establishment of 2,656. As provided for in the plan a pilot integration programme was launched in 2007 and continued in 2008. The military authorities are currently reviewing the pilot programme and will bring forward proposals for the future development of the Integrated Reserve for my consideration.

The strength of the Reserve on 31 August, 2008 was 7,856. The reduction in personnel numbers is partly due to the removal of non-effective personnel from Reserve Unit’s strength. A planned recruitment and awareness campaign has been postponed in light of current budgetary constraints. This important project will be re-visited when the budgetary situation permits.

  174.  Deputy Tony Gregory    asked the Minister for Defence    the dates on which firearms and ammunition stored at Clancy Barracks were destroyed on behalf of the Garda technical bureau between 1 July 2000 and 31 August 2000; the nature and quantities destroyed; and the date on which tenders were invited for the destruction of firearms and munitions at Clancy Barracks during the years 2000 and 2001. [36369/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I am advised that in the 1990s the Defence Forces provided storage facilities in Clancy Barracks, Dublin for weapons and small arms [944]ammunition belonging to the Garda Technical Bureau. This arrangement was for the purpose of storage only and lasted up until the closure of Clancy Barracks in December 2001.

The Defence Forces did not destroy any weapons or ammunition on behalf of the Garda Technical Bureau during the period from 1 July 2000 and 31 August 2000 and had no involvement in any tender competition for the destruction of firearms and munitions belonging to the Garda Technical Bureau during the years 2000 and 2001.

  175.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the position in regard to the development and participation in EU or UN sponsored RAPID response forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36426/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  Ireland participated in the Nordic Battlegroup (NBG), which was on stand-by from 1 January 2008 to 30 June 2008. The other members of the Nordic Battlegroup were Sweden, acting as Framework Nation, Finland, Norway and Estonia. The Defence Forces contribution to the NBG was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (EOD/IEDD) contingent with its own security detail. Battlegroups have been on stand-by in the European Union since 1 January 2007. To date no Battlegroup has been deployed.

With regard to Ireland’s participation in future Battlegroups, we are committed in principle to participation in the Nordic Battlegroup (NBG), which will be on stand-by for the first six (6) months of 2011. Other contributors to the Nordic Battlegroup are Sweden, acting as Framework Nation, Finland, Norway and Estonia. Informal discussions have also taken place between staff in the Department of Defence and representatives from Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding Ireland’s possible participation in the proposed Austrian/German Battlegroup. This Battlegroup will be on stand-by for the second six (6) months of 2012. Government approval will be required before participation in either Battlegroup is finalised.

  176.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which the Defence Forces will receive ongoing training and equipment in keeping with other defence forces on EU or UN sponsored missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36427/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Defence Forces receive ongoing training and equipment to enable them to participate fully in UN, EU and other missions overseas. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training, designed to help them carry out their peacekeeping mission and to provide for their protection. Pre-deployment training is provided to members of the Permanent Defence Force and is updated in the light of increased threat. I am satisfied that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas receive the necessary training to enable them to carry out their duties in a professional manner.

Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions are equipped with the most modern and effective equipment. This equipment enables troops to carry out the mission assigned, as well as providing the required protection specific to the mission. Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and we continually review both personal equipment and force assets, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles.

[945]Questions Nos. 177 and 178 answered with Question No. 14.

  179.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which it is intended, expected or required to extend or improve the coastal surveillance services provided by the Air Corps and Navy with particular reference to the ever growing need arising from drug trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36430/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Naval Service provides the maritime element of the Defence Forces and has a general responsibility to meet contingent and actual maritime defence requirements. The Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships. All eight ships are involved in coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State in that part of the seas where State jurisdiction applies. The Naval Service provides a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s obligations as a member of the European Union. The Service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the Exclusive Fishery Limits. At present, fishery protection activity accounts for roughly 90% of all Naval Service patrol time. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels may be deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power and drug interdiction operations.

The current Exclusive Fishery Limits extend to 200 miles offshore and cover an area of 132,000 nautical square miles. The Naval Service currently patrols the entire 200 mile limit and periodically patrols beyond these limits to protect specific fisheries. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary. The number of Patrol Vessels on patrol in Irish waters at any one time varies between three and seven. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone at any one time. Naval Service patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps. The Air Corps Maritime Squadron carries out aerial surveillance of territorial waters using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft.

The White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in the prevention of drug trafficking. Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a Joint Task Force involving An Garda Síochána, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking. The Air Corps provide air support and, on occasion, carry the Customs National Drugs Team in an observational capacity for the purpose of monitoring vessels suspected of drug trafficking and other illegal activities. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service and the Air Corps in discharging this important mission. I am satisfied with the coastal surveillance services currently provided by the Air Corps and the Naval Service and I have no plans, nor do I feel there is a requirement to extend these services.

  180.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the way recent financial cutbacks are expected to affect each sector in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36431/08]

  181.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the estimated or intended savings proposed by his Department in the course of the current cutbacks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36432/08]

[946]Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 181 together.

The gross total allocation for my Department in 2009 is €1,061m, comprising €852m in the Defence Estimate and €209m in the Army Pensions Estimate. When compared with the allocation for 2008, this represents a reduction of 4% in the Defence Estimate and an increase of 10% in the Army Pensions Estimate, giving an overall reduction of 1.6%. The reduction in the Defence Estimate will be achieved by making savings across a number of subheads, both pay and non-pay. In common with other areas of the public sector, a payroll cut of 3% has been applied in the case of the civil service staff of my Department, the Defence Forces and civilians employed with the Defence Forces. This will entail restrictions on the filling of vacancies, including the temporary deferral of recruitment, throughout the Defence organisation.

A number of capital building projects will be deferred and some equipment replacement programmes are likely to be spread over a longer period. However, the allocation provided for 2009 will enable the Defence Forces to maintain their current level of operations at home and abroad, including the overseas peace support operations in Chad and Kosovo. In the current economic situation, it is not possible to continue the same rate of expenditure on equipment and infrastructure as has taken place in recent years. However, I am satisfied that priority programmes of investment will be maintained.

  182.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which the need for upgrading or modernisation of military equipment, hardware or facilities has been identified; when it is intended to implement such proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36433/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The acquisition of new equipment and facilities for the Defence Forces continues to be a key focus for me as Minister for Defence. Significant investment has taken place in recent years in this regard and this investment will continue in the future taking into account the financial situation year on year. The unprecedented level of expenditure on equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service was made possible by the Government’s decision that pay savings arising from the reorganization of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment.

Investment in new equipment for the Defence Forces is provided for under various Subheads of the Defence Vote relating to defensive equipment, mechanical transport, aircraft, ships and naval stores, engineering, communications and Information Technology equipment etc. All elements of the Defence Forces, the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and the Reserve have benefited from the investment in new equipment.

With the completion of the Mowag Armoured Personnel Carrier contract, the acquisition of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles (LTAV) is regarded as a priority by the Defence Forces given the nature of their roles on overseas Peace Support Missions. A tender competition for the acquisition of the vehicles is well advanced. The intention is that the LTAV will complement the Mowag Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) in the conduct of conventional and Peace Support Operations and will fill a gap that exists between soft-skinned vehicles and the Mowags.

The proposal is to acquire an initial twenty-seven vehicles (17 for overseas missions and 10 at home for training). The tender competition will allow for two additional options, for another twenty-seven vehicles. There is a sum of €6m in this year's Estimates provision as a down [947]payment on an LTAV contract. The results of the tender competition will dictate the overall cost of the project. It is my intention to have a contract for the acquisition of the LTAVs in place by the end of the year. The equipment issued to the Defence Forces is in keeping with the most modern requirements and the highest international standards. The ongoing investment in the Defence Forces will ensure that this remains to be the case.

On the infrastructural side, my Department has an ongoing capital building programme designed to modernise the living, training, operational and accommodation facilities available to the Defence Forces, both Permanent and Reserve. The programme focuses mainly on infrastructural projects comprising the construction of new buildings and the refurbishment of existing buildings. Since 1999 over €250 million has been expended on the programme. Estimated expenditure this year is €28.6m including a carryover of €3m savings from 2007. It is intended that Defence Forces facilities will continue to be modernised over the coming years notwithstanding the disposal of some military installations. Any revenue accruing from the disposal of these installations will be used to finance infrastructure projects within the Defence Forces.

  183.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to increase the strength of the Army, Navy or Air Corps in the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36434/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 set out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force as the strength sufficient to meet all foreseeable military requirements for the period comprehended by the White Paper (i.e. up to 2010). This remains the position. In common with other areas of the public service a payroll cut of 3% has been applied to the Defence Forces for 2009. Recruitment to the Defence Forces will be rescheduled in order to meet the revised allocation.

  184.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to update, upgrade or modernise the Defence Forces as a result of recent proposals to dispose of military installations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36435/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  In keeping with the commitments in the White Paper on Defence it is intended that the Defence Forces will continue to be modernised over the coming years. Any revenue accruing from the disposal of surplus Defence property will be used to finance equipment acquisition and infrastructure projects within the Defence Forces.

  185.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the persons to whom it is intended to dispose of the various military installations which he proposed to close as announced in budget 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36436/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  No decision has been made yet on the disposal of these Barracks. However, in keeping with Government policy the proceeds of any disposal will be reinvested in the Defence Forces.

  186.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which he has studied the social, economic and strategic defence implications arising from his decision to close a number of military installations here; if his attention has been drawn to the likely implications for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36437/08]

[948]Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The proposals announced in the Budget have been developed in full consultation with the military authorities. The dispersal of personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training. It also imposes increased and unnecessary overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barrack management, administration, maintenance and security. The consolidation process is designed to facilitate higher training standards, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties. As such, there are significant benefits from an economic, social and strategic context for Defence in the implementation of the current programme.

  187.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his plans to expand the role of community wardens. [36461/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Community wardens have a broad range of functions, which fall under three main headings, namely, community liaison; the enforcement of a range of local authority functions, including certain traffic offences, litter offences and casual trading; and the monitoring of housing estates, tourist attractions and public amenities and the reporting of breaches of environmental or planning legislation. There are no plans at present to expand this role.

  188.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will respond to a query (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36281/08]

  189.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will respond to a query (details supplied). [36282/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 189 together.

As signalled by the Minister for Finance in Budget 2009, a new single streamlined Government Equity scheme is to be introduced in relation to affordable housing. Under this new arrangement the purchase transaction will be largely unchanged from the affordable purchaser’s perspective. However, instead of units being sold at a discounted price, with the value of the discount being subject to a reducing clawback, the State will take an equity stake in affordable units sold. The purchaser will have the option of either buying out the remaining equity in steps or at the end of a fixed period.

Initially, it is intended to apply the equity loan arrangement to affordable housing delivered under Part V, the 1999 Affordable Housing Scheme and the Affordable Housing Initiative, once the details have been finalised and the necessary legislative provision has been introduced through the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2008. The issue of introducing an open market component of the scheme will be kept under review in light of developments in the housing market.

These new arrangements will introduce greater equity into the system and provide a basis for achieving greater consistency across the schemes and across different areas of the country. The greater protection of the State’s investment will also mean that funds can be recycled into assisting further households with affordable housing.

[949]Full information on the revised arrangements will be made available prior to their commencement. In the interim, the existing arrangements for allocation and sale of affordable housing continue to apply. Prospective applicants for affordable homes should apply in the normal way to the local authority or local authorities in the areas in which they are interested in purchasing. The website www.affordablehome.ie also carries information on affordable housing, and many local authorities are using this facility to advertise affordable homes, including application forms, in addition to their own local advertising and ongoing contacts with applicants on their lists.

  190.  Deputy Michael Noonan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the current and capital allocations he is making in 2009 to the Northside Regeneration Agency and the Southside Regeneration Agency in Limerick city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36301/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  In 2008 my Department allocated almost €7 million to support the operation of the Limerick Regeneration Agencies, mainly for the development of the regeneration master plans and for social inclusion measures.

Within the overall funding available to my Department for the provision and improvement of social housing for 2009, funds will be provided to advance the planning of the Limerick Regeneration Scheme, to meet the costs of the Regeneration Agencies, to facilitate a number of households wishing to move in line with the overall regeneration strategy, and for related matters. The full allocation of funding for regeneration schemes nationally, including for Limerick, will be finalised early next year.

  191.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will issue guidelines to local authorities for the erection of wind turbines for the supply of electricity for domestic and on farm use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36328/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 393 of 7 October 2008.

The Planning and Development Regulations 2007 provide exemptions from planning permission requirements in respect of certain classes of micro-renewable technologies for use in the home. The exemptions apply to solar panels and other micro-renewable technologies such as wind turbines, heat pumps and biomass, subject to certain conditions in each case.

The exemptions in respect of Wind Turbines provides for the construction, erection or placing of a wind turbine within the curtilage of a domestic house. The main conditions include that the Wind Turbine cannot be mounted on to the house or any other structure, its height should not exceed 13 metres and its rotor diameter should not exceed 6 meters. A summary of the exemption is attached.

In 2007, my Department reviewed the Planning Regulations with regard to exempted developments and carried out research into the planning implications of exempting renewable energy technologies in the industrial, business and agricultural sectors, with a view to providing specific exemptions wherever possible to encourage uptake of such technologies. On foot of this work, [950]a consultation paper outlining proposed exemptions was issued in October 2007. A total of 51 submissions were received and carefully considered.

In July 2008, the Oireachtas approved the Planning and Development Regulations 2008, providing planning exemptions for specified renewable technologies in the industrial, business and agricultural sectors. Wind Turbines are included in the classes of micro-renewable technology exemptions applicable to agricultural sites and a summary of the exemption is attached.

On the general issue of Wind Farm development, my Department issued the Wind Energy Development Guidelines in June 2006. A copy of the Guidelines is available on my Department’s website www.environ.ie. The Guidelines offer advice to planning authorities on planning for wind energy through the development plan process and in determining applications for planning permission.

EXEMPTIONS FOR RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY (DOMESTIC)

Wind Turbines

No exemption for building-mounted turbines

Max height up to 13m

Rotor diameter up to 6m

Ground clearance of at least 3m

Must be turbine height (including the blade of the turbine at the highest point of its arc) plus 1m from nearest party boundary

Consent of IAA required if within 5kms of an airfield, etc

Noise levels must be less than 43db(A) during normal operation

Only 1 per site

No constructed, erected or place forward if the front wall of a house

No logos, and non-reflective finish.

EXEMPTIONS FOR RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY (AGRICULTURAL)

Wind Turbines

No exemption for building-mounted turbines

Max height up to 20m

Rotor diameter up to 8m

Ground clearance of at least 3m

Must be turbine height plus 5m from nearest party boundary and non-electrical overhead cables

Must be turbine height plus 20m from 38kV lines or own height plus 30m from lines of 110kV or more

Consent of IAA required if within 5kms of an airfield, etc

[951]Noise levels must be less than 43db(A) at site boundary

Only 1 per site, and not within an ACA

No logos, and non-reflective finish.

  192.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his view on a new development charge for roads being made, in addition to regular development charges, on a planning application which was already lodged and in the process of being finalised, when the new charge was approved by the council and then levied, on this application retrospectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36329/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Development contribution schemes under Section 48 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 are drawn up by each planning authority and approved by the elected members following a public consultation process. It is also open to a planning authority to prepare a Supplementary Development contribution scheme under Section 49 of the Act. It is a matter for the members of the planning authority to determine the level of contribution and the types of development to which they will apply.

It is open to applicants for planning permission to appeal a planning decision to An Bord Pleanála if the applicant considers that the terms of a development contribution scheme or supplementary development contribution scheme have not been properly applied in respect of any planning condition laid down by the planning authority.

Under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, I may not exercise any power or control in a particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may be concerned.

  193.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the steps he will take to remove the hazardous waste on Haulbowline Island and clean up the island once this waste is removed; the amount this will cost his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36373/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Following extensive unauthorised works by sub-contractors my Department re-engaged consultants, White Young Green, to carry out an independent and rigorous assessment of site conditions on Haulbowline, including assessment of any health or environmental risks posed by the work, assessing quality of surface water, marine sediment and mussel bivalves in the vicinity and ambient air monitoring.

White Young Green previously carried out an extensive intrusive site investigation in 2005 which indicated no evidence of any immediate threat to human health or the environment. Test results will be assessed against baseline data from the previous survey.

Furthermore, at the request of local residents and public representatives, the current ongoing site assessment works, and the 2005 report, are being peer reviewed by independent experts to offer reassurance to the local communities that the scope of works, tests and analyses employed conform to best international practice in determining whether the site poses any immediate health or environmental threat. Professor Phillip Morgan (Sirius Geotechnical & Environmental Ltd.) and Dr. Marcus Trett (Physalia Limited, Consultant & Forensic Ecologists) have been appointed to carry out the peer review.

[952]Both the White Young Green and the peer review reports will be published once they have been received and assessed by my Department. Any recommendations arising from these reports will then inform proposals to Government. The future use of the site will determine the level of any future remediation that may be required and any potential costs involved.

I anticipate that both the White Young Green and peer review reports will be available in a matter of weeks.

  194.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to grant aid the provision of domestic wind turbine generation of electricity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36321/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I announced earlier this year the introduction of a new support programme to grant-aid a series of 50 or so micro-scale wind and photovoltaic electricity generating projects suitable for use in both domestic and commercial locations.

Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), which is administering the scheme, has recently completed consultations with industry stakeholders on micro scale devices and industry standards. The programme will open shortly to receive applications in accordance with the published qualifying conditions. As part of the new programme, SEI will also shortly publish a guide to connecting renewable electricity generators to the electricity network.

The Revised Part L Building Regulations include a compulsory renewable energy component for all new houses. This will not only ensure that renewables are integrated into the housing stock but will also encourage developers to take account of a range of renewable options when developing new homes. In February 2007 exemptions from the requirement to apply for planning permission for certain categories of micro-generation technologies were introduced under Statutory Instrument. S.I. No. 83 of 2007 “Planning and Development Regulations 2007”. Following further consultation last year, SI 235 of 2008 “Planning and Development Regulations 2008”, provides for further planning exemptions for additional classes of renewable energy installations.

The Commission for Energy Regulation jointly with ESB Networks have recently amended the rules associated with small scale generators. It is now the case that generators of less than 6kW on single phase electricity and 11kW on three phase electricity supply cables can now connect their generators without prior authorisation.

  195.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the timescale for the conclusion of the tendering process for the national broadband scheme; the estimated roll-out time for broadband services to all areas of the country under the national broadband scheme; the estimated cost of the national broadband scheme in 2009; the areas that will be covered by the scheme; if he will confirm that all areas not currently provided with a broadband service will be covered by the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36340/08]

  197.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will proceed with the national rural broadband scheme; when he will announce [953]the competition for same; the funding available in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for same; and when the notification of the winner of the competition will be announced.. [36346/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 195 and 197 together.

My Department has reached the evaluation stage of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) procurement process. The evaluation of bids is scheduled for completion shortly and the contract is expected to be signed next month. In order to protect the integrity of the procurement process, the financial information relating to the Scheme will not be disclosed at this stage.

Subject to agreement with the chosen service provider, rollout of services is expected to begin shortly after the contract is signed. The chosen service provider will be required to complete the roll out of services within 22 months of the contract award. All requests for a broadband service in the areas to be addressed by the NBS will be met.

  196.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if households that upgrade their windows to improve the energy efficiency of their home will be eligible for the 30% grant under the home energy saving scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36341/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Budget 2009 includes a €20m allocation for the national roll-out of the Home Energy Savings Scheme. The specific mechanisms and eligibility details of the programme will be defined shortly.

Question No. 197 answered with Question No. 195.

  198.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number and the schools which will be losing teaching staff due to the new changes in the staffing schedule. [36277/08]

  199.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the schools which will not be in a position to gain extra teachers due to the new changes in the staffing schedule. [36278/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 198 and 199 together.

The specific information requested, by the Deputy, in relation to the detailed staffing allocations that individual schools will have for the commencement of the academic year 2009/10 cannot be determined until the allocation processes at primary and post-primary level have fully concluded. There is nothing exceptional in this. The allocation processes include appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules.

This is particularly relevant at post-primary level where the appellate process considers in particular any specific curricular needs of the school concerned. At primary level the final allocation to a school is also a function of the operation of the redeployment panels which provide for the retention of a teacher in the existing school if a new post is not available within the agreed terms of the scheme. At post-primary there is no effective system-wide redeployment scheme at present and this can mean that schools retain teachers, though over quota, and [954]in addition discrete allocations are made to post-primary schools for example to cater for pupils with Special Educational Needs and those with Language difficulties and these allocations can also alter the ultimate position of the school in relation to any over quota position.

I want to clarify again that my Department’s budget for next year has been prepared on the same fundamental basis as any other year by estimating the number of teachers that will be employed under the different categories (e.g mainstream, special needs and language support) and allowing for any change in overall demographics. Schools are currently returning data to my Department in relation to their enrolment as of 30 September. My Department has commenced processing these data although all schools have not yet made their returns. The allocation processes including notification to schools will commence early in the New Year.

  200.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will provide a list, on a county basis, of all schools that are currently using prefabs as classrooms; and the age of these prefabs. [36279/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The demand for additional accommodation in schools has risen significantly over the last number of years, with the appointment of 6,000 extra teachers in the primary sector alone since 2002. In considering the need to provide extra resource and other teachers to schools in recent years, the Government could have decided to make children wait until permanent accommodation could be provided. However, we prioritised putting the extra teachers into schools as soon as possible and, in some cases, this has involved the provision of high-quality steel-framed prefabricated structures to accommodate them.

While comprehensive information on the use of temporary accommodation is held on individual school files, my Department did not have a central database of those schools that are currently using prefabricated accommodation as classrooms. In order to remedy this, my Department has surveyed almost 900 primary schools across the country regarding their use of rented prefabricated accommodation and is in the process of compiling this information. The information gathered will be used to produce a database of information on rented prefabricated accommodation which will be maintained on an ongoing basis and will inform my Department’s future decision-making in this area. This work is well advanced and I anticipate it will be completed shortly. When the information from the survey on rental of prefabricated accommodation is complete I will write to the Deputy with the relevant information.

The Permanent Accommodation Scheme was introduced in 2003 to reduce the need for prefabs. It was designed to give value for money in terms of providing permanent accommodation in place of prefabs, where an accommodation need was likely to exist for a considerable length of time. Since its introduction, over €100m has been allocated to schools under the scheme and it has resulted in the provision of an additional 625 classrooms and 275 resource rooms in schools around the country. This is in addition to those classrooms provided under the major capital projects managed by my Department. Had the Permanent Accommodation Scheme not been in place, a very significant proportion of those classrooms and resource rooms would have had to be provided using temporary accommodation such as prefabricated classrooms.

In July of this year I introduced a further innovation which allows those schools with an urgent and pressing need for additional accommodation and who are being given approval for grant-aid to avail of the option of using their grants to purchase prefabs or to construct permanent classrooms for the same amount. Despite this, it will continue to be necessary for prefabri[955]cated accommodation to be provided because competing priorities mean that it will not always be possible to have a permanent accommodation solution in place in a short timeframe. My Department will continue to provide funding for such prefabricated accommodation and the decision on whether to rent or purchase will depend on the likely length of time it will be required. In all cases, the approach will be to ensure best value for money.

  201.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a student (details supplied) has not received a third level place in the 2008-2009 academic year. [36288/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The responsibility for managing access to third level places rests with the Central Applications Office (CAO) and the third level institutions generally. The higher education institutions have delegated to the CAO the task of processing applications to their first year undergraduate courses. However, the participating institutions retain the function of making decisions on admissions. Neither my Department nor the Higher Education Authority has any role to play in relation to the operation of the CAO or the admissions policies of third level institutions.

  202.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the financial assistance available to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [36298/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The decision on eligibility for student maintenance grants is a matter for the relevant assessing authority, either the local authority or VEC, as appropriate. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department, except in exceptional circumstances.

If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of maintenance grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his/her case, an appeal form outlining the position may be submitted by the applicant to my Department.

  203.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that non-payment of moneys due to a contractor (details supplied) who supplied pedestrian control traffic lights at a school is delaying the switching on of the lights as required by the planning permission which issued to the school, thus causing a danger to pupils crossing a busy road; and if he will ensure that the amounts due are paid by his Department. [36318/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Department has now cleared for payment the outstanding amount due to the contractor in relation to the pedestrian crossing project at the school referred to the Deputy. It is expected therefore that this matter will be resolved very shortly.

  204.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the financial and [956]educational support that exists to assist a person (details supplied) in County Galway who wishes to pursue a course at third level in order to re-enter the workforce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36322/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The three Third Level Student Support Schemes, administered by the Local Authorities and the Vocational Education Committees on behalf of my Department, offer financial assistance to eligible students attending approved third level courses. Students entering approved courses for the first time are eligible for grants where they satisfy the relevant conditions as to age, residence, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

The closing date for receipt of grant applications for 2008/09 academic year was 29th August 2008. The awarding bodies, at their own absolute discretion, may accept applications after this date. The person referred to by the Deputy should contact their local awarding body to determine whether a late application would be considered at this juncture for the 2008/09 academic year.

The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the work force. Eligibility for the Back to Education Allowance and associated payments is determined and administered by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

  205.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason funding allocated and assurances given by his Department at the end of 2006 that a project at a school (details supplied) in County Galway would proceed unhindered to completion; and if he will confirm that these funds were diverted to another project. [36323/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The project to which the Deputy refers is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  206.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will confirm if he has approved the provision of a new second level school for Kinvara, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36324/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Commission on School Accommodation conducted a survey of school accommodation in the area referred to by the Deputy to determine the location of the proposed post primary school and to identify other locations where additional school places may be required over the next five to ten years.

The Commission published its report in January 2008 which recommended that a co-educational post primary school for circa 800 students should be provided in the northern environs of the area in question. When a new school has been approved, a number of procedures/processes must be undertaken and these can take some time to complete. The [957]main stages are the identification and acquisition of a suitable site, design of the building, application/granting of planning permission, invitation to seek tenders and construction.

The Property Management Section of the Office of Public Works (OPW), which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, has been requested to source a suitable site for the school in question. The further progression of the proposed project for the school will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  207.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress that has been made on plans to construct a new primary school in Eglish, Ahascragh and Ballinasloe in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36325/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  An application for capital funding towards the provision of a new school building was received in April 2008 from the school referred to by the Deputy.

The commencement and progression of all large scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase, including this project, will be considered in the context of my Department’s Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of this project at this time.

  208.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress that has been made on the ten year old plans to construct a new primary school at Aughrim and Ballinasloe in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36326/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  An application for an new school has been received from the school authority referred to by the Deputy.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, will be considered in the context of my Department’s Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  209.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of schools at primary and second level that have purpose built physical education facilities; if he is satisfied with this provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36327/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The specific information sought by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department and in view of other competing priorities in the capital area, it is not possible to allocate staffing resources to the compilation of the information at this stage.

My Department’s design guidelines for schools include guidance on the provision of PE Halls, general purpose rooms and outdoor hard play areas such as basketball courts. PE facilities have been provided, where appropriate, as part of my Department’s school building programme which, between 2000 and 2006, involved the delivery of over 7,800 projects, with an investment of €2.6 billion. A further €4.5 billion is to be invested under the current National [958]Development Plan 2007-2013. Close to €600m of this will be provided this year alone. This multi-annual funding will enable my Department to continue to take a proactive approach to the provision of modern school accommodation including PE facilities.

  210.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the way a school (details supplied) in County Cork can apply for a devolved grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36333/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  An application for temporary accommodation from the school to which the Deputy refers has been considered in my Department. In the context of available funding and the number of applications received for that funding it was not possible to approve all applications and only those with an absolute and demonstrated need for additional accommodation were approved.

The application from the school to which the Deputy refers was not successful on this occasion because it has accommodation that can be used on an interim basis. It is open to the school authority to apply for funding again next year under this Scheme.

  211.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a student (details supplied), who previously received a bus pass for the past two years, has been refused school transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36342/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey):  Under the terms of my Department’s Post Primary School Transport Scheme, a pupil is eligible for transport if s/he resides 4.8 kilometres or more from her/his local post primary education centre.

The scheme is not designed to facilitate parents who choose to send their children to a post-primary centre outside of the catchment area in which they reside. However, children who are fully eligible for transport to the post-primary centre in the catchment area in which they reside, may apply for transport on a concessionary basis to a post-primary centre outside of their own catchment area — otherwise known as catchment boundary transport. These children can only be facilitated if spare seats are available on the bus after all other eligible children travelling to their local post-primary centre have been catered for. Such children have to make their own way to the nearest pick up point within that catchment area.

The Transport Liaison Officer for the relevant county and Bus Éireann have advised that the transport service in question is operating to capacity. The family should continue to liaise with Bus Éireann regarding the availability of spare seats on the bus.

  212.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason students (details supplied) who received bus passes for previous years have been refused school transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36343/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey):  Under the terms of my Department’s Post Primary School Transport Scheme, a pupil is eligible for transport if s/he resides 4.8 kilometres or more from her/his local post primary education centre.

[959]The scheme is not designed to facilitate parents who choose to send their children to a post-primary centre outside of the catchment area in which they reside. However, children who are fully eligible for transport to the post-primary centre in the catchment area in which they reside, may apply for transport on a concessionary basis to a post-primary centre outside of their own catchment area — otherwise known as catchment boundary transport. These children can only be facilitated if spare seats are available on the bus after all other eligible children travelling to their local post-primary centre have been catered for. Such children have to make their own way to the nearest pick up point within that catchment area.

The Transport Liaison Officer for the relevant county and Bus Éireann have advised that the transport service in question is operating to capacity. The families should continue to liaise with Bus Éireann regarding the availability of spare seats on the bus.

  213.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the budget which is under the responsibility of the various Ministers of State at his Department, that is the budgets which are under their sole discretion and which do not require his authority before approval is made for expenditure; the amounts in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36348/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The total allocation under the control of Minister Haughey, as included in the 2009 Budget Estimates is €426m. The total allocation under the control of Minister of State Andrews is €49m.

In exercising their delegated functions, Ministers of State have regard to the overall responsibilities of the Minister for Education and Science in relation to the wider policy and budgetary framework, and the determination of priorities within that, for the Department of Education and Science.

  214.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has had discussions with a school (details supplied) in County Dublin with regard to acquiring an additional plot of land beside the school building; and if he will work with the school to assist in this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36349/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  My Department has had no recent discussions with the school to which the Deputy refers on the acquisition of an additional plot of land. If the school authorities wish to discuss the matter further, they should contact officials in my Department.

  215.  Deputy John Cregan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his views on introducing an insurance scheme through his Department for students visiting historical and educational sites which may not be covered by private insurers for such tours (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36361/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The issue of insurance for schools is a matter for the school authority concerned and this is the case in relation to the general conduct of a school’s business whether in the school setting or in the context mentioned by the Deputy. In that context a school should be satisfied that it is adequately covered by insurance against liability in respect of injury to pupils and teachers while participating in [960]educational tours. The precise nature and terms of such insurance is a matter between individual schools and their insurers.

Of course the insurance required by any school in such instance need only relate to any potential liability it or its agents might be found to have. Insurance cover for any liability that the owners of historical and educational sites might be found to have is of course a matter for those parties. My Department has no plans to introduce an insurance scheme of the nature suggested by the Deputy.

  216.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his options to preserve jobs and services at the physical education halls of schools (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36370/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The halls referred to by the Deputy were built as part of a programme to develop community sports halls in drugs task force areas in Dublin and Cork. The stated objective of the programme was that each hall would be dual use in nature in that they would be accessible to the wider community as well as to the local school population. The intention was that, apart from normal school usage, the facilities would be available as much as possible to the community and, in particular, to target groups such as youth at risk.

An application was made by my Department in 2006 for dormant accounts funding to enable community usage of the halls to commence. Government approval was received in 2007 for the drawdown of funding of approximately €2.1 million in respect of six of the halls, including those referred to by the Deputy. In regard to these six halls, management structures were put in place and community groups were given access.

The position is that the allocated dormant accounts funding will provide for the operation of these halls until the end of 2008. My Department does not fund community facilities but we are in contact with other Departments with responsibilities in this area and will be in contact with the relevant stakeholders as quickly as possible.

  217.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will confirm that the building programme at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 6W will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36371/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The project to which the Deputy refers is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  218.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will confirm that his senior officials are in touch with the board of management of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 in respect of the accommodation needs of the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36372/08]

[961]Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The building project for the school to which the Deputy refers is currently at an early stage of architectural planning. The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  219.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when he will provide funding for a new school building at a national school (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36379/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  My Department will be providing a new greenfield site building for the school to which the Deputy refers. The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project at this time.

  220.  D’fhiafraigh Deputy Brian O’Shea    den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta    cén dul chun cinn atá déanta ina Roinn leis an iarratas ó Ghaelscoil (sonraí tugtha); agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [36387/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  Tá iarratas ar fhoirgneamh úr déanta ag an scoil dá dtagraíonn an Teachta. Machnófar ar bhonn leanúnach dul chun cinn gach uile tionscadal tógála ar scála mór, an tionscadal seo ina measc, ón túschéim dearaidh go dtí tairisceana agus tógáil, i gcomhthéacs Chlár Tógala agus Athnuachain Scoile Ilbhliantúil mo Roinnse.

  221.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will support a matter in relation to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [36388/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I understand that the young person in question will be finishing his schooling next June. As the Deputy is aware, the Department of Health and Children/Health Service Executive assumes direct responsibility for young adults with special educational needs who are over 18 years. It is expected that special school authorities would consider post-school placement for school leavers in the period leading up to a student’s graduation from the school. It is open to the family to liaise with the school authorities to discuss post-school placement options for the young person in question.

  222.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason pedestrian traffic lights adjunct to a school (details supplied) in County Kildare have not been switched on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36438/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  My Department has now cleared for payment the outstanding amount due to the contractor in relation to the pedestrian [962]crossing project at the school referred to the Deputy. It is expected therefore that this matter will be resolved very shortly.

  223.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the developments, since his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 767 of 17 June 2008, in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; the degree to which the full accommodation requirement then identified still apply; when it is expected that the next stage of the development plan will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36439/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that on 29 September, I announced that the project in question could proceed. A tender report for the school building project referred to by the Deputy was previously received by my Department.

As the Deputy will be aware however, from February 2008 all Capital Works Projects must use the new Government Construction Contracts Committee (GCCC) Forms of Construction Contracts for Public Works and, as a result, it will be necessary to re-tender the project. Officials in my Department will be in contact with the school authorities regarding the re-tendering process.

  224.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the extent of classroom accommodation at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; the requirements for further accommodation and facilities; when it is anticipated that these will materialise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36440/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The school to which the Deputy refers has 2 permanent classrooms and 3 prefabs, one of which was grant aided for the 2008/09 school year. The school has not notified the Department of any other current needs.