Dáil Eireann

13/Nov/2008

Prelude

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Order of Business.

Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008: Order for Second Stage.

Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008: Second Stage.

Brutal Killing in Limerick: Statements.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Priority Questions.

Sentencing Policy.

State Agencies.

Crime Levels.

Prison Accommodation.

Other Questions.

Cyber Bullying.

Joint Policing Committees.

Detention Centres.

Preservation of Evidence.

Aircraft Search and Inspection.

Adjournment Debate.

Employment Rights.

Garda Stations.

Foreign Conflicts.

Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers.

Prison Visiting Committees.

Drug Seizures.

Prison Violence.

Prison Accommodation.

Civil Unions.

Asylum Applications.

Garda Deployment.

Residency Permits.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Recidivism Rate.

Prison Service.

Community Policing.

Garda Deployment.

Joint Policing Committees.

Courts Service.

Probation and Welfare Service.

Prison Medical Service.

Prison Education Service.

Garda Reserve.

Garda Deployment.

Drug Seizures.

Garda Strength.

Road Safety.

Public Order Offences.

Departmental Expenditure.

Young Offenders.

Departmental Bodies.

National Disability Strategy.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Bail Law.

Court Awards.

Garda Complaints Procedures.

Young Offenders.

Departmental Reports.

Garda Vetting Services.

Departmental Expenditure.

Road Traffic Offences.

Garda Investigations.

Garda Equipment.

Departmental Reports.

Proposed Legislation.

Human Trafficking.

Proposed Legislation.

Garda Operations.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Garda Equipment.

Garda Transport.

Departmental Expenditure.

Prison Building Programme.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Prison Building Programme.

Immigrant Registration.

Commissions of Investigation.

Garda Remuneration.

Garda Transport.

National Drugs Strategy.

Garda Investigations.

Prison Building Programme.

Prison Accommodation.

Ministerial Travel.

Ministerial Staff.

Industrial Development.

Work Permits.

Competition Act 2002.

EU Directives.

County Enterprise Boards.

Proposed Legislation.

EU Directives.

Work Permits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Tax Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Bodies.

Ministerial Staff.

Financial Services Regulation.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Decentralisation Programme.

Tax Code.

Departmental Properties.

Decentralisation Programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Ambulance Service.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Health Services.

Ambulance Service.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Health Services.

Ministerial Staff.

Infectious Diseases.

Child Abuse.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Medical Malpractice.

Hospitals Award Scheme.

Hospital Staff.

Departmental Offices.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Medical Cards.

Alcohol Marketing.

Sports Sponsorship.

Decentralisation Programme.

Regional Airports.

Ministerial Staff.

Regional Airports.

Public Transport.

National Car Test.

Road Network.

Taxi Regulations.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Judicial Appointment.

Garda Investigation.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Residency Permits.

Asylum Applications.

Residency Permits.

Asylum Applications.

Residency Permits.

Organised Crime.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Bail Law.

Citizenship Applications.

Recidivism Rate.

Asylum Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Judicial Co-operation.

Asylum Applications.

Travel Documentation.

Citizenship Applications.

Deportation Orders.

Citizenship Applications.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Diplomatic Relations.

International Summits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Grant Payments.

Irish Language.

Security of the Elderly.

Decentralisation Programme.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Ministerial Staff.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ministerial Staff.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

National Security.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Planning Issues.

Election Management System.

Ministerial Staff.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Local Government Elections.

Election Management System.

Legislative Programme.

Local Authority Funding.

Departmental Properties.

Energy Efficiency.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Election Management System.

Decentralisation Programme.

EU Directives.

Inland Fisheries.

Ministerial Staff.

Telecommunications Services.

Fisheries Boards.

Decentralisation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Ministerial Staff.

Animal Welfare.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Harbours and Piers.

Food Industry.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Decentralisation Programme.

School Enrolments.

Departmental Agencies.

State Examinations.

Psychological Service.

School Staffing.

Schools Funding.

Schools Building Projects.

School Enrolments.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Ministerial Staff.

Schools Building Projects.

School Transport.

Institutes of Technology.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Special Educational Needs.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Funding.

Decentralisation Programme.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Anois, iarratais chun tairisceana a dhéanamh an Dáil a chur ar athló faoi Bhuan Ordú 32. Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with notices under Standing Order 32.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the proposed lay-offs at Kostal Ireland at Mallow and Abbeyfeale and the need for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to engage with the automotive industry and wider car dealership industry to stem further job losses, particularly for those who are engaged in the production of automotive parts and to find ways to assist the industry through the involvement of all relevant State agencies and where possible to ensure the social welfare entitlements of workers on short-term contracts are not adversely affected.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to urgently address the issues raised in the Environmental Protection Agency report, published today, which found that almost 30% of rivers are polluted and half of ground-water supplies are contaminated which is very worrying and distressing.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, to debate the measures announced yesterday by the EU Commission which will mean the closure of the north-west white fishery, a 15% cut in the prawn quota and up to 25% cuts in other species and to demand that the Government totally rejects this latest attack on the fishing sector at the Brussels meeting in December and refuses to accept any further EU diktats on fishing pending a complete review of management and quota.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Tar éis breithnithe a dhéanamh ar na nitheardaithe, níl siad in ord faoi Bhuan Ordú 32. Having considered the matters raised, they are not in order under Standing Order 32.

The Tánaiste:  It is proposed to take No. 3, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to adjourn at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; [224]and No. a15, statements on the killing of Shane Geoghegan. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. a15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, and who may share their time, which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; and (ii) immediately following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a15 agreed to?

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I am not objecting to the Order of Business but when is it proposed that the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 will come back to the House? I understand it is not scheduled for next week’s business.

The Tánaiste:  We can discuss it with the Whips but it will probably come back to the House the week after next.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal agreed? Agreed. I call Deputy Richard Bruton on the Order of Business.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Many people will be disturbed to hear prominent economic commentators expressing pessimism about the economic leadership we are receiving in this country and questioning once again whether the budget, which has only been passed a few weeks, will actually require a supplementary budget in the near future.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot raise the budget on the Order of Business.

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  What cuts is the Deputy talking about now?

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Can the Tánaiste continue to express confidence that there will be no requirement for a supplementary budget?

The country’s economic future is very much at stake. Today, we heard one of the largest banks will be curtailing its lending. Almost half of the members of one prominent organisation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I understand it is the Deputy’s area of interest and it is all a matter of interest but——

Deputy Richard Bruton:  A Cheann Comhairle, if you give me a moment I will come to the question on legislation; you have to allow me to outline the context.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If you would.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Let him go on, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Almost half of small and medium-sized enterprises are claiming they cannot get borrowing for overdrafts, for term loans or for stocking purposes. The Government has adopted a wait and see strategy as regards the banks where it will not advance capital to the banks except as a last resort. Is this proving damaging to the economy? Will the [225]Government be coming back to the Oireachtas with legislative proposals should it be necessary to put State capital into the banks? It was indicated during the budget that such a possibility was under consideration?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised in this area?

Deputy Joan Burton:  A Cheann Comhairle, on the same matter, when will the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the examination of the banks’ capital position be received? The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, promised he would be advising the House on this matter shortly.

Is it proposed to introduce amending legislation for the Central Bank Acts with a view to restoring control formally in the Governor of the Central Bank as opposed to the Financial Regulator who has not been very successful?

The Tánaiste:  I am loth to say that no new legislation will ever be introduced by the Department of Finance. I take Deputy Bruton’s point on the issue of access to capital and credit for small and medium sized enterprises. I urge the banks to facilitate this with the available funding from the European Investment Bank. Both I and the Minister for Finance have several engagements with the banks. The Minister will be meeting them once more on this issue. At this time, it is not the Government’s intention to move towards capitalisation. The Deputy will be aware of the interaction between the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator and the financial institutions. At this time we do not feel it is an appropriate mechanism. However, it is equally important to say that this matter is constantly under review and is discussed by all members of Cabinet.

I do not have an exact date for the PricewaterhouseCoopers report but I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with the Deputy.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I asked the Taoiseach yesterday about the Bill providing for the removal of the medical card from pensioners, and I was puzzled by the reply he gave me. He said: “That matter has not yet come before the Government, but it will before Christmas”. I ask the Tánaiste if the Government——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Will be there at Christmas.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What does it mean? Does it mean the Government has not in fact approved——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Made a formal decision.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——or made a decision to bring in a Bill which would remove the medical card from pensioners? Have the heads of a Bill been approved? When is it intended to introduce the Bill to the House? Will the Tánaiste give an assurance to the House that no attempt will be made by the Government to bring in the Bill in the late hours——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Christmas Eve.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——of the final days before Christmas and have it rushed through and guillotined in the hope that people will not take sufficient notice?

A Deputy:  The Deputy will know all about it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Will she confirm to the House that until such legislation is passed and enacted, all over 70s have a legal entitlement to hold a medical card and the HSE does [226]not have any legal power to take the medical card from them or commence any process of means testing which would anticipate the passage of the legislation?

My other question concerns legislation that was promised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in July of this year. At that time the European Court of Justice made a decision on the way in which Ireland is operating environmental impact assessments. It made the decision in the context of a case that was taken about a wind farm in Derrybrien, County Galway. Following the decision, the Minister stated there was what he called a lacuna in Irish planning legislation, which he had identified before entering Government, and that he intended to bring in legislation to deal with it. I have been looking through the Government legislation programme and I cannot find any reference to a lacuna.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is le cúnamh Dé.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I see no place——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It could be Laguna.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is a hard word.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  There are empty spaces in people’s heads as well.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Ask Deputy Higgins — he might know.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The problem originated with a development which caused a bog to move and a large amount of water to move into the space left. Thus, we are dealing with both a physical lacuna and a legislative lacuna.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  That is a laguna.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Where is the legislation? Can the Tánaiste identify where it is in the legislative programme or what has happened to it? Can we have any information on it? The serious point is that there are a number of developments which could be legally challenged on the same basis as the Derrybrien wind farm. I would like to know what is happening with the legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Tánaiste to fill the lacuna.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Tánaiste should not forget the first question.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  She should try not to get bogged down in it.

The Tánaiste:  There are no legislative proposals on lacunae. I do not know whether lacunae would deal with lagoons, because that is what one would actually have if a space was filled with water.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  They just sound the same.

The Tánaiste:  There is also a Disney song about lacunae.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  That is where the politics come from.

The Tánaiste:  In deference to Deputies’ ears, I will not start it.

[227]Deputy Willie Penrose:  The Tánaiste is all right. Finian will play behind her.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael Ring:  I would not depend on that.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  He is playing it on the guitar.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  You would not know what you would be playing now though.

The Tánaiste:  I am sure Deputy Ring would hum anyway.

The Minister is evaluating that judgment. He is introducing planning legislation but I cannot say for definite——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He is missing as usual.

The Tánaiste:  ——whether provisions to deal with this issue will be included in the new legislation.

The heads of the new Bill from the Department of Health and Children have been approved and the Bill will be published by the end of the month. If we can move on with our business I am sure we will be able to provide adequate time for discussion of the legislation. For the purpose of clarity, the Deputy is right in saying the legal entitlement for over 70s remains until such time as the law is changed.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  In light of the ongoing problems faced by small rural Protestant secondary schools as a result of the budget, when will the education Ireland Bill be introduced to the House so that we can have a full discussion on it?

Second, when will the sale of alcohol Bill be introduced? Last but by no means least, the industrial development Bill requires urgent discussion in the House in light of all the jobs that are being lost and the trauma that people are going through.

The Tánaiste:  The expected publication date of the education Ireland Bill is 2009. The expected dates for the other Bills mentioned by the Deputy are also next year.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Yesterday the Taoiseach gave me information on the management companies Bill. After a gestation period of about three years, we finally got a decision yesterday from the Taoiseach that rather than three Bills we would have one Bill to deal with this issue. Can the Tánaiste indicate which of the three Ministers involved will be responsible for producing the Bill? Given the urgency of the situation on the ground, of which I am sure the Tánaiste is aware — perhaps not in Donegal but certainly between Donegal and Dublin, and nearly everywhere else — with management companies preying on householders, could she give some indication of when the Bill will be taken and which Minister will be sponsoring?

The Tánaiste:  Each Department, including my own, is preparing or has prepared heads of legislation.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Tánaiste is wrong.

The Tánaiste:  Well, I have a fair idea——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Taoiseach said yesterday that a decision was made.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy should let the Tánaiste answer.

[228]Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Taoiseach told us yesterday a decision was made that there would be one Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We had better hear what the Tánaiste has to say first.

The Tánaiste:  It is a process.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  This has been going on for three years.

The Tánaiste:  There are three Departments involved and each is using its expertise to prepare the heads of a Bill. The Attorney General will then take those on board and create a Bill which we hope to have with Government as quickly as possible.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Is there any indication of when that might happen? We have been pursuing this, and the Government has been supportive of the idea, for the last three years——

Deputy Willie Penrose:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Who is the responsible Minister?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  ——but we have not made any progress except that heads of Bills are still being prepared.

The Tánaiste:  There has been considerable progress and we expect, now that the decision has been made, that the Attorney General will deal with this and turn it around as quickly as possible.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is what one would call a case of le cúnamh Dé.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The decision not to proceed with the HPV vaccination programme is undoubtedly very serious. However, we learned yesterday that the HSE has confirmed that the diabetic retinopathy screening programme that was scheduled to commence this year will not now proceed because of so-called resource constraints.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Ó Caoláin will have to ask a question that is in order or find another way of raising the matter.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This is relevant, a Cheann Comhairle. Please——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should raise it when it is in order.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The consequence of this is that a significant number of the some 200,000 diabetics in this country will run the risk of blindness.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does Deputy Ó Caoláin wish to raise a matter that is in order?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Tánaiste accept, as has already been accepted with regard to the HPV vaccine, that this is a matter of sufficient import to allow for statements in the House by the Minister for Health and Children and by each of the spokespersons on health and children?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not in order.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am asking whether the Tánaiste, who has the Minister at her side, will indicate a willingness to allow for statements——

[229]An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the Whips.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——on this very serious matter in the House, either today or in the coming week.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I assume that is a matter for the Whips.

The Tánaiste:  There is no legislation promised and all these matters are for the Whips.

A Deputy:  Shame.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I ask the Whip to take note——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Note is taken.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——that this is of such importance that it merits address in this House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go on with that now. The Deputy has made his point.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I question the idea that the Whips are responsible for everything. Under Standing Order 26(2), only one person is responsible for ordering the business of the House, and that is the Taoiseach. If he gives the Whip the authority he has under that standing order to move on an issue, we can move on it. There is no use saying the Whips are responsible unless the responsibility is given to the Chief Whip to do so.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  In light of the criminality and lawlessness that is gripping parts of this country and the Minister’s lack of leadership on it, would the Minister implement the much vaunted zero tolerance to put a stop to this? Will he also end the revolving door regime in our prisons where 350 prisoners are to be released before Christmas? In doing so perhaps the Tánaiste would consider re-opening Spike Island.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to ask that question when it is in order. That is not in order, as the Deputy well knows.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  There is no order; that is the problem. The Minister is providing no leadership.

Deputy James Reilly:  Yesterday the Government decided not to reverse the decision on cervical cancer vaccination to save the lives of women in the future. This morning Professor Harald zur Hausen, who won the Nobel prize for this work, made it very clear——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot discuss that matter unless it is in order.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Ceann Comhairle has been very understanding and I do not want to abuse his position. Many arguments were made here based on misinformation and Professor zur Hausen has added his weight and made it very clear that vaccination is superior to screening in the prevention of cancer and will save lives.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not in order.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Government is wiser than a Nobel laureate, the Health Information and Quality Authority and the National Drugs Advisory Board. Is there any point [230]having health information Bills if the Government ignores the people it appoints to advise it for the sake of a miserable €10 million?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That was on Private Members’ business last night.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  On Monday Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill in the High Court struck down part of the legislation concerning the redress board. When does the Government intend to bring in amending legislation to the redress board legislation which has been passed so that 18-21 year olds who were abused in institutional care can come before the redress board?

The Tánaiste:  The matter is still being addressed by the Attorney General and the Government will be advised and make a decision in due course.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  I thank the Tánaiste for that information. Can I take it from her reply that the Government intends to appeal this matter to the Supreme Court?

The Tánaiste:  No, he cannot.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  There are two choices. Either amending legislation is introduced to provide some justice to those 18-21 year olds abused in our system or the judgment is appealed to the Supreme Court.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is straying beyond the rules.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  When does the Government and the Minister for Education and Science intend to come to the House and clearly state their response to Mr. Justice O’Neill’s judgement?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I suggest Deputy Brian Hayes put down a parliamentary question on that as soon as possible. If he puts down a question today it will be answered next Tuesday.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Does the Government intend to amend the Education Act 1998 which, inter alia, requires the Minister for Education and Science to agree a budget with the schools authorities before the commencement of the academic year? The budget passed on 14 October unilaterally cuts an additional grant for this academic year for minority schools in this country and €2.8 million was unilaterally removed from the budget without prior consultation and in breach of the law. When will the 1998 Act be amended?

The Tánaiste:  I am not aware of legislation being promised in this area but will ask the Minister to reply directly to the Deputy.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Given the number of pipe bombs being discovered in the towns and cities of this country, is there any intention to bring the explosives Bill to the House with some kind of urgency to deal with them in a factored distribution?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  One was detonated last night.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It was a partial detonation but there could be more. On the concerns expressed by people about access to health and personal services, there is a Bill to clarify and update eligibility to health and social services. Could the Tánaiste indicate if she intends to bring in that Bill? The legislation to give effect to certain provisions of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime is promised. At a recent discussion in the European Parliament——

[231]An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should not mention it now.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I know I should not but I think the Ceann Comhairle would like to hear it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I would not.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I think you would.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will talk to you later about it.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The head of Europol gave appalling information to the effect that Europol relies on information gleaned from journalists because of insufficient procedures being put in place by the member state governments.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will allow the Tánaiste to answer Deputy Durkan’s three questions on the legislative measures.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Does the Tánaiste have answers to all those questions? We read a long list of legislation here at the opening of every session and I do not know whether the Government ever intends to bring some of this legislation into the House. If it is not the intention to bring it in, why put it on the legislative programme?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan cannot be faulted for not trying to find out.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Fair play to you.

The Tánaiste:  I will not rise to the other answer. A draft memo on the legislation for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime has been circulated to Departments. The other two pieces of legislation will be introduced in 2009.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Does the Government intend to ratify the convention on the rights of all migrant workers and their families? I ask because in its absence children of people who have been granted residency are being forced by the Department of Education and Science to apply on a case by case basis for their rights to third level education and grants. Although the Department has established that as a category they are entitled, each case is individually pursued through the equality section of the Department.

This is a fundamental rights matter. Does the Government ever intend to ratify the convention on the rights of all migrant workers and their families? If so, when does it propose to do so? Has this issue been requested of the Government in its meeting with the social partners?

The Tánaiste:  I will have to return to the Deputy.

Deputy David Stanton:  Following on Deputy Durkan’s points on legislation, the adoption Bill was promised four years ago, the animal health Bill five years ago and the Curragh of Kildare Bill four years ago. What is delaying them? When will we see these three Bills?

The Tánaiste:  We are anxious to bring the adoption Bill in quickly and it will be available shortly. Consultation has taken place on the animal health Bill and there must be further consultation with the partners.

Deputy David Stanton:  Five years.

[232]The Tánaiste:  The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, will bring it to the House as soon as possible.

Deputy David Stanton:  To what partners does the Tánaiste refer on the animal welfare Bill?

The Tánaiste:  I put all this out to consultation with the IFA, ICMSA, ICOS and everybody who had an involvement and there was a discussion. All that has come back, it has been evaluated and heads of a Bill will have to be put together. It is considerable legislation and will take some time to be brought to finality.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Tánaiste is correct. It takes a long time.

The Tánaiste:  The Curragh of Kildare Bill will be introduced late next year.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It has been the same answer for ten years.

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy need no longer ask the questions if he knows the answers.

Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a scheme to be known as the Nursing Homes Support Scheme under which financial support may be made available to persons in respect of long-term residential care services out of resources allocated to the Health Service Executive for the purposes of the Scheme, to provide for the amendment of the Health Act 1970, to provide for the amendment of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, to provide for the amendment of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, to provide for the amendment of the National Treatment Purchase Fund Board (Establishment) Order 2004 and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

  11 o’clock

Of all our needs as human beings, perhaps the deepest are for family, health and home. They touch on our most profound psychological security and sense of well-being. Following closely is the need for financial security. Not all of us are fortunate enough to live all our lives in a loving family, enjoy constant good health or have a home of our own. Few of us have no financial worries. If the security of just one of these, family, health or home, become an issue or are called into question it can be emotionally difficult. If all three are at issue it is not just unsettling but traumatic. When financial issues are added, it can seem overwhelming. That is what many families and individuals face at the moment when there is no option but to move out of home and into a nursing home. That moment is often put off for many years. Adult children are often beseeched to avoid making the decision in question, which no one ever wants to make. At that moment, there is just one realistic option if a loved one is to get the best possible care. At such a time, everything possible must be done to reduce upset and insecurity, to give assurance, to provide the best possible care and to put the interests of the person needing care above all other interests.

[233]The House has an opportunity to put the best interests of each person who needs care above all else, to provide reassurance and to remove financial issues from all the strains of that most difficult moment in the life of any individual or family. Less than one in 20 people over the age of 65 will ever develop high dependency needs, fortunately. Therefore, relatively few people will need to deal with the need for long-term residential care. Approximately 25,000 are in such a position at present. This legislation will help them and future generations. It will also assist people under the age of 65 who need long-term care. I refer to those who have high-dependency needs as a result of debilitating conditions, for example. This Bill will reassure those who fear they may need long-term care in the future, even if that never comes to pass.

This House does not often get an opportunity to pass legislation that fundamentally improves people’s lives, even if we are talking about just one person in 20 in this instance, while at the same time introducing a fundamental and comprehensive new system of long-term care support. This legislation provides for the cost of nursing home care to be shared fairly, introduces a clear and consistent standard for assessing the care needs of everyone and provides for a new legal support — the care representative — to assist people with diminished mental capacity. We are bringing order to what has been a mess. We are making fair what has been unfair. We are making consistent what has been haphazard. We are making sure what has been in doubt. What has been unsettling will be reassuring. What has been unclear will be clear. What has been unpredictable will be predictable.

It was deeply unfair that people of the same means faced radically different costs for nursing home care, depending on where they lived or whether the nursing home was public or private. It was deeply unfair that a person with modest means could face high care bills, while another person might pay relatively little even though he or she had substantial means and assets. We are fixing that. It was deeply unfair and unsettling that many people and their families had no option but to sell the family home to pay for care. As a result of this legislation, no one will have to do that any more. It was inconsistent and unfair that care needs assessments, means assessments and financial support varied across the country, depending on the health board area one lived in. This legislation will provide for consistency for everybody. People often felt uncertain and doubtful when considering how, when and to whom public nursing home places were available. This mattered, not least financially. In a public nursing home, nobody, no matter how well-off, was charged more than the equivalent of 80% of the State non-contributory pension. In a private nursing home, even with subvention payments, the cost to an individual was substantial. The State met 90% of the cost of public nursing home care, but just 40% of the cost of private nursing home care. We are putting this right.

Families face deeply unsettling issues when there is doubt about the mental capacity of a loved one who needs care and when legal and financial arrangements need to be addressed. We have a deep obligation to prioritise the interests of such a person. Up to now, it was unclear how we could do this, short of availing of the ward of court system. This legislation offers reassurance and provides a new legal protection to help individuals and their carers. The public and private care provision services have been operating in parallel, with increasingly blurred lines and unintended effects for patients. We will now have one system for all people who need care and for all providers of care. The system, which involves different contributions, will be based on a fair means test. It was described by the National Economic and Social Council, in its report, The Developmental Welfare State, as a type of “tailored universalism”. It is designed to be sustainable for many years to come, when the number of older people in our population increases and through the ups and downs of economic cycles. The State will continue to meet approximately 70% of the cost of long-term care for the population. I am particularly pleased that the Government has decided to introduce the system despite the difficult economic circumstances we face.

[234]This legislation is the immediate product of four years of work by many people. When the problem of illegal nursing home charges became evident, I decided that we needed to start from the beginning by fixing the fundamentals and dealing with all the anomalies that had arisen. Many people contributed to this work before and after 2004. I refer to Deputies and Senators, the Ombudsman, the social partners, clinicians, leading academics, specialists in the public service and, most of all, the families of those in long-term care. Many previous health Ministers played a part in trying to alleviate the burdens faced by people who need long-term care. They worked on the nursing home subvention scheme and other matters in good faith. The anomalies and inconsistencies I have mentioned ultimately needed to be addressed as part of a fundamental overhaul of the system. I am proud of the legislation that has been produced to that end. I am proud to have the privilege of bringing it to the House. I am proud of the work of the officials in the Departments of Health and Children, Finance, the Taoiseach, Social and Family Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Office of the Attorney General and the Courts Service who contributed to the legislative process. Above all, I am proud that this legislation puts our loved ones who need long-term care first. Rightly, in my view, it is a fair deal.

I propose to briefly outline the main provisions of the legislation before the House. Section 3, which sets out the scope of the Bill, defines certain terms used in it. The definitions of “long-term residential care services” and “approved nursing home” are of primary importance because, essentially, they circumscribe the scope of the scheme. The definition of “long-term residential care services” refers to maintenance, health and personal care services which are provided in designated public and voluntary facilities and approved private nursing homes. Such services must be provided for not less than 30 consecutive days, or periods aggregating not less than 30 days, within a period of 12 consecutive months. For the sake of clarity, the definition also explicitly excludes certain services, such as respite care services. To qualify as a designated facility, a public or voluntary facility will have to be designated in writing by HSE as being a facility that is predominantly used for the care of older people and will have to provide 24-hour rostered nursing care.

To qualify as an “approved nursing home”, a private nursing home will have to be registered under the appropriate legislation, reach an agreement with the National Treatment Purchase Fund on the maximum price charged for care under the scheme, be tax compliant and provide 24-hour rostered nursing care. Another key term used in the Bill is “financial support”. This encompasses straightforward financial assistance towards nursing home costs, which is referred to as “State support”, and the option to defer payment of certain contributions during one’s lifetime, which is termed “ancillary State support”.

Section 4 defines a “couple” for the purposes of the scheme. A couple is defined as either a married couple, or a heterosexual or same sex couple who have been cohabiting as husband and wife for at least three years. In each case, the people in the couple must have been habitually living together when they applied for State support or when they began to receive care services. Sections 5 and 6 set out the rules governing the establishment of, and eligibility for, the scheme. Section 5 establishes the nursing homes support scheme and stipulates that the scheme is resource-capped. Therefore, the scheme is premised on the principle of eligibility rather than entitlement. Section 6 further provides that eligibility for the scheme extends to those who are ordinarily resident in the State. In other words, the scheme is not limited to older people.

Sections 7 and 8 relate to the assessment of care needs. Section 7 provides for a care needs assessment to be carried out to ascertain whether a person needs long-term residential care services. It stipulates who may carry out such assessments and what factors may be taken into [235]account. These factors include the person’s ability to carry out the various activities of daily living but also the medical and social supports available to the person.

Section 8 sets out the basis for unsuccessful applicants to seek a review of care needs. Sections 9 and 10 provide for an application for State support and for a subsequent financial assessment of means to establish the contribution an individual may have to pay towards the cost of his or her care. Section 10 stipulates that the assessment shall be carried out in accordance with Schedule 1. Parts 1 and 3 of the Schedule set out the rules for calculating the contribution payable by a single applicant. In summary, a person will make a contribution of up to 80% of income and up to 5% of the value of assets, after deductions and safeguards have been applied. Parts 2 and 3 of the Schedule contain the rules in respect of the contribution payable by a member of a couple. In this case, the assessment is based on the principle of each member of the couple owning 50% of the couple’s combined means. A person who is a member of a couple has an annual assessed contribution of 40% of the couple’s combined income or 80% of half the combined income and 2.5% of the couple’s combined assets or 5% of half the combined assets.

The Bill contains a number of safeguards to protect the income and assets of care recipients and their spouses or partners and the residual value of the principal residence. These include the “minimum retained income threshold”, which ensures a person entering care must retain at least 20% of the maximum rate of the State pension while the spouse or partner remaining at home must retain at least the maximum rate of the State pension; the “general assets deductible amount” or asset disregard, which stands at €36,000 for an individual or €72,000 for a couple; and the cap on the principal private residence, which ensures contributions based on the residence will be payable for the first three years of care only. This is often termed the 15% cap.

Sections 11 to 14, inclusive, set out the basis for determining applications and for paying State support. They provide that, subject to resources, the State will pay the full difference between the total cost of care services and a person’s contribution. This State support will be paid directly to the relevant nursing home on behalf of the person. In the case of existing residents whose nursing homes are approved under the scheme, State support will be paid from the date of full commencement of the legislation.

Sections 15 to 18, inclusive, provide for another important feature of the scheme, namely ancillary State support, which is an additional support designed to ensure people do not have to sell assets such as their home to meet their care costs. It enables people to defer contributions payable on Irish land-based assets for the duration of their lifetime. It may be thought of as a loan advanced by the HSE and recouped at the settlement of the person’s estate. The payment of ancillary State support is subject to a charging order being placed against the asset of the person to secure the amounts advanced. The HSE will register the charging order in the Registry of Deeds or Land Registry, as appropriate. The Bill also provides that ancillary State support will be paid directly to the relevant nursing home on behalf of the person and that it may be paid to a person even though he or she does not qualify for State support.

Sections 19, 20 and 26 deal with repayment. Section 19 stipulates the events which trigger the repayment of ancillary State support. These are termed “relevant events” and principally include the death of the person or the sale or transfer of the asset concerned. Section 20 provides for a further deferral of the repayment of ancillary State support in the case of the principal private residence. The people who can avail of this are the spouse or partner of the original applicant or certain relatives termed “connected persons” who satisfy the following conditions: the asset in question must be their only residence; they must have lived there for not less than three years preceding the original application for ancillary State support; and they must not have an interest in any other property. Where people avail of this section, repayment [236]will be deferred for the duration of their lifetime unless they cease to qualify as a connected person or the asset in question ceases to be their principal residence. Section 26 provides that Revenue will be the collection agent for the repayment of ancillary State support.

Sections 21 and 22 make provision for care representatives. Part 4 provides for an innovative new feature within the scheme, namely that a person may apply to the Circuit Court to be appointed as a care representative of a particular person. The appointment of a care representative is only necessary where a person does not have full capacity and wishes to avail of ancillary State support. However, a person appointed as a care representative may assist with any matter relating to the scheme. The Bill adopts a functional-based approach to determining capacity, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission.

Under section 21, a person is considered to lack the capacity to make a relevant decision if he or she is unable to understand the information relevant to the decision, retain that information, use or weigh that information as part of the process of making a decision or communicate his or her decision by any means. A person must be certified by at least two registered medical practitioners as lacking the capacity to make a relevant decision for a care representative to be appointed. The individuals who may apply to be appointed as a care representative are the spouse or partner of the person; a parent, child, brother or sister of the person; a niece, nephew, aunt or uncle of the person; or a registered medical practitioner or other health practitioner other than the proprietor of a nursing home in which the person resides or is likely to reside.

Section 22 is a technical provision, which amends the Courts and Courts Officers Act 1995 to allow for the appointment of care representatives by county registrars in uncontested cases.

Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, provide for the notification of certain specified matters, including the death or discharge of a nursing home resident and a material change in the circumstances of a person or connected person.

Section 27 deals with schedules of assets and it applies to a deceased person to whom financial support was provided or to whose partner financial support was provided. The personal representative of such a deceased person must provide the HSE with a written notice of his or her intention to distribute the deceased’s assets and a schedule of such assets at least three months before beginning to distribute the assets. The HSE has the authority to request that sufficient assets are retained to repay any amount due to it, which is consistent with social welfare legislation.

Section 28, which refers to joint ownership, is a technical provision that ensures a charging order in respect of ancillary State support shall not cause the severance of a joint tenancy or be rendered void due to the absence of the prior consent of the other joint tenants. The section seeks to protect both the interest of the HSE and of the other joint tenants.

Sections 29 to 31, inclusive, concern reviews and appeals. A person or the HSE may seek a review of the person’s care needs, his or her financial assessment or the amount of ancillary State support payable. In addition, a person may appeal certain decisions of the HSE, including decisions taken regarding his or her care needs and his or her application for State support. A person may also appeal the inclusion of income and assets transferred prior to 9 October 2008 in the financial assessment on grounds of hardship.

Section 32 is a technical provision ensuring the existing legal basis for charges, including the exclusion of certain care groups from charges, is maintained. Section 33 is also a technical provision. In line with the Government’s commitment, it ensures existing public residents will not be worse off as a result of the new scheme. It also provides that a person in an acute hospital bed who has finished his or her acute phase of care may be charged as if he or she [237]were in receipt of long-term residential care services. This provision is necessary to ensure there is not a legal incentive to remain in an acute hospital bed following discharge.

Part 9, covering sections 34 to 46, inclusive, contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. These include technical and standard provisions concerning the making of regulations, the maintenance of records and so on. They also include transitional provisions providing that the nursing home subvention scheme will cease for new applicants from the full commencement of the legislation but that existing private nursing home residents can remain on subvention rather than transferring to the new scheme, if they so wish. Sections 38 and 39 empower the National Treatment Purchase Fund to negotiate prices with private nursing home providers for the purposes of the scheme. Section 41 renders explicit the common law principle that a person providing necessary services to a person of diminished capacity for the latter’s benefit may expect to be paid for such services.

I have detailed the key provisions contained in Schedule 1 and, therefore, I would like to conclude by clarifying the final part of the Bill, Schedule 2. Schedule 2 sets out the procedure for adjusting the amounts repayable in respect of ancillary State support. This adjustment will reflect the rate of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, between each year in which contributions were deferred and the year in which the debt falls due. In other words, the State will take account of the time value of money.

The Bill is fundamental in meeting the commitment given in Towards 2016 that State support should be equal for public and private care recipients. Critically, it offers assurance to the most vulnerable of groups in our society — those in need of long-term nursing home care — that such care will be affordable and will remain affordable for as long as they need it. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies.

Deputy James Reilly:  We have waited for this Bill for quite some time. I fully accept it is complex legislation and, furthermore, I agree the current situation is untenable and grossly unfair on people. There is an acceptance generally that those who can afford to contribute towards their long-term care should do so. However, as ever with Bills in this House, the devil is in the detail. There is much detail in this and many areas of concern.

The Minister stated in her preamble that she is bringing certainty, making fair what has been unfair, making consistent what has been haphazard, making sure what has been in doubt, etc. I would like to believe all that but my past experience of Bills in this House, and past experience on initiatives and so-called reform, is that they have been anything but clear or sure. Therefore, I want to go through the Bill, pointing out the areas where people have concerns and where we, on this side of the House, are clear gaps need to be filled. If all these issues can be addressed during Committee Stage, and amendments accepted, then perhaps there can be agreement on this legislation. However, as the Bill stands, there are as many questions as answers.

The Minister stated that the Bill will remove the inequitable situation between support provided for public and private care, and that the contribution will be based on means and capped in some cases. The capping is of concern because last year the Minister allotted €110 million to this scheme and this year she is allotting €50 million.

One does not have to sell or mortgage one’s home at the outset, a provision people will welcome because, as the Minister correctly pointed out, people have had to sell their homes in the past, and family members will not be burdened with the cost of care. The Minister has gone through how this works and I will not repeat all that. However, I am very concerned about the resource capping. Will this Bill operate on the basis that there is a finite sum, such as €50 million, and high dependency will be defined up to the point of the ability of the State to afford the care? Will the threshold rise repeatedly, in other words, that it will no longer be [238]a medical assessment? It could well transpire to be an economic assessment on which a medical assessment is based. What I mean is that in a year where €110 million is available, many more people will qualify than in a year where €55 million is available.

It is not clear from the Bill what is the care needs assessment process, which, obviously, needs to be independent. There have been instances abroad in other areas where health authorities, unable to provide a particular service such as for autism, have a remarkably low diagnosis of autism because if they do not have the facility, they must pay for its purchase from an adjoining health authority. The same principle of conflict of interest may arise here.

The Minister mentioned the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. It will negotiate fees with the nursing homes. We will all be happy that there is a body which negotiates fees with nursing homes. However, throughout the Bill and the explanatory memorandum, the Minister refers to €800 a week as an example. Anybody who lives in Dublin knows she will not find a bed in a nursing home for that amount. Will we end up with a situation similar to the one I encountered in my clinic only a number of weeks ago?

A constituent of mine in Rush has been assessed as needing nursing home care and unable to continue to live independently at home. He is prepared to go into a nursing home which, as the Minister will be aware and as she has already alluded to, is a significant decision — an major emotional break for such a person. The good news is there is a bed available for him, but it is in Portlaoise. This man lives in Rush. To my mind, this decision is designed to let this gentlemen go and wither on the vine 50 miles away from where all his relatives, friends and family could visit him. Somewhere local would at least make the move to the nursing home less of a shock to the system and he could continue to be engaged in his community. Nobody wants people put that distance away and if this Bill allows the NTPF to operate solely on price, on what it can buy down the country versus what is required in the reasonable locality of a patient, then this is a matter that needs to be further clarified.

It is not clear what happens if nursing homes drop out of the scheme. Will patients be moved out of the nursing home? Will they no longer qualify? What will happen? For example, what if regulations change? There are two sides to this — the NTPF is at one end but HIQA is at the other. HIQA will establish the standards. Those standards have not been agreed; they are only in draft form. They need to be seen by Members of this House and agreed. I understand there is general consensus on them, but I have not had an opportunity to go through them. There does not appear to be an issue but, for example, if there is a future recommendation regarding major infrastructural developments in all nursing homes, such as, that they should have a certain number of Parker baths which would involve an additional expense, will some nursing homes find themselves outside the loop or will the NTPF operate reasonably and allow for such matters above and beyond normal inflation?

A major current concern is that nursing homes can be inspected by the HSE, but who is inspecting HSE nursing homes? HIQA is to do this, I hope, independently. Another issue is unclear. Will the HSE remain both a purchaser and a regulator of care or will those functions be separated, one to the NTPF outside the HSE and the other to HIQA?

This Bill is limited to long-term nursing home care, which is defined as anything over a year but which is not limited by age. Therefore, I presume this will apply to younger people who find themselves incapacitated through brain injury, etc. We need to consider whether we accept these concepts. As I stated, there is broad agreement on the basic principles.

Another issue which requires further debate is that the 5% charge on the primary residence is capped at three years, but it is not capped on all other assets. If one lives ten years, it is 5% per annum. That might seem reasonable in certain circumstances, but it may cause tremendous [239]difficulty, hardship and problems for people in rural areas. This will involve siblings, another major aspect of this matter. That charge will be a major issue for people who live on smallholdings, perhaps a brother and a sister, with the land being devalued over time.

Is it realistic to expect this will remain capped? The amount of €55 million will not address long-term nursing home care needs. Why is it capped at €55 million this year? Is it because the Minister does not intend to introduce it for half a year? Is it money for half a year? Is the €110 million additional to the money currently being spent on subventions or is it included?

Who are the winners and the losers? Obviously, the winners are those with limited assets, a home and nothing else. For them, this will be a welcome relief. For many others, it will cause a problem. Those in public nursing homes pay up to 80% of their assessable income. New patients in this category will have their other assets brought into consideration. Those who opt to enter a nursing home but who may not be regarded as medically highly dependent may not qualify.

These patients may also lose from the change in the tax treatment of medical expenses from the marginal to the standard rate. A great deal of confusion has arisen about this and in response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Olivia Mitchell, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, finally confirmed that from January 2010 the tax allowance for long-term nursing home care will drop from the marginal rate to the standard rate. If only high dependency patients, by current definition, will be allowed into nursing homes, one third of the 21,000 people in nursing homes at present will not qualify and they will suffer seriously as a consequence of this. How will they be looked after and how will they qualify? This issue must be addressed.

The issue of those who wish to reside in higher cost nursing homes for reasons of geography brings us to how the NTPF will choose the nursing home and whether it will be purely on a monetary basis. Previously, I mentioned nursing homes with a higher cost base.

I know it is not possible to do everything but a major gap in the Bill is that it makes no mention of care at home, and this is a major lost opportunity. Everybody in this House, including the Minister, has accepted that the preference is for people to stay at home. People live longer if they remain at home. This is a multi-factorial finding but it is nonetheless a fact. Will the tax treatment of home care packages and the cost of home care be changed from the marginal rate to the standard rate? Does the Minister plan to introduce measures with regard to care in the home?

The option to defer payment is based on the value of the asset when the initial payment was due rather than the deferred value and the CPI is then applied. If an individual’s assets were valued two years ago and he or she had €200,000 worth of bank shares, and if payment were to be made now what would those shares be worth? It would be the same for a house valued three years ago. A person would find rather than paying 15% of the value of the house over the three years they would have been paying 25% of its value. This matter needs to be addressed.

In assessing support requirements, the principal private residence is treated differently to all other assets. As the Minister stated, once three years are paid the contributions stop. As I stated earlier, with regard to land, shares, property and cash the 5% contribution continues until the person dies. Many people will lose out on this. Strict rules will apply on the transfer of assets to others prior to assessment. This could cause problems for people.

The valuation will be signed off by a professional valuer appointed by the HSE. In any dealings in which I was involved or about which I have heard, two valuations are done by valuers agreed by both parties and the middle value is taken. The Bill does not contain proper protection for the individual. The HSE will have a contract with a single valuing agency in an area and it will automatically create a conflict of interest. The person, group or company [240]holding the contract naturally will be inclined to be favourable to the HSE given that the HSE is its client. This is not a reflection on anyone, it is a reality of life. We should have a minimum of two valuations. No provision is made for an independent valuation by the individual if he or she is not happy. This is another weakness of the Bill.

The only standards which apply at present are the 1993 regulations and they only apply to private nursing homes. We need a full set of updated regulations prior to the introduction of the Bill. We need to be assured that whoever the regulator is, and I presume it will be HIQA, it will have sufficient staff to carry out inspections. The other problem we have with HIQA is that it has no teeth. It can inspect a hospital, tell it what is wrong, demand and admonish but that is all. It cannot censure. The hospital faces no consequences. It can say, “sorry, see you next year” and nothing changes. This needs to be addressed urgently whether or not it requires different legislation. It does not apply to nursing homes only but to all health facilities. I mentioned the conflict of interest arising from the HSE as purchaser and regulator. This needs to be examined.

I am extremely concerned about the medical assessment, which is to be carried out by a separate team appointed by the HSE. This returns to the point I made with regard to the health authorities in the UK. Will the health assessment be coloured by availability? It should be independent. Will the Minister address the issue of a patient in hospital assessed by his or her medical team as fit for discharge but who has not been assessed by the assessment team? This situation will arise and it is not provided for in the Bill. The health assessment team will be extremely busy and will find it cannot get to patients for one, two, three, four or five weeks. This will be through no fault of the patient but he or she will have to pay for the hospital bed. Given previous experience of this type of body and assessment, it is most improbable that the assessment will be back within 24 hours. The Bill states it will be within four weeks. Somebody could clock up a bill for three months in a hospital as a consequence of this and through no fault of their own face additional expense.

I would like the Minister to address a host of other issues. I know she cannot do so today but she can come back to us during the course of this debate and on Committee Stage. There is no provision for children over 21 years of age unless they are in receipt of welfare benefit equivalent to the State pension.

The Bill also includes the provision that recipients must be “ordinarily resident in the State”. What is the position of elderly members of the diaspora in the United Kingdom and United States who wish to return home in their latter years? Are they entitled to benefit from the scheme or are they excluded under the definition “ordinarily resident in the State” because they may have spent the majority of their working life abroad?

The Bill provides that where co-payment is not made, ancillary payment ceases. This will not normally be an issue. However, what about cases of hardship or other unusual circumstances? Why can co-payment not also be taken as a mortgage lien on assets in such circumstances?

What are the Minister’s reasons for excluding foreign property from the list of assets? Will we have a situation where persons with a share in a second house in the State will see the value of that asset driven down year on year, but the same will not apply for those with a holiday home in Portugal or Spain? There are many people with second homes and investments abroad.

In the event of a resident dying in a nursing home, a relative must make an application within three months to be allowed to remain in the family home. This leaves all the onus on the relative to make the necessary arrangements with a short timeframe. There should be a provision whereby the Health Service Executive or the solicitor administering the will must [241]inform the relative of the need to make this application. Many of the relatives concerned will also be elderly and some may not deal well with legislation, forms and other vehicles of authority. If such persons do not apply within the three-month timeframe, whether through lack of ability to interact or lack of knowledge and awareness, will they be put out on the street? The timeframe should be extended to at least six months and there must be provision to make some designated person responsible for ensuring the relative remaining in the house is aware of this condition and who will act to help him or her.

The Minister referred to care representatives. However, I see no mention of grandparents who may be in this position, particularly in the case of chronic brain injury.

The provision for 15 days’ notice after which financial support will cease is another issue of concern. At least a month’s notice should be given so that families can make alternative arrangements where the Health Service Executive intends to withdraw financial support.

The Bill provides that moneys reimbursed shall return to the Central Fund. Does this refer to the Exchequer, in which case the moneys will be for general use, or does it refer to the overall health budget or to a ring-fenced fund for the long-term nursing home care needs of the elderly? This must be clarified. My own view is that these moneys should be ring-fenced for the purpose of the provision of long-term nursing care.

In regard to the leveraging of mortgages on assets for the amount due to the Health Service Executive, will these be the same as a revenue mortgage and what will the implications be for businesses in terms of who has first call on the asset? Will it be the first or second charge? There are many examples of people living above the sweet shop with their mother. Where that mother is in a nursing home, the property value will be assessed and a 5% annual charge levied. Will this impede the child if he or she wishes to borrow money to modernise the shop? That issue must be examined.

The Bill provides that support is index linked to the consumer price index, CPI. I am concerned that this may be inadequate given that the CPI has never kept pace with medical inflation. More latitude is required in this regard.

What happens when a dispute arises with the nursing home? Although the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, now has responsibility for monitoring standards in nursing homes, people remember with concern the Leas Cross case. What if there is a breach of trust and a breakdown in relations between the nursing home staff and the patient and his or her family? How easy will it be for patients to move to another facility? Will they effectively be locked into a particular nursing home?

We need more detail on the moneys provided for the scheme. The estimated cost to the Exchequer is €820 million, with an immediate cash flow cost of €103 million from deferred payments. However, the Minister has allocated only €55 million in the budget. This is a cause of concern.

My greatest concern relates to the rights of siblings. Many elderly siblings have lived together all their lives, while others return home to live with a sibling after being abroad for a long period. However, there is no provision in this Bill for such persons.

Section 53A of the Health Act 1970, as inserted by section 33(3) of this Bill states:

This section applies where in-patient services (not being long-term residential care services within the meaning of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2008) are provided to a person in a hospital for the care and treatment of patients with acute ailments (including any psychiatric ailment) and a medical practitioner designated by the Health Service Executive has certified in writing that the person in receipt of such services does not require medically acute care and treatment in respect of any such ailment.

[242]Age Action Ireland and others have expressed concern that this arrangement may be open to abuse or misapplication in that there is no definition of acute care. As a result, one doctor may take social need into consideration while another may not, resulting in an inequity of charges.

The availability of community services is taken into consideration as part of the needs assessment, and availability should be a consideration when deciding whether to discharge a person from acute care. A study by Coughlan and O’Neill in 2001 found that almost one quarter of those requiring long-term care died in hospital awaiting placement. The report suggests that a medical practitioner designated by the Health Service Executive should make the decision that the acute care phase of a person’s treatment is completed and that he or she is ready to be discharged. It is a question of independence of assessment. This decision should be made by the multidisciplinary teams. The Minister is a fan of these teams, so she should have no difficulty with that.

Another issue to which Age Action Ireland has alerted me is the possibility that a person may be double charged during his or her lifetime under the provisions of the Bill. For example, a woman whose husband was in long-term nursing home care and who dies in hospital may decide to downsize to a smaller home, in which case she will pay a 7.5% charge when she sells the jointly owned property. If she herself requires nursing home care some time later, her estate will be subject to a deferred 15% charge on her home. Couples should not be charged twice in the lifetime of either spouse but it is not clear whether this protection is contained in the Bill. It is often the case following the death of a spouse that the remaining spouse will downsize from a four-bedroom house, for example, to a two-bedroom apartment. People do so for many reasons, including security.

An extraordinary aspect of the memorandum accompanying this Bill is that in all nine examples, there is no mention of children. Clearly, children will not be catered for in the Bill. It is not uncommon for people in their 50s to take early retirement to look after a frail 72 year old mother or father only to find, God being good, that the latter lives into his or her 90s. The parent having gone into a nursing home at the age of 89, the child, now in his or her 70s, is faced with a charge for 15% of the value of the family home. That is grossly inequitable and unjust, and pays scant regard to the commitment of that daughter or son in taking care of their parent, and saving the State considerable sums of money by so doing. That is not addressed in the Bill. It is a glaring defect that will have to be addressed.

Nobody on this side of the House, at least in the Fine Gael Party, has an issue with trying to address the current, clearly unsustainable situation. However, we do not wish to discover, as we so often have previously, that a perfectly good concept in principle turns into a mire and nightmare for people in practice. I do not wish to introduce an adversarial tone to the debate but we must be mindful of what happened with the HSE. We cannot allow that type of mess to be inflicted on people.

I look forward to discussing the Bill on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will allow us to suggest amendments. I also hope she will come forward with suitable solutions to address the issue of children and of siblings living together, of which there are many examples, the concerns of those who live on small holdings and who have perhaps farmed them all their lives, for example, two brothers and a sister, which is not uncommon, and the situation of the small shop or small business where the family home is an integral part of the building.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  This legislation will be welcomed by people who have been struggling to pay nursing home bills they simply cannot afford. There are many families who have been [243]looking forward to this legislation for a long time. However, the Labour Party has serious concerns about the legislation on a number of fronts and I propose to outline those concerns.

There is no doubt that the current situation cannot be sustained and in that regard we support the Government. However, there are aspects of the Bill that we cannot support. It is true that people who happen to live in different parts of the country or happen to be in a private rather than public nursing home are being treated differently in terms of the amount of money they must pay, even though they are in the same economic circumstances and have the same health needs. Clearly, that is unsustainable and wrong. In that regard, the Bill will improve their situation. It will alleviate the worry, concern and fear in many families.

However, this is not the legislation we were expecting after the fair deal was first announced. It still contains the elements the Labour Party signalled its concern about some time ago. Our concerns are based mainly on four aspects of the Bill. I will summarise them before discussing them in detail. The first is the removal of people’s automatic right to universal health care under the Health Act 1970. Basically, people who need long-term residential care will be treated differently from the rest of the population, and most of those people will be senior citizens. The Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament and Age Action Ireland have strongly indicated their concerns in that regard. The Minister said today that this only represents one in 20 of the population. Why should that one person in 20 be treated differently from everybody else?

Age Action Ireland put the argument well when it stated that the legislation sounds the death knell of the public bed for those who need a residential nursing home bed, and that it also means the introduction, for the first time in the Irish health service, of a charge beyond the grave for essential health care services. The organisation went on to state that if this legislation is passed, it will mean that those who have conditions such as dementia and stroke will be treated differently from those who have heart attacks and cancer. We must be concerned when legislation such as this is introduced because we are, in effect, treating different elderly people differently, depending on the condition from which they suffer. The Labour Party is committed to a universal system of health care whereby everybody is treated the same irrespective of income and age. That is our first major concern about this legislation.

The second concern relates to the family home. We considered the original proposals unconstitutional because they involved the family home in the payment for long-term care. The Minister has been quite clever in this legislation in that people will be allowed to choose not to take the option of payment after the grave. However, if one does not take that option, one must come up with the money anyway. It is something of a Hobson’s choice and it still means families will have to include up to 15% of the value of the family home in terms of how they are assessed for long-term care. Again, the Labour Party has a principled objection to this which I will discuss in more detail later. I will also raise questions similar to those raised by Deputy Reilly with regard to members of a family who do not fulfil the quite strict criteria outlined in page 25 of the Bill regarding the type of families that can have a deferred payment.

The third concern is the issue of the scheme being resource capped. This is a serious concern. It means, as the Minister said, that the person has an eligibility rather than an entitlement. In other words, if the money is not available, one does not get the service. This is a matter the Labour Party raised when the Disability Bill and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill were going through the Oireachtas. It has been proved with both those legislative measures that if money is tight, the service need not be provided. That is not good enough for our senior citizens and future senior citizens.

In that context, I am particularly concerned for the future because it has been estimated that there will be more than 800,000 people over the age of 65 by 2025. Obviously, not all those people will require nursing home care; the percentages will probably be somewhat similar to [244]the current ones. In fact, I hope they will be less because by that time I hope a great deal more money will have been put into providing care in the community and allowing people to stay in their homes. So far, however, there is no evidence of that when one sees the cutbacks in home help hours. There is no evidence that money is being put where the Minister’s mouth is, if I may say so, in terms of transferring resources to community care.

According to an article in the Health Plus section of The Irish Times, there is an estimate from the Bank of Ireland, of all places, suggesting that 10,000 new nursing home beds will have to become available over the next ten years, at an average cost of €100,000 per bed. There is, therefore, a projected large increase in the population that is likely to need long-term residential care. If the scheme is resource capped, how will we fund this? I urge the Minister to address this issue. While people might think it a good idea that they will only have to pay 80% of their income and resources to have the security of long-term care, by providing for the scheme to be resource capped, that will not be the case and many families might be squeezed out simply because the HSE runs out of money. That is a serious concern for the Labour Party.

  12 o’clock

The fourth concern is about the assessments. It is not clear from the Bill who will qualify and who will not. Age Action Ireland has also raised this point. The section on assessment is quite woolly as to how one does or does not qualify. At present, a large percentage of people in nursing homes are assessed as being medium or low dependency. I do not know if people in that category will qualify under the proposed assessment provisions. If they do qualify, will there be places for them? If they do not qualify and cannot afford to pay for care and if they do not have the supports they require in the community, what will happen to them? It seems from reading the legislation that one would have to be deemed very dependent in any assessment to qualify. There are issues with the assessment, such as the way the money is calculated, on which I will elaborate later. I wish to make clear at this stage that the Labour Party is not disposed to support the legislation on these grounds. If we can substantially amend the legislation and address these other issues our position may change, but we are not in a position to support it as it stands. I am aware the Minister will have an opportunity to reply at the end of Second Stage and I will listen carefully to her comments.

There are several other issues I wish to raise including the matter of consultation. I referred to Age Action Ireland and the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, but there are several other bodies with concerns about the legislation. When the legislation was delayed last January, we were told the reason was to allow for consultation. However these groups told us they were not consulted. It was then further delayed for a variety of legal reasons and it is finally before the House today. The Bill is not long published. We received a very detailed submission from Age Action Ireland with which we will inform ourselves. It is important that these bodies, especially the two national organisations which represent several other affiliated organisations, have their voices heard before any final decision is made on the legislation. I presume these groups can attend on Committee Stage and I will raise this matter at the Joint Committee on Health and Children, but it is very important these organisations are heard.

The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is working on the matter of standards and I assume these will be published before the end of this year. It is important they are in place alongside the legislation to ensure a level playing field for all nursing homes. If a family is deciding on a nursing home for a loved one, they must be satisfied that it fulfils all standards including quality of care, cleanliness, and other issues of concern. Will the Minister clarify that the standards will be in place? Deputy Reilly remarked on the need for the body charged with the implementation of the standards to have teeth, given the history at Leas Cross Nursing Home and concerns raised about several other nursing homes throughout the country. I recognise the vast majority of nursing homes do a very good job. However, we must ensure those [245]which do not are not permitted to take patients under this legislation. We must ensure the standards are in place.

I raise a concern about patients in acute beds, as it is not clear how this matter will be addressed in the legislation. There are many patients in acute hospitals in the country ready for discharge, but who cannot be discharged because there is no place for them. This is because there are no supports in place in the community or there are no places available in either a public or a private nursing home. The legislation seems to indicate that if these people are not moved out of the acute beds within a certain period of time, a charge will apply. It seems such people are treated as if they are in a private nursing home under the legislation. What happens in the case of a person who, through no fault of his or her own, cannot move from an acute bed? Such a person may be there because of a capping of the resources or because he or she cannot afford to pay for private care, but he or she is not there by choice. We all understand it would be a better use of resources if such a person is cared for at the appropriate level. However, if there is no other option to an acute bed, I wish to ensure a charge will not apply under the legislation.

It is not clear from the legislation how palliative care is catered for, and whether it is deemed different from other types of care. There are hospices throughout the country which do a wonderful job. Will the Minister ensure people in palliative care will not be subject to any additional charges, especially in the case of someone in care for an extended period of time?

I return to the four main points of my contribution, including the removal of rights under the Health Act 1970. Age Action Ireland referred to this and I expressed the concern of the Labour Party and its wish to ensure the protection of the right to health care under the Act. The withdrawal of this right amounts to treating senior citizens and others in need of long-term residential care differently from other members of the community, which is wrong. I wish to put down a marker as there is a principle involved and if it is broken with this legislation, it could be broken in other ways also.

It seems the provision of public beds will be overtaken by the provision of private beds under the legislation. There is an increasing number of private nursing homes fulfilling the demand, but there is a very good service in public institutions. Most people, including those in my area, say the level of care in public institutions is very high. There is a more intensive nursing presence in such institutions than in private nursing homes and I do not wish to see this thrown away.

There is an incentive in the legislation to reduce the number of public beds, to make fewer available in future and to depend on the private sector. I am conscious of the Minister’s general position in depending on the private sector. The Labour Party fundamentally disagrees with this view, whether in respect of co-located hospitals, home care packages or whatever. The Labour Party is very concerned at the growing use of the private sector in health care. I referred to this yesterday in the debate on the cervical cancer vaccination programme. A sum of €15 million was given to a private company as part of the health repayment scheme. The work involved in sending letters to in excess of 5,000 patients who had X-rays reviewed in the north east was farmed out to a private company. Throughout the health sector there is more and more of a move from public to private service provision, to which the Labour Party fundamentally objects. We wish to ensure that in the nursing home sector public beds of a high quality will continue to be provided for senior citizens.

The matter of assessment is referred to in the document we received from the Library. I thank the library staff for the detailed research done and for the document circulated to all Deputies, which is very useful. Outlining the position on assessment and dependency, the document states that “the Interdepartmental Working Group in 2006, for instance, reported that [246]approximately 30% of residents in long-term care were classified as medium to low dependency”. What happens to such people? The document also refers to enhancing tailor-made home and community services. It quotes from a study carried out in 2006, comparing Ireland to the United Kingdom, Finland and the Netherlands. It indicates Ireland has a relatively underdeveloped and poorly co-ordinated community care service, of which we are all aware from dealing with patients in the community. My two Labour Party colleagues from County Kildare, namely, Deputies Jack Wall and Emmet Stagg, have brought to my attention on several occasions the cutbacks in the home help service in that county. The necessary level of resources are not available in the community. I acknowledge that home care packages have helped in some areas, but not others. Serious problems have been caused for patients where home care packages have taken funding from traditional home help services.

Will the Minister ensure there will be services for those who are considered of a low enough dependency that they can be catered for in the community? Otherwise, those people will be caught in the middle of this. They will not be dependent enough to qualify under this Bill, and there may not be the full service in the community that they need. The Minister has often had good ideas for the health sector, and I have supported some of them, including her wish to transfer patients from acute care to community care where possible. The reality is that the resources are not always there. When people are in the community and are assessed to be suitable for care in the community, the resources should be there for them.

I had a query about the way in which the family home is treated in the Bill. The Labour Party made clear its serious concern about including the family home in obtaining payment for this. The Minister has cleverly got around the legal issue by making it voluntary, but in effect, it is not voluntary because if a person does not have the money, then he or she will have to take this option. For up to 15% of the cost of the family home, payment can be deferred until after the death of the person concerned. It can be deferred further if the person is in a certain category outlined clearly in the Bill. The Bill lists the following people who qualify — a child of the person in respect of whom payment of ancillary State support was made, when such a child is less than 21 years; a relative of a person in respect of whom the payment of ancillary State support was made, and who is in receipt of different types of pensions and so on, and whose total income is not more than the maximum income of State pension; and other similar cases.

The query I received was from a man who lives with his elderly mother, and the letter states:

I really do not know my position vis-à-vis my elderly mother of 93 years, and would be grateful if you could enlighten me. I noted your name and comments recently concerning the fair deal nursing homes. I am a man of 59 years, living with my mother, having a joint ownership in the family home, my only home and property. Could you please inform me in simple terms my position, should my mother require nursing home care? She is in receipt of a State pension. Must the levy of 5% be incurred? I really do not know. I am a divorced man, having no interest in any other property. Any assistance or direction welcome.

That man does not have any protection under this Bill as I read it. When his mother dies — I assume she will die before him, as she is 93 and he is 59 — what happens to this man and his home?

Deputy Mary Harney:  He is protected under the Bill.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  He is not under the age limit. He does not tell me his income, but if I assume his income is above the level——

[247]Deputy Mary Harney:  He is the joint owner of the property.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  ——specified in the Bill, he will be liable for the repayment as I understand it.

Deputy Mary Harney:  He will not be liable when he transfers the property on.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  What does that mean?

Deputy Mary Harney:  It means that the property is passed on to the next level.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  That is farcical.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  That is far from clear. If he is the joint owner of the property, perhaps he may be protected in some way. However, if the property belonged to his mother and he did not have joint ownership rights, for example if she had a number of sons and daughters and they all had equal rights under the Family Home Protection Act 1976, then it is far from clear what kind of rights he would have. That is of real concern. We have always said in this country that the family home is exempt from any kind of pressure when it comes to paying for services. It is ironic that foreign-owned property may not have a role in this at all, yet the family home is to be brought into the equation.

It is clear, from the mathematics done on this by my colleague, Deputy Tuffy, that a person with a mid-sized home and income will be paying for this, while the person at the bottom of the pile will be paying even more. In that sense, we are transferring resources from people who have less money to people who have more. We have very serious concerns about that.

The IFA and other farming organisations are particularly concerned that there is no cap on land. The 15% cap on the family home does not apply to land. The farm must be transferred five years before the death of the person concerned, and this is causing very serious concerns about the family farm and the viability of handing on the farm from one generation to the next. I hope the Minister addresses that issue, which was brought to my attention by Deputy Sherlock.

The Labour Party is not happy with a wide variety of issues in this Bill. We can address them by tabling amendments, and many of those amendments will relate to issues raised in the submission by Age Action Ireland and the questions raised by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament. These issues are related to equality and fairness and are of concern to people in that age category. We had the potential to bring in a fair Bill that would address the concerns of families that are currently paying money that they cannot afford to nursing homes. We all felt it was a good idea to bring in a Bill that would address those difficulties, but this Bill does not address the four core issues identified by the Labour Party.

The first of these issues is the removal of rights under the Health Acts of the 1970s, which treat all people fairly. We should have a universal system of health care that treats all people on the basis of need, not on the basis of ability to pay. The second issue is the fact that for the first time, a means test will be applied to the family home for the provision of care to our elderly citizens. The third issue is related to the fact that the assessment may well leave out a lot of people who have no option but to be in a nursing home. The fourth and possibly the most important issue is the fact that the Bill is resource capped. In other words, whenever we run out of money, health services are slashed. An example of this was the abolition of the universal access to a medical card for the over 70s, which created a huge furore and brought thousands of senior citizens onto the streets of Dublin. While the Minister changed her mind to some extent due to the pressure of public opinion and raised the threshold for qualification, [248]she still removed the principle of a free medical card for all over 70s. Another example was the decision to defer the introduction of the cervical cancer vaccine, for the sake of less than €10 million per annum. There are many other examples across the health service and the economy in general.

The issue of resource capping is not related to some general principle. Resource capping is a real concern because while this legislation may appear to solve problems for many families, in fact, when the money runs out people will be told they cannot have it. People have already experienced cuts in home help hours, physiotherapy and other support services.

We are not happy with this legislation, which is unfair to our senior citizens. I hope we will be able to amend it significantly, but at this point it is likely that the Labour Party will be voting against the Bill on Second Stage, unless we receive reassurances on the issues I have raised when the Minister replies to the debate.

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  I thought I would never see the day when I would come here to support this legislation in the House. My first encounter with the fair deal was at a meeting before the election at which I got a lot of flak from people about the scheme. At the time I defended it because, having examined it, I felt instinctively that it was a great scheme. My view has been confirmed by my experience as a Deputy since the election. Constituents seeking subventions or subvention increases are anxiously awaiting the introduction of this scheme. The assets and savings of most of them have been almost completely depleted at this stage, whereas they will now qualify for subvention as they have no money left. They want this fair deal to come in as a result of this Bill being passed into law. I am sure members of the public are telling other parties that also, which is why, although they may not be totally in favour of the legislation, the level of opposition is not the same as before.

The Bill presents an opportunity to greatly improve the nursing home system. By adopting a new scheme we can help to fix many of the problems we see daily, as elected representatives. It is great to talk about free public nursing homes but they cannot cater for everybody. In my constituency, St. Joseph’s in Trim serves County Meath very well. In addition, St. Mary’s in Drogheda, which used to serve part of Meath, now does a good job in serving County Louth. There are plenty of Meath people in it. The reality, however, is that such homes are not available to everyone who wishes to avail of their services and that is where the private sector comes in, although there have been difficulties with it. Some Deputies have done a good job in exposing the problems associated with certain nursing homes. By and large, however, private nursing homes I have visited are of a high standard and provide much needed employment in my constituency. The Minister visited one such extended care facility in Stamullen, County Meath, and was welcomed to the constituency on that occasion. It is a great facility and I know many of those who operate it as well as those who live there.

Our current nursing home system is broken and inconsistent. One cannot advise people with any degree of certainty what subvention they might get. There seems to be a huge discretion among the various HSE areas. I do not accept the contention that this is the first time the family home has been taken into account. Why would we be looking for valuations of family homes as things currently stand, which we regularly have to do? Why do people feel they must sell or transfer the family home, worry about their savings or throw their assets away? Nonetheless, it is happening all the time and causes much stress and strain. At my first clinic this evening after leaving the Dáil, the first person I am due to see is someone whose husband is going into a nursing home. Such homes are very important and have a major impact on the general health service.

[249]Currently, there are 25 patients in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda who should be in nursing homes. Their families do not want them to stay in hospital, but the cost of private nursing homes coupled with the lack of beds in the public sector — even though we do our best — and the uncertainty over applications are all causes for concern. When people hear the term “nursing home subvention” a lot of fear generated, which can cause delays. If the people in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital who should be in nursing homes, many of whom I know, can get the financial certainty they need to move into the nursing home system, it would have a dramatic effect on the hospital system in the north east. That system is under pressure at the moment, although the bed managers are doing great work. However, people are there who should be in nursing homes because the hospital cannot do anything more for them. The fair deal will not only have a positive financial impact on families but also on the general health system.

Older people in need of nursing home care face vastly different costs depending on whether they are in the private or public sector. This also applies to their families. In public nursing homes they pay a flat-rate contribution regardless of affordability. In fairness, however, I would have thought most people who could afford private nursing home care are probably not in the public sector. That is my understanding, although I am open to correction. Many older people who choose to go into private nursing homes receive minimal or no financial support from the State, even though prices are rising all the time. Even those who do get help from the State often cannot afford to pay the rest because the subvention only goes so far.

There is also the question of the HSE staff’s discretion in this matter. Certain people often give out about HSE staff but I do not. The HSE staff in my constituency who deal with the administration of nursing home subventions are run off their feet, so they deserve credit. The HSE is always slammed for being too fat and perhaps there are people there who, as Professor Drumm said, have nothing to do. However, the ones with whom I deal daily, whether for subvention or home help, are working hard and effectively. They are working within the resources the Government is making available to them, which are not unlimited. I am grateful to the HSE’s administrative staff in my area who do great work.

No families want the stress of dealing with subvention, which is an unfair and complicated system. If we can fix the system with this legislation we can make life easier and fairer for nursing home residents and their families. People really require clarity in this regard. By now, we know that the system has to be changed and made fair and understandable. There are approximately 21,200 people in nursing homes and this figure will grow. It may be as a result of the property downturn, but there are quite a number of planning applications for nursing homes in my constituency. One of them was granted recently beside where I live and I welcome that because it will provide good quality employment for nurses, care assistants and administrative staff.

Many people moved to east Meath in their 50s when their families were reared and some of them will require nursing home care, so we must have such facilities for them. I welcome the investment that has been made in that area. In 2036, it is estimated that there will be about 44,000 patients in long-term care. It is often forgotten in the debate on our health services that people are living longer than ever before. The health service must be doing something right therefore although that is never acknowledged.

Last year, the State spent approximately €648 million on long-term care. This year alone it is projected that the Government will spend €1 billion on nursing homes. In 20 years the cost of nursing homes will treble. With this amount of money at stake, it is important to ensure it is spent wisely and goes to help those who need it. We would like to see everyone being entitled to such facilities but there is only so much money in the kitty. The Government’s role is to [250]ensure it is spent as wisely and fairly as possible. I welcome the provision in the Estimates for this nursing homes support scheme.

I understand there have been no major changes to the nursing home system in the past 40 years. The Health Act 1970 introduced serious reforms, including the right to free health care, but that is not the reality in the nursing home sector given the available resources. Public nursing homes are doing a great job but they must be supplemented by the private sector. It is more efficient for the State to do that. The public and private sectors will be treated equally under the terms of this legislation, so it is as good a deal as one could imagine without significantly increasing the tax burden to pay for it.

When passed, the Bill will ensure that all nursing home patients and their families are given a fair deal. The system will ensure that everyone’s contribution will be fair, because it can be unaffordable at present. I have seen cases where, in addition to the subvention, people have to make up €300 or €400 per week on top of their parent’s income, which is usually a State pension and savings. It is a difficult burden for families to bear. It involves a lot of money every week when such families are already under severe financial pressure, which is getting worse due to the downturn nationally and internationally. Under the new scheme people will only have to pay what they can afford and this is very important. People I have spoken to about the 5% to 15% annual claw-back, I do not know the official term for it, seem to be quite happy about it. I explain to people that 15% is the maximum. There are variations, such as when both members of a couple go into care. Deputy Jan O’Sullivan’s query raises what appears to be a difficult situation but it seems to be covered by section 20 of the Bill, as the Minister said in her speech. We all know cases like this and they can be discussed on Committee Stage; I am sure the Minister will be open to suggested improvements to the legislation.

People will not be forced to sell their homes to pay for care under this Bill, contrary to what has been said during this debate. People are stressed and worried at the moment and many are having their family homes valued. Many old people are currently forced to sell their homes to pay for care because they only receive a certain amount of subvention. I know a constituent whose savings are running out and who is considering this option but I told him to hang on until this deal comes in. The sooner it does, the better for all. The new Bill will ensure people will not be forced to sell their homes.

Moving into a nursing home is a difficult transition for old people and they do not need the extra stress of selling their houses. Their families do not need this stress either, as it is they who usually bear the burden. This matter affects not only old people but young people too. The Minister visited the Redwood care facility in Stamullen during the summer and there is a mixture of young and old people staying there as people need long-term care for various reasons; they are covered by this Bill and that is important. St. Clare’s Nursing Home is also in that area.

It is understandable that concerns about this scheme have been expressed by patients, families and Age Action Ireland. I would have expected Age Action Ireland to suggest areas for improvement. However, some of the reaction to the Bill when it was first announced was over the top and it was not given a fair hearing. It was suggested that people’s houses would be taken when the reality for many residents of nursing homes was that day had already passed. It is important we ensure that people understand how the new scheme will affect them. In fairness to the Department of Health and Children, much of the documentation that was issued was very clear and self-explanatory. People understood this documentation and the concepts of 80% and 5% per annum. Technical areas cover all of the individual cases and can explain them.

[251]Costs will go down significantly for patients and, more importantly, for families. Nobody will ever be asked to pay more than the actual cost of the care received and, for those currently receiving subventions, in most cases they will go up under the new plan. It is extremely important that the State gives all nursing home patients a fair deal and the new scheme is fair and consistent. The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill will ensure no pensioners in need of nursing home care will be forced to sell their homes. Passing this law will ensure that nursing home patients in Ireland are given the best care and a fair deal. The HSE has concerns about standards in some of its centres and much work must be done in this regard.

It should be noted that various studies over many years have examined how we pay for nursing home care. This issue has been debated for many years and the Library and Research Service has produced a fantastic digest for the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill. This has been of use to me and could be of use to Deputies across the House. There is an interesting discussion in that paper of the various approaches that have been looked at over the years and could be adopted to fund nursing home care. Various reports, including the Mercer report and that of the inter-departmental group, looked at taxation, higher pay related social insurance, PRSI, and earmark taxation, like another health levy. Estate taxes seem logical but it was felt they would not attract sufficient broad support. The scheme we have today is the equivalent of an estate tax, but it is fair and not simply a charge of the full costs of nursing home care. In many cases the charge will be a significant fraction of the full cost and I think we have achieved a good balance.

I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. I look forward to the Minister and Ministers of State, including the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, working hard to pass it as soon as possible, get the scheme up and running and give security to patients and families alike.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  I presume this proposal is intended to substitute for the subvention scheme and will not run in parallel with it, because this has not been made clear. Is this the case?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  Is the Deputy proposing that I answer now?

Deputy Michael Noonan:  Is that a yes?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  It is in substitution for the subvention scheme.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  Deputy James Reilly laid out the Fine Gael position on this. There are many good things in this Bill; the principle is good and the scheme proposed is better than the existing one. However, I also believe there are major flaws in the scheme and many of them have already been pointed out by Deputies James Reilly and Jan O’Sullivan.

I have personal experience of matters related to the Bill; a close member of my family is in a nursing home. I draw attention to this fact because I wish to make it clear that I have no financial interest in either the existing scheme or the proposed new scheme. My family does not benefit from subventions and will certainly not benefit from the new scheme. In case there is any speculation about my personal position, my contribution is an attempt to improve the Minister’s approach and I am not advocating a scheme that will serve my family’s needs.

The current position is inequitable and the subvention scheme applies unfairly. People on exactly the same level of income get different levels of subvention, depending on the institution in which they reside. By and large those fortunate enough to be in a public nursing home will pay less than those in private nursing homes, despite the fact they may be in the same circum[252]stances with the same need of long-term care. They could have the same income yet there could be a huge variation and that is unfair and must be corrected.

Relatives of residents of private nursing homes are severely penalised under the current scheme. The subvention goes some way to meeting the cost of a nursing home but, as it is means tested, in many cases sons and daughters, who already have many financial demands due to their family commitments, must make up the balance. This is a serious imposition that the new scheme will do away with and when it replaces the existing scheme there will no longer be a call on the cash of family members. As other members said, the family home will not have to be sold to pay nursing home fees, though there will be a charge on it. This is all of benefit.

The principle begins to fall down in the area of practical application, however. This is where questions arise and we have not received satisfactory answers yet. In a Dáil question yesterday I asked the Minister what was paid out by her Department in subventions in 2007 and she kindly answered €205 million. She expects an additional €12 million to be paid out in 2008. Her first shot at a budget for the new scheme is €55 million. The current scheme cost €205 million in 2007 and the new scheme’s budget is €55 million. How can the new scheme be substantially better than the old one if it costs around €150 million less? There is a problem there. Obviously, if there are deferred payments, these would make up the balance. What worries us on this side of the House is that not all those in nursing homes who are in receipt of subventions at present would qualify under the new scheme. That is key, and must be answered.

The interdepartmental committee which considered this issue when the Bill was being prepared in 2006 stated that 30% of patients in nursing homes are at a medium or lower level of dependency and the Irish private nursing homes association state that 12% of their patients are at low levels of dependency. This Bill is geared for persons who require care because they have high dependency. Therefore, on the face of it and working on the interdepartmental, Civil Service figures, the opening position is that 30% of existing patients would not qualify. What mechanism does the Department have to cover this 30% of people? They will no longer have a subvention and, in fairness, they cannot be put out in the road, so how does it work out? At the same time, the funding does not seem to be going in. Some €55 million is going in but this is in contrast to a current figure of in excess of €200 million. While there will be a loans system, ancillary support and deferred payments to be got back in the future, when one considers the profile of who is in nursing homes at present, it does not make sense.

The second issue I wish to raise is the assessment of needs. This Bill will apply to persons who are assessed to be in need of long-term care. A number of factors can be taken into account in this assessment, for example, cognitive ability, the extent of orientation, the degree of mobility, the ability to dress unaided, the ability to feed unaided, the ability to communicate, the ability to bathe unaided and the degree of continence of the person, and there are also other factors to do with social dependency and support from families and so on. This would be the normal way to assess dependency.

The first problem is that no scale is applied to any of these elements of the assessment. I listed eight elements and there are other general elements. If, for example, we gave ten points to each of the eight elements and applied 20 points to the general elements, making a total of 100 points, at what point would one qualify? Is it past point 60, 70, 80 or 20? This is not addressed in the Bill so there is a serious flaw in the assessment. It is not enough to say the Department of Health and Children or the HSE will look after that issue and that we will apply a scheme which will be fair — that is no longer the way the world works. There is a low enough level of trust in the HSE. If this is not spelled out in detail, if a weighting is not given to the different elements of the assessment and if it is not stated clearly at what point somebody will qualify, then this will not run. That is a serious matter.

[253]The biggest problem in this section is that the Minister makes it very clear this a resource-capped scheme. Department of Health and Children schemes like the drugs refund scheme, medical cards schemes and so on are all demand-led. If there was ever a demand-led scheme, this is one. If one’s mother has Alzheimer’s and needs to go to a nursing home, she is entitled to the nursing home place as soon as she is assessed as needing it because she can no longer be looked after at home. However, if it is a resource-led scheme, there will be a waiting list for nursing homes of persons assessed as having very high levels of dependency who are absolutely in need of care.

This will not run, including legally. If the Minister was present, I would ask her to go back to the Attorney General. I believe it will pan out that somebody will take a case and this will be found to be unconstitutional. If a scheme is set up to assess high levels of dependency, and if the consequence of being assessed as having a high level of dependency is that one is entitled to support from the State for one’s stay in a nursing home, and a Minister then says that although there are 20 vacant beds in the neighbourhood nursing home, the money is not available this year because it is a resource-capped scheme and so the person cannot go into the nursing home, there is a case in law for that person. This is particularly so if the State has already helped that person’s neighbours to go to the nursing home, and others in similar circumstances, because everybody must be equal before the law in situations such as this. The HSE as the agent of State cannot be arbitrary in an assessment — it cannot choose one over the other. People in similar circumstances must be treated similarly, which is fundamental in law.

There is a serious problem here. I can see what the Department is trying to do — it is trying to cap the costs of this scheme. However, in what is essentially a demand-led scheme, the costs cannot be capped by artificially turning it into a resource-capped scheme. The Minister has gone to the trouble of writing in a section to state it will be resource-capped scheme. I do not believe it will work, so there is a serious problem.

The definition of a couple in the Bill will also give difficulty because that definition is based on sexual relationships. One is either married, a heterosexual couple living as a married couple or a gay couple living as a married couple, but what about two sisters or a sister and a brother living together? This has consequences for disposal when there is an assessment against the family home. When the person in the nursing home dies and the HSE, with the help of the Revenue Commissioners, go in to recover the 7.5% of the value of the home, plus a consumer price index add-on, what is the position of the second sister? It is quite common across the country that a sister or brother would own the home and another sister or brother would live with him or her. Why, unless someone was deliberately trying to make political mischief, would one define a couple in terms of sexual relationships rather than in terms of cohabitation, which one would have thought would be the way to deal with an issue concerning a home? This should be reconsidered because it has consequences, particularly when the loan, if I can call it that, must be collected subsequently.

The financial assessment is also curious. All net income is taken into account, which is fair enough. There is a write-off on assets of €72,000 for a couple and €36,000 for a single person. A couple could have €100,000 in savings and €72,000 would be written off, with the couple imputed to have savings of €28,000, which is €14,000 each. Some 5% of the €14,000 would be taken as income and added on to other income. That is fair enough. However, it is trickier when it comes to the assets because the family home is always included, at least for the first three years of assessment. My understanding is that all other assets at home or abroad, of any kind, are included in the assessment.

It gets very tricky at this point because this does not apply to everybody and is calculated relative to the cost of the nursing home. The level of support will be greater for people in [254]Dublin, where nursing homes are dearer, and less for people down the country, although it depends on the nursing home. A complicated formula is contained in the Schedule but it is not that complicated. In my part of the country and in the counties surrounding Limerick, the average cost would be approximately €800 a week for a nursing home. People I know in a nursing home in Rathgar pay €60,000 a year, which is approximately €1,200 a week, so there are variations between Dublin, Limerick and elsewhere. The interdepartmental committee has supplied figures which give the range, so these are not absolute figures, but €800 a week, or roughly €40,000 a year, is the cost with which I would be familiar.

The Bill states that nobody will pay more than the cost of the nursing home, so nobody would pay more than €800 a week by way of contribution in my area, and the State will make up the balance between the imputed income and the €40,000 a year. I found this difficult to understand when I first read the Bill. We are familiar with means tests, whereby if one qualifies under the means, one gets something. This Bill provides for a reverse means test so that if one qualifies under the means, one makes a contribution. The lower the means an applicant has, the less of a contribution to be made; the higher the means, the more of a contribution to be made. It is a peculiar take on a means test as it decides what contribution a person will make rather than what he or she will get. It is the reverse of what we would be familiar with when we assist people in getting medical cards, subventions and so on.

Under the scheme everyone will pay, even those on the non-contributory old age pension who may currently have free care in a public nursing home. The budget increased the non-contributory pension to €209 per week. With this scheme, there will be a 20% discount on that, which comes to €42, leaving the recipient with €167. In my example of a weekly nursing home fee of €800, the State will come up with the difference between €167 and €800 and pay it directly to the nursing home. Under this Bill, the elderly lady or gentleman whose only income is the non-contributory pension will contribute €167 to their keep. We could have an argument about that. On the other hand, someone with an income of €800 or over will not qualify for any subvention and will have to pay the full nursing home fees.

The means test comes in at fairly low levels of income. Take the example of an individual with an imputed income of €20,000. That is not a large amount but would correspond to the pension of a garda, civil servant, teacher or nurse. Two such pensioners, a couple, would have €40,000 between them when allowing for savings and pensions. If they had a family home worth €500,000, then 5% of its value would be used, €25,000, which is a substantial amount of money. If that is added to the €20,000 then they go over the limit and receive nothing. I presume what will work out in practice is that since they do not have the money to pay, the difference between the €20,000 and the €40,000 becomes the charge on the family home at 7.5% over three years. This will, however, present problems.

When assessments of land values in the cases of farmers are taken into account, one sees how serious the problem gets. Like other property prices land prices went mad over the past several years. Take the example of a modest farm which could be worth up to €5 million. If the 5% calculation is applied to that, the couple in question would have no chance of qualifying under the scheme. All they have is an asset that they can work from which to get an income. There is no income deriving from its value. While it is clear that the 2.5% up to 7.5% charge on the value of the family home can be used as a deferred payment, it is not clear that an assessment of 5% on the value of a family farm can be used in a similar fashion. The imputed income would take such a couple well beyond the limit at which the new ancillary financial support would apply.

[255]I am sure the Department’s officials have thought all this out and have answers for it but we do not know them yet. This will have to be explained in the Minister’s reply and how it will work in practice.

Another issue that needs to be examined is the tax position. The Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement said he would apply the standard rate of tax to medical rebates and nursing home fees. Form a conversation I had with him recently, I believe he is reconsidering that.

A payment to a private nursing home can be claimed against tax. Whether it is the standard or higher rate, the principle is the same. However, because of the way of assessing income under this scheme, the tax will have a variation on it. If someone pays, say, €400 of the €800 weekly nursing home fee, they are entitled to claim that against tax. Yet as income is assessed as net income, as soon as it is claimed against tax the person’s income goes up, which affects the original assessment of income. When one’s income goes up, one gets less from the State. When it goes down, one gets more. If the State is notionally providing half of the fees and an individual is providing the other half, he or she will claim it back on tax. However, he or she is no longer entitled to half of it because in the definition of income, the income has risen. The individual concerned will have to pay more tax and is entitled to less from the State. In the case of someone on the marginal rate of tax, one could be getting substantially more, which is a problem.

When it comes to deferred payments after three years, what is the tax position of the repayment? The Department, on behalf of the HSE, is repaying the Revenue an amount of money that was paid for nursing home fees which is claimable against tax. Take the example of the inheritor of a family home with a 7.5% charge on its value plus the CPI on that. Will he or she be able to claim that against income tax as a medical expense? I will return to these issues on Committee Stage.

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  I wish to share time with Deputy Niall Blaney.

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

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  I welcome the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 and compliment the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and her Department for tackling a tricky and sensitive issue. It is a source of great anxiety, not only for the residents of nursing homes but for their relatives as well.

I am glad we have recognised a situation which has been extremely difficult for so many people. The Bill comes up with a practical solution which is innovative, transparent and, most importantly, completely fair. Anyone who has had any dealings with nursing homes, whether they are public or private facilities, is only too painfully aware of the very high costs associated with them, whether they are to the individual resident, their family or to the State. The issue of long-term nursing home care is fraught with heavy financial considerations, including the money which has to be laid out every week.

It also involves intense emotion and trepidation. People have told me that making the decision to admit a father or a mother, a husband or a wife, to a nursing home on a permanent basis was one of the most traumatic events in a lifetime. They tell me they are racked with guilt and remorse, feeling they have let their relatives and themselves down. They think they have condemned a parent or a spouse to an institution which is little more than a departure lounge where people sit and wait until its their turn to exit. Relatives usually feel terrible and inadequate that they were not in a position to look after a loved one in their own home. The nursing home was seen as the last option.

[256]Years ago there was a strong tradition where elderly people were able to remain in their own home or they could move in with a son or a daughter who were only too willing to look after their every need until the end. Regrettably, we have seen a marked trend away from this pattern in recent years. It is due, in large measure, to lifestyle changes, financial demands and social conditions. As nearly every member of a household is in work, they cannot take on the added responsibility of looking after an elderly or infirm relative.

  1 o’clock

Approximately 22,750 people live in long-term residential care, either in public or private nursing homes. That represents about 5% of the over-65s population, or one in 20 people. Due to demographic factors and our high-age dependency, it is estimated that by 2036, 44,000 people will be in long-term nursing home care. The State foots the bill for two thirds of the care costs, or approximately €790 million per annum. The projected cost to the State — that is, the taxpayer — for this year is more than €1 billion. According to a survey published earlier this year by the organisation representing voluntary and private nursing homes, the weekly cost of private nursing home care can be €1,330, or almost €69,000 per annum. The average weekly cost of care in 2006 was €778. That sort of money, without subvention, would kill Samson. Not everyone has the resources to defray the full amount of these fees. The HSE reckons that private nursing home care can cost an average of €50,000 per annum and, according to the HSE, a bed in a public nursing home costs around €1,700 per week. Of course, the taxpayer bears about 90% of that charge.

At present, the State is spending €790 million to subsidise nursing home care and about half of all payments to nursing homes are in the form of subventions from the HSE. Residents in private nursing homes are means-tested and they carry approximately 60% of these care costs themselves. Where appropriate, the taxpayer subsidises the cost of this care by way of subventions from the HSE. The private and voluntary nursing home sector accounts for around 65% of all long-term places and it accommodates 18,883 residents at present. In contrast, the figure for beds in public nursing homes stands at 9,675.

It is clear that the system as it operates at present is wholly inconsistent and irrational. On the face of it, it appears to be unfair and complicated and to have little or no equitable basis. The State subvention scheme can often be inconsistent and is sometimes very arbitrary indeed. There does not appear to be much logic inherent in the current arrangements for public and private residents. The support system is blatantly unfair and unpredictable. It is ridiculous and unacceptable that there should be such a glaring difference between the public and private costs. As I understand it, the existing system for residents of public nursing homes is such that their contributions towards the costs of their care are based on a flat rate and are irrespective of their means. In contrast, State support for people who are resident in private nursing homes is means-tested. It is of course the case that many private residents receive no State support whatsoever. The existing system means that people on the same incomes can end up with vastly different care costs, which is not tenable. There is no sense to it and, in principle or in practice, it cannot be sustained in the long term.

This new scheme is entirely voluntary and nobody will be put at a disadvantage in any way. For those who wish to apply to avail of the scheme, the new proposals in this Bill confirm that from hereon all nursing home care needs will be assessed in a uniform manner by the HSE and everyone’s financial circumstances will be calculated in exactly the same way. Everyone will benefit from financial support from the State if that is necessary. Furthermore, there will be an objective assessment of a person’s particular medical requirements and, in a welcome departure, his or her social context, in order to see if the necessary support mechanisms can be achieved while allowing the person to remain in his or her own home and community. For many people, the nursing home option may not be ideal and it may be preferable to continue [257]to live at home provided the necessary care and support is available locally. Under the new scheme, everyone who has assets such as savings, stocks and shares, land or property worth more than €36,000 will have to pay 5% of the value of these assets on an annual basis and for every year of his or her care in a nursing home. Naturally, the principal residence will be excluded from this assessment. Where there is a shortfall and where the individual has qualified for ancillary support, the State will pay the deficit for the duration of the person’s stay in the nursing home and it will then be able to recoup that money by placing a fixed charge on the house.

As I said earlier, for all those confronted with the decision on whether to go into a nursing home or whether to consign a relative to long-term nursing home care, this matter is very distressing and the decision process is often riddled with agonising soul-searching. It is a momentous decision for anyone and, naturally, the major expense involved is a significant worry. For those faced with private nursing home care, the ongoing costs can be horrendous and are often very difficult to meet in the longer term. We are all familiar with cases in which the costs are such that the cash runs out. I for one have witnessed people being forced to sell land or other property to pay for their care. Circumstances are even more stark when one member of a couple is in a private nursing home while the other remains in the family residence. For many people there has been no choice but to sell the family home, with both members of the couple then having to reside in the nursing home. There is no doubt that such costs have placed an enormous financial burden on ordinary people and their families and the pressure is often hard to withstand. Elderly people can be vulnerable and fragile, and the escalating costs of nursing home care have placed a huge worry on them.

It is my firm belief that all those who can afford to make a contribution towards their nursing home costs should do so and it is only fair that everyone’s assets and means should be assessed in accordance with common criteria to ascertain exactly how much they can reasonably afford to pay. I fully support the idea of attaching a charge to the home, and allowing that charge to be recouped from the person’s estate after his or her death is a very sensible measure. Many people do not realise until they are actually in the nursing home for some time — maybe longer than they had expected — that the ongoing expenses can be astronomical. It is only when they are in the nursing home, perhaps with diminishing faculties, that they begin to experience real financial hardship. For anybody, young or old, this is a terrible torment and it must be awful to contemplate selling the family home as a last resort when the money begins to dry up. For very many people, there is no alternative.

The new proposal should give great peace of mind and reassurance to many people. They can now be comfortable in the knowledge that the family home will remain intact until after their deaths or until the estate of the surviving member of a couple is settled. From now on the State, rather than the family, will assume the task of managing the rising costs of nursing home care and will be charged with negotiating the most competitive rates with the various nursing homes. In effect, participating nursing homes will enter into a contract with the State, thereby ensuring that costs are predictable and are managed adequately. This is in everybody’s interests.

The proposition essentially means that people will not be forced to come up with the necessary cash on a weekly or monthly basis. Instead, the State will move to meet the shortfall and can subsequently claim up to 5% of the value of the house every year up to a maximum ceiling of three years. Thus, the greatest proportion of the value of the house that can be secured by the State will be 15%. This is a fair and reasonable deal for everyone. Everybody will be expected to contribute according to his or her individual means and assets, no more and no less. New entrants to the scheme will be obliged to pay up to a percentage of their annual income towards the cost of their care, regardless of whether they go into a public or a private [258]nursing home. The amount will always be less than their disposable income. If that proportion of a person’s income is not sufficient to meet all costs, the State will fill the breach and pay the remainder. Overall, it is expected that the State will continue to meet two thirds of the costs of long-term care.

The current annual cost to the Exchequer of subsidising nursing home care is €790 million. The expected cost of this new scheme will be in the region of €920 million in its first year of operation and it will be accessible to everyone in need of long-term residential care, irrespective of age. The proposed legislation will alleviate much of the hardship and stress which has been visited on people and their families over the years. The need to come up with regular cash contributions will be eliminated and nobody will end up in the lamentable position of having to sell off the family home during his or her lifetime. For many people, in a nursing home or otherwise, the family home represents their last bastion of security and the thought of having to dispose of that home can be devastating.

It is important to reiterate that the new system will eliminate the anomalies and the discrepancies that prevail at present. At last, we are presented with a clear and coherent framework which will ensure that long-term care is affordable and accessible to everyone in accordance with his or her ability to pay. It is timely that we address the strain and the difficulties people have experienced as a result of high nursing home costs. Now that we are facing the prospect of ever-increasing numbers requiring long-term nursing home care, we must consider realistically the level of State support available to offset the burden of the charges. We have to take into consideration that State resources are finite in this regard. The new system is imaginative and workable and is one the State can afford. The days when we could afford to hand out money willy-nilly are gone. It is extremely difficult to justify a system which does not treat people equally and appropriately to their means.

The generality of people who are struggling to pay their nursing home expenses have welcomed this initiative. The truth is that nursing home fees have crippled many individuals and families in this country, who have had no choice but to take a place wherever it was available and pay the going rate. The fair deal represents a sound strategy which will usher in a new era for everyone, particularly the elderly, in the 21st century. Those who need financial assistance to defray the cost of their care will get that help from the State and this will ease what has been an intolerable burden on everyone for a long time. I am satisfied to commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Niall Blaney:  I thank my colleague Deputy Aylward for sharing time. It is with great pleasure I speak on the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill. There has been much fanfare on the opposite side of the House about this Bill and little evidence of the cross-party support which was on offer yesterday. Here we have a good news story but are still faced with negativity from the usual quarters.

We all have elderly relatives and hope we will not have to consider putting them into nursing home care. However, nobody knows what lies in the future or what disease will hit those for whom we care. Many families cannot provide the care required by their elderly, and some not so elderly, relatives. Not everybody is in a position to enjoy later life in the comfort of their family or family home. Some are struck by ill health and some have nowhere they can call home. Many of these people unfortunately also have financial constraints. All of these issues amount to a serious decision for many unfortunate families. An already difficult situation is often worsened by lack of finance, and this may be even more evident in these times.

As a nation we must look after these people in a coherent, consistent and fair manner. There have been problems in health in this country. We are trying to tease out those problems to [259]ensure those in need of health care are catered for. Moving a relative into a nursing home is a moment dreaded by many, and the decision is often put off for longer than it should be. Many adult children feel it is their duty to return the care they received from their elderly parents, but sometimes they just cannot cope. Therefore I am glad to be associated with this Bill as it provides a way out for many families. Although economic turbulence exists, I am glad this Bill has remained a priority for this Government. This Bill will help ease upset and insecurity for many families and will provide new hope while removing the financial strain for many.

I have often been approached by constituents who are not in a position to pay for private nursing care, and public nursing care is scarce. The State provides 90% support for public nursing home care but only 40% of the cost for private nursing home care. This Bill will eliminate these discrepancies and the older person will be the outright winner. On a positive note, less than one in 20 over-65 year olds will have high dependency, that is approximately 25,000 people at present. The Bill also covers those under 65 needing long term care. This Bill is a fair deal for them. People of the same means around the country face different costs for nursing home care, which is often dependent upon where they live or whether their care providers are private or public. Unfortunately, this often led to families having to sell the family home in order to fund the care of an elderly relative and this caused undue hardship.

Irish people are renowned for the pride they have in their home. The saying “our home is our castle” is very apt in Ireland. Therefore the trauma of having possibly to sell the family home to fund nursing home care is very difficult. This Bill eliminates that worry with the introduction of ancillary State support whereby people will not have to sell their assets, such as their homes, to meet care costs. People will be able to defer contributions payable on Irish land-based assets for the duration of their lifetimes. There has been some scaremongering on this matter of late and it is necessary to put this right. This Bill will prevent people from having to sell assets to pay for care, which is sometimes the case for those in financial need. The HSE will recoup the money it pays through this ancillary State support in the event of the settlement of the person’s estate. However, there will be exceptions to this, if there is a spouse or relative who depends on the assets after the death of the person who received the care.

One might argue this Bill was a long time coming but I am glad this Bill was not rushed through without capturing all the issues and addressing them. It is essential we address all issues and ensure fairness and consistency prevails. To qualify as a designated facility, care providers will have to meet stringent standards with a view to ensuring quality care. I again commend the Minister and Ministers of State involved in drawing up this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House and I am pleased finally to see it come to fruition for the betterment of those families most in need of support and care.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I welcome this Bill. It has been a long time coming. Since 2006 we have heard the Minister promising her “fair deal” but it will be late 2009 before we see any real progress with this scheme. In the meantime, many elderly people and their families have spent thousands of euro on nursing home care, and have struggled with the financial burden this has caused.

As daughters and sons, we all want what is best for our parents, grandparents and elderly family members. They have waited a long time for a fair deal on nursing home care. Now that this Bill has come up for debate, we must ensure it is in the very best interests of all our elderly people. They have paid their way and worked through the hard times, supporting this country when it was on its knees. They cared for their young families with little or no support from the State, all the while paying high taxes. They laid the foundation for prosperity and gave this small country a place on the world stage.

[260]When it comes to the time in their lives when, for one reason or another, they can no longer care for themselves or live independently, they must pay to go into a nursing home and live in a strange environment, miles from home. Not only are they forced to pay, they have to give up their savings and, in some cases, even their home and land. These people have always paid their way and never asked for something for nothing. They are at a stage in their lives when they need help and support to live out the rest of their days with pride and dignity. They must be given the best possible care and this cannot and should not be sacrificed because of budget issues.

In my ten years in public life I have been often struck by deep upset and heart-rending anxiety felt by families who make the very hard decision for a loved one to be cared for in a nursing home. No son or daughter wants to see an elderly parent go into a nursing home but they often have no choice in the matter as they not may be in a position to properly care for their mother or father full time. When the time comes, we naturally want the best and highest standard of accommodation.

Therefore, we expect no less from the Minister for Health and Children and the Government than to implement an accessible and high quality care package and to show true respect for our elderly population. It would be nice to have a free nursing-home care package for all. It would be a small repayment for the years of service they have given to society. However, we all live in the real world and we know this is not possible. Some contribution must be made if the scheme is to work, but this must be done fairly with no unnecessary burden being placed on families.

Up to now, the scheme has had many flaws. It was difficult to get a nursing home subvention due to strict criteria and means tests. That is why I sincerely hope the new fair deal will improve the situation for our elderly population. I have read and studied the Bill to the best of my ability. I agree with some, but not all, of the measures being introduced in the legislation. I accept that people must contribute to the cost of nursing home care, but I question the requirement on patients to devote 80% of their weekly accessible income to paying for such care. They will also have to make annual payments equating to between 5% and 15% of the value of their assets, including family homes. This is excessive, especially in the case of elderly people who save a small amount every week with the intention of leaving it to their children or grandchildren after they have passed on.

My elderly next-door neighbour is in great health at the moment. When I was talking to him the other evening, he told me he is going into hospital for some tests. He is concerned about what will happen to him after he leaves hospital. If he needs to go to a nursing home, and is lucky enough to get a place, he will be asked to surrender 80% of his pension. That would leave him with less than €50 a week, which is nothing more than pocket money. What can one buy with €50? Perhaps one can afford a few cigarettes, a newspaper, some toiletries and a bottle of lemonade. Elderly people value having a few euro in their pocket because it gives them independence. My 88 year old mother, who is ailing, asks for her purse each morning when she wakes up. She needs to find her purse and make sure her money is still in it before she can get on with her day. Under the fair deal, elderly people will have to undergo care needs assessments before they go into nursing homes. What if they are not considered eligible, on foot of such assessments, because they do not meet the Minister’s criteria? Who will care for them in such circumstances? Where is the fair deal in such cases?

The recent home help cuts, which shocked us all, will mean that fewer supports are available in the community. A crisis is developing in local communities as a result. I am contacted every day by elderly people whose home help hours have been reduced recently. I have received [261]many calls telling me about the fear being experienced by elderly people who used to get two or three hours of home help, but now get just an hour. I know a girl with five children who had a stroke three years ago. She used to benefit from eight hours of home help, but that was recently reduced to two hours. I was shocked when she told me last week that her eligibility for a medical card is to be reassessed. Such cases are frightening, worrying and upsetting for everybody. Those who provide home help give generously of their time. They often stay longer than required because they have developed a good relationship with those they care for.

Families also have a caring role. We need to bear in mind that family members who are carers are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have already mentioned my ailing mother, who is 88 years of age. Her needs have totally changed over the last three months. She needs constant care. Each member of the large family she reared is able to give some time to her. She depends primarily on my brother, who remains at home. He keeps an eye on my mother every hour of every day. He feeds, washes and dresses her. Above all, he gives her care, understanding and love, which is most important. Most people want to keep their elderly family members at home, where they feel safe and comfortable. It is important, therefore, to improve the conditions in which elderly people live. When one tries to get a local authority to do the necessary work to adapt elderly people’s homes, thereby making it easier for people like my brother to cope, one encounters unacceptable delays. Last week, my brother was told by an inspector that he might have to wait eight or ten months for a new shower to be installed in my mother’s bathroom. We decided last weekend to put on our boots and do the work ourselves. It took us four hours to manage to install the shower, which is easily adapted by family members. As a result, my mother will not have to wait eight or ten months — she might not be around by then — to enjoy the comfort of the shower.

The new primary care centres that have opened throughout the country, which have been promoted by the Minister, allow people to be looked after in a familiar location. They offer an ideal environment in which elderly people can be cared for without having to leave their homes. The centres ensure that people stay in the community, where they can be visited by their neighbours and friends on a regular basis. Plans for a new primary care centre in my local parish — St. Michael’s in Inchicore — have recently been agreed. Fifty management units, in which people can live independently, will be provided as part of the scheme. I think it will be a real success. I thank the Minister for her inspirational vision in this instance. Similar projects should be rolled out throughout the country. As I have said, it is important to keep people alive and well in the communities with which they are familiar. I see the people who live in centres of this type on a daily basis as they go to the shops and to mass.

When elderly people are placed in pre-selected nursing homes, families do not have any alternatives. An elderly person can end up in a nursing home which is far away from his or her family members. Such people can become isolated, which puts extra pressure on family members who have to travel long distances to visit them. I have a list in my office of people who want to go into care in the Cherry Orchard institution in Ballyfermot. The facility in question is ideal. Many people from my constituency and other areas have contacted me to see if I can help them to get a care place for their elderly or infirm parents. The Cherry Orchard centre has a wonderful reputation in Ballyfermot, Inchicore and other parts of Dublin South-Central. The care people receive at the institution is beyond belief. It is an example of the HSE getting it right. Families who wish to visit their loved ones, for example, to spend time with them as they pass from this world, can come and go in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

I am concerned about the assessment of an elderly person’s assets which were transferred in the five years before he or she entered nursing home care. An elderly parent may have given a family member some money to help him or her buy a house or to assist him or her at a time of debt or illness, for example. I do not agree that such moneys should be considered during [262]the financial assessment. This provision will cause huge worry for elderly people who want to help their families but may be afraid to do so. How can money which is given in good faith, with a generous heart and without any expectation of anything in return, be assessed in such a manner? As a parent, I do not want my children to fall victim to this assessment process in the future.

I accept that a person in a nursing home should make a payment equivalent to 5% of the value of his or her home. I welcome the safeguards that are in place to allow such a person’s spouse to continue living in the home. I agree that the 5% payment should be capped at 15% after three years. However, I do not agree with the decision not to impose a cap on the 5% charge on assets, including land. I have lived in the inner city all my life. When I was growing up, there was a pig farm near my home, funnily enough. It was run by a dedicated farmer who got up at 4 a.m. each day, to our annoyance, to look after his little plot of land and his pigs. An elderly farmer contacted me last week when he realised that the new criteria meant he would no longer be able to avail of the medical card to which, as a person over the age of 70, he had been entitled. Farmers who have tilled the land and worked hard all their lives should be able to pass their land on to their children without having to worry about them being assessed. This provision is grossly unfair.

The standard of nursing homes is another important issue. Up to now, there have been no regular inspections of public nursing homes. Standards must be improved in all nursing homes. Cases such as the Leas Cross scandal cannot be allowed to happen again. If we entrust our loved ones to residential care, we must be assured that they are in a clean and comfortable space and are treated with care and respect. I was recently telephoned by the mother of a 40 year old woman who is in long-term care because she has the mental ability of a two and a half year old. The harrowing stories she told me, which I confirmed with the HSE, led me to believe that there continues to be significant problems in some residential care units. Such circumstances should not be allowed to develop. I am gravely concerned that the Government will run out of money for the nursing home scheme during the current economic downturn. The scheme is currently costed at €920 million. If the Government cannot deliver the medical card scheme for people over the age of 70, what chance does it have in this instance?

Neither is the Government prepared to deliver on the cervical cancer vaccine. Cervical cancer is the worst form to suffer from according to my doctor. I had to take my daughter to see him this morning because she is sick. He was appalled to think the Government would not provide €10 million for the cervical cancer vaccine and voted against our motion last night. Even though I am a mother and a woman, I know little about this form of the disease but my doctor related harrowing stories to me earlier. In his 36 years practising, he has dealt with four women who had cervical cancer. He said it is the worst cancer to die from and he was appalled to think the Government has decided that young girls aged 12 now may have to visit his surgery when they are 18 or 19 and be told they have cervical cancer. I was shocked and horrified by his stories. There was plenty of opposition to the Government’s cutback during the Private Members’ debate and even a Government backbencher would not vote on it but the Government’s amendment was passed.

The Minister and the Government need to listen to the issues my colleagues and I have raised because some day we will be all old and we all ask our children to support us and mind us. If this is a fair deal, it should be a fair deal for everybody.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I do not wish to share my time because I have had too much excitement this week sharing time. I welcome my friend and near neighbour, the Minister of State, who knows I would prefer to use my contribution to discuss issues of concern to him, [263]including Tallaght Hospital. It is a major challenge to follow my fellow Dubliner, Deputy Byrne, and I compliment her on her fine address. She should not misunderstand that Government backbenchers are concerned about the issues she raised. I have also lived in Dublin all my life. She is much younger and I hail from a different era. Health has always been an issue in Dublin life and I always lament the demise of the various hospitals in the inner city, where I was raised, such as the Mercer’s and Adelaide hospitals. If Governments of all persuasions had their time over again, perhaps different actions would have been taken and we would be examining this issue from a different perspective.

The Bill aims to introduce a new scheme of State support for individuals who require long-term nursing home care. It provides for a care needs assessment of individuals to ascertain whether they need to be provided with long-term residential care services and a financial assessment to determine the contribution eligible individuals may have to pay towards the cost of long-term residential care services. The Bill allows for the deferral of part of the contribution in specified circumstances and provides for a system of review and appeal.

I live in Tallaght, the third largest population centre in the State. It is a young population. I was raised in Crumlin and I often visit the area, which contrasts greatly with Tallaght. People in Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue, Brittas and Bohernabreena are ageing and that always presents a challenge. Sometimes people say one should be good to one’s children because they will choose one’s nursing home. In my case, my sisters have taken the initiative and they keep telling me where they will be put me. This issue will face us all, as Deputy Byrne said, and it is important that we pay attention to it. The Minister of State will be aware of the lack of significant nursing home capacity in my area. St. Brigid’s nursing home in Crooksling, Brittas, County Dublin, has been around forever and it provides a brilliant service for women who need it. Kiltipper Woods is a newly established nursing home, which has gained a tremendous reputation in recent times, and it is a great place to visit.

Everyone is concerned about the conditions in nursing homes. From 1994 onwards I was a member of the Eastern Health Board and I served as chairman of the south western area health board. I sometimes lament the passing of the health boards but that is another day’s work. However, as members of the health board, we had the opportunity to visit nursing homes and we did good work to ensure we were satisfied conditions were as they should be, as patients deserve that. Many of my constituents go outside the constituency because of the lack of nursing home capacity. The Cherry Orchard and Brú Caoimhín nursing homes attract many people from my constituency. Increased capacity will be required and that will be a challenge down the road.

It is important we support those who want to ensure conditions are ideal and patients are comfortable and safe. My uncle lived on Kevin Street all his life and he only moved into a nursing home in Bray when he was 92. He was lucid up to the time he died aged 93 and I recall asking him how he was getting on. He said it was a great place and it was comfortable but the only difficulty he had was it was full of old people. I always look on that story positively because he was happy. He quickly overcame the upset of his wife dying and having to leave his home in the inner city. He was happy there because he could ramble around Kevin Street, Aungier Street and Patrick Street where he was born. Suddenly he found himself in a different environment. Thankfully, because of the way the home was run and because the staff were caring and paid special attention to him, he was happy.

The best way to look after the elderly is in their own homes. When my father was sick, he lived with my sister during his latter years in Kilnamanagh before he entered St. James’s Hospital. He was happy to be at home but that presents other challenges. Every family must face this scenario and not only those in the farming community. My family was no different in [264]that regard. It is important that we continue to support these services from these benches to ensure the Department understands the need to fund all the relevant schemes year in, year out. Much is made of the pressure on home help services. The home help headquarters in my constituency is in the Tallaght Welfare Society offices on Main Street, Tallaght, and it provides services to more than 200 elderly people and others who cannot cope on their own. This means they can stay at home and it takes pressure off hospitals.

Tallaght Hospital will always face challenges, as I stated last night during the cancer debate. Its catchment area embraces not only Tallaght and Clondalkin but stretches into counties Kildare and Wicklow all to the way to Carnew on the Wexford border. In fact, I have just had a few words outside with the president of Tallaght Hospital, Archbishop Dr. John Neill. We are proud of what the hospital does.

The difficulty of people holding up beds — I do not want to use phrases that will upset people — arises in Tallaght Hospital, St. James’s Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital and in all the Dublin hospitals. It is important that we understand the challenge that presents. The Minister must understand the need to continue to create an environment, with home help and with other supports for families, where we can keep people out of hospital as much as possible. From family experience, I know hospital management will always state that the safest place to be is out of hospitals, although I know that sounds like a contradiction. Unfortunately, many elderly people go into hospital and stay longer than they really should, and that creates all sorts of other problems.

In the context of those remarks, I also want to make reference to what has already been said about the various programmes which help provide services for people who stay at home. Colleagues have echoed my experience in the South Dublin County Council area. I will not be any more critical of my council than of any other. Together with the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, and other colleagues, I would be able to tell the Minister that not a week goes when we do not make representations on behalf of families who seek approval for such services and try to get them implemented as quickly as possible. When people suddenly find themselves in need of such services they cannot get their heads around the delays caused by bureaucracy.

Public representatives should not have to get involved in these issues. When one thinks about it, TDs, and, in fairness, even councillors, get involved in these issues because the system is not working when it should work. Officials in the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Health and Children and in the local authorities should understand this problem. There will always be pressures at a time when there are economic challenges and there will always be choices to be made, as we heard from the Government benches last night. As far as these programmes are concerned, however, the agencies cannot have it every way. If we want to keep people out of hospital and safe in their own homes, we must try to create a situation where all of the supports, services and programmes are in place. If we provide those services, we will take the pressure off families.

I hope Deputy Catherine Byrne does not mind me mentioning her. At meetings of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs, she often talks about her elderly mother. I bring to my own politics my life experiences and it is good to hear her doing that too, and I wish her family well. We have faced challenges in our families. We should not be afraid to speak up in the Dáil, certainly from the Government benches, and promote the ideal that necessary systems and programmes should be in place. Families who have elderly relatives to care for and get through difficult health situations need as much support as possible. The world will never be perfect, and it will always be a case of a lot done, more to do, but it is important in the context of this Bill that we would provide those supports.

[265]Like others, I receive quite a number of representations at my clinics, through mail and calls to my office, on the issues related to this Bill — not so much this week because my office, like everybody else’s, is jammed with other stuff. I do not mind people contacting me. I am always happy to receive communications. I am particularly excited when I get letters but sometimes, when matters are contrived and wound up, one wonders about the merits of those systems. My staff and I will continue to deal with these matters and where anybody makes contact with me at my Tallaght or Dáil office, I will try as far as possible to get back to them.

Many people have contacted me about this Bill, which has caused some concerns. I heard that reflected across the Chamber and it is important that we would not be afraid to face up to those issues. US President-elect Obama said last week in the midst of much else that was good that he will always listen, especially when he disagrees with the other point of view. I have been saying during the week that there is a lesson in what he says for every politician in the world and I am not afraid to take that advice.

It is important that the Minister, Deputy Harney, would also take account of the points being made on this Bill, and I suspect that she will do so. I will spring to Deputy Harney’s defence, not for the sake of it but in fairness to her. I was glad to hear aspects of her work praised from the Opposition benches. Deputy Gilmore yesterday put on record — I hope he will not mind me repeating this — his admiration for aspects of her work. It is important that we acknowledge that. She does a difficult a job, and I suspect that is what people are saying on this legislation. The presence of Deputy Jan O’Sullivan reminds me that I listened to her this morning make reference to points of concern, which is fair enough. When this Bill is tweaked on Committee Stage, generally speaking it will be acceptable.

I listen to the various groups such as Age Action Ireland which have come in to joint Oireachtas committee meetings. We will certainly continue to listen to them. It is important that we would do so, reflect as far as possible the points they make to us and try to make progress on the issues of concern in any community. If one walks any street, in Clondalkin, Crumlin, Lucan, Limerick and certainly in Tallaght, that is what people will say to you.

Since the Bill was published in October 2008, people have welcomed the fact that it seeks to introduce a new scheme of State support for individuals who, as I stated earlier, require long-term nursing home care. I noted, in doing a little research for this contribution, that the Bill aims to provide for the establishment of a scheme to be known as the nursing home support scheme under which financial support may be made available to persons in respect of long-term residential care services out of resources allocated to the Health Service Executive for the purpose of the scheme. I will not bash the HSE today. There are aspects of this business about which people will be happy.

I understand also that the Bill provides for a care needs assessment to ascertain whether individuals need to be provided with long-term residential care services. I hope that process will be consumer friendly. It would be important that it would take a caring approach to the needs of families in so far as State agencies can care. On any given day here in the House we deal with all sorts of business where there is a need to take that approach. Sometimes we receive complaints about bureaucracy. It is important that we would address that. My friends in the Citizen Information Centre, CIC, system, particularly the one in Tallaght village, tell me they get such calls from people asking how to get around the system and sometimes such callers are worried when faced with officialdom.

I am also glad that the Bill provides for a financial assessment of individuals to determine the contributions they may have to pay towards the cost of long-term residential care services provided for them and also, importantly, to allow for the deferral of payment of the contribution in specified circumstances. It is important that the Minister would as far as possible [266]continue to clarify the issues relating to the regulation. These points were raised in responses I received from people in and outside of my constituency.

It is similar to the medical cards issue which I do not want to go over again. Opposition spokespersons are entitled to keep raising it but I know from my work and involvement in my constituency that a great deal of tension, frustration and confusion was caused by people thinking from reports — I do not want to pick on the media — that they would be affected. People told me they would lose their medical cards. Without knowing their bank balances I would know enough of their circumstances from my contacts with them to know they would not be affected. However, I admit they were upset and concerned and this had to be worked through. I am glad the Government’s response was positive.

It is important to emphasise that we understand this legislation will cause interest, concerns and questions to be raised. I have expressed my strong support for the Bill but questions have been raised and people are entitled to ask them. I hope the Minister will continue to deal with these issues. I look forward to supporting the Bill, which I commend to the House.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to share time with Deputy Joanna Tuffy.

This Bill has been long promised and long awaited. It has major implications not only for the care of older people but also, I believe, for our entire system of health and personal social services. While the Bill clarifies much that is very unclear in terms of the care entitlements of older people at present it also introduces a complex new system that is extremely problematic. My strong objection is that I believe it effectively removes the universal eligibility for a place in a public nursing home as provided for under the Health Act 1970.

The delay in publishing this legislation has caused great concern to older people and their families and left many thousands of people in doubt about how nursing home care will be provided and paid for. I regret to say that the system put in place by the Bill is certain to give rise to new concerns and will create new forms of inequity.

We know the statutory eligibility to a bed in a public nursing home has never been vindicated in terms of the provision of the resources to make those beds available. This has led to a huge reliance on the private nursing home sector and the current complex and inequitable system of State subsidy for nursing home care. Undoubtedly this had to change but I believe that the Government, in doing so, has gone in the wrong direction.

Simply put, if a person suffers a heart attack he or she is entitled to a bed free of charge in a public hospital. However, under this Bill if a person becomes so dependent — say from the effects of a stroke — that he or she needs constant care in a nursing home, his or her entitlement to a public bed free of charge is effectively gone and he or she must pay. The Minister will argue that the places have never been there and will not be there to provide full provision for universal entitlement but I emphasise that this is not the point. A fundamental shift is taking place and the implications for the entire health service are profound.

I was alarmed to find that the Bill as published was framed without consultation with older people and older people’s organisations, including Age Action Ireland. I urge the Minister to study closely Age Action Ireland’s detailed submission which all Deputies and Senators have now received. This submission and the many concerns about the Bill raised by others should cause the Minister to pause and reconsider before the legislation goes to Committee Stage and I urge her to do so.

To put this debate in context I refer to the report “Care for Older People” published by the National Economic and Social Forum in 2006. This report exposed how our system of care for our senior citizens is skewed towards residential options and how there is a funding bias towards [267]nursing home subventions. It pointed to the lack of a general model of assessment and rehabilitation.

The figures in the 2006 report, which I doubt have changed much, make stark reading. The 5% of older people who are in long-stay care account for 55% of the overall budget for care of older people of approximately €1 billion. This State ranks lowest of the EU 15, the pre-enlargement grouping, in terms of social spending per older person. We spend one third of what Denmark spends per person aged over 65.

Describing the barriers to the development of community services for older people the NESF report referred to perverse investment incentives. The report stated:

The present official funding of services is not consistent with the policy objective of encouraging community-based responses; considerable resources are invested in nursing home care responses, some of which are unnecessary and inappropriate.

To speak plainly, we all know that the worst nightmare for the vast majority of older people, and any number of us may have to face this ourselves, is to have to leave their homes and enter long-term residential care. The best option is for people to be cared for in their homes with the help of their family, friends, neighbours and the health and social services provided by the State.

The Minister claims that the Government is providing for improved support for older people in their homes but the reality is that current provision is totally inadequate. Despite the claims of the Minister and the HSE the experience on the ground is that home help hours have remained static since 2007. Frequently, we receive reports of older people’s home help hours being reduced or cut off entirely. Research carried out by the Irish Association of Social Workers this year exposed the lack of adequate provision of home help across the State as well as the cutting of hours. Every Deputy can attest to cases which fit this experience within their constituencies.

The NESF report identified the weakness of community care, the poor integration between systems and between sectors, under-resourcing, lack of responsiveness to the needs of older people, poor co-ordination and the fact that care is not embedded in local communities.

Community-based care requires resources and legislation. The Bill should have been a much more comprehensive piece of rights-based legislation setting out the entitlements of older people to all forms of care, in the home, in other community-based settings and in nursing homes. At the very least, there should be parallel legislation covering the range of care other than nursing home care.

The sad reality is that the inadequacy of support for older people to spend their twilight years in their own homes means more of them must avail of expensive nursing home care. It means more of them become ill and lose their independence. This short-sighted failure of successive Governments to provide the essential resources for community care ends up costing the State enormously in providing for long-term residential care.

Cost is a major issue with this Bill. Government policy has led to a catastrophic fall in revenue. How will the provisions in the Bill be funded in 2009 and subsequently? Will we face a long delay in its commencement? Most crucially, will we see the creation of a massive waiting list for nursing home care as people are assessed as being in need of such care and then find the places are not yet available?

Age Action Ireland asked a pertinent question, namely, how would such a list work? Would it be on the basis of first come first served or on the basis of need with those most urgently requiring care being accommodated first? Has this been worked out?

Debate adjourned.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to share time with the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

  2 o’clock

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  This House has spent a considerable amount of time this week discussing the brutal killing of Shane Geoghegan. It is right that we should mark our horror and revulsion at the outrage that has taken place. We want to show solidarity with Shane’s family and friends, and stand as one with the people of Limerick and throughout Ireland in their sense of shock and grief at what has taken place. Above all, whatever political differences divide this House, we are united in sending a clear message to the perpetrators of this evil deed and others like them that no resources will be spared in hunting them down and bringing them to justice.

The bleak events of last Sunday in Limerick highlight starkly the threat posed by members of criminal gangs. I propose to set out some of the measures the Government has taken, and will continue to take, to address this threat. I wish to make clear at the outset that the Government will rule nothing out that is reasonable and consistent with the rule of law in tackling these gangs. Deputies on all sides of the House have made specific suggestions during the course of this week and I have no doubt more will do so today. I will examine all these suggestions with an open mind. However, it does no service to anybody to pretend there is a magic solution to this type of problem which simply requires some particular action on the part of the Government. Were that the case, we would have done so long ago, as would Administrations in many other countries where problems with gangland crime are far more severe and of longer duration than in this State. This is not a counsel of despair. Rather, I seek merely to reinforce what I have said to the House before, that the fight against gangland crime will be long and must be waged relentlessly.

In the wake of the tragedy that took place at the weekend, it is difficult to talk of the successes which the men and women of the Garda Síochána have had in counteracting organised crime. However, in fairness to those who daily put their lives on the line to protect the community, it is right to point out their many successes. There were 27 murders involving a firearm in 2006, and this was reduced to 18 in 2007. This year, homicide offences have dropped by more than a half in the third quarter and by almost a half year-on-year.

Of course, these statistics represent a completely unacceptable level of killings and do nothing to detract from the awfulness of what happened at the weekend. However, as Minister with responsibility for the Garda Síochána, I would be failing in my duty were I not to recognise the improvements which the untiring work of the Garda Síochána has brought about. Through the efforts of gardaí, there are many people in prison who are paying the price for their involvement in gangland activities. If anything, the callous nature of the killing last weekend has reinforced the determination of all members of the force to pursue relentlessly for as long as it takes every person involved in organised crime. I have no doubt they will have the full support of every Member in so doing.

Section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to determine and, from time to time, revise the policing priorities of the Garda Síochána. I have finalised those priorities for 2009 and they will go to the Cabinet next week for noting. The small number of policing priorities I have set will clearly reflect the paramount importance and absolute priority of “targeting serious crime, in particular organised, gun and drug related crime”.

[269]Members will understand why I do not want to go into any detail about the intensive Garda investigation taking place into the death of Shane Geoghegan. Many lines of inquiry are being pursued and the Commissioner is keeping me regularly briefed. I spoke to him again before coming into the House. He has indicated that he has all the tools he requires to deal with the situation. The Government relies on his professional assessment of the situation, but we have made clear that we will act immediately if anything else is needed by way of resources or legislation.

I will not detain the House for long with a litany of the vast range of measures introduced in recent years to tackle the problem of serious crime. However, it is incumbent on me, in order to put the debate in context, to mention some of them. Recent years have seen a great increase in the number of gardaí. Over the course of 2008 and 2009, the attested strength of the force will have increased by 1,100. In the last year alone, there has been a 12% increase in Garda numbers in Limerick city, and a 40% increase since 2003. In the last 21 months, the number of civilians employed by the Garda Síochána has increased by 59% to 2,038, including an increase of 20% so far this year. From the start of this year to the end of 2009, the attested strength of the force will have grown by more than 1,100 to almost 14,900, an increase of 8%. More than 1 million additional rostered hours will be available next year arising from the increase in the strength of the force. These are not new initiatives to be announced but rather concrete new resources to be deployed in the fight against crime.

Operation Anvil, which was commenced in 2005 in the Dublin metropolitan region and extended nationwide during 2006, specifically targets serious and organised criminal activity. I secured a ring-fenced budget of €20 million for 2008, increasing to €21 million for 2009, despite the overall budgetary situation. The budget for the Criminal Assets Bureau, which has proved invaluable in going after those involved in gun crime, will increase by 20% next year. In the preparation of my Department’s Estimates, I directed that frontline policing be given absolute priority, and that is what has been achieved. This has inevitably led to reductions in funding for some other bodies under my Department’s aegis, but I make no apology for that. Funding must follow our priorities. There is no more fundamental human right to which all our citizens are equally entitled than the protection of their lives and property from those who break the law.

I can disclose to the House updated figures for Operation Anvil which I received from the Garda Commissioners yesterday. In the period up to 2 November, in the Dublin metropolitan region, Operation Anvil resulted in more than 120 arrests for murder, the seizure of 1,192 firearms, 59,235 drug searches, the seizure of 21,351 vehicles, the implementation of 102,000 checkpoints and €31.6 million worth of property recovered. Outside Dublin, 23,346 arrests were made and 983 firearms seized. These figures are a good indication of the relentless and comprehensive nature of the activities being undertaken by the Garda. We have also made an unprecedented investment in equipment and technology for the force.

Substantial changes have been made to the criminal law. While the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 did not receive unanimous support in the House, nobody will dispute that they were a genuine attempt to take any and all legislative action open to the Government to counteract the problem of gangland crime. It is against this background that calls for further changes in the law must be viewed. I reiterate that we will take any action by legislation or otherwise open to us to tackle the problem of gangland crime. On the other hand, it would be a disservice to the people we represent to engage in legislative acts of delusion for the sake of being seen to do something. We must bear in mind the fundamental point that we simply cannot legislate away the need for evidence.

[270]This brings me to some of the suggestions that have been made by Members opposite and by people outside the House in terms of changes we might usefully make to our laws. I emphasise that I do not in any way question the good faith of those making the suggestions. In many cases, I do not have any difficulty with the principle of what is being proposed. However, serious difficulties arise in regard to their implementation.

Calls have been made, for instance, for the greater use of the Special Criminal Court. This court can be, and has been, used in dealing with gang members charged with offences unrelated to paramilitary activity. The Director of Public Prosecutions has the power to direct that any trial take place in the Special Criminal Court where he is satisfied that the ordinary courts are insufficient to secure the effective administration of justice. It is also a matter of public record that many cases involving gang members have taken place successfully in the ordinary courts, including drugs and firearms cases. Convictions against gang members from Limerick for murder have been secured in the ordinary courts.

The use of the Special Criminal Court has also been mentioned in the context of using opinion evidence from a chief superintendent in regard to a person’s participation in a gang. I do not dispute the superficial attractiveness of that proposal, but all the advice available to me is that it could bring with it insuperable problems. Leaving aside the fact that, of their nature, gangs do not have the same type of organised structures as paramilitary organisations and so membership is much more difficult to establish, the courts have already held that such opinion evidence is not conclusive and, in practice, the courts have tended to disregard such evidence if the accused denies such membership on oath — which would be bound to happen in the case of persons accused of participating in gangs. The situation is even more fraught with difficulty if such evidence were to be used in ordinary courts where there are juries because of its prejudicial effect, thus, to put it mildly, raising grave doubts about its constitutionality in terms of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial.

The Garda Commissioner has already expressed the view that the laws are adequate for the Garda to tackle the issues being confronted at present. That does not mean, of course, that either he or I have a closed mind on taking forward measured changes in the law as part of the process of keeping our general criminal law under review. That will include legislation on surveillance and DNA.

Only those brutal enough to murder Shane Geoghegan could fail to be moved by the scenes of deep and dignified grief at his funeral in Limerick yesterday. We can expect nothing we say here today to assuage that grief in any way. However, his family and friends have whatever small consolation they can take from the fact that every Member of this House, on behalf of the people we represent, is determined that his death will not be forgotten and that we will do everything we can to help prevent such tragedies happening in the future. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The brutal and callous murder of Shane Geoghegan has horrified and appalled every right thinking person across the country, but especially in Limerick. Our city has had to endure several cruel and horrific incidents perpetrated by a small number of people who continue to show contempt for the value of human life. Shane’s killing and the pain this has inflicted on his family, friends and sporting colleagues remind us of the wanton killing these people are prepared to perpetrate in our community.

The united and clear message we must send from this House today is that this murder, and the other crimes and violence we have seen, will be met with the full force of the law, within the law. As both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have previously indicated, significant legislative proposals have been enacted with the support of the [271]House in every effort to provide, at the request of Garda, whatever powers it deems fit. This will continue. It is essential we build on the successes the Garda has secured in its fight against crime in Limerick. The Garda has doubled and redoubled its efforts in combating the criminals. The Government and the Garda Commissioner are putting the manpower, assets, supports and resources in place on a demand-led basis.

This House cannot let the impression be given that the State is not collectively working to tackle the situation in Limerick. Significant Garda resources have been put into Limerick. In the past five years the number of gardaí in Limerick has increased by almost half. Since 2003 there have been 32 murders in Limerick, 16 of them gangland connected and 16 that were not. The gardaí have detected ten of the 16 gangland murders and 14 of the 16 non-gangland murders. This is an impressive detection rate by any yardstick. There is, and has been, 24 hours per day, seven days per week covert and overt surveillance in Limerick on a constant basis over the past number of years as part of Operation Anvil. Divisional 24-hour armed patrols, supported by the regional support unit established in September and the emergency response unit, supplement regular Garda patrols. Patrols are also augmented by the deployment of personnel from outside the division as required.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have assured the Garda Commissioner that any additional assistance needed, whether legislative or by way of resources, to deal with the Limerick criminal gangs, will be forthcoming. The Garda Síochána continues to undertake a range of investigations and operations to curb organised criminal activity in the general Limerick area, concentrating on depriving the criminals of the profits of their criminality. This includes activity by local detective units in conjunction with locally based divisional asset profilers and the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB.

Last May, the Garda Síochána carried out a variety of searches as part of Operation Platinum, following which the Criminal Assets Bureau sought a number of court orders. Notwithstanding the current economic climate there is a 20% increase in funding for CAB this year. As well as a high and unceasing level of frontline activity, community policing is a very important part of the Garda response, and such units have been increased in strength in Limerick. In addition, CCTV cameras are now working constantly in the city centre and in some of the major estates in Limerick.

The Garda Commissioner met with the investigating team in Limerick last Tuesday and has set out how the Garda will continue to deal with this threat and, specifically, with those who perpetrated the heinous murder of Shane Geoghegan. The perpetrators of this crime, and those who protect and shield them, will not prevail. The action we are taking, both through the criminal justice system and the range of social, community and educational supports we are putting in place via the regeneration programme, will succeed. We are absolutely determined that those who murdered Shane Geoghegan will be caught and put behind bars. Whatever differences we may have in this House, we can at least be united in this goal.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I wish to share time with Deputies Noonan and O’Donnell. It is with great sorrow that I stand in the House following the brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan last Sunday. I express my deepest sympathy and that of the Fine Gael Party to the Geoghegan family — his parents, Tom and Mary, his brother, Anthony, and his fiancée, Jenna Barry.

In the aftermath of Shane’s murder the people of Limerick and beyond have made their voices heard. Their message is clear — they have declared that enough is enough of the terrorism visited upon their city by a handful of evil criminals, whose acts of brutality know no bounds. Today, I am reminded of the grotesque killing of Donna Cleary in March 2006. Her murder was described as a watershed and reform was promised to root out the handful of gangland criminals who are able to get away with murder. Those of us who work in the criminal [272]justice area and who are familiar with the law know that we have a severely dysfunctional criminal justice system. However, it is not until a brutal murder takes place that the public is reminded of the serious inadequacies that hamper the prevention and detection of crime and the pursuit of justice.

I wish to make four points. The first relates to convictions. There have been 130 gangland murders in the past 11 years, but only 14 convictions. Of the 161 gun murders in the State over the past ten years there have been a mere 22 convictions. The Government has attempted to highlight the fact that of the 16 feud-related killings in the past five years, charges are due in ten of these cases and investigations are “live” in six others. In other words, not one person has been charged in the 16 gang-related murders that have taken place since 2003. It is in this context that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has decided to slash the funding for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to such an extent that the director has said his office will not be able to function next year. Where is the deterrent to gangsters to cease killing enemies and innocents if conviction is a remote possibility? This question must be addressed by the Minister and the Taoiseach.

My second point relates to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which requires urgent attention. The Minister said today that the law provides for trial without jury when it is considered necessary. Why is this option not used by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in gangland cases? This is a serious matter that requires attention and answers.

The third major dysfunction that must be addressed relates to bench warrants. Following the murder of Donna Cleary, my party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, drew attention to the fact that there had been a failure to act on two bench warrants for the arrest of her suspected killer. This revelation caused outrage and revulsion. However, two years later almost 30,000 bench warrants remain outstanding. Yesterday, in a truly bizarre development, Mr. Gerard Dundon, a leading member of a gang thought to be responsible for much of the mayhem in Limerick, turned himself in to the Garda. A bench warrant for his arrest had not been executed. How many other leading criminals are continuing to terrorise their neighbourhoods and communities while bench warrants for their arrest lie gathering dust? What is the real reason for the failure to execute bench warrants?

The fourth point relates to the Criminal Justice Act 2007 in respect of the right to silence, which both Ministers have mentioned. Inferences can be drawn from using the right to silence. A full year after the implementation of the law it was ruled on by the courts for the first time yesterday. Why did it take over a year for legislative provisions, which we were told by the former Minister, former Deputy Michael McDowell, would deal with the right to silence, to be tested in the court? Where are the ministerial regulations and when were they introduced?

The bottom line is that there is something rotten in our criminal justice system and this rot needs to be stopped before more innocent people are murdered. Shane Geoghegan’s murder was an abomination. Such words as “watershed” and “turning point” are thrown around all too often in the House and outside. I submit this slaughter must be the catalyst to bring about real, lasting change. Conviction rates, bench warrants, trial without jury and the full application of the law are just four issues I highlight. The Minister and the Government will have abdicated their responsibility if they fail to act urgently on these and other issues.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  Mr. Shane Geoghegan was a decent, law-abiding young man with a love of sport and he was an inspiration to his younger club members. He was both popular and respected. I wish to again sympathise with his mother Mary, his father Tom, his brother Anthony, his fianceé Jenna and his extended family.

[273]Everyone in Limerick can name the principal gang members involved. Everyone knows that they organise the drugs trade, not only in Limerick but much further afield, that they are very well armed and financed, and move through the city with impunity. I am confident the Garda in Limerick will solve Mr. Shane Geoghegan’s murder. The record of the Garda in Limerick is very good. It has solved almost all the gang murders in the city, ten out of 14 according to the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea. The total number solved is 16 cases out of 130, and so ten out of 14 solved cases is a good batting average for the Garda in Limerick. However, it is no longer sufficient for the Government to measure success in terms of the numbers of murders solved.

These people are a threat to society. The Dáil must acknowledge that threat and resolve to defeat it. We must acknowledge that known, high profile gangsters have the freedom of our cities, that this is obscene and that it must stop. The issue is no longer whether the perpetrators of a particular murder are brought to court and convicted, although that is important. The issue now is that known gang members must be arrested, charged and imprisoned for criminal activities before they get the opportunity to kill again.

When the IRA and the INLA threatened the security of the State, we acted and defeated the threat. When Ms Veronica Guerin was murdered we acted and defeated the threat. We must now act again and defeat the threat from the drug cartels which threaten the lives and well-being of our youth. The corpus of criminal legislation is not sufficient at present to convict gang members for routine criminal activity. The law must be changed and on several occasions this week I suggested changes which should be considered.

The Government intends to introduce the covert surveillance Bill, which is welcome. While information gathered by the Garda in the course of surveillance may be used to catch criminals, it cannot be used as evidence in court. I hope the proposed Bill will enable information gathered in this way to be used as evidence.

When members of the IRA refused to recognise the courts, the sworn testimony of a chief superintendent of the Garda, claiming a person was a member of the IRA, was a very effective way of putting such people in jail. When the courts gave equal weight to a statement of rebuttal by the accused the measure lost its effectiveness, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated. A similar provision regarding membership of criminal gangs, enshrined in law, has never been used to prosecute a person in the State, but a redrafted law along similar lines has potential. A redrafted law enabling a senior garda to swear that an individual was involved in the sale and distribution of drugs overcomes the difficulties of defining what constitutes a gang and confusing families with gangs, and all the attendant impossible definitions. However, if the law was changed in this way such information should be admissible as evidence, even when rebutted by the accused. I do not believe such evidence should be sufficient to convict on its own, but if corroborated by further evidence, it should be sufficient to convict. Will the Minister explore this possibility?

The House learned, following the murder of Ms Veronica Guerin, that it was possible to introduce legislation overnight which had been considered impossible until then. What had been impossible for years was made possible in just 48 hours. The Criminal Assets Bureau legislation resulted from such an instance and it is one of the most effective tools to deal with criminals. For years, the legal advice was such measures were not possible for constitutional reasons.

These events require an immediate response because we have reached a watershed and people expect a response. The procedures governing the Garda interrogation of suspects should be amended also. Gang members are instructed on how to resist questioning. At interview, they put their heads down and pretend to go sleep. It is their rest period. Longer interrogation [274]periods should be allowed and a video recording of interrogation should be sufficient. At present there is a requirement to support the video recording by a written question and answer record of the interrogation. When a garda stops to write down the questions and answers, the flow of the interrogation ceases and the accused, well trained in these matters, has the opportunity to make another facile excuse, or not answer at all.

As always, the fight against crime must be led by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the day. I urge the Minister to introduce the necessary changes, as his predecessors have done. He should take up the challenge and defeat the threat. If the Minister does so, I have no doubt he will have the unanimous support of the Dáil.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I welcome this emergency debate. Yesterday in Limerick, I attended what was probably the saddest funeral I was ever at, and I never again want to attend another funeral like it in Limerick. This is only possible if the Government tackles head-on the criminal gangs in Limerick. Legislation, extra resources and action are necessary to enable this.

A small group of ruthless individuals are causing havoc in the city. A Garda commissioner said yesterday there were some 40 gangland criminals in custody in Ireland, which shows the depth of the problem. At the funeral yesterday, Fr. Jim Maher encapsulated the mood. He said that Shane’s death would mark a turning point leading to a greater intensification of the existing efforts of so many, to short circuit the cycle of violence and confine it to history.

The intensification must take two routes, that is, extra resources and extra legislation. While we must all work together as the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea remarked, the power lies with the Government to initiate legislation and introduce it. The Opposition can agree to it but the Government must first take action.

I commend the work of the Garda Síochána in Limerick and its crime detection rate. However, there have been 32 murders in Limerick since 2003, 16 of which were gang related. This is 32 murders too many. The issue is not detection, but rather prevention. Emergency legislation is required. Recently the Government introduced emergency legislation to provide for a bank guarantee scheme. No one lost their lives in that instance, but people are losing their lives at the moment and I regard emergency legislation to deal with gangland crime as a good deal more necessary. We should be discussing legislation today.

I sought an emergency debate on gangland crime in Limerick on 9 April last. The Ceann Comhairle will remember it was granted by way of an Adjournment debate, following the death of Mr. Mark Moloney. Since then, there have been further murders including the death of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. His family are in mourning, but our job is to discuss the resources and legislation that must be introduced to ensure this never happens again. I suggested several straightforward measures in the Adjournment debate on 11 November. The Minister indicated he would address these and he has done so, but he has not provided any concrete suggestions.

I called for the appointment of a Garda commissioner in Limerick with the sole remit of leading an Operation Anvil type system to tackle gangland crime in Limerick, including 24 hour surveillance of the criminals. We must track their every movement. We must establish a specific CAB unit in Limerick. There are people involved in this work already but we seek a better resourced unit. I called on the Minister to provide a second judge for the Circuit Criminal Court to speed up the legal process. I welcome the introduction of the covert surveillance Bill and that the Special Criminal Court ruled yesterday on restrictions to the right to silence. Membership of a gang should be a criminal offence. We face a situation where people’s lives are under threat on the streets of Limerick. That requires an emergency response. The Government must look at using the Special Criminal Court to ensure that these criminal gangs can be dealt with. Furthermore, I want the Government to facilitate gardaí going into court to obtain [275]exclusion orders. I also believe we should block mobile phones in and out of Limerick Prison, because they are being used to direct operations.

We need action from the Government. I want to see the Government coming before the Dáil with emergency legislation that ensures this can be dealt with, and that the memory of Shane Geoghegan would be respected in this fashion.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I wish to share time with Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. I would like to start by extending my heart-felt condolences to the family of Shane Geoghegan. His premature death in this latest gruesome murder is an obscenity that cannot be tolerated in a civilised society. This may be the latest murder of an innocent bystander in the mayhem of gangland feuding, but it is not the first. The fact that a law-abiding citizen can be shot down in the vicinity of his own home has shocked the country.

The nature of crime has changed dramatically in this country over recent decades. Driving that change is the hugely lucrative illegal drugs trade. Drugs trafficking has led to the emergence of ruthless criminal gangs who are prepared to kill at will. We have seen murder levels not experienced since the civil war. There have been 161 gun murders in the past decade, but only 22 convictions. The other statistics are very interesting, and no doubt a solid indicator of Garda resolve, but the reality is 22 convictions from 161 gun murders. We ought to be agreed on two objectives. First, we must get the criminal gangs off our streets. Second, we must prevent a new generation of youth being manipulated into criminality. We are failing in both objectives.

The principal cause of the mayhem being acted out on our streets every single weekend is the wealth to be gained from the illegal drugs trade. Drug pushing and drugs misuse are now endemic in every city, town and village in Ireland. The criminal feuding gangs that struggle for control of turf have no regard for society or human life. While lucrative profits are to be made from supplying the demand for drugs, the crime bosses will continue to meet that demand and in the process poison thousands of young people. They are prepared to direct the use of whatever level of violence is necessary to protect their profits, and they have a high probability of getting away with it. The proof is that there have been 161 murders in the last decade and only 22 convictions.

When we are promised that no stone will be left unturned in the search to put the killers of Shane Geoghegan behind bars, all of us in this House wish that effort speedy success. However, it is somewhat to miss the point. What people want is that such crime should be prevented from taking place to the greatest extent possible. It was for this reason that last November, on behalf of the Labour Party, I published two Bills to combat serious crime. The Witness Protection Programme Bill 2007 is designed to place that programme on a full statutory basis, under proper and independent oversight. The Garda Síochána (Powers of Surveillance) Bill 2007, which has escaped the Minister’s notice, would provide the Garda Síochána with appropriate powers to undertake electronic surveillance of criminal suspects. I was amazed that the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform responded to the publication of the Labour Party Bill to make admissible evidence gathered in this fashion by stating “By using bugged and intercepted conversations as evidence in prosecutions, the force ran the risk of alerting criminals to Garda investigative techniques”. The ongoing slaughter in our cities and in our estates has clearly caused the Government to change its mind and I welcome that.

The fact is that modern crime needs modern responses and the Garda must be given the appropriate powers to enable them not just to detect crime and put those responsible behind bars, but also — to the greatest extent possible — prevent crime from taking place. Most people will be surprised to learn that the Garda Síochána currently has no legal powers to undertake electronic surveillance of criminal suspects, although those powers form a central part of the anti-crime armoury of most countries. The Labour Party Bill would give the force [276]additional powers of surveillance, including aural and visual surveillance, the interception of communications, the recording of conversations without the knowledge of the parties and the surveillance of data equipment. It also includes appropriate safeguards, including a requirement that the surveillance would only be authorised in respect of serious crime by a District Court for long-term surveillance, or a garda not below the rank of chief superintendent for shorter term operations. In this respect, I welcome the statement by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy at this morning’s Committee of Public Accounts, when he said he would welcome the enactment of such legislation.

The Labour Party is willing to allow the Government amend our Bill if it better serves the purpose of protecting our citizens and putting the criminal gangs out of commission. The Labour Party does not approach the crisis now confronting our society in the confrontational and partisan way that the Fianna Fáil Party did when it was in Opposition. However, the very bona fides of this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are called into question again today, when one reads the cynically misleading explanation he gave for undermining the Human Rights Commission and for effectively destroying the core competencies of the Equality Authority. The House will recall that the Government singled out those two agencies early in the year for a merger. When the attempt at merging these two bodies, one in Dublin and one in Roscrea, had to be abandoned, the Minister drastically cut the funding to both.

The 43% cut and its decentralisation to Roscrea will effectively kill off the Equality Authority as we have known it. This has been in contemplation since September 2007, when the entire board was replaced. Whatever the vindictive motivation for the destruction of the core competencies of the Equality Authority, it is sick making to read in this morning’s Irish Independent that the Minister is attempting to justify the destruction of the Equality Authority by the new claim that he is “diverting” the funding saved to “the frontline fight against crime”. This post-hoc rationalisation is even more cynical when one realises that the destruction of the Equality Authority and the constraining of the Human Rights Commission will save only buttons, since the staff must be absorbed elsewhere in the public service and the 15 staff in post in Roscrea have been recruited from outside the Equality Authority. Threadbare “make it up as you go along”post-hoc rationalisations will do nothing to assist the frontline fight against crime.

The public mood is to assent to measures in the present crisis that people would not otherwise tolerate. The frequency and viciousness of gangland feuding is a challenge to the Garda Síochána and a challenge to society itself. The first test for any Government is the protection of its citizens. People cannot feel safe in several parts of the country, either on the streets or in their homes. The tragedy that has befallen the Geoghegan family has already been the burden of families of other innocent victims. The name of Shane Geoghegan is to be added to those of Eddie Ward, Anthony Campbell, Donna Cleary, Darren Coughlan, Sean Pollard and Brian Fitzgerald — all earlier victims of the drug barons who run the criminal gangs. A couple of weeks ago in Tallaght, a young man with no connection to or involvement with criminality, as attested to publicly by the Garda, was shot in the face in his own home at 6.30 a.m. and is still fighting for his life.

This cannot go on. There must come a tipping point where the State asserts its democratic mandate and asserts decent values. I hope the shocking murder of Shane Geoghegan will be such a tipping point. The people are saying that enough is enough. It is the Government’s duty to put the gangs out of business. It is the Government’s task to respond to new community-led initiatives to reduce the demand for drugs. It is the Government’s responsibility to provide adequate policing which is appropriately resourced and equipped. In the most recent figures he has given to me, the Minister reveals that he has allocated 552 gardaí to Limerick — every [277]single one of them is apparently needed — but only 248 to Tallaght, an urban area of similar population and no less complex in terms of policing requirements.

Tragically, more gardaí could not save Shane Geoghegan, but too few gardaí elsewhere invite repetition of the casual killings now all too commonplace.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The title of this debate is stark: statements on the killing of Shane Geoghegan. I do not think anybody who knew Shane Geoghegan could have expected that he would feature as the centre of a Dáil debate, but sadly he has. He was killed despite the fact he was going about his ordinary business. He was not known to the gardaí, which is a phrase used frequently concerning some people who are killed. Shane was an ordinary decent citizen and he is sadly mourned by his mother Mary, father Tom, brother Anthony, girlfriend Jenna and his many relations and friends, including his clubmates in Garryowen rugby club. I wish to extend my sympathy to all of those people. I attended his funeral yesterday and the words on everybody’s lips were “Please do something”. I ask the Minister to do something. The House is united in asking that something should be done to protect all the other citizens who could have been Shane Geoghegan in that situation going about their business. The gardaí know who the perpetrators are, they know what they have done and what they are doing. People want us to do whatever is necessary to smash these gangs, take away their power and put them behind bars where they belong.

Many suggestions have been made by the Government and Opposition, but whatever the problems are they need to be solved. Is it the case, as Deputy Charles Flanagan suggested, that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions does not have enough money? If that is the reason why the Central Criminal Court is not used more often in such cases, although I do not know if that is so, then let us find the money needed for the DPP’s office.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is the Special Criminal Court.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Let us find the will to introduce the surveillance legislation quickly, rather than sometime next year, which seems to be the suggestion. Last year, Deputy Rabbitte published legislation which the Minister could use now. We offer it to him freely, but we cannot wait any longer for such legislation. If the Garda Síochána can use camera evidence in court, surely that will be effective in putting these criminals away.

Other measures could be taken also. For example, it has been suggested that the Criminal Assets Bureau needs more resources. Perhaps it should be able to go after assets that are less than the minimum value currently stipulated in the legislation. I am told that guys roll up to the labour exchange in 4x4 cars. If that is the case, we should put resources into the Criminal Assets Bureau to go after them by hitting their pockets. We must pursue them in whatever way we can.

The drug problem is about supply and demand. These guys are making a lot of money, which is why they are guarding their power. That is also why they are able to protect themselves but, sadly, we are unable to protect people like Shane Geoghegan. Many heroin addicts on the streets of Limerick and other cities want to get off drugs, yet the gangs will do anything to keep them on drugs, including dropping free drugs through their letter-boxes. Many people work for these gangs to feed the habits of addicts. The Minister should therefore address the demand side of the issue also. He should ensure that if young addicts require detox treatment they will be catered for. They should be able to get the urgent treatment they need immediately. There are very good services in various areas that help addicts who are coming off drugs. To my knowledge, however, there is an absence of an immediate service to cater for drug users who have decided they want to quit. People are addressing this issue at the moment in Limerick and I urge that that side of the problem be dealt with also.

[278]The overall message that must emanate from this House is that we are determined to treat this matter with urgency. I am not sure that sense of urgency is evident in everyone on the Government side, although it is among those who represent the Limerick area because they know what it is like.

Every measure that can be taken should be taken. We must ensure, as my colleague Deputy Rabbitte said, that this is a tipping point. No family should ever again have to go through what the Geoghegan family is going through this week and will have to go through for the rest of their lives.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Ba mhaith liom, mar aon le gach duine sa Teach, mo chomhbhrón a chású le clann agus cairde Shane Geoghegan. Ba mhaith liom an deis a úsáid freisin chun mo chomhbhrón a chású le clanna Donna Cleary, Anthony Campbell, Brian Fitzgerald, Seán Poland, Darren Coughlan, Eddie Ward agus na daoine neamhurchóideacha eile a maraíodh go brúidiúlach nó a gortaíodh go dona in ionsaithe le blianta beaga anuas, in ionsaithe na gangland thugs a luaigh cainteoirí romham.

As a society we owe it to these victims not only to deliver justice in their individual cases, but also to do everything in our power to prevent further barbaric killings, such as those witnessed last week. The Government must waste no time in deploying every available resource to catch and prosecute Shane Geoghegan’s killer. The community in Limerick and throughout the State has had enough of these gangs operating with impunity. On many occasions in this Chamber I have called on the Government to usher in a new phase in the fight against serious crime, particularly drug-related crime. Such a phase would see the Garda Síochána properly equipped and resourced to meet the challenge. This phase would take gardaí out from behind their desks and onto the streets. It would target the drugs crisis, which is the main cause of gangland crime. Those involved in so-called recreational drug use are culpable in the death of Shane Geoghegan. That is a message for all of society.

I wish to outline a range of practical and effective measures which, if introduced, could significantly help to tackle gangland crime. For far too long, Governments have got away with duping the nation into believing that they are responding to crime. The modus operandi of previous Governments has been to announce often unnecessary legislative proposals every time the crime situation puts them under public and media pressure. The bulk of this legislation has either simply restated existing offences under common law or introduced provisions that have not been employed because they are simply unworkable. It is time to break with tradition and take practical action instead.

Beginning with Limerick and then expanding to the situation nationwide, I wish to outline a series of steps that would significantly boost the ability of An Garda Síochána and the DPP successfully to investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators of serious gangland crime, in addition to reducing violent crime in our society. Thankfully, in the wake of the latest atrocity, the Taoiseach and Garda Commissioner have agreed with Sinn Féin that, in the main, sufficient legislation exists. What is sorely needed is the incriminating information that may be known to family members or associates of those involved in the killing of Shane Geoghegan and/or known to members of the wider community. That would lead to a conviction and therefore the prevention of future gangland murders.

Many good people in Limerick, and elsewhere, understandably fear reporting serious criminals to the Garda Síochána. In Limerick, and in my area, one factor contributing to this fear of reporting is the real prospect that one’s name might be heard by criminals who use radio scanners to listen to Garda communications. The use of scanners in Limerick has become so prevalent that the Garda radio frequency has become known as radio ga ga. The introduction [279]of secure digital radio for gardaí in Limerick would address this small problem. Secure digital radio is to be rolled out in the Dublin metropolitan region early in 2009. Limerick is not scheduled to receive this new technology, which is a good crime-fighting measure, until 2010, at the earliest. This is not acceptable given that serious crime in Limerick is at least on a par with serious crime in pockets of the capital. The roll-out of secure digital radio to Limerick must be brought forward in line with Dublin.

Another measure that has been rolled out in Dublin already, but which Limerick has been left waiting for, is the “dial to stop drug dealing” initiative, the confidential non-Garda telephone line. In the case of a Dublin district, the Garda confirmed yesterday that of 450 calls received since the new telephone line was highlighted, a total of 141 informative reports were generated, which led to a significant number of arrests and a major drugs seizure. This inexpensive, hugely beneficial initiative could be rolled out in Limerick almost instantaneously. The telephone line was first successfully piloted in Blanchardstown in 2006 and I have since called for it to be rolled out across the country. Why are Limerick and my area, one of the areas hardest hit by gangland feuding, still waiting for it?

The focus of many politicians and commentators this week has been on the witness protection programme. While this programme has shown its importance, its scope is limited. The programme focuses on criminals turned informants but what protections are there for the good people of Limerick, and elsewhere, whose testimony may be needed to secure convictions? What practical steps are being undertaken to assure the safety and allay the fears of these good people? What is being done at a practical level to address intimidation or the equally damaging prospect of it? What progress has been made to protect witnesses in the context of identity parades? Simple steps have not been taken in this regard. Where are the two-way mirrors? What has been done to ensure that witnesses no longer find themselves using the same transport to court as accused persons? This matter was highlighted some years ago in a committee meeting.

I welcome the impending completion of the new criminal courts complex in Dublin but what is being done in Circuit Courts elsewhere? I know progress has been made on refurbishments but are there separate entrances, rest rooms and waiting areas for witnesses and accused persons’ families and supporters? What protections are there during the pre-trial and post-trial period? Practical supports and effective protections must be introduced if good people are to engage confidently with the justice system, as we so desperately need them to.

To reiterate, I believe at this time the solution to gangland crime must be more resource-based than legislation-based. Despite the fact that we are in the grips of a recession, measures can be taken to deploy gardaí more effectively and efficiently within current funding provisions. The submission made by my party to the Garda policing plan for 2009 highlights the potential of prioritising policing missions and redirecting resources to match those priorities. The 2007 report of the Garda inspectorate deemed civilianisation is “the quickest and most effective means of putting extra trained gardaí on the streets”. State-wide, civilian support staff make up approximately 17.5% of the staff of the Garda Síochána. I do not know the percentage in Limerick but I would imagine that it is in keeping with the national figure. By contrast, civilian staff levels in the police forces of England, Wales, Scotland, the United States and Sweden have risen to between 30% and 40%. This is what we must reach if we are to have properly trained crime fighters on the streets, rather than sitting behind desks dealing with dog licences and the like. The Garda should expedite a further extended process of civilianisation of administrative tasks. Much of the Garda traffic corps’ duties could also be targeted in this way as this would free up fully trained gardaí to tackle the likes of the horrific crime we saw last week.

[280]The Garda inspectorate is currently undertaking a study on the allocation of Garda resources. I hope this study will have far-reaching implications for policing in Ireland from 2009 onwards. Its findings must be afforded the appropriate urgency by the Government and the Garda Commissioner.

As I have said so many times before, gangland, guns and drugs go hand in hand. From a long-term perspective, the only sustainable solution to gangland crime will be one that properly and holistically responds to the national drugs crisis. This must entail well resourced preventative measures, treatment and rehabilitation opportunities, informed by and funded through a complete network of local drug task forces. My local drug task force, of which I am a member, has been operating for ten years, yet Limerick does not have one. From a law enforcement perspective, supply and demand reduction must also be a priority of the Garda Síochána. Resources and manpower for the Garda drugs units must be at least doubled and the frequent diversion of drugs unit members into other areas of policing must end.

More sniffer dog teams must be made available to the Garda Síochána. At the end of 2007, the Garda Síochána had just six dogs skilled in drugs and firearms residue detection. Gardaí must often rely on assistance from customs’ detector dogs. However, the primary responsibility of those dogs is to detect drugs as they enter the State through ports and airports. The Garda would welcome dogs to work on intelligence-led seizures and raids, seeking hidden drugs that have entered the State. However, the scarcity of dogs means that it is rarely possible to deploy them on foot of more general objectives. For example, in other jurisdictions sniffer dogs accompany police officers on patrols of entertainment zones to assist in the detection of drugs on persons and to act as a deterrent to drug use. The number of sniffer dog and handler teams skilled in the detection of drugs and firearms should be increased in order that they will be available to every Garda division to undertake valuable demand and supply reduction work, including, but not limited to, intelligence-led operations.

  3 o’clock

The profits to be made from organised crime, in particular drugs, must be visibly eliminated and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, is essential in this regard. It is vital that the activities of CAB are squarely focused on the proceeds of organised crime. The political exploitation of CAB must stop and cases that would be more appropriately dealt with by Revenue alone must be left to that agency. Steps must be taken to speed up the impact of CAB. A case that commenced in 1997, involving an order for €3.3 million, was concluded in the Supreme Court this week. That case took 11 years. Delays must be reduced and we need to get to the point where criminals, and the community, are made to see that crime does not pay because the State will promptly confiscate the proceeds. There must be a real and visible return to communities. Moneys confiscated by the CAB should be ring-fenced as additional funding for the communities worst affected by the drugs crisis. It would send a very powerful message if the Minister took this on board.

There is justifiable public anger at the number of crimes being committed while on bail. Lengthy delays in the justice system are a central problem. Resourcing the justice system, including the courts, the DPP and free legal aid so that justice can be administered promptly, would put the Judiciary in a better position to make the most appropriate decision on bail applications. Unfortunately, the Government is moving in the wrong direction resource-wise. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. James Hamilton, has publicly confirmed that the 3% cut to the budget of his office will mean that the number of prosecutions it can undertake will be reduced. This will likely result in more delays and more crimes being committed while people are on bail.

[281]I urge the Minister to listen to the practical points I have made — I have other points to make, which I will raise on other occasions. We can take practical steps and have a real effect on crime in our society, in particular drugs crime, which is fuelling gangland killings.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will now take questions. We will proceed on the same basis as if it were ministerial question time.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I put it to the Minister that his principal response to the weekend atrocity was to have a meeting convened between himself, the Taoiseach — his boss — and the Garda Commissioner, after which all three parties said it was more or less business as usual and that there was no need for extra resources, a change in the law or any emergency action. This seemed to be the consistent Government response undertaken by his predecessors — a meeting and no further action.

With regard to the meeting, did the Minister discuss with the Garda Commissioner and the Taoiseach the consequences of the cut in the budget of the DPP that led to an unprecedented public appearance by the DPP in which he stated it would be impossible for his office to deal with State prosecutions in the manner in which he would like? Did he discuss with the Garda Commissioner and the Taoiseach that the intake of Garda trainees will be significantly cut from this month, giving rise to a situation where what the Minister has said in respect of Garda numbers is in the past and that from next year gardaí coming out of Templemore will be doing so in far lower numbers than has been the case because of a budgetary cutback? Would he agree that budgetary cutbacks will impact severely on the fight against crime at a time when resources were never more needed in the war against the drug barons?

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I thank all the Members opposite for their comments. As I said earlier, I am open to all reasonable suggestions in regard to changes, particularly on legislation. While I do not believe it is an occasion to be political or to score political points in regard to statements about the awful death of Shane Geoghegan, at the same time I must respond to political accusations across the House. I do so——-

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  This happens to be the Dáil Chamber.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Flanagan asked a question in regard to our response. We brought forward the normal security meeting which I would have on a constant basis with the Garda Commissioner and included the Taoiseach so that he could be totally apprised of the situation.

The Deputy referred to the budget cut in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. When the DPP made his statement publicly, he had not raised the matter with me and I checked with my Department and found that at no stage had he raised it with the Department. It must be said that the Department to which he has reference — he made this point in the radio interview — is the Department of Finance. The Taoiseach answered validly on the issue regarding the 3% cut across the public sector and regarding the DPP. At no stage has the office of the DPP indicated to us or to the Garda Síochána that he is any difficulty or that there were any delays in regard to the processing of cases. There has been, particularly in the past three years, an increase in resources for the DPP.

With regard to the Garda cut, Deputy Rabbitte referred earlier to a post hoc explanation or justification for a cut in other areas of the Department. I want to answer Deputy Flanagan in this respect. There was a 1.7% overall cut in my Department, and that was the average in all Departments apart from the three main Departments of Health and Children, Education and [282]Science and Social and Family Affairs, which had a gain, albeit lower than normal. There was a cut of approximately 1.7% to 1.8% in my Department. One week before the budget, Fine Gael in its document called for the existing departmental budgets for 2009 to be frozen at 2008 levels and, on top of that, a 3% cut, which in effect would have been a 5.5% cut in my Department. The actual cut was 1.7%.

Given the fact there was a cut in my Department, I was faced with the situation where I had to dedicate resources to areas where I considered there was a priority. It was not a post hoc decision or justification. I made a decision with regard to the softer elements of my Department which were not tackling crime, putting more gardaí on the street, keeping prisoners in prison or dealing with the prison issue, and I told my officials to concentrate on those key issues.

I must accept there has been a dramatic cut across the Department, not just with regard to human rights, equality and issues to do with gender equality. I did this because I made tackling crime the priority in my Department. The Garda Commissioner is taking a cut of €1.8 million in overtime this year and up to €80 million next year. I insisted to him that Operation Anvil would continue, with €20 million plus €1 million extra, and that this be ring-fenced in the overtime in order to ensure it would not be used for any overtime issue other than tackling organised crime and Operation Anvil.

Although I made these decisions three months ago, in the run-up to the budget I read in the newspapers that the Minister was to order a freeze in recruitment. I did not order a freeze in recruitment. Given that I was dedicating resources to extra gardaí on the street, as we all accept that the people want to see more gardaí on the street, between now and the end of 2009 there will be an increase in the number of gardaí on the street from 14,200 to 14,900, and 400 new gardaí will be taken on in addition to the 1,100 who are currently in training. This is so we do not reverse the very dramatic increase in garda numbers that has taken place. There was such a dramatic increase in the last two years that Templemore, which had been hugely built up, that it was not even big enough to take the numbers that were going through. The Government must be given some credit in that it has put in the resources.

With regard to Limerick specifically, apart from Dublin there are probably more gardaí per head of population in Limerick than elsewhere. There has been 24-hour covert and overt surveillance. The ERU has been present there on a constant basis. The new regional support unit, which was one of the first Garda units on the scene of the tragic death of Shane Geoghegan last week, is dedicated to the southern region, which includes Limerick. There is a myriad of other initiatives in the areas of juvenile justice liaison and youth services for Limerick. CCTV cameras are in the city centre and in all of the major estates——

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  They are not in all estates.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——such as Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Munchin’s and Moyross.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  They are not in many areas. The Minister, Deputy Willie O’Dea, should have informed the Minister about that.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  CCTV cameras are already working as we speak. There are 29 mounted gardaí on bicycles. Huge resources have been put into Limerick, where there is significant difficulty. Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s suggestion about digital radio is a matter for An Garda Síochána but I will raise it with its management.

The Government has introduced significant criminal justice legislation in the past two years. Deputy Noonan raised the issue about longer interrogation periods. Until July 2007, the period for detention was 12 to 24 hours. The House, through legislation, increased it to seven days for [283]serious offences such as gangland murders, firearms possession and kidnapping. Deputy Rabbitte made a fine speech and all that but he must remember that his party objected to the seven-day period for detention, claiming it was excessive. We must all agree on the measures that we take.

Deputy Noonan’s suggestion regarding the role of a chief superintendent’s evidence is valid.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister’s time has expired.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  However, we examined the suggestion in the 2007 legislation and it was found to be unconstitutional.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It was not found to be unconstitutional. It was never tested.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must call on Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The strong advice is that, particularly in the context of a jury trial, a superintendent under cross-examination may not give adverse evidence against an accused who is still innocent until proven guilty.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The record should be corrected. That suggestion was not found to be unconstitutional.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The programme for Government contains a large number of proposals the Government would implement to deal with drugs, organised crime, sentencing policy and court procedure. For example, in the drugs areas it would increase search powers for the Garda and had nine different proposals for organised crime. Another example of a practical proposal on drugs states the Government would “require all mobile phones to be registered with name, address and proof of identity in order to stop drug-pushers using untraceable, unregistered phones”. We know for every kind of serious criminality, pay-as-you-go mobile telephones are used for a day and then thrown away to thwart the police.

Why is the Minister not dealing with these and the other 27 proposals, none of which has yet been implemented? For example, another proposal states the Government will “introduce means to ensure that criminal trials can no longer be collapsed because of legal technicalities. This will include legislation...”. When all is said and done after the meetings between the Taoiseach, the Garda Commissioner and all the rest, what practical changes and legislation does the Minister propose to make after the tragic murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick? Will he accept the Labour Party Bill on covert surveillance? His statement was not clear as to whether he is introducing such legislation. If he is, when will he do so?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The registration of mobile telephones is a difficult issue which I know from my time as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. An important trial in combating mobile telephones in prisons took place at the Midlands Prison which has been successful. Recently on a visit to a prison in Italy, its authorities told me they were fascinated by the technology we will use.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister is exaggerating.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The problem with blocking mobile telephone reception in prisons such as Mountjoy and Portlaoise is they have two hospitals adjacent to them. The latest technology used in the midlands has been successful and will be rolled out.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I asked about the registration of mobile telephones.

[284]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I accept that and it is a very difficult issue. What is to be done with existing mobile telephones?

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  That was a red herring.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The covert surveillance legislation will be brought to the Government next week. Deputy Rabbitte did introduce a Bill in this area but it had major flaws in it, particularly regarding its oversight provisions. His Bill proposed that the oversight of covert surveillance by the Garda Síochána would be a function of the Garda Ombudsman’s office. That is objectionable as they are the very people supervising the Garda but, according to the Deputy’s Bill, would also have oversight in covert surveillance matters.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The role of the Garda Ombudsman is not to supervise the Garda. Its function is to oversee complaints about the Garda.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must allow the Minister to finish, as Deputy Rabbitte well knows.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Yes, its function is oversee complaints about the Garda. The Government’s Bill will follow the same principle of judicial oversight as set out in the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993. The Deputy’s Bill proposed the Garda could not operate covert surveillance, which it is doing at the moment albeit on a non-statutory basis, until it was subject to the Freedom of Information Acts. If this were introduced into covert surveillance, particularly when we are trying to give the Garda all the powers we can within reasonableness——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That is not true. The Minister is misrepresenting my Bill.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is true.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  If that were the case, all the Minister had to do was amend our legislation.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  While I accept putting covert surveillance on a statutory footing, the reality is that it has existed for some time. It may also be the case that the Garda does not want to bring covert surveillance in particular instances into evidence in the courts.

The Deputy may or may not know that as a result of the victims initiative I announced some months ago, I will soon be bringing to the Government legislation to assist victim impact statements and doing away with the double jeopardy rule, a substantial change to the legal process. I hope I get support from both sides of the House on this.

Another change will be in the practice where legal defence teams have been taking prosecution teams by surprise by bringing in evidence at the last minute. It will require them in future to give good notice of such evidence. The Government is always keeping criminal law under review. I do not say the Government has the surplus of knowledge in this area. Any reasonable suggestions from the other side of the House that will fly past the Attorney General will be accepted by us.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  When will the covert surveillance Bill be published?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I have agreed the heads of the Bill and it will go to the Government next week. It will be introduced as soon as possible thereafter.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  On a point of order, I propose questions are banked so that every Member will get a chance to contribute.

[285]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Minister has already addressed the Tetra digital radio system. Is it possible to bring forward the roll-out of the dedicated non-Garda confidential telephone line to stop drug dealing? Will the Minister examine setting up a local drugs taskforce specifically for Limerick rather than the existing regional set-up which is not adequate? Will he ask the Garda Commissioner to establish more sniffer dog teams? Will he look again at ring-fencing the moneys CAB confiscates? Will he examine the DPP’s budget to ensure prosecutions happen quicker and people are not on bail for a long time which often results in them committing further offences?

What progress has been made with regard to practical protections for witnesses in the court environment? As I have mentioned, witnesses and victims must often share the same waiting rooms or are forced into close proximity during a trial. I am not speaking necessarily of intimidation, but such circumstances make people uncomfortable and discourage them from becoming involved in the process.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  With regard to the drugs task forces, ultimately the division of resources in the Garda Síochána is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, but I will raise with him the issues mentioned by the Deputy. There is a programme to increase the number of sniffer dog teams for drug enforcement duties. Deputy O’Sullivan mentioned the amounts of money involved in confiscation of assets by the CAB. The threshold operated by the CAB is €13,000, which is a reasonable amount of money but which means it is pursuing medium to high-level criminals.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Some of these people are on social welfare.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The budget of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been dramatically increased over the last number of years. I am not aware of any delays or difficulties other than the normal legal delays. With regard to practical steps for victims, I refer the Deputy to what I said a number of months ago about the Justice for Victims initiative. I am accepting many of the recommendations in the report of the group headed by Gerard Hogan. This report is very substantial and I suggest Members read it. It refers to achieving a balance in the criminal law system with the aim of assisting victims. It is to the credit of this House that as a result of a change in the law in 2007 — although some people abstained and had difficulties with what, in a democracy, could be said to constitute draconian legislation — a very successful conviction was obtained in which a serious criminal was given ten years even though 11 witnesses who made statements in writing at the time of the event recanted their statements or refused to give evidence in court. The judge, because of the change in the law, was able to ignore their change of evidence or their refusal to give evidence in court and to take the written statements into account. He convicted the person, who got ten years and is currently behind bars. Thus, we have taken practical steps in this regard.

A drug strategy is being prepared for 2009-12 and there will be provision for continuing treatment and prevention as well as enforcement. Deputy O’Sullivan raised the issue of treatment for people on drugs. Approximately 8,500 people are currently availing of methadone and other services in this country. There is a substantial response to the difficulties people have. It is incumbent on this House——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is more than that.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  ——to send a strong message, particularly to the wider community.

[286]Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We need to get to the cutting edge of it. We need to use it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  While my Department and the Garda Síochána are homing in on supply, the reality is that there is also a demand. It is incumbent on us, if we are to do any justice to Shane Geoghegan, to remind the people we represent that when they take cocaine, heroin or whatever, they are feeding the crime gangs — those people who are bringing about the awful deaths of Shane Geoghegan and others.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister’s responses are most unsatisfactory. He stated in his speech that the policing priorities for An Garda Síochána had been finalised for 2009. Has he included in that the provision of an assistant Garda commissioner to Limerick with specific responsibility for tackling gangland crime? He spoke about the emergency response unit. That is great, but it is not working 24 hours a day, which is the level of response now required in Limerick. Will he be providing for a properly resourced CAB in Limerick? When will he introduce the blocking of mobile phones in Limerick Prison? He spoke about doing this in Portlaoise but no date was given. Can I take it from what the Minister has said that he is unwilling to legislate specifically to make membership of a criminal gang a criminal offence?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That provision is already there.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  That provision relates to involvement, not membership.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is already there.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  No, it is for involvement rather than for being a member.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are taking Deputy McGrath now.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  How many prosecutions have there been? How many convictions?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will give the Deputy those figures too.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have very little time.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The answer is zero.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will give that figure too.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I know it. It is zero.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We can have a chat about it afterwards.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I wish to express my deepest sympathy with the family of Shane Geoghegan and all his friends. What has happened is a nightmare beyond comprehension.

Does the Minister agree that prevention must be the first priority in the fight against organised crime? It is too late when the innocents are slaughtered. I ask the Minister to develop and support projects such as Operation Anvil and target the small group of ruthless individuals. Targeting by direct policing, along with prevention, is the way forward and should be the first priority in any crime strategy. I also urge the Minister to target the wealthy individuals, and sometimes professional people, who are using drugs such as cocaine. They are part of the market and they are feeding and fuelling these gun crimes. I ask the Minister to make this a priority in his effort to combat gangland killings.

Finally, I ask the Minister to ensure there is investment in the most disadvantaged areas of the country and that there is early intervention to save dysfunctional children who are living [287]with violent families fuelled by alcohol and cocaine. We cannot expect a four-year-old child who lives in such an environment to grow up into a peace-loving person at 15 or 16. I urge the Minister to use his resources within the Department to assist early intervention projects.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy O’Donnell raised a number of issues earlier this week, some of which I had an opportunity to answer in the Seanad yesterday. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 specified new offences of membership of an organised criminal gang, carrying a penalty of five years, and committing an offence for a criminal gang, which carries a penalty of ten years. To answer Deputy Flanagan, who questioned whether proceedings had been brought, there have been a number of proceedings relating to conspiracy to commit a crime, Criminal Assets Bureau offences and criminal organisation offences or organised crime.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  How many?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  There is some difficulty in finding exact figures under the system.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It is zero.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  However, we estimate that 23 proceedings were taken in 2006, 54 in 2007 and 10 in 2008.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It is unworkable.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The number of convictions for these offences was six in 2006 and 15 in 2007.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  What about the assistant Garda commissioner?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I asked the Garda Commissioner about this. Ultimately it is a matter for him to decide and he is adamant that he has a proper management set-up in Limerick. The Deputy asked me about a branch of the CAB for Limerick. Already there are a number of CAB profilers in Limerick——

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  There are not enough resources.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Representatives of the CAB are always in Limerick, I can assure the Deputy.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  There are not enough on the ground. I know there are not enough people involved.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  They are concentrating on Limerick. When we were discussing the annual report of the CAB in the Seanad, I gave some figures in that respect.

It is intended as soon as possible to roll out the successful system for blocking mobile phones. It has only been a success in the last while. It will now be rolled out in other prisons, particularly in certain areas of those prisons.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  When will it be introduced in Limerick Prison? The Minister has to give me a date.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I cannot answer that question offhand.

I agree wholeheartedly with the remarks of Deputy McGrath. In fairness to this House, it did bring in extremely tough legislation, particularly in 2007, and there were objections to some of the issues to which we have referred. We brought in tighter bail requirements relating to [288]the opinion of the Chief Superintendent to refuse bail. We brought in new mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders — I am answering a question later about——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  On a point of order, we have heard this before. Can we have an opportunity to ask questions?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am answering questions in a couple of minutes.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I know.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We brought in new mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders and we restated the rules on the right to silence which, as was mentioned earlier on the other side of the House, was upheld in court just the other day. We introduced post-release monitoring orders and protection of persons orders to allow the Garda to supervise convicted persons and protect witnesses. We brought in laws to allow the use of reasonable force to take fingerprints. Again, these are extremely draconian laws in any democracy. We brought in laws to allow for indefinite retention of fingerprints. We have not done nothing.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Will the Minister mark the surveillance legislation as very urgent? Two weeks ago we were able to pass a Mental Health Bill in this House, with co-operation from the Opposition, in one afternoon. The Government will bring in legislation to remove the medical card from over 70s by 1 January. Regarding the CAB issue, some of these people are on social welfare and live in housing estates among people who cannot afford Christmas for their children, yet they have material goods that are obviously beyond their means. Will the Minister examine reducing the thresholds above which CAB can investigate?

Deputy Dan Neville:  I, too, convey my sympathy to Shane’s parents, Tom and Mary Geoghegan, his brother, Anthony and his fiancée, Jenna Barry, following Shane’s death. Sympathy for the family and the outrage felt about this event in the city is also felt in the county. Will the Minister ensure that the Deputy Commissioner and the new chief superintendent Gerry McMahon have whatever resources they require to deal with the situation in the city?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I assure Deputy Neville of that. In the past number of years, Limerick has been blanketed with gardaí. As I said earlier, there are more gardaí in Limerick per head of population than anywhere else in the country, except, perhaps, Dublin. The legislation on covert surveillance will be brought in as soon as possible, but it is very complex and that is probably why it has not been brought in previously. To a certain extent, it may tie the hands of gardaí when we put it in on a statutory footing. It is trying to balance the issue of privacy, which is enshrined in our Constitution, and allowing the gardaí a hand — I will not say a free hand — to fight crime. If we put it on a statutory footing, it may restrict gardaí to a certain extent in terms of what they can do. It will give gardaí no more powers than they have at present, but will put on a statutory footing their ability to go into private property, install bugging devices, use them and perhaps, if they so require, use them in evidence. From a policing point of view, gardaí are more than happy with their current ability. However, we have conventions on human rights with which we must comply and that is what the legislation will be about.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  They cannot use the evidence in court.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is not admissible evidence.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is extremely complex legislation and we want to get it right.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Finian McGrath — the peace process in Colombia; (2) Deputy Tom Hayes — the provision of funding for the roof of Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel, County Tipperary; (3) Deputy Terence Flanagan — the need for a Garda station to meet the needs of the Donaghmede and Clongriffin areas of Dublin; (4) Deputy Mary Alexandra White — the need to ensure that women are not adversely affected by the impact of the EU’s draft working time directive; (5) Deputy Lucinda Creighton — the provision of sports facilities in the Dublin inner city area; and (6) Deputy Jimmy Deenihan — the delay in the appointment of a design team for Scoil Eoin, Balloonagh, Tralee, County Kerry.

The matters raised by Deputies Mary Alexandra White, Terence Flanagan, Finian McGrath and Jimmy Deenihan have been selected for discussion.

  1.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on the implementation of the law in respect of mandatory sentences for drug dealers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40281/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I know the Deputy appreciates that the courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and the sentencing of offenders is clearly a matter for the presiding judge.

The Deputy refers to one of the few exceptional situations where the legislature has intervened by statute to create mandatory sentences for certain crimes. 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 ten years imprisonment for individuals convicted of a first offence under sections 15A and-or 15B of that Act of possession or importation of controlled drugs for sale or supply with a value over €13,000. The mandatory minimum sentence, or to give it its more accurate description, presumptive minimum sentence, is to be imposed in all cases but those with very specific and exceptional mitigating factors.

It is too early to come to any concrete conclusions on the impact of the provisions contained in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 which deal with this matter. However, the statistics for convictions in the Circuit Court in 2007 show that there was a 100% increase in the number of sentences of ten years or more imposed by the court for these offences compared to 2006. In 2006, there were 83 convictions and in nine of those cases a sentence of ten years or more was imposed, while in 2007 there were 99 convictions and in 22 cases a sentence of ten years or more was imposed. The legislation will continue to be kept under review.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Notwithstanding what the Minister said about the independence of the Courts Service and the Judiciary, there is still a difficulty that he and his colleagues should address. The will of this House, as enshrined in legislation, is not being acted upon. What steps does he propose to take to ensure the will of this House is acted upon and followed [290]through? While I am not a fan of mandatory sentencing, there are serious crimes, particularly related to drugs, where we need to ensure stringent and strict penalties are brought to bear. Does the Minister regard it as satisfactory that of a total 260 cases under the Misuse of Drugs Act in the past three years, 40 have involved convictions and carried the mandatory sentence we, as legislators, have pressed on the legislation? Has the Minister met members of the Judiciary and the president of the courts? Would he consider it beneficial and useful to meet the president of the courts to see what impediment allows the courts in many circumstances to go against the will of this House as enshrined in legislation?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I have met the Chief Justice and many members of the Judiciary, particularly since I became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However it is not my job, nor am I entitled or allowed under the Constitution, to interfere in their judicial discretion on their decisions.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I never said “interfere”.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 amended the 1977 Act to put in an interpretation clause. The clause emphasised that the decision to depart from the presumptive minimum sentence of ten years 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 ten years. That statement was made by this House. There was dissatisfaction at how the minimum ten year sentence was being implemented and we have put the onus on the Judiciary. That was a statement from this House to show we wanted these sentences imposed as often as possible. However, the Judiciary has its discretion and we cannot interfere with it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I regret that the Minister appears to adopt a wait-and-see, hands-off approach. Included in his party’s programme for Government is a commitment to establish a judicial sentencing commission which would formulate sentencing guidelines. Where stands that commitment and what progress has been made?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  A new IT project is being trialled, led by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham on the implementation of the Irish sentencing information system, ISIS, to allow judges to have consistency of sentencing. They will be able to access a database to see the norm for offences they might be trying. The database is fairly well complete, has been trialled in one area and is being trialled in a second area. It is a matter for the Courts Service. We have provided it with the resources to ensure that is put in place across the system to allow a little more consistency. At least the judges in their discretion can have a note of what is happening in other courts. We have given it the resources to ensure it is put in place across the system, so there is a little more consistency. At least the judges, in their discretion, can take note of what is happening in other courts.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The sentencing commission——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We need to move on to Question No. 2.

  2.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the anticipated savings that will be made in terms of salaries and other costs arising from the budget 2009 announcement of the rationalisation of State agencies for which his Department is responsible; the reason for the reduction of 24% in the budget of the Irish Human Rights Commission [291]and 43% in that of the Equality Authority; if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by both bodies regarding the consequences of the reductions; if he will ensure that both bodies have adequate funds to discharge their statutory duties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40459/08]

  3.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the way the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority will continue to function effectively in view of the fact that their budgets have been cut by 43% and 24% respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40457/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

The context in which financial provision has been made by the Government for the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority for 2009 was outlined in the Budget Statement of 14 October last. While I accept the reduced budgets will cause difficulties in both cases, sufficient funding has been provided to the bodies to enable them to discharge their core activities in 2009. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is available to assist the organisations in every practical way that is possible. I am willing to meet representatives of the bodies to discuss the implications of the budget for their operations. I remind Deputies that the 2009 provision for the Equality Tribunal, which adjudicates on individual claims of inequality, has been increased by €340,000, or 15%, to reflect the priority that should be given to people who have a grievance in this respect. As I indicated in my contribution to the budget debate, I have decided that the main priority in the justice area in 2009 will be to tackle crime. My funding decisions reflect that priority, with the result that budgets have been reduced significantly in a small number of areas. In line with Government policy, I have asked all bodies to reduce their spending on consultants, advertising, promotional activities and other non-core items significantly.

The Department is examining issues which need to be addressed to achieve efficiencies in the integration of the administrative and back office facilities of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission. These areas, which are likely to include shared information technology and telecommunications facilities as well as office accommodation, are being addressed in the context of the decentralisation to Roscrea of the remaining elements of the Equality Authority. I understand that the two organisations have had discussions to move matters forward. Both agencies operate from separate premises in Dublin city centre. The offices have a cumulative annual rental cost of over €800,000. Significant efficiencies and savings can be realised by both bodies, and possibly by others, if they share office facilities. Further substantial savings of approximately €300,000, or 10% of the authority’s budget, will be realised by the completion of the transfer of further Equality Authority staff to Roscrea. I am prepared to agree, at this stage, that any savings made by the bodies in question may be used by them to supplement their budgets in meeting the costs of discharging their core functions. This does not mean there will be an increase in the published budget of either body, or that the savings can be used for advertising or other public relations activities. In other words, I do not propose to use the savings they might make to meet other expenditure requirements across my Vote group.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Why has the Minister decided to kill off the Equality Authority? Can he offer any other example of a 43% budgetary cut that he has made? How does he respond to the view of the board that the authority will not be able to discharge its core functions as a result of what has been done? Can the Minister give me a figure for the savings that will arise from the decision he has taken in respect of the Equality Authority? What is the saving? Is it not the case that the entire saving would not buy Mars bars for all the staff of the authority? [292] The Equality Authority is being singled out in a vindictive manner because officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform do not like what it has been doing. Is that not the reason for this measure? How can the Minister refer to two separate offices in Dublin, given that a premises is being sought for a third office in Roscrea? There will be a parallel organisation in Roscrea, matching the organisation in Dublin. The Department has already leased a premises, in which 15 staff are employed. None of the officials in question came from the Equality Authority. This is an act of blatant vindictiveness. If the Minister was not its author, it was his duty to intervene to prevent it from being pursued.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Equality Authority was established in 1997 with an annual budget of €378,000. It now has an annual budget of €5.9 million, although it has been reduced this year. Over its 11 years of existence, the authority has received funding of €47 million. I will comment on the proposed cut. I can give some suggestions. I am not in any way trying to kill off the Equality Authority, which does very good work. As I said earlier, I am not engaging in a post hoc justification of this measure. I decided three months ago to concentrate on prisons and tackling crime. That is what I said.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister sacked the board a year ago.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  When I examined the annual accounts of the Equality Authority last week, I was astounded to see that it is paying an annual rent of €402,000 for its premises on Harcourt Street. If I remember correctly, it spends a further €30,000 or €40,000 on parking. A premises has been rented in Roscrea for €102,000. Twenty staff are already in place at that location, in line with the Government decision on decentralisation. It was decided in this year’s budget that any organisation, not just the Equality Authority, that had already rented accommodation in decentralisation locations, as the authority had, would be allowed to continue to use that accommodation. Such organisations do not have to deal with rent increases etc. If the staff of the Equality Authority relocate to Roscrea, the organisation will benefit from a saving of approximately €300,000 in respect of rent alone. Further savings of approximately €22,000 will accrue from the proposed reduction in public relations activity. It is possible for the authority to save €10,000 in consultancy fees. Funds are still being provided to those involved with the 2007 European year of equality. Savings in that regard could yield €320,000. Some €35,000 is spent on the annual anti-racism week. The authority engaged in a costly and controversial once-off anti-ageism campaign. Deputy Shatter raised it in the House with me.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  So what?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The campaign cost €230,000. I have made it clear to the Equality Authority and all other bodies under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that I do not want them to produce any more glossy brochures or reports. Such documents should be made available on a disk. I do not want any more of the fanfare we have seen when reports are launched.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  As a result of these cutbacks, not only will there be no fanfare, but the Equality Authority will have very little ability to pursue its core objectives. The Minister has succeeded in decimating the authority. He did not respond to Deputy Rabbitte’s query about why the decentralisation of the authority to Roscrea is being fast-tracked at a time when relocation and decentralisation are being halted all over the place. How can the move to Roscrea be described as an integration of corporate services with the Irish Human Rights Commission? It is a disintegration. How can it be argued that shifting the authority 80 miles down the road will lead to the integration of its services with those of the commission, the [293]offices of which are to be retained in Dublin? How can this be? What is the saving that will result from the move?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I have said what the saving will be.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  None of the 15 staff who is due to transfer to Roscrea worked for the Equality Authority in the first instance. The relocation will lead to problems of experience and expertise. The Minister has destroyed the authority, in effect, in a most vindictive way. He is well aware that a stake is being put through the authority’s heart because many of its decisions have embarrassed him and his Government colleagues in recent times.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  There is no embarrassment. We introduced the legislation that set up the authority.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Government set it up and now it is taking it down.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  There is no embarrassment. We are not endeavouring to gut any organisation, not least the Equality Authority. I have justified my decision to do what I have to do. I accept that significant cuts will be imposed on these bodies. I abolished a number of bodies. I decided to focus on some of the more soft issues in the Department to achieve a significant reduction. I repeat that Deputy Flanagan’s party wanted greater reductions in the budgets of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and all other Departments. The Fine Gael spokesperson, Deputy Bruton, was calling for it all the time. If we were to implement the cuts the party wanted, we would have had to decimate all the organisations within my Department.

The savings through decentralisation are €440,000 in rent in Dublin and €102,000 in Roscrea. More room is available. The landlord in Roscrea has been helpful and the building is in a beautiful location. I do not accept there is a loss of intelligence. None of us is indispensable and the Equality Authority will be able to function as well in Roscrea as anywhere. This is an insult to Roscrea.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Why did the Minister allow himself to be in the position of humiliating himself in the House giving us answers a four year old would not give? He knows and I know that what he is saying is nonsense. He referred to glossy brochures. Every morning my desk seems like it is covered in confetti because of the number of the glossy brochures with photographs of Minister landing on it. I cannot keep count and sometimes they are in Irish and English in case they do not cost enough.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy does not get many from me.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister said we will not receive any more glossy brochures from the Equality Authority. He has decided to kill off the authority. Will he explain to the House in a mature way how he will save on rent in Dublin by leasing an additional premises in Roscrea? How will he save money by creating a parallel organisation in Tipperary? Is this not a political stunt and a double whammy? He has cut the authority’s budget by 43% while pandering to his former ministerial colleague, Michael Smith, by decentralising it to Roscrea. When Mr. Smith left the scene, the Minister responded to Deputy Lowry’s representations and in case this was not looked after, he appointed the Deputy’s election agent to the board. This is a vindictive stunt to kill off the authority. Why does the Minister not fess up rather than come into the House to tell us about glossy brochures and savings of €20,000 on publication and so on? Who authorised the leasing of premises in Dublin in the first place? The Minister was in Government. He has been walked into this and he ought to retrace his steps.

[294]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I reject the assertion that I have given anything other than frank responses. I have also outlined suggestions as to where the Equality Authority can make savings. There will not be a parallel organisation in Roscrea when decentralisation is completed.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Of course there will.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The staff are being decentralised to Roscrea. It was not that they alone were identified.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It will not be an Equality Authority.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The decision was made at budget time by the Government that decentralisation could continue where Departments had rented property in locations and had staff resident in them. That is what happened in regard to the Equality Authority and Roscrea. I have asked my officials to tell all the organisations that I do not want a fanfare. It was the case that organisations attached to my Department and others went to great lengths employing the services of public relations and consultancies and in the way in which they portrayed their annual reports.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister should start in his own office.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We are listening to exhortations of people like the Deputies who criticised us for having all these quangos.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Why is the Minister sitting on the value for money report?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  When we make an effort to rationalise and make savings, the Deputies criticise us.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  We published a list of quangos and gave it to the Minister, who ignored it.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Why is the Minister sitting on the value for money report?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Labour Party kept quiet about what it would cut. Deputy Rabbitte sat on the fence. At least Fine Gael came out with its proposed cuts.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Why is the Minister sitting on the value for money report?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  One member of Fine Gael came up with the cuts while the other members decided they would ask for everything. They want it both ways.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The list was the result of a front bench decision.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  This is a shameful decision.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Fine Gael does not give recognition to the fact that the Equality Tribunal is the one body that affects real people.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister has been walked into it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I have not.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Some 64%, when others take 9%, 8% and 7%.

[295]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I only sanctioned this in the full knowledge that I was concentrating on crime.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister put money into it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  This is a hatchet job.

  4.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on whether particular sanctions should apply to those who attack members of the emergency services; the action he will take to tackle the increasing volume of attacks on members of the emergency services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40458/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The law rightly makes specific provision to reflect society’s repugnance for attacks on members of the emergency services. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 strengthened the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 to make it an offence to assault or to threaten to assault or to impede medical personnel in a hospital, people assisting such personnel or a peace officer acting in the course of duty. The definition of “peace officer” was expanded to include members of the fire brigade and ambulance personnel as well as a member of An Garda Síochána, a prison officer and a member of the Defence Forces. In addition, the penalties for the offence of assault or threatening to assault a peace officer were increased to a fine of €5,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment, or both, on summary disposal and to an unlimited fine or up to seven years imprisonment, or both, on indictment. The Act also creates specific offences of threatening, assaulting, resisting, wilfully obstructing or impeding doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, other health and social care workers and any persons assisting them in or at a hospital.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that between 2003 and 2007 the number of such incidents increased in line with the number of incidents of public disorder and other anti-social behaviour. This increase reflects increased enforcement by An Garda Síochána under Operation Encounter, which specifically targets public order and alcohol related offences. The law provides a robust and comprehensive range of measures for the prosecution and sentencing of persons who assault, threaten or obstruct emergency workers and An Garda Síochána attach particular importance, as I do, to responding to such serious attacks.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I acknowledge the Minister’s reply but does he accept there is a particular problem in the final two weeks of October annually coinciding with Halloween festivities? For many people in the community, particularly the elderly, Hallowe’en weekend has become a living nightmare as a result of the violence, mayhem and anti-social behaviour of a reprehensible nature that ensues. Operation Tombola, designed to deal with the Hallowe’en festivities, has been a failure. There has not been sufficient emphasis on the illegal importation of fireworks from Northern Ireland and on tackling markets of a dubious nature, which have sprung up in different parts of the country over the past years and specialise in selling goods of dubious quality and origin. Does he accept this requires a specific and specialist response, having regard to the annual recurrence of Halloween violence?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I do not accept Operation Tombola has not been a success. Anecdotal evidence points to a dramatic decrease in the number of fireworks let off. My own area was as bad as anywhere else over the years because it was close to the Border and anecdotal evidence suggests a significant effort was made by the Garda to prevent fireworks crossing the Border. The figures speak for themselves. A total of 909 incidents were recorded in the Dublin metropolitan region this year compared to 1,699 in 2007, a 40% decrease. The number of [296]seizures increased dramatically. There were 137 seizures this year compared to 64 in 207 and 76 in 2006. In 2003 1,372 incidents were recorded. A total of 3,217 convictions were secured between 2003 and 2007 while 1,217 proceedings were commenced this year with 214 convictions secured.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Will the Minister review the penalties to ensure mindless attacks on ambulance and fire personnel have the same status in law as attacks on members of the Garda?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It does. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 included accident and emergency, fire officers and ambulance personnel. We did that already, two years ago.

  5.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he proposes to take regarding overcrowding in the prisons here in view of the fact that Thornton Hall is two years behind schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40564/08]

  4 o’clock

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The record clearly shows steadily increased levels of resources being provided to each branch of the criminal justice system since 1997. We have increased Garda resources to an all time high, provided more judges than ever before in the history of the State and enacted a significant body of criminal legislation to give the Garda the necessary powers to bring serious criminals to justice, frequently in the face of trenchant criticism from the benches opposite. In tandem with these developments significant resources have been provided to increase prison accommodation.

Not surprisingly the net effect of providing the Garda with the necessary legislative and human resources allied with determined leadership within the organisation, has resulted in increased levels of committals to prison. This is particularly apparent over the past 12 months, where there has been a dramatic increases in the number of sentenced prisoners, those being committed on remand and a trend towards longer sentences. For example, the numbers of persons in custody has increased by 10% and the total number of persons serving sentences has increased by 14%.

Acknowledging that the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the courts, the net effect of more stringent legislation is that some prisoners are serving longer prison terms. Figures show that over the past 12 years the numbers in custody have increased by 65% and the numbers on temporary release have decreased by 34%.

To meet current and future anticipated demand for prison spaces I am committed to continuing with the prison building programme. The record of this Government on putting resources into our prison system speaks for itself. Since 1997 in excess of 1,300 prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. These include new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the Dóchas Centre and a refurbished wing in Limerick Prison. Current developments will provide an extra 400 prison spaces by summer 2009 by means of a new block in Portlaoise Prison, which will accommodate approximately 150 prisoners in the coming months; a new remand block in Castlerea Prison, which will accommodate approximately 100 prisoners and which is due to be completed in early 2009; and a new block in Wheatfield Prison, which will accommodate 150 prisoners and which is due to be completed in the summer of 2009.

Most recently to enhance the rehabilitative focus of the prison system, over 30 extra spaces have been made available at the open centre at Shelton Abbey and a further 40 spaces have [297]been made available at the open centre at Loughan House. It is important to bear in mind when we are talking about prison numbers that our prisons have contingency plans in place whereby they can accommodate numbers above their ideal working capacity.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

These new developments will provide us with a significant level of new and refurbished accommodation until the opening of Thornton Hall. In that regard, and following an EU wide tender competition for a public private partnership to design, build, finance and maintain the Thornton facility, Léargas, a consortium which includes Michael McNamara & Co Limited, Barclays and GSL, was selected as the preferred bidder. It had been hoped to sign a contract before the end of this year. However, while negotiations with the preferred bidder are at advanced stage they have not yet been completed and it is now clear that it will not be possible to have a contract signed this year. The construction of the new prison is expected to take three years from the date the contract is awarded.

The overall Irish Prison Service capital programme will also ensure the elimination of the unacceptable practice of slopping out and will effectively complete the modernisation of the prison estate to meet best international standards in terms of custody, care and rehabilitative opportunities.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I put it to the Minister that there is currently a crisis in our prison system. As we speak, hundreds of criminals, many of whom have been sentenced to lengthy periods in prison, are now walking the streets. Gardaí state that offenders are being released early having served less than half of their sentences. This ties in to our earlier debate on gangland crime, drugs, mayhem and destruction on our streets.

The prison system simply cannot cope. Does the Minister accept that there are people serving prison sentences who should not be in prison at all and, on the other hand, there are people walking the streets giving the two fingers to the law having been convicted through the courts and given custodial sentences? Does he accept that the revolving door system has recommenced under his watch?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I do not accept that. When Deputy Flanagan’s party was in Government, there was a 20% revolving door system. The latest figures available to me on this situation is well below that. It is in single figures, to the best of my knowledge.

Deputy Joe Carey:  That was a long time ago. It is not a fair comparison.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  As I stated, we are bringing on 400 extra places within the next six to eight months, and that must be acknowledged. If my memory serves me correctly, during the time Deputy Flanagan’s party was in Government it did not provide one extra prison place.

We will provide extra prison spaces in Thornton Hall as well. When that comes on stream it will cure many of the difficulties in the prison sector.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Will it go ahead?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It should. I hope it will.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  On Thornton Hall, having expended almost €40 million in taxpayers’ money on what is still a green-field site, what exactly is the position on the provision of prison spaces in north County Dublin or will the Minister suspend the plan indefinitely?

[298]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  My understanding is that the negotiations are still ongoing with the preferred bidder. They are at an advanced stage and, hopefully, they will come to conclusion sooner rather than later.

It must be accepted that in the current financial situation worldwide and in this country there are difficulties in that respect. Whatever the decision on the contract, which will be made by the NTMA, the benchmark is that it must be, first, within the budget set down for it and, second, below the public sector benchmark. The issue is being overseen by the NTMA and the Department of Finance.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Are there difficulties with the preferred bidder?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This is a priority question.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I assure this House that not a single cent or euro will be paid by the taxpayer on this project until it is handed to the preferred bidder, whoever it is, and until the project is finished.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Is the land paid for?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is an excellent project for the State. Any money expended to date has been spent on the purchasing of the land, the design and the deployment of archaeologists to ensure that the site is correct, etc. The bidders have expended significant resources in their bids.

While I accept that we are building 400 extra prison spaces in the various prisons, the ultimate solution for the ongoing problem, given that the population has increased dramatically, is that we will be able to accommodate them in Thornton Hall.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  That is a negative reply.

  6.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his strategy to combat cyber bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37470/08]

  39.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the measures he will put in place to safeguard children against Internet bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37244/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 39 together.

Tackling Internet downside issues is a complex business and continues to set new challenges for all those charged with protecting against the downside of the Internet. Increasing access to powerful communication tools such as social networking websites, video and photograph sharing sites has brought a new dimension to child protection issues such as cyber bullying. Cyber bullying refers to bullying carried out using the Internet, mobile phone or other technological devices. I have no function in the regulation of broadcast media or phones, but I will outline the child protection arrangements in place in respect of the Internet.

[299]The Office for Internet Safety, OIS, has been established as an executive office within my Department and has taken over the formal role of the Internet Advisory Board in terms of monitoring industry self-regulation on illegal content on the Internet. The establishment of OIS is an important step in building the best possible protection for the community at large, and in particular for children, from the downside of the Internet. The OIS has responsibility for Internet safety, particularly on combating child pornography; overseeing the operation of the internet hotline system —www.hotline.ie— for dealing with reports of illegal content on the Internet, which will continue to be operated and funded by the Internet service provider industry; involvement in Internet safety awareness campaigns; and monitoring compliance with the Internet service provider industry code of practice.

The OIS will be advised by an Internet Safety Advisory Council, which will be the successor to the Internet Advisory Board. The advisory council will be drawn from representatives of the key stakeholders in the statutory, industry and community sectors and will support the work of the OIS. I will be announcing the composition of the new council in the near future.

The Deputy may be aware of the booklets in the “GET with IT!” series previously published by the Internet Advisory Board. There are three booklets in the series, namely, a parents’ guide to new media technologies, a parents’ guide to filtering technologies and a parents’ guide to social-networking websites. These booklets give an overview of new technologies, help parents to understand and use websites and help them to safeguard their children on-line.

The issue of cyber bullying is a complex one which transcends the home or school environment. The Office for Internet Safety, in a joint initiative with the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE, O2 and Barnardos, has developed a new “GET with IT!” publication entitled “A guide to cyberbullying”, which will be published next month. This booklet is intended to increase awareness of all aspects of cyber bullying in the new media world and to help parents and their children understand the often confusing issues of new media technologies and tools which children and young people are using for this behaviour. The booklet will also provide information for persons who are victims of cyber bullying on how such problems can be reported to the relevant authorities.

I would also refer Deputies to www.webwise.ie, a website developed by the National Centre for Technology in Education, an agency under the Department of Education and Science. This website, which is the Irish Internet safety awareness node and receives funding from the EU’s Safer Internet Programme, provides resources to help ensure that children’s on-line activity is positive and safe. NCTE has also developed policy guidelines and advisory notes for schools and parents which deal with the issues of Internet bullying. It also operates the www.watchyourspace.ie website which provides advice for young people on how to manage their on-line activities to avoid problems.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister should send that reply to John Murray.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is not that bad.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I welcome the awareness campaign but I must put it to the Minister that in the circumstances it is insufficient. What steps will the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or any other Department take towards ensuring website providers play their part? The Minister does not seem to have any ideas, plans or activities other than a voluntary code for parents and children and an awareness campaign. What about the service providers? How does the Minister propose to regulate them and ensure they do not contribute by reason of the provision of their software to Internet bullying, which has become a real [300]problem for young people, causing angst and trauma in many families? I hope every effort is made to examine what is best international practice.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I ask the Deputy to familiarise himself with what the industry and Internet service providers are doing on www.hotline.ie. I launched an element of their website a number of months ago and all of the Internet service providers are participating, apart from one which has an objection to participating in this and believes that law enforcement is an issue for the Garda. To be fair to the Internet service providers in this country, they have come together in conjunction with us, EU funding and their own funding to make a substantial effort to highlight public awareness on the issue. There is also an industry code of practice. The Office for Internet Safety will monitor compliance with the code of practice and be involved in Internet safety awareness campaigns.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does Deputy Rabbitte wish to speak?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is a bit complex for Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is too opaque for me. I get bullied by the Minister every day without any protection.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Rabbitte is technologically disadvantaged.

  7.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made to date in respect of the roll-out of the joint policing committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40289/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Joint policing committees are provided for in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Their purpose is to provide a forum where An Garda Síochána and the local authority — the two organisations which make the most significant contribution to preventing and tackling crime in a specific area — can come together, with the participation of members of the Oireachtas and community and voluntary interests, on matters affecting the area.

On 24 September I launched, with my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the roll-out of the committees from the pilot phase in 29 local authority areas to all 114 local authority areas. The guidelines set out the procedures to be followed in establishing the committees. Following the formal decision by a local authority meeting to establish a committee, a process is set in train to select the committee members from the elected members of the local authority, the members of the Oireachtas who have registered their interest in becoming members and the community and voluntary sector, and various procedural matters have to be dealt with. The Garda Síochána representatives will be appointed by the Garda Commissioner.

I am informed by my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the relevant local authorities have been requested to take the necessary steps to secure the establishment of these committees, and I understand this process is under way. In addition, my Department has written to the Garda Commissioner requesting that he arrange for the establishment of the committees in conjunction with the relevant local authorities. I look forward to a joint policing committee being established in each of the remaining local authority areas over the coming months.

[301]Deputy Joe Carey:  This is an ongoing issue and joint policing committees have been successful in the pilot areas. I welcome the fact that some movement has been made. However, a deadline should be set for establishing them in every local authority area. Is the Minister driving this? Has he met the Commissioner to discuss this issue? Does the Minister consider it a priority? Local government funding has been slashed by 6.7% in my constituency. Has the Minister provided a specific budget to each local authority to enable it to establish joint policing committees?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  A small level of funding will be available to support the work of committees generally but it will be a matter for each local authority to find the resources, although not much should be required for this. In answer to the question on whether I spoke to the Garda Commissioner, he was at the joint launch of the initiative. The Garda Commissioner and the Garda Síochána believe this is a tremendous initiative as do I. Having served on a local authority between 1979 to 1991 I know a major problem with regard to crime in the area was that we did not have interaction between ourselves and the local superintendent. Now, we will have this interaction throughout the country and many of myths about who is at fault for crime will be dealt with. Genuine local problems can be dealt with by these committees.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Will the Minister continue the policing committees on the same basis as they operated in the pilot? The notion of the most senior gardaí submitting to interaction with public representatives at a public forum is the only element of local accountability that we have ever seen in Ireland in policing. I agree with the Minister that it is a tremendous initiative. I am somewhat biased given that I was its author. I brought it to the former Minister, Michael McDowell, behind closed doors and persuaded him of it and he was as good as his word.

I want to know whether it will be on the same basis as the pilot because I believe the value of the joint policing committees has been somewhat undermined by the fact that, for example, my local authority has 23 public representatives. The Minister knows what public representatives are like.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Including Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  At least 22 of them must speak on each matter. Wily senior gardaí know this as well as we do and the result is that they do not have to answer any serious questions or engage in the quality of interaction that ought to take place and would take place if half a dozen public representatives developed specialist knowledge on policing and interacted with senior gardaí for the good of the local area. Will the Minister consider whether, in light of the experience to date, we ought to contain the number of public representatives and others who can be on the local committee? It only damages the efficacy of the idea.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Garda Commissioner and I launched the guidelines in September. Some tweaking of the guidelines was done with regard to the joint policing committees based on the experience of the pilots. However, it is more or less the same and I ask Deputies to familiarise themselves with the guidelines which set out exactly what are the functions and responsibilities.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  They are too unwieldy in size.

[302]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That may well be and it is a matter for local authorities in particular to familiarise themselves with them. In my constituency, every Member of the Oireachtas has indicated a desire to be on the committee in Drogheda, which is a pilot. Public representatives all want to have their say. We can examine the guidelines as the committees proceed.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I agree with the concept of the committees and I believe they have potential. My constituency of Laois-Offaly is one Garda division. Under the current roll-out it appears we will have seven joint policing committees. Does it appear excessive to the Minister to have seven joint policing committees in one Garda division covering two counties? More importantly, in the context of the pilot scheme, will the Minister give an example of the success of the pilot scheme which encourages him to proceed?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  One hundred and fourteen was chosen to reflect the number of local authorities in the country. Provision is made for a number of them to come together. With regard to the issue of practical successes off the top of my head I cannot state any from the 29 committees which are up and running. However, I know it has been successful in my area in that we have had interaction and complete understanding on particular problems in Drogheda. Councillors sometimes blame the Garda for not fully implementing the liquor laws. The reality, however, is that there is adequate provision in this regard within the intoxicating liquor legislation which local authorities have not implemented in terms, for example, of giving their advice to judges as to what they consider a due time for closure in the case of special exemption orders. This is something the Garda Síochána wishes to get across to local authorities.

  8.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason the proposed new national child detention facility for young offenders at Lusk, County Dublin, will not be fully completed until 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40311/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Barry Andrews):  In March 2008, the Government approved the development of new national children detention facilities on the Oberstown campus near Lusk, County Dublin. The Government decision was informed by the report of the expert group on children detention schools, which is available on www.iyjs.ie.

The development will increase the accommodation capacity in the detention school service from 77 to 167 places and will be required to be carried out in phases to ensure the existing facilities continue to operate and make detention places available to the courts until the new accommodation is available. There are already three detention schools on the site and the proposed development will involve the demolition of some existing buildings on site and the retention of others but will consist mainly of newly constructed facilities. The timeframe for the construction period will be kept under review and will be influenced by the detailed information from the design team and the market conditions for the construction sector.

Planning for the development is under way and the appointment of a design team will be made shortly. The team will be required to advise on architectural, construction and engineering matters, to deliver high quality designs and to manage the construction of modern, state-of-the-art facilities. The design team will include, but is not limited to, expertise in architecture, construction project management, planning, health and safety, fire safety, cost estimation and control, and engineering and building services.

[303]After the design of the new facilities has been completed during 2009, a tendering process will be undertaken to progress the construction element of the project, the first phase of which is estimated for completion in 2012. This will provide 80 places to accommodate 16 and 17 year old boys in order to remove this age group from St. Patrick’s Institution and to facilitate the transfer of boys from the existing Oberstown boys school buildings.

The second phase, which is envisaged for completion in 2014, will entail the demolition of the buildings currently housing Oberstown boys school and the long-term unit of Oberstown girls school, as well as several other buildings. This phase will also involve the construction of facilities for 57 young people. Some of the existing buildings, including Trinity House school, will be retained, providing a total of 167 places when both stages of the project are completed. With the completion of each phase of this development, the children detention schools will provide excellent accommodation and facilities which will facilitate the rehabilitation of youths sent there by the courts.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The project is being overseen by the Irish youth justice service, IYJS, an executive office in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has responsibility for a wide range of youth justice matters, including the children detention schools. Advice and supports for this project are being provided to the IYJS from several sources, including the Office of Public Works and the National Development Finance Agency. In preparing for the development, in line with Department of Finance guidelines for capital projects and with good practice, the IYJS will establish a project board to ensure robust governance and accountability are in place. The board will report directly to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The cost of the project will be met from national development plan and Exchequer sources. I am pleased to report that the Government has made adequate capital provision in the 2009 Estimates to progress this project.

Deputy Joe Carey:  In the current economic climate, does this project remain a priority for the Department? Does the Minister of State envisage it will go ahead as planned? He stated in reply to a previous parliamentary question of mine that the closing date for tenders would be 8 August 2008. That date has come and gone. Have tenders been submitted? The Minister of State also said that he expects the design process to be completed by early 2009, which is only some months away. Has the Irish youth justice service completed its consultation with the various stakeholders in the design process?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  As I have stated in reply to another parliamentary question on this matter today, a request for tenders for a full design team to develop new children’s facilities at Lusk was published on the eTenders website in June 2002. Eleven bids were received but the evaluation team informed the IYJS that there were difficulties with the tendering process. It was decided at that point to terminate the process. The Office of Public Works has now taken on the role of the design team, which will allow for some savings. It will work on the design element of the project, after which it will be put out to tender. The process began with tendering for a design team and the next step is to tender for construction. As I said, the OPW has taken over that role and we are safe in terms of the general procurement issues.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  When will construction commence? Does it make economic sense to build a small facility such as this over five years? What will happen in the interim to young offenders suitable for accommodation at Lusk?

[304]Deputy Barry Andrews:  The first phase of construction is due to be completed by 2012. The tendering process for the appointment of a construction company is due to be completed by mid-2009, and I envisage that construction will commence soon thereafter. The first phase, providing 80 places, will be completed in 2012 and the second phase in 2014. The two phases are designed to ensure there will be a smooth transfer of people from St. Patrick’s Institution, in the first instance, and, after that, from the older buildings that will be demolished. As I said, Trinity House will be retained and the other buildings will be replaced.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Will this project be funded directly by the Exchequer or is it a public private partnership? How will the growing number of young offenders be accommodated in the interim?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  It is not a public private partnership. A capital allocation of €12 million has been set aside for 2009 to continue this project. Young offenders will be accommodated in St. Patrick’s Institution until such time as this facility is available. If there is a gap between the completion of this facility and the closure of St. Patrick’s Institution, we will, as indicated previously, try to ensure there is availability in Thornton Hall. We envisage this will be a temporary arrangement.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  If a capital allocation of €12 million has been set aside for next year but no construction work is anticipated, is this amount allocated purely for the design phase? Once the facility at Lusk is in place, will the Minister of State guarantee that children serving sentences long enough to bring them into their majority years, thus rendering them ineligible to serve the latter part of their sentences in Lusk, will not be sent directly to Thornton Hall but will be allowed instead to serve the earlier portion of their sentence in Lusk?

Deputy Joe Carey:  When exactly will construction commence? Rome was not built in a day but a timeframe of six years to build a complex to house 167 people seems excessive.

Deputy Barry Andrews:  As I said, a capital allocation of €12 million has been made for 2009, and it is envisaged to commence construction next year. However, it is a complex site in terms of demolition, retention and the transfer and continuation of operations. It is not like a greenfield site where one is building brick upon brick.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is the €12 million allocation included in the Department’s budget or in the budget of the Office of Public Works?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  Subject to clarification, it is contained in the Department’s budget.

If there is a delay in the opening of Thornton Hall, as may be the case, the danger of having to house young people there will be obviated. It is envisaged that St. Patrick’s Institution will close at the same time as this project is completed.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  All the young people concerned will be over 18 years of age by the time Thornton Hall is accommodating anybody.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Flanagan is being very negative. Perhaps he does not want it to be built at all.

  9.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has [305]had discussions with the Garda Commissioner following the Supreme Court ruling (details supplied) on the matter of the loss of or failure to preserve evidence by members of the Garda; and if he will take steps to minimise such losses in the future either through Garda training, changes to evidence storage facilities and procedures or the upgrading of stations to ensure that the secure accommodation of evidence is feasible. [40227/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The case referred to by the Deputy concerns the preservation of evidence by An Garda Síochána. The judgment delivered on 31 July last sets out in detail the specific circumstances of the case and the need to ensure that evidence is available for the defence to ensure there is no risk of an unfair trial. The court reiterated the judgment given in another recent case, Savage v D.P.P., that best practice would dictate that An Garda Síochána give notice to an accused, or potential accused, of the intention to destroy evidence which may reasonably be material relevant to a trial, giving such persons time to have evidence examined, if they so wish.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that they are studying the judgment and its implications for training and procedures for the force, and arrangements are being put in place to ensure compliance with the judgment. I am also advised by the authorities that there is currently a property store in each Garda district for the purpose of storing both property coming into the possession of An Garda Síochána and court exhibits. A new property and exhibits management system is currently being introduced in the Garda Síochána. The purpose of the system is to establish a property store in each Garda division with enhanced facilities to manage all property coming into the possession of the Garda Síochána in that division, with a small number of very specific exceptions which may be required to be retained securely at local Garda stations.

There are now five divisional stores in operation. A further two locations are planned to be operational by the end of this year. Further locations are planned subject to the availability of resources and as suitable locations become available for use. In the interim, property coming into the possession of the Garda Síochána will continue to be handled in the manner prescribed in Garda procedures, which is subject to audit and inspection.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Is the Minister satisfied that everything is done to ensure that evidence collected by the Garda will be available for future court cases? I was involved in one case as a witness and in that case the murder weapon went missing in a Garda station and was never subsequently found. We have also read reports of evidence being stored in locker rooms by gardaí. When will the new property storage and management system be completed to ensure the gardaí are not frustrated when cases collapse due to the absence of or the failure to preserve key evidence?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Obviously, I cannot guard against human error. There will always be circumstances where human error will occur. However, gardaí have a duty to preserve, to the best of their ability, exhibits for court evidence. The Garda is changing the system to bring these divisional stores into operation. There are stores in Athlone, Waterford, Templemore, Enniscorthy and Store Street and two more are due to come into operation. Currently there is a store in each district designated for the collection and retention of evidence.

I am also considering changing the law, as was indicated in the court case. There are issues with regard to people being deprived of their property for considerable periods of time while a case is being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions and eventually brought to [306]court. We are trying to provide for a situation whereby, subject to agreement between the defence and the prosecution, a piece of evidence could be examined and returned to the owner.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  In some cases the evidence can be large items. In the case I raised it was a motor vehicle. Is there sufficient storage space for items of evidence of that size? In the case I mentioned that piece of evidence was destroyed before it could be independently examined. There could be a number of vehicles involved if there are a number of cases. There is also a need for court cases to be dealt with more speedily so evidence is not taking up space in the Garda stations.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It has not been brought to my attention that there is a difficulty with storage of vehicles. When gardaí impound vehicles and take in vehicles that have been involved in road traffic accidents, they must have locations for their storage. To the best of my knowledge they are able to manage this. Indeed, I was involved in a case in Donegal in which a circus lorry was retained for a significant period as evidence. Its retention caused extreme difficulty for the circus owner, even though the lorry was somewhat peripheral to the accident. Thankfully, it worked out in the end.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is a great county for circuses.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I am conscious of the difficulties in this regard.

  10.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will introduce legislative provisions to give the Garda powers to search aircraft using Irish airports to determine whether the planes may be used for the practice known as extraordinary rendition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40195/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The programme for Government contains a number of commitments relating to extraordinary rendition and states unequivocally that the Government is opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition. In particular, the programme commits the Government to encouraging and supporting An Garda Síochána in the investigation and enforcement of the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000 and the Geneva Conventions Acts 1962-1998.

Recently, a new Cabinet committee on aspects of international human rights reviewed the programme for Government commitments in this area. It agreed to examine the statutory powers available to authorised officers regarding search and inspection of aircraft, including those provided under Air Navigation and Transport Acts, in the context of the State’s obligations under the Chicago Convention. The Deputy will appreciate that these Acts and the convention are not matters for which my Department is responsible.

There has been regular communication between me and my Department, acting on my behalf, and the Garda Commissioner relating to the implementation of the programme’s commitment regarding extraordinary rendition. The Garda Commissioner has assured me that he has sufficient resources to implement the commitment, and that the commitment is being implemented and is kept under constant review so as to reflect best practice. In that context, the Garda Commissioner has requested the Deputy Commissioner, operations, to again review the training and search regime.

[307]The Garda remains ready to take whatever action is open to it under the law in relation to any allegations involving extraordinary rendition. I must point out, for the sake of clarity, that we are not talking about military or State aircraft, which enjoy sovereign immunity. The Garda has no role in the inspection of such aircraft. Those powers of search which are available to the Garda at present, and which apply to aircraft as much as to any other type of private property, can only be exercised in accordance with the law, that is, where evidence is available which would justify their use. In practice, this means that the Garda must have reasonable grounds to believe an offence is being or has been committed.

The Garda has fully investigated a number of allegations of unlawful activity at Irish airports and files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions in some of these cases, although no prosecution was directed. In the other cases no evidence to substantiate the allegations was disclosed. In fact, it was established beyond all doubt that legitimate commercial cargoes and passengers were being carried by these flights.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I refer the Minister to a statement from Deputy Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, in which he said that this change of policy represents a sea change in the Government’s approach. I listened carefully to the Minister’s reply but it was hard going. Why is Deputy Cuffe so excited? What does this mean? Will there be random searches and inspections of the aircraft concerned? Is that what the policy means?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I cannot answer for Deputy Cuffe.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Minister can answer for the Government.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy should ask Deputy Cuffe about what he had to say on this issue. There is a commitment in the programme for Government with regard to training the Garda Síochána, and I have raised it with the Garda Commissioner on a number of occasions. At the newly formed Cabinet committee it was agreed that we would re-examine the legislation, particularly the air navigation Acts and the Chicago Convention. When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs I raised the issue of the Chicago Convention. I maintained, and I said it to the US Ambassador at the time, that in the context of al-Qaeda it is in the interests of nation states, particularly the US, that the meagre information that is made available under the Chicago Convention of 1944 should be reviewed. Given the rapid increase in the use of private aircraft across Europe and the world, and indeed Ireland, there should be more information.

With regard to a change of policy on the powers of the gardaí or any other officer other than those officers prescribed by law — a number of designated authorised officers can board airplanes to inspect them for safety under air navigation legislation — the gardaí can board airplanes under the same conditions as they can go into the Deputy’s house or mine, that is, they must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed or they must have a search warrant. There is no change in that respect. However, we are examining possible changes in the air navigation Acts to widen the scope of the type of examinations authorised officers can make.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  To summarise, nothing has changed. As far as the random search and inspection of traffic through Shannon Airport in respect of the possibility of extraordinary rendition is concerned, nothing has changed. However, the Government is examining changing the air navigation Acts, perhaps. Is that the position?

[308]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy referred to random checks. The Garda cannot check any property, and if it did, it could leave itself open to a claim for damages from the property owner. The Garda can only search a property if it can establish a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, or if there is a bench warrant.

Powers are granted to authorised officers under the Air Navigation Acts to board airplanes for specific purposes relating to examination and security. Under the Chicago Convention, airplanes are entitled to enter and leave countries and this right cannot be refused. We are examining the legislation in the context of the Chicago Convention.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Minister stated it was beyond reasonable doubt that the cargo was legitimate. How can he assert this given that the flights passed through Ireland long before the Garda investigation took place? There could not have been a proper investigation.

On a related matter, is the Minister aware of a campaign to have Ireland accept a prisoner or prisoners from Guantanamo Bay?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is beyond the scope of the question.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  It is related to extraordinary rendition and there is a possibility that some of these people previously came through Ireland.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am sure that would be worthy of a question in its own right.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  That may well be the case. Will the Minister encourage the USA to allow some of these people, who have been cleared of any wrong doing, to come to Ireland or Europe given they cannot return to their native countries because of the risks involved?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  What was the first question?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  How can the Minister state it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the cargo was legitimate, given that it was not possible to investigate the matter?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Ultimately, it is a matter for the Garda and the DPP to decide what constitutes a reasonable doubt and whether a crime was committed. Any claim must then stand up in court. To be fair to Deputy Cuffe and others, it is suggested there have been incidents involving several notorious planes which have travelled across the world. There may be some scope in future — I say this by way of suggestion, I am not trying to tell the Garda what to do — if one of these famous planes were to land at Shannon or any other airport in the country, for the Garda to ascertain whether a crime was committed, given that airplane’s history. However, we identified that a small number of these notorious planes landed at Shannon during my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs. On one occasion I was informed that one of these planes had landed at Shannon, but upon investigation, we found the plane was taking three or four golfers around Ireland and was travelling from Shannon to Sligo, Belfast and elsewhere. In the case of another so-called rendition flight, it was revealed following investigation that the plane had a cargo of racehorses on board.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The remarks about golfers and racehorses are very interesting.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is a fact.

[309]Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That will not bring much comfort to Deputy Cuffe and the Green Party. I revert to what I suspect Deputy Cuffe is interested in, that is, whether there will be any change to the practice at Shannon Airport. Do I correctly summarise the Minister by saying there has been no change, but there might be a change in the future, and that such a change will only occur if the Air Navigation Acts are amended? When will the Cabinet subcommittee conclude its consideration of the issue? Is there a deadline, or is it cruelly misleading the Green Party into believing it has had an impact on changing the practice at Shannon? I do not know why the question is so difficult to answer.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will answer by stating exactly the decision of the subcommittee. The matter is ongoing. The subcommittee granted the Minister for Foreign Affairs the authority to contact the new administration, as I did several years ago when I held that portfolio. I was the first Minister in the European Union to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I was the first Minister to demand from the USA administration that Ireland should not be used for rendition and I received guarantees to that effect before any other member state of the European Union.

It was agreed by the subcommittee that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will contact the new administration to seek a clear statement that extraordinary rendition will cease and would not resume during the new US presidential term, that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would close and that intensive interrogation techniques such as water-boarding, which is considered by international agreement to constitute torture, would be clearly prohibited. The subcommittee further agreed to strengthen as necessary the legislative provisions and review the statutory powers available to civil and police authorities in the jurisdiction allowing search and inspection of aircraft, including those provided under the Air Navigation and Transport Acts in the context of the obligations on the State under the Chicago Convention. The subcommittee also agreed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would make a statement setting out the steps to give effect to human rights training in the Garda Síochána as agreed in the programme for Government and the powers, resources and duties of the Garda Síochána for inspection of aircraft.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter of importance, namely, the need for the Government to ensure the amendment to the working time directive does not impact negatively on opportunities for women in the labour market. It is very important we have a say in the scrutiny of EU legislation. The working time directive has served as very important legislation in recent years. It established a framework in which workers have been protected against excessive working hours and wage exploitation. There has been much progress in recent years in Ireland and throughout Europe in increasing opportunities for women to enter the workforce and remain in the labour market, to share to a greater extent with men domestic and family responsibilities, and to achieve parity of pay and opportunity among genders. Much of the country’s progressive legislation in providing increased opportunities for women has come from Europe, which is important to acknowledge.

[310]However, the draft amendment to the working time directive agreed by the Commission last month could result in a move back in time rather than forwards. I urge the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to do all she can to have the current proposals reviewed in three particular areas.

The draft directive allows for an opt-out clause on setting the working week at 48 hours. If the opt-out is retained and availed of in Ireland, it will have a disproportionate affect on women. If employers are allowed to force employees to work more than 48 hours in an average working week, it will mean women more than men will have to reconsider their positions in employment, given their traditional role as carers in the home which often makes many women reluctant to work long hours outside the home. Moreover, with the flexibility proposed for the health care sector, the imposition of long hours in the caring professions could deter many women from remaining in employment in what are often female dominated sectors.

The second item of concern relates to the length of the working week. In the initial proposal for amending the directive, the maximum reference period for calculating the average maximum working week of 48 hours was four months. The proposal to extend this reference period to 12 months through collective bargaining or other legal protections, along with the proposed opt-out clause, could mean that 12 and not four months becomes the norm.

If irregular and unpredictable working hours become the norm for part-time and full-time workers, as might well happen following this proposal, many women could find themselves in an impossible position as they try to secure and retain work schedules which are incompatible with child care support, one of the key determinants of many mothers’ ability to enter the labour market.

I seek the Minister’s views on the “on-call time” proposal. My understanding is that this proposal would allow for inactive periods at work, such as time when a person is on-call or certain travelling time, to be treated either as working time or as rest time. It is possible that such a provision could exacerbate the current gender gaps in terms of choice for women and men in the labour market. On-call time must be counted as real working time so that women and men can be given the best possible chance of being designated full-time.

I ask the Minister to remember that the draft directive promotes the reconciliation of work and family life. If this directive is really to support work and the position of women within the workforce, then the issues of opt-outs, reference periods and on-call time need to be seriously re-examined.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The consolidated EU directive on working time, which has been transposed into domestic legislation, represents a key instrument on working hours. In that respect, it is a very important achievement which has established standards in the areas of health and safety for workers. These core standards embody periods of daily and weekly rest, breaks, annual leave, maximum weekly working time, night work, shift work and patterns of work.

Since 2005, the European Union has considered and discussed a review of this key legislation. The European Commission began this process with a draft set of proposals, to which the European Parliament proposed amendments during its first reading. Subsequently, the European Commission’s amended proposals, which had regard to the outcome of the first reading by the European Parliament, were the subject of detailed consideration at the European Council.

[311]Agreement was reached in June 2008 on this long-standing sensitive legislative instrument under the Slovenian Presidency, when Ministers agreed by majority vote a common position on the proposed amended working time directive. The agreement reached on 9 June provides for transposition of the amending working time directive into national legislation within three years of its adoption. The common position agreed in June on this long-standing draft reflects a delicate and balanced compromise, reached after consideration at the European Council under more than six EU Presidencies.

With regard to the individual opt-out for workers working more than the average 48 hours per week, the amending directive provides for new built-in safeguards and limitations, stricter reference periods and review and evaluation clauses. These will act as further constraints against working unlimited and irregular working hours, which are to the detriment of the heath and safety of workers concerned. Under the amended proposal, a distinction is made between active and inactive periods of on-call time at the work place. The common position makes no change to active on-call time, but would allow inactive periods to be treated either as working time or rest time, according to national law or collective agreement.

The proposed amending directive is gender neutral, applying in equal measure to men and women. In its transposition of the original EU directive, Ireland did not avail of the opt-out nor have we any plans to do so. The outcome of the political agreement reached at the European Council represents a delicate balance aimed at achieving a compromise solution to this outstanding sensitive dossier. The Government has no reason to believe that the revised directive represents a negative outcome that poses a matter of particular concern to the position of women in the work force. We must now await the outcome of the second reading in the European Parliament, as outlined under the co-decision procedure.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the giving me the opportunity to raise with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the need for a Garda station in Donaghmede, in order to meet the policing needs of the people of Donaghmede, Clongriffin and the north fringe area.

The Donaghmede, Balgriffin and Clongriffin areas have seen a massive explosion in population, with an estimated 25,000 housing units built in the past few years. However, some residents do not feel fully safe because they do not have a local Garda station and a regular police presence on the ground. This forces residents to use the services of the nearest Garda station, which is located in Coolock. The resources of the Coolock Garda station are currently over-stretched, as it has not got the manpower to attend to the needs of the people of Clongriffin and Donaghmede. Constituents living in these areas have informed me that Garda patrols are a rarity. This is alarming as we are living in a society where criminals are on the streets. Just last week, an innocent person in Limerick was gunned down by a criminal. Deputy Charlie Flanagan recently pointed out that there have been 127 gangland murders in the last 11 years, with only 14 convictions. People are living in fear as these criminals walk the streets untouched. There is no deterrent against committing murder in this country because it is a known fact that life sentences in Ireland are far too lenient, with the average life sentence a mere 13 years. When in Government, Fine Gael will introduce a mandatory life sentence of 25 years.

In 2006 there were six murders in six months in the Donaghmede area, but thankfully the number of murders has dropped since then. The number of violent raids on businesses has increased this year and will keep increasing as unemployment continues to rise. In July there were two ATM robberies, one at the Bayside Shopping Centre and the other at an ATM on [312]the Howth Road. There was also a botched raid on the Bank of Ireland premises on the Malahide Road in Northern Cross. In August, the Centra shop in Clongriffin was raided and shop workers were assaulted, leaving at least one staff member hospitalised with minor injuries. An armed robbery also took place at Kilbarrack post office. This is very frightening for local people.

The northern fringe is located in Dublin 13 between Donaghmede and Baldoyle. The population exploded during the housing boom. Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council granted planning permissions over a number of years. People were promised many facilities that would cater for their needs. Residents living in the area were promised a DART station years ago, and it is now not expected to be built until next year. Roads in the area are in a bad state and many of the housing estates built during the building boom are unfinished.

We in Fine Gael have campaigned for years for a Garda station to be built in Donaghmede in order to service the local people. A petition was signed by people in the area and delivered to the Minister before the last general election. We want to see a Garda station which will be manned by members of the public and not by gardaí, who we need to be out policing the streets. There is currently an unacceptable level of anti-social behaviour and traffic offences in the area, as a Garda presence is missing. The gardaí are working to the best of their ability, but local Garda stations at Howth, Raheeny and Coolock do not have enough staff. I hope the Minister will look into providing another Garda station, because people want to see such a building in the area, as it will reassure them that they are safe.

Deputy Seán Haughey:  Unfortunately, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is unavailable, so I will take this Adjournment matter on his behalf. I have listened with great interest to what the Deputy had to say. I know the area quite well, and it was my understanding that Dublin City Council’s north fringe area action plan was planning at its best. These housing estates, including those in Clongriffin, were very much part of an integrated planning process. I would be very disappointed to hear that the first real effort at integrated planning by Dublin City Council is not as successful as might have been expected.

  5 o’clock

In accordance with section 22 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, proposals on the opening and closing of Garda stations are a matter, in the first instance, for the Garda Commissioner in the context of the annual policing plans. There are currently no proposals for the opening of an additional Garda station in the area to which the Deputy refers. The Minister has been advised by the Garda authorities that local Garda management is satisfied that a full and comprehensive policing service is being delivered to the Donaghmede and Clongriffin area. The Garda authorities have also informed the Minister that, in their view, the opening of a new Garda station in the Donaghmede and Clongriffin areas would be incompatible with contemporary policing policy in the division. It is the view of the Garda authorities that this would result in valuable Garda resources being diverted from outdoor, operational policing to indoor administration duties.

The Donaghmede and Clongriffin areas are policed primarily from Coolock Garda station, which forms part of the Dublin metropolitan north division. The area is subject to regular patrols by uniformed and plain-clothes personnel, supplemented as necessary by personnel attached to the divisional and district detective unit, drugs unit, the divisional task force, the divisional traffic unit and the community policing unit, as well as the Garda mountain bike unit.

Significant additional personnel resources have been assigned to Coolock Garda station in recent years. The total personnel strength of Coolock Garda station as at 31 December 2002 was 84. On 30 September this year, the personnel strength of Coolock Garda station was 117. [313] This represents an increase of 33, or almost 40%, in the number of personnel allocated to Coolock Garda station since 2002.

The Minister is assured by the Garda authorities that the situation concerning the policing needs of this area will be kept under review. When additional personnel next become available, the needs of Coolock Garda station and the Dublin metropolitan north division will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

The Minister is also informed by the Garda authorities that a review of existing divisional boundaries within the Dublin metropolitan region will be conducted in 2009 with a view to aligning divisional and district boundaries with the four local authority areas. Any changes that may result from this review will take account of the local needs of residents in the areas concerned.

The Minister is also assured that Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources and that the best possible Garda service is provided to the public — an objective which he believes we would all support.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak about developing the peace process in Colombia. Ireland has had a long history of political conflict, but in recent years we have been using the experience of our own peace process to assist other countries in resolving serious political problems through dialogue and inclusive negotiations. A number of years ago, I visited Colombia and met there with politicians, Red Cross personnel, trade unionists, community activists and guerillas. I gave a commitment to return to Ireland and put their efforts to create a peace process on the political agenda. I have spent the last six years pushing behind the scenes and will continue to do so.

I have also met with representatives of the Colombian Civic Coalition, Como-Soc, in order to kick-start a peace process in that country. When I visited Colombia in 2002, I gave a commitment to civic groups that I would support them. I have been pushing this agenda with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other experts in recent times. I wish to commend José Antonio Gokerez and Ibet Garcia for their great peace work, as well as the members of Grupo Raychez.

I thank our Government for the €3.3 million in Irish aid for projects in Colombia. The way forward is through such projects, in addition to dialogue and inclusive negotiations. I also wish to pay tribute to President Chávez of Venezuela and thank him for his efforts to develop a peace process in Colombia.

However, for the past month Colombia has been in a state of turmoil due to popular unrest caused largely by the repressive nature of the current regime. In September, two big strikes took place. The first one was called by ASONAL, the trade union representing workers in the judicial sector. This strike, which only demanded an increase in wages according to law, was met with hostility that led to the government declaring a state of emergency on 9 October. This measure was designed to allow the government to dismiss workers and appoint others, and to intervene in some attributions of judicial powers. The hostility between the supreme court and the executive is well known and it has been seen as a way to advance intervention in that area. Needless to say, this measure of dealing with a strike is considered inappropriate, inadequate and extremely repressive.

[314]The other big strike was by sugar cane cutters, which started on 15 September, to demand better wages because of the increased profits sugar cane planters are getting thanks to the biofuel business. They also sought an end to the practice of indirect hiring. The response of the government was immediately repressive, sending ESMAD riot police to clash with the workers, leaving many of them wounded. Without any solid proof, the same government accused strikers of being infiltrated by FARC guerillas. This is an extremely serious accusation in the Colombian context. Nonetheless, the government is infamous for labelling all of its political opponents as FARC undercover agents.

On 22 October, three spokespersons for the strikers were arrested — Oscar Bedoya, Omar Cedano and Juan Pablo Ochoa — but no serious evidence was produced against them. They were accused of incitement to riot, only to be released without charge two weeks later. This heavy handed approach is typical. A United Nations delegation recently denounced mass arrests and the fact that 5,600 people in Colombia are detained without trial. In addition, two advisers of opposition Senator Alexander Lopez were arrested on that date, accused of infiltrating the protest. Their names are Alberto Bejarano and José Oney Valencia. This is an attempt to criminalise the right to express solidarity with protestors. At present, the strike is on the way to being resolved in terms largely favourable to the workers. It is a shame, however, that workers must go through all of this in order for their pleas to be heard.

On 12 October, various indigenous demonstrations demanded a solution to the problem of land and a halt to the unpopular FTA negotiations with the United States. During the demonstrations many protesters were wounded and at least three were killed in the Cauca area alone. Taurino Ramos Valencia was killed on 14 October, while Elber Ibito and Jesús Antonio Nene died on 22 October. Before the march, other indigenous people were assassinated by paramilitary gangs in collusion with local authorities. They included Luz Marina Morales, Mauricio Largo and César Largo.

Violence against indigenous people has been on the rise. They have been accused, once again without proof, of being infiltrated by FARC. If any infiltration was proven, it was done by soldiers infiltrating the march on the orders of their superiors. One of them, named Daniel Chaparral, was caught by the indigenous people while infiltrating the demonstrations with home-made explosives and FARC literature.

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

Deputy Finian McGrath:  At the moment, the indigenous people are on the march to the capital, Bogotá. I urge the Minister and the Government to heed and support the Colombian Civic Coalition, Como-Soc, and Grupo Raychez in their efforts to develop a peace process and to push this agenda at European level and at the United Nations.

Deputy Seán Haughey:  The process of moving towards peace in Colombia has seen significant developments during the course of this year, and this is an opportune moment to consider the current situation. Deputies will recall the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages in July of this year, which was welcomed by the world as a signal that the situation in Colombia is changing. This high profile development was just one step towards a more stable Colombia and there is no space for complacency in any process of this kind.

The internal conflict in Colombia has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and has been characterised by kidnappings and other gross violations of human rights. As a direct result of the conflict, it is estimated that over 3 million people have been displaced internally, second [315]only to the numbers seen in Sudan. Serious concerns remain regarding the protection of human rights defenders and the persistence of extra-judicial killings.

The involvement of paramilitary groups in the drugs trade, and particularly cocaine, of which Colombia is the largest international source, has contributed to the persistence and extent of the conflict. This trade not only continues to be a major cause of destabilisation in Colombia, but the consequences of the traffic in cocaine can also be seen on our own streets, leading to tragic loss of life.

Ireland and other EU partners closely monitor the situation in Colombia. This includes monitoring the internal civil strife, the related issue of the production and trafficking of illegal drugs and the human rights situation. The EU has expressed its support for the Colombian Government’s policies aimed at ensuring the rule of law, legality, security of persons and human rights. At the same time, the EU has also condemned systematic breaches of the most fundamental human rights, including the rights to life and liberty, perpetrated by all groups in Colombia.

Since 2005, the process of bringing an end to terrorism in Colombia has been taken forward under the justice and peace law. This law provides a legal framework for the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into Colombian society. The law was adopted through a lengthy democratic political process and strikes a difficult balance between working towards an eventual peace and delivering justice.

The process of peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the right-wing paramilitary group, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC, began in 2003, with more than 30,000 combatants having been demobilised on completion of the process in 2007. Negotiations between the major left-wing guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC and the government have not yet commenced.

Ireland has supported the ongoing development of the peace process financially through Irish Aid. In particular, multiannual support has been provided to the Organisation of American States to monitor the peace process. This funding has assisted the organisation in supporting the significant progress in demobilisations. The organisation also works closely with the Colombian National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliations, which is one of the main Colombian organisations overseeing the peace process and places particular emphasis on victims.

In the development of any peace process it is vital to ensure that the focus on victims and on human rights is maintained. Ireland has also supported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to independently monitor the human rights situation and support the Organisation of American States in its mission. In December of this year the third session of the universal periodic review, UPR, process of the UN Human Rights Council will be held in Geneva. Colombia is one of the countries scheduled to be under review. This will provide an opportunity for Ireland and its partners in the EU to, once again, raise the issue of ongoing human rights abuses in Colombia.

The rescue of Ms Betancourt, the change in leadership of the FARC and the most recent statements made by that organisation indicate that a situation may be emerging that might lead to a new phase in which negotiations leading towards a lasting peace can begin. In order to assist in bringing about such a peace, the Government monitors the situation in Colombia on an ongoing basis through our embassy in Mexico City, which is accredited to Colombia, as well as in co-operation with our EU partners with resident diplomatic missions in that country. Ireland will continue to fully support efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict in [316]Colombia through working with our EU partners and supporting the Government of Colombia in its search for a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict, including through direct engagement.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. On behalf of the teachers, parents and pupils, I would like to express my deep frustration this evening at the lack of progress in advancing the Scoil Eoin school project at Balloonagh, Tralee. I would like to make an appeal directly to the Minister and the Department to honour their commitment of 24 April 2007, when it was announced that Scoil Eoin was one of the 56 large-scale projects approved to advance to the next stage. This announcement was made in the run-up to the general election of May 2007 and would now appear to have been made as a vote-winning exercise.

Approximately 48% of the pupils of Scoil Eoin are housed in prefabricated buildings, which include 11 classrooms and one special education room. Some 27% of the pupils are in a building over 100 years old, which has not been modernised and has cramped conditions. Mechanical and electrical services in Scoil Eoin fall short of the requirements of current electrical regulations. No mainstream classroom or special education classroom in the school meets the current Department of Education and Science planning guidelines for primary schools. The energy rating of the school does not reach the minimum standard, there are no parking or set-down facilities and buildings do not comply with fire regulations and health and safety standards.

Other challenges for the school include a lack of hot water and information technology problems, due to dampness and humidity in the buildings. The teachers of new Irish students and special education pupils must collect their pupils from different buildings and return them to the classrooms. Valuable teaching time is wasted in transit since 20% of tuition time is spent walking. There is also a risk to children’s safety as they travel between buildings and to teachers’ safety due to access to classrooms, because there is no holding area.

Attempts to provide a replacement school at Scoil Eoin go back almost ten years to July 1999, when the Department of Education and Science sent a team of architects to compile a report on the condition of the building. In January 2002 a feasibility study was completed providing three options for Scoil Eoin. On 21 November 2006 a technical team from the Department of Education and Science, comprising of Paul Egan, John Harnett and Shirley Kearney, visited Scoil Eoin. Following this visit and a subsequent commission on school accommodation report, which strongly recommended a new school building for Scoil Eoin, the management board was confident that progress was being made.

The announcement of 24 April raised hopes further and in May 2007 the Department recommended that, as a result of long-term projected staffing, the new school would comprise 24 mainstream classrooms, two special classes and appropriate special education rooms, offices, general purpose rooms and staff rooms. However, the process stopped here. A design team should have been appointed in June 2007 but the project has never left the architectural planning stage.

In February 2008, the principal and members of the board of management met the then Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, at Kerry Airport. She informed them that she recognised “the school is high priority”. She said they should not be concerned that they had not yet moved to the design stage and that the list of schools to be progressed to design stage had not yet been issued for that year.

[317]In its current situation, the school is in no man’s land as it cannot access any grants, summer works or otherwise, to resurface damaged playgrounds or engage in emergency works while being approved for a new building. There are numerous potential risks to the safety of pupils, staff and parents in the school’s current circumstances. Due to the long-term problems that the school continues to face and the failure of the Department of Education and Science and various Ministers to keep their word, Scoil Eoin is struggling to operate in an almost impossible situation.

I take this opportunity to recognise the commitment and dedication of the principal and staff at the school. Scoil Eoin is recognised in Tralee and beyond for the quality of its teachers, pupils and wide curriculum. To keep pace with modern trends in education it urgently needs the rebuilding and refurbishment of the current premises.

There seems to be a particular problem in Tralee with school accommodation. New school buildings were promised for Blennerville, Listellig and Tralee’s Educate Together school. These examples represent three major problems to be added to that facing Scoil Eoin. If the Minister of State cannot give a positive response this evening I appeal to him to at least pass my words on to the Minister and the Department so that the next stage, appointment of a design team, can be reached.

Deputy Seán Haughey:  I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to this House the Department’s plans for the proposed building project for Scoil Eoin national school, Tralee, County Kerry. Scoil Eoin national school is a coeducational facility at junior level and a single sex girls school at senior level. It has a current enrolment of 567 pupils. The staffing level is a principal, 21 mainstream assistants, one permanent special class teacher, one temporary special class teacher, three temporary language support teachers, four permanent learning support-resource teachers and one temporary resource teacher for Travellers.

The school authority has applied to the Department of Education and Science for large scale capital funding for an extension project. It is the Department’s intention to provide the school with permanent accommodation for a principal, 24 mainstream assistants and ancillary accommodation appropriate to a school of this size. As the Deputy is aware, the project is awaiting the appointment of a design team.

The Deputy will also probably be aware that all applications for large scale capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department against published prioritisation criteria which were formulated following consultation with the education partners. Under these criteria, each application is assigned a band rating which reflects the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them. Projects are advanced through the school building and modernisation programme in accordance with the band rating assigned to them. There are four band ratings in all under the criteria with band 1 being the highest and band 4 the lowest. Each band rating has a number of sub-categories which more specifically describe the type of works needed and, again, the urgency attaching to them.

The building project for Scoil Eoin attracts a band 2.1 rating which reflects the fact that a significant extension and refurbishment project is needed. Unfortunately, due to the level of demand on the Department’s capital budget, it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe as to when the design team appointment for this project can be made. However, a band 2 rated project has the second highest band rating possible, which means that the project is well positioned to proceed once the funding is available to allow the design team appointment. As with all large scale capital projects, the progression of the project from the appointment of [318]the design team and initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department’s multiannual school building and modernisation programme.

The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €581 million, which represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding, at a time of great pressure on the public finances, is a sign of the Government’s very real commitment to investing in school infrastructure and it will permit the continuation of the enormous progress made under the last national development plan when 7,800 school building projects were completed. The Government looks forward to building on this progress with an unprecedented allocation of €4.5 billion under the current national development plan. The Department of Education and Science will consider the advancement of the project for Scoil Eoin from initial design stage through to construction phase in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme on this basis.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this matter and assure him that progress on the proposed project for Scoil Eoin will be made commensurate with the priority attaching to it and as soon as the requisite funding is available. I will take on board his comments in the House and convey them to the Minister and the Department.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 November 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 10, inclusive, answered orally.

  11.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the changes he proposes to make to arrangements in respect of prison visiting committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40271/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A Visiting Committee is appointed to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925. Members of Committees are appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a term not exceeding three years. A Committee should have a minimum of 6 members and a maximum of 12 members. The function of Visiting Committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. The Visiting Committee have free access either collectively or individually to every part of their prison. They report to me any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they think may be urgently needed. It is the normal practice for each Visiting Committee to submit an annual report which is published on the Department’s website.

Questions have occasionally been raised as to whether there is duplication between the role of the Inspector of Prisons and that of the Visiting Committees and whether the structure of Visiting Committees is the most cost effective model.

Having considered the matter I am satisfied that there is no duplication of roles. The Inspector of Prisons is a professional full time office dedicated to carrying out regular inspection of prisons and reporting to me on their management and operation. It is not the function of the Inspector to hear complaints from individual prisoners. In contrast Visiting Committees involve a number of lay people, who are dedicated to one institution and who do have a function to listen to complaints by individual prisoners. The Visiting Committees and the Inspector of Prisons perform separate but complimentary roles in ensuring independent oversight of our prison institutions. As to cost effectiveness, I note that the cost of Visiting Committees has in fact been reduced in recent years.

[320]Acknowledging the important role which the Visiting Committees play in each of our prisons I have recently reviewed the level of membership across all the Committees. I have come to the view that whilst we need to have a mix and range of skills on the Committees there is no reason why a committee of nine members could not perform the important functions assigned to it. I have therefore decided that for the future, unless cogent reasons otherwise require it, the aim should be to have nine rather than twelve members on each Committee. I believe that a more streamlined committee can, in fact, be more focused in its approach thus ensuring that prisoners have access to this layer of independent oversight which compliments the work of the Inspector of Prisons and other international oversight bodies, such as the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

  12.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the quantity and values of seizures of heroin, cocaine, cannabis and other drugs within the State during 2007 and to date in 2008; the proportion of the overall flow of drugs into the country that is believed to be represented by these seizures; the new initiatives he is planning to control the flow of illegal drugs into the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40177/08]

  16.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of drug related convictions made in this State for the years 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007; the percentages of drug related convictions as an overall figure for all convictions in the same years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40331/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 16 together.

I set out below tables provided by the Garda Authorities which show the quantities and estimates the street value of the most significant drugs analysed by the Forensic Science Laboratory for 2007 and provisional figures for 2008.

In relation to statistics for convictions, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Central Statistics Office(CSO) is responsible for the compilation and publication of such statistics, and my Department has requested the CSO to forward all relevant available information to the Deputy.

Given the clandestine nature of this illegal activity it is extremely difficult to quantify with any degree of certainty the proportion of drug seizures made in this jurisdiction by our law enforcement authorities in relation to the overall volumes of drugs being trafficked. Any estimate is, therefore, speculative.

The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem through our current National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of my colleague and Minister of State Mr. John Curran, T.D., is the lead Government Department in coordinating the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and is currently overseeing the process of developing our new Strategy for the years 2009-2016.

My Department’s remit in this area, while not exclusively, is primarily in the area of drug supply reduction, and drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government’s drug policy framework.

[321]I am advised by the Garda authorities that in addition to the considerable volumes of drugs which continue to be seized, of which last week’s huge cocaine haul is further evidence, significant impact has been made in 2008 by arresting and prosecuting a number of major players involved in drug trafficking through the importation,sale and distribution of drugs.

A significant number of crime gangs involved in this type of criminal activity have been disrupted and dismantled.

To further assist in our law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking, a number of new initiatives have been introduced. Some specific examples of these include the following:

The establishment in January 2008 of the Organised Crime Unit on a permanent footing which now has a full time staff of seventy officers assigned to it.

Our active involvement in the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) MAOC(N) in Lisbon, the merit of which was very publicly demonstrated last week.

The provisions introduced in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 which have provided for further measures which will enhance the powers of the Gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences.

The ringfencing of €21 million in the 2009 Estimates to enable Operation Anvil to continue with targeted disruption of serious and organised criminal activity throughout the country.

The continued increase in the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána. Its attested strength will increase to almost 14,900 by the end of 2009, from its current attested strength of 14,267.

Finally, I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to keep the measures for tackling all forms of drug trafficking under review. The enforcement of the law relating to drugs continues to be a key element in the Government’s policing priorities and this is reflected in An Garda Síochána’s Policing Plan for 2008.

Drug Seizure data

The Garda authorities advise that the following tables provide the quantities and estimated street value of the most significant drugs analysed by the Forensic Science Laboratory for 2007 and provisional figures for 2008.

Drug Seizures (to date in 2008 as at 11 November)*

Drug Type Quantity Estimated street value
Cannabis 828.950 kg 1,687,900
Cannabis Resin 5,102.530 kg 35,717,710
Cocaine 1,877 kg 131,390,000
Diamorphine (Heroin) 161.700 kg 32,340,000
MDMA (Ecstasy) 196,341 Tablets 1,963,410

[322]Drug Seizures 2007

Drug Type Quantity Estimated street value
Cannabis 725.222 kg 1,450,444
Cannabis Resin 1,167.285 kg 8,170,995
Cocaine 1,718.499 kg 120,294,930
Diamorphine (Heroin) 117.854 kg 23,570,800
MDMA (Ecstasy) 12.516kg + 119,134 tablets 1,316,500
Amphetamine 54.993kg + 10,395 tablets 980,820

  13.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the steps he will take to deal with the increasing problem of violence in prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40284/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  While the prison regime is designed to limit the scope for acts of violence, it is simply impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of such acts in prisons holding a high proportion of violent offenders without introducing a “lock-down” regime that would be unacceptable in human rights terms.

The growth of organised criminal gangs outside prison has had obvious consequences within the prison system itself. The manner in which these groups operate on the outside is now, in fact, being mirrored on the inside and presents a significant challenge to the Irish Prison Service. I am fully conscious of the Irish Prison Service’s difficult task in providing safe and secure custody for those placed into custody. This is one of the main reasons for the introduction of recent security initiatives including airport style security screening including x-ray machines and scanning equipment, the establishment of Operational Support Units dedicated to and developing expertise in searching and gathering intelligence and targeting specific security problem areas, the establishment of a Drug Detection Dog Service within the Irish Prison Service, the segregation of a number of serious drug and criminal gang members in a high security unit in Cloverhill Prison and the use of phone detectors and phased installation of telephone blocking technology.

I can also advise the Deputy that prison management, in order to ensure the safety of prisoners, immediately separate prisoners seeking protection from the general prison population or from specific prisoners identified as presenting a threat.

It is at the committal stage that the majority of prisoners seek protection. External influences imported to the prison on committal include gang rivalry, drug debts and perceived co-operation with the Gardaí. On committal, all prisoners are interviewed by the Governor and based on the information available, a decision is made as to where a particular prisoner will be accommodated.

On occasion, a prisoner may be placed on protection by the Irish Prison Service. From time to time intelligence becomes available to the Irish Prison Service which dictates that it may be prudent for particular individuals to be put on protection, for that individual’s own safety. This is not, however, a frequent occurrence.

[323]I am pleased to be able to advise the Deputy that recent figures indicate that the incidents of violence in our prisons has decreased significantly since the introduction of the new security measures.

  14.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he will take regarding overcrowding in the State’s prisons in view of the fact that Thornton Hall is two years behind schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40303/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Over the last 12 months the numbers of persons in custody has increased by 10% and the total number of persons serving sentences has increased by 14%.

This indicates the effectiveness of this Government’s policy of providing additional resources to the Gardaí and the Courts as well as the effectiveness of the substantive body of new criminal law enacted in recent years.

I am committed to continuing with the prison building programme in order to meet current and future anticipated demand for prison spaces. The record of this Government on putting resources into our prison system speaks for itself. Since 1997 in excess of 1,300 prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. These include the new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the Dóchas Centre and a refurbished wing in Limerick Prison. Current developments will provide an extra 400 prison spaces by summer 2009 by means of:

a new block in Portlaoise Prison which will accommodate approximately 150 prisoners which is due to open in the coming months,

a new remand block in Castlerea Prison which will accommodate approximately 100 prisoners which is due to be completed in early 2009,

a new block in Wheatfield Prison which will accommodate 150 prisoners which is due to be completed in the summer of 2009.

Most recently over 30 extra spaces have been made available at the open centre at Shelton Abbey and a further 40 spaces have been made available at the open centre at Loughan House. It it important to bear in mind when we are talking about prison numbers that our prisons have contingency plans in place whereby they can accommodate numbers above their ideal working capacity.

These new developments will provide us with a significant level of new and refurbished accommodation until the opening of Thornton Hall.

It had been hoped to sign a contract before the end of this year. However while negotiations with the preferred bidder are at advanced stage they have not yet been completed and it is now clear that it will not be possible to have a contract signed this year. The construction of the new prison is expected to take three years from the date the contract is awarded.

All Public Private Partnerships involve a level of complexity but you will appreciate that the Thornton Hall project is particularly complex as it involves the construction of more than 30 buildings including 8 prison facilities as well as extensive rehabilitation facilities and perimeter security.

[324]The overall Irish Prison Service capital programme will also ensure the elimination of the unacceptable practice of slopping out and will effectively complete the modernisation of the prison estate to meet best international standards in terms of custody, care and rehabilitative opportunities.

  15.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when the promised legislation on civil unions will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40185/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Deputy will be aware that my proposals, in the form of heads of a Civil Partnership Bill, were published on 24 June 2008 following the approval of the Government. Formal drafting of the Bill by Parliamentary Counsel is now well advanced and I can confirm, in line with the indication in the Government Legislation Programme as announced on 23 September 2008, that the Bill is expected to be published in early 2009.

I think it is well recognised that the Bill is detailed and complex. The Bill is being drafted to ensure that the constitutional protection of the institution of marriage is fully protected.

I can confirm that the scope of the Bill, in summary, is as follows:

Firstly, it will provide for registration of civil partnerships by same-sex couples, together with a range of rights and duties consequent on registration, including in relation to succession, pensions, shared home, tenancy rights, maintenance from partner and protection from domestic violence. Only same-sex couples may register as civil partners.

Secondly, it will establish a cohabitants’ redress scheme for unmarried opposite-sex and unregistered same-sex cohabitants giving protection to an economically dependent “qualified cohabitant” at the end of a long-term relationship. Under the scheme a qualified cohabitant is someone who has been living with another person in an intimate relationship for three years or more, or where the couple are the parents of a child, for two years or more.

The redress scheme will allow a vulnerable economically dependent partner, at the end of a relationship whether by break-up or bereavement, to apply to court for certain reliefs, including for provision from the estate of a deceased partner, or for maintenance or pension or property adjustment orders.

Finally, the Bill will provide for recognition of cohabitant agreements enabling cohabitants to regulate their joint financial and property affairs. Cohabitants who make a cohabitant agreement may opt out of the redress scheme.

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 12.

  17.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of asylum applications which have been deemed withdrawn in each year from 2000 inclusive to date in 2008 due to their failure to inform the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of their change of address; the number of such persons who have been issued with an intention to deport notification; the number deported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40063/08]

[325]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Immigration Act 2003, contained a number of key changes to the Refugee Act, 1996 which enabled the processing of asylum applications to be speeded up and enhanced the state’s ability to deal with abusive applications. These changes included the imposition on applicants of a clear statutory duty to actively pursue their asylum applications and co-operate at all times with the processing agencies or face having their applications deemed withdrawn.

The most common reasons for an application to be deemed withdrawn are where an applicant fails to attend for an interview at the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) without reasonable cause; an applicant fails to co-operate with the Refugee Applications Commissioner after having lodged his or her application; or an applicant fails to notify the Commissioner of his or her postal address or change of address.

Statistics are not maintained in a way which distinguishes between applications deemed withdrawn on the basis of applicants failing to notify the Refugee Applications Commissioner of their postal address or change of address and applications deemed withdrawn for other reasons.

Figures in relation to asylum for the years 2000 to October 2008 are appended to my Reply. These figures show that since 2003 almost 5,799 asylum applications have been deemed withdrawn. In 2007 applications deemed withdrawn amounted to 1,777. To 31 October of this year the figures is 607.

Where an asylum application is deemed to be withdrawn the applicant is served with a notice of intent to deport under section 3(3)(a) of the Immigration Act, 1999. A person served with a notice of intent to deport is afforded certain options, viz. to leave the State voluntarily; to consent to the making of a Deportation Order; to make an application for subsidiary protection; or to make representations in writing within 15 working days setting out reasons as to why a Deportation Order should not be made and why temporary leave to remain in the State be granted instead.

Statistics are not maintained in a way which distinguishes between deportations effected arising from applications deemed to be withdrawn and other deportations. The overall number of deportations issued and effected in the period from 2003 to end of October 2008 is set out below.

Table 1 — Asylum applications deemed withdrawn 2000-2008 (31/10) (excluding asylum applications where the application was transferred to another Dublin Convention State)

Year Asylum applications deemed withdrawn
2000 n/a
2001 n/a
2002 n/a
2003 402
2004 1,734
2005 802
2006 477
2007 1,777
2008 (31/10) 607

[326]Table 2 — Deportation Orders Issued and Effected 2003 — 2008 (31/10)

Year All Deportation orders issued* All Deportation orders effected*
2003 1,960 591
2004 2,068 599
2005 2,185 396
2006 1,374 302
2007 404 135
2008 (31/10) 495 95

Section 22(8) of the Refugee Act (as amended), provides that where an asylum application has been transferred to another Convention country for examination or to a safe third country, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn; see figures in Table 3 below.

Table 3 — Transfer Orders Effected 2003-2008 (31/10)

Year No. of asylum applications transferred to Convention countries
2003 0
2004 65
2005 209
2006 294
2007 225
2008 (31/10) 226

  18.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí operating as juvenile liaison officers; the proportion of personnel this represents; if he has plans to increase the numbers having regard to the success of schemes operated by JLO’s; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40183/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the number of Gardaí operating as Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLO’s) on 30 September 2008, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 105. The overall strength of An Garda Síochána on 30 September 2008 was 14,284. The number operating as JLO’s represents 0.74% of the overall strength.

The Commissioner has approved the appointment of 7 Juvenile Liaison Officers per year for the period 2007- 2010. The National Juvenile Office (N.J.O.) has examined the areas which will benefit most from the creation of the additional 7 new Juvenile Liaison Officers, (J.L.O.) posts for 2008. In deciding on the locations, the following matters were taken into consideration:

The number of children referred to the Diversion Programme over the past three years;

The number of JLO’s currently employed in each Division;

The social background of the location under consideration;

[327]The geographical size of the area to be covered by existing JLO;

Demographic trends;

The work demands on the JLO.

Taking all these matters into consideration, the NJO recommended that a JLO be appointed in each of the following areas:

DMR South (Tallaght);

DMR West (Finglas);

DMR North (Coolock);

Tipperary;

Cavan/Monaghan;

Limerick;

Kerry.

The position in the DMR South (Tallaght) was filled on 15th April 2008. Appointments are imminent to the positions in the DMR West, DMR North, Tipperary and Limerick and competitions have commenced to fill the positions in Kerry and Cavan/Monaghan. It is intended that additional JLO’s will be appointed over the next two years.

  19.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the average time taken to process applications for residency within his Department; if he will confirm that applications received in January 2007 are only now being processed; the reasons for such a long delay; the steps being taken to speed up the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40193/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  While the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) deals with numerous types of applications for residence in this State, I assume the Deputy is referring to applications for long term residence.

The current Long Term Residence Scheme was introduced in May 2004 and operates on an administrative basis. This administrative scheme is focused on persons who have been legally resident in the State for over five years on the basis of work permit, work authorisation or work visa conditions. Such persons may apply to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) for a five year residency permission. In that context they may also apply to be exempt from employment permit requirements. The dependants of the aforementioned, who have been legally resident in the State for over five years may also apply for long term residency. However, this particular long term permission does not grant an exemption from employment permit requirements to any such dependants. Time spent in the State on student conditions cannot be counted towards long term residency.

An important provision in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, 2008 provides for the introduction of a new, enhanced and statutory long-term resident status. This status will be available to those who have completed at least five years satisfactory residence in the State [328]and can meet certain conditions. These include the requirement that the foreign national be of good character, tax compliant, can demonstrate a reasonable competence in the Irish or English language, has made reasonable efforts to integrate and has been supporting him or herself and any dependants without recourse to publicly-funded services.

The Bill also provides a mechanism for a “fast track” to Long Term Residence in certain circumstances. It is intended that green card holders will be able to apply for long term residence after two years, which is by any standards a very generous approach. Long term resident status will confer rights that approach those of Irish Nationals and bring with it access, for the foreign national and his or her qualifying dependants, to the employment market and State-funded services and benefits. The benefits enjoyed by holders of this status are an acknowledgement that, over time, those who migrate to Ireland contribute increasingly to society and the economy and have earned this status and the stability it brings.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the applications that the INIS receives are diverse in nature and generally of a very high volume, and the processing times vary considerably according to the nature and circumstances of the scheme in question. In all instances, processing arrangements are kept under ongoing review and steps are taken to reduce waiting times where this is feasible having regard to available resources and overall priorities.

There has been a very significant increase in applications for long term residence in recent years. The INIS has recently allocated additional resources to deal with these applications and this has seen an improvement in the processing arrangements with the number of applications finalised on a monthly basis in the region of 400. The INIS has taken these steps with a view to providing an improved customer service to applicants for long term residency and incrementally, an improvement in processing times. Resource allocations are kept under constant review having regard to overall priorities.

  20.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will reopen the independent living support programme funded through the Disability Equality Unit; the other initiatives or support available through his Department which promote independent living for people with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40239/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  While my Department has a key role in the development of disability equality policy and legislation, it is not directly involved in the provision of services for people with disabilities. These services are mainstreamed to the relevant Departments. However, from time to time my Department provides funds for schemes which are usually stand-alone and / or aimed to develop innovative pilot projects.

In connection with the programme referred to by the Deputy, the following is the position. In November 2006, my Department invited applications for funding under one such scheme, the Independent Living Support Programme. This once off scheme provided €5.7 million to voluntary organisations for capital projects to purchase equipment such as wheelchairs, beds, hoists, adapted furniture, vehicles, and other technologies and appliances which help people with disabilities live more independent lives. Sixty-four organisations have been funded under this once-off programme which is now closed. There are no plans to repeat this programme.

[329]In the past the Department has also supported independent living for people with disabilities through the Accessible Transport Funding Projects in 2005 and 2007 as well as the Enhancing Disability Services Programme 2005-2009.

In 2009, subject to resources being available, my priority in this area will be to complete the multi-annual investment programme through funding of the Enhancing Disability Services Programme. This programme is provided to support once-off projects that can demonstrate an innovative, efficient, collaborative and cost effective approach to service provision for people with disabilities which must also have the capacity to be mainstreamed in the future.

  21.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the recidivism levels within Irish prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40338/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service facilitated a major study of prisoner re-offending by the UCD Institute of Criminology. The study found that 27.4% of released prisoners were serving a new prison sentence with one year. This rose to 39.2% after two years, 45.1% after three years, and 49.2% after four years.

In the context of addressing recidivism, the Irish Prison Service provides a range of rehabilitative programmes which have the dual purpose of providing prisoners with purposeful activity while serving their sentences and encouraging and equipping them to lead productive lives on release. Prisoner rehabilitation involves significant multidimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service and in-reach statutory and non-statutory services. Amongst these are healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, educational, work and training, 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.

Significant progress is also being made in the development of programmes based on risk assessment and rehabilitation needs. The Irish Prison Service is developing and rolling-out, a fully coordinated Integrated Sentence Management System (ISM) across all prisons and places of detention. This system is being piloted in two prisons at the present time and the lessons learned from the evaluation of the pilot will inform the continued roll-out across the prison estate.

In addition, the Probation Service 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 such as offending behaviour, addiction, violence and sex offending.

  22.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he proposes to take arising from the recent report by the Inspector of Prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40319/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can advise the Deputy that I am determined to continue to progress initiatives in all of the areas mentioned by the Inspector. I am setting out some of the more important developments hereunder:

[330]Overcrowding

The Government has committed significant resources to the prison building programme. In addition to the 1300 extra prison spaces provided in recent years current developments will provide approximately 400 extra prison spaces by summer 2009. Included in this is a new block in Portlaoise Prison which will accommodate approximately 150 prisoners, a new block in Castlerea Prison which will accommodate approximately 100 prisoners and a new block in Wheatfield Prison which will accommodate 150 prisoners. I am confident that this significant expansion of prison accommodation will address the current high occupancy levels in advance of the opening of the new prison at Thornton Hall.

Sentence Management of Prisoners

The Irish Prison Service is currently engaged in introducing an enhanced model of sentence management for prisoners. The development and roll-out of the enhanced model (Integrated Sentence Management) 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 Probation Service also has a key 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.

Inter Prisoner Conflict

The continued roll out of enhanced security measures approved by the Government will contribute in a significant way to reducing inter prisoner conflict. Furthermore, prisoners identified as exerting undue influence or pressure over other prisoners will receive close attention and targeted searching from the Operational Support Group units.

The Prevalence of Drugs

One of the most important initiatives in the fight against the prevalence of drugs in the prison system has been the establishment of a Drug Detection Dog Service within the Irish Prison Service involving approximately 30 handling teams. There are currently 10 units in operation with a further 6 units to be in place by the end of the year (2008). Another important development is the introduction of mandatory drug testing which will — for the first time — provide reliable information on trends in drug misuse, enabling the identification and referral of drug abusers to treatment programmes, enabling enhanced focusing of resources and acting as a deterrent to drug misuse. At present, mandatory drug testing takes place in the Training Unit, St. Patrick’s Institution, Castlerea Prison, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey and the intention is to roll out a programme of testing to the remaining institutions by early 2009.

Mental Health Issues

As the Deputy knows the Irish Prison Service must accept all persons committed into their custody on foot of legal orders of the court. A person committed to prison may have or develop a mental illness. The Irish Prison Service is committed to healthcare standards comparable with those pertaining in the wider community outside prison. Prisoners have access to medical, [331]nursing, psychiatric and psychological services within the prison system. The psychiatric needs of prisoners are serviced by visiting psychiatrists.

The Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006 provides that where on the basis of medical assessment, a prisoner is considered to require specialist treatment that cannot be provided in prison that prisoner may be transferred to a designated centre for treatment.

My Department is working closely with the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive with a view to ensuring that the necessary mental health facilities are available to prisoners.

Loughan House

The Inspector’s report on Loughan House is broadly positive in nature. The Inspector stated that he was satisfied that Loughan House is run effectively and that it provides a safe environment for the prisoners detained there. Nonetheless, I want to assure the Deputy that I welcome the Inspector’s constructive comments. I am aware that the Irish Prison Service is considering the matters raised by him. In that regard a number of the minor issues of concern, for example the painting of stairwells, have already been addressed.

  23.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has received from the Garda Commissioner the report of the working group developing proposals for a comprehensive model of rural and urban community policing. [40181/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the report of the Working Group on the National Model of Community Policing is at present being considered by Senior Garda Management and I look forward to seeing the proposals which emerge from this.

The national strategies for Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert, both of which were launched in 2007, will also inform the organisation on how best to implement future crime prevention programmes and community policing programmes.

  24.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made to date with regard to implementation of the civilianisation programme within An Garda Síochána; the number of posts within the Gardaí which in 2002 were occupied by full members of the Gardaí and which are today held by civilians; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40191/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that 1,775 civilian personnel were employed in An Garda Síochána as of 31 December 2002. This figure represents the actual number of employees, including part-time employees, and is not a whole time equivalent figure as it was inadvertently referred to in my answer to the Deputy’s Question No: 32865/08 of 2nd October 2008.

The corresponding figure on 31st October 2008 was 2,638 employees which represents a whole time equivalent of 2,052. This significant increase in the number of civilians employed throughout the Force has been as a result of additional posts being created in the administrative, technical and professional areas.

It is important to note that civilianisation does not necessarily imply the direct replacement of Gardaí with civilians, but that it can take a number of forms. Firstly, there is the replacement [332]of sworn members, who are engaged in exclusively clerical, administrative or technical duties, with civilian staff. Secondly, there is the use of civilian support which allows sworn members who would otherwise have to perform some administrative duties to focus exclusively on front-line policing duties. Thirdly, there is the recruitment of civilians to perform new or expanded administrative, managerial and professional support roles in An Garda Síochána.

On this account, and because of the significant restructuring of roles, functions and business areas that has taken place at all levels of An Garda Síochána since 2002, it is very difficult to quantify the exact number of posts which, in 2002, were occupied by sworn members but which today are held by civilians. Furthermore, such an exercise would not reflect the full extent and impact of the Garda Síochána civilianisation programme to date.

Strategic planning of the next phase of the civilianisation programme is well underway. Arising from a recommendation in the third report of the Garda Inspectorate, the Commissioner has established a working group to review the potential for further civilianisation and to develop an integrated strategy for future civilianisation in the Garda organisation. This group is expected to report in late 2008.

  25.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made with regard to the establishment of joint policing committees throughout the State identifying at locations at which they are in operation and when is it expected that all committees will be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40278/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 7 of today’s date.

The JPC’s already established in the pilot phase are located in the following areas:

Fingal, Kerry, Offaly, South Dublin and Wicklow County Councils;

Clonmel, Drogheda and Sligo Borough Councils;

Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford City Councils;

Athy, Arklow, Ballinasloe, Birr, Bray, Cavan, Carrick-on-Suir, Edenderry, Greystones, Letterkenny, Mallow, New Ross, Tralee, Tuam, Tullamore, and Wicklow Town Councils.

In the particular case of Dublin City, there are also five subcommittees, corresponding to the operational areas of the City Council.

  26.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 292 of 29 October 2008, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Money Advice and Budgetary Service made a submission to the Law Reform Commission recommending the introduction of an out-of-court alternative debt resolution process and that a pilot scheme was launched by MABS, FLAC and the Irish Banking Federation six years ago; his views on whether the current economic climate heightens the urgency of such provision; and if he will make preparation for the introduction of legislation to this end. [40226/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have nothing further to add to my response to Question No. 292 of 29 October 2008 other than to confirm [333]that my Department has received a copy of the MABS submission to the Law Reform Commission.

  27.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the way he proposes to address the lacuna created by his decision to withdraw funding to projects (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40317/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can advise the Deputy that my Department, through the Probation Service, provides funding to over 50 voluntary bodies to assist with the management of offenders in the community. These funded projects provide a range of services to offenders in local communities, including training and education, offender management programmes, residential accommodation and drug and alcohol abuse treatment programmes.

The allocation for funded projects in 2008 is €19.393 million which represents 36% of the overall Probation Service budget. I am a strong advocate of developing partnerships with local communities to add value to the core work of the Probation Service. The funding we have provided in recent years is a measure of that commitment. I want to see community projects continue to work with the Probation Service to deliver a focused and measurable set of outcomes to the client group of the Service.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department, in association with the Probation Service, commissioned a ‘Review of Adult Probation Residential Facilities’ in 2007. The review was commissioned in order to examine, inter alia, the management structure, overall governance and operation of four residential facilities and the role of the Probation Service. The terms of the review included recommendations for the future of the facilities. The report was completed at the end of July 2008 and provides the Probation Service and my Department with a very valuable ‘blue print’ of how the four facilities are currently operating. A copy of the final report was made available by the Probation Service to each of the four facilities reviewed and each Board of Management was asked to examine the findings and the required actions needed.

The Boards of Management of the two projects that are the subject of this Parliamentary Question communicated their decision to effect closure of their projects to the Probation Service in October. The Probation Service is now developing a detailed new vision for the two facilities in question. I can assure the Deputy that the current residents of the two centres will be facilitated in accessing appropriate alternative accommodation and treatment facilities. The Probation Service will also identify the need for accommodation places for its clients in the area in question, and will liaise with the appropriate statutory and non-statutory bodies with a view to providing the most suitable, quality service for this client group.

  28.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he deems it appropriate for young people who require treatment such as psychiatric treatment to be located on the same site as other categories of prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40308/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can advise the Deputy that figures relating to 31 October, 2008 indicated that there were 56 male persons under the age of 18 in custody in St. Patrick’s Institution which is the designated detention centre for young male offenders aged between 16 and 21 years of age. Of these 40 were aged 17 and the remaining 16 were sixteen years of age.

[334]The enactment of the remaining sections of the Children Act with effect from 1 March, 2007 means that girls aged 16 and 17 years may only be remanded or committed to Oberstown Girls School and no girls under the age of 18 may be remanded or committed to an adult prison. Furthermore, until appropriate children detention school facilities are available, boys aged 16 and 17 may only be remanded to St. Patrick’s Institution and 17 year old boys can no longer be committed to adult prisons.

In the longer term the Youth Justice Service will take responsibility for the detention facilities for all boys under 18 years. The Irish Youth Justice Service have already taken over responsibility for the detention of boys under the age of 16 (at the time of remand or committal) and girls under the age of 18 (at the time of remand or committal) from the Department of Education and Science with effect from 1 March, 2007. Planning for the redevelopment and replacement of the existing children detention facilities has already commenced and the new facilities will provide accommodation for 16 and 17 year old boys. When the Irish Youth Justice Service is in a position to take responsibility for this group of boys, they will be detained in children detention schools entirely separate from adult prison facilities.

In the interim the separation of children and young adults in St. Patrick’s Institution has taken place in so far as is possible given the physical limitations of the St. Patrick’s site. The Special School (B Division) was opened in April 2007 specifically for this purpose. Inmates aged 16 and 17 now have a residential area, communal dining area, and education, work training and recreational areas that are separate from young adults. This has created a separate and enhanced regime for them.

The new prison facilities at Thornton will have a separate self-contained stand alone accommodation unit for 16/17 year old male offenders. The accommodation is being provided as an interim measure pending the provision of additional accommodation by the Irish Youth Justice Service.

Young people in need of in-patient psychiatric care in St. Patrick’s Institution are facilitated on site by in-reach services provided by psychiatrists from the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum. A consultant led psychiatric clinic is provided weekly in the institution where young people are seen and treatment provided as appropriate including referral to external facilities for treatment where warranted.

  29.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will report on the prison education service at St. Patrick’s Institution outlining the level of participation of young offenders on the scheme, the range of courses on offer and additional improvements which have been made to same over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40296/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In St Patrick’s Institution educational classes and courses are provided by a team of 20 whole-time equivalent teachers. The number of teachers increased from 12 to the current 20 in February 2007 following the opening of the new B Division. All young persons are interviewed on committal for both Work/Training and Education and offered places in one or other of these activities. While the primary focus is on basic literacy and numeracy, the educational courses offered cover a wide range of subjects including English, Maths, Computers, Art, Music, Home Economics and Guidance. A variety of subjects are offered up to Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate standard and various FETAC courses are on offer. Currently 115 prisoners are participating in [335]educational classes, with at least 60 attending on any given day. In addition, all inmates have access to library facilities and a fully fitted out gymnasium.

In addition, in the Work/Training area, a number of vocational workshops are currently in operation — covering Woodwork and Joinery, Metal Work, Computer Training, Industrial Cleaning and Industrial Skills. Some inmates also work in the kitchen and laundry areas, with others engaged in painting, general cleaning and horticultural work around the Institution.

St Patrick’s Institution also offers a range of in-house programmes in the areas of addiction awareness, treatment and counselling (i.e., drugs, alcohol) and takes a proactive approach in developing and maintaining links with a wide range of community and voluntary bodies. There are about 50 such bodies and groups with which the Institution engages and interacts either on an in-reach basis or with a view to securing post-release placements.

  30.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of members of the Garda Reserve recruited to date; the stations to which they have been allocated; the number of applicants for the Reserve currently in training; if he is satisfied with the rate of recruitment; when he expects that the full complement of 1,500 will be in place; if restrictions have been placed on recruitment to the Reserve arising from budgetary restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40188/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I believe that the establishment of the Garda Reserve is one of the most progressive innovations in policing in Ireland in recent years. It has strengthened the links between the Garda Síochána and local communities and is a source of local support and knowledge. Full-time and Reserve members are working well together and I believe that the positive impacts made since the establishment of the Reserve in late 2006 bode well for the future of the force.

At 10 November 2008, there were 331 attested Reserve Gardaí and 76 Reserve trainees. The 331 attested members currently operational are assigned to the following stations:

Dublin Metropolitan Region

Pearse St, Kevin Street, Kilmainham, Donnybrook, Store St, Bridewell, Fitzgibbon Street, Clondalkin, Finglas, Lucan, Ballyfermot, Blanchardstown, Ronanstown, Santry, Raheny Swords, Clontarf, Coolock, Ballymun, Balbriggan, Malahide, Howth Crumlin, Sundrive Road, Rathmines, Terenure, Tallaght, Rathfarnham, Dun Laoghaire and Blackrock.

Cork

Mayfield, Bandon, Gurranabraher, Midleton, Fermoy, Anglesea Street, Watercourse Road, Clonakilty, Macroom and Togher.

Other Regions

Sligo, Galway, Tuam, Henry Street Limerick, Ennis, Tralee, Waterford, Tramore, Kilkenny, Wexford, New Ross, Gorey, Enniscorthy, Arklow, Wicklow, Baltinglass, Bray, Newbridge, Celbridge, Naas, Kildare, Carlow, Clonmel, Cahir, Carrick on Suir, Tipperary town, Nenagh, Thurles, Cavan town, Monaghan town, Drogheda, Dundalk, Ashbourne, Trim, Kells, Navan, Castlebar, Westport, Ballina, Mullingar, Longford, Letterkenny, Tullamore, Portlaoise, Carrick on Shannon and Roscommon.

[336]An Agreed Programme for Government has set a target strength for the Reserve at 10% of the full-time strength of the force. In the Annual Policing Plan for 2008 the Garda Commissioner has set a target of recruiting 270 Reserve members this year. As the Garda Reserve depends on volunteers who undertake their training and other duties during their free time, it is difficult to predict how many people will commence training in any particular period. However I can assure the Deputy that the Garda Commissioner is making every effort to reach the recruitment target.

Recruitment is ongoing and the Public Appointments Service (PAS) has received 3,729 new applications to join the Reserve already this year up to end October. The PAS hold interviews on a rolling basis at a range of locations around the country. The ongoing public information campaign to recruit members to the Garda Reserve includes indoor and outdoor awareness raising campaigns and radio and TV promotional interviews nationally and locally.

  31.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of Garda personnel engaged in providing driver and security services to Members of the Government, members of the Judiciary, former Taoisigh or former Government Ministers; the annual payroll cost in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40173/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Commissioner that there are 56 members of An Garda Síochána permanently assigned to duties as Garda Protection Officers to 28 designated persons including the President, Taoiseach, Cabinet Ministers, former Taoisigh and members of the Judiciary. In addition, a further 27 members of the Garda Síochána are also designated as relief Garda Protection Officers, for relief tours of duty with the designated persons.

The total payroll expenditure in this area is expected to be over €6m in 2008.

  32.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on recent figures showing that there are more than 10,000 registered heroin addicts here, which reflects the continued widespread availability of heroin; the additional measures he is taking to cut off the supply of heroin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40174/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following table provides details of heroin seizures for the years 2004 to 2008 inclusive:

Heroin seizures 2004-2008 (to date)

Year Volume
2004 26.4 Kgs
2005 32.2 Kgs
2006 128 Kgs
2007 117.8 Kgs
2008* (to date) 161.7 kg

[337]In terms of availability, while heroin still predominates in the greater Dublin area, seizures are recorded in each Garda region throughout the State. The recent publication by the Health Research Board which indicated that over 10,000 individuals are seeking treatment for heroin addiction partially reflects both the increases available in treatment services and the extent of heroin use.

While indications are that the number of seizures of heroin continue to increase in 2008 and that while seizures of heroin are concentrated in the greater Dublin area, there have been seizures of heroin in every Garda Region. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following steps have been taken by the Garda Síochána to address the sale, supply, importation and distribution of illegal drugs: 1. the allocation of additional resources to National Units involved in combating illegal drug-trafficking and organised crime gangs; 2. enhanced co-operation and co-ordination between National Units and District and Divisional Drug Units in identifying and targeting those persons identified as involved in the sale, supply and distribution of illegal drugs and local level; 3. continued collaboration with the Revenue Commissioners (Customs & Excise Branch), the Naval Service and other international law enforcement agencies, including participation at the Maritime Analysis Operations Centre (Narcotics), in identifying and targeting those involved in the importation of illegal drugs into this jurisdiction; 4. increasing public awareness of issues relating to the sale, supply and distribution of drugs, through working with communities and community groups to encourage co-operation with the Garda Síochána; and 5. ongoing training programme for personnel as Divisional Asset Profilers, who have the specific remit of targeting assets of persons who are suspected of being involved in the importation, sale and supply of drugs at local levels.

Overall, the Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem through our current National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of my colleague and Minister of State Mr. John Curran, T.D., is the lead Government Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and is currently overseeing the process of developing our new Strategy for the years 2009 to 2016.

My Department’s remit in this area, while not exclusively, lies primarily in the area of drug supply reduction. Drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government’s drug policy framework.

To further assist in our law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking, a number of new initiatives have been recently introduced. Some examples of this includes the following: the provisions introduced in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 which have provided for further measures which will enhance the powers of the Gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences; the ringfencing of €21 million in the 2009 Estimates to enable Operation Anvil to continue with targeted disruption of serious and organised criminal activity throughout the country; the continued increase in the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána. Its attested strength will increase to almost 14,900 by the end of 2009, from its current attested strength of 14,267.

I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to keep the measures and resources for tackling all forms of drug trafficking under review. The enforcement of the law relating to drugs continues to be a key element in the Government’s policing priorities and this is reflected in the Garda Síochána’s Policing Plan for 2008.

  33.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the strength of An Garda Síochána at the latest date for which figures are available broken down by full members, those who have attested but not yet concluded their training, those in training [338]and the expected number that will be recruited during 2009; the anticipated numbers at each category at the end of 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40169/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána on 30 September 2008, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 14,284.

The number of students in training as of 30th September 2008 is as follows:

Phase I: 282

Phase II: 561

Phase III: 231

Phase IV: 831

Phase V: 273

I should point out that members in Phase IV and V are fully attested members and are accounted for in the total strength of the Force. On 30 September 2008 there were 1,074 students on Phases I – III of the training programme. It is expected that approximately 1,000 students will complete their Phase V training during 2009 and it is also expected that some 840 students will be attested in 2009.

Recruitment to the Garda Síochána will continue with approximately 400 recruits joining the force by the end of 2009. The projected strength of the force at the end of 2009 is 14,900.

  34.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of stationary speed cameras in use; the areas in which they are used; when he expects this system to be extended nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40241/08]

  78.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the status of the national speed camera programme; the estimated commencement date for rolling out the national speed camera programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39847/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 78 together.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are currently three fixed cameras rotated between posts at various locations in Louth Division, Meath Division and in the Dublin Metropolitan Region. The emphasis of Garda speed enforcement is on the use of mobile speed cameras and their capacity in this area has been substantially enhanced recently.

In accordance with the Government’s Road Safety Strategy, a tendering process for procuring an outsourced safety camera network is under way, the contracting authority for which is the Garda Síochána. Following a two stage tender and evaluation process, a preferred bidder has been identified.

The use of fixed cameras in the outsourced network may be relevant at a small number of locations but because of the characteristics of the State’s road network, mobile cameras will predominately be used.

[339]I am further informed by the Garda authorities that they are considering a request by one of the unsuccessful tenderers for clarifications. When the issues raised have been addressed, the Garda Síochána will 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. The 2009 Estimates provide €10 million in the Garda Vote for the provision of the service.

  35.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of persons, broken down between children and adults, given anti-social behaviour warnings since the new system came into operation on 1 January 2008; the number of anti-social behaviour orders sought in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40189/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Part 11 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which provides for civil proceedings in relation to anti-social behaviour by adults, was commenced on 1 January, 2007. Part 13 of the Act, relating to anti-social behaviour by children, was commenced on 1 March, 2007. These provisions set out an incremental procedure for addressing anti-social behaviour by adults and children. With regard to children these range from a warning from a member of the Garda Síochána, to a good behaviour contract involving the child and his or her parents or guardian, to referral to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme and to the making of a behaviour order by the Children’s Court.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that from 1 January, 2007 to 31 October, 2008, 907 behaviour warnings were issued to adults and from 1 March, 2007 to 31 October, 2008, 548 behaviour warnings were issued to children. There have been 12 formal good behaviour contracts agreed from 1 March, 2007 to 30 September, 2008.

In setting up the scheme in the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the intention was that these warnings or good behaviour contracts would themselves address the problem behaviour. It is only if they fail that a court order will be applied for. Where warnings or good behaviour contracts do not succeed in altering a person’s behaviour, they will culminate in an order being sought by the Garda authorities from the courts.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that there have been three applications for civil orders (adult) to the courts between 1 January 2007 and 30 September, 2008, which resulted in one being issued and two refused.

There have been three applications for behaviour orders (children) by the Garda Síochána between 1 March, 2007 and 30 September, 2008, which resulted in two being issued and one refused.

  36.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the funding provided since the establishment of the Office for Integration to groups involved in migrant integration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33558/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Conor Lenihan):  For 2008, an amount of €9.293 million was allocated to my Office in the Estimates. This is being used to create new funding lines and establish a new Ministerial Council on Integration as outlined in my policy statement, Migration Nation, as well as to support existing initiatives.

[340]In line with the policy I have announced, a special emphasis is being placed on new funding initiatives, for example grants to local authorities and national sporting bodies. I have set aside €1 million for local authorities in 2008 and I have approved grants of €505,000 to sporting bodies.

Since the establishment of my Office, actual expenditure and planned expenditure for the remainder of 2008 under the European Social Fund to support immigrants in gaining employment and/or further education and training amount to €486,000 approximately. €4.4 million has been made available for other integration-related projects such as, for example, initiatives to support the integration of legally resident immigrants. My Office also operates a small grants scheme to support community and voluntary efforts at a local level. Expenditure on this, since I took office and planned for 2008, is about €500,000.

In addition to the above measures, which are funded in 2008 from the €9.293 million allocation in respect of my Office, €1.2 million was made available from the European Refugee Fund and a further €1.5 million from the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals. Pobal is administering these Funds on behalf of my Office.

  37.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if it his intention to relocate a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 11 to the proposed new national child detention facility for young offenders at Lusk, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40326/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Barry Andrews):  In March 2008, the Government agreed to the development of a new national detention facility to cater for all children up to 18 years who have been ordered to be detained by the Courts. The facility will be developed on a single site at the existing Oberstown campus in Lusk, Co Dublin and planning is currently under way for its development on a phased basis. The Government also decided at that time to establish a working group to consider the future of the site and a future role for the Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre. I am informed that the group has met and is expected to report to me shortly.

  38.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by the Irish Human Rights Commission regarding the implications for it of the decision to cut by 24% the commission’s budget for 2009; if he plans to meet the commission to discuss these concerns; if he will give an undertaking that adequate financial provision will be provided to allow the commission to discharge its statutory functions, particularly having regard to the role for the commission set out under the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40164/08]

  59.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason for the cut of 43% in the allocation for the Equality Authority for 2009; if he will give an undertaking that adequate financial provision will be made to allow the authority to discharge all its statutory functions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40166/08]

  64.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement detailing the rationale underpinning the decision to fully integrate the facilities, back office, administrative services and access to citizens of the Human Rights Commission and Equality Authority and to cut their combined budget by approximately
40%; the way it is envisaged that this integration will operate in view of the fact that the [341]Equality Authority are decentralising to County Tipperary while the HRC are remaining in Dublin; if he will offer guidance to the HRC on the way it should meet its full operating costs on a new budget of €1.6 million when its staff costs alone stand at €1.5 million; his views on the conclusion of the HRC that the new budget is unworkable; and if he will reconsider and reverse the cut. [40224/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 38, 59 and 64 together.

The context in which financial provision has been made by the Government for the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority for 2009 is as indicated in the Budget announcement of 14 October 2008. In both cases, while I accept that reduced budgets will cause some difficulties, I also consider that there is sufficient funding provided in 2009 for these bodies to enable them to discharge their core activities. My Department is, of course, available to assist them in every practical way that is possible. I am willing to meet with these bodies to discuss the implications of the Budget for their operations.

I would also remind the Deputies that the provision in 2009 for the Equality Tribunal — the body which actually adjudicates on individual claims of inequality — has been increased by 15% to reflect the priority which I feel should be give to persons who have a grievance in this respect.

On a more general level, I should also state that as I indicated in my contribution to the budget debate I had decided that the main priority in the Justice area in 2009 will be tackling crime. In that regard, decisions about funding reflect that priority with the result that in a small number of areas budgets have been reduced significantly. Moreover, in line with Government policies generally I have asked all bodies to significantly reduce their spending on consultants, advertising and promotional activities and other non core items.

In relation to the matter of integrating administrative and back office facilities between the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission, my Department is currently examining the issues which need to be addressed in order to achieve these efficiencies. These areas are likely to include shared IT and telecommunications facilities as well as office accommodation which is being addressed in the context of the decentralisation to Roscrea of the remaining elements of the Equality Authority. I also understand that the two organisations themselves have already had discussions in order to move matters forward.

Both of these agencies currently operate from separate Dublin City centre office premises which have a cumulative per annum rental cost of over 800.000 euro. I firmly believe that significant efficiencies and savings can be realised by both bodies — and possibly others as well — sharing office facilities. Moreover I can also state that further substantial savings will be realised by the completion of the transfer of further Equality Authority staff to Roscrea. These savings are likely to be of the order of 300,000 euro or about 10% of its budget.

Finally, I can also state that I am prepared to agree at this stage, that savings may be used by both of the bodies in question to supplement their budgets in meeting the costs of discharging their core functions. I want to emphasise that this does not mean an increase in the published budget of either body and neither does it mean that the savings in question can be used for advertising or any other public relations type activities. In other words, I do not propose to redistribute the savings to meet other expenditure requirements across my Vote Group.

Question No. 39 answered with Question No. 6.

  40.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,    further [342]to Parliamentary Question No. 992 of 24 September 2008, if the strategic document to outline the vision, mission and objectives of the National Disability Strategy has been completed; if not, when he expects it to be completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40240/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have already indicated in response to Question No. 992 of 24 September 2008, that a strategic document on the National Disability Strategy which will outline the vision, mission and strategic objectives under the Strategy is due to be finalised later in the year and will be published as soon as possible afterwards. That remains the position.

  41.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the first five reports of the Morris Tribunal; the recommendations that have not been accepted or that have still to be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40163/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As I indicated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 87 of 2 October, the disturbing events uncovered by the first five Morris Reports have been the subject matter of strong action on the part of the Government. This includes: the passage of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the most significant piece of legislation relating to the Garda Síochána in the history of the State, the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission with almost 100 staff — including its own investigative staff, the establishment of the Garda Inspectorate with its international policing expertise, as a source of independent and expert advice for the Minister, new more streamlined discipline regulations,the imposition on members of a legal duty to account for their official actions, the empowerment of the Garda Commissioner, with the consent of the Government, to dismiss a member of garda, sergeant or inspector rank where he has lost confidence in the capacity of the member to discharge his or her duty and where dismissal is necessary to maintain public confidence in the Force, new promotion regulations and a competency based promotion system, a whistleblowers’ charter and the appointment of an eminent former senior civil servant as a Confidential Recipient .

Other areas of organisational development and modernisation are being progressed within the terms of reference of the Garda Síochana’s published Corporate Strategy 2007 to 2009 including a number of specific change projects under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner, Strategy and Change Management. These changes are indicative of unprecedented reform and a new era in policing and will go a long way to ensuring that the events in Donegal will not be repeated.

Other recommendations of the Morris Tribunal, in particular those contained in the most recent published reports, remain under consideration.

  42.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the details of the assessment of the bail procedures introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2007; his views on whether further amendments to the operation of the bail system are required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40061/08]

  57.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the steps he proposes to take, legislatively or otherwise, to ensue that no person charged with such serious crimes as murder, rape, grievous bodily harm or any form of gun crime are granted bail [343]by the Courts in cases were the Garda Síochána express concerns that they will re-offend or intimidate witnesses, thereby frustrating the administration of justice and the prevention of crime and with obvious consequences for the safety of the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40340/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 57 together.

The law already takes a serious view of offences committed by persons on bail. The Criminal Justice Act, 1984 provides for mandatory consecutive sentences to apply where a person is convicted of an offence committed while on bail. In addition, the law provides that the fact that an offence was committed while on bail must be treated as an aggravating factor at sentencing and that the court shall impose a sentence that is greater than that which would have been imposed otherwise, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 amended the 1997 Act and other statutes governing the law on bail with the aim of facilitating a stronger challenge by the prosecution to applications for bail by persons charged with serious offences and of further improving decision-making by the courts.

The stringent provisions include 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. The Act also provides that a Garda Superintendent may give an opinion that bail should be refused on the grounds that the applicant is likely to commit a serious offence if granted bail. The prosecution authorities are also given the right to appeal against decisions to grant bail or, where it is granted, the conditions attaching to it.

Interference with witnesses is a long established ground for the denial of bail. Every criminal case where the Garda Síochána considers the possibility of intimidation of civilian witnesses may be an issue is closely monitored throughout the investigation, up to and including any criminal proceedings. In circumstances where the senior investigation officer has identified a witness who is crucial to the case and the evidence to be preferred is not available elsewhere and there is a serious threat to the life of the witness or their family, an application can be made, with the consent of the witness, to have him/her included in the Witness Security Programme.

Where a Garda investigation team becomes aware of any threat to, or intimidation of, witnesses or potential witnesses such incidents may be addressed through the trial judge, who may decide to revoke bail or put some other sanction on the suspect. The incident will be subject of thorough investigation by the Garda Síochána and an investigation file will be submitted to the Law Officers.

Where information comes into the possession of An Garda Síochána indicating the possibility of such criminal activity it is the subject of thorough investigation and an investigation file will be submitted to the Law Officers. Where there is justification and a legal basis, those suspected of involvement in the criminal activity are arrested, detained and questioned in relation to specific crime. The series of new provisions included in the Criminal Justice Act, 2007 designed to tighten up on the granting of bail have been in operation for just 15 months.

An Agreed Programme for Government includes a commitment to conduct a formal annual review of the new measures in relation to bail introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2007. The issue of establishing a formal review mechanism will be addressed at the appropriate stage.

  43.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the amount paid out in compensation or legal costs arising from claims against members of the [344]gardaí in respect of assault, illegal arrest and other reasons in respect of each year from 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40192/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The information requested by the Deputy concerning the amounts paid out in Court awards and out of court settlements in relation to actions taken against members of the Garda Síochána relating to assault, unlawful arrest or other breaches of citizens’ rights is set out in the following table.

Actions taken by Civilians against Gardaí

The number of cases settled/or awards made by the Courts are shown in brackets

Year Category of payment Assault UnlawfulArrest Other Overall Total
2002 Awards 1,270(1) 3,809.21(1) 56,500(2)
Settlements 166,924.48(6) 106,835.58(10) 185,078.82(11)
Costs 230,769.67 148,714.19 340,486.45
Total 398,964.15 259,358.98 582,065.27 1,240,388.40
2003 Awards 11,000(1) 10,000(2) 4,870(2)
Settlements 75,000(4) 303,011(5) 112,814.84(4)
Costs 145,561.70 71,794.28 542,075.73
Total 231,561.70 384,805.28 659,760.57 1,276,127.55
2004 Awards 15,000(1) Nil 3,215.06(1)
Settlements 198,697.48(5) 73,007(5) 50,500 (3)
Costs 231,646.62 100,019.36 266,713.57
Total 445,344.10 173,026.36 320,428.63 938,799.09
2005 Awards 1,000.00(1) 2,025,321.00(3) 85,125.00 (2)
Settlements 130,250.00(7) 1,569,114.00(9) 58,000(2)
Costs 137,447.90(10) 658,508.78(10) 205,466.85(15)
Total 268,697.90 4,252,943.78 348,591.85 4,870,233.53
2006 Awards 18,076.32(1) 41,443.80(3) Nil
Settlements 386,200.00(17) 622,000(15) 606,500.00(8)
Costs 187,797.28(11) 60,983.61(10) 28,983.93(3)
Total 592,073.60 724,427.41 635,483.93 1,951,984.94
2007(Provisional) Awards 97,500.00(2) Nil 5,246,047.00(4)
Settlements 238,000.00(8) 1,297,000.00 (10) 4,451,000.00(34)
Costs 485,944.95(10) 1,488,193.20(9) 1,125,597.19 (29)
Total 821,444.95 2,785,193.20 10,822,644.19 14,429,282.34
2008 (Provisional) to 10/11/08 Awards 12,500(1) 5,500(1) 12,500(1)
Settlements 468,000(13) 52,524.34(5) 390,157.58(17)
Costs 816,847.70(15) 650,968.42(14) 1,819,581.56(23)
Total 1,297,347.70 708,992.76 2,222,239.14 4,228,579.60

  44.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has received communication from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission regarding a possible public interest inquiry into the circumstances in which serious drug charges were dropped against a person (details supplied); if the internal Garda inquiry into the same affair has been concluded; if he has received a report from the Gardaí on their inquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40170/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have previously informed the House that I have received an interim report from the Garda Commissioner on a particular case involving a convicted drug dealer. I am awaiting a full report from the Commissioner as soon as certain inquiries he was having undertaken have been completed.

The House will also be aware that I agreed to a request from the Garda Commissioner that the interim report provided to me should be forwarded to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The Ombudsman Commission has indicated that they have opened an investigation relating to the case. The Ombudsman Commission are well placed to look into all aspects of this case and to establish the full facts. There is on-going communication between An Garda Síochána and the Ombudsman Commission in relation to this case.

I believe that, in all the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to make any further comment about the case pending the outcome of that investigation. If any action is required on my part as a result of that investigation then, of course, I will take it.

  45.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of tenders received and the difference in price there was for the development of the proposed new national child detention facility for young offenders at Lusk, County Dublin; when it is expected that the tender will be awarded; when construction will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40293/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Barry Andrews):  In June 2008 the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform undertook a tendering process to appoint an architect led design team for the development of a new national children detention school. An Evaluation Board was established to assess the 11 bids received in response to the tender request, and a Process Auditor was appointed to oversee the process.

Prior to any decision being made with regard to identifying a preferred bidder, it was decided on foot of advice from members of the Evaluation Board to terminate the tendering process and to consider re-tendering. In the meantime discussions took place with the OPW with regard to that office’s possible role with the bringing forward of the project. The OPW indicated that in light of recent developments it is now in a position to undertake the design process on behalf of the IYJS. Those firms which submitted bids in response to the tender request have been notified that the tender process has now been terminated. The decision to avail of the resources now available from the OPW will ensure that the IYJS achieve best value for money from the Exchequer funding allocated to progress the project.

The OPW will now liaise with the IYJS and with the detention schools to develop the design for the new facilities in order to tender for the construction element of the project in mid 2009 at which stage the development costs of the project will be known. Construction will take place over 2 phases in order to ensure that the existing detention schools can continue to operate [346]and provide places to the Courts until such time as the new facilities are available. Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed in 2012 and Phase 2 in 2014.

  46.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he has taken or plans to take arising from the report of the Hartnett Inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied) in Clonmel in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40179/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As indicated in my reply to Parliamentary Question Number 99 of 2 October, the findings of the Hartnett Report have been accepted. I am constrained in what I can say due to the fact that civil proceedings instituted by the Rossiter family are still ongoing and an inquest into Brian Rossiter’s death has yet to be concluded. I understand, in fact, that the Inquest is due to resume again on Wednesday next, the 19th.

In my earlier Reply of today I also indicated that a Chief Superintendent had been appointed under the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 2007 to deal with disciplinary matters arising from the Report. The question of discipline for members is, in the first instance, a matter for the Commissioner and I understand that one member has been dealt with under that process and the process is ongoing in respect of two others.

  47.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied that structures in place to allow garda vetting are functioning efficiently and effectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40324/08]

  62.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement on the capacity of and delays experienced within the Garda vetting unit in relation to checks on prospective employees working with children; if his attention has been drawn to reports of the practice of employers in other fields who are insisting that candidates request their files from the gardaí under the Data Protection Acts; his views on whether this may be exacerbating the aforementioned delays; and if he will take steps legislative or resource based to address those delays. [40225/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 62 together.

The Garda Central Vetting Unit (GCVU) provides employment vetting for a number of organisations in Ireland, registered with the Unit, which employ personnel to work in a full-time, part-time or voluntary capacity with children and/or vulnerable adults. The procedure is also conducted for fostering and the Adoption Board. The service being provided is continually being extended, on a phased basis to such organisations.

There are a total of 66 personnel attached to the Unit. A Garda Inspector has overall responsibility for the provision of the services of the Unit.

The current average timeframe for the processing of vetting applications is four weeks from the date of receipt unless further enquiries are necessary to ascertain the outcomes of recent court cases. All organisations registered for Garda vetting are aware that processing times are established as being from the date or receipt of valid application forms at the GCVU and have been advised to factor this into their recruitment processes. Applications from registered [347]organisations for Garda vetting includes a section signed by the subject of the application giving permission for the relevant information to be provided to the organisation.

The Garda authorities advise that a significant upsurge in applications has been recorded in the past two months, which coincides with the re-opening of third level institutions and which have submitted vetting application forms for students who may have access to children and or vulnerable adults during placements which may form part of particular educational courses being provided.

Applications are also received at the GCVU pursuant to Data Protection provisions. Under Section 4 of the Data Protection Act 1988, as amended, an individual is entitled to access to personal data held about that individual. The disclosure of such data is intended for personal use only. Disclosure of data in compliance with a request under Section 4 states that the information does not constitute proof of no convictions and it does not amount to a Garda Certificate or reference. The Section 4 provision reflects the purpose of the Act, namely to protect individuals with regard to the processing of their personal data. It is not a means of vetting and its use by employers could be deemed to amount to an infringement of Section 5 of the Data Protection Amendment Act 2003.

  48.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will reverse the decision contained in Budget 2009 to cut funding to the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, the result of which will be the closure of their office and laying off of all staff, the potential loss of a €4 million EU funding programme and ultimately the loss of the collective expertise built up by them. [40228/08]

  75.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the basis for the decision to abolish the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Inter-Culturalism; the anticipated financial savings arising from this move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40165/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Conor Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 75 together.

The Government announced, as part of the Budget measures, that funding to the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) would cease and its functions would be absorbed into my Office to be administered directly by it.

The NCCRI has received funding from the Justice, Equality and Law Reform Vote throughout the past decade and has done valuable work in combatting racism and promoting diversity. However, the establishment of my Office and the new arrangements outlined in my statement, Migration Nation, mean that we must review the purpose of existing expenditure and, in this context, I believe that it was appropriate to cease this funding and absorb the functions of NCCRI into my Office.

  49.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on recent figures showing that in the past five years just 54.5% of persons charged with drink driving offences have actually been convicted in the courts; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this is well below the rate in most other countries; if he will review procedures for dealing with such offences in view of the low conviction rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40196/08]

[348]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following table shows the number of drink-driving related incidents recorded on PULSE from 2003 to 2007, the number of proceedings commenced, convictions recorded and rate of conviction for those incidents.

Year Drink-driving incident types recorded (total) Proceedings Commenced Convictions Proceedings concluded (Non-conviction**) Drink-driving incidents currently outstanding*** Conviction Rate
2003 11,491 9,939 6,661 2,321 957 73%
2004 12,168 10,493 7,414 2,007 1,072 71%
2005 14,076 12,143 8,708 1,868 1,567 72%
2006 18,602 15,344 11,154 1,915 2,275 73%
2007 19,837 15,960 10,682 1,759 3,519 67%

It should be noted that not all drink-driving related incidents recorded automatically result in the commencement of proceedings for such an offence.

The conviction rate by its nature increases over time as cases are disposed of by the courts. Consequently the conviction rates for earlier years will be higher than for later years.

I am also informed by the Garda authorities that as part of the latest upgrade to the Pulse system scheduled for mid November, applications for summonses by the gardaí will be electronically routed to Courts Criminal Case Tracking System which will in return issues the summons, and electronically notify the gardaí through PULSE of the court date and outcome in due course. This will result in savings to both organisations as well as enhancements to the accuracy of the Garda criminal records system.

The following revised reply was received on Thursday, 20th November 2008:

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following table shows the number of drink-driving related incidents recorded on PULSE from 2003 to 2007, the number of proceedings commenced, convictions recorded and rate of conviction for those incidents.

Year Drink-driving incident types recorded (total) Proceedings Commenced Convictions Proceedings concluded (Non-conviction**) Drink-driving incidents currently outstanding*** Conviction Rate
2003 11,491 9,939 6,661 2,321 957 67%
2004 12,168 10,493 7,414 2,007 1,072 71%
2005 14,076 12,143 8,708 1,868 1,567 72%
2006 18,602 15,344 11,154 1,915 2,275 73%
2007 19,837 15,960 10,682 1,759 3,519 67%

It should be noted that not all drink-driving related incidents recorded automatically result in the commencement of proceedings for such an offence.

[349]The conviction rate by its nature increases over time as cases are disposed of by the courts. Consequently the conviction rates for earlier years will be higher than for later years.

I am also informed by the Garda authorities that as part of the latest upgrade to the Pulse system scheduled for mid November, applications for summonses by the gardaí will be electronically routed to Courts Criminal Case Tracking System which will in return issues the summons, and electronically notify the gardaí through PULSE of the court date and outcome in due course. This will result in savings to both organisations as well as enhancements to the accuracy of the Garda criminal records system.

  50.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of occasions in 2007 and to date in 2008 in which grenades, bombs and improvised explosive devices have been used; the number of occasions in each year when the Garda called on the assistance of the Army ordinance unit to deal with such devices; his views on the increased use of such devices by criminal elements; the steps being taken to curb the use of such devices, particularly having regard to the danger they pose to the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40172/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that to date in 2008 there have been 91 incidents involving grenade, pipe bomb or other improvised devices in the Dublin Metropolitan Region. A Defence Forces Explosives Ordnance Device (EOD) team attended 71 of these. In 2007 there were 24 such incidents and an EOD team attended at 17.

Investigation by the Garda Síochána into recent incidents involving the use of pipe bomb attacks are continuing.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that Garda strategies in responding to incidents involving pipe bomb attacks are firmly focused on disrupting these activities. Where sufficient evidence is available to warrant the bringing of criminal prosecutions this will be done.

  51.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to the system of electronic tagging with full details of the operation of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40060/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The enabling provisions to allow for the use of Electronic Monitoring are provided for in the Criminal Justice Acts of 2006 and 2007.

As the Deputy will appreciate any decision to introduce Electronic Monitoring here, as a component of penal policy development, must be informed by a detailed analysis of the costs, advances in technology, the offender cohort most suitable and the likely overall impact on reducing recidivism and preventing crime.

I have an open mind on how Electronic Monitoring might assist in penal policy formulation having regard to prisoner numbers. That is why I have asked my Department to keep developments in other jurisdictions under close review. This will allow us to make informed decisions at a future date on how Electronic Monitoring might assist with the management of a particular group or groups of offenders in this jurisdiction.

  52.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his intentions in respect of the Denham report regarding a court of appeal; if he plans to legislate in this connection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40198/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Government appointed Mrs. Justice Susan Denham to chair a high-level Working Group to consider the complex issue of the establishment of an intermediate appellate court. Its work commenced in March last year (2007). The Group completed an interim report in March 2008. The Group is now proceeding, under its terms of reference, to prepare a final report, incorporating the interim report, on the Constitutional, legal and practice and procedure changes which would be required for such a major development in our courts system. When the final report is available, the Government will consider the matter further.

  53.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if the undertaking given to bring forward legislation to regulate management companies and their performance in respect of apartment dwellers has been abandoned; if not, when the legislation will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40200/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Deputy will be aware that this is a complex issue which involves a number of Government Departments. The Government is determined that its Strategy for Multi-Unit Developments will be effective and comprehensive. To that end, work on the preparation of legislative proposals to respond to the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations concerning multi-unit developments and the regulation and governance of property management companies is under way across a number of Departments. Options are being considered in consultation with relevant Departments and the Attorney General as to whether it would be more expeditious to introduce a single Bill or to adopt a sectoral approach to amending existing legislation. The Government’s decision on the matter will be made on the basis of how quickly the required legislation can be enacted.

  54.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to figures (details supplied) suggesting that at least 50 foreign nationals have been trafficked here in the past six years for forced labour; if he is satisfied that sufficient procedures are in place to deal with such trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40171/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am aware of the data referred to by the Deputy. I understand that the estimate figures arising from the research in question, while presented at a number of recent public fora, has not yet been published. The suggested figures relate to research conducted prior to the commencement of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 on 7 June 2008. This Act criminalises the trafficking of adults and children for the purposes of labour exploitation as well as for sexual exploitation and for the removal of their body organs.

The Act defines labour exploitation as (a) subjecting a person to forced labour, (b) forcing him or her to render services to another, or (c) enslavement of the person or subjecting him or her to servitude or a similar condition or state. The Act also makes it an offence to sell or [351]offer for sale or to purchase or offer to purchase any person for any purpose. Penalties of up to life imprisonment and at the discretion of the court, a fine, apply in respect of these offences. I am satisfied that this legislation will act as an effective deterrent for anyone seeking to subject a person to forced labour.

Immigration border controls are maintained by the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Joint operations with the UK Immigration Service to prevent and detect possible abuses of the Common Travel Area by means of illegal immigration and associated criminality are continuing.

An Interdepartmental High Level Group together with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of my Department, in partnership with non-governmental and International organisations, through a Roundtable Forum and Interdisciplinary Working Groups is working to recommend to me the most appropriate and effective response to trafficking in human beings. The High Level Group will also recommend a National Action Plan to me, mapping out a strategy to prevent and tackle trafficking in human beings for the coming years.

  55.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress he has made in respect of his promise to introduce new legislation to augment victims’ rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40299/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In my Department work on progressing the preparation of the heads of a Bill to give effect to the legislative elements of the ‘Justice for Victims Initiative’ which I announced in June of this year is well advanced. While I am unable to give a precise date for submission of the heads to Government at this time, I remain committed to publishing the Bill in the Spring of 2009 and I am confident of achieving that target.

  56.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when it is intended to increase the Garda search powers, promised in the Programme for Government, in relation to drug crime along the lines of the new random breath-testing model for drink driving to allow random searches at particular places, times and events when senior gardaí believe there is a risk of drugs being present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40190/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  This commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government 2007 — 2012 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, I am unable to say at this stage when proposals will be available.

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 42.

  58.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of cases of murder in which firearms were used in respect of each year from 1998 to date in 2008; the number of such cases in which prosecutions for murder were initiated; the number of such cases in which convictions were secured; if he is satisfied with the level of [352]detection and conviction in such cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40186/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The following table contains the number of cases of murder recorded in which firearms were used, the number of prosecutions initiated and the number of convictions secured in each year from 1998 to 2007 and in 2008 up to 10 November, 2008. Figures provided for 2008 are provisional, operational and liable to change.

One of the main priorities set for the Garda Síochána is to target gun crime, organised crime and drug trafficking through a range of measures, including the use of the Garda specialist units and targeted operations such as Operation Anvil.

An Garda Síochána meet this task by strategic actions, including in particular continuous and intensive intelligence led operations against groups and individuals engaged in such illegal activity. Available intelligence is fully analysed and used in the strategic deployment of both local and specialised operational Garda units in targeting persons and groups. It is used in carrying out searches and arrests aimed at both preventing attacks and apprehending persons suspected of being involved in such attacks. Profiles regarding the personnel of organised criminal gangs are continually updated.

The Garda Commissioner has established, on a permanent basis, the Organised Crime Unit, with the specific objective of targeting those suspected of involvement in organised crime, including drug trafficking, importation, sale and supply. Similar operations are undertaken by Garda specialist units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Drugs Unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Operation Anvil commenced in the Dublin Metropolitan Region in May, 2005 to deal with this type of serious crime and was extended nationwide in 2006. The primary focus of the operation is the targeting of active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting their criminal activity through extensive additional overt, visible patrolling and static checkpoints by uniform, mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain clothes patrol.

The Garda Commissioner has confirmed that he has at his disposal the laws and resources necessary for the Force to tackle gun crime. The Garda Síochána will continue to receive a significant level of resources. Thus, while a ring-fenced allocation of €20 million was provided this year for Operation Anvil, in spite of difficult budgetary circumstances I have obtained the provision of €21 million in the 2009 Estimates to enable the operation to continue with targeted disruption of serious and organised criminal activity throughout the country.

There can be considerable difficulties for the Gardaí in obtaining evidence in shootings which are the result of gangland activities. This arises not least because many such victims (where they survive the attack) and their associates will not co-operate with the Garda investigation. Nevertheless, the Gardaí are determined to pursue rigorously all killings, whatever their background. The detection rate for murders by its nature increases over time as Garda investigations progress. It is expected that in respect of each year the number of convictions obtained will increase as Garda investigations are concluded and the number of proceedings commenced are finalised by the courts. This applies particularly to murders committed in the most recent years. In addition, directions may be received from the Law Officers to charge persons arrested in connection with such incidents with offences other than murder. Furthermore such persons charged and brought before the courts may be convicted of offences other than murder.

[353]The number of murders recorded in which a firearm was used, proceedings commenced and convictions

Year Recorded Proceedings Commenced Convictions
2008* 19 5 0
2007 18 5 0
2006 26 6 2
2005 22 3 2
2004 8 5 5
2003 19 6 1
2002 10 4 3
2001 9 2 1
2000 12 4 1
1999 12 7 5
1998 4 2 1

All figures are provisional and liable to change.

Statistics in respect of the years 2003-2007 are compiled by the Central Statistics Office.

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 38.

  60.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied that An Garda Síochána have ready access to all modern technology with particular reference to their needs in the fight against crime; if all communication technology promised has been or will be provided; if the patrol and motorcycle fleet are fully operational and in sufficient numbers to meet present requirements; the extent of out of date technology or equipment needing replacement at present; the cost of same; when such requirements are expected to be met in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40341/08]

  160.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will take initiatives to ensure that top of the range technology is readily available to An Garda Síochána in their fight against crime with particular reference to organised crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40537/08]

  169.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he will take to ensure that the gardaí have adequate resources to combat organised crime gangs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40546/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 60, 160 and 169 together.

I can assure the Deputy that the areas of organised crime, gun crime and drugs continue to be a top policing priority for the Government and the Garda Commissioner and the resources available for tackling such crime will be kept under constant review.

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that they are satisfied that they have available to them the technology required to assist in the investigation of organised criminal activities. A number of initiatives are currently under way or have been recently completed by the Garda Síochána in this area including the provision of an updated Automated Fingerprint Identifi[354]cation System (AFIS), a new Automated Ballistics System (ABIS), a new Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system, the impending rollout of the National Digital Radio System, upgraded voice and data networks and 14 new town centre CCTV systems. In addition, new functionality is regularly incorporated into the main Garda incident recording system, PULSE, which is now widely available in over 340 locations nationwide and supported by the Garda Information Services Centre in Castlebar. Crime trends are continually changing and the Garda Síochána regularly evaluates all available technology in combating such criminal activities.

With regard to strength of the force, I am informed by the Garda authorities that as of the 30 September 2008, the latest date for which figures are readily available, there were 14,284 attested members — representing an increase of 753 or 5.5% on the figures at the same time last year. A further 1,074 recruits are currently in training. These additional resources are available to the Commissioner for deployment in accordance with his overall priorities including in the fight against organised crime.

With regard to the Garda fleet, the size of the operational fleet at end of December 1998 was 1,750 vehicles. This number has increased by over 1,000 to 2,742 vehicles at the end of September 2008 and 60% of these are under two years old. There are 262 motorcycles in the fleet which includes some of the most modern police bikes available. The fleet also includes five command and control vehicles equipped with modern telecommunications and IT equipment. The Garda Air Support Unit took delivery of a second Garda Helicopter delivered in November 2007 which is now fully operational.

  61.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the criticism made in the Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the fact that more than 200 Garda vehicles, purchased in 2006 at a cost of €3.8 million, were not put into service until 2008; if changes are planned to purchasing or commissioning procedures to prevent such waste of public money and to ensure that vehicles are promptly brought into use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40161/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In my answer of 2 October to Parliamentary Questions No. 16, 35, 67 and 92 I provided a comprehensive response on this issue. The position remains unchanged.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 47.

  63.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the way he will achieve the reduction of 3% in payroll costs for his Department, as announced by the Minister for Finance in July 2008; if it is intended to effect a reduction in staffing levels in the private or constituency offices of himself or his Ministers of State arising from the requirement to achieve a reduction of 3% in payroll costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40167/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I would refer the Deputy to my reply to his question in this regard on 2 October 2008. The position has not changed in the meantime.

[355]Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 38.

  65.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement on the status of developments at Thornton Hall including final cost projections and expected date of completion; and his views on whether the upgrading of Mountjoy Prison could have been achieved more speedily and at less expense to the Exchequer had works been undertaken on its existing site in conjunction with greater availability and use of more cost-effective alternatives to custody for non-violent lesser offences. [40223/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Negotiations are currently under way with a commercial consortium, which was selected following an EU tender procedure as the preferred bidder for the design, construction, finance and maintenance of the proposed prison facilities at Thornton Hall, North County Dublin.

While these negotiations are at an advanced stage they have not yet been completed to the point that the Project Agreement can be signed. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that it is anticipated that it will be the first quarter of 2009 before contract award stage will be reached. This timeframe is subject, of course, to the successful completion of the contract negotiations. If, for any reason, these negotiations are not successfully concluded there are other tenderers and other options which can be considered.

The Thornton Hall project is a complex Public Private Partnership Project which involves the construction of more than 30 buildings, including eight prison facilities on the site, a major internal road network, extensive perimeter security and a vast array of security systems both physical and electronic. Whilst it had been hoped to sign a contract with the preferred bidder before now there has been much more extensive public consultation surrounding the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment and consideration of the development by the Oireachtas.

Pressures on the international financial markets have the potential to impact on all major capital projects. The Irish Prison Service is being advised by the National Development Finance Agency in relation to trends and developments in this area.

It is not appropriate, for commercial and procurement reasons, to provide details as to the likely costs of the construction costs. In particular it would not be in the public interest to give an indication of expected costs before a bid is accepted and a contract finalised. The disclosure of such information is, in any event, not allowed under Department of Finance guidelines applicable to Public Private Partnership.

As regards the refurbishment of Mountjoy, in late 1999 a group was established (the Mountjoy Complex Redevelopment Group) to plan for the development of the complex and custodial regimes in a redeveloped prison.

The Group’s second report, which was published in February 2001, contained a number of specific proposals and recommendations for the future development and use of the Mountjoy Complex. The proposed development would have provided a maximum of 723 places in addition to the female prison. An estimate, prepared by a firm of surveyors in June 2001, of the capital cost of construction of the proposed development came to a total of €336m and was estimated to take seven years to complete the development of Mountjoy as envisaged by that Group. One of the major disadvantages of the refurbishment of Mountjoy Prison was that the capacity offered by the redevelopment of the facility fell well short of the future capacity [356]requirements of the Service. A further operational drawback with this option is that the Irish Prison Service would have had to resort to the granting of early release to offenders in order to free up space while the refurbishment work was under way. Following a review by the Prison Authority Interim Board, it was decided that the most advantageous solution is to develop a new prison complex on a greenfield site.

As the Deputy is aware the courts are independent in the exercise of their functions. It is a matter for individual judges, having regard to all the facts of the particular case, to give judgement on the appropriate sanction, be it custodial or non-custodial in any criminal proceedings. I am satisfied that the courts have available a wide range of non-custodial options open to them.

  66.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action the Government will take arising from the two final reports from the Morris Tribunal, published on 7 October 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40162/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Both the seventh and eighth reports of the Morris Tribunal were the subject of debate in Dáil Éireann on 22 October and in Seanad Éireann on the 30th.

The seventh report of the Morris Tribunal related to allegations of ongoing harassment of the McBrearty family as instanced by the issuance of 68 summonses against that family and their associates. Members of the Garda Síochána severely criticised in that report have already either been dismissed, have retired early or have resigned.

That report also confirmed 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. In was precisely for this reason that the Government established the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission with its own investigative staff after the enactment of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The eighth report deals with anonymous allegations, received by Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins in June 2000, that senior members of the Garda Síochána acted with impropriety. The tribunal concluded that the allegations were completely without foundation and were constructed from “numerous half-truths, lies and rumours”. The report recommends that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of Dáil Éireann 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 because they are peddled cynically and successfully to well-meaning Members of either House”. I expect that the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses will consider these matters carefully.

  67.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement detailing the rationale behind and the evidence underpinning the decision to expand prison capacity for females through the building of a super prison at Thornton Hall in view of the statistics from the Central Statistics Office and Irish Prison Service, which show that a huge portion of female prisoners are guilty of non-violent lesser offences and 55% of all committals are for a period of three months or less indicating the [357]significant potential for more cost effective and greater use of alternatives to custody. [40222/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Since the opening of the Dóchas Centre in 1999, there has been a serious overcrowding problem there, even with the benefit of an additional 20 spaces provided in the final phase of its construction. I do not regard this as an acceptable situation. On 7 November 2008 there were 111 prisoners in custody in the Dóchas Centre. This figure exceeded the bed capacity by 31%. In addition there are over 50 female prisoners in the system who are currently on temporary release.

Social and demographic trends indicate that we will inevitably continue to experience an increasing level of women prisoners in our prison system in the future. It is the Government’s intention, therefore, to include an expanded version of the Dóchas Centre in the plans to move the entire Mountjoy Prison Complex to a green-field site in the greater Dublin area. Provision will also have to be made for additional spaces for women prisoners in the Munster area where there is currently serious pressure on the twenty person unit at Limerick Prison.

I can also advise the Deputy that the statistics he makes mention of refer only to the throughput and committals of female prisoners to custody. The majority of these persons spend a very short time in custody. A snapshot of those actually serving sentences in custody on 7 November, 2008 paints a significantly different picture.

These figures indicate that 28% of the female prison sentenced population were serving a sentence for murder, manslaughter or conspiracy to murder. A further 36% were serving lengthy sentences for possession of drugs for the purpose of sale or supply. 13% were serving sentences of over two years in length for assault causing harm and all but three persons out of the remaining 23% are serving sentences of 20 months or over for offences such as robbery, robbery of a person, theft and criminal damage. The remaining three prisoners all have personal accommodation issues which need to be addressed before they can be considered for release. I believe that it is clear that the vast majority of these prisoners do not fall into the category of non-violent lesser offences and provide clear evidence that the current availability of prison spaces for female offenders do not meet requirements.

  68.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the impact the new registration fee introduced by the Garda National Immigration Bureau is expected to have on educational tourism; if he has had discussions with the relevant Department highlighting the problems for tourism here of this new fee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33922/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The revised fee of €150 is effective in respect of all registrations by non-EEA migrants with the Garda National Immigration Bureau applied for on or after 23 August 2008. Since 19 August last, this registration system has been enhanced by the commencement of the roll out of a fingerprinting system for all persons who are required to obtain permission to reside in the State. Non-nationals who register from that date will have at least two fingerprints taken and these will be embedded in the biometric chip on their registration card. The costs of providing this system and the administrative costs associated with running it are substantial and this is reflected in the increased fee. An element is also included to reflect changes in inflation since the fee was introduced over two years ago.

[358]The consent of the Minister for Finance, required under law, was obtained for the increased charge. The charge applies to all non-EEA migrants registering with the Garda National Immigration Bureau and special consideration of the interests of one sector would not be appropriate, all the more so where the new charge is largely related to increased costs of registration.

There is no suggestion that the increase will have an adverse effect on the numbers of people coming to Ireland for educational purposes. Firstly this charge only applies to non-EEA students coming here for more than three months. It does not apply where people are coming for shorter periods and it does not apply to EU nationals at all. Only a minority of educational tourists therefore pay the charge. For that minority the registration fee is a small fraction of the overall cost of their course fees and living expenses in Ireland.

  69.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Dean Lyons case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40178/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my response to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 28 May 2008. The position remains unchanged.

  70.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the amount allocated in respect of Garda pay, including overtime, in 2009; the way this compares with the figures for 2008; the number of personnel on the Garda payroll; the expected numbers at the end of 2009; if he is satisfied that sufficient financial allocation has been made to allow the gardaí to maintain the expected level of policing operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40168/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The amount allocated under the estimates process for Garda pay, including overtime, in 2009 is €1,090,332,000. The amount allocated in 2008 was €1,100,934,000. These figures include pay for both members of the Garda Síochána and civilian staff.

The personnel strength of the Garda Síochána on 30 September 2008, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 14,284. Under the present Garda recruitment programme, it is expected that this number will increase to almost 14,900 by the end of 2009. The exact figure is dependant on a number of factors including the level of retirements over the coming year.

I am satisfied that the Garda allocation is sufficient to maintain existing levels of front-line policing and tackle organised crime through targeted intelligence-led operations.

  71.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that garda patrol cars were restricted at Hallowe’en in parts of Dublin because of inadequate resourcing of the radio control system; the reason this [359]happened; the steps that will be taken to ensure that gardaí are not again left vulnerable in this way; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40197/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am advised that Garda management within the Dublin Metropolitan Region are unaware of any Garda patrol vehicles being restricted at Halloween due to resourcing of radio control systems.

A particular issue with personnel resources arose at the Communications Centre for the Dublin Metropolitan Region on 31st October 2008. This matter was brought to the immediate attention of Garda Management who took appropriate action to address the immediate issue. In addition, appropriate measures are being put in place for the longer term.

  72.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on recent figures produced by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs showing that one in twenty Irish people and almost one in ten young people had taken cocaine; if these figures reflect the continuing widespread availability of cocaine in this country; the additional measures he will take to cut off the supply of cocaine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40175/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Over the last number of years the Government has been aware of and concerned by the increasing prevalence of cocaine use in Ireland. We are not alone in this as this development reflects increasing use of the drug across all of Europe in recent times.

The drug prevalence study recently produced by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) which measured illegal drug use in Ireland over the period 2006/2007 confirmed that there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of cocaine use here albeit from a low level.

Prior to the completion of this study, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and the National Drug Strategy Team (NDST) prepared a joint briefing paper on cocaine, based on existing data in Ireland. This paper was presented to the Interdepartmental Drugs Group in September 2006.

The Interdepartmental Drugs Group, chaired by Minister of State John Curran T.D., is liaising on an ongoing basis with the relevant Departments and Agencies in relation to their implementation of the recommendations contained in the report.

Efforts to tackle the problem of cocaine are broadly based to include measures aimed at both supply and demand reduction, including awareness initiatives. A range of measures are being delivered by other Government Departments and agencies, drug task forces and community based projects to address the cocaine problem.

The remit of this Department in relation to this issue is primarily that of law enforcement.

This increasing use of cocaine in recent times is, of course, a matter of concern for the Gardaí and the Garda authorities have taken a number of measures to address the problem on the supply reduction side.

The Garda National Drugs Unit and local drugs units conduct intelligence-driven operations to target individuals suspected of involvement in the distribution of cocaine.

Drug units and community policing personnel are engaged in intelligence gathering on individuals and groups suspected of involvement in the sale and distribution of the drug. There is [360]also targeted patrolling by uniform and plain-clothes personnel of problem areas in order to detect and disrupt persons involved in such activity.

Data provided by the Garda authorities concerning the number, volume and value of cocaine seizures for the period 2000 to 2008 to date demonstrates that such strategies are resulting in significant operational successes.

Last week’s Operation Seabight which was carried out in co-operation with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) MAOC(N) in Lisbon resulted in a very significant cocaine seizure in global terms and I once again commend all our law enforcement agencies involved in its hugely successful outcome. The Centre is a focused initiative which has the specific objective of intercepting narcotic shipments, in particular cocaine, to the European Union from Latin America and the value of its work was very publicly demonstrated last week.

Tackling the increasing use of cocaine in Ireland in recent years will be an issue of priority in the development of the Government’s new National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 currently being developed under the remit of Minister of State John Curran T.D.

  73.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will enter discussions with the Garda Commissioner aimed at launching an effective Garda operation targeting groups and businesses that fraudulently collect second-hand clothes from householders under the guise of being charities in view of the growing scale of the problem, which has recently been reported to net profits in the region of €10 million a year, and in view of the negative impact the practice has on legitimate charities. [40229/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed the Garda authorities that Garda management is aware of the activities referred to by the Deputy and that a number of incidents of this type are currently the subject of investigation.

I am further informed that any complaints received by the Garda authorities are the subject of investigation and possible criminal proceedings where the evidence disclosed so warrants.

  74.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied regarding the capacity of the preferred bidder to deliver the Thornton Hall prison project; the progress that has been made on the project since the enactment of the Prison Development (Confirmation of Regulations) Act 2008; the estimated date for the commencement and the completion of the project; the estimated cost of the project, including the cost of acquiring the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40199/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  It is the responsibility of the commercial consortium, under the PPP process, to arrange the funding and other resources to deliver the project and to have them in place when the contract is signed. It is not appropriate, for commercial and procurement reasons, for me to comment on the specific financial funding aspects of the PPP contract negotiations which are currently in progress. I can say, however, that if the current contract negotiations are not successfully concluded there are other tenderers and other options which can still be considered.

Since the enactment of the Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Act, 2008 the Irish Prison Service, along with its technical advisors and the National Development Fin[361]ance Agency has focused on progressing the Negotiation Phase of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) process with Leargas, the preferred tenderer, across financial, technical and legal aspects of the project. This involved the continuation of the design development of the project and contract negotiations to enable the Irish Prison Service to contract with the PPP Co and commence construction of the new prison development.

Negotiations with the preferred tenderer are at an advanced stage. However, they have not yet been completed to the point at which the contract can be signed. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that it is anticipated that it will be the first quarter of 2009 before contract award will be achieved. This timeframe is subject, of course, to the successful conclusion of the contract negotiations.

The Thornton Hall project is a complex Public Private Partnership Project which involves the construction of more than 30 buildings, including 8 prison facilities on the site, a major internal road network, extensive perimeter security and a vast array of security systems both physical and electronic. Whilst it had been hoped to sign a contract with the preferred bidder before now there has been much more extensive public consultation surrounding the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment and consideration of the development by the Oireachtas.

Pressures on the international financial markets have the potential to impact on all major capital projects. The Irish Prison Service is being advised by the National Development Finance Agency in relation to trends and developments in this area.

The construction timeframe for the new prison facilities is approximately three years from the date of award of contract.

The cost of the acquisition of the site for the prison development was €29.9 million. An additional 8.7 acres has also been acquired to provide a dedicated access road to the main site. This was done following representations from the local community which reflected concern in relation to the effect of increased traffic generated by the prison project. The cost of this additional land was €1.3 million.

A total of €8.6 million has been expended to date on preliminary site works including surveys, landscaping, security and maintenance of the property, studies such as archaeological, topographical, etc., and professional fees including legal and specialist technical advice.

It is not appropriate, for commercial and procurement reasons, to provide details as to the likely costs of the construction. In particular it would not be in the public interest to give an indication of expected costs before a bid is accepted and a contract finalised. The disclosure of such information is, in any event, not allowed under Department of Finance guidelines applicable to Public Private Partnership.

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 48.

  76.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he will take arising from the first interim report of the Inspector of Prisons in which he expressed concern at excessive overcrowding in prisons and particularly in regard to serious shortcomings at Loughan House, County Cavan; the steps he will take to deal with the issues raised by the inspector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40194/08]

[362]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to advise the Deputy that there has been a consistent increase in the total prisoner population over recent years. This situation is particularly apparent over the past 12 months during which time the total number in custody has increased by approximately 350. The Government has committed significant resources to the provision of additional prison spaces in recent years resulting in the provision of an extra 1300 prison places. In addition, the current prison capital programme will provide approximately 400 extra prison spaces by summer 2009 including a new block in Portlaoise Prison which will accommodate approximately 150 prisoners, a new block in Castlerea Prison which will accommodate approximately 100 prisoners and a new block in Wheatfield Prison which will accommodate 150 prisoners. This investment will, in my view, provide modern prison accommodation to meet the prisoner cohort needs and allow for greater interventions with prisoners willing to engage with the range of services available within the prisons.

I am glad to tell the House that the Inspector’s report on Loughan House is broadly positive in nature. The Inspector stated that he was satisfied that Loughan House is run effectively and that it provides a safe environment for the prisoners detained there. I want to assure the Deputy that I welcome the Inspector’s constructive comments. The Director General of the Irish Prison Service is considering the matters raised by him and I understand a number of the minor issues of concern, for example the painting of stairwells, have already been addressed.

  77.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of kilometres travelled by him since 2007 to date in 2008 on official business in his Ministerial car; the cost of same per kilometre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39937/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have requested this information from the Garda authorities and I will contact the Deputy when it is to hand.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 34.

  79.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of people she and her Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40420/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The following tables outline the number, rank, responsibility and salary pay scale for each staff member appointed by me and by my Ministers of State:

Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment, Ms. Mary Coughlan, T.D.

Responsibility Salary (Per annum)
Special Adviser Providing advice to me as Tánaiste and Minister for [363]Enterprise, Trade and Employment; monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government objectives that relate to my Department; and performing such other functions as I may direct from time to time. €86,168 –€106,582
Press Adviser Providing press and communications advice in relation to my role in Government as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and performing such other functions as I may direct from time to time. €66,179 –€82,520
Special Adviser Providing advice to me as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government objectives that relate to my Department; and performing such other functions as I may direct from time to time. €86,168 –€106,582
Personal Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to my Constituency Office. €46,558 –€59,097
Personal Secretary Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to my Constituency Office. €23,101 –€44,572
Temporary Clerical Officer Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to my Constituency Office. €24,397 –€39,558

Minister of State for Labour Affairs, Mr. Billy Kelleher T.D.

Rank Responsibility Salary (Per annum)
Personal Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister Kelleher’s Constituency Office. €41,092 –€52,200
Personal Secretary Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister Kelleher’s Constituency Office. €23,101 –€44,572
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week

Minister of State for Trade & Commerce, Mr. John McGuinness T.D.

Rank Responsibility Salary (Per annum)
Personal Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister McGuinness’ Constituency Office. €46,558 –€59,097
Secretarial Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister McGuinness’ Constituency Office €23,101 –€44,572
Secretarial Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister McGuinness’ Constituency Office €23,101 –€44,572
Personal Secretary Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister McGuinness’ Constituency Office €30,566 –€48,504
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week

Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Jimmy Devins T.D.

Rank Responsibility Salary (Per annum)
Special Adviser Providing advice to Minister Devins and performing such other functions as he may direct from time to time. €84,066 –€103,982
Personal Assistant Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister Devins Office. €46,558 –€59,097
Personal Secretary (w/s.5) Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister Devins Office. €24,397 –€39,558 (50% of full pay)
Personal Secretary(w/s.5) Performing general secretarial duties including the handling of enquiries made to Minister Devins Office. €24,397 –€39,558 (50% of full pay)
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week
Civilian Driver €651.15 per week

The names of all appointees above, with the exception of one recent appointment to my Office as Special Adviser, are available in the Dáil Library. A contract for the latest appointee will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas shortly.

The Personal Secretary to Minister of State for Trade & Commerce, Mr. John McGuinness T.D. is a member of Kilkenny Borough Council. None of the other appointees are members of a local authority or a State board.

  80.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employ[365]ment    her strategic plan in regard to the industrial and commercial development of the south-east region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40448/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The Industrial Development agencies namely IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, together with the County and City Enterprise Boards, are responsible for the development of the south east region insofar as my Department is concerned.

In line with the National Spatial Strategy, IDA Ireland is focussed on advancing the economic development of the region primarily through the Gateway of Waterford City and the hubs of Kilkenny City and Wexford town and the county towns of Carlow, Clonmel and Dungarvan. Key to IDA Ireland’s strategy for the region is progressing the development of a knowledge-based economy so that the region can compete both nationally and internationally for foreign direct investment. The key sectors being targeted are Pharmaceuticals, Medical Technologies, Information and Communication Technologies and International/Financial Services. The agency also continues to work with its existing clients both to broaden their mandate in Ireland and to re-invest in their facilities. Furthermore, the agency strongly encourages client companies to invest in Research and Development and provides a comprehensive R&D package to support this activity.

Enterprise Ireland’s key activity is focused around supporting clients and helping them grow their exports in particular. A range of supports is available to clients throughout the region from capital to management development along with access to Enterprise Ireland’s thirty two offices around the world. As part of an initiative to encourage new start-ups in the region, Enterprise Ireland supports the Enterprise Platform Programme — a one-year incubation programme designed to provide hands-on support and management development for entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own business — by funding eligible participants to attend. There are currently two EPP programmes in the south east.

The development of community based Enterprise Centres is a crucial part of the drive to create new regional enterprise. Enterprise Ireland has a fund of €21m for the entire country for a period from 2007-2009. Previously, Enterprise Ireland provided support which led to the creation of 14 Community Enterprise Centres in the South East. This year’s call for funding was very successful for the region. The total amount awarded nationwide was just over €11m and €2.1m of that was awarded to the South East. Enterprise Ireland has also provided €2.54m for the construction of an Incubation Centre at the Waterford Institute of Technology and €1.417m for a Centre at Carlow Institute of Technology. In addition, these colleges have been given €313,000 towards the management of the Centres. The agency has also been actively involved over the last three years in the Spirit of Enterprise Initiative which is a regional forum to assist in the growth of entrepreneurship. An ‘Enterprise Week’ was held in both 2007 and 2008. This involved a range of events throughout the region to promote and celebrate entrepreneurship.

The CEBs provide support for micro-enterprises. They continue to support enterprise development through the provision of both direct financial assistance (in the form of capital, feasibility and employment grants) and through indirect or soft support assistance such as management development, capability support and the development and delivery of activities to highlight and promote enterprise.

The development of the region also involves various other interests including Local Authorities, Chambers of Commerce and private sector interests. There is also a close relationship with the Industrial Training agency FAS to ensure that the requirements of industry, particularly in the area of training and upskilling, are being met. I am aware that all interests in the [366]region, both public and private, are working together to promote the south east and I am confident that they will continue to do so in order to bring about continued development in the area.

  81.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Question No. 173 of 5 November 2008, if a person (details supplied) in County Clare will qualify for a refund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40477/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  Under the Employment Permits Act 2006 a fee for an employment permit may only be refunded to the applicant if the permit is refused or withdrawn prior to the issue of the permit.

  82.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of complaints for breaches of the Competition Act 2002 being considered by the Competition Authority; the number of cases that are at pre-investigation stage; the number of cases that are the subject of investigation by the authority; the average time it takes for the authority to assess cases suitable for formal investigation; the impact that the proposed merger of the authority and the National Consumer Agency will have on cases under investigation or consideration by the authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40487/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The question concerns investigations which are part of the day to day operational work of the Competition Authority. As the Deputy is aware, the Competition Authority is an independent statutory body responsible for the enforcement of competition law across all sectors of the Irish economy. I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operational work of the Authority.

In any case, investigations, by their very nature, are confidential and the Authority does not publish investigative findings, as to do so could prejudice any legal proceedings arising out of the investigation.

The legislation required to effect the merger of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency will provide for the continuation of all cases under investigation by the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency.

  83.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her views on exempting small shops from having to display the price per unit or by weight in addition to the purchase price; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40491/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Directive 98/6/EC requires all products to have a selling and a unit price where appropriate. The unit price is the price of a product per kilo, litre, metre etc. Article 6 of the Directive provided for a derogation for small businesses from the obligation to display the unit price. This Directive was transposed into Irish law in S. I. No. 639 of 2002 and regulation 5 (2) (g) [367](i) provides that where a trader does not use equipment for printing shelf labels or equipment for point of sale scanning, the unit price need not be displayed.

The Review of the Consumer Acquis being undertaken by the European Commission at present involves the review of eight specific consumer Directives. One of these Directives is 98/6/EC. I am awaiting the Commission’s proposals on this matter.

  84.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the grants that a person (details supplied) in County Kildare can apply for through her Department or the State agencies under her remit ; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40494/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy John McGuinness):  My Department does not provide direct funding or grants to businesses but provides funding to a number of State Agencies, including the County and City Enterprise Boards, Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, through whom assistance is delivered directly to businesses.

The 35 County and City Enterprise Boards provide a source of support to small and start-up businesses with 10 employees or fewer. Subject to certain eligibility criteria new and developing enterprises may qualify for financial support from the CEBs in the form of feasibility, employment and capital grants. The following specific forms of finance are currently from the CEBs to micro-enterprises;

Capital Grants up to a maximum of 50% of the cost of capital and other investment or €75,000, whichever is the lesser;

Employment Grants a grant of up to €7,500 per new job, to a maximum of 10 new jobs.

Feasibility Study Grants up to a maximum of 60% (in the BMW Region) or 50% (in the S&E Region), of the cost of a feasibility study and business plan, subject to an overall limit of €6,350 (in the BMW Region) or €5,100 (in the S&E Region).

All of the CEBs operate to the same criteria in relation to the assistance which they can offer i.e. they can support the establishment and/or the development of enterprises provided that the projects, which should generally be in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector, have the capacity to achieve commercial viability and which over time may develop into strong exporting entities. In addition, the CEBs deliver a range of non-financial supports to improve management capability development within micro-enterprises designed to help new and existing enterprises to operate effectively and efficiently so as to last and grow.

I would suggest that the person concerned should, in the first instance, make direct contact with The Kildare County Enterprise Board and explore what level of assistance, if any, may be available to them. The Board can be contacted at The Woods, Clane, Co. Kildare, Tel No. 045 861 707 or by email to info@kildareceb.ie (website www.kildareceb.ie).

  85.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her proposals to amend the Competition Act 2002 and in particular the changes that she proposed to make to allow representative groups, unions and trade associations to engage in collective discussions or negotiations on behalf of their members as indicated in the statement [368]by the Government on 21 October 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40495/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  As part of an ongoing review of the 2002 Competition Act, submissions received on foot of a public consultation from a variety of interested parties are currently being considered by my officials. These submissions cover a range of issues, many of a technical nature.

On 21st October 2008, the Government announced its intention to pursue appropriate amendments to Section 4 of the Competition Act 2002 to enable the representative body of GPs, The Irish Medical Organisation, to represent its members in negotiations with the HSE and the Department of Health and Children in respect of the services provided to the public health service in a manner consistent with the public interest. This will not affect in any way the status of the IMO or other representative organisations in respect of medical services other than those delivered by agreement with the public health service. The legal provision to be made will be subject to consistency with EU competition rules.

Section 4 prohibits and makes void all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in trade in any goods or services in the State or in any part of the State. This reflects the provisions of EC Treaty Article 81 which contains a similar prohibition in relation to agreements, decisions and concerted practices which may affect trade between Member States.

I can confirm that work is underway between the Departments of Health & Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the issue of amending Section 4 of the Competition Act 2002, in a manner consistent with EU competition law and national policy.

  86.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her views on the UK Government proposal to introduce a de minimis threshold to exempt small companies from the EU’s accounting and auditing company law directives, specifically the 4th Council Directive 78/660 and the 7th Council Directive 83/349; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40496/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy John McGuinness):  In order for any Member State to introduce a de minimis threshold to exempt small companies from the requirements of EU Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC, it would first be necessary for these Directives to be amended to allow for this exemption. These Directives have not been so amended.

From enquiries made by my Department, I understand that the UK, for the reason cited above, is not proposing to introduce a de minimis threshold to exempt small companies from the requirements of Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC.

I understand that the UK Government would want to consider how best to respond to any changes to these Directives should these come forward from within the EU at a later date.

  87.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when a work permit will issue to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40514/08]

[369]Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The Employment Permits Section informs me that it has no record of an application being made in this case.

  88.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40705/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department has been making good progress in the relocation of the required 250 posts to Carlow under the Government’s Decentralisation Programme.

Officials of my Department, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the OPW, as well as decentralising staff and Business Units, opened an advance office in Carlow on July 30th 2007. The number of staff in this decentralised advance office is 98.

The numbers of staff decentralised to the Department’s Carlow office from Dublin locations and locations outside Dublin are set out in the table below.

As my Department is not decentralising in full, officers who are not decentralising and are currently working in areas due to decentralise to provincial locations will be integrated into non-decentralising areas of the Department. There are currently no plans to release non-decentralising staff to other Dublin based Departments.

Grade Dublin Outside Dublin
Director 1 0
Legal Adviser 1 0
Accountant 1 0
Principal Officer 2 0
Assistant Principal Officer 4 1
Higher Executive Officer 5 3
Executive Officer 17 9
Staff Officer 3 1
Clerical Officer 24 23
Service Officer/Attendant 2 1
Total 60 38

  89.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans, further to correspondence (details supplied), to implement the air travel tax on a more equitable basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40384/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I announced in Budget 2009 that an Air Travel Tax will come into force in respect of passengers departing from Irish airports on and from 30 March 2009. A general rate of €10 per passenger will apply, with a lower rate of €2 for shorter journeys. This measure is estimated to yield €95 million in 2009 and €150 million in a full year. [370]This is not an insignificant amount of money and given the current fiscal environment, I do not wish to see this level of anticipated revenue reduced. However, I am aware of a number of issues that were raised subsequent to my Budget announcement and these will be borne in mind in the context of the Finance Bill.

  90.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the position to date regarding decentralisation (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40389/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that to date 48 staff have relocated to the advance office (based in Limerick city), for decentralisation to Newcastlewest, County Limerick. It is expected that the permanent office in Newcastlewest will be completed by the end of this year. The Revenue Commissioners do not anticipate any difficulty in filling the full quota of 50 staff in Newcastlewest.

  91.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason the Office of Public Works did not proceed with the purchase of two buildings and a site (details supplied) in County Wexford; if the OPW will provide an undertaking to the organisation that they will consider the purchase of this property in the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40397/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  Officials from the Office of Public Works have carried out an evaluation of the site in question. There are no funds available to progress this project. The situation will be kept under review in liaison with the Minister for Finance and the Department of Transport.

  92.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40422/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am taking the question to refer to those people appointed by me and by my Minister of State who were not already permanent civil servants, and who are paid for by voted Departmental moneys. The following people have been appointed to work with me:

Name Grade Salary Range Responsibility
Cathy Herbert Special Adviser €92,730 –€114,366 To provide advice to the Minister as required
Marian Quinlan Personal Secretary €23,181 –€44,726 Constituency work for the Minister
Maura Cosgrove Personal Assistant €46,558 –€55,030 Constituency work for the Minister

[371]My Personal Secretary is based in my constituency office in Castleknock. My Special Advisor and my Personal Assistant are based in my Department’s offices in Merrion Street.

None of the above is on city, county, town or borough councils; none is a member of any State boards.

I am advised by the Office of Public Works that the following people have been appointed to work with the Minister of State:

Name Grade Salary Range Responsibility
Lisa Halpin Personal Assistant €46,558 –€55,030 Constituency work for Minister of State
Gerardine Fuller Personal Secretary €30,566 –€50,410 Constituency work for Minister of State
Michael Maguire Civilian Driver €34,826 Driving duties for Minister of State
Sean Moore Civilian Driver €34,826 Driving duties for Minister of State

The Personal Assistant is based in the Minister of State’s OPW office, and the Personal Secretary is located in the Minister of State’s constituency office in Tipperary Town.

One Civilian Driver is a County Councillor.

  93.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on liquidity difficulties in the credit union sector here; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties in the sector with the payment of dividends; if his further attention has been drawn to cases of anomalous payments of dividends by credit unions in contravention of the Credit Union Act 1997; if he envisages the retention of the savings protection scheme by the Irish League of Credit Unions in the event that the revised Government deposit guarantee scheme, currently under development, covers all credit union deposits; his views on whether it is necessary for the establishment of an emergency fund that a struggling credit union could draw on to cover its liquidity requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40440/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Registrar of Credit Unions has informed me that taken as a whole the Irish credit union movement has, at the moment, adequate liquidity resources to meet its needs. In addition, no individual credit union currently has a liquidity problem. Because of the ever changing nature of the market, however, the Registrar is monitoring this area closely. On this point, it should be noted that from a regulatory perspective the Registrar is required to consider a range of different scenarios on how things might unfold over the next 12 months, and it was in this context that he requested the Irish League of Credit Unions to consider ways in which it might arrange for liquidity support from among its affiliates in support of any other credit union should any of them encounter liquidity difficulties in the coming months.

In relation to the payment of dividends, the Registrar has indicated that his Office has been working with credit unions to achieve an appropriate balance between the need to reward credit union savers and borrowers and the equally important need to preserve adequate levels of liquidity and reserves in all credit unions. He wrote to all credit unions in October drawing their attention to their obligations under the provisions of the Credit Union Act with regard to the payment of dividends. My Department has been advised that the Registrar is working to ensure compliance by all boards of credit unions with the provisions in respect of the prep[372]aration of accounts of credit unions contained in the Credit Union Act. The Registrar has also stressed the responsibility on credit union boards to ensure that the principle of procedure enshrined in the Credit Union Act regarding the preparation of annual accounts is observed.

The action taken by Government in respect of the Deposit Protection Scheme is, of course, complementary to the continuing discussions between the Registrar of Credit Unions and the representative bodies for credit unions regarding broader savings protection arrangements. As the Deputy is aware, the existing Irish League of Credit Unions Savings Protection Scheme (SPS) has played an important role over an extended period of time in helping to support credit unions that have experienced financial difficulties.

Stabilisation mechanisms if properly designed and effectively implemented can, of course, play a very important role in maintaining a credit union experiencing temporary liquidity difficulties as a going concern, pre-empting the risk of failure and the need to activate the deposit guarantee scheme.

  94.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    his views in relation to correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; his plans to address the concerns outlined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40441/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I announced in Budget 2009 that the betting duty would increase from 1% to 2%. I have since met a wide range of representatives from the betting industry where the problems faced by the sector, including those arising from the Budgetary changes, were discussed. I will bear these in mind in the context of the Finance Bill.

  95.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works the action that can be taken to prevent flooding at a property (details supplied) in County Mayo. [40476/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Office of Public Works has this week agreed to a request from Mayo County Council for funding for a study to investigate the flooding problem in question.

  96.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40478/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The following is the information requested by the Deputy in tabular form for my Department and the bodies under the aegis of my Department.

The decentralisation programme operates on a voluntary basis only and no staff were designated to move from Dublin to any location unless they applied to decentralise to a provincial location.

[373]Finance

Location Number of staff decentralised to date Number decentralised from Dublin by grade Number decentralised from provincial locations by grade
Tullamore 128* 4 Principal (PO)
17 Assistant Principal (AP)
15 Higher Executive Officer (HEO)
12 Executive Officer (EO)
6 Staff Officer (SO)
36 Clerical Officer (CO)
1 PO
1 AP
7 HEO
5 EO
3 SO
7 CO

As my Department has retained a substantial number of posts in Dublin, the necessity to compulsorily re-assign staff to other posts in Dublin did not arise.

However, a number of staff whose posts were designated for decentralisation have been assigned new duties. It should also be noted that a number of re-assignments to other Departments did take place on a voluntary basis.

Revenue Commissioners

Location Number of staff decentralised to date Number decentralised from Dublin by grade Number decentralised from provincial locations by grade
Newcastlewest 48 1 Staff Officer (SO)
1 Clerical Officer (CO)
1 Assistant Principal (AP)
3 Higher Executive Officer (HEO)
9 Executive Officer (EO)
2 SO
31 CO
Kilrush 57 2 HEO
1 EO
2 CO
1 AP
1 HEO
9 EO
3 SO
36 CO
1 Service Officer (SVO)
1 Service Attendant (SVA)
Listowel 51 3 EO
5 CO
1 AP
3 HEO
8 EO
2 SO
27 CO
1 SVO
1 SVA
Athy 73 1 PO
1 AP
10 HEO
24 EO
1 SO
27 CO
2 HEO
2 EO
5 CO
Navan* 101 1 PO
5 AP
14 HEO
24 EO
43 CO
1 SVO
1 HEO
6 EO
2 SO
3 CO
1 SVA

As Revenue retained a substantial number of posts in Dublin, the necessity to reassign staff who did not wish to decentralise to other Departments in Dublin did not arise. No Revenue staff moved to another Department or agency in Dublin, in order to remain in Dublin as a result of decentralisation.

In the time available to answer the question, the Office of Public Works was unable to compile the information in the format sought by the Deputy. However, the information will be compiled and forwarded by that Office to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  97.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that will be decentralised based on budget 2009, and of those, the number that will be decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number who have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those who will move to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number who will be decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations, and their grades. [40479/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As I announced in the Budget, the Government has reviewed the Decentralisation Programme in light of the changed economic circumstances and identified priority elements on which implementation should now proceed. The Government’s decision will result in the relocation of up to 6,000 posts to over 40 locations outside of Dublin. This is made up of 2,500 posts already moved, together with an additional 3,500 posts which are in train. Decisions on the timing of further work on implementation of the balance of the programme are being deferred pending a review in 2011 in light of budgetary developments.

The Deputy refers to the number who will be decentralised from outside Dublin. It is useful to highlight the distinction between the location of posts and the mechanism for filling these posts. When the current phase of the programme has been completed, a total of 6,000 posts which were previously located in Dublin will be located in provincial locations. Staff serving in posts already located in Dublin or in regional locations may express a preference for any new location in the programme, or for another existing decentralised/provincial location. When regionally based staff move to an alternative location, their vacancy in turn is filled from among [375]those on the CAF who have expressed an interest in that location or, where there are no such applicants, posts which otherwise would have been filled in Dublin through recruitment or promotion are filled instead in the provincial location. In either scenario the post has relocated from Dublin.

Up to September 2008, over thirteen thousand civil and public servants have applied on the CAF to relocate under the Programme. Over 7,000 of these — or 53% — were Dublin-based applicants. Because of the nature of the programme and the time scales involved, individual circumstances are open to change and application status may change as a result. Consequently, it is not possible to calculate at this stage how many of the decentralising posts to be moved will be filled by people originally from Dublin. I understand that each Minister is currently compiling detailed information for the Deputy in relation to the numbers and grades moved in each organisation and the numbers remaining in Dublin.

  98.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    if the income tax levy will be charged against the income of a person with a State pension and an occupational pension when the medical expenses of that person exceed their total income, for instance in the case of a person in a private nursing home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40489/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The position is that the income levy will be applied to gross income except social welfare payments and contributory and non-contributory State pensions. It is also intended to provide a threshold which will exempt those on low incomes. It is not intended to provide for the application of any tax reliefs or credits against the liability which an individual may have in respect of the income levy. Full details regarding provisions, in relation to the collection, recovery, inspection of records, and other provisions required in relation to the income levy will be set out in the Finance Bill.

As announced in the Budget, health expenses relief will continue to be available at the marginal tax rate for nursing home expenses throughout 2009. In addition, I would draw the Deputy’s attention to the new Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 which was published by the Minister for Health and Children in October. The Bill covers both public and private nursing homes and it will, for the first time, make the arrangements for financial support for people who need long term care comprehensive, clear and coherent.

  99.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which businesses can recover VAT incurred in other EU states on-line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40492/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Eighth EU VAT Directive provides that businesses established in one Member State may claim a refund of VAT incurred in another Member State in certain circumstances. In accordance with that Directive, Irish businesses claiming refunds are required to forward the application and original supporting documentation direct to the other Member State. Some Member States then make the repayment by cheque and others repay via electronic funds transfer.

The Deputy may wish to be aware that a new EU Directive will come into effect on 1 January 2010, the main purpose of which is to modernise and automate the procedures for processing repayment claims under the Eighth EU VAT Directive. The new Directive provides that all claims by businesses registered in Ireland will be sent via electronic means to the [376]Revenue Commissioners who will then forward them to the relevant Member State where the VAT was incurred. That State will then make the repayment direct to the Irish business. While the Directive is not specific as to how claims will be paid, it is expected that most States will pay via electronic funds transfer. Arrangements for implementing the new Directive in Ireland are progressing.

  100.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which VAT returns can be filled in on-line; the potential savings for business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40493/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the Revenue On-Line Service (ROS) allows filing of the normal regular VAT returns (VAT3 Returns) and the annual VAT return on trading details. It also provides for the payment and repayment of VAT liabilities. The payments and returns are due to be filed either bi-monthly, at four-monthly intervals or annually depending on the size of the business.

The volume of VAT returns submitted via ROS increased by 30% from over 350,000 in 2006 to nearly 460,000 in 2007. In 2007, over one-third of VAT 3 returns were filed on ROS.

There are significant cost savings and efficiency gains for businesses that use ROS because ROS is quick and easy to use and it facilitates cash flow management. The forms are simple. Once a form is validated and transmitted to ROS, an instant acknowledgement is sent to the taxpayer’s ROS inbox.

ROS returns are processed automatically and the taxpayer’s Revenue record is updated within days of filing. The faster processing of returns leads to speedier repayments (if due). Within Revenue, the customer service standards for processing ROS returns provide for quicker processing. In addition, there is a special ROS helpdesk (and 1890 lo-call number) to provide assistance to anyone who has difficulties with the service.

A further advantage for ROS users is that the ROS customer information service gives a business or its tax agent access to its Revenue Account. This means that a business can see a full record of VAT transactions — filing, payment or repayment — since it first used ROS. This facility makes it easier to keep track of VAT transactions.

  101.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the arrangements the Office of Public Works has made for the disposal of Hawkins House; the amount of revenue he would expect to raise from such disposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40507/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Commissioners of Public Works have entered into an Agreement for Lease with the owner of the Apollo Premises. The owner of the Apollo Premises intends to re-develop the overall Apollo/Hawkins House site. The costs of the redevelopment will be borne entirely by the owner of the Apollo Premises.

If certain conditions in the Agreement for Lease are met by the owner of the Apollo Premises, OPW will grant it a lease. The terms of the Agreement for Lease and the Lease provide that OPW will receive monetary consideration for the granting of the Lease and a percentage share of the rental income generated from the new development, subject to a minimum annual rent, for the term of the Lease.

[377]Prior to entering into the Agreement for Lease independent valuations were carried out on a number of proposals for development/sale of Hawkins House. The present option proved the most beneficial to the State.

  102.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the proposed decentralisation of the Office of Public Works; the number and the proportion of OPW staff who will move; the number who will remain in Dublin; if new premises have been secured both in Dublin and in Trim, County Meath; the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40508/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The OPW is due to decentralise 525 posts to three locations under the current decentralisation programme. The Minister of State and 333 posts will move to Trim; 104 posts will move to Claremorris. The moving of 88 posts to Kanturk is deferred, pending a review in 2011. This number represents the majority of our Dublin based personnel, and, as the OPW is not decentralising in its entirety, there will be a number of personnel remaining in Dublin. OPW is currently reviewing its options regarding accommodation for those staff remaining in Dublin. No decision has yet been taken on this issue. OPW is currently constructing its new headquarters in Trim, and the estimated cost of same is in the region of €18,467,000 to date. A further cost of €110,752 can be attributed to the provision of temporary accommodation in the advance office.

  103.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if there is special grant assistance available for individuals seeking to provide Montessori places or other preschool initiatives for children with special needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40488/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  As the Deputy will be aware, I have responsibility for the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP) which is implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children and which will invest €575 million over five years in the development of child care services.

The NCIP came into effect in January 2006 and has a target of creating 50,000 new child care places, supported by capital grant aid. Services eligible for support include those providing care for babies, full-day care, part-time, sessional playschool, and other pre-school services, school age child care including “wrap-around” child care places and childminding. While child care facilities supported under the programme are expected to provide a reasonable level of care for all children availing of their services, there is no provision under the NCIP to provide additional financial supports for children with disabilities in child care facilities.

  104.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if parts of the country are provided with an air ambulance service; if she or the Health Service Executive has initiated pilot projects in relation to this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40358/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  An air ambulance service is provided by the Air Corps on the basis of a Service Level Agreement prepared by the Departments [378]of Defence and Health and Children in consultation with the Health Service Executive, the Defence Forces and the Air Corps, all of which are signatories to it. This arrangement has operated successfully for a number of years and was renewed in November 2007 to take account of the air ambulance capabilities of new aircraft acquired by the Air Corps.

The air ambulance service is provided by the Air Corps for the following categories:

Inter-hospital transfer of patients with spinal or other serious injury or illness,

Neonates requiring immediate medical intervention in Ireland,

Patients requiring specialised emergency treatment in the UK,

Organ retrieval teams within Ireland,

Paediatric patients requiring immediate medical intervention in Ireland.

In addition the Irish Coast Guard provides air ambulance inter-hospital transfers as part of its mission tasking and also provides for emergency medical evacuation from the islands around Ireland. In situations where the Coast Guard service is not available, the Air Corps will transport patients from offshore islands to mainland hospitals. Both my Department and the Health Service Executive are satisfied that the existing arrangements are working well. Neither has engaged in any pilot projects in relation to the provision of an air ambulance service.

  105.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the timeframe for the development of the BreastCheck service to Clare; her plans to extend the service to different age groups; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40359/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  BreastCheck commenced roll-out in the Western Region last May and I officially opened the BreastCheck clinical static units in Galway last December. The expansion of the BreastCheck programme to the West covers counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Tipperary North Riding. The National Cancer Screening Service is making every effort to roll-out the programme to all remaining counties as quickly as possible. Screening has already been made available in Counties Roscommon, Galway, Mayo, Tipperary North Riding and Limerick in the West.

The expert advice from BreastCheck and from the National Cancer Forum, as contained in the National Strategy for Cancer Control, is that following the national roll out of the programme to women between the ages of 50 and 64 years, the upper age limit should be extended to women aged 69 years. The priority of BreastCheck is to screen women who have not yet been screened and accordingly it is fully focussed at present on the completion of the first round of screening in the West and South. I will consider extending the age limit as recommended when the national roll-out of the programme is sufficiently developed and it is assured that a quality service is being delivered. Any woman irrespective of her age who has immediate concerns or symptoms should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area.

The Deputy’s specific questions in relation to the roll out to County Clare is the responsibility of the National Cancer Screening Service. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Chief Executive Officer of the Service to respond directly to the Deputy in this regard.

  106.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position in relation to the development of primary care in west Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40360/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Under the Health Act 2004, the management and delivery of health and personal social services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. This includes operational responsibility for the establishment of Primary Care Teams and Primary Care Centres. 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 Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a detailed report on the ambulance service for west Clare, including the location at which the ambulance is stationed, the frequency of call out, the staffing complement and the number of times ambulances stationed in other areas are used for calls in west Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40361/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issues raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  108.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are a number of recently graduated physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists who are unable to secure employment due to the Health Service Executive recruitment freeze and the stalling of the primary care strategy, that a significant increase in college places for these courses was recommended by the Bacon report and subsequently approved and that the current employment situation is bleak for recently graduate physiotherapists, many of whom are forced to emigrate to seek employment in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40366/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There has been a growing demand for, and investment in, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy services over the last number of years. There were a number of issues contributing to difficulties accessing therapy services, one of which had been the supply of qualified personnel available to fill vacant posts. A particular priority for my Department and the Department of Education and Science in recent years has been the expansion of the supply of therapy graduates. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future. In this regard, since 1997, the number of training places for physiotherapy has been increased from 64 to 145 which represents an increase of 127%; the number of training places for speech and language therapy has been increased from 25 to 105 which represents an increase [380]of 320%; and the number of training places for occupational therapy has been increased from 29 to 120 which represents an increase of 314%.

Almost 130,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Government’s ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The numbers employed in the therapy grades have also grown significantly, as follows:

Numbers employed in the public health service in whole time equivalent terms

Grade 31/12/1997 30/09/2008 % increase
Physiotherapy 593 1,429 141%
Speech and Language Therapy 282 736 161%
Occupational Therapy 291 1,045 259%

The Government is committed to ensuring continued adequate recruitment of professional staff across a range of community settings to ensure the continued development of community services. Additional funding of €20 million has been provided in 2009 for health and education services for children with special educational needs. This funding will provide a total of 125 additional therapy posts in the HSE targeted at children of school-going age. 90 of these will be in the 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.

In addition, certain key health and social care professional posts, including speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, counsellors and social workers, are to be protected by setting employment floors for these grades within the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2009. These posts are essential to the development of a number of services areas such as disability (including speech and language therapy), child adolescent mental health services and child protection services. In order to protect these posts, my Department will be writing to the HSE setting out the minimum employment levels to be maintained within each of these occupations in the health sector in 2009. The recruitment and retention of these key front line professional posts is vital to ensure continued progress in the development of community settings.

  109.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of the 300 primary care teams promised in the primary care strategy that have been delivered; if she still intends to promote the primary care strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40367/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The key objective of the Primary Care Strategy is to give people direct access to integrated multi-disciplinary teams of general practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, home helps and others. Membership of primary care teams and networks are drawn from existing professional and other staff working in primary, continuing and community care services, as well as from newly recruited frontline professionals. Specific additional funding was provided in 2006/2008 to facili[381]tate the roll-out of extra primary care teams. There have been substantial enhancements in the services provided in primary and community care settings along with corresponding increases in the numbers of staff concerned.

At this stage, the main focus is on the reorganisation of existing services and staff into primary care teams and networks. This requires changes in work practices and reporting relationships, with an emphasis on joint working by various health professionals. It also requires significant work in mapping and profiling of areas.

Work under many of these headings is well advanced and I am pleased with the level of interest in, and engagement with, primary care teams among general practitioners. I have emphasised to the HSE the importance I attach to the continued development and roll-out of primary care teams.

Under the Health Act 2004, the management and delivery of health and personal social services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. This includes operational responsibility for the establishment of Primary Care Teams and Primary Care Centres. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the part of the Question relating to the current number of teams investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  110.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when outstanding moneys owed to all claimants whose applications have been approved under the health repayment scheme will be paid; if the Health Service Executive has identified a deadline date for repayment of all moneys; if the HSE is prioritising repayment to those claimants who are still living; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40381/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme in conjunction with the appointed scheme administrator K.P.M.G. and McCann Fitzgerald. The HSE has advised my Department that since commencement of the scheme over 18,600 claimants have received offers of repayment totalling over €351m and in excess of 14,300 payments have been made totalling over €300m. Further offers continue to be issued every week.

The HSE has informed my Department that the Scheme is progressing as speedily as possible and every effort is being made to settle the remaining outstanding claims as quickly as possible. The Scheme Administrator is very focused on prioritising a repayment to those claimants who are still living and offers continue to be sent to this cohort on a weekly basis.

The HSE has advised my Department that the Scheme Administrator is confident that the vast majority of claims submitted by the public will be concluded by the end of the year. However, it should be noted that repayment offers made towards the end of the year cannot be paid until the statutory 28 day period for appeals has elapsed and a completed acceptance form has been returned to the scheme administrator. In addition, claimants who receive an offer must be given the opportunity, if they so wish to appeal the scheme administrator’s decision on their claim. As a result, this may have an impact on the timeframe for finalisation of the Health Repayment Scheme. The Scheme Administrator continues to work closely with the HSE to ensure that the scheme is finalised as quickly as possible.

  111.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if assistance will be [382]given to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40398/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  A list of reimbursable coeliac food items is available to people registered under the Drug Payment and Medical Card Schemes. The list includes items such as bread, bread mixes, baguettes, flours, pasta, cornflakes, muesli, porridge and pizza bases. The Health Service Executive has operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services under the 2004 Health Act and therefore, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the particular case raised by the Deputy investigated and to have a reply issued directly to him.

  112.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of people she and her Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40424/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The information requested in relation to personal Ministerial staff appointed by my Department is set out as follows.

[383]Ms Mary Harney T.D.

Name Based Rank Duties Gross Annual Salary Elected to City, County, Town or Borough Councils Member of State Boards
Patricia Ryan Private Office, DoHC Special Adviser Providing policy advice to the Minister 150,712 No No
Derek Cunningham Private Office, DoHC Special Adviser/Press Officer Providing policy and press advice to the Minister 122,384 No No
Catherine Dardis Private Office, DoHC Personal Assistant Dealing with Departmental and Ministerial matters 59,737 No No
Alan McGaughey Constituency Office, DoHC Personal Assistant Dealing with constituency matters 60,389 No No

Minister of State with responsibility for Children and Youth Affairs, Mr Barry Andrews T.D.

Name Based Rank Duties Gross Annual Salary Elected to City, County, Town or Borough Councils Member of State Boards
Liam Cullen Private Office, DoHC Special Adviser Providing policy advice to the Minister of State 107,485 No No
Gareth Crowe Constituency Office, DoHC Personal Assistant Dealing with constituency matters 49,957 Co-opted to Dunlaoghaire/ Rathdown Co. Council. No
Angela Hoey-Reilly Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 35,776 No No

[384]Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion and Food, Ms Mary Wallace T.D.

Name Based Rank Duties Gross Annual Salary Elected to City, County, Town or Borough Councils Member of State Boards
Mary Manning Regional Constituency Office Personal Assistant Dealing with constituency matters 50,789 No No
Mary Finn Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 37,837 No No
Josephine King Regional Constituency Office Temporary Clerical Officer Dealing with constituency matters 30,748 No No
Teresa Osborne-Ryan Regional Constituency Office Temporary Clerical Officer Dealing with constituency matters 32,910 No No
Breda Roche Regional Constituency Office Temporary Clerical Officer Dealing with constituency matters 31,828 No No
Michael Farrelly Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No
Ian Gannon Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No

Minister of State with responsibility for Older People, Ms Máire Hoctor T.D.

Name Based Rank Duties Gross Annual Salary Elected to City, County, Town or Borough Councils Member of State Boards
David McMahon Constituency Office, DoHC Personal Assistant Dealing with constituency matters 49,957 No No
Marion Burke Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 44,996 No No
Martin D’Arcy Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No
Matthew Givens Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No

[385]Minister of State with responsibility for Disability Issues and Mental Health Mr John Moloney, T.D.

Name Based Rank Duties Gross Annual Salary Elected to City, County, Town or Borough Councils Member of State Boards
Frances O’Loughlin Regional Constituency Office Personal Assistant Dealing with constituency matters 52,770 No No
Rosemary McEvoy (0.35) Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 16,320 No No
Antoinette Mackim (0.45) Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 18,215 No No
Suzanne Quigley (0.2) Regional Constituency Office Personal Secretary Dealing with constituency matters 5,726 No No
John Edward Moloney Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No
Don White Civilian Driver Driving Duties 34,804 No No

  113.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the effectiveness of byotrol anti-microbial technology in destroying and preventing hospital acquired infections such as MRSA, VRE and C difficile; if she proposes to introduce it into hospitals here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40429/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The monitoring and control of Health Care Associated Infections (HCAIs) is a priority for this Government and the Health Service Executive (HSE). Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive (HSE) under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. However, I have been informed that while the technology referred to by the Deputy may have some benefits associated with the control of HCAIs, the HSE does not have the scientific evidence to date to make a decision to introduce it in the Irish healthcare setting.

  114.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has been presented with a copy of a report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in relation to complaints made against an organisation (details supplied) regarding complaints of a certain nature and containing recommendations to reform complaint procedures and child protection measures; the length of time the report has been in her Department’s possession; if the report has been sent to the Health Service Executive; the length of time it has been in the HSE’s possession, if that report has been published; if action has been taken against those at the centre of allegations; if the report has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions; if all recommendations have been implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40435/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  My office was sent a report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) relating to the Catholic diocese of Cloyne. As soon as the report was received my office requested the NBSCCC to forward the report to the HSE. As it later became clear that the NBSCCC had not forwarded the report to the HSE, and did not intend doing so, the report was sent by my office to the HSE.

As regards any action on foot of the report this remains at present a matter for the HSE as the agency statutorily responsible to promote the welfare of children not receiving adequate care and protection. I await the report and recommendations of the HSE as to whether the current child protection policies and practices in the Catholic church are being implemented and operated satisfactorily in the context of the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese. I have asked the HSE to reply to the Deputy directly in relation to actions taken following its receipt of the report.

  115.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of nursing home refund appeals processed in each of the past 12 months; the length of time it is taking to process each application, both oral and written; the cost of administering the appeals [387]office; the payment mechanism for the appeals officers; when it is expected to clear the back log; the numbers involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40437/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Repayment Scheme Appeals Office is an independent office established to provide an appeals service to those who wish to appeal the decision of the Scheme Administrator under the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006.

Up to the end of 2007 the Health Repayment Scheme Appeals Office had received 1,206 completed appeal forms and of these lodged appeals the Appeals Officer had issued 407 decisions. Up to 7 November 2008 the Office has received an additional 3,633 completed appeal forms and the Appeals Officers have issued an additional 2,010 decisions. In summary, up to 7 November 2008 the cumulative total of appeal forms lodged is 4,839 and the cumulative total of Appeals Officers’ decisions issued is 2,417. It is anticipated that the Health Repayment Scheme Appeals Office will continue to receive completed appeals forms during the first half of 2009 and that all appeals will be determined before the end of 2009.

The Appeals Officers must investigate each appeal independently, these investigations can require additional reviews by the Health Service Executive and the Scheme Administrator and certain appeals present a high level of complexity. In addition a very high percentage of appellants have requested an oral hearing. A second Appeals Officer was appointed on 1 September 2008 to ensure appeals are determined as quickly as possible. The current average time for an Appeals Officer’s decision to issue is 97 days.

The Health Repayment Scheme Appeals Office was established in December 2006. Two Appeals Officers have been appointed to consider appeals and the Office has four administration staff. The set-up and on-going operating expenses of the Office, including the salaries in respect of the Appeals Officers and staff, up to 31 October 2008 are set out in the table below. Salaries are paid to the Appeals Officers and staff by the Department of Health and Children. These salaries are then refunded on a quarterly basis to the Department of Health and Children from the Special Account as provided for under section 13 of the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006.

2006 2007 2008 (up to 31/10/08) Total
€57,571.39 €325,076.21 €463,143.46 €846,001.06

  116.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will make a statement on the commitment to a multi-annual investment programme under the national disability strategy; and if €50 million will be provided in 2009 for this strategy. [40438/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  Under the Multi Annual Investment Programme additional funding of €75m was allocated in both 2006 and 2007 and €50m was allocated in 2008 to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to fund a range of additional disability services. Although the commencement of the planned developments in disability services this year had been delayed due to a financial review, I am pleased to inform you that the Executive has informed the Department of Health and Children that it is now in the process of rolling out the planned developments. The HSE has indicated that due to the delayed start to some of these developments, it expects to spend €33m of the €50m by the end of 2008. The resulting €17m time related savings were included in this Department’s budgetary consolidation measures announced to the House in July 2008.

[388]Due to the current economic climate it is not possible to provide an additional €50m in 2009 for the Multi Annual Investment Programme. However the Government has emphasised its commitment to people with disabilities by allocating an additional €20m in Budget 2009 for health and education services for children with special educational needs. €10m of this allocation will be to the Health Service Executive (HSE), and €10m to the Department of Education and Science, to enable the services provided to children with special educational needs to be enhanced and strengthened. The additional €10m allocated to the HSE will provide for 125 additional therapy posts in the disability and mental health services, targeted at children of school-going age.

  117.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case of persons (details supplied). [40467/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Matters relating to clinical/medical malpractice are appropriate to the Medical Council as the body charged with regulating the medical profession in Ireland. Therefore, any concerns which the Deputy may have in relation to this particular case should be directed to the Medical Council for their attention.

  118.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount each hospital has been penalised or awarded under the Health Service Executive award scheme for hospitals each year for the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40484/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. My 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.

  119.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of bonus awarded to the manager of each hospital each year for the past three years; if she will provide the information per hospital in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40485/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Performance related award schemes are in operation in respect of the chief executive officers and the deputy chief executive officers in the Dublin Area Teaching Hospitals and the chief executive officers of voluntary hospitals. The awards made to eligible individuals are solely a matter for the board of the particular hospital, and must be in accordance with the principles set out by the review body. In this regard, awards should be related to the achievement of highly demanding and challenging targets and stretched objectives which are difficult, but not impossible to achieve. These targets should be set beyond what the normal ongoing requirements of the job. Details of awards made to individual officers under the scheme by the various boards are not disclosed on the basis that they are confidential to the individual concerned. The range of awards made in respect of 2005 to 2007 is as follows:

Year No. of agencies Minimum award Maximum award
2005 17 5,970 13,692
2006 17 8,560 19,615
2007 13 8,626 24,276

  120.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the details and costs of the data centre recently established at Hawkins House; if it will be possible to move this data centre in the event that the Department of Health and Children moves from Hawkins House; the cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40509/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  A new IT computer room was provided in Hawkins House in 2007 as part of a number of refurbishment works carried out by the Office of Public Works that year. The cost of this facility, including VAT, was slightly under €400,000. Two independent reports carried out in 2006 highlighted the risks in the facility then existing and the pressing need for upgrading. The bulk of the equipment installed as part of the refurbishment of the computer room could be reused if required in an alternative site. It is not possible to accurately estimate the cost of relocating this equipment as this would depend on the facilities available at, and the characteristics of, a new site.

  121.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason medication (details supplied) is not available under the GMS scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40511/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services including the availability of drugs and medicines was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, my 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.

  122.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40515/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for the medical card benefit, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has therefore requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  123.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a medical card has been refused in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; if same will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40516/08]

[390]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Health Service Executive has operational and funding responsibility for the medical card benefit, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has therefore requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  124.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40517/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for the medical card benefit, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has therefore requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  125.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the consultative panel to advise the Alcohol Marketing Communications Monitoring Body as proposed in the revised codes of practice on alcohol marketing, communications and advertising to young people published in July 2008 has been established; if so, the membership of same; if not, when it will be established; if she will ensure that organisations representing children and young people will be represented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40570/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  My Department established the independent Alcohol Marketing Communications Monitoring Body to monitor the implementation of, and adherence to, the codes on alcohol advertising by advertisers and media owners. To date, the two annual reports prepared by the body found that there was general compliance with the codes. In order to bring the views of a broader constituent of stakeholders on the operation and implementation of the codes to the attention of the body, it has been agreed to establish a consultative panel to the body. This consultative panel has not yet been established. My Department is in the process of consulting with the code partners before issuing invitations to join the consultative panel. I assure the Deputy that my Department intends to have the views of children and young people represented on the consultative panel.

  126.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the working group to examine the extent of the existing sports sponsorships by alcohol companies and the terms and lengths of contracts has been set up; if she will ensure that organisations representing children and young people will be represented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40571/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  My Department is consulting other relevant Government Departments to find the most suitable means of progressing this issue. My Department will seek to ensure that relevant stakeholders, including those representing children and young people, will have an opportunity to set out their views and concerns.

  127.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40708/08]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware my Department is not one of the Departments scheduled for decentralisation under the Government’s Decentralisation Programme. To date, 55 civil servants have transferred to decentralising Departments from my Department. Further details in respect of the transfer of these officers are available from the decentralising Departments.

  128.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason an airport (details supplied) received a grant of €800,000 in 2008; if he will provide a breakdown of this support; the reason this scheme is not extended to other regional airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40374/08]

  129.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    the grant aid allocated to a regional airport (details supplied) in each of the past five years. [40375/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 and 129 together.

A scheme introduced in 2006 provides for an annual subvention in respect of expenditure incurred by the regional airports in providing core airport services. The amount of subvention payable in any one year is based on projected losses by the airports in providing those core services, having taken account of any surpluses from commercial activities such as catering and carparking and any other sources of income available to the airports. This is in line with the view underlying the mandatory EU guidelines on State aid for the sector that, as a general rule, airports should be self-financing and that public money should be made available to them only in particular circumstances and subject to certain conditions. The scheme, which was drawn up as a necessary response to EU guidelines, is based on a PSO contract between the Minister and the individual airports under which the airports undertake to provide core airport services to an acceptable standard. Consideration of applications for funding under the scheme involves a close analysis by the Department of financial and other information provided by each airport on an annual basis. Galway Airport has received €820,800 in operational subvention to date in 2008. With regard to Galway Airport, the amount of grant aid paid in each of the last five years is as follows:

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Capital Grant Aid 944,712 1,276,421 692,015 0 673,892
*Operational subvention 230,000 280,000 280,000 677,848 859,000

Between 2003 and 2005, the operational subvention related to marketing, safety and security costs.

  130.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40427/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The tables which follow this reply provide the information required by the Deputy. The first table relates to me, as the Minister for Transport, and the second table relates to the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern.

[393]Minister

Name Rank Location Salary Scale Council Members Member of State Board Responsibilities
James Fegan Special Advisor Constituency Office €92,730 –€107,485 Yes No To provide advice to the Minister, and to monitor, facilitate and secure the achievement of Government objectives that relate to the Department of Transport
Margaret Conway Personal Assistant Constituency Office €46,558 –€55,030 No No To ensure the smooth running of all constituency matters.
Una Grehan Personal Secretary ConstituencyOffice €444.26 –€825.90 p.w. No No Secretarial duties.
Tanya Harrington Specialist in Transport Policy Private Office €86,168 –€100,191 No No Transport, Regulatory and Policy Co-ordinator
Olive Stephens Press Advisor Press Office €86,168 –€100,191 No No Responsible for day to day management of the Department’s Press Office

Minister of State

Name Rank Location Salary Scale Council Members Member of State Board Responsibilities
Deirdre Heney Personal Assistant Constituency Office €46,558 –€55,030 Yes No To ensure the smooth running of all constituency matters.
Niall McCullough Secretarial Assistant Constituency Office €444.26 –€825.90 per week No No To ensure the smooth running of all constituency matters.
Liam Sheehy CivilianDriver —— €34,826 No No Driving
Michael Talbot Civilian Driver —— €34,826 No No Driving

  131.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the €22.3 million allocated under Transport 21 to Waterford Airport; the amount to be allocated in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40445/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In February 2007, the Government approved grants under Transport 21 amounting to €86 million, consisting of €39 million under Measure 1 (90% funding) for safety/security projects, and €47 million under Measure 2 (75% funding) for developmental projects at the six regional airports in the period up to the end of 2010. Waterford Airport, with potential grants amounting to €22.33 million, is a major beneficiary under the capital grant scheme and has already received about €2.77 million in grant aid. Projects earmarked for the Airport include €9.2 million for safety related projects and €13.1 million for development projects. The provision in my Department’s Vote to fund the capital expenditure grant scheme in 2009 is €11 million. Because of the current difficulties with the public finances, I have decided that until the end of 2009, expenditure under the scheme should focus on projects and project elements where the airports have already entered into contractual commitments. This means that inevitably, full implementation of the approved capital programme will take longer than originally anticipated. My Department will aim to establish priorities for grant aid from the funds available in 2009, having regard to contractual commitments and a realistic assessment of the actual drawdown requirements for safety and security-related projects likely to arise during the year. At a recent meeting with Waterford Airport, I received a detailed presentation on priority items which the airport wants to move forward in 2009, which are mainly safety/security related. This will be considered by my Department in the context of its review of priorities for funding under the scheme next year, but it is not possible to give any commitments at this stage on the eventual decisions.

  132.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    his strategic plan for the development of public transport in the south-east region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40449/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The strategic overall framework for land use and transport planning in the south-east region is the national spatial strategy and the south-east regional planning guidelines. In addition, the Waterford planning land use and transportation strategy, adopted by the three relevant local authorities, provides a sub-regional framework for Waterford city and environs, while development plans and local area plans at local levels must also be consistent with the National spatial strategy framework. The national spatial strategy, regional planning guidelines, and land use and transportation plans such as the Waterford planning land use and transportation strategy, were extensively taken into account by my Department in the development of the Transport 21 investment programme. Investment in upgrading the transport infrastructure in the south-east region has focused to a substantial extent on upgrading the road network including the N9 and N11. There has also been substantial investment however in the rail network between Dublin and Rosslare and Dublin and Waterford. Both lines have benefited from substantial investment of approximately €140 million since 1999 in upgrading the track to continuous welded rail, upgrading the signalling system and in improvement works on bridges, level crossings and fencing.

Iarnród Éireann has expanded services on the route in response to customer demand. This has facilitated an increased in services from four daily services on the Waterford line in 2003 to six daily services in 2008. Services on the Rosslare line services increased in 2007 from three services to four services daily. Both routes are also benefiting from the introduction of new InterCity railcars. This fleet of carriages for the entire national network will ultimately operate [395]all on all services on these two routes. The trains are operated on one service daily in each direction on the Dublin-Waterford route and will be rolled out across both routes in early 2009. I understand from Bus Éireann that 35 of the 239 new buses it is purchasing will be deployed in the south-east region. In addition, my Department has approved funding to Waterford City Council for bus priority as well as for the carrying out of a public transport feasibility study for Waterford city, which will include an examination of the feasibility of rapid transit and an analysis of the bus network in the city and environs. I understand that a consultative committee regarding the feasibility study, convened by the city council, is due to take place shortly. This study is to be completed by mid-2009. My Department’s rural transport programme is already operational in all counties throughout the south-east region.

  133.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    if a person buying a vehicle, for example 18 months after its last National Car Test test period has expired, is required to pay the full test charge even when the vehicle has been validly off the road for the previous year and a half; his views on having the NCT validity period run from the date of the test rather than from the date of first registration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40510/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No 477 of 2006) this is a matter for the Road Safety Authority.

  134.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the legislative basis on which the National Roads Authority and a company (details supplied) have determined toll charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40560/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll bye-laws and to enter into toll agreements with private investors in respect of national roads is vested in the National Roads Authority (NRA) under Part V of the Roads Act 1993 (as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007). Section 61 of the Roads Act provides that the NRA may make toll bye-laws for the operation and management of a toll road, which may specify the amounts of the tolls that shall be charged.

  135.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason with regard to an application for renewal of a SPSV licence (details supplied), the applicant is being charged a penalty fee of €500 and associated costs in view of the fact that their test was completed within the timeframe but licence printing facilities were not available at that time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40567/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Taxi Regulation Act 2003 established the Commission for Taxi Regulation as an independent public body responsible for the development and maintenance of the regulatory framework for the control and operation, including licensing, of taxis, hackneys, limousines and their drivers. Under the 2003 Act the Commission may make regulations in relation to the licensing, ownership, control and operation of small public service vehicles. The issues raised in the Deputy’s question relate to the day-to-day responsibilities and actions of the Commission.

  136.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will make a statement [396]on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40712/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  10 Departmental and 40 Road Safety Authority staff were decentralised to Loughrea in July, 2007, a total of 50 staff. Of these, 10 staff relocated from Dublin in the following grades: 2 Assistant Principal Officers, 5 Transport Officers, 1 Higher Executive Officer,1 Executive Officer and 1 Staff Officer.

62 posts were also decentralised to Ballina. Of these, 8 staff relocated from Dublin in the following grades: 2 Assistant Principal Officers, 2 Executive Officers, and 4 Clerical Officers. The remaining Departmental staff did not volunteer to decentralise out of Dublin.

44 staff from my Department transferred to posts in other Departments which were due to move out of Dublin under the decentralisation programme. The ultimate transfer of these staff is a matter for their parent Departments. My Department has not decentralised staff to any location other than Ballina and Loughrea.

  137.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40425/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The staff appointed to my office are set out in the following table:

Rank/Responsibility Salary Range
Special Adviser €86,168 –€106,582
Press Adviser €86,168 –€106,582
Personal Assistant €46,558 –€59,097
Personal Secretary €30,566 –€50,410

The staff appointed to the office of my colleague, Mr. Conor Lenihan, T.D., Minister of State for Integration, are set out in the following table:

Rank/Responsibility Salary Range
Personal Assistant €46,558 –€59,097
Personal Secretary €44,316 – one point scale

The Minister of State also has 2 civilian drivers who are paid a weekly wage of €667.43.

[397]None of the staff appointed are elected to city, county, town or borough councils. Nor are they members of State boards.

  138.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when he will appoint a permanent District Court judge to Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40452/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A judge is assigned on a temporary basis to Waterford District at present. Plans are in place to make a permanent assignment in the very near future.

  139.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [40469/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have sought a report from the Garda authorities on this matter and will communicate with the Deputy upon receipt of this.

  140.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if, in the aftermath of the Morris tribunal, other alleged miscarriages of justices are being investigated by the authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40471/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Morris Tribunal of Inquiry was established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in March 2002 to inquire into allegations arising from a unique set of circumstances surrounding the activities of some members of An Garda Síochána in Donegal. Mr. Justice Morris and his team in producing eight comprehensive and conclusive reports have performed a huge service for An Garda Síochána and the public. Even so, I am sure that the Deputy will agree that it would neither be desirable nor practicable to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry whenever a miscarriage of justice is alleged.

What the Government has done however, as noted by Mr Justice Morris, is to establish a new and independent body to consider complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is independent in the exercise of its functions and its membership comprises persons of the highest calibre chosen by Government, approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas and appointed by the President. It is chaired by a High Court Judge and has almost 100 staff which is five times the staffing complement of its predecessor the Garda Síochána Complaints Board. Included in that staffing complement is an independent investigative capacity with considerable professional expertise. It is empowered directly to investigate all complaints, including those complaints where the complainant feels that he or she or another person has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice as a result of Garda misconduct. It also has the power to investigate of its own motion, without a complaint having to be made, and where it is desirable in the public interest, any matter that appears to it to indicate that a member of the Garda Síochána may have committed an offence, or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings. The Minister may also request the Ombudsman to investigate any such matter.

[398]Finally, and as Mr. Justice Morris has also pointed out in paragraph 15.05 of his Sixth report, section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1993 facilitated for the first time a review of a criminal conviction even if there had been an unsuccessful appeal, if a newly discovered fact demonstrates to the Court of Criminal Appeal that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

  141.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected position regarding an application for residency or family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40518/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my Replies to his previous Parliamentary Questions concerning the person concerned. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person referred to by the Deputy will be contacted shortly by the Family Reunification Unit in relation to the application which was refused in July 2006.

  142.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40519/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to inform the Deputy that the person in question was invited, by letter dated 2 April, 2008, to make written representations, under Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as to why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations in this regard have been received in my Department and are being assessed by the relevant officials. The person concerned, and his legal representatives, will be contacted directly and notified of any decisions made regarding his status in the State in due course.

  143.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40520/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 845 of Wednesday, 24 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

  144.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to a family reunification application by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40521/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my answers to his previous Parliamentary Questions. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person referred to by the Deputy made an application for Family Reunification in January 2006. The application was forwarded to the Refugee Applications Commissioner for investigation as required under Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. [399]This investigation has been completed and the Commissioner has forwarded a report to my Department. Further documentation was submitted subsequently by the person in question and is currently being examined by my Department. My Department will contact the person in question shortly in relation to her application.

  145.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40522/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 13 March 2006. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 20 June 2008, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with these Regulations and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  146.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40523/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum in the State on 16 April 2003. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 14 November 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations were received from the person concerned at that time.

The person concerned has also submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006) and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in [400]writing of the outcome. In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  147.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has studied the details submitted by a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40524/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 2 June 2005. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 24 April 2006, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations were submitted on behalf of the person concerned at that time. In addition, the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 3 August 2007, of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with these Regulations and, following consideration of this application, it was determined that the person concerned was not eligible for Subsidiary Protection in the State. The person concerned was notified of this decision by letter dated 5 November 2008.

The case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will now be considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  148.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for leave to remain in the State in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40525/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the application by the person concerned for residence in the State based on EU Treaty Rights was reviewed under the provisions of Directive 2004/38/EC and in light of the European Court of Justice ruling in “Metock” of 25 July 2008. Following this review a decision recently issued in writing to the person concerned.

  149.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on granting temporary residency in the case of a person (details suppled) in County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40526/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to the detailed Reply I gave to his Parliamentary Question, No. 382 of Tuesday, 30 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

[401]

  150.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40527/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned, and his wife, have both been granted permission to remain in the State under the revised arrangements for the non-EEA parents of children born in Ireland prior to 1 January, 2005, known as the IBC/05 Scheme.

The permission granted to the person concerned is valid until 8 December, 2010 and his wife’s is valid until 30 June, 2010. The permission to remain granted only becomes operative when the person has registered with the Garda National Immigration Bureau. I have arranged for the relevant letters to be re-issued to the address provided by the Deputy.

  151.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied regarding the degree of exchange of information between the authorities here and those in other jurisdictions to maximise the efficiency of the fight against international drug trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40528/08]

  156.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the discussions he has had with his EU colleagues with a view to greater co-operation and co-ordination in the fight against organised crime including drug trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40533/08]

  164.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied that adequate co-operation and exchange of information exists through Europol or other agencies to combat organised crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40541/08]

  168.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if adequate co-operation exists between Europol and An Garda Síochána to facilitate the efficient tackling of international drug crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40545/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 151, 156, 164 and 168 together.

It is clear that organised crime is a form of criminal activity that no country can tackle on its own. To meet the challenges involved, I am informed by the Garda authorities that close links have very successfully been built up with other police services within the European Union. This is a process which has been facilitated to a large degree by the adoption of a series of EU measures which have greatly assisted police cooperation.

Ireland has consistently and strongly supported EU measures to tackle organised crime and to improve law enforcement cooperation. In that context, Ireland participates very constructively in the negotiation of initiatives and legislative instruments at EU level to strengthen criminal judicial cooperation and the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement agencies. For example, a major current development focuses on stepping up cross border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross border crime. This will permit, inter alia, the sharing of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration information.

Ireland is a party to various International Conventions which provide for assistance in criminal matters between jurisdictions. I am informed by the Garda authorities that An Garda [402]Síochána sends and receives requests for assistance via the Central Authority for Mutual Assistance at my Department. Requests for Assistance may also be dealt with on the basis of reciprocity where certain jurisdictions may not be a party to specific conventions. Where information exists that a person, who is wanted in relation to a particular crime in this jurisdiction is living abroad and where the particular legal requirements apply extradition is sought or a European Arrest Warrant is applied for.

An Garda Síochána actively contributes to Europol activity in relation to Organised Crime, including analysis, intelligence exchange and threat assessments. An Garda Síochána operates in close co-operation with both national and international law enforcement agencies in targeting those suspected of being involved in drug-trafficking and the sale and distribution of illicit drugs. Both An Garda Síochána and Customs have liaison officers based at Europol HQ in The Hague. Both agencies also have liaison officers at the Maritime Analysis Operations Centre for Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon which is tasked with countering illicit drug trafficking at sea.

In relation to my cooperation with other EU Ministers, I wish to inform the Deputy that I take all possible opportunities to discuss cooperation and coordination in the fight against organised crime with my EU colleagues, either at bilateral meetings or at Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings.

Organised Crime and drug trafficking are topics that are regularly discussed, both generally and with reference to specific issues at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. For instance, Ministers had a detailed discussion on drug trafficking via West Africa at the last Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in October 2008. In the course of that debate I stressed the vital importance of close cooperation between the EU Member States in targeting and combating all forms of transnational crime, particularly, drug trafficking. Ireland will continue to participate fully in this regard. It is expected that the EU Presidency will bring forward proposals based on that debate. Further details of Council agendas can be found on the Website of the council of the European Union (www.consilium.europa.eu).

I would also add that at a national level, cooperation is also working well. An Garda Síochána works with the Revenue Commissioners (Customs) in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding and the Working Protocol and with both Customs and Naval Services under the Joint Task Force. An Garda Síochána, in co-operation with its multi-agency law enforcement partners, including the Revenue Commissioners, will ensure that all available resources will be deployed in targeting the major gangs involved in drug trafficking in accordance with the National Drugs Strategy.

Multi-agency approaches have been and continue to be used where all of the National Units from National Support Services i.e. National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (Money Laundering) and the Garda Technical Bureau, are used to combat organised crime. These Units are also supported by the Security and Intelligence Section who assist with intelligence briefings and timely information.

The Criminal Assets Bureau is being actively utilised to identify and target funds accumulated by criminals, in order to seize such assets and to deprive them of the profits of their criminal activity. A dedicated unit within the Garda National Drugs Unit has been established to liaise with the Criminal Assets Bureau to particularly target those criminals and criminal groupings believed to be deriving profits and assets from drug-related criminal activity.

This integrated approach adopts best practice in implementing a co-ordinated use of Garda resources and using available criminal legislation to its fullest extent. Operations are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure their effectiveness.

  152.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40529/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 901 of Wednesday, 24 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

  153.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40530/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 20 December 2006. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 20 February 2008, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations have been submitted on behalf of the person concerned and will be fully considered, under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement, before the file is passed to me for decision.

  154.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40531/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 8 September 2005. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 17 August 2006, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State.

Representations have been submitted on behalf of the person concerned and will be fully considered, under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement, before the file is passed to me for decision.

  155.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when Stamp 4 will issue to facilitate employment in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40532/08]

[404]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications.

As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

A final decision on each application is made following receipt of the recommendation of the Refugee Applications Commissioner or the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, as appropriate.

Question No. 156 answered with Question No. 151.

  157.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40534/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the deputy to the reply to his Parliamentary Question No. 177 in respect of the person concerned also for answer today.

  158.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the way he will tackle the problems of the availability of bail to those who commit serious crimes including murder and armed robbery from obtaining bail in the courts allowing them to re-offend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40535/08]

  162.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the steps he will take to prevent re-offending by those on bail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40539/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 158 and 162 together.

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Questions Nos. 42 and 57 of today’s date.

  159.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in the matter of an application for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40536/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department in August 2005.

I understand that the file is being forwarded to my Office for a decision shortly. The person concerned will be informed of that decision in due course.

Question No. 160 answered with Question No. 60.

  161.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his plans to prevent recidivism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40538/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service recently facilitated a major study of prisoner re-offending by the UCD Institute of Criminology. The study found that 27.4% of released prisoners were serving a new prison sentence with one year. This rose to 39.2% after two years, 45.1% after three years, and 49.2% after four years.

The Prisons and Probation Services provide a range of rehabilitative programmes which have the dual purpose of providing prisoners with purposeful activity while serving their sentences and encouraging and equipping them to lead productive lives on release. 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-reach statutory and non-statutory services. Amongst these are health care, psychiatric, psychological, educational, work and training, 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.

In addition, the Probation Service 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 such as offending behaviour, addiction, violence and sex offending.

The Irish Prison Service places a strong emphasis on access to educational services and on the provision of work and training activities for prisoners. As a result of the Programme for Organisational Change, there has been a significant expansion and development of vocational training programmes. The Work Training Service comprises an authorised complement of over 250 prison service posts and there are over 90 workshops operating in our prisons actively catering 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. During the academic year 2007/08, 220 whole-time-equivalent VEC teachers were the main providers of these education programmes.

The Irish Prison Service is also delivering programmes aimed at reducing the demand for drugs within the prison system through enhanced security measures as well as education, treatment and rehabilitation services for drug-addicted prisoners. The Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy & Strategy —Keeping Drugs Out of Prisons- caters for the expansion of existing drug treatment programmes and further recruitment of dedicated staff working in partnership with community based services in the prisons. Particular initiatives include the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, an information forum, addiction counselling, drug therapy programmes and the operation of drug free units.

Every effort is made to assist sex offenders in custody who are willing to participate at any level in their personal rehabilitation and relapse prevention. In this regard, there are three forms of direct therapeutic intervention currently available — i.e., individual counselling from the Irish Prison Service’s Psychology Service and from the Probation Service; the Sex Offender [406]Programme which has been in operation since 1994, and the Psychiatric Service which provides some support to prisoners in this category.

Significant progress is also being made in the development of programmes based on risk assessment and rehabilitation needs. The Irish Prison Service is developing and rolling-out, a fully coordinated Integrated Sentence Management System (ISM) across all prisons and places of detention. This system is being piloted in two prisons at the present time and the lessons learned from the evaluation of the pilot will inform the continued roll-out across the prison estate.

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides for the establishment of a joint policing committee in each local authority administrative area. On 24 September, I launched with my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the roll out of the Committees from the initial pilot phase in 29 local authority areas to all 114 local authority areas. I strongly believe that the Committees meet an identified need and have great potential to contribute to preventing and tackling crime in their areas.

With regard to youth offending, as the Deputy will be aware Garda Youth Diversion Projects are a scheme of community based, youth oriented, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which seek to divert young people away from becoming involved — or further involved — in criminal and/or anti-social behaviour. The projects are funded through the Irish Youth Justice Service and administered by the Community Relations Section of An Garda Síochána.

The aims of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects are;

To divert young people away from becoming involved — or further involved in criminal and/or anti-social behaviour,

To provide suitable activities to facilitate personal development and encourage civic responsibility and social inclusion and

To work towards improving the long term employability prospects of the participants.

Projects offer opportunities for education, employment training, sport, art, music and other activities. Many operate outside of school hours. In areas with a high proportion of early school-leavers, activities may also be planned during the daytime.

Participation in Garda Youth Diversion Projects is voluntary. The primary project target group, which forms the majority of project participants, is comprised of young people who have entered the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme and are considered at risk of remaining within the justice system. The secondary project target group is comprised of young people who, although they have not been officially cautioned, have come to the attention of the Gardaí, the community or local agencies as a result of their behaviour and are considered at risk of entering the justice system at a future date. The number of participants in each project differs according to local circumstances and resources.

Question No. 162 answered with Question No. 158.

  163.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40540/08]

[407]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his Parliamentary Question, No. 844 of Wednesday, 24 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 151.

  165.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if extended temporary residency will be offered to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40542/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The applicant arrived in the State on 24 April, 2005 with her three children and claimed asylum. Her application was refused and she was informed of this decision by registered post on 21 March, 2006. Deportation orders were made on 26 February, 2008.

The applicant instituted Judicial Review proceedings on 22 April, 2008 challenging the Deportation Orders made in respect of her and her children and accordingly, as the matter is sub judice, I do not propose to comment further.

  166.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40543/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a Certificate of Naturalisation from the person concerned was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department on 18 March 2005 and my predecessor decided to refuse the application. The reason for the refusal was disclosed to the applicant in letters dated 17 January 2007 and 9 June 2008.

It is open to the person in question to lodge a new application if and when he is in a position to satisfy the statutory requirements applicable at that time. However, in doing so he should bear in mind the reasons for refusal of his previous application.

  167.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is satisfied with the availability of assistance in the fight against crime through Eurojust; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40544/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Eurojust is responsible for improving the co-ordination of cross-border investigations and prosecutions. Eurojust is composed of 27 National Members, one seconded from each member state in accordance with its legal system being a prosecutor, judge, or police officer of equivalent competence. Ireland is represented by a prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In July 2008, the Council of Ministers reached political agreement on a Council Decision on the strengthening of Eurojust which will provide for:

on-call co-ordination at Eurojust,

the conferring of a range of powers at national level on Eurojust national members,

a Eurojust national co-ordination system,

[408]specific obligations to provide certain information to Eurojust national members,

the possibility for the posting of Eurojust liaison magistrates to third states, and

the possibility for Eurojust to co-ordinate the execution of a request for judicial co-operation issued by a third state.

The proposed Council Decision is due to be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers in the near future. Ireland is fully supportive of the Council Decision.

Question No. 168 answered with Question No. 151.

Question No. 169 answered with Question No. 60.

  170.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected position in relation to an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40547/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned arrived in the State on 12 July 2003 and applied for asylum. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 16 May 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations were received from the person concerned at that time.

The person concerned has also submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006) and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  171.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40548/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications.

As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and [409]the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

A final decision on each application is made following receipt of the recommendation of the Refugee Applications Commissioner or the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, as appropriate.

  172.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the status of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; if travel documentation will issue for their daughter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40549/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person in question was granted temporary permission to remain in the State on 26 March 2008. This permission is valid until 26 March 2011.

The Immigration Division of my Department has also informed me that there is no record of a current travel document application on behalf of the daughter of the person in question.

As the person in question’s daughter is a Cameroonian National it is advised that she contact the Embassy of Cameroon, 84 Holland Park, London W11 3SB, England with a view to obtaining her own National passport or Travel Document.

  173.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40550/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department in July 2006 and I decided to refuse the application. The reason for my decision was disclosed to the person in question in a letter issued on 3 November, 2008.

It is open to the person in question to lodge a new application if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements applicable at that time. In doing so, however, she should give due regard to my reason for refusing the previous application.

  174.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected position in relation to an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40551/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department in February 2006.

Processing of the file has been completed and I have reached a decision. The person in question will be informed of that decision in due course.

  175.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected position in relation to an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40552/08]

[410]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department in July 2008.

Officials in that Section are currently processing applications received in July 2006. Applications are dealt with in chronological order as this is deemed to be the fairest to all applicants. However, I understand that the person concerned is a refugee. In accordance with the Government’s obligations under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, every effort is made to ensure that applications from persons with refugee status are dealt with as quickly as possible.

  176.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40553/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A Deportation Order was made in respect of the person concerned on 15/9/2004. The person applied for permission to remain under the revised arrangements for the non-EEA parents of children born in Ireland prior to 1 January, 2005, known as the IBC/05 Scheme. This application was refused as the person in question did not meet the criteria of the scheme. She was informed of this decision by letter dated 29/4/2008 and was invited to make representations under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 relating to the Deportation Order which remains in force.

Representations in this regard have been received in my Department and are being considered by the relevant officials. The person concerned will be contacted directly and notified of any decisions made regarding her status in the State in due course.

  177.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a matter has been investigated in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40554/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as amended provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. One such condition is that the applicant must be of good character. An application for a Certificate of Naturalisation from the person concerned was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department on 20 March 2006 and I decided to refuse the application. The reason for the refusal was disclosed to the applicant in a letter dated 3 July 2008.

It is open to the person in question to lodge a new application if and when she is in a position to satisfy the statutory requirements applicable at that time. However, in doing so she should bear in mind the reasons for refusal of her previous application.

  178.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will review the processing time for citizenship and naturalisation applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40574/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Deputy will appreciate that the granting of Irish Citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and a honour and not an entitlement. Applications must be processed in a way which preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure that it is not undervalued and is only given to persons who genuinely satisfy the necessary qualifying criteria. The procedures involved in the pro[411]cessing of applications have been developed and refined over a number of years and I am satisfied that they are absolutely necessary to maintain the good reputation of our citizens and integrity of the naturalisation process. Consequently, there is a limit to the reduction in the processing time that can be achieved.

The decentralisation of the Citizenship Section to Tipperary Town in April has resulted in a substantial increase in the staffing resources available to the section. This has had a positive impact on reducing the number of naturalisation applications on hand and will in time see a significant reduction in processing time scales. Officials in the Citizenship Section are currently processing applications received in July 2006.

  179.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations, and their grades. [40709/08]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can inform the Deputy that my Department’s decentralisation programme has made excellent progress. To date, five hundred and fifty posts have moved and there is a presence in all of my Department’s seven locations. This represents 60% of the overall target number. Out of this total, two hundred and fifty seven of the staff were from Dublin and two hundred and ninety three moved from provincial locations.

The grade breakdown is set out in the following table. The information in this table is notable in two respects; firstly contrary to media comment and speculation, very significant numbers of staff at senior level in Dublin offices have opted to move to provincial locations. Secondly, the number of staff opting to move from within provincial locations have been predominantly those in the junior and clerical grades.

It would not be feasible in the timeframe available to specify the numbers and grades of the staff who have been re-assigned in Dublin, arising from decentralisation. I can confirm, however, that all the Dublin based staff whose posts have been decentralised and who have opted to remain in Dublin, have been re-assigned to posts within my own Department and with other Departments.

Decentralised Staff

Grade From Dublin From Provincial Locations
PO 18 3
AP 32 8
HEO 56 21
EO 54 55
SO 7 15
CO 71 174
Service Officer 5 4
Professional & Technical 14 13
Total 257 293

  180.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40423/08]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  Details of the numbers of staff personally appointed by me and by the Ministers of State in my Department are set out in the following tables.

Numbers of personally-appointed staff in each office

Private Office Constituency Office
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Micheál Martin, T.D. 2 personal appointees 2 personal appointees
Minister of State, Mr Peter Power, T.D. 3 personal appointees 2 personal appointees
Minister of State, Mr Dick Roche, T.D. 3 personal appointees 2 personal appointees

The number of staff assigned to Ministers’ Offices in the Department of Foreign Affairs complies with the relevant Department of Finance guidelines.

The following table sets out the names, responsibilities and remuneration of each of these staff. All of these staff have been contracted under terms and conditions of employment set by the Minister for Finance and are employed on a full-time basis. Their appointments will terminate no later than the date on which I and my Minister of State colleagues cease to hold office as Ministers.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Micheál Martin, T.D.

Name Responsibility Remuneration
Ms. Deirdre Gillane Policy Adviser Principal Officer standard scale: €86,168 –€100,191
Mr. Christy Mannion Special Adviser Principal Officer standard scale: €86,168 –€100,191 plus a 10% attraction allowance
Ms. Elizabeth O’Donoghue Personal Assistant Secretarial Assistant Salary Scale: €23,102 –€44,572 per annum plus a 10% attraction allowance
Ms. Susan Kinsella Personal Secretary Executive Officer PPC Salary Scale: €32,179 –€51,054 per annum

Minister of State, Mr Dick Roche, T.D.

Name Responsibility Remuneration
Mr. David Grant Special Adviser Principal Officer standard scale: €86,168 –€100,191
Ms. Geraldine Cole Personal Assistant Higher Executive Officer Standard Scale: €46,558 –€59,097 per annum
Ms. Ciara Furlong Personal Secretary Secretarial Assistant Salary Scale: €23,102 –€44,572 per annum plus a 10% attraction allowance
Mr. Francis Rickard Civilian Driver Civilian Driver Salary: €34,706 per annum
Mr. Noel Keyes Civilian Driver Civilian Driver Salary: €34,706 per annum

[413]Minister of State, Mr Peter Power, T.D.

Name Responsibility Remuneration
Mr. Jerry O’Connor Special Adviser Principal Officer standard scale: €86,168 –€100,191
Mr. Brian Stokes Personal Assistant Parliamentary Assistant Salary Scale: €41,092 –€52,200 per annum plus a 10% attraction allowance
Ms. Susan Coleman Personal Secretary Secretarial Assistant Salary Scale: €23,102 –€44,572 per annum plus a 10% attraction allowance
Mr. Tony Connolly Civilian Driver Civilian Driver Salary: €34,706 per annum
Mr. Frank Ryan Civilian Driver Civilian Driver Salary: €34,706 per annum

Mr. David Grant, Special Adviser to Minister of State Dick Roche, is a member of Bray Town Council. No other staff appointed by me or by the Ministers of State in my Department have been elected to city, county, town or borough councils, nor are any of them members of State boards.

  181.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has spoken or attempted to speak to Senator Barack Obama since his election victory on 4 November 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40499/08]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  On behalf of the Government, the Taoiseach sent a message of congratulations to President-Elect Obama, in which he affirmed the Government’s commitment to further build and strengthen relations between Ireland and the United States. He assured the President-Elect of the friendship and goodwill of the people and Government of Ireland as he prepares to assume the responsibilities of office. The Taoiseach has also extended his best wishes to Vice President-Elect Biden.

The Taoiseach and I look forward to working with the new President and his Administration, and with the newly elected Congress, to build on the existing deep and cherished ties of kinship between our two countries. In that regard, the Taoiseach and I met this week with Senator Patrick Leahy, who was leading a trade delegation from Vermont. We took the opportunity during his visit to discuss matters of mutual interest to both our countries. In addition, Congressman Richie Neal will lead a Congressional Delegation here in December.

  182.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will confirm that his Department has received a proposal for the inclusion of a youth delegate in the Irish delegation to the 2009 United Nations General Assembly from a group (details supplied); if he will give favourable consideration to this proposal in view of the fact that a growing number of member states are including a youth delegate in their delegations; if he will commit to responding to the group regarding this proposal in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40572/08]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  In May 2008, the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) wrote to my Department requesting the inclusion of a youth delegate in Ireland’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 2009. My Department is considering the NYCI’s proposal which, however, gives rise to a number of administrative and budgetary issues. Our UN Mission in New York has also been in contact with those of other Member States regarding the inclusion of youth delegates in their General Assembly delegations. In this regard, I understand that only some eighteen Member States out of a total of one hundred and ninety two have youth delegates in their delegations.

[414]A reply will issue to the NYCI as soon as consideration of all the practical and financial issues arising is completed by my Department.

  183.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations, and their grades. [40707/08]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  Under the Government’s decentralisation programme announced in 2003, 125 posts attached to the Development Cooperation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs were to decentralise to Limerick. The Division is the Headquarters of Irish Aid.

Following sanction of an additional 20 posts by the Department of Finance in 2005, the total number of posts attached to Irish Aid Headquarters increased to 145. Of these, 138 are decentralising and 112 have now moved into the new permanent Headquarters building in Limerick. The remaining posts are expected to be filled before the end of the year.

Of the 108 staff assigned to Irish Aid at the time decentralisation was announced, 18.5%, or 20 officials, were transferred to other areas of the Department or to other Departments as a direct result of decentralisation. It is in the nature of the work of the Department that staff transfer between Divisions at HQ, and indeed to Embassies abroad, on a regular basis. This routine rotation accounts for the balance of the staff transfers from Irish Aid.

The following table gives details of staff moves.

Decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick as at 10 November 2008

Grade Breakdown
Number of staff decentralised from Dublin 84 Assistant Secretary 1
Counsellor/Principal Officer 7
First Secretary 11
Assistant Principal 10
Higher Executive Officer 6
Third Secretary 5
Executive Officer 8
Staff Officer 2
Clerical Officer 16
Services Officer 2
Financial Controller 1
Accountant 1
Specialists 14
Number of staff who decentralised from 28 Assistant Secretary 0
outside Dublin Counsellor/Principal Officer 2
First Secretary 0
Assistant Principal 4
Higher Executive Officer 6
Number of staff who decentralised from Third Secretary 0
outside Dublin—contd. Executive Officer 7
Staff Officer 0
Clerical Officer 9
Services Officer 0
Financial Controller 0
Accountant 0
Specialists 0
Total who decentralised from Dublin and outside Dublin 112
Number of staff who have opted to remain 18 Assistant Principal 4
in Dublin Higher Executive Officer 7
Executive Officer 3
Clerical Officer 4
Number of staff who have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin 2 Assistant Principal 2
Total who have remained or transferred within Dublin 20

  184.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils;
if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40415/08]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen):  Since my appointment as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism I have appointed 4 staff to work with me. Three of these staff are located at my constituency office in Waterford. My Special Adviser (Press) is located at the Department’s headquarters in Dublin and carries out duties as set out in Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act. The other staff carry out general secretarial and administrative duties including the handling of inquiries made to the constituency office.

Name Position Salary Level (Civil Service grades)
Michelle Hoctor Special Adviser (Press) Principal Officer level
Sean Dower Personal Assistant Higher Executive Officer level
Pat Daly Constituency Assistant Higher Executive Officer level
Inez O’Neill Personal Secretary Secretarial Assistant level + 10% attraction allowance

Mr Pat Daly is a member of Waterford County Council. Minister of State, Mr. Martin Mansergh T.D. does not have private or constituency office facilities at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

  185.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the [416]number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations, and their grades. [40700/08]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen):  The Department of Arts Sport and Tourism was designated for relocation to Killarney, Co. Kerry, under the Government’s Decentralisation Programme, which was announced in the 2004 Budget. The Department, which has a staff of 130, excluding the National Archives, was designated an “early mover” by the Decentralisation Implementation Group (DIG). To date, 76 staff (including two service officers who were recruited directly) have relocated to temporary accommodation in Fossa, Killarney. The objective is to complete the decentralisation process of the Department by early 2009 by which time it will be operating from the new purpose built offices in Killarney.

The following table provides a breakdown of the information requested by the Deputy.

Grade Decentralised from Dublin Opted to remain in Dublin Moved to another Department or agency in Dublin Decentralised from outside Dublin to Kerry
Secretary General 0 0 0 0
Assistant Secretary 0 1 0 0
Principal Officer 3 8 6 2
Assistant Principal 13 17 13 5
Higher Executive Officer 10 19 14 6
Executive Officer 6 27 17 14
Staff Officer 0 2 0 0
Clerical Officer 1 24 17 14
Service Officer 0 3 2 0
Total 33 101 69 41

  186.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40417/08]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  My Department employs the staff that work in my private and constituency offices. These are civil servants and their function is to provide administrative support to myself and to my Department. The following tables provide the details requested by the Deputy in respect of these staff:

Private Office

Number Rank/Duty Salary Scales
1 Private Secretary (HEO level) €49,007 –€62,210 p.a. + Private Secretary Allowance
1 Executive Officer €32,179 –€51,054 p.a.
7 Clerical Officer €467.55 –€758.10 p.w.

Constituency Office

Number Rank/Duty Salary Scales
1 Executive Officer €32,179 –€51,054 p.a.
2 Clerical Officer €467.55 –€758.10 p.w.

In addition, my Department employs a Special Adviser, Media Adviser, Personal Assistant and Personal Secretary who work in my office. The Personal Assistant and Personal Secretary are located in my constituency office. The details requested by the Deputy in relation to these staff are set out in the following table.

Name Rank/Duty Salary Scale
Pádraic Ó hUiginn Special Adviser €86,168 –€106,582 p.a.
Layla de Cogan Chin Media Adviser €86,168 –€106,582 p.a.
Muireann Ní Thuairisg Personal Assistant (HEO level) €46,558 –€59,097
Máire Ní Fhlatharta Personal Secretary €444.26 –€857.15 per week + 10% Attraction Allowance

My Department also employs the staff that work in the offices of Mr. John Curran T.D., Minister of State at my Department. The staff that work in Minister Curran’s private office are civil servants, who provide administrative support to the Minister of State and to the Department. My Department also employs Minister Curran’s Personal Secretary and Personal Assistant, who are located in his constituency office. The details requested by the Deputy are set out in the following tables.

Private Office

Number Rank/Duty Salary Scales
1 Private Secretary (EO level) €32,179 –€53,067 p.a. + Private Secretary Allowance
3 Clerical Officer €467.55 –€758.10 p.w

Constituency Office

Name Rank/Duty Salary Scales
Nicola Stapleton Personal Assistant €41,092 –€52,200 p.a. + 10% Attraction Allowance
*Shauna Curran Personal Secretary €444.26 –€857.15 per week + 10% Attraction Allowance
*Maura Stynes Personal Secretary €444.26 –€857.15 per week + 10% Attraction Allowance

I can confirm to the Deputy that no staff member in either my office or the Minister of State’s office are elected to city, county, town or borough councils nor are they members of any State board. The Deputy will also be aware that Mr Conor Lenihan, T.D., Minister of State with [418]responsibility for Integration, has been assigned to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Education and Science and to my Department. The staffing of his office is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  187.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the grants which have been approved under his Christmas lights as Gaeilge scheme in 2008; the amount approved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40444/08]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  As I have indicated in previous replies to similar Questions, my Department provides funding under the Fo-Chiste Gnó of Ciste na Gaeilge to voluntary and business groups to assist in promoting the Irish language among local business communities. In order to qualify for such funding, a group must provide a business plan to include specific targets relating to the promotion of Irish and a clear exposition as to how these targets will be met. Funding from my Department is provided on the basis that matching funding (to a minimum of 25%) is secured by the applicant from the local authority, or from the local business community.

No funding has been approved under this fund to date in 2008 for the provision of Christmas lights “as Gaeilge”, as referred to by the Deputy. A number of applications have been received. However, it is not intended due to funding constraints to fund Christmas lights under the Fo-Chiste gnó this year.

  188.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    when the action plan for the future of the Gaeltacht and the 20-year strategy for the Irish language will be presented to the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40450/08]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  As the Deputy will be aware, the Government received the Report of the Linguistic Study on the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht late last year. As a result, a Government Committee was established to consider matters arising in the context of the analysis and recommendations contained in the Report. The work of that Committee is ongoing and is intended to lead to the preparation of an integrated action plan to secure the future of Irish as the community language of the Gaeltacht.

With regard to the 20-year Strategy for the Irish language, work is continuing on its development and it is expected that the draft Strategy will be submitted for my consideration and for submission for Government approval by the end of the year.

  189.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the associations a person (details supplied) in County Kildare can contact to resolve their concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40470/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  My Department manages the Scheme of Community Support for Older People, which assists qualifying older people, aged 65 years and older, by means of a community-based grant scheme. Funding is provided towards the once-off cost of installing monitored alarm [419]systems, door and window locks, door chains, security lighting, smoke alarms and in the case of qualifying older people living on our offshore islands, interior emergency lighting. The Scheme operates locally through community groups.

My Department has been in contact with the local community group operating the Scheme in the South Kildare area and they have undertaken to make direct contact with the person in question to discuss their needs.

  190.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations, and their grades. [40702/08]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  As the Deputy will be aware, my Department’s Headquarters are decentralising to Charlestown, Co Mayo, and to date 100 posts, scheduled to move to Charlestown, have decentralised to an interim location in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. The Deputy will also be aware that 11 posts have now relocated to my Department’s offices in Na Forbacha, Co Galway, and that the decentralisation process for that location has been completed.

The information requested by the Deputy is detailed in the following table. The numbers detailed as having relocated from outside Dublin relate to staff from other Departments who were located outside Dublin and who moved into my Department under the decentralisation programme. It should also be noted that 2 people were recruited locally — 1 Professional Accountant and 1 Services Officer for Tubbercurry. In addition 1 Translator has been recruited for Na Forbacha.

Location Grade Relocated to date Relocated from Dublin Opting to remain in Dublin Moved to other Dublin Dept. Relocated from outside Dublin
Tubbercurry Total 100 51 82 56 47
Tech. 4 1 5 0 2
PO 6 4 7 1 2
AP 12 9 10 12 3
HEO/AO 26 20 21 18 6
EO 26 11 13 14 15
SO 0 0 1 0 0
CO 24 5 22 11 19
Service Officer 2 1 3 0 0
Na Forbacha Total 10 5 N/a N/a 5
AP 1 1 0
HEO/AO 4 2 2
EO 1 0 1
CO 4 2 2

  191.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for an oral hearing pertaining to disability benefit. [40371/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The person concerned is in receipt of Disablement Benefit from injuries he received during the course of his work in 2004. Following various medical assessments, the loss of faculty suffered by him has been reduced from 50% in August 2004 to 20% for life in January 2008. He was notified of this latter decision by a Deciding Officer of the Department on 20 February 2008. He subsequently submitted further medical evidence which was referred to the Chief Medical Advisor who considered that this evidence did not warrant a review of the decision.

An appeal was opened on 9 April 2008 and I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that the case has been referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral appeal hearing, the time and date for which are not yet known. The Social Welfare Appeals Office is an office of the Department that is independently responsible for determining appeals against decisions on Social Welfare entitlements.

  192.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of people she and her Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40426/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Since my appointment as Minister for Social and Family Affairs on 7th May 2008, I have appointed, on a contract basis for my term of office, a Special Adviser, Ms. Averil Power, whose salary is €97,109 per annum and a Press Officer, Ms. Geraldine Butler, whose salary is €73,610 per annum.

The duties carried out by the Special Adviser are as set out in Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act, 1997 i.e. to assist the Minister by providing advice, on a wide range of issues, by monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government objectives that relate to the Department and by performing such other functions as may be directed by me. The duties carried out by the Press Officer involve dealing with queries from the media in relation to the schemes operated by the Department. The Press Officer drafts and issues press releases to regional and national media on various initiatives which aim to inform the wider public of developments across the Department. The Press Officer also advises me and senior officials across the Department of developments in the media regarding the functions of the Department.

I have also appointed, on a contract basis for my term of office, two non-established civil servants, a Personal Secretary, Ms. Martine Lynch, whose salary is €44,997 per annum, inclusive of a 10% attraction allowance, and a Personal Assistant, Mr. Peter O’Brien, whose salary is €55,030 per annum together with a private pension contribution of 11% of salary. The roles of my Personal Secretary and Personal Assistant are to provide administrative support and back-up in my capacity as a T.D. and in my constituency office

The staff in question, none of whom are elected members of city, county, town, borough council, or State Boards, are all based in my Department’s headquarters in Áras Mhic Dhiarmada, Store Street, Dublin 1. There has been no Minister of State formally assigned to the [421]Department. However, Minister of State, Ms. Máire Hoctor, who is Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, has special responsibility for older people, areas of which fall within the remit of the Department. There are no staff assigned to her office from the Department.

  193.  Deputy Seán Fleming    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if, in respect of people who are in receipt of disability allowance, they automatically become entitled to the contributory State pension; if not, if they can make arrangements to pay PRSI contributions during their lifetime in order that they will have an entitlement to the contributory State pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40442/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Eligibility for the State (Contributory) Pension is determined by an individuals PRSI contribution history. The standard qualifying conditions for contributory pensions require a person to enter insurance 10 years prior to pension age, pay a minimum of 260 contributions at the correct rate, and achieve a yearly average of at least 10 contributions on their record from the time that they enter insurance until they reach pension age. As signalled in 2002 and provided in the SW Acts, the minimum number of contributions required will increase from 260 to 510 from 2012.

Individuals in receipt of Disability Allowance are only eligible to apply for the State (Contributory) Pension, at age 66, if they started paying social insurance contributions before reaching the age of 56. They are not liable to pay PRSI contributions but may be eligible for credited social insurance contributions if they have paid at least one PRSI contribution and have paid or credited contributions in either of the last two income tax years before a claim was made for Disability Allowance. Credited contributions are only awarded to those people who were employed contributors, as opposed to self-employed contributors, reflecting differences between the nature of employment and self-employment.

Alternatively, individuals may be eligible to pay voluntary contributions in order to maintain their contribution record and subsequent entitlement to the State (Contributory) Pension. In order to be admitted to the voluntary contributions scheme, a person must have a minimum of 260 weeks of PRSI paid in either employment or self-employment and apply within 12 months of their past paid contribution. The requirement to have 260 paid contributions to gain access to the scheme is essential in that it ensures that the requisite number of paid contributions required is in place to establish a contributory pension entitlement.

  194.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if supplementary welfare payment will be granted to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40557/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA) is administered on behalf of the Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Apart from a number of excluded categories, anyone in the State who satisfies a habitual residency condition and a means test, has registered for employment, unless they have a physical or mental disability, and can prove unemployment may qualify for a weekly payment of SWA. A number of categories are specifically excluded from receiving SWA i.e. people in full-time work, people in full-time education and people involved in trade disputes. A person is considered to be in full-time education if he/she is attending a course of study as specified under section 148 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005.

[422]The person concerned was in receipt of SWA and rent supplement while his claim for Jobseeker’s allowance (JA) was pending. The community welfare officer has advised that when the person concerned was last asked in August 2008 to provide evidence of his efforts to obtain employment, he advised that he was a student in full time education. No evidence of efforts to obtain employment was produced. Payment of SWA was terminated on the basis that students in full time education are excluded from receiving assistance under the SWA scheme and that the person concerned is not genuinely seeking work.

The person concerned was advised of his right to appeal the decision to the designated Appeals Officer of the Executive. To date, the Executive have not received an appeal from the person concerned. An appeal by the person concerned against a decision to refuse JA was not upheld by an Appeals Officer.

  195.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if she will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40710/08]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Under the Government’s current decentralisation programme for the civil and public service, some 1,200 posts comprising the Department’s headquarter sections and the Social Welfare Appeals Office are relocating to 6 locations – Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal Town, Buncrana, Carrickmacross and Drogheda. To date, 212 posts have relocated from the Department’s Dublin Offices to Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo under the current programme – 140 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon and 72 posts to Sligo. As outlined in the table below, 69 officers were based in Dublin prior to their relocation under the decentralisation programme.

PO AP HEO EO SO CO Service Grades Total
Grade breakdown of posts decentralised from Dublin 5 19 36 47 9 92 4 212
No. of Dublin based staff that decentralised 1 2 23 24 1 17 1 69

152 employees, who were based in the Business Units that relocated, opted to redeploy to other Business Units in the Department remaining in Dublin. They were redeployed to vacancies that arose due to normal staff turnover e.g. retirements, resignations, transfers and staff moving to other Departments for their decentralisation programmes. The table below outlines the grade breakdown.

PO AP HEO EO SO CO Service Grades Total
No. of employees serving in Business Units relocating that opted to remain in Dublin 4 15 22 31 9 71 0 152

[423]In addition, the Department has decentralised offices in Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Roscommon and some 219 Civil Servants, of which 42 employees were serving in provincial locations within this Department, have transferred to these offices and other offices of the Department to fill vacancies created by the current decentralisation programme. Furthermore, a total of 258 employees of the Department, of which 129 were provincial based, have transferred to other Government Departments for the purposes of their decentralisation programmes. The table below outlines the grade breakdown requested.

PO AP HEO EO SO CO Service Grades Total
Staff serving in provincial locations within this Department that transferred to fill vacancies created by the programme 0 0 2 8 10 22 0 42
Provincial based staff by grade that transferred for other Government Departments Programmes 1 4 12 29 10 73 0 129

  196.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of people he and his Minister of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40418/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the tables below. In addition, I wish to state that none of the people named below are elected to city, county, town or borough councils or are members of State Boards. Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea, T.D.

Staff appointed by me who are located in my Department

Name Rank/Responsibility Salary Scale as at 01/09/2008
Derek Mooney Special Adviser Non-established Principal Officer Standard Scale €86,168 –€106,582.
Suzanne Coogan Press Adviser Non-established Principal Officer Standard Scale €86,168 –€106,582.

Staff appointed by me who are located in my Constituency

Name Rank/Responsibility Salary Scale as at 01/09/2008
Fergal O’Brien Personal AssistantNon-established Higher Executive Officer Standard Scale €46,558 –€55,030 (excludes long service increments).
Yvonne MacMahon Personal SecretaryNon-established Secretarial Assistant Contract Scale €23,182 –€44,726.

[424]Minister of State, Mr. Pat Carey, T.D.

There are two staff assigned to cover both the private office and the constituency office of the Minister of State, both of whom are Civil Servants and located in the Minister of State’s Private Office.

  197.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the situation with respect to interviews (details supplied); the reason the applicants have received no result to date; when they will receive the result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40443/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  Interviews to fill these vacancies were held from the 15 – 17 January 2008. The military authorities have informed me that the report of the Selection Board has been the subject of correspondence since then, within the Defence Forces, relating to the procedures applied. I also understand that the candidates were to be kept informed of developments. The Chief of Staff has accepted that there has been an unacceptable delay in the process. The matter is now being addressed directly by the Deputy Chief of Staff (Support) and it is expected that the appointments will be made shortly.

  198.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    the assessment which has been carried out in regard to the vulnerability of the State to cyber warfare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40446/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The issue of threats to and vulnerabilities of ICT systems is a matter for each individual Department/Office and its Minister as appropriate. Insofar as my Department and the Defence Forces are concerned, there is a programme of continuous review of ICT security, overseen by designated specialist groupings, in order to keep up to date with current threat levels. Policies and guidelines are provided to all users of ICT systems and considerable resources are invested in assessing weaknesses and protecting systems against cyber attack and malicious security breaches. Details of measures taken are not publicised for security reasons, but, given the levels of upgrading and increased protection put in place in recent years, the vulnerability to such attacks has been greatly minimised.

  199.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason four helicopters sold to a company (details supplied) in the USA by his Department for €311,000 were later sold to the Chilean Navy by that company for €19 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40561/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  I welcome the opportunity to clarify for the Deputy the situation on the sale of the Dauphin helicopters following the Sunday Tribune article on 9 November 2008. In 2005, the General Officer Commanding Air Corps recommended the sale of four Dauphin helicopters. The Dauphins being over twenty years old needed significant maintenance and the investment required in the aircraft was considered to be excessive for the potential return. Indeed it was estimated at that time that each aircraft required a major inspection and avionics re-fit at an estimated cost of €3,000,000 –€3,500,000 per helicopter in order to meet the operational requirements of the Air Corps. A policy [425]decision was taken not to proceed with the required maintenance given the cost involved in favour of a re-equipment programme. This programme has seen the acquisition of 2 EC135 helicopters and 6 AW 139 helicopters for the Air Corps, with the final AW 139 helicopter due for acceptance this week.

The four Dauphins, special tools and spare parts were sold following an open tender competition to Rotor Leasing Incorporated in the USA for €311,000 in October 2006. It should be noted that the sale of the helicopters was advertised on the Department of Finance’s e-tender website, the tender documents were also available from the Department of Defence’s website and were made available to military attachés. An advertisement for the sale of the helicopters was also placed in Flight International magazine. The records show that over eighty sets of tender documents issued in connection with the competition. The tender competition also included the sale of one Gazelle helicopter. Five tenders were received, three of which made offers for the Dauphins. Rotor Leasing submitted the highest bid in relation to the Dauphins and were awarded the contract for the sale of the helicopters and spare parts. The sales agreement was completed in October 2006.

The suggestion in the Sunday Tribune that the sale of the Dauphin Aircraft to Rotor Leasing Ltd has cost the taxpayer €18,000,000 is factually incorrect and disingenuous. The aircraft when sold were unserviceable and as already stated required extensive work to make the aircraft serviceable. When the aircraft were taken to the United States, Rotor Leasing set about restoring them. This involved doing the major inspections and overhauling components, with a total of between 5,000 and 5,500 man hours being devoted to each aircraft. It is the Department’s understanding that the aircraft were then sold on by Rotor Leasing to Eurocopter, the original equipment manufacturer, in South America where the aircraft are being outfitted with specific mission equipment for the Chilean Navy. In this context, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the market value of the aircraft would have increased in line with the cost of the major refurbishment work.

I am not in a position to confirm the reported sale value to the Chilean Navy. The very significant extent of refurbishment undertaken, the outfitting with mission specific equipment and any additional contract terms such as warranty, supply of parts or servicing would also have an important bearing on the contract value and is a matter outside the remit of this Department. I am quite satisfied that the tendering procedures used in the sale of the Dauphin were correct and that the Department achieved a fair price for the aircraft with due cognisance to their age and condition at the time of sale.

I trust that this now clarifies the actual situation for the Deputy. In this context the Deputy may now wish to consider withdrawing some of the comments attributed to him in the Sunday Tribune story.

  200.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40703/08]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  The Deputy will be aware that the Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department’s Dublin-based civil [426]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.

  201.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works the number of jobs which will be created in a centre (details supplied) in County Mayo; when the positions will be advertised; the way people can apply for the positions; and the recruitment process in relation to same. [40475/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Construction work on the Visitor Centre, Ballycroy National Park, is scheduled for completion early in 2009. My Department is currently considering staffing options in relation to the new Centre having regard, inter alia, to potential opening arrangements and the need to achieve economies in staff payroll costs. Recruitment of any new staff that may be required will be by way of Publicly Advertised Open Competition.

  202.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his views on the granting of pre-emptive rights to local authorities to purchase property at points of sale and on the encouragement of local authorities to make more active use of compulsory purchase orders to secure land or properties for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40362/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  Local authorities already have powers under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to purchase land for the purpose of their housing strategies and under the Housing Act 1966 to acquire dwellings for social housing purposes. I have no proposals at this time for the further expansion of these powers.

  203.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his views on the introduction of a legislative right to housing as has been done in France and other EU member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40363/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  While I do not consider it appropriate to legislate for a specific right to housing, Government policy on housing has the overarching aim of enabling every household to have available an affordable dwelling of good quality, suited to its needs, in a good environment and, as far as possible, at the tenure of its choice. The Government’s approach to achieving this policy aim is that those who can afford to do so should provide for their own housing, with the aid, where appropriate, of certain fiscal incentives or subsidies, and that those unable to meet their housing needs in this way should have access to social housing or income [427]support to rent private housing. Existing legislation and funding programmes support this strategy and have been effective in delivering increased outputs access to housing.

  204.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the position with regard to the planned Lower Harbour/Cork main drainage scheme; if the funding is available for the scheme; and when he expects the project to proceed to construction stage. [40364/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The Cork Lower Harbour Sewerage Scheme is included in my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2007 – 2009 as a scheme to begin construction in 2009 at an estimated cost of €73.5 million. My Department will complete its assessment of Cork County Council’s Preliminary Report for this scheme following confirmation from Cork County Council of the approval by an Bord Pleanala of the Environmental Impact Statement for the scheme.

  205.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will publish legislation to amend the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006 in order to extend the period of planning permission fully granted from five years to eight years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40365/08]

  208.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his views on proposals from county councils to extend the period from when a planning application is granted to when the applicant has to start to build due to the current economic climate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40400/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 208 together.

Planning permissions are typically granted for a period of 5 years, though a planning authority may, having regard to the nature and extent of the relevant development and any other material consideration, specify a longer period during which a permission is to have effect. Where a planning permission expires, the developer may seek an extension of the relevant period. Subject to compliance with certain requirements, including a requirement that substantial works were carried out pursuant to the permission during that period, a planning authority may extend the duration of a permission by such additional period as it considers necessary to enable the relevant development to be completed. This period may be further extended where the planning authority is satisfied that the relevant development has not been completed due to circumstances beyond the control of the developer. I consider that these provisions are adequate and have no proposals to amend the legislation in this regard.

  206.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the cost to date in each constituency for the design, manufacture, transport, security storage and training in each county since the electronic voting machine inception; and if each individual cost can be given for each county in question, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40391/08]

[428]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The total expenditure on the development and roll-out of the electronic voting system to date is some €51.3 million, the bulk of which has been incurred in purchasing the voting machines and ancillary equipment. These costs were borne centrally, are not apportioned or disaggregated on the basis of individual areas and are set out in the following table.

Table 1: Electronic Voting and Counting Project — Expenditure to Date

Expenditure item Cost
€m
Voting machines 43.941
Ancillary equipment (Ballot Modules, Programme Reading Units, PCs, trolleys, tables, etc.) 2.330
Awareness and Education campaigns 2.566
Voting Machine development, election software development/training etc. 0.828
Consultancy/testing 0.731
Miscellaneous (staff training, freight,) 0.924
Total 51.320

Responsibility for the security and safe storage of manual voting electoral materials (such as ballot boxes, stamping instruments and stationery) has been a matter for the Returning Officers, who are statutorily responsible for conducting the polls. Accordingly, similar responsibility was assigned to them in relation to the storage of the electronic voting machines and equipment. Information on local storage and related costs is therefore available on the basis of the locations where they are stored. Based on the figures received in my Department from Returning Officers, the total costs for storage of the electronic voting equipment (including the cost of insurance, service charges, rates, heating, etc.), for each location are set out in the following table.

Table 2: Annual Storage Costs 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007

County/City Annual Storage Costs (incl. VAT) Annual Storage Costs (incl. VAT) Annual Storage Costs (incl. VAT) Annual Storage Costs (incl. VAT)
2004 2005 2006 2007
Carlow-Kilkenny 28,506.00 29,595.00 30,166.00 24,653.65
Cavan-Monaghan 25,828.00 25,828.00 27,075.32 21,608.32
Clare 10,800.00 3,600.00 3,600.00 3,600.00
Cork City 27,207.50 42,499.50 53,942.33 48,561.85
Cork County 37,609.30 37,609.30 35,124.00 35,913.29
Donegal 9,293.00 15,714.00 16,685.80 13,987.80
Dublin City 65,000.00 72,350.00 71,265.00 6,954.00
Dublin County 62,938.66 62,938.66 49,034.86 Nil
Galway 5,253.00 5,253.00 Nil 5,000
Kerry 26,125.00 26,125.00 22,624.96 28,003.00
Kildare 27,125.86 27,125.86 31,984.21 29,364.82
Laois-Offaly 28,178.00 28,178.00 27,647.60 27,647.60
Limerick 57,675.86 57,675.86 64,465.30 28,423.10
Longford 2,995.16 15,095.16 18,439.88 20,003.28
Roscommon 10,374.98 10,374.98 9,816.00 10,664.82
Louth 298.00 298.00 593.47 595.06
Mayo 34,930.00 34,930.00 37,426.00 38,608.00
Meath 20,366 20,366.00 21,976.51 26,354.72
Sligo Nil Nil Nil Nil
Leitrim Nil 3,000.00 3,150.00 3,200.00
Tipperary (N&S) 42,700.00 42,700.00 31,200.00 39,196.00
Waterford 52,888.48 52,888.48 57,699.17 35,989.67
Westmeath 22,805.34 22,805.34 21,772.62 21,440.30
Wexford 16,875.00 16,876.00 19,064.76 18,934.46
Wicklow 42,455.80 42,455.80 54,241.29 Nil
Total 658,228.94 696,281.94 705,995.08 488,703.74

Based on provisional information from Returning Officers, a total of some €139,000 was expended in the first half of 2008 in respect of storage of the electronic voting equipment. Full annual cost data for 2008 will be provided to my Department in due course.

In 2007, over 60% of the electronic voting machines (4,762 in total) were moved to a central storage facility located at Gormanston Army Camp. Costs incurred to date in respect of the movement and storage of this equipment are some €328,000. These are largely one-off costs related to the preparation of the facility, transportation of the machines and the acquisition of storage containers. The available capacity at this location has now been fully utilised.

  207.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his views on terminating the electronic voting machine project and transferring the funding to meet the needs of persons awaiting modification of their houses under the essential repairs and disabled persons scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40392/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I am at present considering the next steps to be taken in relation to the electronic voting project. In this, I am taking into account the work of the Commission on Electronic Voting, which has examined the system, relevant experiences and developments internationally, the need to maintain public confidence in the electoral process, as well as the provisions in the Programme for Government relating to electoral reform generally.

Question No. 208 answered with Question No. 205.

  209.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40421/08]

[430]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The information requested is set out in the following tables:

Minister Name No. of staff Grade/Salary Scale Duties Private/Constituency Office
John Gormley Ryan Meade 1 Special Adviser (Annual Salary €89,819) As set out in Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 Private Office
David Healy 1 Special Adviser (Annual Salary €89,819) As set out in Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 Private Office
Liam Reid 1 Special Adviser: Press and Information Officer (Annual Salary €100,191) Responsible for all aspects of the Department’s media related activities. Press Office
Donall Geoghegan* 1 Special Adviser (Annual Salary €177,547) Programme Manager for the Green Party Department of the Taoiseach
Diarmuid Hanafin 1 Personal Assistant-Higher Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Constituency Office
Ann O’Conarain 0.5 Personal Secretary-Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Constituency Office
Linda Farrell 0.5 Personal Secretary-Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support Constituency Office

Minister of State Name No. of staff Grade/ Salary Scale Duties Private/Constituency Office
Michael Kitt Treasa Meehan 1 Personal Assistant-Higher Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Constituency Office
Margaret Mannion 1 Personal Secretary-Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Galway Constituency Office
John Killilea 0.5 Civilian Driver (Annual Salary €34,826.50) Driver for the Minister
Tom Kenny 0.5 Civilian Driver (Annual Salary €34,826.50) Driver for the Minister
Michael Finneran Geraldine Maloney 1 Personal Assistant-Higher Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Constituency Office
Elizabeth Finneran 1 Personal Secretary-Executive Officer Provision of administrative and secretarial support. Roscommon/Leitrim Constituency Office
Jimmy Cooke 0.5 Civilian Driver (Annual Salary €34,826.50) Driver for the Minister
Trevor Finneran 0.5 Civilian Driver (temporary appointment) (Annual Salary €34,826.50) Driver for the Minister
Máire Hoctor*

[432]With the exception of Mr Trevor Finneran who is currently a member of Roscommon County Council none of the above staff serve on the city, county, town/ borough councils or state boards.

The salary scales for all administrative grades are available on the Department of Finance website (www.finance.gov.ie ).

  210.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the reason the two recent 0.5% decreases in the European Central Bank rate have not been passed on by local authorities to those who purchased properties through shared ownership schemes or other housing schemes which are the responsibility of local housing authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40431/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  The interest rate on local authority housing loans is determined by the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) by reference to mortgage rates prevailing in the financial market. The current variable interest rate to local authority borrowers, excluding mortgage protection, is 5.25%. The current fixed interest rate available on local authority loans, excluding mortgage protection, is 5.5% for a period of 5 years.

At the October meeting of the Board of the HFA it was decided that the interest rate cut of 0.5% announced by the European Central Bank in October would be passed on in full to local authority borrowers. The new effective variable rate of 4.75%, which compares favourably with corresponding rates charged by commercial lending agencies, will take effect from 1 December.

Arrangements are being made by the HFA further to adjust rates in line with the second recent rate cut announced last week by the ECB.

  211.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    when he will introduce legislation in regard to spending limits for local elections in view of his recent comments on the matter; the amount of the limit and the applicable period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40462/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  In accordance with the Programme for Government, my Department published the Green Paper on Local Government, Stronger Local Democracy – Options for Change in April 2008. The Green Paper outlines a range of issues for consideration including the establishment of expenditure limits at local elections.

The submissions made in the course of the preparation of the Green Paper were generally supportive of some kind of expenditure limit. Proposals for the introduction of expenditure limits for local elections are currently under consideration.

  212.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    when he will complete the consultation process in regard to election posters; when he expects to introduce new regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40463/08]

[433]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 497 of 30 September 2008. The position is unchanged.

  213.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the progress he has made in order to provide a legislative framework in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 to enable tenants of local authority flats or apartments to purchase their homes under the tenant purchase scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40464/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  As indicated in the reply to Question Nos. 270 and 275 of 14 October 2008, work is continuing to address the outstanding issues relating to the tenant purchase of local authority apartments. I hope that legislative proposals for a viable apartment sales scheme can be finalised in time for consideration during the passage of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 through the Oireachtas.

  214.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the length of time it takes to process each application under his Department’s capital loan and subsidy scheme on a county basis; the number on hand for each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40481/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  My Department’s involvement with the Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) relates primarily to the provision of funds for individual projects. The administration of the scheme, including the detailed appraisal of new applications, the management of the planning and procurement stages of projects and the certification that particular projects comply with the terms of the funding schemes, are the responsibility of the relevant local authority.

In accordance with the Guidelines for the Appraisal and Management of Capital Expenditure Proposals in the Public Sector, issued by the Department of Finance in February 2005, my Department must ensure the achievement of efficiency, effectiveness and value for money in the provision of all voluntary and co-operative housing projects. The Capital Works Management Framework gives practical effect to these guidelines with regard to the appraisal, planning, procurement and approval stages of projects. These will vary according to the scope, complexity and cost of projects. The funding approval route will also vary depending on the cost of projects with separate procedures applying to projects with a capital value of up to €5 million, projects with a capital value of between €5m and €20m and those with a capital value greater than €20m. In addition, a full Cost Benefit Analysis may be needed as well as consultation with the National Development Finance Agency on the financial options for developing projects.

It is not possible to give a timescale for progressing a project from the initial appraisal stage through to the completion of the planning, design, procurement and funding approval stages. It is the policy of my Department, subject to funding being available, to progress schemes as expeditiously as possible. However, due to the complexity and size of some schemes, timescales can vary as further consultation may be required with the local authority or the voluntary body concerned at key stages in the project life-cycle.

[434]There are some 44 CLSS applications on hand in my Department at present, of which 15 are awaiting funding approval. Having regard to the existing high level of commitments under the CLSS and the substantial number of schemes being advanced through the planning and design stages, I will now be considering the scope to approve further projects in the light of the available funding.

The information requested, broken down by local authority area, is set out in the following table:

No.
Clare County Council 1
Cork County Council 9
Dublin City Council 4
DunLaoghaire/Rathdown Co. Co. 4
Galway City Council 2
Galway County Council 1
Kerry County Council 3
Kildare County Council 3
Laois County Council 2
Limerick County Council 1
Mayo County Council 2
Monaghan County Council 1
Offaly County Council 1
Roscommon County Council 1
Sligo County Council 1
South Dublin County Council 2
South Tipperary County Council 4
Waterford County Council 1
Westmeath County Council 1

  215.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will confirm that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office has received all outstanding documents relating to the sale of commonage lands at an area (details supplied) in County Offaly; if same are in order, when the deeds will be available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40482/08]

  216.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the progress made following Parliamentary Questions Nos. 245 of 14 June 2006 and 847 of 4 July 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40483/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 215 and 216 together.

In this case, my Department is in the process of transferring a parcel of land as part of a land swap arrangement. I understand that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO) has provided all available documents to the vendor’s solicitor. However, the latter has sought additional papers. In order to comply with this request, the CSSO has requested a special features map from [435]the Property Registration Authority. When this is received, the CSSO will forward it to the vendor’s solicitor.

  217.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the recent research which suggests that ordinary light bulbs may be more economical than compact florescent lights; his view on such research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40500/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  My Department is not aware of any research which suggests that basic incandescent tungsten filament light bulbs may be more economical than compact fluorescent lights. I would be happy to receive details of any such research.

While cost considerations are important in the context of the standard which I propose to introduce for tungsten filament incandescent bulbs, the national objective is to ensure energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  218.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his views on the impact of compact florescent lights on persons with migraine, epilepsy and other conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40501/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  A public consultation document on the proposed energy efficiency and performance standard for light bulbs has been published on my Department’s website, www.environ.ie. It provides an opportunity for individuals to identify matters in relation to implementation of the proposed standard, including any issues on the use of compact fluorescent lamps. The proposed standard will not require the use of compact fluorescent lamps and the consultation document notes that tungsten halogen bulbs, which will also meet the standard, do not appear to give rise to the types of issue identified in the question. The consultation process closes on 14 November next and its outcome, and the summary of the responses received, will be published on my Department’s website in due course.

  219.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will carry out an audit of housing stock here; and if he will examine a bond situation which is used in the UK to assist house purchase. [40503/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  National house condition surveys have been undertaken every 10 years since 1981. In 2001/2002 the exercise was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute on behalf of my Department. A decision has yet to be taken on proceeding with another such study in 2011.

However, a House Condition Survey of the local authority rented stock is due to commence in 2009 and will form part of the overall strategy for modernising the building and energy standards of the public housing stock. The National Building Agency, who will manage the Survey on behalf of my Department, with assistance from the Centre for Housing Research, have already undertaken a scoping study in preparation for the commencement of this exercise.

With the introduction of the new Home Choice Loan and changes to existing affordable housing mechanisms which will result in the introduction of a new streamlined Government [436]Equity product, we will shortly have in place a full range of housing supports to assist households seeking home ownership. There are no plans at present to introduce any further measures but the position will be kept under review in light of further developments in the housing market.

  220.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the period of contracts in regard to e-voting machines not centrally stored; the tendering process involved; the standard of storage specified in each case; the overall cost per contract; the cost per machine stored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40505/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Responsibility for the security and safe storage of manual voting electoral materials (such as ballot boxes, stamping instruments and stationery) is a matter for the Returning Officers, who are statutorily responsible for conducting the polls. Accordingly, similar responsibility was assigned to Returning Officers to make the necessary arrangements in relation to the storage of the electronic voting machines and equipment. Returning Officers undertook the task of procuring suitable dry accommodation for the electronic voting machines and ancillary equipment, and the detailed contractual and other arrangements put in place by Returning Officers reflect the varying circumstances applying at local level.

The following table sets out information in respect of local storage arrangements currently in place, based on information received in my Department from Returning Officers.

[437]Storage of Electronic Voting Equipment

City/County Period of Lease Contract Storage Arrangement Storage Costs 2007 (incl. VAT) Number of Machines Stored
Cavan-Monaghan 25 years Rented Premises 21,608.32 280
Clare Monthly Basis Voting Machines stored in courthouse. Premises for ancillary equipment rented. 3,600.00 200
Donegal Annual Basis Rented Premises 13,987.80 294
Galway N/A Voting Machines Stored in Courthouse 5,000 310
Kerry 10 Years Rented Premises 28,003.00 310
Laois-Offaly 5 Years Rented Premises 27,647.60 219
Longford 4 Years 9 Months Rented Premises 20,003.28 95
Roscommon 2 Years 6 Months Rented Premises 10,664.82 137
Louth N/A Dundalk Town Council 595.06 179
Meath 9 Years 9 Months Rented Premises 26,354.72 235
Sligo N/A Voting Machines Stored in Courthouse Nil 129
Leitrim 1 Year Voting Machines stored in courthouse. Premises for ancillary equipment rented. 3,200.00 101
Wexford Monthly Basis Rented Premises 18,934.46 240

[438]In 2007, over 60% of the electronic voting machines (some 4,762 in total) were moved to a central storage facility located at Gormanston Army Camp.

  221.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40706/08]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The Government announcement on 14 October 2008 confirmed that the decentralisation of my Department’s Headquarters to Wexford (270 posts) will proceed as planned. However the transfer of posts to the three other locations in the South East – Waterford (225 posts), New Ross (125 posts) and Kilkenny (62 posts) — is being deferred pending the outcome of a review in 2011 in light of budgetary developments.

The transfers of the National Building Agency and the Local Government Computer Services Board, to Wexford and Drogheda respectively, are also deferred pending the review.

My Department’s Headquarter offices in Wexford are under construction, and expected to be completed by December 2008 and ready for occupation from February 2009. My Department will then transfer 270 posts into these offices commencing in Q1 2009.

An advance office was established in Wexford on 25 June 2007 and is currently staffed by 43 people in the following grades: Assistant Principal Officer, Higher Executive/Administrative Officer, Executive/Staff Officer, Clerical Officer and Services Officer. Of these, one staff member transferred from an original location outside of Dublin and one staff member was recruited locally. The remainder of the staff transferred from an original Dublin based location.

To date, 63 staff have transferred out of my Department to other Departments remaining in Dublin. Also 5 staff have transferred from my Department from a location outside Dublin to other Department’s decentralised location in the grades of Higher Executive Officer and Executive Officer.

  222.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the potential implication of the new Directive 2006/21/EC and its implementation for the Tynagh mines site. [40357/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power):  Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries (known as ‘The Extractive Waste Directive’), which is currently being transposed into Irish law by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, provides in Article 20 that Member States shall undertake to compile an inventory of closed waste facilities (including abandoned facilities) located on their territory and causing serious negative environmental impacts or having the potential of becoming in the near future a serious threat to human health. In the draft regulations currently being compiled by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the EPA will be the relevant competent authority under the Directive.

[439]For the last two years, the EPA has been funding the work of compiling an inventory for Ireland. Technical assistance has been provided to the EPA by my Department and the Directive requires the inventory to be made available to the public by 1st May 2012. The Directive does not oblige the Member States to carry out any further studies or action on the included sites.

Tynagh is one of a number of closed mine sites currently being examined in the context of the Inventory. Galway County Council is the competent authority for enforcing planning conditions and relevant environmental protection legislation at the sites, and the EPA has responsibility for enforcing compliance with the conditions of Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) Licences for current activities on the site.

  223.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the funding spent to date under the national development plan for the development of the angling sector; the projected spend for each of the remaining years of the NDP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40383/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power):  The Department does not oversee a measure under the current NDP directed at the development of the angling sector. I am advised that the fisheries boards are working on or have completed NDP funded projects with a value of some €1.3 m to date. Funding was sourced, in conjunction with the local authorities, through the Tourism Product Development Infrastructure Sub-Programme administered by Failte Ireland. As this programme is not within the remit of the Department I am unable to give projected spends for the remaining years of the NDP.

  224.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40416/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table. None of these appointees is elected to city, county, town or borough councils, nor is any one of them a member of a State board.

Name Post Location Salary Scale
Morgan Bazilian Minister’s Special Adviser Department Principal Officer Higher salary scale (modified) €92,730 (min) –€114,366 (2nd LSI)
Bríd McGrath Minister’s Press Adviser Department Principal Officer Standard salary scale (modified) €86,168 (min) –€106,582 (2nd LSI)
Claire Byrne Minister’s Personal Assistant Department Higher Executive Officer salary scale (modified) €46,558 (min) –€59,097 (2nd LSI)
Grace Milton Minister’s Personal Secretary Department Secretarial Assistant salary scale €23,181 (min) –€44,727 (2nd LSI)
Suzanne Duke Minister of State’s Special Adviser Department Principal Officer Standard salary scale (modified) €86,168 (min) –€106,582 (2nd LSI)
Mary Freeman Minister of State’s Personal Secretary Constituency Office Secretarial Assistant salary scale €23,181 (min) –€44,727 (2nd LSI) plus 10%
Patrick J Hester Minister of State’s Civilian Driver Constituency/Department €34,826 per annum
James Geraghty Minister of State’s Civilian Driver Constituency/Department €34,826 per annum

  225.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans for the roll out of broadband in the south east region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40451/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.

The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These included providing grant-aid under the now concluded Group Broadband Scheme and ongoing investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). The following MANs have been constructed in the South East Region: Carlow, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Dungarvan, Waterford, Wexford, Cahir, Cashel, Carrick on Suir, Tipperary and Thomastown.

There are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. Accordingly, the procurement process for a National Broadband Scheme (NBS) is nearing completion. The NBS is designed to deliver broadband to areas where the market has failed to provide services. Two bids, from Eircom Limited and Hutchinson 3G Ireland, have been received in response to the NBS invitation to tender and are being evaluated. The preferred bidder is expected to be appointed shortly and the contract is expected to be signed this month.

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 including any unserved areas in the South East region will be met.

The policy framework for future broadband development is set out in the consultation paper on Next Generation Broadband, which I published last July. A central commitment is that Ireland will have universal access to broadband by 2010 and that by 2012 our broadband speeds will equal or exceed those in comparative EU regions. The consultation period on the paper has now concluded and my officials are evaluating the submissions received. I will publish the final policy paper shortly.

  226.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if the annual accounts of the Regional Fisheries Boards in respect of 2006 and 2007 have been presented before the Central Fisheries Board; if they have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; if not, when it is expected that they will be laid before the Houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40473/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power):  The 2006 financial statements for the Southern Regional Fisheries Board were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in October 2007 and the financial statements of the seven remaining boards were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 6th November 2008 in accordance with Section 19 of the Fisheries Act, 1980, as amended. The Department has received audited financial statements for the year ending 31st December 2007 from six of the eight fisheries boards and awaits audited financial statements from the Central Fisheries Board and the South Western Regional Fisheries Board which are still being audited by the [442]Comptroller and Auditor General. I intend to bring the financial statements of the six boards to Government shortly and lay them before both Houses of the Oireachtas thereafter.

  227.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40701/08]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The original Government Decision on Decentralisation envisaged 300 posts from this Department relocating to Cavan. The Department had successfully put in place an advance party of 55 staff prior to the recent Government announcement suspending this project, pending a review in 2011. Full details regarding origin and grade of staff transferring to Cavan are set out in the following Table.

Location Grade Total
Dublin Accountant 1
AP 2
CO 17
EO 14
EO (JSA) 2
HEO 10
PO 2
SO 1
Dublin Total 49
Provincial AP 3
CO 1
HEO 1
Ser Officer 1
Provincial Total 6
Grand Total 55

During the course of the last two years approximately 64 staff have left my Department to transfer to other Dublin Departments. Details are set out in the following Table.

Grade Total
PO 7
AP 11
HEO 15
AO 1
EO 17
SO 3
CO 10
Total 64

  228.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not received their area aid payment. [40388/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The position is that an application under the Single Payment Scheme /Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 15th May 2008. As part of the control procedures under EU legislation governing these Schemes, this application was selected for and was the subject of a ground eligibility and cross compliance inspection. The advance payment under the Single Payment Scheme issued on the 30th October 2008 with the balancing payment due to issue from 1st December 2008.

  229.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the status of a single farm payment in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Wexford; the reason this has not been awarded; when payment will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40402/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The position is that an application under the Single Payment Scheme /Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received in this case on the 24th April 2008. As part of the control procedures under EU legislation governing these Schemes, this application was selected for and was the subject of a ground eligibility and cross compliance inspection. The file is currently being processed and payment will issue from 1st December 2008. The delay in this case arose because of the need to clarify a number of issues relating to the parcels claimed.

  230.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40414/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I have listed below the details of people appointed by myself and the two Ministers of State as requested:

Minster Brendan Smith

Name and Grade Responsibility Location Salary Scale Elected or Member of State Boards
Dermot Ryan Special Adviser Adviser Department €86,168 –€100,191 + 10% allowance No
Philip Hannon Press Adviser Media Adviser Department €86,168 –€100,191 No
Nuala Brady Personal Assistant Constituency Office Constituency €46,588 –€55,030 No
Celine Mullen Personal Secretary Constituency Office Department €30,566 –€45,416 No

[444]Minister Tony Killeen

Name and Grade Responsibility Location Salary Scale Elected or Member of State Boards
Pat Daly Personal Assistant Constituency Office Constituency €46,588 –€55,030 Yes – elected Councillor for Clare County Council
Deirdre Murphy Personal Secretary Constituency Office Constituency €30,566 –€53,067 No

Minister Trevor Sargent

Name and Grade Responsibility Location Salary Scale Elected or Member of State Boards
Stiofán Nutty Special Advisor Adviser Department €86,168 –€100,191 + 10% allowance No
Madeleine Farrelly Personal Assistant Constituency Office Constituency €46,558 –€55,030 No
Lorcan O’Toole Personal Secretary Working on policy and constituency matters Department €46,558 –€55,030 No
Paula Evans, TCO (Part-time) Constituency Office Constituency €23,174 –€37,660 No
Robbie Kelly, TCO (Part-time) Constituency Office Constituency €23,174 –€37,660 Yes – elected Councillor for Fingal County Council

  231.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [40433/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I outlined my Department’s policy on AHCS1 forms in my replies to recent questions from the Deputy.

With regard to the further queries from the Deputy, I do not accept that the statement in the first paragraph of the letter submitted by the Deputy that the number of AHCS1 forms is much higher than expected contradicts the assertion that “occasionally they are not identified until some time later”. In fact, there is no contradiction between these two statements. Most of the AHCSI forms are submitted shortly after the test but occasionally some are submitted outside of the 14 day period for completing the test. The position is that, in the period immediately following the introduction of the AHCS in 2004, the number of AHCS1 forms submitted was relatively high as the testing practitioners became familiar with the new system for the electronic transfer of data. However, most of these changes were administrative in nature and did not involve a change to veterinary certification. As the practitioners became more familiar with the system, the number of AHCS1 forms has diminished significantly.

The position in relation to the treatment of AHCS1 forms by the DVOs is that cases involving the addition of animals to a test report are investigated and testing practitioners submitting additional animals on an AHCS1 are queried as to the nature of the circumstances that required the addition of the animal and are required to justify the change to the original certification. The submission of these forms is also specifically addressed by my Department in the context of an updated and formalised quality control protocol for practitioners who conduct TB and Brucellosis tests. In addition, SVIs in the local District Veterinary Offices (DVO) deal with [445]the various quality control issues, including AHCS1s, in their own local areas and a number have chosen to do so by writing individually or collectively to the local practitioners while other offices dealt with such issues at group meetings and/or during the course of routine visits to meet the practitioners or a combination of all these means.

With regard to the fourth paragraph of the letter submitted by the Deputy, I understand that the Departmental letter quoted from was not in fact issued to all veterinary practitioners but rather relates to a letter issued by the SVI in the Kilkenny DVO to testing practitioners referring to his perception of the situation in the local area. It is accepted that this letter states that monthly quality control reports show that the number of animals erroneously omitted from the TB test is much higher than he expected. The clear objective of the letter is to reduce such incidences and I am assured this objective has been met. The letter states that animals notified on AHCS1s which are left out of the test will not be accepted and will be returned to the practitioner. Contrary to the interpretation provided to the Deputy, the intention of this statement is that the animals will be returned for test and not that the physical AHCS1 form will be returned to the testing veterinary practitioner. The test requirement of a 5H test in such circumstances is clarified in the final paragraph of the letter in question. The actual forms are held on individual PVP files in each local office and, as I indicated in my reply of 4 November, are not returned to the PVP.

As also indicated in my reply of 4 November, a detailed breakdown of the very precise and detailed information requested by the Deputy is not readily available and it would place excessive demands on scarce staff resources in the Department to compile this data. The position is that the 5H form is a catch-all category for example for either TB, Brucellosis tests or both at individual animal level and it covers a variety of situations such as tests done post-importation so that passports can issue with a valid test date, animals missed from tests (either TB, Brucellosis or both) and not tested as a part herd test within the 14-day window of the original test (some of which may indeed have been the subject of a rejected AHCS1) and bulls being tested to enter an AI station or the Tully Bull performance test station. To date, in 2008 some 3,800 individual animal tests were recorded under the 5H heading in the course of 1,112 separate testing events across all DVOs. However, AHCS does not discriminate further in the reason for the individual test event.

I strongly refute the allegation that I clouded the issue or misled the Deputy in my reply dated 4 November 2008. The meeting suggested in that reply was intended to be used to brief the Deputy on background and purpose of AHCS1 forms and to let him have sight of various letters issued by DVOs and not for the purpose suggested in the letter submitted. That offer of a meeting remains.

  232.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the preliminary findings of an audit carried out by the European Commission into the administering of the REP scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40439/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Commission’s preliminary audit findings relate to the completeness of administrative checks on applications, the keeping of records at farm level and the scope and recording of on-the-spot checks. The Commission has requested additional information which is currently being collated within my Department and will shortly be forwarded to the Commission. The outcome of the audit will not be known for some time.

  233.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the development of Dunmore fishing harbour, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40454/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department has this year allocated funding of €470,000 towards works at Dunmore East Fishery Harbour Centre under the Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme for 2008. These include Repairs to the East Pier (Phase II), Safety & Maintenance, Upgrading of the slipway and access to the West Wharf. Due to the scale of the investment required for the future redevelopment of Dunmore East Fishery Harbour Centre, my Department was required to commission a Cost Benefit Analysis of the proposed development. This has been completed and the results are currently under consideration.

  234.  Deputy Áine Brady    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the progress of the Government’s strategy to promote Ireland’s food investment and innovation strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40460/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Agri-Vision 2015 Report sets out a vision identifying the delivery of safe, high-quality, nutritious food, produced in a sustainable manner, to well-informed consumers in high value markets as the optimum road for the future of the Irish food industry. The 160 actions in the Agri-Vision Action Plan set out a coherent strategy together with the National Development Plan (NDP) 2007-2013 that address the developmental issues relating to competitiveness, consumer-focus and innovation.

The sector will also benefit from the huge investment in transport and other infrastructure in the NDP, which is key to sustained competitiveness and to growing sales and exports. Agribusiness enterprise also has full access to the generic industry supports in the NDP for research, technology, knowledge building, skills and people and will benefit from NDP funding for food research.

A core €100 million fund is already supporting investment of €300 million in the dairy sector. We have also invested over €100 million in the past decade in building food research capacity and capability in the third-level institutions and have supported Bord Bia in developing marketing strategies for changing lifestyles and consumer needs.

In recent weeks I was also pleased, together with the Tánaiste, to launch an Innovation Initiative by Enterprise Ireland for the Prepared Consumer Foods sector. This envisages some €30 million in a range of innovation supports being available to innovating companies and includes possibilities for partnerships between large and smaller companies and for joint innovation projects between food and non-food companies. This represents a further strategic step in supporting the food industry following on from the investment of significant public funds in traceability systems, quality assurance schemes, research and development measures as well as measures at farm level to promote sustainable production meeting environmental and animal welfare imperatives.

This week I am visiting the US with Enterprise Ireland to promote Ireland’s Food Investment and Innovation Strategy. The purpose of this visit is to impress on US business leaders the priority that the Government place on the development of the food sector and highlighting the [447]benefits of collaboration with Irish food companies including access to leading edge food science and technology research in Ireland.

  235.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will allow people who have the legal documents stamped in preparation for the early retirement scheme to proceed with their applications in view of the fact that they had a reasonable expectation of being able to apply for this scheme and have completed 95% of the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40480/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I have no plans at present to reopen the Early Retirement Scheme (ERS3) 2007 to new applications. The limiting of the suspension of the Scheme will be considered at the earliest opportunity but with regard to the current budgetary constraints.

  236.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40699/08]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Since the programme began there has been an increase of 297 posts in Portlaoise; 220 of which were decentralised from Dublin. 84 posts have moved to Clonakilty; 33 of which were decentralised from Dublin. This is broken down by grade as follows.

Grade To Portlaoise from Dublin To Clonakilty from Dublin
Principal Officers 2 2
Assistant Principals 20 4
HEO/AO 48 9
Executive Officers 64 10
Staff Officers 2 3
Clerical Officers 73 3
Service Officers 1 0
Agriculture Inspectors 6
Assistant Agriculture Inspectors 3
District Superintendents 1
Engineers Grade III 1
Assistant Secretary 1
Total 220 33

Regarding those opting to remain in Dublin, the following is the number of staff who receive notifications for the ‘Dublin arrangements’ (the system for re-assigning staff within Dublin; the figures do not include Clerical or Staff Officers as they have not yet been included in the arrangements).

Grade Number
Principal Officer 17
Assistant Principal Officer 50
Higher Executive Officer 68
Executive Officers 126
Total 261

33 staff have been released to other Dublin based organisations through bilateral transfers and the ‘Dublin arrangements’ broken down by grade as follows.

Grade Number
Principal Officer 1
Assistant Principal Officer 10
Higher Executive Officer 18
Executive Officer 3
Clerical officer 1
Total 33

32 staff have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations broken down by grade as follows.

Grade Number
Higher Executive Officer 6
Executive Officer 11
Clerical Officer 15
Total 32

  237.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a second level school place has not been offered to a person (details supplied) in County Louth who became resident in the State in September 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40356/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The selection and enrolment of pupils in second-level schools is the responsibility of the school management authorities. My Department’s main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking second level places in an area. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice. As schools may not have a place for every applicant, a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants.

Under section 15 (2) (d) of the Education Act 1998, each school is legally obliged to disclose its enrolment policy and to ensure that as regards that policy that principles of equality and the right of parents to send their children to a school of the parents choice are respected.

[449]Section 29 of the Education Act 1998, provides parents with an appeal process where a Board of Management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the Board refuses enrolment to a student. Where a school refuses to enrol a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under Section 29 of Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to the Secretary General of my Department. Only where an appeal under Section 29 is upheld can the Secretary General of my Department direct a school to enrol a pupil.

The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is the statutory agency which can assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child. The NEWB can be contacted at National Educational Welfare Board, National Headquarters, 16-22 Green Street, Dublin 7 or by telephone at 01-8738700.

  238.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if, in view of Parliamentary Questions Nos. 476 and 532 of 4 of November 2008, all of the existing staff employed in the three bodies to be amalgamated (details supplied) will be retained in the new amalgamated body; the staff numbers in each of the three bodies as they stood before the decision to amalgamate them was made; the Civil Service grades for each of these staff numbers in table format; the schedule for the amalgamation of the three bodies; the predicted staffing numbers for the newly amalgamated organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40373/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  Staff numbers for the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council, broken down by grade, are in the following table. The staffing requirements of the new agency have not yet been determined. Work on the detailed functions of the organisation has begun and the process of administrative planning will follow. However, it is anticipated that some economies will arise from the amalgamation.

With regard to the schedule for the amalgamation of the three bodies, my Department will prepare a paper on the amalgamation which will be the subject of public consultation in the first half of next year. This will inform the necessary legislation that will be published in the second half of 2009. This would facilitate the establishment of the new organisation towards the end of 2010.

Grade NQAI HETAC FETAC TOTAL
Assistant Secretary 1 1 1 3
Principal Officer 5 8 14 27
Assistant Principal Officer 4 1 4 9
Higher Executive Officer 2 4 6
Executive Officer 3 6 9
Staff Officer 4 9 13
Clerical Officer 5 15 20
Local Govt Grade VII 2 2
Local Govt Grade VI 4 4
Local Govt Grade V 6 6
Local Govt Grade IV 4 4
Local Govt Grade III 6 6
VEC Grade Gen. Operative 1 1
School Teacher 1 1
Assistant Lecturer 1 1
Total 25 34 53 112

  239.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will support a matter from a school (details supplied). [40379/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The syllabus for the Leaving Certificate Technical Drawing was revised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The name of the subject was changed to Design and Communications Graphics and the new subject was introduced in September 2007, into a number of selected Post-Primary schools, for examination for the first time by the State Exams Commission (SEC) in June 2009.

When schools were initially assessed for the new syllabus, this school did not have a cohort of pupils at Leaving Certificate in September 2007 to whom the new Design and Communications Graphics course could be offered. In these circumstances the school was not considered for the first phase of introduction of the new syllabus.

My Department has very recently received an application from the school in question seeking funding to introduce the new course from September 2009. The extension of this syllabus into further schools, including this school, will be considered for funding early in the new year and the school informed of the outcome as soon as possible thereafter.

  240.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason his Department has allowed the third level institutions to reduce the time period in which a psychological report produced by the National Educational Psychological Service is valid for consideration of student’s disability can be used as a mechanism to lower the entry requirements into higher education; if this unfairly blocks access to higher level for those with poorer socioeconomic backgrounds because they can not afford a private assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40385/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The governing bodies of higher education institutions are, by statute, independently responsible for all decisions on their admissions criteria and processes. The Supplementary Admissions Route is a joint admissions initiative of twelve higher education institutions and the CAO . It facilitates access to third level for students who may have been educationally disadvantaged because of their disability and who may not gain the competitive CAO points for their course. The regulations governing the operation of the scheme are determined annually by the participating institutions in conjunction with the CAO.

In 2007 the institutions who administer the Supplementary Admissions Route agreed that from 2009, applicants with specific learning difficulties will be required to provide a psycho-educational assessment report that is no less than three years old . The basis for this decision to move from five to three years is to allow institutions to manage the process of allocating higher education places in as fair and transparent a manner as possible. It is generally accepted by those working in the area of disability support, for example the Psychological Association of Ireland, that the more recent a psycho-educational assessment is, the more useful it is in [451]terms of conveying a student’s likely support needs in higher education, including the need for concessions on normal entry requirements.

The majority of applicants to higher education with a disability receive a CAO offer through the normal route and do not require any points concessions. If an entrant to higher education has psycho-educational assessment which is older than that required for the purposes of the supplementary admissions route, this does not bar them from registering with the disability or access service. If those services are of the view that an updated psycho-educational assessment is required the service will assist the student in whatever way they can to get the new assessment.

  241.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the basis, in view of his reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 131, 153 and 490 of 4 November 2008, of his assertion that the levels of language support teachers in schools will start to reduce because of lower immigration levels and higher proficiency of immigrant pupils to speak English; if he will provide references to research or data that confirms this is the case; the levels of language support teachers his Department forecasts will be needed in the next three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40386/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  As I have stated in this House the ongoing requirement for current levels of language support teachers in schools should also start to reduce in line with lower levels of immigration and in line with improvements in the levels of proficiency of those pupils for whom this resource has been available.

Various indicators are emerging at a macro economic level which point to a reduction in inward migration. The allocation process for language support teachers is an annual one and existing provision is not rolled over automatically. Schools will be applying afresh in the spring and early summer of 2009 for the 2009/10 school year, based on their assessment of the prospective needs of existing pupils and any new pupils they are enrolling. The position for individual schools will become clear at that stage.

As I have previously stated schools that require language support will still be entitled to get it. We still envisage having over 1,400 language support teachers in our schools in September 2009 and up to about 500 other teachers in part-time posts. By any standards this is a very significant resource and the challenge will be to ensure that it is used to maximum effect. The requirements for language support over the following years will be determined by the level of applications from individual schools.

As I announced on budget day we will also provide for some alleviation for the position of those schools where there is a significant concentration of newcomer pupils as a proportion of the overall enrolment. This will be done on a case by case basis.

Moreover, OECD research in this field (PISA 2006) shows that Ireland is the OECD country with the highest distribution of newcomers across schools meaning that schools with higher concentrations of newcomer children are relatively unusual. ESRI data also shows that only a small percentage of schools have high concentrations of newcomer children.

I realise that standards are not simply achieved by supplying teaching resources and that the quality of the supports that the child receives and the inclusive atmosphere cultivated in schools are important factors influencing the quality of learning achieved by migrant children. My Department recognises that we must monitor and review the educational experiences that are provided to migrant students so that we can improve the quality and effectiveness of our provision. The Department is undertaking a range of research to consider the question of integration in schools and how best to deploy our resources to ensure that all the children in our schools can benefit from learning in an intercultural Ireland.

  242.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the funding withdrawn from schools (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40390/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The 2009 Budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure, and decisions were made in order to control expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long term. In this respect Education, while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure, could not be entirely spared, and I acknowledge the impact of funding restrictions in a number of areas, including at school level. However, these are the inevitable result of the challenging economic environment and the need to prudently manage Exchequer resources.

The positions of individual schools, including those referred to by the Deputy, will not be known until the staffing and budgetary allocations are finalised in the New Year.

  243.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application for a new school (details supplied) in County Wexford; when this school will receive the go-ahead; if his attention has been drawn to the circumstances of the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40393/08]

  249.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40405/08]

  250.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40406/08]

  251.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40407/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 243 and 249 to 251, inclusive, together.

The progression of all large scale school building projects, including those to which the Deputy refers, from site acquisition to initial design and through to construction will be considered in the context of the 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 projects at this time.

  244.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if this Deputy will be supplied with a copy of reports (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40394/08]

  245.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position of a report (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40395/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 244 and 245 together.

[453]As the Deputy is aware, my Department initiated a review of post-primary provision in the New Ross area principally to achieve rationalisation among the existing five providers. The review arose following the receipt of applications for capital funding from the managerial authorities of all post primary providers and against a backdrop of declining enrolments. The scope of the review was subsequently extended to include the five primary schools in the area. One of these schools has since closed.

In view of the extent of the review, a facilitator was appointed to consult with the local providers and to identify the key issues in relation to primary and post-primary school provision in the area. The facilitator’s report is the one referred to by the Deputy and is the only one of this nature commissioned by my Department in this area. I have asked the Planning and Building Unit in my Department to arrange for the issue of a copy of the report to the Deputy.

The School Planning Section of my Department subsequently prepared a discussion paper for the Trustees of both the primary and post primary schools to progress the matter further. Given the intervening period since the facilitator’s Report, the change in demographics etc., the purpose of the Paper was to put forward for discussion the Department’s view on how best the primary and post primary educational infrastructural needs of the area in question could be met into the future.

A decision was subsequently taken on the rationalisation aspect of primary provision in one of the Parishes concerned. As with all large scale building projects, the progression of the project resulting from this development, will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Discussions are ongoing among the Trustees in relation to the rationalisation of the post-primary schools.

  246.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason schools (details supplied) are not receiving funding for works to be carried out; if he will address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40396/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Deputy will be aware that discussions are ongoing at Trustee level in relation to the possible amalgamation of the post primary providers in the area to which he refers.

When the outcome of these discussions is known, consideration can be given to any application for capital funding which the Department has on hands for the schools in question.

In the meantime, it is open to the schools to submit an application for funding under the Emergency Works Grant for essential works for consideration. One of the schools mentioned by the Deputy has received funding of this nature in the past.

  247.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40403/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  A project to provide for a major extension/refurbishment to the school to which the Deputy refers to is at the early stages of architectural planning. A Design Team has been appointed.

The progression of all large scale building projects from initial design stage through to tender and construction phase, including this project, will be considered on an ongoing basis in the context of my Department’s Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

[454]In light of current competing demands on the capital budget of my Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of this project at this time.

  248.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40404/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  A project to provide for the provision of an autistic unit at the school referred to by the Deputy is currently in architectural planning — a stage 3 submission (sketch scheme) has been forwarded to my Department for consideration.

The progression of all large scale buildings projects from initial design to tender and construction stages, including this project, will be considered on an ongoing basis in the context of my Department’s Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

In light of current competing demands on the capital budget of my Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of this project at this time.

Questions Nos. 249 to 251, inclusive, answered with Question No. 243.

  252.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40408/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I can confirm that the school to which the Deputy refers has submitted an application to my Department for large scale capital funding.

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.

  253.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40409/08]

  255.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40411/08]

  256.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40412/08]

  257.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40413/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 253 and 255 to 257, inclusive, together.

I can confirm that the schools to which the Deputy refers have submitted applications to my Department for large scale capital funding.

[455]The progression of all large scale building projects, including these projects, 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.

  254.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the status of an application in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for a new building or extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40410/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The proposed building project for the school to which the Deputy refers is at an advanced stage of architectural planning.

The progression of all large scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase, including this project, will be considered on an on-going basis 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.

Questions Nos. 255 to 257, inclusive, answered with Question No. 253.

  258.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of people he and his Ministers of State have appointed to work with them; the number located in their constituency offices and in their Department; the responsibility of each; the rank, salary scale and name in each case; if they are elected to city, county, town or borough councils; if they are members of State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40419/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I have appointed the following staff since I was appointed Minister for Education and Science:

Ms. Deirdre McDonnell, Special Adviser — located in my Department (Salary Scale: €90,702 –€113,141);

Mr. Bernard Mallee, Special Adviser (with responsibility for press and communications) — located in my Department (Salary Scale: €86,168 –€107,485);

Ms. Katherine Woods, Personal Assistant — located in my constituency (Salary Scale: €46,558 –€55,030);

Ms. Mary O’Keeffe, Personal Secretary — located in my constituency (Salary Scale: €30,566 –€50,410).

The Minister of State at my Department has appointed the following staff since his appointment:

Ms. Catherine Ward, Personal Assistant — located in the Department of Education and Science (Salary Scale: €46,558 –€55,030);

Mr. Niall Haughey, Personal Secretary — located in the Minister of States office in his constituency (Salary Scale: €30,566 –€50,410);

Mr. Joe Ryan and Mr. Martin Vaughan as Civilian Drivers (€667.43 per week) based in the Department of Education and Science.

The salaries paid to non-civil servant staff are in accordance with the Department of Finance Instructions relating to the Appointment of Ministerial Private Office Staff.

[456]None of these staff have been elected to city, county, town or borough councils or are members of State Boards.

  259.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding a school building project for a school (details supplied) in County Meath; when he expects building to commence; if he has satisfied himself that the level of local funding to date by the school will be met by funding by his Department; the timescale for this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40430/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The building project for the school 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.

  260.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will re-evaluate the band rating criteria for a school (details supplied) in County Sligo. [40432/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The project to which the Deputy refers is currently at an early stage of architectural planning.

All applications for large scale capital funding are assessed against published prioritisation criteria which were formulated following consultation with the Education Partners. Under the criteria, each project is assigned a Band Rating which reflects the type of works required and the urgency attaching to them. There are four Band Ratings in all with Band 1 being the highest and Band 4 the lowest. A Band 2.2 rating has been assigned to the project in question and my Department is satisfied that that is the appropriate band rating for this project.

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.

  261.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a child who lives next to the Luas and whose school is near a Luas stop, cannot avail of the school transport scheme while a child who lives next to the DART, and whose school is near a DART stop, can; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40434/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey):  I indicated to the Deputy in reply to Parliamentary Question Number 620 of 21October, 2008 that eligible pupils may avail of school transport services, subject to certain criteria, under the terms of my Department’s Primary or Post Primary School Transport Schemes which are operated on behalf of the Department by Bus Éireann.

Bus Éireann advised my Department that pupils, where eligible, residing in the Dublin area served by the Luas are adequately catered for by scheduled bus and Dart services and, thus, Luas is not included in the current arrangements. My Department has asked Bus Éireann to review this arrangement.

[457]In the meantime, if the Deputy has any specific case in mind my Department will be glad to have the transport arrangements investigated.

  262.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when he will make a decision on the application of Waterford Institute of Technology for upgrading to the university of the south east; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40447/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The position is that applications have been received from 3 Institutes of Technology for designation as Universities. These applications raise significant issues regarding Government policy towards higher education, in particular the existing roles of the Universities and Institutes of Technology which have distinctive missions from each other, provide different levels and types of academic programmes, fulfil different roles in the community and have separate academic and governance structures. I have met with all of the Institutes of Technology concerned and I expect that consideration of the applications on hand will be finalised in the near future.

  263.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if, in relation to the budget reductions in pupil/teacher ratios for national schools, he will ensure that on the grounds of fairness, a school (details supplied) in County Limerick will retain its 12 teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40472/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year.

The detailed staffing allocation for the academic year 2009/10 cannot be determined until the allocation process has fully concluded. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. 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 an existing school if a new post is not available within the agreed terms of the scheme.

Schools are currently returning data to my Department in relation to their enrolment as of 30 September. My Department has commenced processing this data although all schools have not yet made their returns. The allocation process including notification to all primary schools will commence early in the New Year.

  264.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of students in primary and post-primary schools receiving special needs assistance; the number of WTE SNAs in his Department’s employment in both primary and post-primary sectors; the number of persons working as SNAs; and if he has plans to reduce this service. [40506/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to schools to support children with special needs. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

[458]While the total number of students in schools receiving SNA support is not readily available, the NCSE’s records show that it has allocated SNA support to 8,907 pupils at primary level and 2,678 at post primary level since its establishment.

There are currently 8,266 whole time equivalent SNAs employed in primary schools and 1,966 employed in post primary schools.

The recent budgetary announcements does not affect the criteria used for the allocation of special needs assistance support for children with special educational needs. The National Council for Special Education continues to operate within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

  265.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when a higher education grant will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40513/08]

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.

  266.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the activities and services funded by his Department from the budget 2009 subhead B17 entitled miscellaneous which amounts to €15.7 million in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40568/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  An allocation of €15.9m has been provided in the 2009 Budget for Subhead B17 Miscellaneous. This subhead provides for a range of miscellaneous services which include costs relating to:

The School Development Programme,

Early Literacy Programmes,

Funding of the Braille Production Unit,

The Partnership Programme,

Appeals under Section 29 of the Education Act,

The funding of an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG)

The provision of an advice and referral service run by and for survivors of abuse and a family tracing service (Origins) provided by Barnardos,

The Get Ahead Project

[459]

  267.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his views on a letter (details supplied). [40573/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey):  As you will be aware, the Education budget for 2009 has been increased by some €302 million. Notwithstanding this, a number of tough and difficult decisions have had to be taken, which have seen a number of spending cuts across the education sector. However, the overall allocation for the School Completion Programme in 2009 will increase by approximately 1% over the allocation for 2007/08.

My Department notified all 124 school completion projects on 21st August last that, pursuant to a Government decision in response to the deterioration in public finances, they would be required to reduce their payroll bill by 3% in 2009 through all appropriate measures identified by local management in the light of local circumstances. Projects were advised that they have the authority to manage how the savings are to be achieved. This is to facilitate projects in their efforts to ensure that these necessary steps will be applied in such a manner as to minimise their effect on young people targeted and to prioritise those activities which are found to be of most value in supporting the young people concerned.

In implementing this decision local Management Committees will have an opportunity to consider measures which might include the control of premium pay, the management of existing or future vacancies, the organisation of work processes and the levels at which work is carried out, as well as control of numbers through recruitment and other measures. This requirement will not have a universal effect on all 124 projects, as projects vary in size, number of schools involved and the number and status of personnel employed and the types of interventions in place.

In line with the requirements set out the letter dated 21st August, Projects are requested to submit the required establishment plans including information on the numbers of existing staff, both full-time and part-time at all salary levels in each project. Under the terms of the Government decision, the allocation for the pay element of the School Completion Programme in 2009 will be framed on the basis that a saving of 3% will be achieved when the pay bill is adjusted to include the full-year cost of Towards 2016 increases payable in 2008.

It is envisaged that the savings requested, will lead to rationalisation, with more efficient and cost effective measures being implemented. In this way, it is not expected that there will be any significant diminution of front-line services.

With regard to the pay increase of 3.5% provided for under the recently negotiated second pay agreement under Towards 2016, my Department is currently considering how this will be addressed, should the pay increase be accepted by the unions and their members, following the Government’s decision that no specific additional provision should be included for this pay increase and that the cost should be met from the allocations approved in Budget 2009.

  268.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will make a statement on the number of posts that have been decentralised to date, and of those, the number that have been decentralised from Dublin, and their grades; the number that have opted to remain in Dublin, and their grades; the number of those that have moved to another Department or agency in Dublin; and the number that have been decentralised from outside Dublin to other locations and their grades. [40704/08]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  My Department has completed the process of decentralising all sections due to relocate to Athlone and to date, 88 posts have decentralised from my Department to Athlone. The main relocation of posts from Dublin to Mullingar will take place when the new office accommodation in Mullingar is ready for occu[460]pation. However, in June 2008, my Department utilised existing available accommodation, in its Regional Office in Mullingar, to decentralise 7 posts from Dublin to that location. Breakdown of these posts by grade is as follows:

2 Assistant Secretary Generals;

6 Principal Officers;

11 Assistant Principal Officers;

20 Higher Executive Officers;

30 Executive Officers;

3 Staff Officers;

22 Clerical Officers;

1 Service Officer;

167 staff in my Department will be/have been transferred to organisations remaining in Dublin prior to decentralisation to Mullingar. Breakdown by grade is as follows:

10 Principal Officers;

17 Assistant Principal Officers;

41 Higher Executive Officers;

42 Executive Officers;

6.5 Staff Officers;

36 Clerical Officers;

7 Service Officer;

8 Telephonist/Cleaners.

Volunteers for decentralisation to Mullingar will be assigned to the remaining posts as the current post-holders transfer out under the Dublin Arrangements or to decentralise to other locations. In total, 62 former staff in my Department have transferred out to other Dublin based organisations through bilateral moves or through the Dublin arrangements.

To date, 56 staff based in my Department’s offices outside Dublin have transferred to decentralise with other organisations. Breakdown by grade is as follows:

1 Principal Officer;

6 Assistant Principals;

18 Higher Executive Officers/Administrative Officers;

21 Executive Officers;

3 Staff Officers;

7 Clerical Officers.