Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.
Business of Dáil.
Order of Business.
EU Council Decision: Motion.
Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008: Order for Second Stage.
Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008: Second Stage.
Visit of Hungarian Delegation.
Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).
Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008: Referral to Select Committee.
Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).
Message from Seanad.
Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Social and Affordable Housing.
Election Management System.
Adjournment Debate Matters.
Centre for Deaf Studies.
Social and Affordable Housing.
Building Energy Rating.
Social and Affordable Housing.
Register of Electors.
Departmental Legal Costs.
Strategy on Homelessness.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Election Management System.
Local Authority Housing.
Local Government Reform.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Public Service Reform.
National Partnership Agreement.
Public Sector Pay.
Early Child Care Supplement.
Health Service Staff.
National Treatment Purchase Fund.
Mental Health Services.
Nursing Home Subventions.
Services for People with Disabilities.
Voluntary Sector Funding.
Asylum Support Services.
Victims of Crime.
Public Order Offences.
Sports Capital Programme.
Social Welfare Code.
Social Welfare Benefits.
Defence Forces Personnel.
Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Strategy on Homelessness.
Election Management System.
Social and Affordable Housing.
Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Local Authority Funding.
Local Authority Housing.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Election Management System.
Alternative Energy Projects.
Summer Works Scheme.
Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
An Ceann Comhairle: Anois, iarratas 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 a notice under Standing Order 32.
Deputy Denis Naughten: I seek the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 32 to discuss a matter of urgent national and regional importance, namely, in light of the confirmation this week by the chief executive officer of Elan that the company has plans eventually to dispose of its existing operation in Athlone town, there is now great fear within the local community that the company is planning to transfer its new biological processing plant with 500 potential jobs from Athlone to Dublin. There is an urgent need for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to intervene directly to secure these new jobs at the Athlone site not only to support the local economy and this flagship regional employer, but to protect the long-term industrial policy of consecutive Governments and the national spatial strategy by bringing foreign direct investment to the regions.
An Ceann Comhairle: Tar éis breithnithe a dhéanamh ar an níardaithe, níl sé in ord faoi Bhuan Ordú 32. Having considered the matter raised, it is not in order under Standing Order 32.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before calling on the Minister for Finance to announce the Order of Business, I take this opportunity, on my own behalf and on behalf of all Members, to extend our warmest congratulations to the former Ceann Comhairle and Deputy, Mr. Séamus Pattison, on being awarded the freedom of the city of Kilkenny. It is an honour that is well deserved.
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): It is proposed to take No. 16, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council framework decision amending Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism, back from committee; No. 3, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 27, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 16 shall be decided without debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16, without debate, agreed to?
Deputy Richard Bruton: At a time when families face unprecedented pressure as a result of job losses, new taxes and fear of the credit crunch and its impact on the economy, the Dáil must have clarity from the Government in regard to ongoing affairs at FÁS, a major agency delivering services to people who are unemployed and others. Will the Minister for Finance clarify whether he has confidence in the board, which seems to have an oversight role in setting the expenses regime that applied to——
An Ceann Comhairle: I must interrupt Deputy Bruton to point out that we are dealing with a proposal before the House. I remind Members that issues relating to FÁS are before the Committee of Public Accounts on foot of a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General. While passing reference may be made to current issues, the House should await the committee’s report. The chairman of the committee, Deputy Bruton’s party colleague, is on record as stating that the committee will have to deliberate on the matter. I am sure the Deputy accepts that. These matters bear no relation to the proposal currently before the House.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: This issue must also be deliberated upon by the House.
Deputy Richard Bruton: There is a requirement for the Government to relate to the House its judgment on the issues that have emerged thus far into the public domain. It is a long-standing convention in this House that Members may oppose the taking of a certain matter on grounds of the urgency of other issues. I am taking that opportunity, which was well flagged in the past.
An Ceann Comhairle: Dylan Thomas himself would not have been as imaginative as that.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I believe he would. I am following a long tradition in this regard.
Deputy James Reilly: Imagination and vision are what is needed.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: Imaginative actions were taken in Cocoa Beach.
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Bruton to conclude; otherwise, we will be here all day.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I would have finished by now if the Ceann Comhairle had not made his intervention, which I accept.
An Ceann Comhairle: I had to do it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I accept that. However, I wish to ask the Minister for Finance, who is directly responsible, whether it is his view that a severance package to the chief executive officer of FÁS should be made conditional on his co-operating with the inquiry to which the Ceann Comhairle adverted. There is a general belief that this should be the case.
Will the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who was the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment at the time of these events, make a statement in the House today to clarify matters both of ministerial oversight of these boards and in regard to the issues in which she has suggested she was involved?
Has the Minister for Finance instructed every other agency to publish its approach and practices in regard to expenses, flights and spouses travelling? We are entitled to this information at a time when every family in the country is under huge pressure and expects frugality and prudence to be the order of the day on the part of those who are in charge and spending public money.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Government accept a special notice question to deal with the important matter to which Deputy Bruton referred?
Yesterday, the Government announced to great fanfare another programme for public service reform and customer charters. Implicit in that is the requirement for legislation to allow staff in public bodies and agencies to be transferable with those in Departments. Will the Government take the opportunity, in drafting that necessary legislation, to make provision for greater oversight of agencies by the Minister for Finance and the relevant Ministers in order to ensure that all expenditure on the part of those agencies is necessary and in accordance with their remit? Given the importance of the work done by FÁS for people who are unemployed and will soon be unemployed, there must be a reformation of the agency and a rebuilding of confidence in its disposal of the €1 billion allocated to it. The Government implicitly committed itself yesterday to introducing new legislation.
It is time that agencies had rules. I understand that many Ministers and Ministers of State were invited by FÁS to visit the NASA base at Cape Canaveral. I do not know why they all needed to go. We do not have an issue with personal grooming, but we do have an issue with value for taxpayers’ money.
An Ceann Comhairle: You made your point, Deputy.
Deputy Joan Burton: I understand that female politicians have to try to look our best, just as much as men, when they are working on behalf of the State. However, there is a very important principle. At the time, the Minister was earning a gross salary of €200,000.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that now. You have had your run.
Deputy Joan Burton: That is important to old age pensioners. Will the Minister bring in legislation on this issue?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Order Paper does not accommodate the issue raised by Members which concerns the wider public. This issue is the significant erosion of confidence in FÁS as a very important body entrusted with the training and retraining of people in the workforce, the greater number of whom are unemployed. That is a very serious matter which must be addressed in the House. I do not believe, with the continuous drip-drip release of information in recent days, that we can allow for time to elapse before we receive the report from the Comptroller and Auditor General. We need to address this urgently in the House in order to restore that confidence.
I call on the Government to provide for the required time on the Order Paper so that these matters can be addressed. The most important thing today is not what moneys were spent on the Minister’s hair-do. The most important thing to do is to restore confidence in FÁS, which is a significant agency of the State and which has been seriously damaged. I ask the Minister to accommodate an opportunity——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has made his point.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I will conclude in one moment. We do not need only statements, as others have demanded. We need a proper address, which is a full debate on all the issues involved, especially the core concern today. It is not the price of a hair-do, especially when put in the context of thousands spent on fillers and paint for the former Taoiseach. We need to address the core issue, which is the restoration of confidence in FÁS.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The reason the Government has not made time available to discuss issues relating to FÁS is that we respect the procedures of this House and of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is our chosen instrument for the investigation of these matters and which is investigating them this morning. It would be highly undesirable to have a parallel debate in this House, when the board members of FÁS are making themselves accountable to the committee.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We have no certainty that this is the case. That is the Minister’s assertion, but that is not the view of every Member of the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, you are out of order.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I accept that there may be divergent views, but the House has procedures and the chosen instrument of this House, namely, the Committee of Public Accounts, is deliberating on these matters today.
The board of FÁS met last night to consider the circumstances which led to the resignation of the director general and to see how the organisation can move forward following recent controversies. The board expressed its grave concern about these matters, but stated that in deference to the fact that the Committee of Public Accounts will subject the matters to legitimate parliamentary scrutiny this morning, it would not make a detailed statement at this point and will reconvene on Friday, once the committee hearing is complete, and will issue a full statement thereafter.
Deputy Burton raised the question of the legislation which would be necessary to implement the task force report on reform of the public service, known as Transforming Public Services. It is likely that as the implementation of the report is undertaken, the case for further legislative provision will arise. The concern expressed by the Deputy on the degree of control and the accountability that can be exercised over agencies and non-commercial semi-State bodies can be addressed in that context.
Deputy Bruton asked me to outline the position on circulars and foreign travel. These circulars are long standing and yesterday I reminded Department officials to be aware of——
Deputy Richard Bruton: That is not what I asked. I asked the Minister was he going to get them to publish their recent practice.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is only allowed one intervention.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Minister knows the question I asked.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The practices are outlined in the rules. I can outline the circulars to the House if the Deputy so wishes. There is a number of circulars that deal with foreign travel, such as Circular 36 of 1971, Circular 11 of 1982, and Circular 31 of March 1998. They deal with foreign travel policy documents, travelling and subsistence regulations. The primary circular governing these matters is the circular sent out on 31 March 1998. The normal practice is that the Department of Finance communicates with other Departments. It is a matter for those Departments to communicate the matter to agencies and bodies under their remit. I requested the Departments yesterday to reiterate the provisions of these circulars to the relevant agencies, as well as to their own officers.
Deputy Richard Bruton: Did the Minister ask them to publish the——
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The practices are outlined in the circulars. The circulars contain the guidelines.
Deputy Richard Bruton: They are the desirable practices.
Deputy James Reilly: They are the recommendations.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The question whether a practice is observed is a matter of legitimate parliamentary investigation, and can be dealt with in the normal way.
The Committee of Public Accounts is discussing the activities of FÁS this morning and the board of FÁS discussed these matters yesterday evening. It is not normal for the Government to reaffirm its confidence in the very many boards that exist under its aegis. In the first instance, the line Minister is responsible for communicating the concerns of the Government to any relevant board. The Tánaiste has been working with the chairman of FÁS on these issues. She has mentioned certain concerns to me and I have no doubt that proposals will be brought to the Government in due course.
Deputy Joan Burton: On a point of order, that did not sound like a ringing vote of confidence——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order. There can only be one intervention on this debate.
Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 16, without debate, be agreed to” put and declared carried.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I would like to raise two items on the Order of Business. There has been an announcement that a consortium of Irish investors is willing to become involved in recapitalising the Irish banks. Does the Minister plan to introduce legislation to allow the National Pensions Reserve Fund to invest matching funds? Or is it still his view that public investment would only be a last resort, and that he would prefer a take-over of Irish banks by international venture capitalists to an investment that would predominantly keep Irish banking in Irish hands?
Yesterday the Government announced the establishment of the fifth review group in the last 15 months on the public services, none of which has yet produced tangible savings in public spending. Does the Minister plan changes to the totally dysfunctional way in which budgets are presented to the House? They are presented in a way which neither tracks down waste nor rewards high performance, but are all about the demands of agencies and not the clients, and what is to be spent and not what is to be achieved.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that. I ask the Minister to respond on the legislation.
Deputy Richard Bruton: It is a matter for the Order of Business as to whether there will be a change in the dysfunctional budget process that presents Estimates——
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not, as you well know.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The heart of our business is the way in which budgets are presented. Of course it is in order.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will not get involved in an argument with the Deputy. The correct way of dealing with that is to put down a question on it. Is legislation promised on banking, which actually is even stretching it?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: A review of the National Pensions Reserve Fund was announced in my budget speech and has been completed by Mr. Maurice O’Connell, a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank. I am studying the conclusions of that review and no decision has been taken on legislation to date.
On the issue of the possible use of the NPRF, I have indicated at all stages that the use of public funds should be a last resort in the context of investment in the banking sector. I welcome private investment in our banking institutions from whatever source.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Bring in the sharks.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Does that include the Bin Laden family?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I have made that clear in recent days. Any such source and any such investment ——
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: They are carpetbaggers.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: We must be assured that any such investment is in the public interest.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: It will be another Eircom.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: It must be in the interests of the people of this State and of the maintenance of the banks as viable credit institutions. I have not ruled out co-investment by the State in support of any such private investment and the State is not committed to any particular private investor.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: The Minister had better do something about it soon.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I especially welcome the announcement that a fresh consortium emerged yesterday.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Ceann Comhairle allow a special notice question in respect of the rules governing the payment of expenses and costs in a range of State agencies in order to ensure that personal costs, which ought to be covered by office holders’ salaries and expense allowances, are met by them? This is important. Will the Ceann Comhairle allow a special notice——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter——
Deputy Joan Burton: This is a question for the Ceann Comhairle.
An Ceann Comhairle: There can be no blank cheques given.
Deputy Michael Creed: Quite a few have been given already.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Blankety blank.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is open to Deputy Burton to table a question on that matter and it will be considered. However, I can assure the Deputy of one thing. I have no intention of spending the Order of Business discussing hairdos, pedicures or manicures. I am not doing that. If the Deputy puts down the question, I will consider it. In the meantime——
Deputy Joan Burton: The question has already been submitted.
An Ceann Comhairle: Let us be clear here. In fairness to Deputy Bernard Allen and his all-party committee, the Committee of Public Accounts is dealing with this issue this very day. I have no intention of usurping his or his committee’s function. Were I to do so, it would be a denigration by me and the House of the Committee of Public Accounts and I will not do it.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Minister for Finance make a detailed statement to the House in respect of Irish banks and the fact that there are foreign equity capitalists circling the banks, like vultures, poised to take them over? We have, in this House, no capacity to learn about this other than what we read in the newspapers.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Burton cannot take carte blanche on the Order of Business.
Deputy Joan Burton: I understand that legislation——
An Ceann Comhairle: This is not in order. There is another way of raising the matter, as the Deputy well knows.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will additional legislation or amendments to existing legislation——
An Ceann Comhairle: Is legislation promised?
Deputy Joan Burton: ——be required in the event that co-investment, to which the Minister has just referred, by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and unknown foreign interests in Irish banks is to take place? I understand such co-investment is currently outside the terms of reference of the NPRF.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is legislation promised in this area?
Deputy Joan Burton: Will it require fresh legislation?
An Ceann Comhairle: Is legislation promised in this area?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: There is no legislation promised. On the general suggestion, I wish to make the point that while private interests can, of course, express an interest in investing in banks and financial institutions, that does not mean that the State is committed to any of them. Our duty, on this side of the House, is to ensure the banks are operated in the public interest and provide credit for the economy.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I ask the Ceann Comhairle for his patience in allowing me to raise an important matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am not sure I have any left.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Patience is scarce this morning.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Ceann Comhairle was good enough to allow me to raise a matter on the Adjournment of the House on Tuesday last, 25 November, regarding the availability of suitably qualified inspectors for schools in Wexford and Kerry. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Hoctor, replied to me on behalf of the Government and the Department that evening. I am not sure if the Minister of State or the Department of Education and Science withheld information but gutter politics was played.
An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot re-hash that now.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I am not sitting down until I get a reply or——
An Ceann Comhairle: I will tell the Deputy what will happen. The Deputy will sit down. If the Chair rules that he will sit down, he will do so or he will leave the House.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I will not leave the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to put his question.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I will not be leaving the House until I get an answer.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should put his question then.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: On Tuesday the Department and the Minister of State withheld vital information. A school received word on Wednesday morning, at 9.30 a.m. that the issue had been sorted out but the Minister of State was not able to inform me of this on Tuesday at 10.30 p.m. That is absolute gutter politics.
Deputies: Hear, hear.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is nothing I can do about that.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I want a reply on this. Either the Minister of State lied to the House——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, there is a long-standing precedent——
Deputy Michael Ring: Mouse O’Dea did the same thing yesterday.
An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy wishes to make a substantive allegation against a Member in the House, there is a methodology whereby he can do that. He can do it by way of substantive motion but he may not throw such a remark or allegation across the floor of the House. That applies to every Member and I will enforce it strictly. I must insist now that the Deputy withdraws the word lie, in accordance with precedent, as has every Member of this House, to the best of my knowledge, since the foundation of the State.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Untruth is acceptable.
An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy withdraw it?
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I withdraw the word lie but let me state categorically——
An Ceann Comhairle: Now, this cannot be dealt with across the floor of the House.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: It can be dealt with. Deputy Hoctor did not tell the full truth.
An Ceann Comhairle: I must ask the Deputy to resume his seat.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: She did not tell the full truth.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must resume his seat. The Chair is standing. I am asking the Deputy to resume his seat. If the Deputy does not resume his seat I will have to——
Deputy Paul Kehoe: On a point of order.
An Ceann Comhairle: What is the Deputy’s point of order?
Deputy Paul Kehoe: Can the Minister of State outline whether she misled the House on Tuesday?
An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: She withheld information——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order. As I have explained to the Deputy, there is a methodology for dealing with this.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: What resources are open to me?
Deputy Seán Power: The sin bin.
An Ceann Comhairle: What I would like the Deputy to do, without getting into an argument across the floor of the House with him, is to call to my office after the Order of Business to see if the matter can be resolved. Will the Deputy do that?
Deputy Michael Ring: If it is not resolved, the Government will not be getting any more pairs from now on.
An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot be anymore reasonable than that.
Deputy Michael Ring: Mouse O’Dea did the same thing to Deputy McGinley yesterday.
An Ceann Comhairle: I must move on. I call Deputy Crawford.
Deputy Michael Ring: Deputy McGinley is a long-standing member of this House. Mouse O’Dea said he would tell his colleagues——
Deputy Tom Sheahan: I wish to make a point.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Sheahan——
Deputy Michael Ring: ——and he would not give him the information.
An Ceann Comhairle: Hold on one minute, now, Deputy Ring. Deputy Sheahan is always welcome to make a point.
Deputy Tom Sheahan: That was a joint adjournment debate matter between Deputy Kehoe and myself and I also wish to voice my dissatisfaction.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Crawford. We will see how the matter may be advanced but I cannot discuss it now. I am trying to be as fair as I can.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I will try to be as in line as possible. On a number of occasions in this House we discussed the issue of the attachment of fines and were promised that a Bill would be introduced to deal with that issue. I notice that debt collectors have been appointed instead. Can the Minister assure us that some effort will be made to bring in an attachment of fines Bill to sort out the problem?
In light of all of the problems with cross-Border businesses, as well as those relating to FÁS and job creation, when can the Industrial Development Bill that was promised for this session be expected? The situation is extremely serious from the perspective of job losses, especially in the Border region.
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, will want to advise us on how to save money in light of what has happened recently but how can she justify patients being treated under private structures when she has actually closed wards in the public system?
An Ceann Comhairle: We were going well there until the very end. That last one is out.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: When will the health information Bill be introduced so that we can discuss these issues?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The Fines Bill is before the House on Second Stage. It is intended to publish the industrial development Bill in this session. The health information Bill is on public consultation at present, prior to the approving of the text.
Deputy James Reilly: Yesterday we passed the Finance Bill.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: No we did not.
Deputy James Reilly: Under a freedom of information request, it has become public knowledge that advice was given to the Minister for Finance with regard to the decision on the over 70s——
An Ceann Comhairle: There is another way of raising that.
Deputy James Reilly: I simply want to ask a question. Given that this advice turned out to be better than what the Government persisted with, will the Minister give an undertaking that in future he might take advice from staff in his Department, who clearly have a better feel for the reality on the ground?
An Ceann Comhairle: We will move on. I ask the Deputy to stop.
Deputy James Reilly: He could have saved the pensioners of this country a lot of anxiety——
An Ceann Comhairle: He could have, of course. I call Deputy Quinn.
Deputy James Reilly: He could have saved——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Reilly, I am calling Deputy Quinn.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: On the same matter——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is out of order, Deputy O’Sullivan.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: We have been promised legislation——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may tell me what it is.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: ——about taking the medical cards from the over-70s. I want to ask about that specific legislation. The Minister was advised that there were significant risks in taking this action. Does he intend to proceed with this legislation or will he leave the medical cards with the over-70s in a spirit of generosity?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister to reply to Deputy Reilly and Deputy O’Sullivan.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The legislation will be finalised in the next few weeks. The document in question was prepared subsequent to the Government decision and was circulated to the Department of Health and Children. The focus of the document was concern about whether the necessary savings would be effected on foot of the Government decision.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Is the Government going ahead?
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I seek the guidance of the Ceann Comhairle in a matter. As I understand it, the Ceann Comhairle has the responsibility to uphold the rights of all Deputies on all sides. Deputies have the right to hold Ministers to account and one of the ways we do so is by asking parliamentary questions. The Ceann Comhairle’s office has no responsibility for the content of those questions and I understand this. However, what role, if any, does the Ceann Comhairle or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have where a Department, in this specific instance the Department of Education and Science, consistently refuses to answer questions on the basis that it would take an inordinate amount of time or that the question is not relevant or more or less that the Deputy can just shove off? I have chapter and verse and an expansive file of such replies in my office going back for just over a year. What are the rights of Deputies on this side of the House to seek the Ceann Comhairle’s protection to get a definitive answer, not the content of the answer but to get a definitive answer to a legitimate question?
An Ceann Comhairle: Unfortunately, the Chair has no function with regard to replies from Departments. The adequacy of replies is clearly a question which can be dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I recommend that Deputy Quinn asks for the matter to be discussed there.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: On a point of clarification, if I and perhaps other colleagues bring to the Ceann Comhairle’s attention, to the attention of the committee over which he presides, a sample number of questions, they could be examined and he could consider whether the Executive was thwarting the constitutional rights of elected Deputies of this House and take whatever action he deems appropriate.
An Ceann Comhairle: Certainly the Committee on Procedure and Privileges can discuss the issue Deputy Quinn has raised and then if it is seen to be appropriate to do so, we can take the matter up with the relevant Minister.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Thank you, Sir.
Deputy Michael Ring: I will not delay the House. There is great anger on this side of the House about the subject raised by Deputy Quinn. Even yesterday, the behaviour of a senior Minister when he said to a colleague of mine that he would not give the answer to this House but that he would give it to his party colleague from Donegal——
An Ceann Comhairle: We had this discussion yesterday.
Deputy Michael Ring: I remind the Ceann Comhairle that we fought to have a democracy not a dictatorship and we have a dictatorship over there at the moment——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is why the House has Standing Orders which are agreed by all Members of the House.
Deputy Michael Ring: I would like to see this Government unemployed and all on a FÁS scheme. That is what should happen.
An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on with the Order of Business.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: In the matter of management companies and the promised legislation attached to them, I know it is very complex and difficult for the Government to deal with, but it has taken three years to get to the stage where the Attorney General has been asked to handle the preparation of the legislation. Three Ministers are still involved in this area, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I raised this matter at the Whips’ meeting because as a Whip I am very aware of the huge volume of legislation that of necessity has to come out of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It was indicated in the House that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, or the Minister might sponsor the Bill. If that were to be so, my fear is we would never see the Bill in the House because of the volume of work in that Department. I understand it was being referred to Government to see if one of the less legislatively busy Departments or Ministers might take the Bill rather than the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A new urgency has arisen with regard to this legislation as well as the difficulties that were there all along.
If the Fine Gael Whip could stay quiet, the House would be able to hear me. Management companies are now going broke and people have nobody to whom to pay the charge. They cannot sell their houses when they need to — if anybody would buy them — because there is a lien on their title which they cannot clear because there is nobody to clear it. This is a new situation arising as well as all the other difficulties.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The three Departments are now preparing the relevant heads of the Bill and they will have agreed the heads shortly. The Attorney General has taken a personal interest in the matter, as Deputy Stagg outlined. The Bill will then have to be drafted as a matter of urgency. With regard to the lead Department, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the current lead Department. I will draw Deputy Stagg’s views to the attention of the Government.
Deputy Michael Creed: Woolly thinking appears to be the order of the day on the Government front benches, with the possible exception of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Will the Minister for Finance intervene with his colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to address the plight of the sheep sector? There are farmers picketing outside the Department at the moment and we have had much promised intervention on foot of the Aylward report with the Minister lecturing Europe on the sheep sector.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is another way of raising that matter.
Deputy Michael Creed: We now have some latitude arising out of the CAP health check to make progress on this matter and he is refusing to so do. Will the Minister intervene with him?
An Ceann Comhairle: There is another way of raising that matter.
Deputy P. J. Sheehan: How long more will the sheep be in the pen to draw attention to the issue?
Deputy Denis Naughten: On promised legislation, in light of the recent media reports that ambulances have been held up at Beaumont Hospital due to a shortage of beds, I refer to the health (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. I bring to his attention the case of a man in his 40s lying in a hospital bed in Beaumont Hospital since last April who cannot be discharged because the home support is not there at the moment. Can this situation be addressed so that sick people can be in acute hospital beds rather than people who should go home?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister on the legislation.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: This Bill will be ready next year.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: Chop the home help.
Deputy John Perry: I seek clarification from the Minister with regard to the difficulties the Finance Bill poses for traders in the Border counties. Is the Minister aware that on the submission of a VAT number for the importation of goods from Northern Ireland there is derogation on VAT? This is a very important anomaly.
An Ceann Comhairle: It might be but it cannot be raised now.
Deputy John Perry: It is to do with the Finance Bill.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot ask about the content of the Finance Bill. He is taking French leave now and it cannot be done.
Deputy John Perry: VAT is not payable. Traders on the Border are being devastated. On the submission of a VAT number there is VAT derogation.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are several ways of raising that matter as the Deputy well knows. I call Deputy Higgins. As I have said to several other Members this morning, there are other ways of raising a matter. If I make an exception for Deputy Perry I must make an exception for everybody. Much as I would like to, I cannot.
Deputy John Perry: Traders in the Border counties are devastated.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order. There is another way of raising that, as you well know.
Deputy John Perry: Is the Minister aware there is VAT derogation on submission of a VAT number?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Bill is going through the House and the Deputy can raise the matter on Committee or Report Stages. He cannot raise it now.
Deputy John Perry: Is the Minister aware the reduction of VAT is having a dire impact? There is nothing being done for traders in the Border counties.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must resume his seat because we cannot keep this up. I call Deputy Higgins.
Deputy John Perry: Nobody is speaking on this here.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Next Wednesday in Oslo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of Ireland, will sign the convention against cluster munitions. This convention is welcomed by different parties in the House. Consistent with that and our discussion in this House on the matter, will the Minister for Finance submit those companies who are part of any consortium for the Irish banking sector such as the Carlyle Corporation, which may have been involved in funding the production of cluster munitions, to the same ethical test we have often asked for in this House for the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which had the support of all sides of the House and equally, when the House was discussing the NTMA? It is at the heart of the Department of Foreign Affairs mission statement that we will promote human rights. Given that the company is one of the tenth biggest defence contractors and has an eminent board which has assisted in procuring defence contracts and so forth, is it not appropriate for the Minister to publish ethical guidelines? The most important issue is that we have liquidity in the Irish banking system but it needs to be qualified by a social responsibility and an ethical foreign policy test. Is it the Minister’s intention to address these issues in any consideration he might be making of the involvement of outside bankers in the Irish banking system?
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not think that is in order.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I do not know if it is in order.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am afraid not, Deputy D. Higgins, although it is very interesting.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: It could be a case of taking assistance from the devil himself. The Minister will be readily able to find in the text of the international convention, which I am happy was signed in Oslo, references to using moral suasion and every influence in asking people to desist from the production of cluster munitions. One cannot be against them on Wednesday and then be looking for the people who fund their production on a Thursday.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into it today.
Deputy Frank Feighan: Recently, there was some serious flooding around the country. This was compounded by inadequate drainage in rivers and streams, particularly in my area of north Roscommon and south Leitrim where the River Feorish flooded. Clearly, the local authorities and the Office of Public Works——
An Ceann Comhairle: No, we cannot discuss that now.
Deputy Frank Feighan: This is on proposed legislation, a Cheann Comhairle.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is extraordinary if it is. What legislation is it?
Deputy Frank Feighan: Will legislation be introduced to define the areas of responsibility for flood relief between local authorities and the Office of Public Works?
An Ceann Comhairle: Is legislation promised in this area?
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I am not aware of any promised legislation.
Deputy Frank Feighan: In my discussions with the Office of Public Works I was informed legislation in this area was promised.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is no legislation promised in this area.
Deputy Frank Feighan: Is there any sign of that Bill being published? Is the Minister aware of such legislation?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister said there is none. No, he is not aware of it.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I will go back to the Office of Public Works and tell it there is no such legislation.
An Ceann Comhairle: Do that.
Deputy Frank Feighan: May I add that the Office of Public Works was telling me mistruths that there is a Bill coming in to deal with this area.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call on Deputy Bannon. I was suspicious from the outset.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I was well in order.
Deputy James Bannon: There has been a massive cut in the budgets and funding for our national heritage under the watch of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Deputy John Gormley: I am not the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Deputy Joan Burton: He said “heritage”.
Deputy James Bannon: When will the national monuments Bill be published to address the dilapidated state of our national monuments across the country? When will the noise Bill to address noise pollution be published?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister to reply on the national monuments Bill.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: It is not possible at this stage to indicate when the national monuments Bill will be published.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: It is no more than a call to patriotic action.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I reflected on Deputy Michael D. Higgins’s earlier comments. The cluster munitions legislation is before the Seanad. It is not clear to me that the matter raised by the Deputy arises under that legislation. Under the bank guarantee scheme, I have powers to remind the financial institutions of their social obligations. I will draw the Deputy’s comments to their attention.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I appreciate that.
Deputy Brian Hayes: On the matter that my colleague Deputy Paul Kehoe raised earlier, I would like to bring to the House’s attention a simple fact. On the said Tuesday when Deputies Paul Kehoe and Tom Sheahan raised the matter on the Adjournment, I received a written reply from the Minister for Education and Science at 5.30 p.m. The information in my reply was not the same as that given in the Adjournment debate at 10.30 p.m.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have agreed to meet with the Deputies concerned.
Deputy Brian Hayes: We now have evidence that the same Department gave me information at 5.30 p.m. which it did not put on the record of the House at 10.30 p.m.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will be discussing this with the Deputies concerned. If Deputy Brian Hayes wants to discuss it as well, he can join the meeting.
Deputy Brian Hayes: Will the Ceann Comhairle take the evidence I have just given him and adjudicate on it accordingly?
An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot discuss it across the floor of the House.
Deputy Brian Hayes: It is a serious matter when a Department says one thing to a Deputy by way of written parliamentary question at 5.30 p.m. and another thing to another Member at 10.30 p.m. that evening.
An Ceann Comhairle: I said I would discuss it with the Deputies to see what is the position. I call on Deputy Kathleen Lynch.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: At least I will be in order.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: It is withholding information.
Deputy Brian Hayes: This is a serious matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go on about this all morning. It is 11.15 a.m., Deputy Brian Hayes.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: All Ministers will be aware of the urgency of the mental capacity Bill. When will the heads of the Bill be published? There is a concern of another court case arising which will not be able to be dealt with because of the lack of legislation.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: It is expected that the Bill will be published in the middle of next year. Heads of the Bill have been approved by the Government.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey): I move:
Question put and agreed to.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”
Question put and agreed to.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the increases in motor tax rates and trade plate licences contained in the financial resolution on motor tax passed by the Dáil on 14 October 2008. The financial resolution and this Bill provide for increases in motor tax of 4% for cars below 2.5 litres, and CO2 bands A to D; and 5% for cars above the 2.5 litre threshold and CO2 bands E, F and G. Rates on goods and other vehicles and trade plates also increase by 4% with no increase for electric vehicles.
The increases in motor tax rates must be viewed against the background that motor tax increases since the year 2000, including the current increases, are below the inflation rate over the intervening eight year period. The new rates will apply to motor tax discs and trade licences taken out for periods beginning on or after 1 January 2009.
The Bill also contains a minor technical change by relating the definition of CO2 emissions directly to the definition in the Finance Acts where it is used for the purposes of the vehicle registration tax system. The Finance Bill, in turn, contains a technical amendment to the definition of CO2 emissions. The amendment in this Bill means that all the relevant definitions common to both motor tax and VRT, derive from one source and ensures uniformity in both tax systems.
The sole reason for increasing motor tax rates from 1 January 2009 is to raise funding for the local government fund. It is important to underline that motor taxation is different from other taxes. The proceeds from motor tax are not paid into the Exchequer but directly into the local government fund. This funding is ring-fenced entirely for local government and cannot be used by the Exchequer for any other purpose. The motor tax paid into the fund is supplemented on an annual basis with a financial contribution from central Government. The fund is used predominately to finance non-national roads and the general purpose needs of local authorities.
It is anticipated that the proposed increases in motor tax rates will raise some €40 million extra for the fund next year. The establishment of the local government fund, and its funding by motor tax receipts, has created an important link between the amount of tax paid by motorists and the visible and concrete service they get for that tax in terms of better roads.
In total, local authorities will spend some €11.7 billion on capital and current expenditure in 2009. Some €1.6 billion will be available for allocation via the local government fund for general purpose grants, allocated by my Department, and funding for regional and local roads, allocated by the Department of Transport.
General purpose grants are the contribution that my Department makes to local authorities to meet the gap between the cost to them of providing a reasonable level of day to day services and the income they obtain from other sources. Over €935 million in general purpose grants will be provided to local authorities from the local government fund in 2009. Up to €564.5 million has also been allocated to the Department of Transport from the local government fund for 2009 for regional and local roads. An additional amount of approximately €80 million will be allocated for specific local government purposes including the operation of water services, the administration of group water schemes and the vehicle registration unit.
While general purpose grants are important in assisting local authorities to balance their budgets, they comprise only about one fifth of the funding required by authorities to provide their day-to-day services. Local authorities receive income from a range of sources including rates, charges for goods and services, specific State grants and general purpose grants from the local government fund. It is a matter for each local authority to prioritise its spending, within the resources available to it, across the range of services it provides. Equally, local authorities must ensure full value for money for the resources invested, and seek the maximum efficiency across their operation. I am satisfied the general purpose allocations I have provided for 2009, together with the income available from other sources, will enable local authorities to provide an acceptable level of service to their customers. While I appreciate there will be calls around the country for additional funding for local authorities, the reality is that Ireland is caught up in the most severe global economic recession and there is an obligation on this Government to respond accordingly.
This Government will not go down the road of adopting soft options, quick fixes or political expediency in our response to the economic downturn. We have less money to meet public expenditure demands. We cannot borrow our way out of trouble or return to the days of punitive tax rates that stifled economic growth and resulted in high unemployment. This means the Government has to implement difficult decisions to ensure our economy can continue to grow in the future. We are conscious of the sacrifices this entails but it is in everyone’s interest that we deal responsibly with the situation and safeguard this country’s prospects.
Local government must also play its part in the difficult period ahead. With hard work and determination, we will get through these difficult times and onto a path to economic recovery and renewal. There are many initiatives in place to support efficiency and value for money in the local government sector, including the financial management systems, value for money auditing and expanding e-enablement. In addition, the new costing system that was rolled out in partnership with local authorities will provide local authorities with further information on the costs of individual services. I have also urged local authorities to continue to exercise restraint in setting increases in commercial rates and local charges. Every opportunity should be given to the business sector to remain competitive in these tough economic times because a sound business sector is vital for the communities that depend on it.
One of my key objectives in office is to see local government play a much stronger and more visible role in the life of the local community. I am currently finalising a White Paper on local government that will contain significant institutional reforms. Changes to the way local government operates must be accompanied by measures that provide a greater link between local revenue raising and local expenditure. This is key to introducing greater local responsibility and accountability in decision making. The Government has made a start in this regard in the budget decision to broaden the revenue base of local authorities through the introduction of a charge on non-principal private residences. This will be used to support the provision of local services. I intend to bring forward legislation to implement the proposed charge as soon as possible and to set out the detailed measures necessary to give effect to it.
I refer to the provisions of the Bill. The Bill consists of six sections with the new tax rates for all vehicles set out in the Schedule to the Bill. I would like to highlight what this increase means in real cash terms for private cars and goods vehicles, which make up over 91% of the national fleet. For private cars taxed on the basis of engine size the extra cost for most motorists will be between €7 and €13 a year, that is between 13 cent and 25 cent a week. This relates to over 50% of the national car fleet which is made up of cars under 1,400 cc. For the remainder of the car fleet up to two litres the annual increases will be from €14 to €24 and from two litres upwards an additional €30 to €75 per year.
In summary, the extra costs for 94% of the car fleet, that is, those under two litres, will be between 13 cent and 46 cent a week. For private cars on the new CO2 based system, bands A to D will see an annual increase of between €4 and €17, while for bands E, F and G the annual increases range from €30 to €100.
For goods vehicles the effect of the 4% increase will vary depending on the weight of the vehicle. However, I emphasise that some 87% of goods vehicles are at the lowest level of charge, meaning that they will pay an annual increase of €11, or 21 cent per week. A 4% increase is also proposed for trade licences, or trade plates, used by motor traders on vehicles temporarily in their possession, in lieu of taxing such vehicles. The increase for a pair of trade plates will be €12.
The new CO2 based tax system for new cars only came into force in July 2008. However, it is clear from early data that the system is having a significant impact on purchase decisions in the market. The trend following the first four months of operation is that just under half of the cars in the new system are in the second lowest B band category, with 29% in the C band. The three lowest bands A to C contain 85% of the CO2 car fleet. That is a major achievement. The industry has stated that indications are that the new system is working well from an environmental viewpoint, with an average reduction of 20 g in CO2 emissions per kilometre per vehicle since the system came into effect.
The CO2 car fleet now contains 45,520 cars. This corresponds to 2.36% of the entire car fleet and this will continue to grow as new cars replace older cars in the fleet. A key part of the new system was the provision of a mandatory labelling system for cars based on their CO2 emission levels. The new label system, introduced in co-operation with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, includes consumer-friendly information on a car’s CO2 emissions. The overall approach is intended to assist buyers in evaluating the environmental impacts of different cars, as well as providing guidance for them on purchase and running costs. The labelling system currently operates on a non-statutory basis and I intend to bring forward the necessary legislation shortly to put it on a statutory footing.
It is clear the new taxation system is bringing a focus to environmental performance of vehicles like never before. This is clearly seen in the way the industry has transformed the way it advertises new cars, with particular emphasis now being placed on the emission levels of cars.
Versions of CO2 based motor taxation systems have now been introduced in 14 EU member states. These policies are having a profound effect on how the car industry responds to the challenge of climate change across Europe. This will be further reinforced by the Commission’s proposals to set limits on emissions, which Ireland strongly supports.
The initiative launched yesterday by my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for the mass deployment of electric vehicles in Ireland is a further step towards putting Ireland on a sustainable energy footing. The Government has now set a target of 10% of electric vehicles in the overall road transport fleet by 2020. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, stated that this is an ambitious target given the early stage of technology development in this sector but it is important we send a strong signal that Ireland intends to be one of the early international movers in this area.
The strategy to achieve this aim will include a €1 million pilot project, managed by Sustainable Energy Ireland, for detailed research, development and demonstration of electric vehicles nationally. It also includes tax incentives for corporate bodies purchasing electric vehicles, with an option to write off 100% of the cost of purchase against corporation tax under the accelerated capital allowance scheme and is included in the Finance Bill. The strategy includes assistance for individuals purchasing electric vehicles, through the publication of a buyer’s guide and a cost of ownership calculator by Sustainable Energy Ireland, and the establishment of a national task force to examine infrastructural options for national roll-out of electric vehicles, including street-charging.
In respect of motor tax, I have not increased the charge for electric cars in this Bill, maintaining the position I adopted last year. The move to transform the Irish car fleet to a more sustainable basis poses challenges for protecting local government funding. The introduction of emissions-based VRT and motor tax had a dual objective of encouraging a move to lower emission vehicles while protecting central and local government revenues. It is my intention to keep these dual objectives under review, in conjunction with the motor industry, in the light of experience of the new system.
This is a short Bill of only six sections. Its purpose is to give permanent legal standing to the increases in motor tax introduced by the financial resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 14 October last. I commend the Bill to the House.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor): Before proceeding with the business I wish, on behalf of the Ceann Comhairle, of all of the Members of Dáil Éireann and on my own behalf, to offer a cead míle fáilte, a sincere warm welcome, to a parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Hungary, led by Mr. Pal Fillo, which has joined us. I understand the ambassador is present also.
I welcome the members of the delegation and express the hope that they will find their visit enjoyable, successful and to our mutual benefit. I trust my Dublin accent translated well.
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Deputy James Bannon: I welcome the Bill as Fine Gael supports any measure designed to support Ireland’s environmental profile. Fine Gael has been more supportive of our environment than the Green Party has even been. The Green Party’s policies have become diluted since it went into Government with the Fianna Fáil Party.
Deputy John Gormley: Not if one looks at the Bill. That is the evidence.
Deputy James Bannon: When I raised the issue of our national monuments earlier, the Minister for Finance did not know when the national monuments Bill could be taken. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, should be aware that a large number of our national monuments throughout the country are becoming dilapidated. He was in the Chamber when I put the question to the Minister for Finance. It is vital that this Bill be brought forward as soon as possible.
Although appearing under the umbrella of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Bill is essentially a financial one. It provides a permanent legislative basis for the motor tax increases approved by this House by way of financial resolution on budget day. As a money Bill it is subject to the same time constraints as the Finance Bill.
From an environmental perspective, the Bill contains a technical change to the definition of “CO2 emissions” to bring it into line with the definition in the Finance Acts. This means that all relevant definitions common to motor tax and vehicle registration tax derive from one source and ensures uniformity in both tax systems. Section 5 provides for increased fees for trade plate licences and replacement trade licences.
Fine Gael put down an amendment to the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill earlier this year to apply the new carbon emissions based tax system for all cars registered in the State since 1 May 2004. Instead of this new tax system applying only to new cars registered after 1 July 2008, it would apply to all cars registered since 1 May 2004, with the new tax rate applying at the next annual tax renewal for a car. The Minister did not accept that amendment, which I believe was short-sighted.
According to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, new cars registered from 1 July 2008 will, for the purpose of motor tax charges, be assessed on the basis of CO2 emissions level, based on seven CO2 bands. Rates will range from €104 a year for cars with emission rates not exceeding 120 grams per kilometre to €2,100 for those with the highest emissions rating, that is, in excess of 225 grams per kilometre.
To the detriment of the home industry, the new CO2 based system will not apply to second hand imports registered abroad before 2008. Not only is the Government’s administration of the CO2 based tax regime weak in that regard, it has also destabilised the second hand car market in Ireland.
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry, SIMI, has pointed out that an environmentally focused scrappage scheme would be an excellent opportunity for the Government, the motor industry and motorists to work together to made a greener choice by encouraging the trade-in of cars over ten years old against a low emissions new car, which would help in the reduction of CO2 emissions. That would have a dual benefit, both environmentally and with regard to kick starting the new car market, and give a much needed boost to consumer confidence.
What action is the Minister taking in terms of United Kingdom and Northern Ireland registered vehicles being driven on Irish roads without VRT or road tax, exempting them from incurring parking fines, speeding fines or penalty points and which are being imported by known dealers who do not possess a correct trader account number, TAN, or are not subject to VAT or TAX payments? Such trade is to the detriment of the native motor industry.
I have the list of vehicles exempted from motor tax liability and while of the 11 categories, nine have legitimacy, the first two cause me concern and puzzlement. Why should State owned and diplomatic vehicles carry such an exemption? I call on the Minister to end that inequitable situation. The onus to encourage the use of smaller, cleaner, fuel efficient cars, which it is hoped will help in the fight against climate change, should be seen to be spearheaded by those in such categories, including the Minister. Before he became Minister I would often see him arriving to Leinster House on a bicycle but recently he is using the car.
Deputy John Gormley: I used the bicycle again this morning. The Deputy might talk to his own leader who travels in his Mercedes at taxpayers’ expense.
Deputy James Bannon: The conflict between ministerial grandeur and Green Party membership is played out in the State car allotment but across the board the exemption of the wealthy and well connected continues.
Budget 2009 also saw the introduction of an air travel tax but it does not apply to executive Government jets. What impact will it have on this Government that such a tax, which is an ill-conceived and knee-jerk measure, will penalise families, affect the regions, result in job losses and force airlines to pull out of Ireland? In case the Minister for Finance is unaware, this tax could force the closure of regional airports and will hit the business community and international connecting passengers. Those using London as a hub for onward travel will be particularly hard-hit.
Any anti-tourism measure at a time when visitor numbers are falling is very much a case of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Showing a remarkable lack of joined up thinking, the Government on the one hand is introducing an air travel tax and on the other is announcing a marketing campaign, costing €47 million, in an effort to reduce falling visitor numbers.
This Government’s legacy will be one of “do as I say, not as I do”. We have seen 11 years of a Fianna Fáil Government that believes that all initiatives, be they cost-cutting or reducing our CO2 emissions, are applicable to everyone bar its members. It is incumbent on this Government to ensure all State cars comply with the strictures it is imposing on the rest of our citizens. Maybe the Minister, Deputy Gormley, could take that up. It is not beyond the realms of normal sense that diplomatic cars should also be required to be environmentally friendly.
Deputy John Gormley: When will Deputy Bannon’s party leader do that? He is chauffeur driven around in his Mercedes.
Deputy James Bannon: After all CO2 emissions do not differentiate on grounds of the importance or otherwise of the drivers or passengers. Any time the Minister, Deputy Gormley, uses his bicycle I am told two or three squad cars have to accompany him. What about the emissions caused by those cars?
Deputy John Gormley: That is total bull.
Acting Chairman: I remind Members to address their comments to the Chair. I am protecting Deputy Bannon as much as I can.
Deputy James Bannon: I thank the Acting Chairman. I need protection from the withering Green Minister opposite.
Deputy John Gormley: I am giving withering looks.
Deputy James Bannon: Harsh measures by the Government did not affect State or foreign cars but rather private bus operators who had to comply with an EU directive which removed the excise duty on fuel used by this sector. This was an appalling blow to rural communities which do not have access to regular pubic transport. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, was to address this issue but has failed to do so. This measure has threatened the livelihoods of many bus operators and added to the problem of an already dismal transport situation. It would serve the Government better to provide an efficient, joined-up public transport system to discourage private car dependency and further reduce CO2 emissions.
The rebalancing of car tax is a small step towards fulfilling our obligations on CO2 emissions. However, only the provision of a fully comprehensive transport system including, and highlighting, electric powered vehicles, which will hopefully be more ambitious than the Government’s feeble projection of 10% by 2010, will reduce Ireland’s spiralling carbon emissions in the transport sector. I would like assurances from the Minister that the full amount generated by the new motor taxation rates will be paid into the local government fund. In his speech the Minister mentioned €40 million. I want to see that going directly to the cash-starved local authorities around the country. Given the cutbacks in local authority funding and the regional infrastructural deficits, particularly in the midlands, such an assurance is imperative. Fine Gael is willing to support any measure designed to improve our environment. This Bill goes some way towards doing that and is to be welcomed in the environmental context.
In the Minister’s speech he said local authorities receive income from a range of sources including rates, charges, goods and services. He concentrated two pages of his speech on the local government issue. Under the Minister’s watch there have been drastic cutbacks on local authorities around the country. We all know local authorities are an essential element in any democratic state. They are the vehicle through which very important services are provided. Every day we see the services they provide under the various headings, but there have been drastic cutbacks.
The smaller counties in the midlands and west have been badly hit because they do not have the same rate base as the counties on the east coast. The Minister must do something to address this situation. In my county, Longford, the rate base for business is approximately 9% compared to 66% or 67% on the east coast. This is unfair on those smaller local authorities. The Minister has drastically cut back on the local government fund and I am disappointed in him. He must have been a very weak link at the Cabinet table to have allowed that. We all know the aim of local government is to provide for all kinds of development. Local authorities around the country talk to chairmen and managers and they are all cash starved.
The Minister said local government must play its part in the difficult period ahead. Local government has always played its part in the delivery of services and has always been responsible when there was plenty of money and will be responsible in difficult times. I do not want any slur to be cast on local government around the country and the way the authorities deliver their services. It is not an excuse for the Minister to fail to give them adequate funding. He is forcing local authorities around the country to cut services because he was the very weak link at the Cabinet table. He failed to get a fair slice of the cake for local government and I want him to address that.
Of the €40 million extra, will local authorities receive additional funding to provide the services on which there will be a shortfall? There is a serious funding shortfall in local authorities. Services such as public lighting will have to be cut in certain towns and villages throughout our country. There is a major deficit in the roll-out of group water schemes and sewerage schemes etc. If those schemes were put in place they would help the environment. I would appreciate if the Minister would address those situations. Coming from the Green Party there is much annoyance with his performance as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Deputy John Gormley: There has been a 19% increase.
Deputy James Bannon: There is a general neglect. Witnesses in several towns in my county have told me the water has been switched off because there is a very poor supply. Some of our water systems are badly contaminated and some of the bottled water that is served up and sold is also contaminated. The Minister has not addressed that. I would appreciate if the Minister would address those issues. Never mind huffing and puffing about what he intends to do; he should do it now.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I would be out of order if I addressed the Visitors Gallery, but if I did I might explain what this tax issue is all about. We have changed from an engine-size based motor taxation system to an emission based system. We will no longer tax the size of the car but the amount of pollution it creates. This is a very positive development by any measure and is significantly welcome. Unfortunately, like that parson’s egg, it has good parts and bad parts. We have witnessed a number of significant changes and adaptations to this new form of taxation since it was rolled out by the Minister. On 5 March, when the legislation was in committee, there was an expectation that the Minister would correct some of the obvious anomalies. One major anomaly was that owners of second-hand imported cars would be subject to new emissions linked tax rates while owners of second-hand cars registered in the State would be taxed under the old, more punitive scheme. If cars were imported, there would be a benefit whereas if one owned a second-hand car registered in the State, one would be on a different rate. I had an old school teacher and occasionally we used to ask whether he had any favourites and he replied, “No, I hate ye all equally”. The Minister has come up with a similar response and proposed a taxation system under which everybody in the classroom in penalised.
I expected a positive response from him and that he would apply the new regime to all cars, not only to those imported. I presumed people who had made an active, responsible and deliberate choice over the past number of years to purchase an environmentally friendly car would be rewarded for their foresight and vision and for doing something that was neither fashionable nor profitable. Unfortunately, the Minister decided to park that consumer group and applied the maximum motor tax rate to them.
Since the Minister announced this Bill, we have been presented with three different versions, one more contradictory than the other. First, it was proposed that the new rates would come into operation in June 2008 with no retrospection whatsoever. It was then proposed on second thoughts that all low emissions cars registered in 2008 would opt into the new rates but those purchased in 2007 or prior to that would not. As the Bill proceeds through the House, we have been told the benefits and rate system will not be extended to buyers of imported cars. The Minister had to draw a line in the sand at some stage in this process but I cannot understand how a motorist with a low emissions car cannot avail of the either option regime.
The Minister needs to apply himself to another critical issue. When the scheme was rolled out, it threw the motor trade into a state of flux. New cars are usually bought in January and February but because it was proposed to change the motor taxation system, people put off their purchases and that led to a kink in the purchasing calendar for cars and other adjustments. One classification of car has disappeared completely off the highway — the renewable energy-based bio-fuel car. Is this no longer at the core of Green Party policy? The Minister used to raise this issue extensively. Has it been dismissed as an option that will not take priority? Has the Government sought to disincentivise this approach or will it introduce incentives down the line for such cars?
Manufacturers such as Ford, Saab, Opel, Mazda or Toyota are making bio-fuel cars and selling them to customers. It is unfair of the Minister not to tell people who purchased such cars earlier this year where they stand in the context of motor taxation and whether an incentive will be provided down the line. Will the driver of a bioethanol fuelled car be in the same classification as a driver of a petrol car? I acknowledge the emissions are similar and the environmental argument can be made regarding the manufacturing process but a clear answer is required of the Minister in this regard. If one drove between Cork and Dublin, one would be unable to buy a litre of bioethanol. Has the Minister disincentivised the purchase of these cars in the market? Such cars were more widely available 18 months ago. What is the Minister’s position on this fuel?
When the Bill was first introduced, it was pointed out that there would be roll-out problems but not ensuring retrospection and a benefit for second-hand buyers is an issue. We have moved on but that issue has not been addressed. An opportunity was presented to set a precedent for other measures down the line.
The revenue raising versus environmental argument is also an issue. Like any taxation system, one must question what are the motivational factors behind it and whether it provides a revenue driven incentive or an environmentally driven incentive. Perhaps it is both but there are difficulties in the case of it being a revenue driven exercise if current sales of cars are to be taken into account. For example, while the principle of taxing cars on the basis of CO2 emissions is sound, there is an economic problem because it is a moving target. According to Department of Finance briefing notes, 64.29% of all cars sold in 2005 produced between 146g and 190g of CO2 per kilometre, 13.73% were in the high pollution category producing more than 190g and only 3.85% were in the low category producing less then 125g. However, this will change. The EU has agreed with car makers to target a reduction in emissions in all new cars to an average of 130g per kilometre by 2012 with the effects of other technologies reducing the overall score to 120g. Cleaner and greener fuels will also play a role and there will be continued pressure to push this figure lower as manufacturing methods improve.
The Minister made great play in his opening contribution about raising €40 million for the local government fund, which is also mentioned in the explanatory memorandum. If emission levels reduce in years to come through car manufacturing design, tax revenue will also reduce as sure as night follows day. The Minister cannot brag that this will be a funding source for local government because it will not be. This comes back to the environmental versus revenue raising argument. If this an environmental measure, it cannot be used as a revenue raising measure. This is not a win-win situation. The intention is to reduce emissions to the lowest level possible and, therefore, the Minister is being disingenuous by making that argument.
Hybrid and low emission cars comprise less than 5% of the existing fleet of cars in Ireland. It is reckoned that within ten years 60% of motorists will drive diesel cars, given the incentive provided in the budget. We will shift from being a petroleum car owning population to a diesel car owning population and emissions will reduce but hybrid cars and so on will come on the market. I welcome what the Minister is doing. It is a philosophical change in culture as well as involving a logical argument that we move the taxation system to a polluter pays principle in the case of car tax. However, this can only be considered as the first phase of this type of taxation and the first phase of dealing with emissions from cars.
To restate the point I made to the Minister earlier, under no circumstances in the long term can this be considered as some sort of concurrent funding project for local government. If it is to be successful, the graph for tax revenue from this year should show a drop of income because more cars with low emissions will be bought, which is as sure as night follows day. The Minister should not come to the House to tell us he will give us €40 million for local government.
While I had not intended speaking about the following point, the Minister raised other issues relating to local government, including the tax raised on non-principal residences. I will leave for another day the issue of how he will explain how he will identify these residences and whether it will be through the register of electors, which is wildly inaccurate. A very comprehensive and well received report from the Select Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is still lying on the Minister’s desk. If it is a case that this will be done through the register of electors, I do not know how it will work and I would be interested to know how the Minister will target those he wishes to contribute to the revenue base.
Deputy Bannon referred to the water table. The manufacturing companies that produce sewerage systems and water treatment systems attended the committee this week. I am not sure whether the Minister was otherwise detained or whether he was able to watch on this monitor the very interesting discussion that took place at the committee. Given what is happening at another committee of the House this morning, and what is happening with regard to the banks and other committees, it was unusual that a business representative organisation representing a whole series of manufacturers in this area came in to the committee screaming to be regulated. Usually, it is the other way around, and when people come before committees, it is the committees which are trying to place regulation upon them. This organisation demanded to be regulated. What was surprising about its request is that all the measures required for these businesses to be regulated have been with the Minister’s office for the past four years. While I am not suggesting the Minister created this problem, the answer to it is currently within the Minister’s office.
What was most profound about what the representative organisation had to say was that, by its estimation, 50% of sewerage systems in the country are not working because of improper installation and the absence of guidelines for installing such systems. A simple thought struck me on listening to this. If one were building a house in the morning, one would obviously have to install an electricity supply, and if one was using gas for cooking or heating, one would have to install a gas supply. If one has electricity coming into a house, a RECI certificate must be issued. There is grading of the skills certificates for plumbers with regard to who can actually turn on the gas coming into a house. It would not necessarily be any plumber who can set a washing machine because a plumber must have specific certification for dealing with gas plumbing. Yet, it would seem any old Joe the plumber, or perhaps Padraig the plumber, can arrive at a house site with no certification or qualifications, bang in one of these systems and then take off down the road on his rothar and disappear over the horizon.
This is an issue to which a solution is actually on the Minister’s desk at present. I do not accuse him of sitting on it because he may not even be aware the information is there, such is the extent of his Department. However, I flag with him that he should go over the report of this week’s committee meeting to learn what was presented. On occasion, the Minister invites comments from this side of the House, and these would be helpful to him. The information from this week’s committee meeting would be extremely helpful to the Minister if he were to listen to what was said and take action on it. It is an opportunity to do something positive and to deal with an issue that has been nesting in his Department, perhaps unknown to him, for quite a while.
I will conclude by restating my opening points. The Labour Party will be supporting this Bill. We regret that the Minister in conceiving this new legislation ran into so many difficulties with regard to what could have been opportunities, particularly concerning the absence of retrospection and dealing in some sort of equitable manner with people who bought second hand cars prior to the change in the taxation system. However, the Bill is in essence positive. It moves us away from taxation of a motor car on the basis on engine size towards a polluter pays policy. The Labour Party will support the Bill.
Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick: I wish to share time with Deputy Johnny Brady.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick: I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which is very important for local authorities, our environment and with regard to CO2 emissions. The Bill is a necessary follow-up to the finance resolution on motor tax rates and trade plate licences which was passed by the House on 5 December 2007. This provided for only limited statutory effect and needs to be replaced by a Bill which provides a permanent legal basis.
The Bill will also provide statutory effect to the new CO2 based motor tax system for new and pre-owned imported cars registered on or after 1 April 2008, which was announced in the carbon budget on 6 December 2007. This new motor tax system compliments the new CO2 based vehicle registration tax, VRT, system provided in the Finance Bill 2008.
The increased revenue arising will be paid into the local government fund and this is a welcome commitment in the Bill. Since 1999, all motor tax receipts, including driving licences and so on, have been paid into the local government fund, which is supplemented by the Exchequer. Having the fund ring-fenced exclusively for local authority purposes is extremely important. The distribution of the fund to local authorities as discretionary grants in respect of day-to-day spending requirements and also as grants in respect of expenditure on our local and regional roads is to be welcomed. From these increases, an estimated €40 million additional revenue will be generated in a full year for spending on our roads.
I welcome the Minister’s comment on local authority reform and his commitment to local authorities. We in Kildare have for some time believed we do not receive a sufficiently large grant from this fund relative to our heavily trafficked roads in County Kildare. I ask that the Minister look at the allocation from the fund in a different way from the current system of mileage of public roads, which would bring increased fairness and equity into the system. I could also refer to other counties around Dublin where traffic is far heavier than it is in counties removed from the Dublin area.
Something in my constituency that has come to my attention recently is the number of JCB Fast Track tractors and other similar type vehicles drawing out of farms and sand and gravel pits. They are also found at road building sites and building sites. These vehicles can travel at 50 km/h and I understand the newer ones can do up to 60 km/h. They draw loads of 16 to 23 tonnes and are driven by persons as young as 17 on provisional licences using green diesel which costs approximately 50 cent per litre. I suggest the vehicle tax on this type of vehicle should be increased when they are used for the purposes of drawing loads on public roads and not being used for agricultural purposes.
These vehicles compete with eight wheel, four axle rigid trucks which carry a legal limit of 18 tonnes. These lorries use white diesel which costs approximately €1 per litre and carry motor tax of approximately €2,500. They are driven by mature drivers to keep insurance costs down. The competition is unfair and in the present climate many of the lorries of those who were known in the past as “hackers” are lying idle in their yards. They see this other type of vehicle being used and it is unfair competition.
I want to comment on vehicles which are more than 30 years old. The reduced tax on these vehicles sends a clear signal to vehicle enthusiasts that we appreciate the important work they do in the preservation of old vehicles. I would go further to say that the Government should grant aid communities and individuals who undertake this important preservation work on a range of vehicles, such as agricultural and motor vehicles, on condition that they make them available for public display within their communities and that the preservation work is carried out under the guidance of a recognised restorer.
I welcome the provisions in sections 3 and 4 for amendments to the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 in particular on the definition of “CO2 emissions” which will be applied directly to the finance law on the new vehicle registration tax system. This means all relevant definitions common to the new motor tax and VRT systems are derived from the same source and ensures uniformity in both tax systems.
Our countryside has a good range of petrol and diesel filling stations and shops for all types of commodities. However, the time has come to encourage a nationwide system whereby people driving battery operated vehicles can pull in, change the battery and move on. During yesterday’s debate we were told a battery could bring us from Dublin to Galway. Where would one go to recharge the battery? One would have to pull in and spend five hours recharging it.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: One could come here and go to the Dáil bar.
Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick: On the Continent, a driver of a battery operated vehicle can pull in and recharge it in a matter of a few minutes or have it replaced and move on. I welcome the focus in this Bill on the environment and CO2 emissions. It is important that we highlight these issues at this time.
In our capital city of Dublin we have a large public transport fleet along with other transport fleets. I do not hear a word from any of these large fleet operators on their commitment to reducing CO2 emissions. They should be called before Oireachtas committees to discuss this issue to see how working together we can encourage large fleet owners, in particular the large bus transport operators, to reduce their CO2emissions.
With regard to privately owned vehicles, where families have more than one vehicle we should try to encourage them to have a battery operated vehicle as their second or third car. These vehicles are used for short runs such as going to school, the church or shopping. It would be a start in achieving our objective if we could encourage families to have at least one of their vehicles battery operated.
I welcome the ring-fencing of the funds for local authorities. I hope we can encourage local authorities to ensure proper supervision of public funds and to get the best possible value for all the money spent, particularly with regard to road maintenance and road improvements.
In recent years, County Kildare has seen high-quality motorways going through the county and linking our major towns. We also have high-quality maintenance of our minor roads. The Government has made a commitment to local authorities to ensure adequate funding is provided. However, local authorities never have enough and I hope that when this little recession has passed we can continue to upgrade our roads as we have done in the past.
Deputy Johnny Brady: The Bill we are debating provides a permanent legislative basis for the motor tax increases approved by the Dáil on budget day. The Financial Resolutions provide for increases of 4% for cars below 2.5 litres and CO2 bands A to D and 5% for cars above the 2.5 litre threshold and CO2 bands E, F and G. A 4% increase also applies to goods and other vehicles, with no increase for electric vehicles. Trade plate licences will also increase by 4%. The new rates will apply to motor tax discs and trade licences taken out for periods beginning on or after 1 January 2009. It has been estimated that the increases will generate additional revenue of approximately €40 million in a full year.
This Bill also provides statutory effect to the new CO2 based motor tax system for new and pre-owned imported cars registered on or after 1 July 2008, which the Minister announced in his carbon budget of December last year. This new motor tax system complements the new CO2 based vehicle registration tax system provided in the Finance Bill 2008.
The increased revenue that will result from this Bill will be paid into the local government fund, a point which is important to note. Since the establishment of the local government fund in January 1999, all motor tax receipts are paid into the fund. In addition to the proceeds of motor taxation, the fund is also supplemented by an Exchequer contribution. The fund is ring fenced exclusively for local authority purposes and is distributed to local authorities as discretionary grants in respect of day-to-day spending requirements, and also as grants in respect of expenditure on local and regional roads.
I read in the Minister’s speech that in total local authorities will spend €11.7 billion on capital and current expenditure in 2009. A total of €1.6 billion will be available for allocation via the local government fund for general purpose grants. I would like to comment on a point made by my colleague, Deputy Fitzpatrick. There are many major routes and motorways under construction. Many older roads are being downgraded from national primary and national secondary routes to regional roads. This will cost local authorities a great deal of money. I am pleased that the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern, is in the House and that my constituency colleague, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is the Minister for Transport and I compliment them on their great work to date.
It is pleasing to see great roads under construction. Let us consider the M1 motorway which is being upgraded at great cost. Next year we will hopefully see the opening of the famous M3 motorway, about which we have all read and heard over many years. I thank God for the people of Kells and those in the entire north County Meath area, including Navan, Dunshaughlin and stretching up to counties Cavan and Fermanagh and Donegal all of whom may avail of this road when it is completed. I am conscious of how the people and traders of my town have suffered through the years because of the through traffic. Not only is there traffic passing through Kells coming from Cavan, Donegal and the North, but the N52 route also passes through the town, which brings heavy traffic from the North to the south and west. I thank the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, for ensuring the completion of the N52 bypass of the town of Kells.
My colleague referred to public transport and we are very lucky to have such a great public transport service from the town of Kells to Dublin. There are buses leaving the town for Dublin from 6 a.m. every 15 minutes until 9 a.m. and the reverse is the case in the evenings. I believe there are similar services in all such towns, and my friend from County Louth, Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, may confirm that the same is happening in Drogheda and other areas. It is satisfying to see all of these achievements.
The Bill provides for new rates of motor tax and fees for trade plates. It takes account of changes to the various taxation classes and provides coherence for the definition of carbon dioxide emissions. This week European Union governments moved closer towards a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars. The planned legislation must strike the right balance between environmental concerns and the needs of the car industry, which has been hit hard by a global economic downturn. In my town and throughout the county many jobs have been lost in that sector. A significant number of people have been employed in this sector over many years and unfortunately many are now losing their jobs because of the downturn in the economy.
Ambassadors of the European Union’s 27 governments agreed to cut average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by approximately 18% to 130g per kilometre, beginning from 2012. This would reduce auto manufacturers’ output and there will be full compliance in place by 2015. There was agreement on a phased-in approach to cut carbon dioxide emissions. However, some countries wanted a higher initial level and others a lower initial level. EU envoys failed to agree on fines for companies exceeding the allowed emissions. Any deal needs to be backed by the parliament before becoming law. Governments agreed in principle on an ambitious goal to slash carbon dioxide emissions from cars to 95g per kilometre by 2020. I understand that some small car makers might be temporarily exempted from general rules under the deal.
I welcome the labelling system showing consumers how much vehicle registration tax, VRT, and motor tax they will pay on new cars. Any initiative to encourage motorists to purchase cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions is to be welcomed. The aim of the changes to VRT and motor tax is to persuade consumers to purchase cars with lower carbon emissions. As part of the strategy, seven bands of emissions were created, which have determined the amount of tax the purchaser of a new car should pay as of 1 July last. If one buys a car in the first low emissions category, motor tax is €100. However, if one buys a heavy fuel use car in band seven, one can expect to spend €2,000 each year. This is a sizable difference and it should encourage purchasing of greener vehicles. I am pleased to say that the system has been introduced with the active co-operation of the motor industry.
This is all part of a larger picture to combat global warming. Global warming has become one of the major topics on the global political agenda. If we do not take action, climate change will cause increasingly costly damage and disrupt the functioning of the natural environment, with knock-on effects for the supply of food, water, raw materials and other vital resources. In Ireland, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency predicts that up to 300 square km of Irish coastal land could be inundated with water, with densely populated areas such as parts of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway all vulnerable.
Wealthy countries such as Ireland and its EU partners will find it very difficult to cope with the economic costs of climate change. However, more severe problems will be faced by developing countries. Global warming has the potential to cause massive upheaval and humanitarian disasters in poorer parts of the world. The Bill is a small but significant element in the battle against climate change. I support it, and believe that it emphasises how we all have a part to play in improving our environment.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: This is a very important debate. The comments of the speakers on the Government benches, including the remarks of the Minister, referred to climate change and how it will affect the future of society. Although the Bill is under the auspices of the Government and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government we must re-examine the way Departments are organised. There should be more joined-up thinking between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Transport. Perhaps there should be a new Department of the environment, transport and climate change. We should bring all of these policies together. I recognise that the energy sector is a part of the equation as well.
As Deputy Brady remarked, the future of the world is, effectively, the future of our climate. The manner in which people live in future critically depends on the level of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the world and especially in Ireland. In Ireland, we are paying a very high price in human, environmental and economic terms for the ineffective and failed Government policies on transport, emissions and climate change. As a result, hundreds of thousand of Irish families now have a much poorer quality of life and must endure a longer commute to work, which adversely affects every facet of family life. The national economy is also affected. We have become less competitive because people cannot work as effectively or as quickly as previously and the working day is very long.
Some ten or 12 years ago when I first became a Member of the Oireachtas I could travel from Drogheda to the House in one hour, keeping within the speed limits and leaving at 8 a.m. Now one must rise at 6 a.m. to arrive here for 7.30 a.m. The queues along the M1 are becoming longer earlier, and the traffic is slower. The average person travelling from the north of the country to Dublin airport may find delays of up to 20 minutes in queues as they approach the airport from the northern side. The road transport network is not working effectively or efficiently because too many people are travelling by car. Mums and dads cannot spend quality time with their children because by the time they get home from work in the evening their children are long asleep in bed. Our quality of life is very poor as a result of the way in which we live.
I refer specifically to transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, which is dealt with in this Bill by taxing cars that emit higher levels of CO2. What is the Fianna Fáil record on that, and indeed that of the Green Party? Since 1990 our transport-related greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by 178%, an absolutely staggering figure. Of these emissions, 97% come from private cars and goods vehicles as a result of the trend towards buying larger vehicles. I have been reading some research in the UK and the USA that shows that commuter traffic with single-occupancy vehicles does the most damage in this regard. Unfortunately, the wealthier society becomes, the bigger the cars we want to drive. One indication of that is the number of SUVs driving on urban motorways, cars which are eminently unsuitable for the transport needs and infrastructure of urban areas. I welcome the fact the Minister is rebalancing the tax provisions for SUVs, so that people who drive vehicles that are totally unnecessary for modern transport needs, particularly in an urban environment, pay the price. Maybe they should be paying an even higher price. I am talking about vehicles with inefficient engines, which pollute the most.
The number of people who use cars driving to work has increased by more than 80%. In 1996, there were 600,000 people driving to work; there are more than 1 million today. Another problem is that the number of primary school children who are being driven to school has increased by more than 47% in the same period. The sad fact is that a report last week showed that the number of commuters using public transport, specifically buses, to Dublin city centre has decreased over the past year and that 50% of commuters still choose to drive to work. The key to solving the problem of poor quality of life in the transport arena and in modern cities is to get people out of their cars, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We should use the taxation system, as is now becoming the policy, to encourage people to buy cars that emit less. Taxing people who drive inefficient cars is also an environmentally constructive policy.
What the Government is lacking in its policy, however, is encouragement for people to walk, cycle, use public transport and share cars much more than we currently do. We must fundamentally change how our cities and town centres are designed and built, and we must also insist that top priority be given to pedestrians and public transport. There is a tyranny in our urban town centres. I am not talking about the tyranny of the Fianna Fáil Government, despite the feelings of many people about the 17 extra taxes imposed in the recent budget. It was the gabelle, the salt tax, that brought about the French revolution, but I do not know which of the 17 will be the gabelle. I am talking about a different tyranny — the tyranny of the motor car in our urban areas. To deal with this, we need more joined up thinking in the transport, environment and planning sectors. We need to plan to get cars out of our cities and towns. I was in San Francisco some years ago. There is a much better public transport system there than here, but the key principle in terms of planning was that no new shop or business could get planning permission for parking spaces. No parking spaces were allowed. One had to give one’s contribution to public transport. We need to consider this here and to plan our cities and towns so that pedestrians are at the centre of those areas.
The European Charter of Pedestrian Rights, which was adopted as long ago as 1988, states: “The pedestrian has the right to live in urban or village centres tailored to the needs of human beings and not to the needs of the motor car and to have amenities within walking or cycling distance.” Our society has gone the other way. If we could, we would bring our cars right into the supermarket. We would never get out of them. We would even sleep in them in some cases.
Deputy Frank Feighan: We already do.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: We probably do. It is a total tyranny. We must change the way we think, and to do this we need to have radical new policies.
Improving the energy efficiency of new vehicles must be our top priority. We must regularly test all vehicles and their components for efficiency, considering things such as tyres, alternators, lights and electrical systems. I read recently that research in America found that if people did not drive the way they currently drive, which is often aggressively, they would save up to 33% on fuel. By aggressive driving I mean driving fast, braking sharply and driving without due care and attention. We need to change the way we think about driving. There is a need for the Government to consider more efficient, more effective driving. Information on how to reduce one’s CO2 emissions, conserve energy and drive more safely and efficiently should be part of the rules of the road and part of the school curriculum.
I welcome the Government’s proposals for electrical vehicles announced yesterday. The targets are pretty low — we are talking about 10% of vehicles being electric within a certain number of years. Fine Gael policy is very clear in this regard. We would like to see a much bigger commitment — a more focused change, particularly moving towards cars that use electricity to charge — and the provision of proper and efficient locations for car charging throughout the country. That is the way forward. We should increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards by regularly testing the fuel efficiency of HGVs. This is very important. I do not think we test our HGVs enough. We must promote and support the use of new fuels such as bio-diesel, bioethanol and hydrogen. To take some of these HGVs off the road, we should be promoting rail freight. Recently the Joint Committee on Transport met with the Irish Exporters Association and its representatives made the case for a new policy to encourage rail freight. This could perhaps be considered again in the Department of Transport.
Of all the people driving in the morning between 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock, if we could take out all the people who are bringing their children to school, this would have an important effect in reducing the total volume of traffic. We need to have as many as possible of those children out of their cars and walking to school, perhaps in a walking bus. I commend An Taisce for its constructive proposals and the green schools programme. The second module of this deals with transport. This is receiving Government support, but not enough. We need to tackle that again. We ought to consider rewarding schools that have a transport plan. Perhaps the Minister for Education and Science would consider this. Many schools in urban areas, including the school I taught in years ago, have more than 1,200 students, a significant number of whom arrive by bus but also many by car. I am not necessarily talking about a cash reward. I do not think one would pass a primary school in the country that did not have a green flag outside. There could be an award for the school with the best transport plan in every county.
In addition, we need true local government on the ground. The Government is talking about funding local Government. I believe strongly that each local authority should have a person who is skilled and knowledgeable in the areas of climate change, transport policy and so on, who would have a proactive role of advice and assistance in the community. He or she would go to schools and ask the principals and teachers about their transport plan and how they can reduce emissions, or to factories and ask about their transport plans, although, regrettably, more and more people are losing their jobs. He or she could constructively consider hospitals, State and semi-state bodies and drive the agenda for change locally. A big part of the agenda for change is missing. We have all read research papers and national policy documents. Nobody is driving that policy at local level. No one has been given responsibility for developing links between those ideas and local communities on the ground. I accept that there are energy committees in counties Tipperary, Limerick and Clare. A good regional climate change policy has been agreed in counties Clare and Limerick. That is the sort of thinking we need. It is not evident at present. It would make a big difference.
I wish to speak about the need to get people out of their cars and into public transport. One of the big problems in Dublin city is that people do not have enough choice. If they are unable to avail of bus services, they have no choice other than to travel in their cars. One of the strategies outlined in the Finance Bill involved the introduction of a car parking levy. It might not sound like much to be required to pay an annual fee of €200 to park one’s car at one’s place of work. Many people who travel to Dublin from rural areas each day do not have the option of using public transport. Dublin does not have strategically placed “park and ride”facilities. Such facilities, each of which should be capable of accommodating between 2,000 and 3,000 cars, need to be developed on the approach roads to the city of Dublin in counties Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth. Commuters from such areas should be able to park their cars in “park and ride” facilities and continue their journeys to Dublin on public transport. The Joint Committee on Transport has discussed this issue with the county managers of the counties in question. They will get back to the committee with a plan. The Government should have ensured that people had option of using a “park and ride” public transport service before it introduced the new €200 levy. That would have made an important contribution to achieving this country’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Fine Gael believes that the bus market should be much more open. Consumers do not care what colour buses are as long as they come on time. The Government’s present policies make it a prisoner of Dublin Bus and the unions. The bus market has not been opened up in a constructive manner, as promised over the past ten or 15 years by successive transport Ministers in Fianna Fáil-led Administrations. In fairness to the late Séamus Brennan, he tried to open 25% of the bus market to competition. His successor, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, reduced that percentage, however. The current Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, has said he will do something but he has not introduced legislation to that end. The Government has not shown any commitment to increasing the availability of buses, particularly private enterprise buses. I do not suggest that private buses should compete on the same routes as public buses. Private bus companies should be able to tender to operate new bus routes and existing bus routes. They should be allowed to put buses on the road, compete and provide choice to consumers. The sad fact is that private buses that were operating from Lucan and nearby places in County Kildare are now off the road. They are literally not on the road any more. They are of no use because Government policy has led to them being wrapped up in cellophane.
The Minister for Transport should be actively encouraging the private sector to talk to Dublin Bus. Many more consumers, passengers and commuters could be served if the public and private sectors were to work together. They do not appear to be bridging the gap that exists. When I discussed this issue with the chief executive of Dublin Bus recently, he more or less said that it is a matter for the Dublin Transport Authority. I do not think that is good enough. A sea change in thinking is needed at leadership level in Dublin Bus and, to a lesser extent, Bus Éireann. There seems to be an absolute block on the equal and fair opening of the market. If that were to be resolved, the people would be given much more choice.
I would like to highlight the issue of transport planning. If we had planned this country properly, workers would not have to commute such long distances. Some people come to the city of Dublin each day from Portlaoise and Wexford. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has a role to play in that regard. We need to plan much better. There needs to be a link between our spatial strategy planning and our transport needs. That is not happening at the moment. People are not living where the national spatial strategy says they should be living. They are all living on the east coast. More and more people are living in the communities that surround the city of Dublin. That is placing increasing stress on the transport infrastructure there. They are not going to go away. They will continue to live there. We have to plan for the people who are living in such towns. A fundamental change is needed in the spatial strategy. We need to re-examine where people are actually living. I refer to places like the North-South corridor. There has been a phenomenal growth in the population of that area. While the national spatial strategy contains some good ideas, it is not working. A radical re-evaluation of the strategy is needed. Fine Gael intends to consider that issue.
The moneys that will accrue from the changes being made in this legislation will be added to the local government fund. The absence of elected members of local authorities from the Dáil and the Seanad is having a negative effect. The expertise we used to have is no longer available to us. We need to reconsider how local government budgets are approved and how chief executives are appointed. I respect all the county managers and officials in the system. There is no cross-fertilisation of ideas. We need to attract more business people to get involved in local government at senior level, perhaps on two-year or three-year contracts. If they get involved, they will be able to tell us how they would change the system to make it more efficient. Business people need to be involved in the initial stages of drawing up budgets, especially as it is the business community that will have to meet the expense associated with the increases that are being imposed, regrettably, by some local authorities. Their expertise is crucial because they will pay the price, in effect, at the end of the day.
Deputy Eamon Scanlon: I wish to share time with Deputy Browne.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Eamon Scanlon: This Bill is another element in the process of encouraging innovation in the use of motor vehicles. We are increasingly aware of the effect of car use on the environment. In that context, the launch of the new vehicle labelling system last June was a welcome development. The changes that were made to the vehicle registration tax and annual motor tax regimes for new cars registered on or after 1 July 2008 will lead to a reduction in this country’s vehicle emission levels. The decision to calculate tax levels on the basis of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, rather than on the basis of engine size, was made to emphasise the importance of the environmental effects of emissions from cars. Innovation is crucial if we are to deal with this issue. Seven emission tax bands have been created. The level of vehicle registration tax and motor tax payable is determined by the relevant band for each vehicle. The introduction of a new labelling system, which is designed to reflect the seven emission tax bands, is a key element of the process of balancing the vehicle registration tax and motor tax regimes on the basis of carbon dioxide emissions. This progressive policy is in line with everyone’s wish to have a cleaner and greener Ireland.
The purpose of these changes is to incentivise consumers to purchase vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions. This is an important step in reducing national greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Ireland’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The clear objective of the new carbon dioxide-based tax structure for cars is to influence the purchasing decisions of consumers by rewarding the buyers of low-emitting cars and charging a premium on less efficient vehicles. It makes sense and will have long-term positive effects for generations to come.
Motorists buying a new car can now make a positive choice on investment and environmental grounds by purchasing a low-emitting vehicle. As well as enjoying the benefits of a lower rate of motor tax and any saving on the pre-July purchase price of the car, they will be making a positive personal contribution to the national response to climate change. Anyone who makes the choice to purchase a high-emitting car, on the other hand, will have to pay a higher rate of motor tax, in addition to any price rise as a result of the VRT changes.
In 1999, an EU directive introduced labelling for all new vehicles, including specific requirements to provide consumers with information on fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Our new system, introduced in July, will strengthen these existing EU requirements. The new labelling system is consumer-friendly, making it easier for users to engage with the process. The seven colour coded bands are familiar to consumers from the energy label for certain electrical goods, such as fridges, washing machines, electric cookers and light bulbs. The intention is to assist buyers in evaluating the environmental impacts of different cars, as well as providing guidance for them on purchase and running costs. Improvements in vehicle labelling are a positive step in enabling Irish motorists to make a direct personal contribution to combating climate change. We all have a part to play in securing a more environmentally friendly future for those who come after us. This Bill plays a part in doing that, and is a welcome development.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the improvements to national primary roads throughout the State. The N4, for example, is significantly improved, although much work remains to be done. I understand the Minister is currently reviewing plans to upgrade the stretch between Castlepollard and Kilcooley. There have also been major improvements to the N16 and N17, providing links between the south, west and north west. I look forward to further improvements on these routes.
I acknowledge also the contribution of Iarnród Éireann in regard to the improved rail service between Dublin and Sligo, with the provision of eight trains per day in both directions. This is a welcome and popular development which is being availed of by significant numbers of commuters. One can now get to Dublin from Sligo for 9.10 a.m, with the last train returning to Sligo at 7.30 p.m. or 8 p.m. This is an important contribution to reducing the number of people obliged to travel by car from the north west for hospital appointments and so on. It is an encouraging development.
I welcome the Bill. I am confident it will have positive effects for the future, particularly for the next generation.
Deputy John Browne: I thank Deputy Scanlon for sharing time with me. The primary purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the increases in motor tax rates and trade plate licences contained in the financial resolution on motor tax passed in the recent budget. It provides for increases in motor taxes of 4% for cars below 2.5 litres and CO2 bands A to D, inclusive, and 5% for cars above 2.5 litres and CO2 bands E to G, inclusive. The increase in motor tax rates must be viewed against a background where all such increases since 2000, including the current increases, are below the inflation rate for the intervening eight years.
The most important aspect of the Bill is that it will increase substantially the amount of funding that will go to local authorities in 2009. The Minister estimates it will raise an additional €40 million for the local government fund next year. This fund is of great importance for local authorities throughout the State. Successive Governments have been engaged in an effort to ensure that local authorities have a reasonable amount of funding. As a former member of Wexford County Council, I always argued that there was insufficient funding for local authorities. Perhaps more powers should be granted to members to raise additional funding, although they may not want such powers. It is an issue that should be considered in the future.
In total, local authorities will spend some €11.7 billion on capital and current expenditure in 2009. It is important that they get value for money. From talking to the county manager and engineers in Wexford, it seems that quotations being submitted under the tendering system have decreased substantially due to the decline in residential construction throughout the State. We must ensure that we obtain better value for money in the future in regard to the construction of roads, local authority housing and so on. Local authorities must negotiate with builders and developers to ensure there is a substantial decrease in the prices submitted for tender.
Local authorities must prioritise their spending in 2009. Business people, particularly owners of small businesses, are anxious that rates should not be increased in a substantial way in the coming year. One local authority in Dublin has already implemented an increase of 3.5%, leading to uproar among business owners. Given the economic climate in which they are operating, business people consider the rates to be far too high. I urge local authority members throughout the State to reflect seriously before increasing rates in any substantial way.
Local authorities should have a greater input into efforts to encourage road safety. Last week, I attended Wexford County Council’s environmental awards, which recognise the efforts of school and community groups working in partnership with the local authority. There should be greater co-operation between local authorities, schools, the Garda, ambulance service, fire service and local authority road engineers to raise awareness of road safety among young people. By the end of the year, some 300 people will have been killed on the roads in 2008. My daughter died in a road accident some years ago and I would not wish that to be visited on any family. The Department of Transport and the Road Safety Authority, under the chairmanship of Gay Byrne, are very active in promoting road safety, but there is a need also for awareness-raising at a local level. The Minister should encourage local authorities to work in partnership with communities and schools in conveying to young people the dangers of driving too fast, driving after consuming alcohol and so on.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I travel on the N11 on a regular basis. Several black spots and bottlenecks remain on that route, including the section near Jack White’s in Wicklow. The Enniscorthy and New Ross bypasses remain to be completed. I hope these projects will be undertaken without delay via public private partnerships and that they will not be affected by budgetary cutbacks. Wexford is a gateway to Rosslare and on to Europe and we need a top class road network. I ask both the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure these projects proceed without delay.
As Deputy O’Dowd observed, motor cars have largely taken over our lives. I see this in my town where inadequate parking facilities at schools have become a serious problem. No young person is asked to walk to school anymore. Even though families may be living a couple of hundred yards away from St. Aidan’s national school, St. Senan’s national school or the three secondary schools in Enniscorthy, parents still have to drive their children to the school. This is causing mayhem for our schools and for people who have to travel longer distances. Cars are being abandoned and I have serious concerns about the safety of children. Local authorities and town councils are working in conjunction with schools to try to alleviate this problem. It would do no harm if young people living nearby walked to schools with their friends. There was great camaraderie and fun walking to school in my day, when we had to walk three miles to Marshalstown national school. The issue needs to be addressed quickly.
The Minister spoke about funding for local authorities and value for money. In County Wexford, we have serious problems with coastal erosion. Perhaps the Government will not be in position to tackle this on its own due to the high costs involved. Figures for Wexford provided a few years ago suggested that it would cost about €200 million to deal with the coastal erosion problems in the county. There is a need for specifically allocated funding from Europe, along with funds from the Government, to ensure that we can deal with coastal erosion. Acres of land are being lost, even in tourism centres like Rosslare, Courtown, Curracloe, Kilmuckeridge and Blackwater, so tourism is also affected. There is a need for adequate funding and for Europe to recognise there is a problem in certain countries with coastal erosion.
In our county, soft sand banks are eroded by wind, rain and heavy floods. There is a need to deal with that. We have tried several times to seek special allocations directly from Europe into the county, but this has not happened. I understand that responsibility for coastal erosion has been transferred to the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW. We should have a partnership arrangement with Brussels to ensure that this issue can be adequately dealt with. There is a mixed view about coastal erosion. Some people say it is cheaper to let eroding coastline fall into the sea than to deal with it, but landowners with property along the coastline do not want to see that. We need a proper coastal protection policy.
The Government announced in the budget that it will introduced a €200 charge for holidays homes. In Wexford, we have hundreds of holiday homes. We are taken over by Dublin during the summer as the population increases by practically another county. When we were arguing for the retention of the hospital in Wexford, we always maintained that the county population increased by 40,000 in the summer months, with people staying in their second homes for the period. I have a problem with the way the Government is dealing with the holiday home situation. I am a firm believer that moneys collected in Wexford for our holiday homes should be allocated to local authorities, and not into a central fund. The county provides the water, the sewerage, the roads and all of the other services for the holiday homes in our county. I cannot understand why we should have to suffer while the money goes into a central fund and is redistributed to counties that have no coast and fewer holiday homes. We have gone out of our way to welcome these people, to give them planning permission to build their houses and to allow developers make money building them. All services are provided in difficult times by Wexford County Council to ensure that people in towns along our coastline could buy holiday homes. If Wexford County Council was allowed to keep the €200 charge per holiday home, it would have a substantial budget that would allow it to run the authority properly. The Minister should think again about this.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of a project on electric cars. Oil stocks are dwindling and prices can be high at times. They have fallen recently due to the volatile situation, but oil prices could increase dramatically again. The pilot project is worth €1 million and is managed by Sustainable Energy Ireland. It will be used for retail, research, development and the demonstration of electric vehicles nationally. That is a welcome initiative and I would like to see progress on it as quickly as possible.
I generally welcome the Bill. However, I have some concerns. The Minister mentioned holiday homes in his speech, and I am asking him to think again and let each county spend the money where it is collected.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I also welcome the Bill and I support any measure designed to improve our environment. The Bill goes a long way towards addressing that. The purpose of the Bill is to provide a permanent legislative basis for motor tax increases, effective from 1 February 2008 and under a financial resolution passed by the Dáil on 5 December 2007, and to provide for a new motor tax system based on CO2 emissions for new and pre-owned imported cars registered after 1 July 2008. I welcome the Bill because Fine Gael proposed similar measures in its 2007 election manifesto, when we promised to reform VRT. I am pleased the Government has taken this on board.
I owned a 2001 registered Audi A6, even though I was always one of those who thought cars were a waste of money. However, I was doing 40,000 miles a year driving around the country in this car, and it cost me about €10,000 every year to fill it with petrol. I was spending €70 on petrol about three times a week, so it was expensive. I have since bought an Audi A4 diesel car, which only cost €150 in tax and it costs me less than €5,000 to run every year. I am pleasantly surprised at that, but I am also delighted that I am doing something to help the environment. It is a comfortable vehicle. The cost of running a car is less of an issue now that oil prices are falling. What I save on petrol prices covers my monthly repayments for the car.
I would like to be able to go without a car, but I live three miles from the nearest town and driving to Dublin is welcome, as I can use the phone in the car.
Today, for example, I might have to go to two or three funerals or meetings around the country. Sometimes using public transport, although I love to do so, can be less than convenient, especially in rural counties like Roscommon, where there are no direct links with the county town, although there are direct links with Dublin. I welcome what Deputy Scanlon said regarding the eight trains per day running between Dublin and Sligo. If the Government invests in the public transport system, people will use it.
I am very upset about the new €10 airport tax. Knock Airport is 25 minutes from my house and I like to use and support that airport whenever I can. If one takes a flight from Knock Airport to any destination, one pays a departure tax of €10. This is a tax that is unique to Knock and the money raised is used to improve the infrastructure at the airport. A development programme costing €2 million is under way there at present. Using the airport at Knock means I do not have to drive to Dublin, use the M50 or pay the exorbitant parking charges at Dublin Airport. In general, people support the €10 departure tax and do not mind paying it. Indeed, it has been in place for many years. However, the new airport tax is anti-west of Ireland and anti-seaboard airports. The Government must roll back on this ill-conceived tax.
I took a flight from Knock to Manchester a number of weeks ago to attend a function organised by the Manchester Roscommon London Association. I left in the evening and returned the following morning. Under the new tax regime, if I chose to fly from Dublin Airport, I would have paid €8 less. Two weeks ago I flew from Knock to London to attend a function organised by the London Roscommon Association. Again, I travelled over in the evening, attended the function and flew back the following morning. Under the new airport tax regime, the flight from Knock will cost €8 more than from Dublin, on top of the €10 departure tax one already pays.at Knock. Under the new system, there is no incentive to support regional airports.
The regional airports have some of the best management teams in the country. This is true of Sligo, Galway and particularly Knock. Ireland West Airport has probably the best management team in the country. It has worked against stiff opposition to bring the airport up to a level of which people in the west can be proud. I ask the Minister of State to relay to the Government that the new airport tax should be reversed. It is anti-west of Ireland and anti-rural.
I am my party’s spokesperson on school transport in the Dáil. Last March, school transport for a junior cycle student cost €99 per year. Following the budget, however, there are three different charges and the same transport will now cost €300, which is an increase of 203%. When I asked the Minister if there would be a cap on that amount, he could not guarantee it. While I appreciate that school transport is difficult and expensive to provide, the new charges are exorbitant. An increase of 203% in 30 weeks is over the top. It is anti-family, anti-rural and possibly anti-environment.
Let us take the example of the parents of two school-going children living over three miles from the nearest school. Instead of paying €198 per year for school transport, they will now have to pay €600. If there are children living next door, the chances are that the parents in both families will opt to take turns to drive the children to school in their cars or SUVs. The increase in the price of school transport may lead to more car journeys. Was this change properly thought out? The Green Party, in particular, should examine this anomaly. I have no doubt that many parents will not spend €600 or more on school transport every year. Instead, they will choose to drive their children to school, thus increasing traffic on the roads.
In planning new housing estates in urban areas, local authorities should ensure that it will be possible for young children to walk or cycle to school. Many schools are becoming more aware of transport issues and organise events such as no car days to encourage pupils to walk to school. Those types of initiatives should be encouraged.
In the past, school transport operators received a rebate, worth up to €30 million per year. However, the rebate system fell foul of EU legislation and was discontinued. The Government said that it would put an alternative mechanism in place. However, after 18 months we found out that the Government had no intention of replacing the rebate with any other system. Many school transport operators had been factoring in the rebate when submitting tenders to Bus Éireann. The operators felt very aggrieved and let down. The cost of petrol and diesel has dropped in recent times, which is welcome but that may only be a temporary situation. If fuel costs rise again, the operators will not be able to fall back on a rebate. If the money is not available, that is fine, but the operators should be told that clearly. The Government should not be pointing the finger at the EU and blaming it for the problem. Nor should it be promising to put an alternative mechanism in place when it has no intention of doing so. School bus operators are rightly very aggrieved with the measure and the misinformation surrounding it.
Reference has been made to the new car parking tax, which I believe will apply to Leinster House. If I choose to drive from Roscommon to Dublin, there are no park and ride facilities on the N4 that I could use. There is nowhere on the outskirts of Dublin that I could park my car, take a bus to the city centre, conduct my business, take another bus back to my car and drive home.
The tax is set at €200 per year. I remember several years ago there was a furore when the chief executive of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O’Leary, announced that he had bought a taxi plate to allow him to drive in bus lanes. Taxi plates cost between €3,000 and €5,000. What is there to stop other people buying such plates in order to be able to use bus lanes and avoid paying the car parking tax? I do not know if taxis will be exempt from the parking tax. If taxis are exempt from the parking tax, then people could save €200 per year by buying a plate.
Much more thought must be put into the car parking tax. I hope it will not penalise unduly those who must use car parking spaces. I have no problem with paying €200 per year for a car parking space if necessary but I would like to see other measures put in place that would allow me to use public transport if I so wished. It may turn out to be cheaper for me and others like me to buy a taxi plate. I might even pick up the odd fare or two.
Last week, I drove to Wexford. The people of Wexford gave me a warm welcome and I had a very pleasant trip.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would expect nothing less.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I always find Wexford to be warmer than Roscommon.
I left Boyle, which is on the N4 and drove through Athlone, Tullamore, Portlaoise and on into Enniscorthy. On the way home I decided I would use the N11 and the M50. Despite the fact that the latter route is up to 50 miles longer, the return trip was 50 minutes shorter. A community without a motorway or a dual carriageway is being discriminated against. There are motorways from Dublin to Belfast and Dublin to Galway but a swathe of the north west still has single carriageway roads. The new Roosky by-pass is a single carriageway with two lanes each way which is effective. At least it is safe for overtaking and it is good value for money. I compliment Leitrim County Council and the NRA for constructing the road. In the same area there is a 12-mile single carriageway which was only constructed a year and a half ago. This is the N5 Charlestown by-pass but it is not possible to overtake on this road because it is not dual carriageway or a dual-lane road. We need a motorway to the north west but in the meantime dual carriageway roads are vital. The N5 to the west is the same as it was 30 years ago. The N4 is an improvement but a lot more needs to be done to give access to the regions of the west.
Deputy Browne highlighted the case of the holiday homes tax of €200 which is destined for a central fund. The services are provided by the local authorities and therefore the local authorities should have full access to that revenue. In my area of counties Roscommon, Leitrim and Longford, there are many holiday homes and also, unfortunately, many unsold houses. This tax would be vital for rural local authorities.
Today I attempted to raise on the Order of Business the question of flooding in my area, which occurred because there was no demarcation lines between the Office of Public Works and the local authorities. No maintenance was carried out on certain rivers and streams so that when the floods came the roads were blocked by fallen trees and were washed away. It costs up to €2 million to replace narrow rural roads. The effects of flooding could have been alleviated if some body was responsible. The county councils say it is not their responsibility but rather that of the OPW and the OPW say the opposite. The sooner legislation is in place to decide who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of these tributaries and rivers, the better otherwise the same problem will arise again. I do not want to be going back to the farmers, the landowners, the householders who were terrified for their lives. Much damage was caused but thankfully, there were no fatalities although there were some near misses. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The M50 has improved over the years because we are paying a huge amount for it. It costs me a toll of €2.70 each way to Dublin and it is another €2 each way if I use the M50, making a total of €10. If we are paying money for the upkeep of the roads in Dublin, we should get fair play in the west.
We are not doing enough to promote the use of electric cars as they are a very innovative use of energy which can be generated cheaply. Their use would remove our dependence on fossil fuels. I do not have much time for SUVs and four by four vehicles. Only about 1% of the people who drive these vehicles need them for the work they do. The Government has done a reasonable job in getting people to move away from the SUVs. They are dangerous when in collision with other vehicles or pedestrians or a bicycle. The chances of coming off unscathed from such a collision are very slim. These vehicles were regarded as a fashion item or accessory but the less we see of them on the roads, the better. I agree they are useful vehicles for farmers and builders or for certain lines of work but one does not need an SUV to bring children to school. We went over the top and the sooner we roll back from these outdated modes of transport, the better.
I would encourage schools to have a traffic management plan to allow young children to cycle or walk to school with their friends because there is nothing better and it is environmentally friendly.
Deputy Christy O’Sullivan: I wish to share time with Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Christy O’Sullivan: This Bill will provide a permanent legislative basis for the motor tax increases approved by the House on budget day. The motor car is part of life in our world today. It has changed the way we travel and increased the pace of life for many as is evident every day of the week on the roads throughout the country. A survey taken six months ago showed that almost two thirds of people planning to buy a new car would buy a vehicle with lower emissions if it resulted in paying lower motor tax. The poll, which was carried out by Red C for the Irish Taxation Institute, found that 55% of people would also consider changing their current car if it meant a lower tax bill.
The survey showed a strong awareness of changes in the car tax and vehicle registration system. A total of 59% of those surveyed said the changes to VRT would encourage the purchase of vehicles with a lower emissions rating. A total of 60% claimed the new VRT changes would make them more inclined to purchase a car with lower emissions. Regarding motor tax, 65% of people who planned to buy a car said they would be more likely to buy one with lower CO2 emissions if it meant saving money. Cost is the bottom line for many people. A total of 55% said they would be more likely to change their existing car to one with lower CO2 emissions in order to save on motor tax.
From 1 July 2008, buyers of new cars with lower CO2 emissions have seen a reduction in their annual road tax. Vehicle registration tax will also be lower, depending on the emissions rating of the car. The new system, where cars are classed in a series of CO2 emissions bands, is progressive and welcome. We should be encouraging as many people as possible to move to fuel-efficient cars. If the environmental benefits of the changes in VRT and motor tax are to be truly maximised, a real collective effort is required to educate everyone on the practical implications of the change.
Yesterday the Government outlined its plans for 10% of the national road transport fleet to be powered by electricity by the year 2020 and this is to be welcomed. The size of the country suits electric vehicles and the country can become an effective test centre for the world’s car manufacturers. A total of 200,000 electric vehicles could be on our roads in 12 years. This would be a ground-breaking development. Among the provisions will be a €1 million research and development fund, tax incentives for companies buying electric vehicles as well as assistance for individual buyers.
Transport emissions are Ireland’s fastest growing greenhouse gas sector. Powering electric vehicles from renewable sources like wind turbines could significantly reverse this trend. The electric vehicles plan provides for tax incentives for businesses to purchase electric vehicles. Businesses can write off 100% of the cost of purchase against tax under the accelerated capital allowance scheme. The plan also provides for a €1 million project for Sustainable Energy Ireland to research, develop and demonstrate vehicles nationally. Assistance will be given to individuals purchasing electric vehicles with the publication of a buyer’s guide and a cost of ownership calculator by Sustainable Energy Ireland. A national taskforce will be established to examine infrastructure options for the national roll-out of electric vehicles, including street charging.
We are serious about dealing with the issue of car emissions. The Minister expects considerable international investment to flow from this plan. It must be remembered that in 2008, €6 billion will have been sent out of the country to pay for fossil fuels. The electric car scheme would bring money back into the economy and fuel our transport fleet with Irish renewable electricity.
We all need to be increasingly aware of the environment. Any measures that can help us to reduce our fossil fuel bill and to meet our climate change challenges are welcome. This plan could bring much investment and jobs to Ireland, with the potential to make Ireland a centre for electric vehicles. In these changed economic times, such a development is welcome.
We must think of our future generations. As a rural Deputy, I am always struck by the number of cars used in Dublin city. We must do what we can to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, improve our energy security and lower our transport emissions. The key to our transport future, as the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, outlined yesterday, has to include smarter, more sustainable travel choices.
The ESB is fully on board with this initiative. With the development of carbon-neutral electricity, Ireland has the opportunity to engage fully with the process of moving to electric vehicles. I was glad to learn the ESB is working to facilitate the development of electric cars, realising it will be a critical component of the green economy. We need new thinking when it comes to the motor vehicle sector. With the increasing global use of cars, and with issues such as climate change uppermost in our minds, Bills such as this show initiative. We must continue to be progressive when it comes to the motor industry and do all we can to make it as energy efficient as possible.
Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: In 2003 and 2004, as a Minister of State I took the motor vehicles Bills through the House. The economic circumstances in those times were much better than they are now. We have major economic difficulties stemming largely from international factors. While we have some control over them, unfortunately being a small country, an island economy and a large exporter means the credit crunch and fuel prices are having a detrimental effect. I sympathise with the Minister and Minister of State with the economic position in which they find themselves. The price of a barrel of oil on the international market has reduced significantly. Thankfully it has been reflected at the pumps but, as I said in a debate yesterday, it has not been reflected in the fuel surcharge on transatlantic flights. Those airlines charging these exorbitant surcharges should look at them again more closely.
I commend the Minister for reducing motor tax and VRT. While it has major advantages in reducing emissions, someone must pay for that. For example, the motor tax in 2007 on a 1.9 litre diesel was €560 and was reduced to €105 in 2008. The VRT in 2008 was 16% as against 25% in 2007. While this is laudable, there is an issue with first-time registration. VRT before 2008 was based on engine capacity while now it is based on CO2 emissions. Will the Minister and his officials examine how this is affecting garages with large stocks of second-hand cars? For example, if one brought a car manufactured before 2008 into the country and registered it for the first time, the VRT would be 16%. In the case of a second-hand car bought in Ireland it stands at 25%. There is little point in having a large stock of second-hand cars stuck in garages. It is the punter — the consumer — who ultimately pays for this.
I also wish to raise local government funding as it comes under the Bill’s remit. As every Member knows all politics is local. I served as a member of Donegal County Council from 1979 to 1991. For 2009, Donegal County Council has seen a 6% reduction in its local government allocation, €41.5 million compared to €44 million last year. This does not take into consideration inflation.
Donegal is a county with many holiday homes or, as described by the Minister, non-principal residences. We welcomed the introduction of the levy on such residences because it was believed the €200 per residence would go straight to the local authority. However, it turns out that the local government fund and the allocations to the various councils from the levy have been included as a guesstimate of €40 million. Donegal County Council will collect the levy, send it to Dublin but much of it will not return to the council.
I also understand an insurance has been taken out on this. If the levy is less than €40 million, there will be a reduction of what is allocated to local authorities. It is difficult enough for us to survive in Donegal with the allocation received from the local government fund without having this threat of a further reduction hanging over us. How can a local authority plan in advance if it is informed it may not receive its share — I will not describe it as fair and equitable — of the €40 million in June next year and that it may even be reduced? The corollary is that if the levy comes to an excess of €40 million, I presume each local authority, particularly Donegal’s, will receive an additional allocation.
While the levy will not be a great imposition on those with second houses, I am somewhat concerned as to how collecting the levy can be put into operation early next year. It will require legislation. When we had rates, it was the occupier who was responsible whereas now it is the owner. Many of the homes in my county are used during the summer. What is the best time to collect? Who will collect the charge? Will it be the Revenue Commissioners or will the local authority be compensated for additional work and possibly working at weekends? Many who have homes in Donegal are from Northern Ireland and many are only there at weekends. These are the micro aspects of the issue that must be teased out.
Local authorities must be compensated for this. If the Department is working on guesstimates, as I believe is the case, I can make a guesstimate that Donegal has 6,000 holiday homes. Donegal would collect €1.2 million and there would be a great incentive to do so. In the €40 million incorporated in the overall local government fund nationally, how much will be given to Donegal? What is the guesstimate? I fear that it will not be near the €1.2 million to which we are entitled. It is not a question of being critical but of being pragmatic about how this will be administered.
I return to the 6% reduction, which is in excess of that figure in real terms. This will have an effect on many people in my county, some of whom have been advised that contracts that run out in December will not be renewed. In addition, others whose contracts run out in the early part of next year will face the same fate. One might question why, if local authorities can be administered without these people, they were there at all. They would be there on a permanent basis if it were not for the embargo over the years. These are real people and their partners, spouses and families will suffer as a result of this. The Minister should examine this in light of commitments to people and front line services. It would be foolhardy of me, an ardent supporter of Government, to say that this will have no effect. Of course it will, these people are in front line services.
What we are told about roads allocation will have an effect later in the year. I will not pre-empt the decision of the Minister for Transport in respect of roads in a county where we must travel for one hour from where I am based in west Donegal to get onto a national primary road. It is important that we have facilities. I commend the Department on what it did in the past. In Donegal we have a template of which many other counties are envious, whereby each electoral area provides services for its own electoral area in the most remote parts of Donegal. Examples are in Inishowen, Letterkenny and Dungloe for the Glenties electoral area. The Department supported that at the time. It brought the services to the people of those electoral areas. I applaud all those involved in that.
Some 71 people have received notification that they will be gone at the end of December, while another 49 will be gone at the end of March and the contracts of others will run out during the year. We talk about efficiency and value for money. That is the purpose but I question how a local authority can have greater efficiency without these people playing an important role in various aspects of the local authority. The Minister must examine this closely.
I refer to the administration of the higher education grants. We know that higher education grants are administered by the local authority but the local authority does that at no cost to the Department of Education and Science. It costs my county €155,000 to administer this. There must be some equity. Why would a local authority want to provide those services when it will not be compensated?
I suggest to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, who has served many years in a local authority, that we want a fair and equitable share in respect of the holiday homes measure. We do not seek positive discrimination. We seek fairness and equity. The Minister must say that our share of the €40 million is written in stone and gilt-edged in the event of additional money being available. I have not heard that the Department is insisting the €200 levy on non-principal homes will be given to the Exchequer. The Minister should examine this. Donegal has done a great deal to help itself over the years and depends on tourism and people from Northern Ireland building holiday homes there. We are to be penalised for that and we must share the income with other authorities. The scheme must be much more transparent than it is.
A debate such as this is a tremendous opportunity to comment on local authority funding. The local authority is the university of politics. We are much more knowledgeable for having spent time on local authorities. They are going through a difficult period and need our support and the support of the Department. The Department must closely examine the €200 contribution. I wish local authorities well in raising this. I am sure they will make every effort to do it but there should be an incentive for those local authorities such as Donegal.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht cúpla nóiméad breise a thabhairt dom. Mar a dúirt mé, is am iontach deacair é seo don Rialtas, go mórmhór an tAire agus na hAirí Stáit sa Roinn Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil. Tá súil agam go mbeidh siad ábalta cuidiú linn, go háirithe ó thaobh an levy atá le gearradh ar na tithe saoire.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: I wish to share time with Deputies Broughan and Ferris. The Minister referred to local government funding, saying that the sole reason for the increase in motor tax rates is to raise money for the local government fund. He refers to the fact that this is ring-fenced, a positive move initiated by Deputy Howlin when he was Minster for the Environment. The point made by Deputy Gallagher, that local authorities can have their own funding, is important. The Minister made the same point in his speech:
Deputy Gallagher was correct because there is a lack of a paper trail in respect of funding collected at local level that relates to the communities affected by the development. Holiday homes are built in Donegal and that is the source of the money but Donegal must cope with the services that are needed by the holiday homes. It makes sense that the local authority can collect the money and have access to the money it collects. When I heard the announcement in the budget I thought this was the idea. It is very unfair if the money is put into a general pot and divvied out between local authorities. I live in the area administered by South Dublin County Council. There are not many holiday homes there, if any. We might not benefit from that type of approach but an issue of fairness and logic arises, apart from anything else. I support the points made by Deputy Gallagher but it should have been possible for the local authorities to collect that €200 levy and use it for their own funding. If there are a certain number of holiday homes or second homes in an area, they should get the benefit of that because they must pay for the services and the other environmental issues that arise from such development.
The other point I want to make about local government funding is that there is a conflict in terms of the Minister’s policy on this issue because on the one hand he is welcoming the fact that the increases in motor tax will raise some €40 million for the fund next year but, on the other, his stated policy is to reduce carbon emissions by getting cars off the road. The Minister is happy to operate in that grey area where he says one thing but is practical and does the other. He wants the funding from the motor tax and therefore he is happy to have extra cars on the road. That contradicts his policy on carbon emissions.
The Minister should make a decision in the Bill, and I have raised this issue previously, that from now on multiple passenger vehicles will be treated much more favourably under the motor tax scheme. There is a provision in the Schedule on the amount of tax payable in respect of vehicles constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than eight persons that are owned by youth or community organisations and used exclusively by those organisations. Another one refers to vehicles that can take more than eight persons but not more than 20. There is a provision in respect of large public service vehicles, within the meaning of the Act, that are used for the carriage of children or children and teachers being carried to or from school or to school-related physical activities.
I would have thought that if the Government is serious about reducing transport emissions and promoting sustainable transport, the Minister should introduce incentivising measures. He is incentivising in terms of the mythical world of electric cars but that is probably a long way into the future; his ministerial colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, talked about 2020. He should do something now about incentivising measures covering multi-passenger vehicles, particularly if they are used by youth or community organisations and buses used to bring teachers and children to school. If the Minister is genuine about reducing carbon emissions from transport, that is something he should change.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I was glad to hear the Minister state in his contribution that he is still considering bringing forward legislation to abolish the county manager and city manager systems and to have what would be effectively elected managers. I hope that ambition will be realised, although it is fair to say it is likely the Government will not survive. There are many other areas of this Minister’s administration, particularly in regard to building regulations, on which he has been gravely deficient.
On the Bill before the House, it is fair to say that motorists and commuters were hammered under the 2009 budget, with the spiralling cost of petrol and diesel imposing a heavy financial burden on households. In addition, the Bill facilitates the increase in motor tax of 4% for cars below 2.5 litres and 5% for cars above that.
The area covered in the Bill is part of a wide range of extra charges and taxes that are imposed under the 2009 budget, including the VAT increases, the 1% levy, the €200 urban car parking tax and the air travel tax. The combined impact of those increases are having a detrimental impact on commuters and workers. It has been noted that at least 2,000 jobs are at risk in the car industry, with a massive downturn in sales.
I welcome the initial introduction of changes to the vehicle registration tax and the tax regime to incentivise the purchase of lower emissions vehicles as laid out in section 3. That is particularly important given the huge increase in transport CO2 emissions in the 15 years to 2006 of nearly 170% and the major dependence on cars.
I note that the rebalancing of motor taxes and fuel economy labelling at most will lead to a reduction in transport emissions of just 0.05 Mt CO2 equivalent. It appears many measures have been brought forward which will have a limited impact.
Many constituents and motorists across the country had been ahead of the game in purchasing lower emissions vehicles before this legislation was introduced and they feel hard done by as they were left paying a higher rate than a new lower emissions car registered after 1 July 2008. There have been other suggestions that given the scale of reduction in transport carbon emissions needed we should consider wider reforms that would amalgamate the current duplicate VRT and motor tax into one tax that is entirely based on the car’s level of CO2 emissions.
Last year I asked the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to provide a breakdown of the number of cars in total in the vehicle fleet classified by level of CO2 emissions. At that stage, the Minister could only release data for 28% of the private car fleet because the national vehicle driver file only began the collection of CO2 data in May 2004. Over 400,000 cars out of the total of 525,273 had emissions of between 141 g/km and 225 g/km. The Minister had no information at that stage on commercial vehicles. There are serious ongoing problems with the operation of the national vehicle driver file.
It must be said that the Government has been lethargic regarding the necessity to move the Government itself and the public administration towards increasing fuel efficiency. It is notable that the Government, in the roll-out of the One Small Step, Power of One campaign, did not lead by example in terms of its own vehicles.
As my colleague mentioned, yesterday we had the announcement by the Ministers, Deputies Dempsey and Ryan, on the nationwide roll-out of electric cars. Whenever we hear the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, making some major proposal, as the Acting Chairman might agree, and as some of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers do, they are often like crazy daydreams which never translate into reality. If we look back a number of years we can see that nothing has been achieved. It was striking yesterday that much of the presentation on the electric transport vision for the future was about new studies by Sustainable Energy Ireland and new contacts with other countries and administrations across Europe, with little real delivery on the ground or real encouragement for people to change to electric vehicles or larger vehicles.
The Bill is a small step on the way towards a more fuel efficient transport fleet but I have no confidence in the Minister administering it or in the Minister for Transport.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Sinn Féin supports measures taken to encourage the use of vehicles with lower CO2 emissions and was calling for that for some time before the Government decided to act. Nonetheless, any steps in this direction are to be welcomed.
Encouraging people to use vehicles with lower emissions is an important aspect of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions. The objective of the new tax rates with progressively higher rates for the larger vehicles is to encourage people to buy vehicles with lower emissions and, by extension, reduce the sales of larger vehicles such as sport utility vehicles, SUVs.
Interestingly, because the increases were well signalled last year and perhaps with the confidence that the new tax rates would apply to new sales, the sales of SUVs here comprised the biggest increase in car sales in this State in the first half of 2007, with a rise in market share from 5.6% in 2006 to 6.8% in 2007. Sales of SUVs increased by 29.6% compared to the same period in 2006. That increase must, to a certain extent, have offset whatever benefits were to be achieved by the CO2 tax that was, as I said, already well signalled. Much has changed in the meantime and the economic downturn has resulted in a significant fall in car sales here. New car sales were down 50% in May. Some of that fall has been attributed to the VRT and tax changes which came in on 1 July.
There was some speculation that the market would pick up significantly after 1 July with people moving towards lower taxed vehicles but the figures for last month showed that this country had the biggest falls in sales in the EU at 54.6%. That represents a more than 18% decline on the first ten months of 2007. The number of second hand cars licensed during the same period increased by 4%. It would appear then that the recession is playing a far greater role than anything to do with tax and that the reduction in car traffic is a symptom of economic difficulties and rising unemployment rather than anything to do with the environment or the carbon budget.
On the other hand, there is evidence that people are increasingly aware of the importance of reducing emissions and of their role in this regard. This has led to an increase in the share of new vehicles by those with the lowest emissions. These accounted for almost 10% of new sales in 2006 while the second lowest category of vehicles accounted for another 22% of sales. Tax incentives for vehicles with lower carbon emissions have increased that trend.
There is also an argument that tax on lower emission vehicles might have been frozen while any shortfall would be made up by even higher taxes on those with much higher emissions. Some have argued that because of the price involved, the disincentive to buy the larger vehicles is perhaps not as great as imagined. That factor may be lessened by the current downturn. Unfortunately even the most optimistic projections regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions accept that measures designed to reduce vehicle omissions will make only a small contribution to the overall target of reducing carbon emissions in this country.
Sinn Féin believes the major focus for tackling emissions from motor vehicles ought to be improving and increasing the use of public transport. If there was a better funded and more efficient public transport system, there would not be the same incentive for so many people to drive to work or use their cars at other times. There have been some small successes on this, with the Luas in Dublin for example, but there needs to be a much broader approach if large numbers of people are to be persuaded to leave the car at home. If that were to happen, there would be far more significant reductions in carbon emissions than anything possible through changes in vehicle taxation.
The major incentive to increase public transport as part of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions is found in the extremely small part which the sector currently has in creating emissions. In 2006, this stood at just 4.1% of the total emissions in this State, which was reduced from 5.3% in 1990, with the fall accounted for by a reduction in rail transport emissions. Emissions from private cars on the other hand accounted for almost 37% in 2006, although that, too, was down from 1990 mainly due to greater fuel efficiency despite the fact that car ownership had greatly increased over the same period. The overall share of emissions caused by transport had risen to 35%. Any increase in public transport use would have a significant positive effect on the level of emissions and, on that ground alone, apart from any other social benefits, would be well worth the increased investment.
Even with these reductions in CO2 emissions from transport vehicles, there is little optimism that the current strategy to achieve the 2020 reduction targets will be successful. Professor Richard Tol of the ESRI has claimed, for example, that the 3% annual reduction up to that date would be reached only with a doubling of the price of petrol and a trebling of the price of electricity. The questions that must be posed are whether the strategy is focused on the right targets and whether attaining the target would be worth the severe impact of the sort of measures referred to by Professor Tol.
While the increased tax receipts from road vehicles will be paid into the local government fund, there is a good deal of dissatisfaction around the country among members of local authorities regarding their finances. This is a consequence of the measures taken in the recent budget which entail the reduction in funding for local government. Local authorities have been advised that their wage bill alone must be reduced by 3%. The overall impact on local authorities will be to force them to reduce the range and quality of services they provide and this will have a detrimental impact on communities throughout the State. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Neville, and I had a conversation earlier and we have all-party agreement that the roll-out of the electric car should be to Athea and Knocknagashel.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, but I do not welcome the increases in it. The only bit of good news in it is the fact that there is no increase for electric vehicles. I welcome the idea of electric vehicles. They have a major role to play in the towns and cities of our country. When the Minister launched it he said it was possible to use it on a trip to Galway or elsewhere. Many cars are in use because of a lack of proper public transport. I think of all the cars one sees outside schools. In the past the huge four-wheel drives were often used for that purpose. If we could get the second person in the family to use an electric car for the short runs and city and town purposes, it would be a major cost-benefit to the family and reduce our CO2 emissions.
Ordinary motor tax has increased by 4%, tax for larger cars by 5% and commercial motor tax by 4%. The Minister pointed out that this increase will go to local government and this is necessary because local government funds are under severe pressure. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan commercial businesses and workplaces are under enormous pressure. As the Minister has already sent word to county councils, they should seriously examine their ratings procedures. Without apology I suggest that it is a year for zero rate increases. Otherwise councils will take in less money as more shops and industrial facilities are put out of business. A closed door means no rates. Common sense must be used.
Jobs are at risk. A small factory in my local town, Ballybay, uses a lot of water for its production purposes. However, because of the new structures, its bill has increased by over 100%. It now has to pay for water in and water out. A high quality cleansing system is used to treat the waste water. The water is drinkable as it leaves the premises but it cannot be reused in the system for technical reasons. An additional machine costing €250,000 would have to be installed to allow them to reuse the water in their system. The Government must seriously examine the provision of grant aid towards the installation of such a machine to minimise the use of water and to control the costs of the business if it is to remain viable.
I had the privilege of visiting Shabra Plastics in Castleblayney when a new wing of the factory was opened by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin. The company has installed a unit that allows it to recycle the extraordinary volume of water used in its system. The company is, therefore, not buying water from the county council other than for use by the staff. Water on the roof of the factory is captured and it can be reused through the cleansing system. We must be conscious of this technology if businesses are to be sustained. The case of the small factory in Ballybay must be seriously considered by Government agencies in order to provide help because if it is to pay the water charges imposed on it in addition to water rates, 12 jobs will be at risk and could be lost, thus affecting 12 families and the council’s revenue stream.
Previous speakers referred to road improvements in their constituencies. I acknowledge the major improvements to roads between Dublin and Monaghan town such as the M1 and N2. Carrickmacross, Castleblayney and Monaghan town have been bypassed in recent years and I pay tribute to the NRA personnel who made a commitment to us long ago that if we agreed to the bypassing of the three towns together, funding would be provided for all three. The Minister and the NRA delivered over a reasonably short period.
However, I am worried that when the previous Taoiseach finalised the St. Andrew’s Agreement, he made a commitment on behalf of the Government to build a dual carriageway between Derry, which is the fourth largest city on the island, and Dublin via Monaghan, a route also used by many people in northern Donegal. I am delighted that officials are examining the route between Derry city and Aughnacloy and it is guaranteed that will be built as quickly as possible but the Minister for Transport dropped a bombshell at a recent committee meeting when he said officials were examining the option of building a single carriageway between the Border and Ardee, with the exception of the area around Castleblayney. The Minister must be honest about these proposals and the Government should carry through on what was promised in the St. Andrew’s Agreement, which was a dual carriageway between Derry and Dublin. This is a major issue, which must be clarified.
When the Minister left the committee, officials from the NRA and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland suggested the project had to be re-examined. I ask that it be re-examined because it would be an anomaly to build a dual carriageway between Derry and the Border, connecting to a single carriageway and then a two and one carriageway between Clontibret and Castleblayney, which also needs to be examined. Many complications will arise and there will be serious accidents on the road unless slip roads and so on are amended. This project must be re-examined and clarified.
There are major problems with the M3 and the N3 in the other part of my constituency. Through no fault of the Government and the relevant Departments, there have been major hold ups with the development of the M3 but work is proceeding quickly. The problem in County Cavan, however, is the bypass of Virginia is no longer even being discussed while the bypass of Belturbet, where many fatalities have occurred, is still on hold. We were promised a number of years ago that this bypass was a priority but the last letter I received from the NRA recently suggested otherwise. These issues need to be addressed, regardless of the recessionary times we are in. If we are to attract industry to the regions, roads similar to the N2 will provide a benefit. Proper broadband services are also needed.
The Minister referred to the need for more localised revenue raising and expenditure and the introduction of charges for non-principal private residences. Is that the introduction of rates through the back door? I have no major hang up about the tax on second homes but the problem is counties such as Monaghan and Cavan do not have massive numbers of holiday homes like counties Donegal, Wexford and Kerry. I am not as sure as other Members that I would like the revenue generated from taxes on holiday homes to be spent in those areas. There is a justification for it to be spread around.
I refer to the motor tax issue. Many of my constituents consciously bought an environmentally friendly car with low emissions but they find themselves in a unique position. Two neighbours living beside each other have the same car, the only difference being one could afford a new car and the other car is a few years old. The person who was wealthy enough to buy a new car gets away with €150 in motor tax whereas his neighbour who has lost his job and has major difficulty meeting his bills must pay three times as much. The Green Party Ministers claim to be conscious of the problems faced by different people. Where a person cannot afford to buy a new car but drives a car with low emissions, it is totally unfair that he or she should have to pay three times the tax his or her neighbour must pay because his car is a few years older.
This issue must be revisited as a matter of urgency. A person gave me a letter to pass on to the Minister because he had got no answer to it. I also put down questions on it. I accept that the law was passed through this House to make this legal but making something legal does not make it right. If two children in school were handed sweets but one was handed a box of sweets and the other just one sweet, we would call it discrimination. As far as these people are concerned, this is major discrimination.
We must consider other areas where we can cut emissions and deal with some of our problems. I understand there is a major problem at present given that China no longer wants to buy bales of plastic refuse. Surely this material could be turned into biodiesel or some other product in this country. Over the years we have at enormous cost exported meat and bone meal which had to be disposed of because of BSE — I saw the export figures the other day and they are scary. This was exported and burned to give clean, cheap energy to our German counterparts. Is it any wonder we have become uncompetitive if we export something that is extremely useful for creating energy? We must consider all these areas, not just cars.
I wish to mention in passing a problem that continues in Border regions with regard to penalty points. I urge the Ministers concerned to try to bring this to a head as soon as possible.  As a member and vice chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I know it has raised this issue on several occasions and has got movement to some degree. When I am driving down the M1, as I do every week and sometimes several times a week, I usually travel at the maximum, without apologies, as that is what we are allowed to do. If possible, I set the car on automatic, which saves fuel and protects the car, and this is far better than travelling on the old roads. If cars overtake me, I am certain that three out of four will have non-Irish number plates. It is a serious matter because many of these cars are involved in accidents. The same thing happens in the other direction. If I am going to Belfast, I may be as much a chancer as some of the others because I know the likelihood of my being caught, if I am in a hurry, is not that great. I would like to have this matter dealt with.
There is also an issue with regard to coming to Dublin which was raised by my colleague, Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, and has been highlighted in the House umpteen times. If we are serious about cutting CO2 emissions and we are using tax to do it, why can we not make sure that areas such as the tunnel in Dublin have proper park and ride systems to ensure people park on the edge of the city rather than bringing their cars into the centre? In Canada and other countries, there is a structure whereby if three or more people are in a vehicle, they can travel in the bus lanes, which encourages people to come together and instead of having three vehicles travelling to the city centre, there is only one. I also ask that we would reconsider the situation regarding speed limits.
I meant to talk more on the issue of support to the county councils, which have serious funding problems this year. We do not know what will be the total amount paid by the Government but it will not be that generous. Councils have lost out on funding this year due to the reduced number of houses being built and they have also lost because as housing estates are no longer being built, they will not get the 5% of housing they would have hoped to get from those estates. They will have to reconsider this situation. I urge the Minister to ensure county councils are given what extra funds are needed rather than forcing them to raise their other charges.
The €200 parking charge for Dublin will hit some people, although I personally do not have a major problem with it. However, if the Government encouraged more job creation in our towns and country areas, there would not be the same pressure on Dublin, Galway and other cities. Towards that end, there is an enormous need to energise the Government to make sure jobs are created in rural areas, particularly the Border area. Monaghan has not had a single development with regard to jobs since the Troubles and Cavan has not done much better. These areas must be seriously considered. If jobs are created there, it will save much travelling to Dublin and will save congestion in other areas. Many people in Monaghan must get up at 4.30 a.m or 5 a.m. to get into their cars to avoid the rush in Dublin, which is leading to increased CO2 emissions and other problems.
I wish the Bill well but I hope some of the issues I and others have raised will be addressed.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, I thank all Deputies who contributed to this debate and I appreciate the indications of support for the Bill. The Minister in his introductory remarks made clear that the sole reason for increasing motor tax rates was to fund local government. He also pointed out that motor tax increases since the year 2000, including the current increases, are below the inflation rate over the intervening eight-year period. The extra cost for 94% of the car fleet, that is, those under two litres, will be between 13 cent and 46 cent a week.
Deputies are aware that all motor tax receipts go into the local government fund and they know the significant role it plays in financing local government. Increasing any tax is of course not popular, and in making this decision the primary consideration was the need to provide adequate funding for local government while not over-burdening people at a time of economic difficulty.
I welcome the emphasis in the debate on the importance of tackling climate change. The introduction of emissions-based car taxation has already been shown to work effectively in the early days in reducing car emissions. However, this is only one aspect of a much broader climate change strategy which involves a large number of measures across the economy. We saw yesterday the announcement of new incentives to encourage the use of electric cars and the Government will also be publishing shortly a new strategy on sustainable transport.
A number of speakers regretted that the new CO2 system did not retrospectively apply to the whole fleet, or alternatively, that it did not apply back to 2004. While I understand the reasons behind these views it would have been difficult to introduce a tax retrospectively in a way which did not seriously undermine local government funds.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked whether the new system for revenue raising is an environmental incentive. He made the point that the success of the scheme will put pressure on revenue receipts. He is correct in this regard but from the earliest days the Minister made it clear that the new system has a dual focus and it must be kept under review to ensure it meets these aims.
Equally, it will be important to examine other sources of local government finance and this is why the Government introduced the new proposal to levy non-principal private residences which was referred to by a number of speakers. This novel levy is designed to broaden the income source for local government. The details of how this levy will operate are being considered within the Department and an opportunity to debate the proposal will arise when the necessary legislation comes before the House. In the meantime, the views expressed in the House will be taken into account in designing the scheme. It is intended the moneys raised will be returned in total to local authorities.
Deputy Crawford mentioned recycling of water and collecting rainwater from roofs. This is a matter for individuals and is a laudable approach to the water problems which exist nationally and internationally. He also raised the matter of the Dublin to Derry dual carriageway which is a matter for the Department of Transport and will be referred to it. Deputy Crawford also mentioned meat and bone meal. We have a proposal regarding ESB lines crossing County Meath and some of the objections to it are fuelled by Deputy Crawford’s party.
Deputy James Bannon: What about the withering Greens?
Deputy Michael Finneran: I express my gratitude to all contributors to the debate. I appreciate the point made by Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher regarding holiday homes and I will refer his point on 16% VRT on new cars coming into the country.
Deputy James Bannon: I welcome this important Bill and I thank the Minister of State and my colleague Deputy Phil Hogan for allowing me to take it and for their help and co-operation. There is a public hunger for serious action to be taken on climate change and this Bill has climate change proofing built in.
Question put and agreed to.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I move:
Question put and agreed to.
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and prior to discussing the issues of concern I will put it into context. In December 2006, the Minister for Health and Children announced the fair deal which is the new funding arrangement for long-term nursing home care. People are expected to contribute to the cost of their care based on an assessment of their income and assets. A person is expected to make a contribution of up to 80% of assessable income and up to 5% of the value of any assets in excess of the asset disregard per annum. The asset disregard stands at €36,000 for an individual and €72,000 for a couple.
If the assets include land and property, the 5% contribution based on such assets can be deferred. This means it does not have to be paid during the person’s lifetime and may be collected once their estate is settled. In the case of the principal residence only, the deferred contribution will be capped at 15% of the value of the principal residence for a maximum of three years. The charge on other assets is not capped but will apply for the duration of care. However, this charge will not exceed the cost of care. It would not make any sense if it did.
Somebody with a small amount of land valued at €100,000 could have it all confiscated if he or she was in a nursing home for five, six or seven years. This is my interpretation of it and I believe it is the only way it can be interpreted. Many families will be upset if they are forced into this situation.
For the first time, this scheme will offer a uniform system of financial support for individuals in public and private nursing homes. Under this plan, the practise of assessing the income of children will cease. I understood this has not been taken into consideration for a considerable number of years because it was found to be unfair by the High Court.
The Government was woken up with regard to issues for elderly people when it took away the medical card from all those aged over 70. They have presented themselves as a cohort of people who are extremely vocal, many of whom are educated and with great life experience and they will ensure their rights and services will be protected. I sincerely welcome this.
Many of the people who retire at age 65 or 66 have PhDs, masters and other degrees. Many of them served in senior management positions and supervised in industry and commerce or were senior civil servants. Many of them worked hard to rear their children. They have a vast amount of knowledge and experience of life. We must question how this resource is dispensed with when they reach the age of 65. There must be a way to ensure we use the talents and experience of our retired people as much as possible. They have a vast amount to contribute but their life experience, including family life and education, is interrupted and abandoned when they retire. It makes no sense. To put this in context, the number of people greater than 65 years of age has increased by 7.3% since 2002, is expected to increase by more than 800,000 by 2025 and to have tripled by 2050. Life expectancy in Ireland is increasing and now exceeds the European average.
Private and voluntary nursing homes provide in excess of 65% of long-term care beds. By the end of 2007 there were 18,883 private and voluntary nursing home beds in Ireland, an increase of 26% from the 2003 figure. There is one private and voluntary nursing home bed for every 24.8 persons aged 65 years and over. The average weekly cost of a bed nationally throughout all areas and all room types, including single, double and multiple bedrooms, was on average found to be €778. The highest average weekly rate was noted in the north-east coast and the south west. Average rates were found to be €966 in both the north east and the east coast. The lowest rate was in north west where the average weekly rate was €607.
I raise our concerns with the Bill. It is necessary to make changes in this area for the reasons already outlined. The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 stipulates that the fair deal scheme, to which other Deputies have referred, is resource capped. We must understand the implications of resource capping the scheme. This will inevitably lead to waiting lists for support. It is also possible that family members will be called upon to fund the difference.
Income tax relief on nursing home care has been reduced to the standard rate. How does the Minister propose to deal with the inevitable waiting lists? Does the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, anticipate family members will continue to pay up while we wait for funds to be freed up? Perhaps the free up of a bed will come about as a result of the death of a resident in a nursing home. Under the existing system, people receive some contribution to the cost of their care, even if this must be supplemented by the person’s family. Under the new proposal in this Bill, older people could be left with nothing and with no certainty about when funding might be available.
The Minister announced that responsibility for contracting beds in nursing homes and agreeing fees will be given to the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The stated purpose of this is to keep costs down. Nursing homes will be required to negotiate with the National Treatment Purchase Fund if they wish to be approved as a provider under the scheme. There is an inherent contradiction between the challenge faced by the National Treatment Purchase Fund of keeping the cost of care down and the role of the Health Service Executive in ensuring high standards are met. Quality must be determined by the prices set by the National Treatment Purchase Fund. If the National Treatment Purchase Fund sets prices, it will probably lead to a race to the bottom as nursing homes cut costs to fill beds. This is a real possibility in parts of the country where there is an over-supply of nursing homes. It is vital that standards of nursing home care are put in place as a priority. This was highlighted again and again by my colleague, Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, following his investigation of standards in nursing homes. There are very good nursing homes and, with my family, I have experience of dealing with very good nursing homes.
Questioning the standard of nursing homes is not a reflection on those who provide top-class care and sometimes these generalisations are applied to those who provide excellent care, which should not be the case. Questioning the standards in nursing homes does not imply there are issues in general, but there may be specific cases and it is very important to address these.
Good nursing home care cannot be provided on the cheap, but it must not become prohibitively expensive. In each January of recent years I have encountered people who say the cost of nursing home care for a parent, brother, aunt, wife or husband is being increased by too much and this creates a problem. We must know what the cost will be of implementing the recommendations contained in the draft standards of residential care settings for older people. This was submitted to the Minister by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA.
It is more than three years since the Leas Cross nursing home scandal was exposed and we still do not have standards for nursing home care. It is important these standards are finalised and enforced as a matter of priority. Will these standards apply compulsorily to private and public nursing homes and, if so, will there be a timeframe for their implementation? When will the regulatory impact assessment be completed? How will the Minister ensure public nursing homes, which are often older than private nursing homes, are able to cope with the cost of meeting new standards? Has HIQA been given adequate funding for 2009 to register and inspect nursing homes? Will the Minister of State outline the funding provided to inspect nursing homes next year? When will the inspection begin? What is the position regarding the recruitment of staff to carry out inspections? Should the scheme go ahead in the absence of standards for nursing home care? Should the Bill be extended to include private care provided in the community?
Privately provided care in the community enables people to live in their own homes for as long as possible. Care services may include assistance with trips to the doctor, reminders to take medication at the correct time, meal preparation, house-keeping, errands, shopping and companionship. Most important, these services allow people to maintain independence while they age in the home in which they have lived all their lives.
I am interested in the home care package scheme, which is a very effective intervention to assist elderly people who would otherwise be in a very expensive nursing home. I have seen some of my family leaving a public nursing home following a stay of six, eight or ten months, returning home under the home care package and some three or four years later these people are still at home. Without the package, such people would still be in a public nursing home. Will the Minister of State and the Department of Health and Children seriously consider how this cost effective, socially beneficial scheme can be extended? The scheme allows people to remain in their homes for the latter days of their lives and continue to interact with their neighbours and family. The alternative is to stay in a private or public nursing home with additional costs for the State.
There are occasions when a person’s medical needs and level of dependency would not normally warrant admission to a nursing home. Nevertheless such a person may opt for nursing home care, because the person may not feel safe in the home and seek increased security or may even seek companionship. This is especially the case in a rural area, such as my constituency, where people feel more and more isolated for many reasons, such as changes in society, changes necessarily introduced which make it difficult to travel to the bar and others on which I could expand. When I was a young person, there was no such thing as a letterbox in the door in rural areas. The postman knocked at the door and interacted with people. This implied a relationship among remote and rural people who had contact in a general way. That is all gone now, as the Minister of State knows. The post-box at the top of the road and all the services that were there, as well as the neighbourliness and social connections, are gone. Society has changed dramatically in rural areas. Sometimes we do not know our neighbours, although everybody knew everybody else in the past. The Minister of State, who comes from a rural area, understands what I am talking about. People will go into nursing homes for companionship. If something happens in an area, such as an old person being broken into, beaten up and robbed, elderly people around the area will want to leave for safety’s sake, whether they are 80 or 85 years of age. They will not feel happy or safe. They want to be around people and thus they will decide to go into a nursing home.
Under the new scheme, the care needs assessment criteria for admission to a nursing home will become much stricter, which means that only highly dependent older persons will be admitted to nursing homes. Although there is some scope for taking social factors into account, it is not clear, considering the possibility of resource capping, whether such people will avail of the scheme. Perhaps the Minister of State will inform us of the Government’s approach to this. It is important that this assessment is flexible and responsive to people’s medical and social needs, and that the scheme is adequately funded to cater for those who wish to avail of it. I would sincerely like the Minister to put this on the record. We may have to refer to this in future when we are dealing with very serious social cases in our own areas, and we would like to have a record of the attitude of the Minister in the House when the issue was debated.
Older people whose treatment needs have been met in an acute hospital are being discharged to nursing homes under a scheme known as the delayed discharge initiative, DDI. This generally applies to persons who have spent reasonable lengthy periods, sometimes months, in acute hospitals. I welcome this because it frees beds to be used by people on waiting lists. Some of the nursing homes are very well equipped, while others are less so. I appreciate that only selected nursing homes have been approved for such admissions. Approval is generally based on the capacity of the nursing home to provide suitable care for high dependency residents. In previous years, funding for such beds was provided by the HSE. It now appears that payments under the DDI are being made by the hospitals. In order to minimise the cost to the hospital budget, older people are being offered places in nursing homes which are at a distance from their family homes and communities. Again, this has social implications for the elderly. Many older people from Dublin are being placed in nursing homes in other counties. There have been cases in which older persons and their family members have not accepted the places offered. This is perfectly understandable in certain circumstances. It is not appropriate to place older people in nursing homes which are distant from their friends, their families and their communities and in locations without public transport, making it difficult for people to visit.
A further complication is that at least some hospitals are refusing to make any payment where the older person does not accept the nursing home chosen for them by the hospital. This places the full burden of the costs on the older person and his or her family. If this is a precursor of what we can expect when the fair deal scheme is implemented, and the National Treatment Purchase Fund is negotiating contracts with nursing homes, then it is to be deplored and opposed. Older people must not be deprived of their right to go to nursing homes which are close to their families. While some limitations may need to apply to a hospital, the NTPF must not have a veto on this matter.
Assets that have been transferred at any time over the five years prior to the date will be included as means. With regard to assets transferred prior to 9 October 2008, the person may make an application to the executive to recalculate the means on the grounds that it is necessary to do so to avoid undue financial hardship. According to section 16, the amount of ancillary State support paid back shall be paid back with interest. Moneys advanced by the executive shall be aggregated and the consumer price index for mid-December in that year shall be taken to be the base figure.
If nursing home promoters and developers continue to seek economies of scale by building bigger and bigger nursing homes it will only serve to further diminish the quality of personalised care to which an older person is entitled. There is no overall strategy for the nursing home sector. Many nursing homes have been built over recent years with the aid of significant tax reliefs. The free market economic philosophy allowed many of these to be built in isolated areas or areas where land prices were cheap. Too many of these nursing homes are far from services such as GPs, pharmacies and physiotherapists. They are far from churches, shops and other amenities, even if there are diminishing numbers of nursing home residents who can avail of these.
In general, I welcome the Bill. Many questions have been asked during the debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response. If the Minister intends to respond this evening, I will be at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children with the Minister, Deputy Harney, and Professor Drumm, so I will read the response afterwards.
Deputy Brendan Kenneally: I welcome the legislation. It was hoped it would come into effect from 1 January last, but that was not to be. I can well understand that, because it must be difficult to put together a ground-breaking Bill such as this. It is a novel way of doing things because it involves recouping in retrospect a portion of people’s assets to pay for their nursing home care when they have passed on. This is a very reasonable and forward-thinking measure and should give our elderly peace of mind, because it allows them to delve into the value of their asset to ensure they will be properly cared for and looked after in their old age. This will be of great benefit and consolation to them and their families and while they will ultimately contribute financially to their years in a nursing home, it will not reduce in any way their standard of living or their feeling of security that they always have their family home to fall back on. It is a means by which people can have their cake and eat it.
I have no doubt there will be objections to the principle of this measure, but for the elderly themselves and for their families who otherwise would have to dig deep in their pockets, it allows the best of both worlds. True, the eventual inheritance may not be as large or as valuable as had been anticipated when the 5% levy for nursing home charges has been collected, but it gives the elderly a sense of security and independence they did not have before. In this instance, it is the elderly who are the priority.
The current situation is less than satisfactory and is not operating very well, with the result that there is a great deal of disquiet about it. It can be inequitable, selective and hit-and-miss. This is no way to treat a section of our society who have a right to a better outlook in life than this. I am unsure of the exact number of older people in private and public nursing homes, but based on earlier figures I saw, an estimate of 25,000 would be quite reasonable. This is a section of our population whose numbers will only increase in the future, so it is very important we get this legislation right and ensure that proper funding is available to look after these people in their twilight years.
The current level of subvention in my area has been quite low, and most applicants are seeking top-up payments and appealing the amount which has been granted to them. Invariably, these have failed. I have come across many families who are in genuine hardship trying to find the necessary funding to keep a parent in a private nursing home. There are many instances in which they do not have the money, and the HSE is just not providing sufficient funding for them to meet the associated costs. I have no doubt there are few in the House who do not consider this measure a priority, or who do not think the Bill should be given as much precedence as possible along its passage towards enactment.
In this country, we pride ourselves on cherishing the older generation and looking after older people in their declining years. I am not sure the reality matches our aspirations. We must be seen to look after the oldest and most vulnerable people in our society. We should be perceived to have the sensitivity and decency to give them the support, reassurance and stability they deserve after a lifetime of service to our society. I cannot over-emphasise how necessary it is for us to deal with this growing problem. This administrative dilemma can be resolved over time, with some discussion and a little ingenuity. It involves elderly people who may be suffering hardship, indignity and insecurity. It also involves concerned relatives who see no avenue open to them because they do not have the personal resources to fund care privately and cannot rely on the HSE. No proper policy is in place to resolve the dilemma they face.
This legislation has been due since the start of the year. The Bill will hardly be passed the end of the year. As hardship and indecisiveness persist in the meantime, the elderly will continue to suffer. Many children can do little to relieve their parents’ distress or their own sense of helplessness. We must treat this as a greater priority. We all have the aspiration to live to old age. We look forward to the care and attention our families will give us personally, or arrange for us through professionals. We must understand that such care is being denied to many people at the moment. As legislators and as a Government, it behoves us to deal promptly with this problem. An adequate framework and sufficient resources are needed if elderly people and their families are to sleep easy in their beds at night without wondering where the necessary care will come from.
I know of many genuine cases of people who do not have sufficient funds to look after themselves or their parents in a proper and dignified manner. The HSE is not allocating sufficient funds to meet the growing crisis. I understand that the present financial climate is not helping the situation. I compliment the Taoiseach and the Cabinet for safely steering us, so far, through what has been a difficult situation, to say the least. It has been a nightmare for everyone. I realise that this uncertainty and instability will not help us to secure more resources. Equally, it is causing more problems and greater anxiety among the older and dependent population.
I heard a lady on the radio last week who used to have a modest income from some bank shares she inherited. This income gave her a financial cushion against hardship and the capacity to get a few additional necessities. Now that bank shares are on the floor, her cushion is gone. Not only has she lost the purchasing power that went with her small income, but she is more anxious about how she will cope in the future. As she is well into retirement, she wonders what her final years will bring. Who will provide for her care and needs in that insecure period of her life? As a taxpayer who spent her life making an investment in the State, she naturally feels she should be looked after now, at a time when she is unable to provide such care herself.
I am less than happy with the service our elderly are getting in this country. This is not the fault of the individuals who deliver the care. It does not result from any deliberate policy of neglect on the part of the State. Those who work in hospitals and nursing homes are excellent people. They are committed to their professions and living out their vocations. They would not be able to do their work, to the level they achieve, without a vocational interest and approach to it. The “county home” mentality has long gone, thankfully, and standards have improved immeasurably. However, we are unable to care for the number of people who require these services. This must be dealt with in an effective manner. We have not got it together in regard to our retired population. Successive Administrations have shied away from the problem. They have preferred to gloss over the situation and hope a solution would present itself. That has now happened, in the form of this progressive measure.
I thank and congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harney, for placing this issue firmly on the agenda. She has opened up debate, given the issue greater prominence and provided clarity. Those at the coal face can only go so far. The planning and provision of resources dictates a great deal of what happens. This Legislature and successive Governments have paid lip service to the problem without tackling it head-on or in depth. This must change. The introduction of this Bill gives us another opportunity to do so. In the third millennium and with the benefit of modern and progressive thinking, we can provide the resources and reassurance needed by our older generation. We need to take that element of worry from them, for once and for all. We all have our aspirations and principles with regard to the care of the older generation. It is not happening on the ground, however. We must make it happen now.
There are excellent carers in our hospitals and other caring institutions. There is no deficiency in that respect. We do not have a coherent policy or an integrated approach, however. To use a dreadful modern phrase, we do not have “joined-up thinking” in this area. We are not delivering the kind of service we would like or the level of care the elderly have a right to expect. Before the passage of this Bill is complete, we must have a clear pathway ahead. The blueprint the Bill provides for will be with us for years or decades to come. The legislation currently governing this area derives from the Health Act 1970, the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 and the Health (Nursing Homes) (Amendment) Act 2007. We have visited the subject three times, never comprehensively or substantially, over the last 38 years. The Ireland of today is vastly different to the Ireland of the pre-EU days of 1970. We must sufficiently provide for whatever it takes to tidy up the situation as it stands.
It has been frequently acknowledged that there is a lack of clarity in respect of eligibility for nursing home care. I accept that everybody is entitled to such care in a public nursing home, regardless of their means. Not enough beds are available to cater for everyone, however. Where possible, people of advanced years or anyone else who needs care should be cared for in their own homes, regardless of their age. This can be facilitated by means of the provision of home help or regular visits from those who provide skilled nursing care. There does not appear to be as much emphasis on this point as there might be. I accept that efforts are being made in this respect, but implementation seems to be slow.
Health professionals have made it clear that our hospitals are not functioning near full capacity because beds are not being managed properly on a national basis. Patients who have undergone surgery should not be allowed to occupy a surgical bed beyond the number of days or hours professionally deemed necessary. Such a bed should be made available at the first opportunity for the next person who requires a procedure. That person should, in turn, vacate it quickly when the time comes. There are not enough beds lower down the scale of nursing care. As a result, there are people in high-care beds who should not be there. We learned a couple of weeks ago that a young girl is being housed in a hospital on a long-term basis, even though there is nothing wrong with her, because there is nowhere else for her to go. This is a scandal.
Systems need to be devised and implemented to ensure people do not occupy a bed above the level of priority they need. If greater use were made of home help and home nursing programmes, better use could be made of valuable, scarce and expensive hospital beds and waiting lists could be reduced. I do not doubt that health professionals would get a better sense of achievement from their work in circumstances of greater productivity. More importantly, people with painful, debilitating and dangerous conditions would receive care much earlier. Many people would have a higher chance of being cured and returning to normal life.
Everybody knows that the health service in this country is not working to full capacity, or with the level of competence of which it is capable. However, it would be facile to blame all our ills on the Minister, Deputy Harney, or the chief executive of the HSE. They have both worked diligently to reverse the trend, but have endured an uphill struggle against vested interests and entrenched positions. In volunteering for what must be the most difficult and politically suicidal portfolio in the Cabinet, the Minister did something that had never before been heard of in this country, or in many other countries for that matter. The chief executive officer, likewise, left a lucrative private medical practice, where he lived in relative obscurity and anonymity, to drink from the other side of the poisoned chalice that is the health service. In his budget address, the Minister for Finance made a call to patriotic action on the part of everyone. The two people at the forefront of the health service have already made that commitment publicly and at some personal sacrifice. We should all acknowledge that.
Many of the ills of our health service are deeply ingrained and were inherited from a previous generation. While a great deal of progress has been made in treating with different professions, there is still a distance to go. Moreover, there is a lack of consistency throughout the various regions in the application of criteria. While our health service operates on a nationwide basis, there are different approaches and practices in different areas. I am unsure what is happening in other community care areas throughout the State, for example, but I am certain there are many different interpretations of what the level of funding should be. I am sure the data would show that people elsewhere are receiving substantially more than those in the Waterford community care area.
The Bill provides for the care of the elderly at a cost of 5%, based on the value of the person’s assets, usually the family home, to a maximum of 15% deferred until after the death of the patient. This addresses the main concern of people who are in and out of hospital or nursing home care, namely, whether their home will be there when they are ready to return to it. The Bill offers a vital guarantee for people who are already suffering deep anxiety and is, as I said earlier, the best of both worlds. However, some clarifications are required. For example, if three bachelor brothers living together in what was the family home all find themselves in need of nursing home care, will the maximum of 15% still apply in regard to their asset? It would seem excessive if it were to be otherwise. I am sure the Minister will clarify this point in her reply.
A detailed care needs assessment is provided for in section 7(6). This will standardise the criteria by which people are deemed eligible for the scheme. I am not generally in favour of means testing, but this particular scheme has no relation to money. There is a lengthy list of criteria which applicants must satisfy if they are to qualify for nursing home care, all of which seem reasonable. Perhaps because of our history, or as a result of previous experience, any type of assessment is generally looked upon with suspicion and resentment. There may have been good cause for such caution in the past. In the case of this scheme, it is to be expected that the assessment process may be looked at with a degree of suspicion by those who must undergo it.
I ask the Minister to ensure that the assessment process is implemented with the maximum of sensitivity and the minimum of interference in people’s private lives and with due regard for the dignity of the person. Bearing in mind the possible incapacities already being borne by potential patients, the process must not be made any more difficult or intrusive than is absolutely necessary. There must be a standard methodology to apply right across the regions and it should be ensured that it is strictly adhered to in the interests of patients.
In conclusion, I am pleased that this long-standing area of difficulty is being tackled in a comprehensive and a sensible manner. It is essential that by the time this Bill is passed, we will have a system of nursing home care which provides adequately for some of the weakest members of society. This Bill, with some amendment and clarification, is adequate to the task and I commend it to the House.
Deputy Jack Wall: I have spoken strongly against this Bill since its inception. I remain of the opinion that one’s home is one’s castle and that there should be no interference by the Government or anybody else which serves to undermine that ownership by predetermining what costs should be placed against it. The Bill is fundamentally flawed in this regard.
I recently asked the excellent staff in the Oireachtas Library to conduct a survey into what home and land ownership meant to people since the foundation of the State. I was amazed to discover the effort and dedication shown by families over a long period to ensure that what they had was retained within the family. As I said, people’s homes are their castles and they have the right to pass them on to members of their family or otherwise, as they so wish. This should always be upheld, according to the Constitution. There is absolutely no reason to encroach on this principle in any type of legislation. As I told my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, when he introduced the previous Bill dealing with these matters, I could not fathom how the Government could seek to undermine this first principle.
I am the first to recognise the need for more hospital beds and long-term stay beds. My mother has been in long-term residential care in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Athy, a wonderful facility, for nine or ten years. I see the pressures on staff in that hospital on a daily basis in seeking to accommodate those in need of long-term and respite care. A former colleague of mine, Councillor Jim Keane, is currently in respite care at St. Vincent’s. He too would acknowledge the wonderful work being done in that facility. When one sees what can be done, one must question why the Government would seek to move away from the universal principle that all citizens of the State are equal and are entitled to equal treatment under any legislation that is put through the Oireachtas.
The threat to the principle of universality of health care, for reasons of cost reductions, is the basis of the Labour Party’s objection to the Bill. This will undermine the automatic right of senior citizens to long-term care and will mean they are treated differently from the rest of the population. People who suffer from dementia may be uncertain of their own health status and unaware of events happening around them. However, they will generally be able to engage in conversations on what is happening on the home front. If one can get their attention for any period, all they are interested in is what is happening at home.
The vital question in all this is whether this Bill is an acceptable reflection of how we should care for senior citizens. Whether in their worst or best moments, most of these people will focus on their one possession, that is, their home. This legislation will mean, in many instances, that the children of parents in long-term residential care will have to sell the family home because they will not otherwise have the resources to pay for that care. Many people would struggle to secure a loan in the current economic climate. I find it repulsive that this legislation threatens a right for which Irish people fought over a long period. The research conducted by the staff in the Oireachtas Library confirms the general and long-held view that one’s home is one’s castle. It is to the forefront in this legislation.
Age Action Ireland stated that the Bill sounds the death knell of the public bed for those who need a residential home bed. 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. Age Action Ireland is a vibrant group that looks after senior citizens. I have seen the organisation take action time and again when negotiating with State agencies to provide a better standard of living for senior citizens. It has provided better comfort on a range of issues and has changed the lives of senior citizens. When a body like Age Action Ireland comes out with this statement, it shows the concern that this Bill is causing senior citizens. I am sure that the officials in that excellent organisation did not provide this off the top of their heads, but would have received it from its grass roots.
Age Action Ireland has provided safety facilities, lighting facilities and so on for the many senior citizens under its remit. It also promotes age action weeks and such like, so it has a hands on experience of the situation. The organisation stated that we must be concerned when legislation like this is introduced because we are effectively treating elderly people differently, depending on the conditions from which they suffer.
The Labour Party is committed to a universal health care system. These people have given their all to sustain the State in difficult times and provided homes for their loved ones. Life in Ireland has changed since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when everybody stayed at home and nobody bought homes before they got married. Everything was done within the family. These people provided those homes, which is why they recognise the importance of not interfering with the family home. It is also why Age Action Ireland and other groups feel that this interference should not exist.
The current Government has stated that elderly people can take one option or the other. However, either way people will have to provide the cost in some shape or form. Deputy Kenneally spoke about the number of people in a home, where somebody is a carer or where there could be three or four bachelors looking after a loved one in the home. What happens if that cost is put on the family home? What will happen to those people? Why should that financial worry be transferred to people who looked after the elderly, sometimes for 30 or 40 years before they had to be put into a nursing home?
I know of a case where a man in his 60s who was living in local authority accommodation was found in a poor condition and had to be hospitalised. Tremendous pressure had to be applied on the HSE to get him two weeks of respite care. He had a small amount of money that he received in a will from his late parents, and that was used to give him another few weeks in a nursing home. He cannot get a long-stay position anywhere, and the cost of the short stay is €750 per week. He only has €249, while the health board will provide €370. They are around €200 short, so who will pay for it? That man will soon be put back into uninhabitable conditions, because there is no public bed for him. When I inquired about an enhanced grant for that man, I was told that there was a waiting list and that it was possible he would not get any such grant in the foreseeable future. He therefore has a weekly bill of €200 that is building up, yet nobody seems to care about how he will address it. This is the situation in which we find ourselves, because section 5 of the Bill states that this is way the subvention scheme will operate.
When somebody comes to me asking about nursing home subventions, the first thing I think of is the person’s income related to the cost of the nursing home. If there is no link, then the HSE must increase the subvention to ensure that the person can get into a nursing home. However, that is not the case. The reality is that the cost of keeping the person in the nursing home, such as that man in Athy, will develop into a huge bill. After a certain point, the nursing home management will state that as it is running a business, it cannot afford to care for this man anymore. The HSE has stated that it has no long-stay bed for him. He will probably end up in the accident and emergency department and will take up a bed there. The whole idea of nursing home subvention is to get away from that, but it will not happen unless a proper plan is put in place. The first aspect of such a plan should be the provision of long-stay beds in public hospitals.
Universality is the most important aspect in the provision of services. The senior citizen will then be protected and there will be no need to worry about the family home. There is no doubt that this new scheme will cost more, in spite of the fact that the person involved may be an ordinary citizen with little income. For example, Mr. Doyle is a widower who lives in Kildare in his own home. He bought his council house under the tenant purchase scheme, which has a current market value of €200,000. His sole income is the contributory pension of €230 per week. If he enters a public nursing home now, he will pay €120 per week, but if he enters after this Bill is enacted, he will pay €341 per week. A cost is immediately placed on his estate, which is why a universal health service is so important to the Labour Party. Unless we get more clarity on it, we cannot support this Bill.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Seanad Éireann has passed the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Bill 2008, without amendment.
1. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to address poor water quality here, particularly poor ground water quality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43222/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Overall, water quality in Ireland is of good standard relative to other European countries. The recent EPA water quality report for 2004-06 found a slight improvement overall in water quality, particularly in surface waters with an increase, for example, from 69.2% to 71.4% in the length of our rivers that are unpolluted compared to the 2001-03 period. However, deterioration of ground water quality has been identified as a major cause of concern.
The Government is committed to the protection and improvement of our water resources. To reduce any threat from municipal waste water treatment, I secured a record budget of €560 million for better water services infrastructure in 2009. This is the highest ever provision and an increase of 19% over 2008. New regulatory and supervisory structures for water services have also been put in place, including provision for the licensing of municipal waste water discharges and the allocation of additional financial and staffing resources to the EPA to support its monitoring and oversight role in this area.
The nitrates action programme is one of the key measures to address the threat to our waters from agricultural run-off and the programme provides a basis for the reduction of both nitrate and phosphate losses from farms.
Groundwater is a valuable resource and I will be bringing forward regulations shortly to transpose the EU directive on the protection of groundwater against pollution and deterioration. Work on regulations establishing quality standards for surface waters is also well advanced and will be completed before the end of the year.
Measures to improve water quality are being taken forward through the mechanism of the EU water framework directive. Comprehensive catchment management plans are currently being developed on a river basin district basis. These will include detailed programmes of measures to achieve the objectives of the directive. The draft plans will be published for consultation in December and adopted by the relevant local authorities by the end of 2009.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome the fact there has been a slight improvement in water quality as noted by the EPA in its reports. However, I have very serious concerns about the fact that more than half of the instances of serious pollution were caused by municipal discharges. The water framework directive was introduced more than five years ago but Ireland faces potential fines of millions of euro if we are not in line with that directive by 2015.
I ask the Minister to assure the House that water quality is his number one environmental priority and that he will put the necessary resources in place to improve the standard of municipal waste water at the 21 treatment plants in the country. I further ask him to ensure we protect the quality of groundwater by targeting agricultural waste and septic tanks.
I also ask the Minister to assure consumers that their tap water is safe to drink and that there will be no more instances such as those which occurred in County Galway recently.
Deputy John Gormley: I can assure the Deputy that this is a priority, which is why I secured record funding of up to €560 million for water infrastructure, an increase of 19%. The Deputy is right to be concerned about the EPA findings with regard to groundwater. The main threat to groundwater is contamination from micro organisms originating in sewerage, animal manures and other organic wastes. There has also been intermittent contamination of groundwater with fecal coliforms. Such contamination appears to be relatively widespread and constitutes a risk for those using the water, particularly if it is untreated. Fecal coliform counts indicating gross contamination were recorded at 37% of the monitoring locations.
I must also point out that there is a serious problem in this country with the proliferation of septic tanks, many of which are very old. The Deputy may be aware that the European Commission earlier this year initiated proceedings against this country in the European Court of Justice, seeking a ruling that Ireland has failed to transpose the waste directive as far as domestic waste waters from septic tanks and other similar treatment systems are concerned. We are now preparing a response to that finding. The Water Services Act 2007 contains a number of very significant provisions regarding the operation of septic tanks.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: What measures has the Minister taken to ensure that local authorities carry out further testing on drinking water to ensure it is safe to consume? Is there an action plan in place to ensure we reach the deadline of 2015 for compliance with the water framework directive?
Deputy John Gormley: Not only have I been in touch with the managers of local authorities, but the EPA, which has been given extra supervisory powers and extra resources and staff, has also been in contact with the various local authorities. The EPA is putting the authorities under a certain amount of pressure, which is only right, to step up to the plate and ensure people are getting the best quality drinking water possible. I have said repeatedly that this is not a resource issue. If, for example, lead contamination is a problem in certain areas of the country, there is a contingency fund in place to resolve that. I place the highest priority on getting acceptable levels in terms of good drinking water quality.
2. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps being taken to develop indigenous facilities, markets and outlets to recycle waste, as recommended in the Environmental Protection Agency report, State of the Environment, and in view of the fact that most recyclable waste here is exported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43226/08]
Deputy John Gormley: There were some 1.2 million tonnes of waste recycled in 2006, of which approximately 75% was exported. Approximately 36% of municipal waste is now recycled as compared to the national target of 35% recycling by 2013.
The Government’s policy statement, Preventing and Recycling Waste — Delivering Change, identified a lack of sustainable and economically attractive markets and outlets for recyclable materials as one of the main barriers to an improved and sustainable national recycling performance. The significant cost and effort associated with the segregation, collection, sorting, pre-treatment and reprocessing of recyclable materials demands that markets be developed to realise the full resource value of all recyclable materials that are reclaimed. To address these issues I am providing funding of €13 million to implement the recommendations set out in the market development programme for waste resources 2007.
The market development programme will promote sustainable demand for recovered materials and support the achievement of economies of scale in the production of products made from recycled materials. It will also identify new applications and markets for recyclable material and secondary recycled products.
We must accept that our relative size will place some limits on the scope for a comprehensive recycling infrastructure. However, I believe the investment now being made in this programme will enable us to be somewhat more self-sufficient and will give us some degree of insulation from the types of difficulties now being experienced in the international markets for recyclates.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: I thank the Minister for his reply. I tabled this question because the recent EPA report recommended steps to be taken to develop indigenous facilities, markets and outlets to recycle waste.
The Minister referred to the fact that 75% of recyclable waste is exported. Within that figure of 75%, the EPA reports that 99.3% of paper and cardboard, 99.8% of ferrous metal and 87.4% of glass materials are exported. A total of 0.4% of glass is sent abroad for recycling. As the Minister said, environmental issues are raised because material is being shipped and we do not know what happens to it. Some of it is burned. One of his own colleagues, the former MEP for Leinster——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A question, please, Deputy.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: ——suggested in an article that much of it is burned abroad and that there are not good environmental practices in some of the countries to which we export it. As the Minister said, there could be economic benefits if we develop our own industry.
The Minister suggested steps to be taken for developing markets but he did not actually say that he would create facilities here where waste could be recycled. The North of Ireland is much smaller but there is a glass recycling company to which we export most of our glass. There needs to be a State industry for the recycling of waste and I ask for the Minister’s opinion.
Deputy John Gormley: Given the economies of scale, it makes sense to co-operate with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and to have a glass recycling facility on any part of the island. The Deputy is correct that we also need to develop a facility for paper and cardboard and a proposal has been made. However, we must reach an agreement with our colleagues in Northern Ireland because this was to be done on an all-island basis.
The Deputy referred to the programme overview. The €13 million which I propose to spend is for a multi-annual programme and it will be drawn down by RPS Group on behalf of the market development group. It includes research and development, commercial trials, development of technical standards and the production of various marketing and educational awareness materials. The main focus of the programme will be an organics programme. We have rolled out the brown bins and I have sent a circular to all the local authorities. Organic waste recycling is working very well and it is probably the most important aspect because in terms of complying with our landfill directive commitments, we must remove the biological component from landfill.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will allow a brief supplementary question from Deputy Tuffy. I ask the Minister to hold the balance of his reply for that.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The €13 million the Minister plans to spend on researching the development of markets is a lot of money. I have seen reports which are just put on the shelf. If he is spending €13 million, he needs to come up with the goods. It should result in the creation of jobs and businesses. This is an opportunity to develop the environmental goods and services sector. I ask the Minister for a commitment that it will not just be some theoretical paper but will result in facilities being developed out of the expenditure of €13 million so that there will be jobs and recycling facilities at the end.
Deputy John Gormley: I agree with the Deputy. I liaise closely with those in the recycling industry. I will be holding another meeting shortly. I have received the report from the action group. The composting industry can employ many people and I regard it as a win-win situation. The statutory instrument on composting, which I will publish shortly, will ensure that the food waste from our restaurants and hotels is not put into landfill but rather is directed towards composting. This is beneficial from everyone’s point of view, in terms of the environment and sustainable waste management.
3. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to amend electoral legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43223/08]
Deputy John Gormley: The rules and procedures concerning elections are a key component of our democratic system of government and the electoral law is an important part of the responsibilities of my Department. As a measure of the legislative activity this involves, the House may wish to note that five Electoral Bills have been brought before this House by my Department and enacted in the past four years.
The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008 has completed Committee Stage and I am considering issues arising from that prior to the taking of the Remaining Stages in the House. The Bill implements the recommendations in the report of the Constituency Commission published in October 2007. It amends the law relating to the constituency revision process and it provides for alternative procedures for the nomination of non-party candidates at European and local elections. I look forward to the early enactment of the Bill in view of the important issues it addresses.
I intend to bring forward proposals in the near future for legislative change to allow for the introduction of spending limits at local elections. It is my intention to have the limits in place for the local elections to be held in 2009. The programme for Government contains a commitment to examine spending limits at local elections as part of the Green Paper on local government. Submissions made in the course of preparing the Green Paper, published in April 2008, were generally supportive of some kind of expenditure limit.
On 8 January 2008, I announced that I had established two committees to review local electoral areas. When publishing the reports on 17 June 2008, I announced that, consistent with long-established practice, I was accepting the recommendations contained in them. I am in the process of making the necessary statutory instruments to give effect to the recommendations. I have made 26 of the required 37 orders and the remainder will be finalised as soon as possible. The local electoral areas established by these orders will apply at the 2009 local elections.
Deputy James Bannon: Does the Minister intend to amend electoral legislation to allow civil servants to join political parties? The sinister development by the Green Party to target civil servants by inviting them to join its so-called supporters list is totally unacceptable. If Opposition parties tried to recruit civil servants, the Green Party would be first to cry foul. Does the Minister consider his party’s attempt to recruit civil servants breaches any electoral legislation as set out by his Department or the Standards in Public Office Act 2001?
I sense a conflict between his ministerial position and his own party targeting civil servants to make donations to the Green Party in return for Green Party literature and communications. This must be considered as nothing but political activity. This is very serious. The Minister is attempting to politicise the public service, and, in my opinion, it is crossing a very thin line.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: May I interrupt the Deputy’s speech as this is Question Time?
Deputy James Bannon: I am asking questions.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If the Deputy will take his seat I will call the Minister.
Deputy James Bannon: I have a number of questions for which I want clear answers from the Minister.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: Hear, hear.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If the Minister would allow me to speak — I hope there will be time to call the Deputy again — I wish to make two points. The Minister is not responsible in the House for the Green Party and neither can the Minister be asked to interpret legislation as that will be a matter for the courts under the separation of powers. I call the Minister.
Deputy John Gormley: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for that clarification. The Deputy said he had a number of questions but essentially he only had one and that was whether I was going to introduce legislation to allow civil servants to participate in the political process. The answer to that question is a firm “No”.
The Deputy has made a big play and he has completely misconstrued it, probably deliberately so. This is an attempt to score political points——
Deputy James Bannon: It is in the public arena.
Deputy John Gormley: It is not until such time as the Deputy chooses to put it into the public arena and wilfully misinterpret something. I do not believe that civil servants — who, by the way, do such an outstanding job — should be engaged in political activity in any shape or form. It is as simple as that.
Deputy James Bannon: I want to quote the application to become a Green Party supporter.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy may not quote during questions.
Deputy James Bannon: “Money raised through this list will go towards party development and election campaigns.”
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is not allowed quote during Question Time.
Deputy James Bannon: What else is a supporter other than an active party member helping towards the election of party members? This is factual information. The Minister has publicly and blatantly invited impartial civil servants to become members of a political party——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Has the Deputy a question before I move on to the next question?
Deputy James Bannon: ——in everything but name.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy have a question?
Deputy James Bannon: Of course I have a question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: What is it?
Deputy James Bannon: I think the Minister is on a very slippery slope here. This is in the public interest. The Green Party could be putting public——
Deputy John Gormley: Is the Deputy asking if I am on a slippery slope?
Deputy James Bannon: By his statements and by what he has said. The Minister would be putting public servants’ jobs in danger if they were seen to be associating with political parties.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has no question.
Deputy James Bannon: Fionán Sheehan had an article in the Irish Independent on 11 November on this issue.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Minister, I do not know if there is a question in this. Do you wish to respond?
Deputy James Bannon: I want the Minister to clarify this matter to the House. He has not done so to date.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you, Deputy Bannon. I call on the Minister.
Deputy John Gormley: The Deputy’s party has church gate collections etc., but I do not intend to go into its fund-raising activities over the years. Does the Deputy ask the person who is contributing——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Minister not ask the Opposition questions?
Deputy John Gormley: ——if they are a civil servant? The Deputy is raising matters that are ridiculous. You were right a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I did not hear a question either.
Deputy James Bannon: The Minister cannot fudge this issue.
4. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the strategy he has to deal with the collapse in the international market for recycled materials; the way this demand collapse will affect recycling strategies here; the way it will affect recycling facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43224/08]
Deputy John Gormley: Representatives from the waste industry met with officials in my Department on 24 October 2008 to discuss industry concerns regarding the sudden drop in international demand for recycled materials. Their principal issue of concern was the need rapidly to increase the storage capacity of existing permitted and licensed facilities. Immediately following this meeting, my Department contacted each local authority, by way of circular letter, outlining the possible options to deal with licensing of additional storage and stressing the need for local authorities to give priority to any applications received.
On 31 October, I announced the establishment of an action group to examine the situation and report to me within two weeks. The action group comprises representatives of industry, local authorities, Enterprise Ireland, the executive team implementing the market development programme and my Department. I have received the report and will be implementing several actions arising from it in the coming weeks. The issue is one which affects a number of EU member states. Ireland has raised it at official level with the European Commission and I will be raising it at next week’s environment Council.
The current problem highlights the importance of developing new markets and uses for recyclates. I dealt with this in an earlier priority question this afternoon. I am fully committed to achieving the highest possible levels of recycling and to the continuing development of a national network of waste recycling facilities. Since 2002, over €100 million has been allocated by my Department to local authorities to assist in the capital costs of establishing and developing such facilities.
My Department also provides an annual subvention to local authorities to assist in the operational costs associated with their recycling facilities. I have approved payment of €10 million in respect of costs incurred in the 12-month period to June of this year. A further €2 million will be paid to local authorities in respect of waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE, collected over the same period at local authority sites. I am also providing an additional €2 million to address the increased costs to local authorities as a result of the current market situation.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: My party colleague, Senator Paudie Coffey, raised this matter in the Seanad with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran. Senator Coffey is as concerned as I am over the collapse in international demand for raw recyclable materials. There is not enough adequate storage space for existing materials and it is not acceptable for processed recycled material to be stored in advance before export. I am concerned with the direction of the Government’s national waste strategy in light of the collapse of the international market for recycled materials, making it meaningless and irrelevant.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy have a question?
Deputy Terence Flanagan: In his Seanad response on the matter, the Minister of State claimed the Government was considering sending materials abroad to be burned. If that were the case, it would make a mockery of the Government’s recycling policy. How does this tie in with the Minister’s opinions?
Deputy John Gormley: I thought I had given much clarity on this issue earlier when I responded to Deputy Joanna Tuffy. I outlined exactly the percentages relating to the export of recyclates. Paper and cardboard is exported. There is a difficulty with the price received for these particular products because it has decreased due to the collapse of the market in China and elsewhere. We have examined the increasing market in India as well. As India may soon overshadow China economically, we have examined the option of it being our main export market.
This collapse has had an immediate impact on the recycling industry. Smaller recycling companies will feel the lack of cash flow much more than the larger ones, particularly if their entire business model is based on recyclates. There are also costs in storing these materials. Any lack of storage facilities with sufficient capacity and quality may lead to a deterioration of the product.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: How much did the action group report cost? What were its recommendations? Does the Minister consider that the storage or burning of these materials could have a detrimental effect on householders’ attitudes to recycling?
Deputy John Gormley: There was no cost for the report because it was compiled by my Department. The Department along with the main players in the industry went through the various options and then came up with recommendations. I hope to publish the report shortly. The environment spokespersons from the Opposition parties will be invited.
5. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has taken into consideration the concerns of people who might have medical problems if exposed solely to the new generation of energy efficient bulbs; if he has addressed concerns regarding the disposal of CFL light bulbs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43225/08]
Deputy John Gormley: The traditional incandescent light bulb is extremely wasteful of both energy and money. Modern compact fluorescent lamps, CFLs, use 20% of the energy and last up to ten times longer. This means the consumer saves significantly, over the long run, on both energy bills and replacement costs, while the reduced electricity usage translates into lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Ireland is one of the first countries to bring forward an energy efficiency standard for light bulbs. Similar proposals are being developed elsewhere and the European Commission has announced plans for an EU-wide initiative over the coming years. There is a widespread acceptance of the need to address the issue of energy efficient lighting, given that electricity generation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland’s energy efficiency standard will contribute to our compliance with the Kyoto Protocol and the more ambitious targets that lie beyond the protocol.
While CFLs offer the greatest savings in both energy use and cost, they are not the only option that will meet the proposed standard. In recent years, a further alternative has emerged, with the development of halogen incandescent bulbs. While these are not as efficient as CFLs, they are more efficient than the traditional incandescent and can also substitute directly for the traditional bulb in some fittings that are not suited to CFLs. They do not appear to give rise to any medical issues, and would therefore provide an alternative for anyone who finds CFLs to be unsuitable.
My Department’s recent public consultation document on the proposed standard provided an opportunity for interested parties to identify issues of concern, and the responses will be taken into account in implementing the standard. The paper referred to the fact that some people have expressed concerns about CFLs on medical grounds, but noted also that halogen bulbs would seem to provide a solution in such cases.
In so far as disposal is concerned, all CFLs are covered by the WEEE directive and will therefore be accepted without charge by civic amenity sites or by any outlet that sells them.
Deputy James Bannon: What plans has the Minister to address the concerns among the public that the banning of traditional light bulbs could have a detrimental effect on health? What medical advice has he sought or received on this matter? CFLs contain mercury and particular care must be taken not to break them. We banned mercury thermometers and barometers some years ago. Now, the Minister is re-introducing mercury bulbs. Is the Minister aware that some energy saving light bulbs emit ultra violet radiation and could be harmful if placed too close to the skin? Is the Minister prepared to allow some degree of flexibility for those suffering from migraine, epilepsy and skin conditions? Will such people be given the option of purchasing the traditional light bulbs from assigned sources or perhaps on prescription? These issues need to be addressed.
Deputy John Gormley: We have examined all those issues. This is why we are giving a certain amount of flexibility so that people can avail of the halogen bulbs, which do not have the same effect. The Deputy talked about re-introducing mercury but it has been with us for quite some time. The fluorescent tube that we are familiar with for over 50 years contains mercury. Deputy Bannon referred to ultra violet exposure and medical advice. A 1993 report from Australia found that ultraviolet exposure from sitting under typical office fluorescent lights for eight continuous hours is the equivalent of just over one minute of sun exposure. These are the facts and we have had far too much hysteria. Anytime one tries to do something of value, there is opposition. This is a well thought-out proposal. We have examined the difficulties cited and have addressed them in a sensible way.
Deputy James Bannon: I am sure the Minister is aware that mercury poses a strong health hazard. We replaced mercury thermometers on health grounds. Are we not placing young children in danger of greater mercury exposer from these bulbs? The instructions for coping with broken CFL bulbs amount to dealing with a major incident. I question whether they are an environmental bonus or a retrograde step and another hazard for householders. What provisions are made for low income families to enable the changeover to energy efficient bulbs? These will place a major financial burden on many people.
Deputy John Gormley: Rather than calming the situation, Deputy Bannon is trying to hype it up.
Deputy James Bannon: I hype nothing.
Deputy John Gormley: The claims he is making are spurious. This morning he tried to make out that Fine Gael was an environmental party of some description. Given Deputy Bannon’s performance, he would bring us back to the Dark Ages when it comes to environmental progress. He has no ideas at all, only a litany of negativity. Deputy Bannon should come forward with valuable solutions and should stop knocking all the time.
Deputy James Bannon: The Minister poses health hazards to the general public every time we get up since he took over the portfolio.
Deputy John Gormley: I will talk to my colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about providing for those who are in, as Deputy Bannon says, in lower socio-economic groups.
6. Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures he plans to put in place to tackle high levels of radon gas exposure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43127/08]
Deputy John Gormley: The Government’s approach to radon is to concentrate efforts on increasing public awareness of the risks posed by radon in the home. This is similar to the approach adopted in the majority of EU member states.
The Government, largely through the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, has worked towards assessing the extent of the radon problem throughout the country, and advising people of the steps they can take to reduce any risk they may face. Householders, particularly those in known high radon areas, have been strongly encouraged by the RPII to have their homes tested for radon and to undertake remediation works where necessary. The RPII has carried out targeted information campaigns in high radon areas and in some instances where particularly high radon levels have been found it has written directly to householders. Since the completion of the National Radon Survey in 1999, the RPII has completed radon measurements in an additional 22,000 homes.
My Department will continue to work closely with the RPII, local authorities and other interested agencies to raise public awareness and to promote testing and remediation works. This multi-agency approach to dealing with radon is in line with international best practice, as recommended by the World Health Organisation’s international radon project, which is co-funded by the Irish Government. Officials from my Department, local authorities and the RPII are developing clear guidance for local authorities on addressing high radon concentrations in social housing. My Department will continue to work closely with the RPII in developing policy on this issue, and will also examine the proposals in the RPII’s 2008 report, Radiation Doses Received by the Irish Population, in respect of a future work programme.
Deputy James Bannon: Radon gas——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Bannon to ask a question because I want to call a number of Deputies.
Deputy James Bannon: ——is a cancer causing gas, the second most important cause of lung cancer in the country. It can be relatively inexpensive to control. Worryingly——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I want to call a number of Deputies and if Deputies could pose short questions, rather than make a speech, we could come to every Member. Otherwise, we will not be able to reach people.
Deputy James Bannon: ——the Department has no specific budget to control radon emissions and I want the Minister to elaborate on that. Ireland has the sixth highest radon level——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you, Deputy Bannon.
Deputy James Bannon: ——according to the World Health Organisation.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Bannon.
Deputy James Bannon: This is very serious and must be dealt with.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Bannon will not ignore the Chair. If everyone makes a speech, we will not get supplementary questions.
Deputy James Bannon: I would ask a question if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle gave me a little time.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is making a speech rather than asking a question. It is Question Time, not a Second Stage debate on radon.
Deputy John Gormley: The Deputy referred to financial assistance. The radon test kits are available from the RPII at a cost of €56. A number of private firms have offered this service. The cost of radon remediation work on a house varies, depending on the severity and the remediation methods employed but, on average, it is €1,500 to €2,000. There is no provision in the budget of my Department to fund such a scheme. The Deputy asked me to ensure the local authorities got more money this morning. There are so many priority areas that I would like to fund. I would also like to be in a position to fund this but the money is not there.
Deputy James Bannon: The Minister is a very weak link in government.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: When Labour was in government, the then Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, introduced legislation for a grant scheme for remediation measures. The Green Party was in favour of that scheme when in opposition. The RPII is in favour because it states that only 10% of people who have high levels of radon take up the remediation measures afterwards. NUI has found that this is because of the cost of installing those barriers. Will the Minister consider implementing the Labour Party scheme now that he is in government?
Deputy John Gormley: Deputy Tuffy is correct, her colleague Deputy Stagg did that but did not make the money available. I come across this constantly, where the Deputy talks about legislation that must be improved and then I find that the Labour Party introduced the legislation in the first place. That is the nature of politics.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: Fianna Fáil abandoned it.
Deputy John Gormley: The Department has received an application for funding for radon testing and remediation in a local authority housing area in north Cork. This request is being examined and will be considered for funding under the 2009 allocation process. We are examining the situation regarding funding. Government policy on radon recognises the individual responsibility on the householder on what, if any, action to take regarding the risk posed by radon exposure.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: The Minister could improve the standards and regulations in building. The RPII referred to this as an area that could be improved. It will not cost any money. The Minister might re-examine the building regulations because the high level of radon in houses is worrying.
Deputy John Gormley: That is a constructive suggestion. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is the organisation with the regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in these matters and it plays a leading role. It has tried to raise awareness of this issue. We fund the RPII and this year it was allocated €4.676 million.
7. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he will take to remedy the situation in which many housing developments are not being completed by developers up to the standard demanded by the local authorities which result in local authorities not taking them in charge for a considerable length of time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42928/08]
Deputy John Gormley: Planning authorities have a range of powers under the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2008 which may be used to ensure the timely completion of housing estates in accordance with relevant planning permissions. These include attaching a condition to a planning permission requiring the giving of adequate security for the satisfactory completion of the proposed development and, if necessary, applying any security given for the satisfactory completion of the development in question; the taking of enforcement action for non-completion of a housing estate in accordance with the conditions of the relevant planning permission; and the power to refuse to grant planning permission where the authority forms the opinion that the applicant for such permission has substantially failed to comply with a previous planning permission. My Department issued updated policy guidance to planning authorities in February 2008 on Taking in Charge of Residential Developments — Management Arrangements. This required each planning authority to develop or update, as appropriate, its policy on taking estates in charge by the end of June 2008.
A new local government service indicator in regard to the taking in charge of estates has been introduced, which will provide benchmark data from 2009 onwards for monitoring the taking in charge process. The information to be reported will include the number of estates that were taken in charge in the year in question, the total number of dwellings in these estates and the number of estates in respect of which enforcement action was taken. Informed by this data, which will be available in mid-2009, l intend to keep the issue of taking in charge under review.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: This question was raised by me previously and the Minister spoke about issuing the circular, which he did. In October this year it was reported that 300 estates were left unfinished. What improvements have come about as a result of the issuing of the circular on the taking in charge of housing estates? Will the Minister give us some information on the Government service indicator and the benchmark data to be provided from 2009?
Will developer bonds be increased substantially to more realistic levels than what they are currently? What extra penalties will the Minister impose on developers in respect of unfinished housing estates?
Deputy John Gormley: The information we got from the local authorities in 2006 indicates there were 2,423 housing estates for which the relevant planning permissions had expired more than two years previously that had not been taken in charge at that time. Of those, some 785 were considered to have been finished to the required standard, while 1,160 were not. The status of the remaining 478 was not determined. My Department does not have the information on the current position but such information will be available on an ongoing basis from mid-2009 when the first data on the taking in charge process relating to 2008 become available pursuant to the recently introduced local government service indicators.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Following on from Deputy Flanagan’s comments, the Minister issued a number of directives to local authorities to provide reports on the taking in charge process. I have put down a number of questions to the Minister on that matter but the response is opaque. The Minister might indicate to the House how the local authorities are responding to the circular he sent to them and the local authorities who appear to be failing in that regard because they are failing in other areas such as inspection of standards. What action will the Minister be taking?
Deputy John Gormley: The Deputy is correct. As part of the monitoring and review arrangements set out in my Department’s circular, each planning authority was advised to make available to the public their policy on taking in charge. They were to publish it on their website and continue to report on it to the elected members, which is an important aspect, on a regular basis or at least on one occasion annually. Planning authorities were not requested to report to my Department on their responses to the policy advice. Accordingly, the information requested is not available in my Department.
This is where we must strike a balance between micro-managing and allowing local authorities and the elected representatives to get on with their business. They are to report back to the elected representatives. Many of the local authorities are now Opposition controlled and that is where the accountability lies.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: The Minister is well aware of the limited roles in terms of elected representatives and full-time staff of councils. The buck stops at the Minister’s desk, regardless of the circulars he sends out to local authorities, because his Department is funding them. This situation is concurrent. We are aware that inspections of the private rental sector in local authorities are a farce, despite all the regulations the Minister has circulated. We are also aware that this could well be a farce. Is the Minister, by way of the statement he just made, washing his hands of any accountability on this matter because that is what I am hearing?
Deputy James Bannon: Can the Minister not issue a directive to local authorities to ensure that a developer finishes a particular development before moving on to a new one within one’s county? He has the remit to increase the penalties when developers do not comply with planning permissions. That is an area on which I would like to see the Minister take action.
Deputy John Gormley: I thank the Deputy for that proposal. To reply to Deputy Lynch, we can have a centralised system. I have been criticised here for my interventions, as the Deputy is aware.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I did not criticise the Minister in respect of any interventions.
Deputy John Gormley: He did not compliment me either.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: The Minister is out of order. We spoke in person on this matter——
Deputy John Gormley: Yes.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: ——and the Minister should not be telling tales out of school.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister, without interruption.
Deputy John Gormley: No, I was not doing that.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: That is what he is doing. He is being underhand in his response and that sets a precedent in that the two of us cannot have a conversation in a corridor of this House without him coming in here and——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Allow the Minister to respond.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: He is out of order.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair will determine whether the Minister is out of order. An tAire, without interruption.
Deputy John Gormley: With respect, I made no reference to any——
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: We spoke about that matter in the hallway here. The Minister is completely out of order.
Deputy John Gormley: I think the Deputy is out of order, and the Chair is right to point that out.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Neither the Minister nor the Deputy will determine what is in order. The Chair will do that.
Deputy John Gormley: I compliment you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on pointing out what is and is not in order.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is in order in giving his final reply briefly.
Deputy John Gormley: I am saying to the Deputy that I have been criticised in the Oireachtas joint committee for interventions I have made in regard to planning matters in certain counties. I am criticised in the committee but then people say we need to take a stronger hand with the local authorities. I have to try to get the balance right. I have always said, in regard to those rezonings, that I only intervened as a matter of last resort. That is the way I try to operate. If anything, I am trying to give more powers to elected representatives and it is up to those elected representatives from Deputy Lynch’s party, my party and Fine Gael, to come forward and hold the local authorities to account on these issues and ask management what they are doing in regard to this matter.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Go raibh maith agat. Ceist a hocht.
Deputy John Gormley: I was going to complete it but anyway——
Deputy James Bannon: The Minister did not answer my question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are more than two minutes over time on this question. Question No. 8 is in the name of Deputy Joe Carey.
8. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to address the capacity flaws in the Ringsend waste water treatment plant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43119/08]
18. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he will take on foot of the finding of the independent report into the Ringsend waste water treatment plant that the capacity of the plant was miscalculated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42976/08]
33. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he will take on foot of the finding of the independent report into the Ringsend waste water treatment plant that the permitted boundary odour level in the operating contract is 100 bps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42975/08]
Deputy John Gormley: I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 18 and 33 together.
I commissioned this independent examination of the design parameters of the Ringsend waste water treatment plant to determine whether they adequately addressed existing and projected loads. I was particularly concerned about the odour problems beyond the site boundary since the plant was first commissioned.
The report finds that the Ringsend plant has improved water quality in Dublin Bay to such an extent that Dollymount Strand qualifies for a blue flag. The plant is producing a high quality sludge and is generating a substantial proportion of its own energy requirements on site. The report concludes that higher levels of commuter, tourism and commercial activity than were anticipated when the plant was being designed would largely explain the difference between the design and actual loading on the plant. It also finds that the odour standard prescribed in the contract documents for the new plant did not reflect the requirements set out in the environmental impact statement.
Dublin City Council was the contracting authority for the construction of the plant and is responsible for managing it. The findings of the report are, therefore, matters for the city council in the first instance. I have, accordingly, referred the report to the council and I understand it is now being examined in detail. Some of the report’s recommendations also relate to other local authorities within the Dublin region and the report has been also sent to those authorities for examination. The report concludes that the odour equipment being installed at the plant should eliminate the nuisance to nearby residential areas and that the treatment plant now consistently meets required effluent standards.
Planning for an expansion of the Ringsend plant to its ultimate design capacity of approximately 2.2 million population equivalent, to meet increased demand and to cater for future development, is already under way. Dublin City Council has appointed consultants and work is about to start on drawing up design proposals.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: My colleague, Deputy Creighton, whom the Minister knows well, has been very vocal on this issue and we support her quest to ensure that people are held responsible for this fiasco. People in Ringsend, Irishtown and Sandymount have had to put up with the foul smells over the years. Nobody has stood up and accepted responsibility for the problem. The Minister, Dublin City and Council and the Government have passed the buck. The people want the report to be made public. Will the Minister respond to that? The people deserve to know what went wrong in this plant and they need to know corrective action will be taken. What steps will the Minister take to fix the problem to ensure people’s quality of life is improved?
Deputy John Gormley: Do the Deputies opposite listen to my responses? I said the odour problem has been dealt with. I will add a little extra.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: The Minister might have blocked sinuses.
Deputy John Gormley: I do not think so. Deputies must listen to my replies. I made a settlement of €35 million available and the Deputy says we are not accepting responsibility. I commissioned this independent report, which shows the equipment being installed is fit for purpose and will eliminate the smell. Deputy Ciarán Lynch’s colleague knows nothing about the smell because she does not live in the area. I live in the area and I have had to deal with that. It led to a deterioration in quality of life for residents of the area. Before the last election I said I would deal with the problem and would find out exactly what went wrong. We have done exactly that in this report and we have dealt with it, unlike the Deputy’s colleague who can talk all she likes.
Deputy James Bannon: There is an urgent challenge for the Minister to live up to the promises he made before the last general election to deliver safe water and sewage treatment plants not alone to Ringsend but to all parts of the country. There is a serious problem of pollution in our waterways. For example, there is a serious pollution threat to the Shannon and its tributaries in my area because of inadequate treatment plants. This matter needs to be dealt with.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is very interesting and worthy of a question in its own right.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: Why did the Minister sanction the payment to the ABA consortium considering it did not do the correct work? It should have ensured there was no odour in the first instance and that the quality of life of the people in Irishtown, Ringsend and Sandymount would not be affected. That was the basic standard. They and the Minister should have known the population of Dublin would increase and extra capacity would be needed at that plant. Can the Minister confirm that he will make the report public so his constituents and the people of Dublin can get the answers they long deserve on this fiasco?
Deputy John Gormley: The report is already available on a website. Have the Deputy and his colleagues not read it? The Deputy is asking me to make the report public, but it already is in the public domain. He should do his homework. Of course I knew the population would increase, but I was not in Government or on Dublin City Council. I was on the local authority and I made amendments because it was a reserve function. In the body of the report, although not in its conclusions, it is clearly stated that the nitrogen removal recommended unanimously by the elected representatives across all parties was ignored by the city council. That is a grave disappointment to me.
The design, build and operate contractor made a claim for additional final contract costs of €171.8 million arising from the disputed items including changes in electrical equipment standards and the higher load to the plant. Under the circumstances the €35 million I managed to negotiate down to was a very good cost saving measure and dealt with the odour problem, which was the main issue for residents of the area.
9. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that are to be taken to address the findings of the most recent Environmental Protection Agency water quality report that found a deterioration of ground water quality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43042/08]
Deputy John Gormley: I refer to my earlier reply and discussion on Priority Question No. 1.
The EPA water quality report for 2004-2006 found that ground water is the only aquatic system showing a trend of decline in water quality and this is a major cause of concern. Implementation of the nitrates directive is one of the key measures to address the deterioration of ground water quality. The nitrates directive was given legal effect by the European communities (good agricultural practice for the protection of waters) regulations 2006 and 2007. These regulations provide a firm basis for the reduction of both nitrate and phosphate losses from farm land.
Work is under way in my Department on the drafting of regulations to transpose the EU directive on the protection of ground water against pollution and deterioration. The directive sets out criteria and procedures for assessing ground water chemical status and establishes quality standards for ground water.
As part of the ongoing implementation of the water framework directive, a new ground water monitoring programme has been developed by my Department, the EPA and the local authorities to improve knowledge of ground water quality. All ground water bodies will be assessed and classified by the EPA. Once classification has taken place, the relevant authorities must set objectives for ground water bodies which will prevent deterioration, reverse trends of increasing pollution, and restore ground water bodies to good status where necessary. In addition, the first draft river basin management plans will be published next month and the public will be given an opportunity to comment on these plans during the first six months of next year. These plans will include programmes of measures to achieve the objectives of the directive.
Ground water is an important natural resource and I am committed to its protection and improvement. I secured a greatly increased budget of €560 million in 2009 for my Department’s water services investment programme. This is the highest provision ever and is a clear statement of the Government’s commitment to improve water quality.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: As the Minister said, the fact the EPA found the quality of ground water had deteriorated is of major concern. One of the issues is much of our drinking water is supplied from ground water sources. For example, 75% of drinking water in Roscommon is provided from ground water and spring sources.
I refer to the issue of human health because one of the contaminants is faecal matter, which, if not treated properly, gives rise to problems such as e.coli, cryptosporidium and so on. The Minister referred to proposals coming down the line, such as the EU directive on ground water and the river basin management plans, and he said one of the problems is septic tanks. The environment committee earlier this week met representatives of manufacturers, installers and assessors of septic tanks and other water treatment facilities. They favour tighter controls, stricter standards and more oversight and regulation of people who design and install septic tanks and other treatment facilities. The Minister has standards and directives on his table that have not been implemented in regard to septic tanks. A proposal regarding grants for remediation of septic tanks is contained in the programme for Government. What will happen to those measures that are needed?
Deputy John Gormley: The Deputy’s colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, referred to the appearance of the industry representatives before the committee earlier. It sounded like an interesting submission and I will obtain a transcript to establish the points they made to the committee.
The Deputy is absolutely correct that we have a serious problem in regard to septic tanks, to which I referred earlier. I also referred to the European Commission’s finding. The Water Services Act 2007 contains a number of significant provisions relating to the operation of septic tanks and it places a duty of care on the occupier or owner of a premises in regard to the maintenance of such tanks and it also requires him or her to notify the water services authority where any leak, accident or other incident occurs relating to the discharge of sewage from a septic tank where it is likely to cause a risk to human health or safety or the environment.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The main loophole concerns oversight of the people who design and install the facilities. The problem is the householder is liable but the installer or designer is not. Householders do not have a clue about these issues. The representatives want inspections to be carried out following installation and regulation of the installers in order that if the pollution take places, there is accountability all along the line.
Deputy James Bannon: The FSAI stated thousands of citizens are drinking poor quality or contaminated water. Will the Minister introduce a grant scheme for householders to replace septic tanks aged over 50 years? People will not respond unless they have an incentive. He should give encouragement to our citizens to do so.
Deputy John Gormley: I take the points made by Deputy Tuffy regarding a monitoring and inspection regime. The sustainable rural housing guidelines for planning authorities issued in April 2005 emphasised the need for adherence to best practice in regard to septic tanks to protect water quality, particularly in ground water. They were issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which requires planning authorities to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions. The phrase “have regard to” is in dispute. I would like to copperfasten that phrase in the flooding and residential housing guidelines and replace it with “comply with”, which would make the guidelines more robust in legal terms. The EPA is finalising a revised edition of its 2000 manual on wastewater treatment systems serving single houses in consultation with all the interested parties. We can make inroads with an inspection regime and the new legislation required.
As much as I would like to introduce a grant scheme across a range of areas, money is in short supply and I do not see that on the horizon for the foreseeable future.
10. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he will take to give true meaning to the phrase, affordable housing, with particular reference to the needs of the thousands of families unable to house themselves from their own resources and who are on long local authority waiting lists or living in rented accommodation at a cost equal to that of a high mortgage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43082/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): The overall objective of Government housing policy, as set out in the Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities policy statement published in February 2007, is to enable 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. When viewed in this context, the issue of affordability of housing is, therefore, dependent on the circumstances of each individual household. The policy statement recognises this clearly in its aim of putting in place a graduated range of supports for those households requiring assistance in meeting their housing needs.
We have made considerable progress in recent years in meeting housing needs through the broad range of social and affordable housing programmes. In 2007 alone, more than 13,000 social and affordable housing units were delivered and, overall, the needs of almost 18,300 households were met across the housing spectrum. That represents a significant increase of 24% on the level of need met in 2006 and a significant step towards assisting an average of 20,000 households per annum over the seven years of the National Development Plan, 2007-2013, the NDP.
All the indications available to us at this stage suggest 2008 will be another year of significant delivery under the main housing programmes. Looking to the future, the results of the 2008 housing needs assessment to be finalised shortly will show a significant increase in overall net housing need, against a background of a significantly more constrained fiscal environment. While this presents a challenging scenario, the €1.66 billion in funding provided for housing in the 2009 Estimates will allow us to maintain strong momentum towards meeting our commitments in the Towards 2016 social partnership agreement and our longer-term goals under the NDP. In particular, progress will be underpinned by the continued roll-out of the rental accommodation scheme and new initiatives including the sourcing of accommodation for social housing through long-term lease arrangements and the introduction of an incremental purchase scheme through which lower income households can access home ownership.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: The Government has failed in the area of affordable housing. A total of 17,000 affordable homes were provided for in the programme for Government and the NDP between 2007 and 2009. In 2007, only 3,500 units were delivered while 976 houses were delivered in the first months of 2008. Is there a problem with the affordable housing scheme because houses are being offered at the same price or higher than houses on the open market? One in every five applicants is refusing to take an offer under the scheme because it is not in their interest to do so. Will the Minister of State confirm the reason the scheme is being replaced with the Government equity scheme is that it failed? We have concerns about the Government taking between 25% and 30% equity in homes, which makes the owners vulnerable. Also, there are more than 40,000 on social housing lists and it is taking between eight and ten years to house these people. Will the Minister of State confirm he has failed in regard to housing these people?
Deputy Michael Finneran: To date, 9,300 social and affordable homes have been delivered under Part V, with activity increasing in this area. While the charge has been made about these houses not being available in the future, and while I understand this to be the case, 9,300 have been delivered. For 2007, the number of affordable houses, leaving out social houses, was 3,539, which is a significant number. I understand this did not meet the target of 5,000 but we are in a position to state there will be an increase in that number in 2008. While we do not have the full figures, we believe an increase is already showing in the number of houses available. We will have those figures later in the year.
With regard to not meeting our targets, I believe we have met those targets. We said we would deliver——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will squeeze in one brief supplementary question from Deputy Bannon.
Deputy James Bannon: Will the Minister of State explain why the most vulnerable have been hit with the reduction of funding to local authorities for affordable housing?
Deputy Michael Finneran: I did not hear the question.
Deputy James Bannon: I ask for a second time whether the Minister of State can explain why the most vulnerable in society have been hit with the reduction of funding to local authorities for affordable housing. If one talks to any local authority throughout the country, that is the message coming forward.
Deputy Michael Finneran: The figure available on the social housing programme for 2009 is €1.5 billion. While it is 1.7% down on 2008, it amounts to €4.2 million per day. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, with decreased costs in construction I expect our local authorities will deliver more houses with the money available than they did in 2008.
11. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he plans to use the stored electronic voting machines for future elections or referenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43142/08]
Deputy John Gormley: As I have stated recently in the House, I am at present considering the next steps to be taken in regard to the electronic voting and counting 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.
I appreciate Deputies have a keen interest in this matter and many have made their views known to me as Minister. I am also aware of the issues that have been raised in regard to storage arrangements for the machines. On this matter, the Government decision to proceed with the movement of the electronic voting equipment to centralised premises was the right approach.
Given the scale of investment in the system to date, and the importance of the issues involved for our electoral system, it is essential that the future of the project be examined objectively and in a thorough and comprehensive manner. It is important that we come to the best decision possible. I hope Deputies will appreciate that it is not possible for me to make more specific comment at this point on the project itself, or on future plans for the machines, pending completion of the necessary work and a decision by Government in the matter. I do, however, expect that this process will be concluded soon.
I am conscious that local and European elections will be held in 2009. While I do not wish to pre-empt the process that is currently ongoing, I am aware of the extensive work inherent in the recommendations of the Commission on Electronic Voting. This includes the replacement of the election management software, as well as adaptations to the equipment and further end-to-end testing. Given the amount of work that would be required, it is unlikely the current e-voting system will be used for the local and European elections in 2009.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: When will the Minister take a leadership position and decide to scrap these machines? What studies has he carried out in regard to their scrappage value? It is blatantly obvious there is a lack of integrity. They are duds and people do not want them.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I do not want to blame the Minister for creating this situation. In fact, there is an opportunity for him to show leadership on the matter which he has not shown to date. Given the Minister’s response, the issue is one of storage, not of usage. With 40% of the machines being stored by the private sector, what guidelines or indications did he give to the returning officers with regard to storage?
I will quote two figures on which I would like an opinion. For a 25 year contract, Cavan-Monaghan is charging €21,000 per year for 280 machines, whereas County Clare, on a monthly basis, is charging €3,600 a year for 200 machines. A 25 year contract in Cavan-Monaghan is costing eight times as much per annum as a monthly contract in another part of the country. How did we arrive at such a differential in storage costs? The Minister should give some guidelines in this regard.
Deputy John Gormley: The Deputies opposite say this is an opportunity to show leadership. I wonder, as I have said before to Deputy Lynch, if and when a decision is made in regard to this matter——
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I will show leadership.
Deputy John Gormley: ——the Deputy will show leadership. I am sure he will be out on the plinth. I am interested to hear what he would have to say at some time in the future if this matter is resolved.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: When I am sitting in the Minister’s seat.
Deputy John Gormley: I love to see confidence and ambition.
With regard to the Government decision to proceed with the movement of electronic voting equipment, it was the best decision to go to the centralised premises. There are 25 locations and the Deputy has outlined some of the costs involved. In taking forward the decision to centralise storage of the electronic voting machines, what we were trying to do was to look at those price variations. An inter-agency steering group was established to oversee the movement of——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sorry to cut short the Minister but our time is expired. That concludes questions for today.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor): 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 Bernard Durkan — the urgent and pressing issue of mortgage supplement in the case of a person where the HSE is only prepared to assist on a 50% basis as the mortgage is in joint names but there is a barring order against her husband, and if the Minister will make a statement on the matter (details supplied); (2) Deputy Joe Costello — the provision of funding for the Centre for Deaf Studies, TCD, Drumcondra, Dublin 9; (3) Deputy Finian McGrath — the provision of a quality education service on the northside of Dublin; (4) Deputy James Bannon — the need for the Minister for Finance to establish a mortgage rescue scheme to minimise mortgage repossession, which is a potentially major cause of homelessness; (5) Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh — the provision of funding for the Inchicore community development project; and (6) Deputy Joe Carey — the need to reconsider the cutbacks proposed in view of the negative impacts they will have on Coláiste Mhuire and on St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, County Clare.
The matters raised by Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Costello, McGrath and Carey have been selected for discussion.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I was stunned yesterday to hear that the closure is imminent of the Inchicore community development project. Obviously, I am aware, as has been publicised since, that there is a criminal investigation into the misappropriation of funds in regard to this project. I wish the Garda well in that because the only person who looks like benefiting from this is the person guilty of the fraud, embezzlement or whatever has occurred. The decision of the Department to advise the community development project in Inchicore that it would not give it any more funding means not only that three people are out of work but also that a community which has already been severely affected by the current crisis, and previous non-investment, will suffer further.
I appeal to the Minister to think again about the decision to withdraw funding, to deal with the misappropriation of funds and to come up with a mechanism to prevent that type of carry-on happening again in the Inchicore community development project or any community development project. He should deal directly with it but he should not withdraw funding from an area which has in recent months been told the entire regeneration of St. Michael’s estate will not go ahead. In the past month, it was told that eight of the projects by Dublin City Council have been deferred, some until 2012 at the earliest. This is an area with a new sports hall which cannot run at full capacity because the Government cannot match funding. It has suffered severely for many years because of a drugs crisis and under-investment.
On top of this, the community is now being told that the CDP, in which a great deal of time was invested to build it up to what it is today, will be forced to close due to what I understand are the activities of one person. This is despite the fact that a voluntary board has spent a great deal of time helping to prepare the work programme of the CDP which, in particular, addresses the needs and concerns of the elderly and new communities in Inchicore.
It is suggested that this work will be absorbed by other community groups. However, we are all aware of the problems and restrictions which other community groups work under and they will not have the capacity to absorb the valuable work in which the Inchicore CDP was involved. Even at this late stage, will the Minister of State re-examine addressing this without withdrawing funding and closing Inchicore CDP?
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): I will take this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for community affairs, Deputy John Curran.
The community development programme was established in 1990 in recognition of the role of community development in tackling the causes and effects of poverty and disadvantage. The programme was the first nationally funded intervention in support of communities that used community development principles and methods. Community development seeks to challenge the underlying causes of disadvantage resulting from the effects of poverty and exclusion. It aims to offer new opportunities for those lacking choice, power and resources. Community development involves members of a community working collectively in assessing needs and identifying the changes necessary to improve conditions and making these changes happen. People use and develop their skills, knowledge, experiences and common purpose to improve the quality of their own lives and the good of their community. The National Development Plan 2007-2013 allows for the continuation of the programme to support the development of communities.
At present, 180 projects are funded under the programme through the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. These are located nationwide in recognised urban and rural disadvantaged areas. All projects have an anti-poverty, anti-exclusion focus and are managed by local voluntary management committees. Projects are expected to operate as a resource to the communities in which they are located with their main purpose being to work with the community in identifying and tackling those issues which have resulted in a lack of positive community development.
In general, projects are typically concerned with the needs of women and children, lone parent families, the unemployed, the elderly, young people at risk, Travellers, those with disabilities, new communities and other disadvantaged groups. They provide facilities such as meeting rooms, crèches, office facilities and training or education projects designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups in their communities. An allocation of €24.5 million has been provided for the community development programme for 2008.
Inchicore community development project has been funded under the community development programme since 2004. Funding of €30,000 was paid in 2004, €67,400 in 2005, €72,000 in 2006 and €91,880 in 2007 from programme funds to the project. The project was allocated core funding of more than €110,000 for 2008, which has been fully paid to the project.
The difficulties being experienced by Inchicore community development project have not been caused by the recent budgetary situation. It is understood that the voluntary board of management of Inchicore CDP has been advised by its auditors and legal advisers to cease trading. Due to misapplied funding in the project the company is insolvent and to continue to trade would expose the board members personally to penalties and fines under company law, as they would be regarded as trading recklessly. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is not, therefore, in a position to provide further funding to the project on the expiry of the current contractual arrangement with the project at the end of the 2008.
The Department was informed by telephone in September 2008 that the project had reasonable grounds to suspect that there may have been a misapplication of public funds by a member of staff engaged by the project. It was suspected that misapplications of funding had occurred in 2008 and in previous years. The chairperson of the project followed due process and informed An Garda Síochána of the suspected misappropriation.
The Department was informed by telephone by the board of Inchicore CDP Limited that its solicitor had advised it to follow the advice of the auditor to cease trading. The solicitor further advised that to continue trading could expose individual board members to penalties and fines. The board decided at a meeting on the 17 November 2008 to accept this advice and to cease trading.
A number of other companies in Inchicore are conducting community development type activity in the catchment area, including a number of CDPs and partnership companies. In the interest of the local community the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, has asked departmental officials to examine the possibility that one of these groups carries out some of the initiatives previously undertaken by Inchicore CDP.
The Government remains committed to the community development programme and to the communities they serve. The community development programme has made a considerable contribution to the tasks of countering disadvantage and in promoting equality and social and economic inclusion. The high numbers of communities and individuals supported by the programme since its inception is the result of the hard work and commitment of the boards of the community development projects.
The key to the success of many social inclusion projects is due in no small part to the input and commitment from individuals and community groups from all over the country. However, in the current economic environment, there is an ongoing need to ensure that resources are directed in a targeted and effective manner and that we are constantly subjecting our activities to critical appraisal, in this way we can continue to ensure that those we work to assist will receive the maximum benefit.
As with all other Government programmes and initiatives, the amount of funding available for the programmes will be less in 2009 than in recent years. This will present significant challenges in the short term. The programmes will continue to support the mobilisation of local communities to tackle disadvantage. The aim is to improve participation and quality of life for the less well-off in our communities. Projects will continue to be supported to encourage the active voluntary participation and development of community leadership in areas of greatest need.
It is disappointing that the Inchicore project finds itself in this situation. However, in line with good governance procedures and practices, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs requires funded companies to be fully compliant with their statutory and regulatory obligations. The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, shares the Deputy’s concerns for the community of Inchicore and as I stated his officials are investigating alternative mechanisms for delivering on the project’s workplan for 2009 and beyond.
Deputy Joe Costello: This matter aims to ensure the important Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College does not lose the minimal education grant it has at present. We are concerned that yet another institution dealing with a vulnerable minority is targeted by cuts in education. The Centre for Deaf Studies is based in Trinity College and funded by the HEA. It is concerned that its funding for 2009 will be cut. It already operates on a shoestring budget of €440,000 and it cannot afford any cutbacks. It had to locate most of its activities in Drumcondra because it must pay rent in Trinity College and most of its staff now works in Drumcondra. This is a difficult situation.
The Centre for Deaf Studies is the only university on the island of Ireland where deaf studies, Irish Sign Language teaching and Irish Sign Language and English interpreting is taught. There are currently 5,000 deaf Irish sign language, ISL, users in Ireland, but only 50 to 60 full-time interpreters. Thus, there is a shortfall of between 140 and 150 interpreters to facilitate interpreted access to a range of public services, including third level education, medical settings, legal domains, employment situations and conferences. The reduction in the delivery of ISL and English interpreter education services will deny the deaf community the right to participate at all levels of society and is an infringement of their human rights.
The reduction in funding will have the effect of impacting on public bodies such as the Garda, which will face enormous difficulties in meeting its legal obligations to provide interpretation facilities. There have already been several court cases which have fallen through because of the use of unqualified interpreters. There was a recent case in Kanturk, County Cork, where an assault case was dismissed on 1 October. It was reported that difficulties arose with a statement made by a witness, who cannot hear or speak, on the night of the incident and with the qualifications of the interpreter used at a previous court hearing for the person in question.
We need many more interpreters for sign language. Deaf students will not be able to take up third level places without interpreters. They are already the most unrepresentative of all disadvantaged groups in higher education. In the event that the Centre for Deaf Studies is unable to continue its operations, there would be no other facility in the country providing ISL and English interpreter education. If the Centre for Deaf Studies is forced to close, it would mean deaf studies would no longer be provided in any university in Ireland.
The centre requires a minimum of €440,000, which is its current allocation, to continue to provide these excellent and essential services. The funding is normally provided by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and is ring-fenced. This is the way it has operated up to now. However, this year the HEA established the strategic and innovation of vulnerable subjects fund and €1 million has been set aside for this fund. Unfortunately, the Centre for Deaf Studies has been forced to compete with several other organisations, equally worthwhile, for this core funding, which is outrageous.
The Government has failed the deaf community. Its failure to recognise Irish sign language as an official language is an indication of its failure to recognise the needs of the deaf community. Ironically, Irish sign language is recognised in Northern Ireland and by the British Government. Sign languages are recognised by the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the United Nations, but not the Government.
In the overall scheme of the public service budget, the required funding is not exorbitant. It barely represents the equivalent of one FÁS trip to Florida. The Centre for Deaf Studies represents value for money, but not only as the only university department for deaf studies in Ireland. It is also internationally renowned. It won a European language ambassador of the year award as recently as September 2008. It is involved in the Erasmus and Fulbright programmes and a range of other European Union programmes. Its future participation in two very important and significant European research programmes, under the EU Leonardo programme, is also in jeopardy, as is the roll-out of the masters course in deaf studies throughout the country if these cutbacks are put in place.
The Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College, Dublin, along with its outreach programme in Drumcondra represents value for money. Its funding must at least be maintained at the existing level, but I hope it will be increased.
Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the up-to-date position of the Department of Education and Science on this issue. As the Deputy is aware, the Centre for Deaf Studies represents a constituent part of Trinity College, Dublin, TCD. The Universities Act 1997 confers autonomous statutory responsibilities on universities for the day-to-day management of their affairs and it is a matter for each university to manage its financial resources. Through the Higher Education Authority, the designated body responsible for the planning and development of higher education and research in Ireland, universities receive a recurrent block grant.
The HEA, on request from Trinity College, Dublin, provided specific funding for the Deaf Studies Centre as part of the overall recurrent grant to the college in recent years. I understand that TCD recently made a request to the HEA for specific funding for the Centre for Deaf Studies for 2009. This request was recently agreed by the HEA and I understand that the authority notified TCD in this regard. The Minister for Education and Science does not have a role in this process.
With regard to general recurrent funding allocated by the HEA, it is a matter for each institution to determine how it is applied and, therefore, Trinity College, Dublin, as an autonomous body, may determine the use of funding and may allocate additional funding to the centre over and above that provided by the HEA if it so wishes.
The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, indicated that significant investment has been made through the years in the higher education system. Overall provision for the third level sector has increased from some €1.5 billion in 2004 to some €2 billion in 2008. The overall allocation for the sector in 2009 will be in the region of €2.1 billion, which takes account of the general public sector reduction in the payroll, applicable to all higher level institutions. It will be a matter for the institutions to manage their resources in 2009 and, where necessary, to effect economies across all levels of activity, including increased collaboration between universities, and between the university and institutes of technology, IOT, sectors. In recent years, recurrent funding allocated specifically to the university sector has increased from €631 million in 2004 to €831 million in 2008. This represents an increase of some 32% since 2004 and an increase of almost 120% from 1998 levels. This excludes separately provided programmes of funding for capital, for research and development and from the strategic innovation fund.
The multi-annual strategic innovation fund, SIF, for higher education was introduced by the Government in 2006 with an allocation of €510 million for the period of the national development plan. The fund is intended to be a major catalyst in bringing about substantial change and quality improvements in higher education institutions and promoting system-wide collaboration that draws on all institutions’ collective strengths. Projects approved under the fund are aimed at institutional reform, enhancing teaching and learning, improving access and life-long learning and enabling the development of fourth level activity.
I understand Trinity College, Dublin, was successful under the strategic innovation fund specifically for the Centre for Deaf Studies. TCD, as the lead institution, was awarded €1.28 million in multi-annual funding under second SIF, for diploma courses which the university has developed to improve education and career opportunities for deaf students. This collaborative proposal with the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, will make these diploma courses available nationwide through distance learning. It will implement a bachelor of arts degree option and it will research, develop, implement and evaluate appropriate assisting technologies for the teaching of Irish sign language and deaf studies using the internet. I again thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to respond to the House on this matter.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I am thankful for the opportunity of participating in this important debate on the need to support and develop education on the northside of Dublin. Tonight, I stand up for education and for teachers, pupils and parents who know and understand the importance of education. I challenge the enemies of education and put on record some of the misinformation from politicians and media commentators. I am a proud member of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, INTO, and have been for many years. I have always put education, pupils and teachers first. That is who I am and from where I come.
In addition to standing up for education in the broad sense, I particularly stand up for the schools in my area which do great work against the odds. I strongly support Scoil Mhuire, Marino, Ardscoil Rís, Marino, St. Vincent de Paul infant school, Marino, St. Paul’s College, Raheny, St. Mary’s Holy Faith, Killester and Belgrove national school, Clontarf, which urgently needs a new building. These schools along with Our Lady of Mercy College, Beaumont, need support and some will shortly lose teachers. It represents blatant misinformation to suggest these schools accept the cuts, especially when other methods of funding were tabled as an alternative to the backward step represented by cuts. Cutbacks on the current and capital side will further depress economic activity, and borrowing money may stimulate the economy and create jobs.
The facts are as follows. The dirty dozen cuts will increase class sizes in primary schools, remove substitute cover for teachers, increase school transport charges, cause the axing of English language teachers, reduce funding to special needs children, slash Traveller education funding, cut teacher numbers by at least 1,000, eliminate the free books scheme, stop books for school libraries, halt the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, cut funding for computers in primary schools and cut funding for primary school buildings by 5%. This is the reality for teachers, for parents and for young pupils in large classes. The INTO said the admission by the Minister for Education and Science that 1,100 teachers would be taken out of the system was long overdue but welcome. I commend John Carr, general secretary of the INTO, on the work he has put into this campaign. The fact of the matter is that if pupil numbers remain the same, 1,100 teachers will be axed. However, this is not about teachers but about children and education. The Minister will enrol thousands of pupils, but employing 200 fewer teachers for Ireland’s already packed classes will result in even more overcrowding. The INTO said that more than 2,000 additional primary teachers were needed to bring numbers up to the EU average. Instead, 1,000 teaching posts are being cut. These are the facts. Let us deal with them.
I also urge common sense in this urgent matter for the future of our country. I urge teachers, parents, pupils and all those who care about education to unite in this important battle for social justice. We should not let them divide us on education. Education is the way forward in this country and it is also the way out of the current economic crisis. It is time to be brave and it is time for leadership and vision in the education debate. We must ignore those who use petty arguments to undermine our efforts.
It is scandalous that on the north side of Dublin, pupils cannot get into their local secondary schools because of lack of places. We all have a duty to support these families and pupils. Any state or society that does not look after its citizens and respect their right to an education loses the respect and confidence of its people. We have all witnessed that in recent weeks. Tonight I stand by these people as an Independent Deputy for Dublin North-Central. Hammering our children in large classes and hammering our disabled and senior citizens should never be an option in an economic downturn. I urge the Minister to think again. I urge him to get rid of the macho image, supported by some right-wing commentators and politicians, of trying to defeat the teachers’ unions, parents and students. It is time for common sense. I urge the Minister to listen to sensible voices in Irish education. I will continue to fight for education in Marino, Fairview, Drumcondra, Clontarf, Coolock, Santry, Raheny, Beaumont, Donnycarney, Edenmore and Killester. I will also continue to push for high quality educational services nationally as I believe education is a right for all of our citizens.
Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.
A key priority for the education system is to continue to respond to the diverse needs of learners at all levels. In particular, this means increasing the flexibility and diversity of provision and ensuring quality across the system. Much progress has been made in this area, as may be seen in the substantial programme of curriculum change across both primary and post-primary levels, the development of new learning opportunities outside the traditional post-primary system, the expansion of third level, the growth of a new fourth level and the provision of adult and further education opportunities. In the time available, I will highlight a number of policies and programmes that are particularly relevant to the provision of education services in Dublin.
The educational outcome for the student is crucially dependent on the quality of learning in the school. In 2009 the inspectorate of my Department will continue to support schools and promote improvement through the whole school evaluation and inspection programme in primary and post-primary schools. Through its school evaluation work in the period ahead, my Department will maintain a focus on promoting best practice in school development planning and self-evaluation. This continues to be an important objective for our system, and the evaluation reports provide many examples of leadership in this area.
Numerous influential reports have highlighted the fact that teacher quality is the single most important factor — far above anything else — in improving outcomes. It is vital, therefore, that we not only continue to attract the right people into teaching but that we provide them with the continuum of professional development opportunities they need to be effective educators. The Teaching Council has been given a key statutory role in ensuring that the teaching profession operates to a high standard, and it is aware of the priority my Department attaches to improvements in certain areas, particularly pre-service and induction. In addition, significant agreements were reached just this week on the promotion of teachers and the mechanism by which schools can deal with serious underperformance by teachers in the classroom. The whole school community, in the years ahead, will benefit greatly from these agreements. They are carefully balanced agreements with promotions based on merit and discipline procedures in place for serious underperformance by teachers. These agreements have been accepted by all the teacher unions and they will come into effect in the next school year.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Department’s action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS, is being rolled out on a phased basis over the period 2005 to 2010, and focuses on addressing the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, from pre-school through second-level education. There are 876 schools participating in DEIS, including 103 schools — 76 primary and 27 post primary schools — located on the north side of Dublin. Schools in the DEIS programme are provided with a range of additional financial and other supports, including additional capitation, access to numeracy and literacy supports, home school community liaison services and access to the junior certificate schools programme and the leaving certificate applied at post-primary level.
There are 17 school completion programme projects on the north side of Dublin, comprising 28 post-primary schools and 80 primary schools, targeting approximately 4,720 young people in school and 117 young people out of school, with a total funding allocation of €4,473,905 for 2008-09. Under the SCP, 13 schools participate in the support teacher project, which aims to co-ordinate a whole-school approach to designing and implementing good practice and strategies which will help to prevent the occurrence of disruptive behaviour and to teach and counsel small groups and individuals who exhibit persistent behavioural difficulties in the classroom. The educational element of the north side teenage parenting project, under the teenage parenting support initiative, is also supported under SCP.
Earlier this year, the Government prioritised a programme of investment to deliver additional primary school places in areas of significant demographic change, including the north Dublin area. As a result, a total of 26 new primary schools were successfully delivered on time for September 2008. Schools in the Dublin area included Skerries, Swords, Balbriggan, Lucan, Tyrellstown, Phibblestown, Belmayne, Saggart, Balbriggan and Porterstown. This programme of rapid accommodation delivery has gone a long way towards addressing the issue of capacity in areas identified as experiencing difficulties in this regard. My Department’s rapid delivery programme for 2009 will be focused on extension projects in existing schools that are already at architectural planning at various stages of progression. These will also deliver additional permanent accommodation where most needed. I note in particular that the building project at Springdale Road national school in Raheny will commence early in 2009.
The 2009 capital allocation will also cover expenditure on commitments carried forward from 2008, and other miscellaneous items such as the purchase of prefabricated accommodation, the payment of the minor works grant to primary schools and the provision of furnishings and equipment to schools. Schools in the north Dublin area will also benefit in this regard.
Overall investment in education has increased from €3.1 billion in 1997 to €9.3 billion this year. The Government has provided an additional €302 million for education next year, bringing my Department’s allocation to €9.6 billion. It will be necessary in the more testing economic climate ahead for us to continue to target and prioritise our resources to maximum effect for everyone. This will ensure that we deliver the best possible outcomes for all learners. I again thank the Deputy for raising this matter.
Deputy Joe Carey: On budget day, it was very hard to determine the true impact of the various budgetary measures on our education system. As all the details have emerged since then, it has become clear that the first budget of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, amounted to a direct attack on the old, the sick and the young. I am pleased to have an opportunity this evening to speak on behalf of the younger generation — the students of today, who will be the leaders of tomorrow. The only way this country’s economy will get off its knees is by ensuring that every pupil can avail of the best possible educational system. I propose to highlight the plight of two schools in Ennis, County Clare — St. Flannan’s College and Coláiste Mhuire.
I am a past pupil of St. Flannan’s College, which has an outstanding record of giving all students a top-class education. The college produces students who are leaders in academic and sporting fields. It is a renowned academy for hurling, in particular. Its past pupils include hurlers such as Jamesie O’Connor, who is now a teacher at the college, Anthony Daly, Davy Fitzgerald and John Callinan. St. Flannan’s College is rich in history and achievement. The college, which caters for boys and girls, has 1,150 pupils and 79 teachers. Coláiste Mhuire is an all-girls secondary school. Since its foundation, the school has had an excellent reputation throughout County Clare and the rest of Ireland for offering its students first-class educational opportunities. Coláiste Mhuire has 550 pupils and a teaching staff of 43.
The proposed cutbacks in education will have serious implications for St. Flannan’s College and Coláiste Mhuire. All 17 secondary schools in County Clare will be affected in the same way. The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio from 18:1 to 19:1 will result in the loss of two secondary school teachers, on average, in every school in Clare. Such a loss of teachers will have a ripple effect in every school. It will curtail subject choice. The transition year programme will be reduced in scale or even discontinued. These cutbacks will put massive pressure on the leaving certificate applied programme. They will bring about the loss of home school programmes. From 7 January next, the proposed changes in substitution cover will result in students being unable to participate in field trips as part of the school curriculum in subjects like geography and biology. Sporting activities will be curtailed. Schools are also set to lose the free book scheme.
If the cutbacks are implemented, St. Flannan’s College will lose four or five teachers and Coláiste Mhuire will lose two teachers. Such staff losses will present the principals and staff of the schools with major problems when timetables are being planned. When taken with the proposed cuts in substitution cover, it is clear that a nightmare situation will develop, particularly as these changes are to be made in the middle of the school year.
The four Deputies who represent the Clare constituency recently met the principals of all the secondary schools in the county. We were told that if the substitution issue is not addressed, there will be massive disruption and an increase in indiscipline in schools. I do not doubt that students and teachers will suffer increased stress if the Minister proceeds with his plan to grab money without any purpose. The Minister’s decision to abolish the free book scheme in the recent budget represented a direct attack on the poor. This year, the bill under the scheme in St. Flannan’s College was €18,500. Some 90 students availed of the scheme in Coláiste Mhuire. If the Government has its way, this grant will not be available next year and parents will be placed in an impossible financial position. School books for first year students cost €329.15 and books for leaving certificate students cost €362.15. Does it make sense for the Minister to remove this grant at a time when 10,000 people are joining the dole queues every month?
A crisis will emerge in our schools early next year when substitute cover is no longer provided for teachers who are away from the classroom on school business. Field trips form an important part of the curriculum in subjects like geography, biology and civic, social and political education. In the absence of proper substitution cover, these vital activities will become a thing of the past. Sporting and cultural activities give students who find it hard to engage in the school system an opportunity to excel. Coláiste Mhuire has a 90-member award-winning choir. It offers a wide range of sporting activities, including badminton, basketball and camogie. St. Flannan’s College is well known for its success, particularly on the hurling field. It provides a full spectrum of other sports for boys and girls. All of these activities will be placed in jeopardy if the Minister proceeds with his plan to withdraw the substitution cover that has been provided before now. What purpose do these cuts serve? How will they assist the development of a child? How will they help society? How will they address problems such as obesity?
I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, to radically rethink the proposed cutbacks in education. Investment in education at pre-school, primary, secondary and third levels is critically important for the future well-being of this country. The Minister should listen to the parents and pupils who have been marching on the streets of this country in opposition to the cuts. He should listen to teachers who have practical knowledge of the effect the cuts will have. I appeal to the Minister to reverse the disastrous education cuts outlined in budget 2009.
Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and giving me an opportunity to outline the impact of the budget measures at post-primary level. Notwithstanding the increase of €302 million in the education budget for 2009, which is a real achievement in the current economic climate, a number of tough and difficult decisions had to be taken. The 2009 budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure in the interests of controlling expenditure and ensuring sustainability in the long term. While the education sector was protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure, it could not be entirely spared. The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, acknowledges the impact of funding restrictions in a number of areas, including at school level. They are the inevitable result of the need to manage Exchequer resources prudently in the current challenging economic environment. One of the decisions that was taken involves increasing the pupil-teacher ratio across all second level schools from 18:1 to 19:1. In the case of fee-charging post-primary schools, there will be an additional one-point adjustment to 20:1.
The impact of the staffing schedule changes and the withdrawal of historic DEIS and language support posts needs to be considered alongside the expected increases in teacher numbers in certain areas, for demographic reasons, and the appointment of additional resource teachers for special needs. In that context, it is likely that there will be an overall net reduction of 200 posts at second level. This number represents less than 1% of all teaching posts in second level schools. When examined as part of the targeted payroll reduction in the public sector as a whole, it is a demonstration of the Government’s desire to protect front-line staff in schools to the greatest extent possible.
As the processing of the September 2008 enrolment returns for post-primary schools has not yet been finalised, it is not possible to outline to the House the impact of such changes on the allocation of mainstream teaching posts for the 2009-10 school year in the schools in question. The staffing schedule for the 2009-10 school year will be issued to all schools as soon as possible. A more accurate indication of mainstream staffing levels will be available at that time. The allocation processes include appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocations due to them under the staffing schedules. This is particularly relevant at post-primary level where the appellate process takes particular account of any specific curricular needs of the school concerned. At post-primary level there is currently no effective system-wide redeployment scheme and this can mean that schools retain teachers, though over-quota. In addition, discrete allocations may be made to post-primary schools to cater, for example, for pupils with special educational needs and those with language difficulties. These allocations can also alter the ultimate position of the school in regard to any over-quota position.
The Department is aware of funding pressures on schools. However, progress has been made in recent years that has seen the post-primary capitation grant increased by €15 per pupil to a total of €331 per pupil. In addition, voluntary secondary schools have benefited from the increase of €15 per pupil in 2008 in the support services grant, bringing that grant to €204 per pupil.
The cumulative increase of €30 per pupil in voluntary secondary schools brings the aggregate grant to €535 per pupil. These grants are in addition to the per capita funding of up to €40,000 per school that is also provided by the Department to secondary schools towards secretarial and caretaking services. Budget allocations for schools in the community and comprehensive school sector, along with those in the VEC sector, are increased on a pro rata basis with increases in the per capita grant. All schools are eligible for recurrent per capita grants towards special classes and curricular support grants.
The funding mechanisms in place afford schools considerable flexibility in the use of their resources to cater for the needs of their pupils. The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, appreciates that the abolition of several grants for some schools will impact on funding levels in 2009. However, the enhanced levels of funding announced in the budget for the capitation and ancillary services grants will help to alleviate the impact of this.
I thank the Deputy for providing me with the opportunity to address the House on this matter and for the information he has provided on the schools in question. I appreciate the opportunity to outline the current position on these general issues.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 December 2008.
The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.
12. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will estimate the number of social housing units that will be provided in 2009; and the plan he has to make up the shortfall on the national development plan commitment of 27,000 per year since 2007. [43081/08]
21. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will confirm that he will not be in a position to meet the national development plan social housing target for 2009 in view of his Department’s ongoing failure to meet its own NDP social housing commitments, the 9% cut in real terms in the overall housing budget for 2009, and the 7% cut in real terms in his Department’s social housing budget for 2009. [43080/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 21 together.
I wish to clarify the position in relation to the targets for social housing and the actual delivery achieved as there seems to be some confusion in this regard. The commitment entered into by the Government under the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, was to achieve 27,000 social housing “starts” over the three year period 2007 to 2009 as a whole, not 27,000 in each of the three years. In terms of delivery, we set out to reach the first one third of this 27,000 unit target — or 9,000 “starts”— in 2007, the first of the three years in the target period. By end-2007, we had exceeded this target, with a total of 9,061 “starts” achieved across the local authority and voluntary and co-operative housing programmes and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.
All the indications available to us at this stage would suggest that 2008 will be another year of significant delivery under the main housing programmes. Our target is to achieve a further 9,000 social housing “starts” this year and we should have a clear picture of the full year delivery for 2008 towards the end of the first quarter of next year. Looking to the future, the results of the 2008 Housing Needs Assessment to be finalised shortly will show a significant increase in overall net housing need, against a background of a significantly more constrained fiscal environment. While the €1.54 billion in funding provided for social housing in the 2009 Estimates is some 1.7% less than in 2008, account must be taken of the fact that we have relieved some of the pressure on the programme in 2009 by securing an additional €80m of investment, this year, under the Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme for voluntary housing projects.
The €1.54 billion provision for next year represents a very significant commitment on the part of the Government — equivalent to some €4.2m per day — and will allow us to maintain strong momentum towards meeting the 27,000 target for the 2007 to 2009 period as a whole. Our ultimate performance versus the target will be dependent on the extent to which we make optimum use of the available funds in meeting housing need. One option that my Department will be pursing with local authorities will be the use of long term lease arrangements for social housing purposes, to supplement the more traditional methods of delivery. I believe that this would provide a more cost effective, targeted approach, in line with the principles of the life-cycle approach endorsed by the social partners.
13. Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will confirm if there is a hunt club licensed (details supplied) in County Cork. [37478/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): No hunt licence has been issued by my Department in respect of the Doneraile Hunt Club nor, I understand, is such required.
14. Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of people qualified to conduct energy efficiency surveys of lived in dwellings as part of the building energy rating programme; if he will use January 2009 as a start date for BER ratings of used dwellings for sale and rent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43135/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The EU Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings was transposed into Irish law in the form of the European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006. In accordance with these Regulations an existing dwelling, which is offered for sale or letting on or after 1 January 2009, will require a Building Energy Rating (BER) certificate similar to that currently required for new dwellings. To date 3,726 persons have successfully completed training courses with training providers accredited by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) in relation to the BER certification of new dwellings; some 903 of these trained assessors have so far registered with SEI as BER Assessors.
Existing BER Assessors who are registered with SEI to undertake BER Assessments for new dwellings may now, subject to completing a declaration of their competence and familiarity in relation to, inter alia, the survey methodology for existing dwellings and the operation of the relevant software, register as BER Assessors for existing dwellings. Over 340 persons have done so to date. SEI is confident that this number will increase considerably in the lead up to 1 January 2009.
15. Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether the home choice loan scheme operated by his Department could lead to negative equity problems for first-time buyers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43157/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): As indicated during the debate on Budget 2009, it is important that the ongoing process of correction in the housing market is not artificially interfered with. Given that sentiment in the housing market is heavily dependent on wider sentiment in the economy, the Government’s approach is focused on the broader economic fundamentals and ensuring, ultimately, that the housing market is underpinned by these. Any housing specific interventions must be targeted in nature and designed to achieve specific outcomes. The announcement in the Budget of the introduction, for a limited period, of the new Home Choice loan product for certain first-time buyers is fully in line with this policy.
The scheme is designed to respond to a very specific set of circumstances in the housing market whereby prospective middle income first-time buyers who would previously have been in a position to access mortgage finance from one of the financial institutions are not currently in a position to do so, due to the impacts of the credit crunch. The scheme will be governed by a detailed, robust and prudent credit policy which is now being finalised. In addition, it should be recognised that the initiative provides no financial incentive to enter the housing market for those who believe that the process of correction has yet to conclude; it will merely facilitate certain first-time buyers who have themselves decided to purchase a home at this time.
16. Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures he will put in place to ensure that local authority owned rented dwellings are of a standard similar to that expected of private rented dwellings. [43062/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): The minimum standards for rented accommodation are prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993. These regulations apply to local authority and voluntary housing units as well as private rented accommodation and local authorities have responsibility for the enforcement of the regulations in relation to all properties — local authority, voluntary and private. In the Partnership Agreement Towards 2016 the Government committed to updating these minimum standards and recently delivered on this commitment by approving a package of measures. Revised regulations introducing higher standards for sanitary and cooking facilities, heating, ventilation and lighting will come into effect on 1 February 2009 and, with a limited exemption for the provision of white goods, will apply to local authority housing units.
The key element in ensuring good standards of local authority housing is the performance of local authorities in relation to the maintenance and, where necessary, improvement of their housing stock. These are matters in respect of which local authorities have a significant degree of devolved responsibility and which are subject to oversight by the elected members of each individual authority. This role is to be strengthened further under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, currently before the Seanad, particularly in terms of the requirement to be placed on local authorities to prepare, and submit to the elected members for approval, Housing Services Plans, addressing a wide range of quality-related issues relating to their housing stock, including their management and maintenance policies.
Local authorities undertake planned maintenance and general improvement works to their own housing stock as part of their annual improvement works programme. This programme is submitted for approval to my Department and is funded from the authorities’ own internal capital receipts. In 2008, it is expected that in the order of €150 million will be spent on improving local authority stock across the country. As announced in Budget 2009, an audit of the local authority stock will begin next year, in preparation for a programme for retrofitting to deliver improved energy efficiency; this programme will be informed by a number of pilot projects for which €5 million has been earmarked in 2009.
17. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the length of time it will take to establish a mechanical and biological treatment system on the scale which would only leave 400,000 tonnes of waste for incineration; if this system will be established in time to meet EU landfill directives; the estimated cost of establishing MBT on this scale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43148/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The projections to which I have referred, for 2016, are based on the existence by then of mechanical and biological treatment (MBT) on the necessary scale. Relevant issues in that regard, such as the implementation timescale and cost of putting MBT in place, are being examined in depth in the International Review of Waste Management Policy that is currently underway. The initial targets under the Landfill Directive are more immediate as they relate to 2010 and the existing measures under the National Biodegradable Waste Strategy are designed to achieve these targets.
I have also indicated my intention to introduce primary legislation to allow significant increases in the landfill levy and a Regulatory Impact Analysis for this purpose has just been completed. My Department, in addition, is working with industry towards the development of a Statutory Instrument for the segregation of commercial biodegradable waste. The roll out of the ‘brown bin’ source-segregated collection system for organic waste is a core element of the National Strategy on Biodegradable Waste and will play a critical role in accelerating the diversion of organic waste from landfill as required by the EU Landfill Directive. A circular on the matter issued to local authorities on 31 July 2008 and is available on my Department’s website. I am confident that these measures will contribute significantly to the attainment of the targets for the diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill.
Question No. 18 answered with Question No. 8.
19. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that have been taken to transpose the European Union public participation directive to give rights to the public to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43041/08]
54. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that have been taken for Ireland to ratify the Aarhus Convention and to grant the public rights to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43039/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 54 together.
Ireland signed the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on 25 June 1998. Progress towards ratification of the Convention is closely aligned with work at EU level and, in that context, the European Union has adopted two Directives as part of the ratification process for the Convention. These deal with public access to environmental information (2003/4/EC) and public participation in certain environmental decision-making procedures (2003/35/EC). The European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 came into effect on 1 May 2007. These Regulations transpose EU Directive 2003/4/EC on Public access to environmental information.
Transposition of EU Directive 2003/35/EC on Public Participation in certain environmental decision making procedures requires the amendment of a number of consent systems relevant to two existing Directives — the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive. The process to transpose the Public Participation Directive is already well advanced, with legislation completed to amend the majority of the relevant consent systems.
The work to amend the remaining outstanding consent systems will be finalised by the Departments concerned as soon as possible. When this work has been completed I, along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will ensure that the instrument of ratification of the Aarhus Convention is submitted to Government and laid before the Dáil as soon as possible.
20. Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that will be taken to amend planning legislation in order to ensure that future development is sustainable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43049/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The Planning and Development Act 2000 updated and modernised planning legislation and introduced a range of measures to pursue sustainable development through the forward planning and development management processes and the enforcement of planning legislation. Development plans, prepared by local authorities under Part II of the Act, currently provide the over-arching strategic framework for development with a view to ensuring its sustainability in economic, social and environmental terms. Development plans must provide clear guidance on sustainable development policies and objectives, both national and local, which address the full range of sustainability issues such as climate change, waste management, transport, urban development, sustainable communities and the use of natural resources. Local area plans translate these objectives at local level.
The legal provisions in relation to development plans are underpinned by statutory guidelines issued by my Department in June 2007 entitled Development Plans — Guidelines for Planning Authorities which are available on my Department’s website at www.environ.ie. Guidelines on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas are also being finalised for publication before the end of this year; the draft guidelines are available on my Department’s website.
The Government’s legislation programme, published on 23 September 2008, provides for the drafting of a General Scheme of a Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, work on which is well advanced in my Department. In general terms the Bill will aim to:
ensure a closer alignment between the National Spatial Strategy, Regional Planning Guidelines, development plans and local area plans;
ensure that the zoning of land is sustainable and supports the best use of state investment in infrastructure; and
address a number of European Court of Justice judgments relevant to the planning area.
Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 12.
22. Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount of money being spent in regard to the awareness campaign relating to the draft register of electors. [43059/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Each year an awareness campaign is run by my Department related to the Draft Register of Electors. Following a competitive tendering process, First Advertising Ltd. were appointed to undertake the 2008 nationwide awareness campaign to coincide with the period (from 1 November to 25 November) when the Draft Register is on display in public offices, such as City and County Council offices, Garda stations, libraries and post offices, and on-line at www.checktheregister.ie.
The objective of the campaign was to encourage voters to check the Draft Register to ensure that they are correctly registered and to advise them to inform the appropriate City or County Council of any errors or omissions in the Draft Register. In addition, the campaign reminded the electorate that the right to vote is an important entitlement and it emphasised that people cannot vote unless they are correctly registered. The campaign cost was €157,097.
23. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will reconsider the four-year time frame for compliance with proposed new rental accommodation standards regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43160/08]
37. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether from 1 February 2009 not even the current minimal standards can be enforced on landlords of existing dwellings as they will inevitably claim the four year exemption. [43058/08]
42. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be passed into law by the end of this session in order to meet the projected target of 1 February 2009 for the implementation of the standards reform package. [43054/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I propose to take Questions Nos. 23, 37 and 42 together.
Minimum standards regulations for rental accommodation are currently prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993, made under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. These regulations specify requirements in relation to a range of matters, such as structural repair, absence of damp and rot, sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation, natural light and safety of gas and electrical supply. In the Partnership Agreement Towards 2016, the Government committed to updating and more effectively enforcing the minimum standards regulations and recently delivered on this commitment by approving a package of measures. A number of elements of this package require amendments of primary legislation and these are being addressed during the passage, through the Oireachtas, of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, currently before the Seanad. These include increased penalties for non-compliance and the introduction of a more robust sanctions regime.
Those elements of the package not requiring primary legislation will be introduced through new regulations to replace those made in 1993. Regulations for this purpose, which will be made shortly, will come into effect generally on 1 February 2009. However, taking account of views expressed in wide-ranging consultations during the development of the new standards package, certain elements of the new regulations will not come into effect for existing rental accommodation until 1 February 2013 as it will be necessary to allow time for the carrying out of the significant remedial work that may be involved in achieving compliance.
The aspects covered by those provisions — sanitary facilities, heating facilities and food preparation, storage and laundry — will therefore continue to be subject to the relevant provisions of the Housing (Standards for Rented Housing) Regulations 1993 until then, in so far as existing rental accommodation is concerned. However, any rental properties being let for the first time after 1 February 2009 will have to comply with all the requirements of the new Regulations.
24. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will confirm recent reports that he is to defray the legal costs incurred by an association (details supplied) and some individuals in a recent Supreme Court action regarding the proposed incinerator; the source of such funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43065/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The proceedings taken in the High Court by the association and some individuals against the State have been struck out. The State did not seek its costs in these matters and has also agreed not to pursue the Supreme Court costs orders recently awarded against those involved.
25. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he is taking in response to the judgments in November and July 2008 and over a year ago in separate cases that Ireland has not fulfilled its requirements under the environmental impact assessment directive and that it is not requiring environmental impact assessments in respect of many developments that it should; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43037/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I refer to the reply to Question No. 409 of 4 November 2008 concerning Ireland’s response to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgement of 3 July 2008. The position is unchanged. The ECJ judgement in case C-66/06 was delivered on 20 November 2008. The case primarily concerns legislative provision for screening of certain on-farm projects to determine whether they should be subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The ECJ found that by setting thresholds for relevant project categories which take account only of the size of projects, to the exclusion of other criteria specified in the EIA Directive, and by not providing for a case-by-case examination for relevant project categories to identify projects likely to have significant effects on the environment, Ireland has exceeded the limits of its discretion under articles 2(1) and 4(2) of the EIA Directive. The ECJ judgement also found that national regulations that transpose the EIA Directive in relation to aquaculture activities are deficient.
This very recent judgement is being studied in detail by my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Attorney General’s Office to determine the appropriate legislative response and any procedural measures that are necessary to ensure full and early compliance with the Directive. The European Commission will be notified of Ireland’s proposed response to the judgement within the two-month period set down for this purpose.
I assume that the third case referred to is that opened in October 2007, primarily concerning the conformity of Irish legislation to the EIA Directive insofar as it relates to projects requiring both planning and pollution control consents (the so-called “split decision” consent system). The Commission’s detailed application to the ECJ has not yet been received. However, in May 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the combination of assessments carried out by the relevant public bodies together meet the requirements of the EIA Directive with regard to the undertaking of an EIA prior to consent.
The European Commission also opened a case in September 2007 concerning, among other matters, the implementation of the EIA Directive in respect of private roads. There is appropriate legislative provision for EIA in respect of public roads, but it was acknowledged that there was a gap in the transposition of the EIA Directive in relation to private roads that do not form part of any wider assessable development. This matter was addressed in the Planning and Development Regulations 2008
26. Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the pledge to eliminate homelessness; the steps he is taking in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39384/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): A new Government strategy on homelessness, The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008 — 2013, was published in August 2008. The strategy builds on the strong progress made under previous homeless strategies and sets out a vision to address adult homelessness over the next five years.
The strategy recognises that homelessness involves a complex interplay between personal, economic, social and structural issues and reflects the Government’s commitment to addressing homelessness in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. It was developed under the aegis of a Cross Departmental Team, comprising representatives from the relevant Government Departments and agencies, with input from the National Homeless Consultative Committee, which includes representatives from homeless service providers, both statutory and voluntary.
Central interlinked objectives of the new strategy are the prevention of homelessness, the elimination of the need to sleep rough and the elimination of long-term occupation (i.e. more than six months) of emergency homeless accommodation, by the end of 2010. A range of actions are set out in the strategy, together with implementation targets for the most significant actions. These will be taken forward through a more detailed Implementation Plan being developed under the aegis of the Cross Departmental Team on Homelessness with input from the National Homeless Consultative Committee, which will assign lead roles and more detailed timelines. I expect the Implementation Plan to be finalised by the end of the year.
Funding from my Department towards the running costs of homeless accommodation and related services is being increased by 5% in 2009 to €56 million which, together with local authorities’ own contributions, will bring the total provision to over €62 million. It is essential that optimum efficiency and value for money are secured from this funding. In that context, the Homeless Agency in Dublin has undertaken a comprehensive review of services and a value for money review. The findings of these reviews, which will be available shortly, will play an important role in informing the development of the Implementation Plan.
27. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that have been taken in relation to the commitment contained in the programme for Government to establish a high level commission on climate change to oversee implementation of the climate change strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43044/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Since the publication of the National Climate Change Strategy 2007 — 2012, work has continued across Government Departments on the development of measures to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. Progress in implementing such measures, and the coordination of work across Government with respect to the climate change agenda is overseen by the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. That Committee has established two inter-departmental groups to support its work.
The Senior Officials Group is tasked with addressing the challenges posed to Ireland in achieving its greenhouse gas emission targets and informing and implementing policy in this regard, while the Technical Advisory Steering Group, which includes representatives from relevant agencies, provides the modelling expertise which underpins the analysis. Subgroups of these Groups have been established on an ad-hoc basis to consider specific issues and to report to the two main Groups. An informal Expert Advisory Panel has also been established by the Cabinet Committee to assist in the analysis of possible policy measures. In addition, the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security is also important in developing cross-party consensus both on targets and on the measures required to achieve them.
Given that these structures are now in place, the potential for further added value from the establishment, at this stage, of a Commission on Climate Change remains under consideration.
28. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on his statement of 18 November 2008 that the number of inspections has increased to 14,008 in view of the fact this figure includes re-inspection of the same premises. [43055/08]
55. Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on a statement of 18 November 2008 that the number of dwellings inspected has increased since 2005 when in fact the percentage of dwellings inspected has decreased from 8.14% in 2005 to 6.4% in 2007. [43056/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 55 together.
Details of the inspections of private rented accommodation carried out, the dwellings inspected which did not meet the statutory standards and prosecutions initiated up to 2007 are included in my Department’s Annual Housing Statistics Bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library and on my Department’s website at www.environ.ie. The Bulletins record an increase from 6,815 to 14,008 — or over 100% — in the number of inspections carried out between 2005 and 2007. The re-inspection of accommodation by local authorities can be necessary in certain instances in order to ensure effective enforcement and relevant details are therefore included in the overall number of inspections carried out each year.
29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to continue the expenditure on electronic voting with the consequent impact for the taxpayer in view of the current economic climate; if an attempt has been made to dispose of the technology; his views on whether this technology is now worthless and if annual expenditure continues regardless of any future use arising particularly from ongoing contracts and leases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43083/08]
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 and counting 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.
Given the scale of investment in the system to date, and the importance of the issues involved for our electoral system, it is essential that the future of the project be examined objectively and in a thorough and comprehensive manner. It is not possible to make more specific comment at this point on the project itself, or on future plans for the machines, pending completion of the necessary work and a decision by Government in the matter. With significant resources having been invested in the development of the electronic voting project, it is also reasonable to make adequate and appropriate provision for the storage of the machines. On this issue, the Government decision to proceed with the movement of the electronic voting equipment to centralised premises was the right approach.
30. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is satisfied that despite an increase of 55,309 to 188,152 in the number of dwellings registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board in 2007, the number of dwellings inspected in that year rose by only 3,683 to 12,047 or 6.4% of the total number of registered dwellings. [43050/08]
36. Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the way he will advance his aspiration that inspections should specifically target property that is likelier to be non-compliant as he has no function in relation to staffing arrangements for inspection purposes. [43057/08]
38. Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will introduce a uniform approach to the serving of improvement notices on landlords; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that some local authorities serve a notice in every case in which regulatory requirements are not met while others never serve such a notice. [43063/08]
40. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the legislative structure he will put in place to ensure that funds allocated for inspections of dwellings are used exclusively for inspections. [43052/08]
44. Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in the Louth local authority area while there is an increase of 62% in the number of registered dwellings to 3,148 only 30 dwellings were inspected, representing less than 1%. [43061/08]
49. Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will take action to ensure a more uniform level of inspections of private rented dwellings among local authorities; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the percentage of registered dwellings inspected ranges from less than 1% to more than 40% with the overall average being 6.4%. [43060/08]
51. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is satisfied that in the case of three county councils and three city councils the number of dwellings inspected has decreased as compared with 2006 despite an increase in the number of registered dwellings and an increase in the funds allocated for inspections. [43051/08]
52. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the legislative framework he will put in place to ensure that the measures announced in the standards reform package are implemented; if he will issue guidelines or regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43053/08]
140. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it his intention that every new first-time letting from February 2009 onwards will be inspected to ensure compliance with every aspect of the new standards in rental accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43265/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 36, 38, 40, 44, 49, 51, 52 and 140 together.
Minimum standards for rental accommodation are prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993, made under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with these regulations. Failure to do so is an offence, subject, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €3,000, or a term of 6 months in prison or both, and €250 for each day of a continuing offence. Responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding allocated by my Department.
In general, local authorities have significantly expanded their inspection activity in recent years. Inspection numbers have more than doubled — from 6,815 to 14,008 — in the period 2005 to 2007. More detailed information on the number of inspections carried out each year up to and including 2007 is included in my Department’s Annual Housing Statistics Bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library and on my Department’s website at www.environ.ie. In interpreting the data, it is important to note that the significant increase in registrations of tenancies since the Private Residential Tenancies Board was established in late 2004 reflects the Board’s success in achieving registration compliance, rather than changes in the actual level of rental accommodation supply over the period.
My Department provides significant resources, from part of the proceeds of tenancy registration fees collected by the Private Residential Tenancies Board, to assist local authorities in discharging their functions under the Housing Acts in relation to rented accommodation. Over €3m was provided in 2007 and a further €4m has been earmarked for this purpose for 2008.
Since 2006, the allocation of funding has been increasingly linked to inspections performance by local authorities. Half of the funding paid in respect of 2007 was based on actual inspections carried out and this will also be the case in respect of 2008. Consequently, while the significantly increased funding being made available to local authorities for inspection activity, and the increasingly performance-linked basis for allocations, are contributing to a much improved inspections regime overall, where a particular individual authority’s inspection activity is low relative to others, this is reflected in a relatively lower funding allocation.
It is a matter for each individual local authority to decide the specific details of its enforcement strategy and inspection arrangements. However, in discharging their responsibilities in relation to the rental sector, authorities have been asked to have regard to the Good Practice Guidelines for Local Authorities on Standards in the Private Rented Sector: Strategic Planning, Effective Enforcement published by the Centre for Housing Research in November 2007, which makes a range of recommendations on relevant issues, including targeting inspection activities.
In the Partnership Agreement Towards 2016, the Government committed to updating and more effectively enforcing the minimum standards regulations and recently delivered on this commitment by approving a package of measures. A number of elements of this package require amendments of primary legislation and these are being addressed during the passage, through the Oireachtas, of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, currently before the Seanad. These include increased penalties for non-compliance and the introduction of a more robust sanctions regime.
Those elements of the package not requiring primary legislation will be introduced through new regulations to replace those made in 1993. Regulations for this purpose, which will be made shortly, will come into effect generally on 1 February 2009. However, taking account of views expressed in wide-ranging consultations during the development of the new standards package, certain elements of the new regulations will not come into effect for existing rental accommodation until 1 February 2013 as it will be necessary to allow time for the carrying out of the significant remedial work that may be involved in achieving compliance.
The aspects covered by those provisions — sanitary facilities, heating facilities and food preparation, storage and laundry — will therefore continue to be subject to the relevant provisions of the Housing (Standards for Rented Housing) Regulations 1993 until then, in so far as existing rental accommodation is concerned. However, any rental properties being let for the first time after 1 February 2009 will have to comply with all the requirements of the new Regulations. A comprehensive Guidance Document will be published in advance of the 1 February 2009 commencement date in order to assist local authorities in the practical implementation of the new regulations.
I am committed to building on the significant progress made in recent years with regard to inspection of private rented accommodation. In addition to the introduction of the new standards and the accompanying guidance, and the continued provision of significant resources linked to inspection activity, the revised suite of local authority service indicators now includes a new indicator in relation to the enforcement of private rented accommodation standards. This indicator, which will further underscore good performance in this area, applies from 2008 onwards, with the first report on the indicator becoming available next year.
31. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount collected by the Private Residential Tenancies Board in tenancy registrations in 2005, 2006 and 2007; the number of tenancies registered each year; the number of tenancies registered late in 2007; the proportion of the late registration fee of €140 which is allocated to the support of local authorities in performing their functions in relation to the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993; the number of composite fees charged in 2007; and the proportion of the €300 that is allocated to local authorities. [43068/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): The registration fees collected by the Private Residential Tenancies Board in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the number of registrations recorded each year, are set out in the following table. Also included in the table is the number of late registrations and composite fees recorded in 2007. Five sevenths of all registration fees paid to the Board is allocated to support local authorities in performing their functions in relation to the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993 and the Housing (Rent Books) Regulations 1993 and other provisions of the Housing Acts related to private rented accommodation.
|Amount of registration fees collected||€4,911,122||€5,995,772||€6,156,749|
|Number of tenancy registrations||85,000*||54,000||81,000|
|Number of tenancies registered late in 2007||N/A||N/A||19,500|
|Number of composite fees charged in 2007||N/A||N/A||1,300|
32. Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the stage at which farmers are informed by his Department that their land is to be designated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37466/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Designations of land for the purposes of nature protection fall broadly into two categories. Natura 2000 sites, which are either Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Special Protection Areas (SPAs), are designated and protected under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated under the Wildlife Acts. Proposed sites requiring designation are identified, evaluated and spatially defined by my Department before being recommended to me for designation.
If I decide to nominate a site for designation, my Department directly notifies all landowners who are identifiable by my Department within the boundaries of nominated site. Individual landowners are notified in writing and are sent an information pack which includes a map of the proposed site boundaries, details of the implications of the designation and information on how to lodge an objection to such a proposal. The names and addresses of affected landowners are sourced from the Land Parcel Identification System, the Property Registration Authority and through information held by my Department. A commercially available database is used to identify landowners in urban and peri-urban locations.
Additional measures are taken where there is a possibility that individual landowners might not be reached through direct notification. In such cases, my Department ensures that proposed designations are advertised in local newspapers and on local radio. Relevant maps are also displayed for public viewing in the local offices of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the local offices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, local Teagasc offices, local Garda stations and public libraries.
Question No. 33 answered with Question No. 8.
34. Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress his Department has made with regard to producing a legislative framework with regard to the sale of local authority flats; and when he will bring forward an amendment to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 regarding the matter. [43067/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): 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 Dáil Committee Stage of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008.
35. Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps being taken to ensure that landfills are not contributing to the pollution of the surrounding environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43047/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Under Section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, I am specifically precluded from any involvement in particular circumstances in a matter for which a local authority or the EPA has statutory responsibility. This includes the granting of waste licences for which the EPA is responsible, including licensing of landfills and the enforcement of conditions attached to a licence. The Act requires conditions attached to a waste licence, as appropriate, to specify measures to be taken to prevent the entry to waters of specified substances or to avoid pollution by specified substances. Steps to ensure that landfills are not contributing to the pollution of the surrounding environment are, accordingly, part of the licensing conditions of landfills and therefore they are the statutory responsibility of the EPA.
Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 30.
Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 23.
Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 30.
39. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has plans to reform financing of local fire services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43169/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael P. Kitt): The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs, the provision of premises and the making of such other provisions as it considers necessary or desirable, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under section 10 of the Fire Services Act 1981. The Department’s role is one of supporting and assisting local authorities in delivering fire services through the setting of general policy and the provision of capital funding.
Operational costs for fire services are met from funding available to local authorities for day-to-day services. Such funding arises from a range of sources including commercial rates, charges for goods and services, specific State grants and general purpose grants from the Local Government Fund. Significant exchequer funding continues to be made available to support local fire services; over €24.6 million (capital and current) will be provided in this regard in 2009.
Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 30.
41. Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will publish the White Paper on local government. [43066/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The Green Paper, Stronger Local Democracy — Options for Change, which I published in April 2008, presents a set of options which share a common theme of strengthening local democratic leadership. For example, Stronger Local Democracy proposes a Regional Mayor for Dublin to meet the strategic challenges the city faces. The Green Paper also suggests that local leadership, accountability and connection with the citizen would be achieved through the provision of directly elected mayors with key powers of initiative in other areas. A suite of further proposals in relation to issues such as town government, participative democracy, regional governance, and service delivery are also included in the Green Paper.
Stronger Local Democracy represents the initial phase of a transparent, inclusive policy formulation process. Its purpose was not to arrive at a single solution, but to present options for further consideration. Following the publication of the Green Paper, my Department conducted a public consultation process to inform the drafting of the White Paper. This included a series of 6 regional seminars held over the summer to gather as full a range of perspectives as possible.
I am currently considering the outcomes of the consultation process, including the many written submissions I received. I hope to finalise the White Paper on local government by the end of the year; it is my intention to see a stronger, more vibrant and more accountable form of local government at the end of this process.
Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 23.
43. Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will ensure the implementation of the national strategy on biodegradable waste which aims to divert 80% of biodegradable waste from landfill through segregated collection of biodegradable waste and the generation of compost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43048/08]
46. Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps being taken to ensure Ireland meets its targets to divert biodegradable waste from landfill, as required under the EU landfill directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43046/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 46 together.
I am committed to putting in place the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the EU landfill diversion targets that will apply from 2010 onwards. Following extensive consultation, the National Strategy on Biodegradable Waste was published in April 2006 and is aimed at diverting 80% of biodegradable waste from landfill through segregated collection and the generation of compost. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to implementation of the National Strategy.
The projections to which I have previously referred, for 2016, are based on the provision by then of MBT on the necessary scale, and relevant issues in that regard are being examined in depth in the International Waste Review currently underway. The initial targets under the Landfill Directive are more immediate as they relate to 2010 and the existing measures under the Biowaste Strategy are designed to achieve these targets.
I have also indicated my intention to introduce primary legislation to allow significant increases in the landfill levy and a Regulatory Impact Analysis for this purpose has just been completed. My Department, in addition, is working with industry towards the development of a Statutory Instrument for the segregation of commercial biodegradable waste. I am confident that these measures will contribute significantly to the attainment of the targets for the diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill.
Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 30.
45. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the impact of the nitrates directive since it was implemented. [42932/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The Nitrates Directive and Ireland’s National Nitrates Action Programme are given legal effect by the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006 and 2007. These Regulations have been designed to protect waters against pollution from agricultural sources. It is as yet too early to quantify the beneficial effects of the Nitrates Regulations on water quality. While the recently published EPA Water Quality Report for 2004-2006 shows evidence of a slight improvement overall in water quality (with the length of river classified as unpolluted increasing from 69.2% to 71.4% and the number of lakes with satisfactory water quality increasing from 82% to 85.3%) deterioration of ground water quality is a major cause for concern.
Significant funding is being provided by my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food under the Farm Waste Management Scheme to support investment by farmers to meet the storage requirements of the Nitrates Regulations. Grant aid of €415 million has been provided for this purpose in 2007/2008, and this investment should contribute to improvements in water quality.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has set up an Agricultural Mini-Catchment Programme to scientifically evaluate the impact of the measures contained in the Regulations. This is a very substantial research programme which will run for at least four years, and it is overseen by an Expert Select Committee comprising a number of international experts as well as experts from the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and my Department. Under the Programme, a number of intensively farmed mini-catchments on a range of contrasting soil types have been identified and the effect of changes in farm management practices on the transfer of nutrients from source to water, and their impact on water quality, will be scientifically evaluated.
Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 43.
47. Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will sanction the provision of essential funding to South Dublin County Council for the proposed extension to and upgrading of Ballyroan library, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16, to meet the needs of the local community; the reason the project is being delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42926/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael P. Kitt): My Department issued a Circular letter in August 2008 notifying Local Authorities of a new Capital Funding Programme for Libraries and inviting library authorities to submit priority lists for consideration for grant aid under this Programme. South Dublin County Council indicated that the Ballyroan project is its second priority for funding and this application together with those received from other library authorities is currently under consideration. I hope to be in a position to announce a list of projects to be included in the new Library Capital Programme 2008-2012 in the near future.
48. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the White Young Green report regarding Hawbowline Island will be completed and put in the public domain. [43064/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Both the White Young Green report and a peer review of it have been completed. My Department is currently examining the reports and the recommendations contained within them. Once this is completed I will release the reports into the public domain, which I expect will occur early next week.
Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 30.
50. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that are to be taken to upgrade sewage and industrial waste water treatment plants in order to tackle the problem of water pollution and the eutrophication of rivers, lakes and tidal waters as outlined in the most recent Environmental Protection Agency report on water quality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43043/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The regular reports on water quality by the Environmental Protection Agency are taken into account in the approval and funding of individual wastewater schemes under my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme. The latest phase of the Programme relating to the period 2007 — 2009 is available in the Oireachtas Library. €560 million was provided in the Budget for new and improved water services infrastructure in 2009, representing the highest ever such provision and an increase of 19% over the 2008 allocation. This clearly reflects the priority assigned by the Government to the preservation and protection of our water resources, to meeting EU standards for wastewater treatment and to providing critical water and wastewater infrastructure.
New operational and supervisory structures for wastewater infrastructure have also been put in place, including licensing of municipal waste water discharges and the allocation of additional financial and staffing resources to the EPA to support its monitoring and oversight role in this area.
Questions Nos. 51 and 52 answered with Question No. 30.
53. Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the schedule in the national climate change strategy to prepare a climate change adaptation strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43045/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The National Climate Change Strategy 2007 — 2012 includes a commitment to develop a national adaptation strategy by 2009. The development of this strategy is currently underway.
Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 19.
Question No. 55 answered with Question No. 28.
56. Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the reported poaching of wild deer in Donegal; the estimates of the extent of such activity; the steps being taken to prevent such activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42927/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Deer may only be hunted under licence by my Department. The open season for most deer species, including Red, Fallow and Sika, operates annually from 1 September to 28 February, depending on the gender and age of deer. However there is a 12-month open season for Muntjac Deer. My Department has received reports that illegal deer hunting has increased recently in County Donegal. My Department’s National Parks and Wildlife Service staff are continuing to monitor the situation and are carrying out additional patrols in areas of alleged poaching activity.
57. Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his position on the cap and share scheme; if he has a preference for a cap and share scheme or for a carbon tax; the reasons for his preference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37139/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I refer to the reply to Question No. 31 of 23 October 2008. The position is unchanged.
58. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason a company (details supplied) which has to let staff go and has submitted the relevant RP50 forms to her Department for an appropriate rebate in respect of the redundancy payments has been informed that it could take up to between five and six months for same to be paid out; if in this context she will take immediate steps to have the appropriate rebate payments paid out to the employer involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43254/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): According to the records available to my Department, the company in question made two workers redundant on 31 October 2008 and submitted the relevant RP50 forms manually on 4 November 2008 seeking a rebate of 60% in respect of the statutory amount paid. The customer service targets for processing and paying redundancy claims are indicated on my Department’s website and indicate that all correctly completed Redundancy claims filed on-line will be given priority. In normal circumstances, the waiting period for payment of claims filed on-line is 6 weeks. Claims received by post can take at least 10 weeks. All claims are processed in order of receipt with priority been given to claims filed on-line and lump-sum payments.
While we endeavour to meet the targets stated, we are currently unable to service those turnaround times due to the significant influx of claims in recent months. At the end of October, a total of 32,076 redundancy claims were received which contrasts sharply with the level of 21,360 for the corresponding period in 2007 in terms of a 50% increase. Given the steep increases experienced in the rate of redundancy claims in the current year, customer service targets are under severe pressure but they are not at the level quoted by the Deputy. Currently, a 10-week timeframe is, in general, being achieved for claims submitted on-line and, manual claims are being dealt with within 16 weeks.
59. Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the case of a person (details supplied); the way a person might transfer from an older work permit which ties one to one’s employer to a more modern work permit allowing the individual a higher level of personal freedom. [43269/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): Under the Employment Permits Act 2006 all employment permits are employer and location specific. However, as the above named has worked in the State for a period of 60 months she may be eligible to apply to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for long-term residency status. A non-EEA national granted long-term residency has free access to the labour market and does not require an employment permit.
60. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action she is taking or will take to ensure the maximum level of job retention at a company (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43273/08]
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan): Since the announcement last year of a restructuring programme by the company in question, the priority has been to minimise the number of job losses that would occur. The Industrial Development agencies, primarily Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, have been working very closely in this regard. However, the final decision in relation to jobs rests with the company itself.
Once the restructuring programme was announced, FÁS engaged directly with the company and with staff representatives to discuss the range of services that could be made available to the workers. Indeed, the agency established for a time, a sustained service on-site at the company offering the full range of FÁS supports. Staff of the agency will be on-site again for the next three months. It is expected that a more intensive response will be required from July to September next year.
An open evening for workers attended by the Vocational Education Committee, Waterford Institute of Technology, the Waterford City Enterprise Board and FÁS was held last month. An employment group organised by FÁS and Waterford Chamber of Commerce is co-ordinating responses from recruiting employers. This has included identifying and responding to skill gaps through a meeting between employer representatives and education and training providers. A local Jobs Fair is being planned by FÁS for early next year which will target employers who are recruiting in the area. The agency also intends to provide a range of short technical skills updating courses.
61. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if a person with an income above €100,100 will pay 2% on all income or on the balance above €100,100 under the proposed new income levy; if the same applies to a person falling into the 3% band; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43182/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): The position is that the income levy will apply at a rate of 2% only on the income in excess of €100,100 but below €250,120 and at a rate of 3% only on the income in excess of €250,120.
62. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if a person who has a medical card will have to pay the proposed income levy. [43180/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): The position is that those with an entitlement to the medical card will be exempt from the income levy.
63. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if, in relation to the proposed income levy, a single person over 65 years who has an annual income of €12,000 from their State pension and €15,000 from an occupational pension will be liable for the levy; and if so the amount of their income to which the levy will apply. [43181/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): The position is that the income levy will apply to gross income but excluding social welfare payments and the contributory and non-contributory State pensions. As the Deputy may be aware, an age related exemption threshold for persons aged 65 years and over is being introduced in the Finance Bill. These thresholds will be €20,000 per annum with a provision for double that limit for a married couple. Therefore, in relation to the example supplied by the Deputy, there will be no liability for the income levy as the State pension is exempt from the income levy and the €15,000 occupational pension is below the €20,000 age related exemption threshold for a single person.
64. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Finance his intention regarding reform of the public service; his proposals to introduce an attractive lump sum and early retirement pension scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43191/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): The Report of the Task Force on the Public Service, Transforming Public Services was published yesterday. The Report provides an action plan for modernising Ireland’s Public Service. The Government also published a major policy statement on Transforming Public Services. This sets out how the recommendations of the Task Force will be implemented. It also contains details of a number of initiatives to address Public Service numbers and expenditure and achieving value for money. The statement announced the establishment of a Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes which has been asked to report by the end of June.
As regards an early retirement scheme, as I announced in my recent Budget, a targeted voluntary early retirement scheme is to be introduced for the Health Service Executive to cover management/administrative staff, but may be extended to other surplus staff. I also informed Deputies that such a scheme would be extended to other areas of the public service where surplus staff are identified. This wider application of voluntary early retirement will form part of the consideration by Government of any surplus staff identified by the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, and in the context of the ongoing rationalisation of State agencies.
65. Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Finance the changes in budget 2009 and the Finance Bill (No. 2) 2008 that have been designed to assist the small business sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43238/08]
66. Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Finance the implications of budget 2009 and the Finance Bill (No. 2) 2008 in particular in relation to the research and development tax credit changes for multinational companies operating here or potential multinationals considering to locate here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43239/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 66 together.
In my Budget Speech I said that despite the need to raise revenues, this Government is committed to maintaining and enhancing pro-employment business tax relief. I announced in the Budget the introduction of a three-year exemption from corporation tax on trading profits and chargeable gains for new companies commencing to trade next year. New companies that benefit from tax exemption will see full relief where total corporation tax liability in any of the first three accounting periods does not exceed €40,000. There will be marginal relief where corporation tax liability falls between €40,000 and €60,000.
I also announced in the Budget that the Research and Development tax credit would increase from 20% to 25%. The Finance Bill includes very significant changes to the scheme which will increase its attractiveness to business, including small companies and those in the start-up phase but also large companies, both multinational and indigenous. These changes involve: An option to carry-back unused tax credits for set-off against the previous year’s corporate tax liability, thus generating a tax repayment; A further option, where there is insufficient or no corporation tax liability in the previous year, to claim payment of the remaining unused credit which will be paid in instalments over a three year period; 2003 will be permanently set as the base year for calculating incremental R&D expenditure under the scheme. Over time, this will have the effect of turning the scheme into a volume-based scheme; Finally, the Bill provides that a tax credit will be available in respect of a proportion of the expenditure incurred on a new or refurbished building used in part for R&D activities. This change reflects the reality that
R&D takes place in manufacturing or production environments and not only in laboratory conditions. These combined changes make our R&D regime one of the most attractive in the world.
There are other measures announced in the Budget and included in the Finance Bill which aim to assist the business sector. These measures include an extension of the deadlines for the on-line submission by businesses of tax returns and payments. An extension of the scheme of accelerated capital allowances for energy-efficient equipment from three to seven classes of technology. Under the scheme companies can write-off 100% of the cost of eligible equipment in the year of purchase. A reduction in the top rate of Stamp Duty applicable to commercial property has been reduced from 9% to 6% in a further effort to support business and jobs.
67. Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance his views on correspondence from a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43244/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): As the Deputy is aware, the fuel duty rebate was withdrawn with effect from 1 November 2008 following the ending of a special derogation under the EU Energy Tax Directive 2003. A similar situation affects all member States who had derogations under the Directive. The Department of Transport and other relevant Departments, in conjunction with my Department, examined and considered alternative options at length. In the end, it was not found feasible to introduce an alternative non-tax scheme on a cost-neutral basis and with EU rules.
However in general recognition of the pressures being experienced by public transport providers and road hauliers, it was decided not to increase excise on diesel fuel, for the fifth consecutive Budget. In addition, despite our present difficult budgetary conditions, I have been able to continue to provide very considerable resources to the Minister for Transport to support public bus services through out the country.
68. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the amount of revenue that would be generated by the imposition of an additional one cent excise duty on every packet of cigarettes and every pint of beer, stout and cider based on projected sales for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43340/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated full year yield from an additional one cent increase in excise duty, or 1.215 cent VAT inclusive, in the above products is as follows:
|Revenue €m (VAT inclusive)|
|Cigarettes (per pack of 20)||2.54|
|Beer / Stout (per pint)||9.57|
|Cider (per pint)||1.39|
|Additional Total Revenue (Full Year) €m (VAT inclusive)||13.5|
69. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount a proposed measure (details supplied) relating to the implementation of the pay awards in the recent transitional agreement of Towards 2016 would save. [43342/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): As the Deputy is aware, the Review and Transitional Agreement 2008-2009 provides for a pay pause of 11 months in the public service from the expiry of the first phase of the first module of Towards 2016 on 30 September 2008 to 31 August 2009. The estimated savings from this pay pause are €175m in 2008 and €470m in 2009. If the pay pause were to be extended by another month there would be an additional saving across the public service of about €55m in 2009. This saving would be attributable entirely to extension of the pay pause to cover the month of September 2009.
As regards increments, it is important to note that year-on-year increases in allocations would not normally be granted for these. Accordingly, there is no increased provision for increments in the pay bill in 2008 and no increased provision will be made in 2009 either. In the normal way, the overall cost of increments for staff on incremental scales should be offset by reductions in cost arising from retirements or other movements by staff. It is difficult, therefore, to estimate the cost of increments. However, if all increments due for payment in the public service in 2009 were not to be paid, the saving would be somewhere in the region of €250m for a full year. The cost attributable to the first nine months would be three quarters of this figure.
70. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance, in view of recent public commentary and in the context of obligations provided for in individual contracts of employment and social partnership, the discretion he has not to pay salary increments for employees moving along a pay scale, to public servants such as gardaí, teachers and nurses, for the first nine months of 2009. [43343/08]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): Increments are part of the terms and conditions of most public servants. In accordance with normal industrial relations practices and agreements, any proposal for a change in the present arrangements relating to increments would have to be discussed with the public service unions. If agreement could not be reached on a proposed change, it would be open to the unions to seek third party adjudication on the matter.
Increments are not pay increases in the normal sense or bonuses for public servants, as has been portrayed in some media reports. Rather than being placed on the maximum salary on appointment to a grade, public servants in most grades are placed on incremental salary scales and reach the maximum pay for the grade only after a number of years and subject to satisfactory service. It is important to note that year-on-year increases in allocations would not normally be granted for increments. Accordingly, there is no increased provision for increments in the pay bill in 2008 and no increased provision will be made in 2009 either.
In the normal way, the overall cost of increments for staff on incremental scales should be offset by reductions in cost arising from retirements or other movements by staff. It is difficult, therefore, to estimate the cost of increments. However, if all increments due for payment in the public service in 2009 were not to be paid, the saving would be somewhere in the region of €250m for a full year. The cost attributable to the first nine months would be three quarters of this figure.
71. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children her estimate of the saving in a full year in respect of the proposal to reduce the qualifying age for early child care supplement from January 2009; and her estimate of the number of families in 2009 and in 2010 affected by this proposal. [43176/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews): The Early Childcare Supplement (ECS) was introduced with effect from 1st April 2006. The purpose of the payment is to support parents with the higher costs associated with caring for pre-school children. Currently ECS is paid in respect of all children eligible for Child Benefit who are under the age of 6 years. The rationale for this is that 6 years is the age at which school attendance becomes compulsory (except for those given licence to home school). Under Budget 2009, it was announced that the age-limit for eligibility for the payment is being reduced from 6 years to 5½ years, with effect from January 2009.
This change is being introduced having regard to the fact that the payment was introduced as an additional, targeted measure to support parents caring for young children in their pre-school years. In general, children start primary school at the age of between 4 and 5 years, and their parents will continue to receive the ECS payment for them during this period. As virtually all children aged more than 5½ years are school-going, this measure is not expected to impact significantly on parents. It is estimated that the reduction in the period of eligibility will result in savings of some €35m in a full year.
Based on the number of children in respect of whom ECS is currently being paid, it is estimated that approximately 70,000 children will be affected by the change in 2009, and a similar number in 2010. The number of families affected will be somewhat smaller, as some families would have more than 1 child affected by the change.
72. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number, in wholetime equivalent terms, of community welfare officers employed at present; the number employed in each of the years since 2005; and her intentions to recruit more in view of the increased demand on services. [43183/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): 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 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.
Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter 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.
73. Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason medication being manufactured here is sold at a significantly lower price in other European countries than it costs to purchase it here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43194/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): EU member states are the main purchasers of medicines in their domestic markets. They naturally seek to control drug prices, but the extent of this control varies widely. Some countries, such as the UK and Germany, rely more on market forces to set prices. Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, closely regulate and control prices. Ireland’s pricing policy is somewhere in the middle of the European league as, with its relatively small market, it must seek to balance value for money in State drug spending with reliability and continuity of supply for essential products.
Price comparison in different markets is difficult. Patent protection in Ireland allows originator companies exclusive rights to the market for ten years for new medicines. In Spain, for example, until 1992 there was no intellectual property protection for medicines and no patent protection for new products. This kept prices down, but may change with patent and intellectual property exclusivity. In addition, some products that are prescription-only in Ireland are available without prescription in some other states.
My Department and the Health Service Executive concluded negotiations in 2006 with pharmaceutical manufacturers on important new agreements setting out the pricing and supply of medicines for the Irish health service. These agreements provide increased value for money for the State and the consumer through a reduction in the price of existing drugs and medicines coming off patent and through the use of a new mechanism for pricing new drugs. Over the period of the agreements, which run to 2010, it is expected to achieve savings of the order of €260 million across the GMS and community drugs schemes, and in the cost of drugs to hospitals, through off-patent price cuts of 35% for drugs with substitutable alternatives. In addition to the savings quantified, there will be further savings as generic manufacturers respond to the lower price of branded drugs.
There will also be savings through the new pricing mechanism for new medicines, along with two price reviews for new medicines over the term of the agreements. Finally, for the first time, reimbursement of new drugs in Ireland can now be informed by pharmacoeconomic assessment, in line with other EU countries. I must stress that no single measure will contain the rate of increase in expenditure on medicines and drugs. Indeed, international experience has shown that this is a very difficult task, as the sophistication and range of treatments continue to increase along with increased expectations on the part of patients.
74. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children the staffing levels and availability of general paediatric units in each of the regional hospitals; the regional hospitals that have a dedicated high dependancy paediatric unit; the number of staff dedicated specifically to this unit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43202/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 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 the matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
75. Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist in securing an appointment for a person (details supplied) in Dublin North who has had two appointments for a day ward procedure at Beaumont Hospital cancelled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43203/08]
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 case 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.
76. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children when she will publish the report on the review of neurology services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43208/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Health Service Executive (HSE) undertook a national review of Neurology Services in Ireland. The review was completed some time ago and the resulting report was submitted to the National Hospitals Office. Following consideration of the report it was decided to seek an external expert opinion on the model of care proposed to ensure that the recommendations were properly aligned with the HSE Transformation Programme.
The issue of publication of the review is a matter for the Executive and accordingly my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
77. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide a breakdown of the number of procedures carried out by the National Treatment Purchase Fund to date in 2008 and in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43211/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): As the information requested by the Deputy involves a level of detail that is not held by my Department, I have asked the Chief Executive of the Fund to reply directly to the Deputy in this regard.
78. Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the retention of a person (details supplied) at a psychiatric institution. [43219/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The person concerned is a patient in a private hospital. I understand that discussions are ongoing between the person concerned, her family, the private hospital and the Health Service Executive in relation to her future care.
79. Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Health and Children the criteria for assessment and provision of treatment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin who requires orthodontic dental treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43220/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Deputy’s question relates to the funding, management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
80. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Health and Children the full value of the contract (details supplied) awarded by her Department. [43242/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Department of Health and Children has engaged the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) to develop a written communications training programme for delivery to its staff following an open tendering process via eTenders. Each programme run costs €4,350, (a total of €17,400 for the maximum of four runs sought in the tender) and runs for three days. The award amount was inadvertently omitted from the contract award notice posted on the eTenders website. It has now been included as ‘Additional Information’ to the award notice on the site.
81. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support a matter (details supplied). [43245/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
82. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support a matter (details supplied). [43246/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney): The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
83. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the way the means test for a medical card which applies to persons aged 70 years and over will be administered in the case of a person in a nursing home, whose gross income may exceed the €700 per week threshold, but for whom the costs of the nursing home completely absorb this income; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43255/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Where a person aged 70 or over does not qualify for a medical card after 1 January, by virtue of their gross income being over the thresholds of €700 per week for a single person or €1,400 per week for a couple, the Health Service Executive (HSE) may grant a medical card or GP visit card under the existing net income thresholds, which allow for medical, nursing and other expenses to be taken into account. Notwithstanding the above, the HSE may issue a medical card on a discretionary basis, if the applicant would otherwise be caused undue hardship in providing general medical and surgical services for himself/herself and any dependants.
84. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications in respect of enhanced nursing home subvention payments that are awaiting a decision from the Health Service Executive or her Department for funding in the Kildare-west Wicklow areas of the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43262/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
85. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the mechanism available to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare to obtain the additional payments needed to allow the person seek long-term care in a nursing home in view of the fact that enhanced subvention payments are not available and there are no facilities in the public wards of the appropriate hospitals within their health board area to facilitate this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43263/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. The Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
86. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason no acknowledgement has been received to a query e-mailed to her Department on 6 November 2008 regarding orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43264/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Deputy’s question relates to the funding, management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
87. Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Health and Children if people with an intellectual disability will be exempted from the increased long-stay residential charges which will require them to pay up to 75% of their disability allowance on these charges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43266/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 2005 have provided for two different classes of person for the purpose of levying a charge.
Class 1 refers to persons in receipt of in-patient services on premises where nursing care is provided on a 24 hour basis on those premises. The new rate of charges for Class 1 will be a weekly charge of €153.25 or the weekly income of that person less €44.70 whichever is the lesser.
Class 2 refers to persons in receipt of in-patient services where nursing care is not provided on a 24 hour basis on those premises. The new rate of charges for class 2 will be a weekly charge of €114.95 or the weekly income of that person less €70.25 or 60% of the weekly income of that person whichever is the lesser.
These rates provide for the maximum charge to be levied and the Health Service Executive (HSE) has the power to reduce or waive a charge on the basis of “undue hardship”. The HSE will determine the charge to be levied in each particular situation depending on individual circumstances and the type of service being provided. The new rates will come into effect on 1 January 2009 and reflect the increase in the Non-Contributory State Pension between 2005 and 2008.
88. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children when full arrears of disabled person’s maintenance allowance will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43271/08]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney): The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.
89. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43313/08]
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.
90. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will grant the application for core funding by an organisation (details supplied) in County Galway; if her attention has been drawn to the service that the organisation provides to Tuam and the surrounding areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43328/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The specific question raised by the Deputy relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the HSE under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to respond directly to the Deputy in this regard.
91. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision and retention of cancer services in the north west, particularly at Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the existing position there. [43331/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Based on the National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services, and the fact that the BreastCheck screening programme will significantly reduce the number of symptomatic breast cancer presentations, the Health Service Executive (HSE) determined that we require a total of eight specialist breast cancer centres nationally. It is important to clarify that this is not a downgrading of services but rather a consolidation of cancer care in designated centres which has the potential to improve survival by up to 20%. In order to comply with the Standards, the HSE has directed twenty one hospitals to cease breast cancer services. Further staged reductions in the number of hospitals providing breast cancer services, including Sligo General, will occur over the coming months in line with the development of quality assured capacity in the eight designated centres.
The National Cancer Control Programmes is this week beginning formal discussions with Sligo General Hospital to plan for transfer of symptomatic services from the hospital to University Hospital Galway (UHG) in 2009. The Director of the Programme will ensure sufficient capacity exists in UHG prior to the transfer of services from Sligo. Funding of €7 million has also been allocated in 2008 from the Programme across the eight centres for symptomatic breast disease services, to support additional staff, including Consultant, Radiography, Nursing and clerical posts. Funding has also been allocated for some necessary additional equipment.
The designation of cancer centres aims to ensure that patients receive the highest quality care while at the same time allowing local access to services, where appropriate. Where diagnosis and treatment planning is directed and managed by multi-disciplinary teams based at the cancer centres, then much of the treatment, other than surgery, can be delivered in local hospitals, such as Sligo. Chemotherapy and support services will continue to be delivered at Sligo.
92. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure a final appointment will be arranged for a person (details supplied). [43332/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 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 matter 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. Patients waiting more than three months on a surgical waiting list may qualify for treatment under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. It is open to the person in question or anyone acting on their behalf to contact the Fund directly in relation to their case.
93. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the background to the industrial action by staff (details supplied) at Portiuncula Hospital, County Galway; the action which is being taken to resolve this dispute; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43344/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The Deputy’s question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act, 2004. It is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter 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.
94. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the situation whereby a 15 year old girl on a Youthreach course who has a valid medical card must pay her general practitioner a fee of €20 to obtain a letter for her course tutor to show that she is ill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43348/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Under the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme, section 11 of the 1989 Capitation Contract states:
Accordingly, a medical card holder is not liable for a charge for this certificate.
95. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a facility (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43349/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, including ambulance services, is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all such 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.
96. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the way, in relation to the recent announcement regarding the introduction of the community rating levy, this new measure will be implemented; and the way in which the tax credit will be applied in respect of those with incomes exempt from income tax. [43352/08]
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): The community rating levy announced by the Government as part of the interim solution to protect the policy of community rating in the private health insurance market will be charged to the health insurance companies. The companies concerned, those in the open market, will be required to pay an annual levy to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of each insured person. The levy will be remitted to the Exchequer where it will form part of the overall Exchequer funding. The measure will apply in the calendar years 2009 to 2011. For 2009 the levy will be charged on all adult insured lives at a level of €160 with a reduced rate, one-third of this amount (€53), for insured lives under age 18 — to reflect the fact that insurance premiums for under 18s are on average of the order of one third of the adult premium.
Currently those with incomes exempt from income tax who have health insurance cover benefit from the standard rate of relief given, as it is granted at source (TRS) in respect of all insured persons. The additional age related relief being granted to those aged 50 and over, will, in a similar manner, be granted at source in respect of each insured person. At present all insured people, irrespective of their tax status, are charged the same net premium. This will also apply under the proposed arrangements. Both the age-related private health insurance relief and the levy will be subject to annual review. The Health Insurance Acts will be amended to oblige health insurance companies to provide appropriate data to the Health Insurance Authority each year.
97. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Transport if in view of the recently ended excise fuel rebate scheme he is considering proposals (details supplied) for an alternative to this fuel rebate scheme; his views on the cost and competitive disadvantage which coach operators face relative to their immediate counterparts in the UK who are entitled to a refund of VAT; if he will make a decision on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43199/08]
Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey): As already indicated in my recent replies to similar Dail Questions, the Finance Act 2008 provides for the removal of excise duty reliefs in the bus sector with effect from 1 November 2008. Since this is in line with our EU obligations, there is no power to restore the scheme. The operation of VAT is a fiscal matter, which falls under the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Finance.
98. Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport his views on correspondence from a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43243/08]
Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey): I refer the Deputy to my answer on 25 November 2008 to Dáil Question No. 302.
99. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide in tabular form the number of asylum centres in the country, the number of refugees in each centre and their nationalities, the cost of each centre and the average stay of a refugee in each centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43185/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal. In this regard, RIA is currently providing accommodation to over 6,900 asylum seekers in 59 centres located across 22 counties. (This figure does not include the Bruach na Habhainn in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo which is used to accommodate Resettlement Programme Refugees). The cost to the State for the provision of such accommodation in the last financial year, i.e. 2007, was £83.262 m. This expenditure included such services as pre-school services, utilities (gas) etc, transporting asylum seekers throughout the country under the system of dispersal, and miscellaneous amounts such as the payment for nappies and funeral expenses.
It is not possible, without a disproportionate expenditure of staff resources, to provide the information in precisely the format requested by the Deputy. In this respect, it must be borne in mind that asylum seekers are not allocated to particular centres based on their nationality, the current status of their asylum claim or their length of time in the asylum process. Information as to the mean average length of time in the asylum process of asylum seekers resident in any particular centre would have no practical application or value. I can, however, indicate an overall view of the duration of stay of RIA residents in the Direct Provision system in the following table:
|0-3 mths||3-6 mths||6-9 mths||9-12 mths||12-18 mths||18-24 mths||24-36 mths||Over 36 mths|
The figures above are taken from the RIA database. At 31 October 2008 there were 7086 residents “live on system”
In relation to the number of asylum seekers — not refugees it should be noted — the occupancy in each of the 59 RIA accommodation centres as of 16 November, 2008 is as follows.
|Kinsale Road||Cork City||290|
|An Poc Fada||Main Street, Cobh||37|
|Clonakilty Lodge,||Clonakilty, Co. Cork||95|
|Dublin||24 Camden Street||Camden Street, Dublin 2||7|
|70 Lower Camden Street||70 Lower Camden Street||3|
|14 Gardiner Place||Dublin 1||13|
|10 North Frederick Street||Dublin 1||18|
|Newlight House||St. Margaret’s, Finglas||27|
|Horse and Carriage||Aungier Street, Dublin 2||19|
|Viking Lodge||Francis Street, Dublin 8||52|
|The Towers||The Ninth Lock, Clondalkin||230|
|Georgian Court||77-79 Lower Gardiner St. Dublin 2||50|
|Hatch Hall||28 Lower Hatch Street, Dublin 1||143|
|Galway||Dun Gibbons||Clifden, Co. Galway||90|
|Eglinton||The Proms, Salthill||227|
|Great Western House||Eyre Square||163|
|Lisbrook House||Headford Road, Galway||264|
|Kerry||Atlas House (Killarney)||Killarney||89|
|Atlas House (Tralee)||Tralee||93|
|Laois||Hibernian||Main Street, Abbeyleix||49|
|Leitrim||Sliabh An Iarainn||Ballinamore||30|
|Limerick||Clyde House||St. Alphonsus Street||97|
|Mount Trenchard||Foynes, Co. Limerick||60|
|Sarsfield Bridge||Sarsfield Road, Limerick||98|
|Longford||Richmond Court||Richmond Street||92|
|The Old Convent||Ballyhaunis||292|
|Sligo||Globe House||Chapel Hill||228|
|Tipp. South||Bridgewater House||Carrick-On-Suir||107|
|Waterford||Atlantic House||Tramore, Co. Waterford||80|
|Ocean View||Tramore, Co. Waterford||81|
|Ursuline Complex||Ballytruckle Road||134|
|Viking House||Coffee House Lane||98|
|Wexford||Old Rectory House||New Ross||52|
|Wicklow||Beechlawn||Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow.||26|
|The Warrens||Wicklow Town||21|
|Total Accommodation Centres: 52||Total Residents||6,208|
|Cork||Davis Street||73-75 Davis Street, Mallow||34|
|Dublin||Glenview House||Tallaght, Dublin 24||51|
|Watergate House||11-14 Usher’s Quay, Dublin 8||54|
|Roscommon||Station Road||Station Road, Ballaghadereen||77|
|Total Self Catering Centres: 5||383|
|Dublin||Kilmacud House,||Upr Kilmacud Rd, Co. Dublin||58|
|Balseskin||St. Margarets, Finglas, Dublin 11||247|
|Total Reception Centres: 2||305|
In relation to the question relating to the nationality of residents in each centre the following is an analysis based on the situation obtaining on 31 December, 2007. It should be noted that the list of centres does not include Lisbrook House, Galway and Sarsfield Bridge, Limerick which were opened in 2008. Moreover, it includes 5 centres — Camden Hall, Portabello Harbour, Harbour View, James Street and Tathony House — all of which were closed in 2008.
|County||Location||Address||Current Occup.||Top 5 Nationalities||Nos.||%|
|Clare||Knockalisheen A/S Centre (***)||Meelick||260||Others||138||53.1|
|Cork||Ashbourne Hse Hotel||Glounthaune||99||Others||44||43.7|
|Kinsale Road Acc. Centre (***)||Cork City||310||Others||129||41.6|
|Glenvera Hotel||Wellington Road||91||Others||49|
|Millstreet Accommodation Centre||Millstreet||204||Others||62||30.3|
|An Poc Fada,||Main Street, Cobh||38||Others||15||39.4|
|Dublin||Camden House||Camden Street, Dublin 2||7||Others||2||28.5|
|The Towers||The Ninth Lock, Clondalkin||231||Others||111||48.0|
|Camden Hall||Camden Street, Dublin 2||22||Others||3||13.6|
|70 Lower Camden Street||70 Lower Camden Street||6||Others||2||33.3|
|14 Gardiner Place||Dublin 1||11||Others||4||36.4|
|Horse and Carriage||Aungier Street, Dublin 2||Others||6||28.6|
|Newlight House||St. Margaret’s, Finglas||18||Others||4||22.2|
|10 North Frederick Street||Dublin 1||21||Others||11||52.4|
|Viking Lodge||Francis Street, Dublin 8||63||Others||32||50.8|
|Georgian Court||77-79 Lower Gardiner St. Dublin 2||76||Others||9||11.9|
|Hatch Hall||28 Lower Hatch Street, Dublin 1||137||Others||47||34.4|
|Galway||Eglinton Hotel||The Proms, Salthill||241||Others||102||42.3|
|Great Western House||Eyre Square||169||Others||87||51.5|
|Dun Gibbons Inn||Clifden||99||Others||24||24.2|
|Johnston Marina Hotel||Tralee||101||Others||35||34.7|
|Leitrim||Sliabh An Iarainn||Ballinamore||44||Others||5||11.3|
|Limerick||Clyde House||St. Alphonsus Street||103||Others||61||59.2|
|Westbourne Holiday Hostel||Dock Road||80||Others||37||46.0|
|Mount Trenchard||Foynes, Co. Limerick||46||Others||22||47.8|
|Longford||Richmond Court||Richmond Street||95||Others||56||59|
|The Old Convent||Ballyhaunis||305||Others||112||36.7|
|Meath||Mosney Accommodation Centre||Mosney||770||Others||368||47.8|
|Sligo||Globe House||Chaptel Hill||227||Others||114||50.2|
|Tipp. South||Bridgewater House||Carrick-On-Suir||103||Others||46||44.6|
|Waterford||Atlantic House||Tramore, Co. Waterford||76||Others||25||32.9|
|Ocean View||Tramore, Co. Waterford||68||Others||3||4.5|
|Ursuline Complex||Ballytruckle Road||147||Others||74||50.4|
|Viking House||Coffee House Lane||92||Others||50||54.3|
|Westmeath||Athlone Accommodation Centre||Athlone||331||Others||109||32.9|
|Wexford||Old Rectory House||New Ross||51||Others||26||51|
|Wicklow||Beechlawn,||Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow.||21||Others||4||19.0|
|The Warrens||Wicklow Town||23||Others||11||47.9|
|County||Location||Address||Current Occup.||Top 5 Nationalities||Nos.||%|
|Cork||Davis Street Apartments||73-75 Davis Street, Mallow||42||Others||13||31|
|Dublin||Glenview House||Tallaght, Dublin 24||45||Others||16||35.6|
|Harbour View||Grand Canal Place, Dublin 1||13||Somalia||4||30.8|
|James Street Apartments||143 James St, Dublin 8||19||Ireland||1||5.3|
|Portobello Harbour||7, Portobello Harbour, Dublin 8.||11||Kenya||2||18.2|
|Tathony House||Bow Lane West, Dublin 8||67||Others||32||47.8|
|Watergate House||11-14 Usher’s Quay, Dublin 8||46||Others||16||34.8|
|Roscommon||Station Road Apartments||Station Road, Ballaghadereen||66||Others||26||39.4|
|County||Location||Address||Current Occup.||Top 5 Nationalities||Nos.||%|
|Dublin||Balseskin||St. Margaret’s Finglas||269||Others||114||42.3|
|Total for all centres||6,719|
Occupancy Levels refer to week ending 31/12/2007 — accommodation centres.
Occupancy Levels refer to Self Catering Centres.
Occupancy Levels refer to Reception Centres.
The occupancy level for all centres was 6,719 at 31 December, 2007.
100. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he supports a matter (details supplied). [43205/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I am informed by the Garda authorities that the location referred to is in Clontarf Garda Sub-District. Local Garda management is aware of public disorder and anti-social behaviour in the area concerned and has directed additional patrols. A member of the local Community Policing Unit is designated for this area and liaises with the local resident and business communities. Any specific issues raised receive appropriate attention. The area is also regularly patrolled by uniform and plain-clothes units, including the Community Policing Unit. Patrols are supplemented by the District Garda Mountain Bike Unit, Detective and Drugs Units, the Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Corps personnel.
Current policing strategies are predicated on the prevention of crime, public order offences and anti-social behaviour, and community policing is a central feature and core value of policing policy. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of the policing service in the area in question.
101. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the legal basis for requiring domestic air travellers to present at immigration control desks at Irish airports. [43206/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Immigration legislation does not provide for immigration controls on persons travelling by air within the State nor is there any intention of imposing such controls on persons who so travel. However, I understand that the configuration of disembarkation arrangements in the State’s airports generally does not provide for a separation of passengers disembarking from domestic flights and other flights. A consequence of this is that all passengers must pass through immigration control to ensure that those persons who by law require the permission of an immigration officer to enter the State are subject to the proper controls.
Any change to these arrangements would be a matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the relevant airport authorities who would have to be satisfied that airport security and the integrity of the immigration process would not be compromised.
102. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of training places and courses available to gardaí in Templemore; the number who attended courses; the capacity for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; the Garda budget allocated to fund ongoing training courses to gardaí for each year from 2002 and for 2009; the number of personnel in the Garda Reserve; the number in training; the proposed intake of garda reserves in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43209/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I have requested the information sought from the Garda authorities and I will contact the Deputy directly when this information is to hand.
103. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of marked and unmarked Garda vehicles allocated to Coolock, Raheny, Howth, Malahide, Santry and Ballymun Garda stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43210/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I am advised by the Garda authorities that the numbers of marked and unmarked Garda vehicles allocated to the Garda Stations referred to by the Deputy as at 25th November 2008 are as follows:
Garda vehicles, both marked and unmarked, which are based at Santry are deployed to cover surrounding areas within the Division.
104. Deputy Brendan Kenneally asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the protocols in place for the Garda Síochána to respond either to victims or people who report crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43216/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): It is Garda Síochána policy to provide the best service possible to victims of crime. I understand that under the revised Garda Charter for Victims of Crime members of An Garda Síochána taking incident reports from victims of crime will inform each victim of available support services and provide each victim with the National Crime Victims Helpline number, in writing. An Garda Síochána have also adopted the procedure of issuing a letter to the victim, informing them of the name of the investigating Garda, how to contact the Garda, details of the PULSE Incident Number and the number of the National Crime Victims Helpline or ITAS as appropriate.
The purpose of the Pulse letter is to provide feedback to the victims and to enable them to make appropriate inquiries at any PULSE networked Garda Station on the current status of their case. It also affords the victim an opportunity to avail of victim support services as the letter is accompanied by a list of national and regional organisations that support victims of crime. It is for the individual to decide if he/she wishes to avail of the services provided by these organisations. A letter is also sent to the victim in all cases where a person is made amenable for the crime.
As outlined by the Garda Charter, Garda Family Liaison Officers are appointed to keep victims’ families informed of the progress of more serious investigations and to ensure that they are afforded appropriate and relevant emotional, psychological, informational and practical support. The local Superintendent will appoint a Garda Family Liaison Officer to families of victims, who have been or are being subjected to emotional or psychological trauma related to incidents / crimes of:
Hostage siege situations;
Crime (other than above) where violence or an immediate threat of violence has been visited upon the victim;
Suicide and road traffic fatalities.
In cases of rape and other sexual offences a member of the investigating team, approved by the local Superintendent, will perform the functions of the Garda Family Liaison Officer. The Garda Charter may be viewed in full on the Garda Síochána website at www.garda.ie.
The Deputy may already be aware that at my request the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime is currently engaged in carrying out a review of the Victims Charter and guide to the criminal justice system which my Department first published in 1999. The Victims Charter includes a Garda Charter.
The Garda Inspectorate have been requested to advise on the development and implementation of the Garda Charter proposed in the Programme for Government which will set out targeted response times and levels of service which the public can expect including frequency of high visibility patrols in urban and rural communities. The Garda Inspectorate have advised me that they expect to complete their report early next year and I look forward to receiving their advice.
105. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  the position in regard to an application for leave to remain in the State and asylum in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43293/08]
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 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.
106. 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 Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43294/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 161 of Thursday, 25 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.
107. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application under humanitarian leave to remain here in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43295/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The applicants applied for asylum on the 5th May 2004. The four children were included on the mother’s file. They were refused a declaration of asylum on the 17th and 30th January 2006 respectively. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, they were informed that the then Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of them. All were given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why they should be allowed to remain temporarily in the state; leaving the state before orders are made or consenting to the making of Deportation Orders.
Representations for Leave to Remain were received on behalf of the applicants on the 6th February 2006, 8 August 2007 and 18th June 2008. Having considered all of the applicants files and all representations received, I decided to make Deportation Orders in respect of the applicants on 30th October 2008. The applicants instituted Judicial Review proceedings in the High Court on 21 August 2008, accordingly this case is sub judice, and I do not propose to comment further on this matter.
108. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application for citizenship and family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43296/08]
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 in June 2006 and I decided to refuse the application. The reason for the refusal was disclosed to the applicant in a letter dated 11 November 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 reason for refusal of his previous application. An application for family reunification on behalf of this person’s son was approved and a letter to this effect was issued on 26 September 2006. No further applications for family reunification have been received from the individual concerned.
109. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43297/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 373 of Tuesday 22 April 2008, and the written Reply to that Question. The person concerned arrived in the State on 28 November 2001 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 23 April 2003, 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 submitted on behalf of the person concerned at that time.
The person concerned, through his legal representative, 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) on 17 May 2007. However, this application was not accepted as it was not signed by the person concerned. As a result, the application was returned to the legal representative of the person concerned, by letter dated 30 May 2007. This communication informed the legal representative that, before this application could be considered, it must be returned, fully completed, within a period of ten working days from the date of that letter. The completed application for Subsidiary Protection in the State was not returned to my Department by the due date and, as such, no further consideration has been given to that application.
The case file of the person concerned now falls to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended). The Deputy can be assured that all representations submitted by, or on behalf of, the person concerned 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.
110. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43298/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The person concerned applied for asylum on her own behalf and on behalf of her infant daughter on 20 July 2005. The asylum application was refused following consideration of the 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 31 October 2007, that the Minister proposed to make deportation orders in respect of her and her child. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of deportation orders or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she and her child should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. She was also notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 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.
111. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43299/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The person concerned was born in the State in 2005 to an asylum seeking mother. An asylum application was submitted on behalf of the person concerned on 14 September 2007. This application was refused following consideration of the 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 8 September 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. In addition, he was notified of his 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). An application for Subsidiary Protection in the State was submitted on behalf of the person concerned 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.
112. 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 persons (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43300/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The first named person concerned applied for asylum on 14 September 2006. Her infant child was included as a child dependant in this application. Her asylum 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 first named person concerned was informed, by letter dated 30 May 2007, that the Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of her and her child. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of Deportation Orders or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she and her child should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, the first named person concerned 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 first named person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the first named 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 first named 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 first named person concerned is passed to me for decision.
With regard to the second named person concerned, the Deputy should note that it is not the practice to comment in detail on individual applications for refugee status where a final decision has not been made. 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.
113. 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 Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43301/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The person concerned applied for asylum in the State on 7 August 2002 but later withdrew her application and applied for residency in the State on the basis of her parentage of an Irish citizen child. The person concerned was refused residency in the State on the basis of her parentage of an Irish citizen child and this decision was conveyed to the person concerned by letter dated 12 March 2004. This communication also informed the person concerned that, arising from the refusal of her residency application and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), 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.
The person concerned re-applied for asylum in the State on 1 April 2004 and her application was refused following the investigation of her claims by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Arising from the refusal of her asylum application, the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 6 December 2004, 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.
The person concerned applied for permission to remain in the State on the basis of her parentage of an Irish citizen child, born in the State before 1 January 2005, in accordance with the Revised Arrangements announced by my predecessor on 15 January 2005, commonly referred to as the IBC/05 Scheme. Following the consideration of this application, a decision was taken to refuse the application and this decision was conveyed in writing to the person concerned by letter dated 12 January 2006. The person concerned was later 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). No such application was submitted.
The case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, now falls to be considered in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended). All representations submitted by and on behalf of the person concerned will 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, before the file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.
114. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 2; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43302/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 540 of Thursday, 17 April 2008, and the written Reply to that Question. The person concerned applied for asylum on 8 December 2004. 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 31 January 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 these representations 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.
115. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 2; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43303/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 535 of Thursday, 17 April 2008, and the written Reply to that Question. The person concerned applied for asylum on 8 December 2004. 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 31 January 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 these representations 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.
116. 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 Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43304/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The first named person concerned arrived in the State as an unaccompanied minor but was later reunited with her mother and included as a child dependant on her mother’s asylum application. The mother of the person concerned subsequently withdrew her asylum application and applied for residency in the State on the basis of her parentage of an Irish citizen child. The residency application was refused and this decision was conveyed in writing to the mother of the person concerned by letter dated 12 March 2004.
This communication also advised the mother of the person concerned that, arising from the refusal of her residency application and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of her and her dependant children. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of Deportation Orders 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 mother of the person concerned at that time.
The mother of the person concerned re-applied for asylum in the State on 1 April 2004 and the person concerned was again included as a child dependant on her mother’s asylum application. This asylum application was refused following the investigation of the application by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Arising from the refusal of the asylum application, the mother of the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 6 December 2004, that the Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of her and her dependant children. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of Deportation Orders or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she and her children should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations were submitted on behalf of the mother of the person concerned.
The mother of the person concerned applied for permission to remain in the State on the basis of her parentage of an Irish citizen child, born in the State before 1 January 2005, in accordance with the Revised Arrangements announced by my predecessor on 15 January 2005, commonly referred to as the IBC/05 Scheme. Following the consideration of this application, a decision was taken to refuse the application and this decision was conveyed in writing to the mother of the person concerned by letter dated 12 January 2006.
The mother of the person concerned was later 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). No such application has been submitted.
The case file of the mother of the person concerned now falls to be considered in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended). All representations submitted by, and on behalf of, the mother of the person concerned will 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 before the file is passed to me for decision.
The Deputy might wish to note that all decisions taken to date in respect of the mother of the person concerned have applied equally to the person concerned. However, given that the person concerned is now an adult, from now on her position in the State will fall to be considered on the basis of its own merits. Against this background, I understand that a representative of my Department will be writing to the person concerned in the coming days to advise her to this effect and to also invite her to submit any new representations she would wish to have considered before I take a final decision in her case. The Deputy might wish to note that any such decision would have regard for the provisions of 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.
117. 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 Dublin 8; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43305/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Officials in the Citizenship Section of my Department inform me that, having checked their records, no trace of an application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question has been found.
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. These conditions are that the applicant must:
be of full age;
be of good character;
have had a period of one year’s continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, have had a total residence in the State amounting to four years;
intend in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation; have made, either before a Judge of the District Court in open court or in such a manner as the Minister, for special reasons allows, a declaration in the prescribed manner, of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.
In the context of naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State are excluded. These include:
periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State;
periods granted for the purposes of study;
periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act, 1996.
It is open to the persons concerned to lodge applications for certificates of naturalisation if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements applicable at that time.
118. 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 Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43306/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The person concerned applied for asylum on 8 November 2004. 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 21 March 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. There is no record of any representations having been submitted by, or on behalf of, the person concerned.
Following consideration of her case, 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, a Deportation Order was signed in respect of the person concerned on 13 May 2005. Notice of this Order was served by registered letter dated 31 May 2005 requiring the person concerned to present herself to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) on a specified date in order to make travel arrangements for her deportation from the State. This letter was returned undelivered to my Department as a result of which the person concerned was classified as a person who was evading her deportation.
Subsequently, the person concerned, through her legal representative, requested that the decision to issue a Deportation Order in respect of the person concerned be reviewed. Following a review of the case file of the person concerned, a decision was taken to revoke the Deportation Order and to permit the person concerned to submit fresh representations in support of an application for permission to remain temporarily in the State. Owing to an administrative oversight in my Department, it appears that the person concerned was not subsequently invited to submit fresh representations. As a result, I have been assured by Department Officials that this invitation is now being forwarded to the person concerned and her legal representative. The case of the person concerned will be considered further upon receipt of a response to my Department’s letter.
119. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43307/08]
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 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.
120. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43308/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): The person concerned, while under 16 years of age, availed of the permission to remain in the State granted to his mother under the IBC/05 scheme. On reaching the age of sixteen, the person requires permission to remain in the State in his own right. The person is advised to write to my Department at INIS, PO Box 10003, Dublin 2, requesting permission to remain in the State as the dependent of a parent who has been granted permission to remain under the IBC/05 scheme. Consideration will be given to the request, and the person concerned will be notified should further documentation be required, or of any decision made.
121. Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the growing practice of persons begging at major junctions, often in dangerous traffic circumstances; the law in this matter; if he has plans to address the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43347/08]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Government recently approved my proposals for new legislation to deal with the outcome of the High Court judgement which found that section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 was unconstitutional. That was the section under which prosecutions for begging were brought. The new legislation is now being drafted. I expect it will be published in 2009.
The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Public Order)(Amendment) Bill is available on my Department’s website. The new legislation will provide that begging will be an offence where it is accompanied by unacceptable behaviour such as harassment, obstruction or intimidation. The Bill will also provide a new power that will enable the Gardaí to direct persons who are begging to desist. A failure to comply with a direction may result in an arrest and charge. I believe this new power will prove to be an effective addition to the enforcement options available to the Gardaí.
122. Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will reply to a letter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43270/08]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): The person in question applied for a passport in 1995. The application was made in a surname adopted upon marriage and in accordance with normal procedure, the applicant’s previous birth surname was also shown on the form. The applicant stated on the application form that she had not held a previous passport.
In the course of checking the applicant’s data against the passport office database, it was discovered that a passport had been issued in 1988 to a person with the same first name, date of birth and former maiden name of the applicant. The Passport Office then contacted the person in question regarding the 1988 passport. The applicant stated that she had not been issued with a previous passport and inspection of the 1988 application file confirmed that this related to a separate individual. A passport was then issued to the person in question.
The Passport Office established separate passport files for the two individuals. The person in question renewed her passport without any difficulty in April 2006. She subsequently requested details of all passports issued to her. The Passport Office provided summary details from her passport file of the two passports issued to her in 1995 and 2006. The person in question then requested a copy of the application made in 1988. The Passport Office explained both by phone and in writing to the person in question that the application lodged in 1988 had been made by a different individual and that data protection legislation precluded the release of a copy of that application to her. A response to the letter dated 14 November 2008 to the Deputy will be issued shortly.
123. Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when application forms in respect of the sports capital programme for 2009 will become available. [43218/08]
127. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the sports capital grants will be available in 2009; when applications will be accepted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43326/08]
128. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the application forms for lottery funding in respect of capital sports grants will be available for the year 2009; the closing date for submissions thereof; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43346/08]
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 123, 127 and 128 together.
The Deputies will be aware that allocations under the 2008 Sports Capital Programme were announced in July last. No decision has yet been made about the timing of further rounds of the Programme.
124. Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will allocate funding towards the world bodhrán festival which will be held in Milltown, County Kerry. [43258/08]
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen): The Department has received no application from the organisers of the festival for funding in 2009.
125. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives and the Manuscripts Commission will be amalgamated; the amount that will be saved as a result of this amalgamation; his views on whether this amalgamation is feasible or appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43260/08]
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen): I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 76, 77 and 84 on 19th November 2008.
126. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Gallery will be amalgamated; the amount that will be saved as a result of this amalgamation; his views on whether this amalgamation is feasible or appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43261/08]
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen): I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 76, 77 and 84 on 19th November 2008.
Questions Nos. 127 and 128 answered with Question No. 123.
129. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the tender process for the awarding of ferry contracts to the islands off the coast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43251/08]
Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív): The processes followed by my Department in relation to the award of island ferry contracts are in accordance with the relevant provisions of EU Directive 2004/18/EC on the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts and are also guided by:
Commission Interpretative Communication of 23 June 2006 on the Community law applicable to contract awards not or not fully subject to the provisions of the Public Procurement Directives;
Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3577/92 applying to the principle of freedom to provide services to maritime transport within Member States (maritime cabotage); and
the Communication of 22 December 2003 from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the interpretation of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3577/92, as updated by COM (2006) of 11 May 2006.
My Department’s processes have also been informed by legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General.
130. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if all documentation relating to the awarding of the Cape Clear ferry contract in March 2007 will be made available; if all correspondence between his Department and those who tendered for this ferry contract will also be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43252/08]
Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív): As a general rule, records relating to successful tender bids may be released by my Department to requesters, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003. I am arranging for copies of such material relating to the Cléire ferry service to be made directly available to the Deputy. In line with guidance provided by the Office of the Information Commissioner, it is not the current practice of my Department to release records relating to unsuccessful tender bids.
131. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her estimate of the saving in a full year in respect of her proposal to reduce the rate of child benefit in respect of 18 year olds in 2009 and to abolish the payment in respect of 18 year olds in 2011; and her estimate of the number of families affected by this measure in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [43175/08]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): As announced in the Budget, the Government has decided that from now on child benefit will no longer be paid in respect of those who are 18 years old. At that stage, they are effectively treated as adults in most respects. This change will be phased in gradually. A half payment will be made in respect of existing and future qualifying children from January 2009 and from January 2010 the payment will cease from the 18 birthday. Special transitional alleviating measures are being introduced for young people in social welfare dependent and low income families.
The net savings from this change to child benefit entitlements is expected to be €27.6 million in 2009, €67.2 million in 2010 and €79 million per annum from 2011 onwards. It is estimated that the savings arising from the halving of the rate of child benefit from the 18th birthday will be €39.4 million in 2009 and will affect payment in respect of 39,600 children. This will be offset by compensatory payments for families on social welfare payments costing €11.8 million which will benefit 13,000 children approximately in 2009 and 2010. It is estimated that savings of €79 million will arise in 2010 from the removal of the entitlement to child benefit from the 18 birthday and that around 39,600 children will be affected.
132. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her estimate of the saving in a full year in respect of her various proposals to increase the minimum contributions criteria for illness benefit, jobseekers benefit and health and safety benefit respectively; and her estimate of the number of persons in respect of each benefit in a full year who will not qualify as a result of this proposal. [43177/08]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Social insurance is intended both to enable people to insure themselves against adverse life events such as illness or unemployment and to provide for their state pensions and other benefits, through contributions to the national Social Insurance Fund. Social insurance benefits are not means-tested. Instead, entitlement depends on having paid the required number of PRSI contributions relevant to the particular benefit you wish to claim.
For the past eleven years, the Social Insurance Fund has been in surplus, with more than sufficient income to the fund to cover the payments being made from it each year, without the State having to provide a subsidy. However, that is changing. As a result of further increases in the live register, expenditure is expected to exceed income to the Fund by over €200 million this year and about €900 million next year. Although these current deficits can be met from the accumulated surplus, it looks likely that the Exchequer may yet again have to subsidise expenditure from the Social Insurance Fund within a few years. In that context, it is appropriate to look at some of the instances where people with a very limited or distant contribution record have been able to qualify for very significant benefits, regardless of their household income.
Two sets of proposals were introduced in the Budget in relation to the minimum contributions required for entitlement to certain social insurance benefits. The number of paid contributions required for underlying entitlement to illness benefit, jobseeker’s benefit and health and safety benefit was increased from 52 to 104 paid contributions over a person’s working life. At present people can qualify for such benefits after only one year’s work. In addition, a claimant for jobseeker’s benefit or health and safety benefit will now be required to have paid 13 contributions in the relevant tax year. This condition, which already applies in the case of illness benefit, will ensure a uniform rationalised approach across all short-term social insurance schemes.
It is estimated that the net full year savings arising from these measures will be €5 million in the case of illness benefit and €18.1 million in the case of jobseeker’s benefit. It is estimated that the weekly average number of recipients affected in a full year will be 920 in the case of illness benefit and 4,500 in the case of jobseeker’s benefit. Such persons will be able to claim supplementary welfare allowance instead of illness benefit and jobseeker’s allowance instead of jobseeker’s benefit if they have limited means.
A very small number of people are in receipt of health and safety benefit at any one time. As a result, the estimated weekly savings arising from the changes in the contribution requirements and the numbers of people affected are minimal.
133. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her estimate of the saving in a full year in respect of her proposal to limit the duration of illness benefit; and her estimate of the number of persons in a full year who will not qualify as a result of this proposal. [43178/08]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Illness Benefit was intended to provide income replacement for insured persons during short spells of incapacity or illness, while other payments are available to people who can’t work long-term because of a disability or a medical condition. However, there is currently no limit on the amount of time for which Illness Benefit can be paid to people who have more than 260 social insurance contributions. As a recently published OECD review notes, this is very unusual because there is a great risk that people in such circumstances will never return to the labour market. Accordingly, the Government has decided to confine entitlement to Illness Benefit to two years (or 624 days) duration for claims arising after the 5th January 2009. Persons currently in receipt of Illness Benefit will not be affected by the change.
It is estimated that net savings of €101 million will arise from the measure in a full year. Around 28,500 persons would be affected by the measure in a full year, but approximately two thirds of these would be entitled to another social welfare payment instead of illness benefit. As the measure is only applying to new applicants from January 2008, it will take a number of years before the full year impact is realized.
134. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her estimate of the saving in a full year in respect of her proposal to increase the reckonable salary ceiling to €300 per week in order to qualify for the maximum rate of jobseekers benefit; and her estimate of the number of persons in a full year who will not qualify for the maximum rate of jobseekers benefit as a result of this proposal. [43179/08]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): At present some people who were previously working part-time can receive a higher rate of payment from jobseekers benefit than what they were actually earning whilst at work. This is because the graduated rating structure which applies in such cases has not been revised since 2003. This situation is inappropriate and a disincentive to employment and so, from next January, the situation will be addressed by increasing the earnings thresholds which currently apply to the reduced or graduated rates of payment from €150 to €300 per week. It is estimated that net savings of €3.4 million will arise from the measure in a full year and that a weekly average of around 3,300 recipients will be affected.
135. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in education cannot receive a rent subsidy payment from the Health Service Executive to provide a permanent home for the person and the child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43221/08]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of the Department by community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), provides for the payment of rent supplement to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs. The Health Service Executive has advised that the person concerned has been refused rent supplement on the grounds that she is not eligible for payment as she is not in receipt of a social welfare payment and is currently participating in full-time education. People in full-time education are excluded from receiving income support, including rent supplement, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, unless they are in receipt of a back-to-education allowance.
The person concerned has been advised by the community welfare officer of her right to lodge an appeal with the HSE Appeals Office against the decision to refuse rent supplement. The Executive has also advised that rent supplement was paid, as an exceptional measure, while the person concerned was awaiting a decision on her application for back-to-education allowance, which was subsequently refused.
136. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Defence if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 487 of 11 November 2008, the appointments were made in relation to the advertised positions; if so, the number of applicants who were interviewed; the ranks of those interviewed; the ranks of those who obtained the positions offered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43249/08]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea): The appointments referred to have not yet been made. There were a total of two (2) sergeants and seven (7) corporals who applied and competed for the positions. Three (3) candidates have been sent for medical reclassification in order to fill these appointments. The promotions will take place shortly when this process has been completed.
137. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Defence the number and the location of barracks that have been closed down or amalgamated in the past ten years; and the amount of money that has been raised from the sale of these properties. [43345/08]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea): The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the table below.
|Year||Barracks & Location||Amount|
|2001||Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy, Cork||973,889|
|2002||Devoy Barracks, Naas, Co Kildare||9,271,597|
|Castleblayney Barracks, Monaghan||763,698|
|2003||Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Cork (Lot 1)||41,010,599|
|Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Cork (Lot 2)||1,050,034|
|2004||Clancy Barracks, Dublin||25,400,000|
|Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Cork (Site)||1,730,073|
|2007||Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Cork (1.7 acres)||1,095,401|
|Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig Cork (.9 acres)||50,000|
138. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to improve the locations and opening hours of recycling facilities for hazardous household waste to prevent people binning hazardous items simply because they are unable to access recycling facilities. [43192/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Operational matters such as the location and opening hours of recycling facilities for hazardous household waste are the responsibility of the relevant local authorities. I am fully committed to the continuing development of a national network of waste recycling facilities. Since 2002, over €100 million has been allocated by my Department to local authorities to assist in the capital costs of establishing and developing such facilities. To date in 2008 my Department has paid €22.2 million in capital grants towards the development of waste recovery and recycling infrastructure.
My Department also provides an annual subvention to local authorities to assist in the operational costs associated with their recycling facilities, and this can include improvement in public opening hours. In 2007 authorities received €12 million in grant assistance for operational costs over the period July 2006 to June 2007 and I have made a similar provision to cover the period July 2007 to June 2008. The recently published National Hazardous Waste Management Plan 2008-2012, prepared by the EPA contains a number of relevant recommendations which will now be considered by the responsible bodies concerned, including the local authorities.
139. Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is in receipt of an application from Cork City Council for funding to implement a water services rehabilitation programme; when he will make a decision on this application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43207/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): My Department is currently examining Cork City Council’s Preliminary Report for proposed water mains rehabilitation works estimated to cost €12.2 million. A decision will be conveyed to the Council as soon as possible.
Question No. 140 answered with Question No. 30.
141. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will confirm that his Department has received an application for funding from Westmeath County Council to provide emergency accommodation for homeless men, particularly in the context that Westmeath County Council acquired a site for this property but no commitment has been given by either the Health Service Executive or his Department to date for funding of same; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a male hostel is needed now; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43277/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): There is no funding application in respect of this project with my Department at present.
142. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if any curtailments of expenditure are expected to take place in respect of electronic voting with particular reference to the ongoing annual costs involved in view of the economic situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43278/08]
143. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a buyer has been found for the electronic voting technology which is costing the taxpayer an increasing amount annually; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43279/08]
144. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has sought, received or offered any solution to the ongoing costly problem of the electronic voting technology now in storage and expected to be so for the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43280/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 to 144, inclusive, together.
I am at present considering the next steps to be taken in relation to the electronic voting and counting 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.
I am aware of the issues that have been raised in relation to storage arrangements for the machines. On this matter, the Government decision to proceed with the movement of the electronic voting equipment to centralised premises was the right approach. Given the scale of investment in the system to date, and the importance of the issues involved for our electoral system, it is essential that the future of the project be examined objectively and in a thorough and comprehensive manner. It is important that we come to the best decision possible. It is not possible to make more specific comment at this point on the project itself, or on future plans for the machines, pending completion of the necessary work and a decision by Government in the matter.
145. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the term affordable housing means affordable to the purchaser or affordable to the vendor; if his recent initiatives in this area will enable a purchaser using traditional borrowing and lending criteria to be in a position to undertake an affordable mortgage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43281/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): The various affordable housing schemes assist in achieving the Government objective of enabling every household to have available an affordable dwelling, as far as possible, at the tenure of its choice. This is accomplished by making homes available for purchase by those who, under normal circumstances, cannot afford outright ownership at full market prices.
Mortgage finance for affordable housing has traditionally been available from the local authorities backed by Housing Finance Agency lending. This continues to be the case. However, in recent times, Bank of Ireland Mortgage Bank, the EBS, Irish Intercontinental Bank, First Active, Haven Mortgages and more recently Ulster Bank are now providing mortgage finance for affordable housing applicants. The entry of additional mortgage providers into the affordable housing market makes for more competition and consumer choice.
The Home Choice loan scheme announced recently is designed to respond, in a targeted way, to a very specific set of circumstances in the housing market whereby prospective first-time buyers who would previously have been in a position to access mortgage finance from one of the financial institutions are not currently in a position to do so, due to the impacts of the credit crunch. It is targeted at purchases on the open market and, accordingly, does not apply to purchases under the Affordable Housing Schemes. Home Choice will be available to first time buyers of new houses and self builds, subject to a maximum loan of €285,000, depending on income, and a maximum loan to value ratio of 92%. The loan term will be up to 30 years and a minimum income of €40,000 for single applicants and €50,000 for joint applicants will be required.
A detailed, robust and prudent credit policy governing all aspects of loan decisions, including, inter alia, requirements in relation to the financial standing of applicants, proportion of net monthly income required to make loan repayments, and employment conditions, is now being finalised. An applicant’s ability to pay will also be stress-tested to assess their ability to repay at current rates and in the event of significant interest rate rises.
146. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of houses provided to date under the affordable housing heading; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43282/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): Information on affordable housing activity, up to the end of June 2008, is available on my Department’s website at www.environ.ie. Information is also published in my Department’s Housing Statistics Bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.
147. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he will take to augment the public housing programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43283/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): We have made considerable progress in recent years in meeting housing needs through the broad range of social and affordable housing programmes. In 2007 alone, the needs of almost 18,300 households were met across the housing spectrum and all the indications available to us at this stage would suggest that 2008 will be another year of significant delivery under the main housing programmes.
Looking to the future, the results of the 2008 Housing Needs Assessment, due to be finalised shortly, will show a significant increase in overall net housing need, against a background of a significantly more constrained fiscal environment. While this presents a challenging scenario, the €1.66 billion in funding provided for housing in the 2009 Estimates will allow us to maintain strong momentum towards meeting our commitments in the Towards 2016 social partnership agreement and our longer-term goals under the NDP. In particular, progress will be underpinned by the continued roll-out of the Rental Accommodation Scheme and new initiatives including the sourcing of accommodation for social housing through long term lease arrangements, and the introduction of an Incremental Purchase Scheme through which lower income households can access home ownership.
148. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which he or his Department have identified deficiencies in the public water supply arising from pollution due to lack of public sewerage facilities or other causes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43284/08]
149. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he has taken to ensure that the quality of the public water supply throughout the country is up to the highest possible standards and that there is no repetition of the water supply problems experienced in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43285/08]
150. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will give an assurance regarding the adequacy and quality of the public water supply in all areas throughout the country now and in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43286/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 to 150, inclusive, together.
It is the responsibility of the relevant local authority to deliver quality public water supplies to meet current and future needs. The quality of individual supplies is monitored by the EPA and its most recent report, The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland — A Report for the Years 2006 and 2007, is available in the Oireachtas Library. I have put in place a rigorous supervisory framework to ensure good quality drinking water is available and that effective mechanisms are in place to deal quickly and effectively with problems where they arise. Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations, 2007, local authority drinking water supplies are subject to supervision by the EPA and I have given the Agency the necessary resources to back up its new enforcement powers.
Under the drinking water regulations, local authorities are obliged to ensure that any failure to meet quality standards in a water supply is investigated immediately to determine the cause. The authority is also obliged to inform the EPA promptly and to consult with the Health Service Executive. Where incidences of contamination occur, the EPA can issue such directions to the local authority as necessary to prevent or remove any health risk. Failure to comply with such a direction is an indictable offence and subject to heavy penalties. In addition, my Department coordinates and finances a major programme of investment in improved water supply infrastructure. €560 million was provided in the Budget for the Water Services Investment Programme in 2009, the highest ever such allocation and an increase of 19% over the 2008. This is a clear statement of the priority assigned to the preservation and protection of our water resources, to meeting EU standards for drinking water and wastewater treatment and to providing critical water and wastewater infrastructure.
The schemes included in the current Water Services Investment Programme are derived mainly from the assessments of needs undertaken by all local authorities, at my Department’s request, as an input to the overall strategy for meeting water services infrastructural requirements. Among the criteria local authorities are required to take into account in preparing assessments of needs are compliance with national and EU drinking water standards, including reports produced by the EPA annually in relation to drinking water quality. I am satisfied that the policies and resources in place will ensure that our water supplies are capable of meeting the required quality standards and current and anticipated demands.
151. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he proposes to take steps to ensure the capital programme in respect of small, medium and large sewerage schemes throughout the country will proceed unimpeded with particular reference to the need to eliminate potential pollution of water courses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43287/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Local authorities are required by my Department to undertake regular assessments of needs for new or upgraded infrastructure in their areas and to determine their priorities in accordance with the assessments. In carrying out these assessments authorities take a range of factors into account, including:
relevant national and EU environmental and public health water quality statutory requirements and standards, including the requirements of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Regulations, 2001;
relevant reports and studies such as the National Urban Waste Water Study and any similar studies/reports commissioned locally;
relevant reports produced by the Environmental Protection Agency on water quality and urban wastewater discharges;
the adequacy of existing collection networks and, in the case of anticipated development, the adequacy of the capacity of existing treatment plants;
continued support for economic activity and the National Spatial Strategy.
The needs assessments produced by local authorities were taken into account in the selection and scheduling of the schemes approved for funding under my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2007 -2009 which is available in the Oireachtas Library. €560 million was provided in the Budget for the Programme in 2009, the highest ever such allocation and an increase of 19% over the 2008 provision. This is a clear statement of the priority assigned to the preservation and protection of our water resources, to meeting EU standards for drinking water and wastewater treatment and to providing critical new water and wastewater infrastructure.
152. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it is expected to allocate the necessary funding to Kildare County Council to enable the Ballyna group water scheme to proceed in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43288/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I refer to the reply to Question No. 207 of 23 October 2008. The position is unchanged.
153. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he proposes to provide additional funding to the various local authorities throughout the country with a view to offsetting the impact of the downturn in the economy and providing essential services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43289/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Local authorities will spend some €11.7bn on capital and current expenditure in 2009. Some €1.6bn will be available for allocation via the Local Government Fund. General-Purpose Grants are the contribution that my Department makes to local authorities to meet the gap between the cost to them of providing a reasonable level of day-to-day services and the income they obtain from other sources. A total of €935.2m in General-Purpose Grants will be provided to local authorities from the Local Government Fund.
The Local Government Fund is also providing significant funding to local authorities for the improvement and maintenance of local and regional roads. An amount of €564.5m has been allocated to the Department of Transport from the Local Government Fund for 2009 for this purpose. An additional amount in the region of €80m will be allocated for particular purposes including the operation of Water Services, and the administration of Group Water Schemes and the Vehicle Registration Unit.
General purpose grants are important in assisting local authorities to balance their budgets. They comprise about one fifth of the funding required by authorities to provide their day to day services, although the proportion varies between authorities. Local authorities receive income from a range of sources including rates, charges for goods and services, specific State grants and general purpose grants from the Local Government Fund. There are no additional resources available to me to increase general purpose funding to local authorities.
It is a matter for each local authority to prioritise its spending, within the resources available to it, across the range of services it provides. Equally, local authorities must ensure full value for money for the resources invested, and seek the maximum efficiency across their operations. I am satisfied that the general purpose allocations I have provided for 2009, together with the income available from other sources, will enable Local Authorities to provide an acceptable level of service to their customers.
154. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will substantially increase funding to Kildare County Council to facilitate increased requirements under the public housing programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43290/08]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): The final allocations for the 2009 Social Housing Investment Programme to be announced early next year will take account of the 2008 Housing Needs Assessment to be finalised shortly, and so will appropriately reflect any change in identified needs in the Kildare area.
155. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, along with his EU colleagues, he has quantified the economic impact on Ireland and the EU of proposals to combat climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43291/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): In January, the European Commission proposed a legislative package for the implementation of the EU’s objectives on climate change and renewable energy for 2020. This package included key policy proposals for the revision of the EU Emissions Trading System, the sharing of effort by Member States to meet the Community’s greenhouse gas emissions commitments, and the promotion of renewable energy. Accompanying these proposals to the European Parliament and the Council, the European Commission also published an impact assessment of various elements of the package.
The impact assessment has estimated that the EU’s GDP in 2020 would be 0.68% lower than the 2020 baseline, where EU GDP is estimated to grow by 38% by 2020 compared to 2005. The impact assessment also estimated that Ireland’s GDP in 2020 would be 0.80% lower than the 2020 baseline, where Ireland’s GDP is estimated to grow by 54% by 2020 compared to 2005.
156. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to bring about a CO2 reduction; if it is intended to meet EU or Irish targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43292/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I refer to the reply to Question No. 1 of 23 October 2008, in which I outlined the range of work underway, and addressed in my second Carbon Budget in October 2008, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol, and the longer-term.
157. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of staff employed in the EPA on a yearly basis. [43334/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992 includes provision enabling the EPA to determine charges or scales of charges in relation to the provision by it of services. I have no function in that regard. The Agency employed 290 staff in the years 2006 and 2007, and this increased to 340 staff in 2008.
158. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when responsibility for the storage of electronic voting machines was assigned to returning officers; the guidelines that were provided to returning officers in regard to the suitability of accommodation and the preferred type and length of storage contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43341/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I refer to the replies to Question Nos. 220 of 13 November 2008 and 152 of 20 November 2008. 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 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.
In January 2003, Returning Officers were advised by my Department to make arrangements for storage of the voting equipment in advance of delivery and, in this regard, of the need for the machines to be stored in a clean, dry atmosphere and of the space likely to be required for this purpose. This guidance was set out in Circular Letter F. 2/03 of 3 January 2003, issued by my Department. I will arrange for a copy of this circular to be forwarded to the Deputy.
159. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a baseline health study will be carried out in Cork Harbour following the debate earlier in 2008 on the implications of possible cancer causing chemicals being released into the harbour from the former steel plant at Haulbowline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43353/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): An environmental assessment of the current status of the Haulbowline site by consultants, White Young Green, and a peer review of it have been completed. My Department is currently examining the reports and the recommendations contained within them. Once this is completed I will release the reports into the public domain, which I expect will occur early next week. I will then advise Government on the outcome and actions that may be necessary, including in regard to the question of any studies on human health.
160. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department has carried out research into the amount of residual waste that might need to be treated by incineration annually; if his Department has an estimate of the capacity of the proposed incinerator plants in the State; his views on incineration as a method of dealing with waste; his policy on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43354/08]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): The Programme for Government signalled the further development of waste and resource policy in the direction of sustainability and, in particular, to move away from mass burn incineration towards alternative technologies. Arising from a commitment in the Programme, a major international review of waste management strategy is now under way. This will inform the Government’s approach to waste prevention and minimisation and to diversion of waste from landfill. This review will examine, in particular, the emergence of new technologies in waste management, particularly those for the mechanical and biological treatment of waste, which can reduce the need for incineration or landfill.
At present there are no municipal waste incinerators in Ireland and my Department has no function in determining the number, type, location or capacity of any such facilities that may be constructed. Such projects would be advanced by private sector service providers or by local authorities, generally by way of a public private partnership. It is a matter for the promoters of such projects to seek and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals, i.e. planning permission and a waste licence.
In carrying out their functions, planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, and the EPA, in regard to waste licensing, act independently of the Minister. The approved capacity of individual facilities is a matter for determination through these processes, as provided for in the Planning and Development and Waste Management Acts.
My view generally is that undue emphasis on incineration as the cornerstone of waste management policy is detrimental to the development of alternative solutions. The current review of waste policy may well indicate a continuing role for incineration in our future waste management strategy but I do not envisage it being on anything like the scale that was previously envisaged. Data available to my Department from the National Waste Report were used to extrapolate that by 2016, and having met EU landfill diversion targets, the volume of waste requiring further treatment could potentially be reduced to some 400,000 tonnes, provided that sufficient capacity for the mechanical and biological treatment of waste can be developed in that timeframe.
161. Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the grants available from his Department to help alleviate the costs of introducing alternative energy sources such as wood pellet burners, insulation, solar panels and so on in new homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43267/08]
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan): The Building Regulations 2008, which came into force on July 1st, make the inclusion of renewable energy in new homes mandatory. As a result grant support towards installation of renewable technologies in new homes is no longer available under the Greener Homes Scheme. The Building Regulations mandatory requirement will of itself significantly stimulate demand for renewable energy products and services. The presence in the market of 1,300 installers who have successfully completed nationally accredited training will underpin this regulatory requirement. The installation of renewable heating systems in existing homes, which is typically more complex and more expensive, is receiving continued support in the short to medium term while the market reaches maturity.
The Low Carbon Homes Programme, which will be administered by Sustainable Energy Ireland, will provide grants to developers of up to 40% of eligible expenditure to encourage large developments of new homes to an energy performance standard well in excess of the recently adopted building Regulations. Homes built under the Programme will be at least 70% more energy efficient and produce at least 70% less carbon dioxide than homes built to 2005 standards and will have a Building Energy Rating (BER) of at least A2. Homes built to the standard of the recently adopted Building Regulations, which are already among the best in Europe, would typically have a BER of B1, two points below the minimum standard of the new programme.
162. Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the grants available from his Department to help alleviate the costs in respect of insulation of older homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43268/08]
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Financial supports are available to homeowners under two schemes funded by my Department to improve the energy efficiency of existing houses. For households on low incomes, such as those in receipt of fuel allowance, invalidity or disability benefit, the Warmer Homes Scheme managed by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) will install cavity wall insulation, attic insulation, a boiler lagging jacket, draught proofing measures and CFLs. Advice is also provided to householders on minimising energy use. These measures are provided free or at a token cost. Funding of €10 million has been made available for this Scheme in 2009, which includes a contribution of €5 million in total from ESB and Bord Gáis.
Householders generally will be in a position to avail of grants for energy efficiency improvement measures under the Home Energy Saving Scheme from next year. I launched the Scheme this year on a pilot basis, in a selected number of areas, and with a budget of €5 million. The pilot Scheme is grant aiding cavity wall insulation, wall lining insulation, external insulation, attic insulation, heating controls and low emission double glazing. This pilot phase is informing the design of the wider roll out of the scheme in 2009 for which provision of €20 million has been made.
163. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the incentives available in his Department to staff to avail of early retirement; the likelihood of these schemes being made more attractive both in terms of pension and lump sum provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43187/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The only early retirement arrangements which staff in my Department can avail of is Cost Neutral Early Retirement. This is a facility which allows established staff to retire between 50 and 60 and un-established staff to retire between 55 and 65 with immediate payment of pension and lump sum. These benefits are subject to actuarial reduction to take account of early payment of the lump sum and the longer period over which the pension is payable. All terms and conditions pertaining to superannuation for civil servants are a matter for the Minister for Finance.
164. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the quantity of gas flushed poultry meat imported in 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43189/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The trade statistics available to my Department do not differentiate imports on the basis of how products are packaged.
165. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his views on the significant variation in prices in individual co-op areas ranging from 10 cent to 40 cent per litre available under the fifth round of the milk quota trading scheme; the legal advice which his Department has taken regarding the operation of this scheme and the restriction it imposes on those intending to sell their quotas and the restriction it places on them regarding the limited number of potential purchasers to whom they can offer their quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43190/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The variation in price experienced in the latest Milk Quota Trading Scheme reflects a similar pattern in the previous four trading schemes run in the past two years. These variations arise for a variety of reasons, the more prominent being the balance between supply and demand within Co-op areas. Those areas with the largest market clearing prices display the characteristics of a strong level of demand compared to tightness of supply and vice versa in other areas where the price is relatively low. It was always recognized that prices would vary from Co-op to Co-op, reflecting the particular market characteristics of each Co-op area.
The Milk Quota Trading Scheme complies with the terms of Article 75 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007. In addition, in accordance with established practice, my Department engaged in a detailed consultation process under the auspices of the Milk Quota Review Group, whose membership includes the main farming organisations and ICOS, before the decision to proceed with the current scheme was made. The advice of the Attorney General was also taken into account in the implementation of the scheme.
166. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the value of the horticulture and nursery sector in the economy here; the number of persons employed therein; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43196/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The horticulture and nursery sector contributed approximately €282 million to farm output in 2007. There are no definitive statistics of the number of persons employed but the industry is heavily labour intensive and it is estimated that as many as 18,500 are employed across the food and non-food areas.
167. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his plans to realise the potential of the horticulture and nursery sector to increase export earnings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43197/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The horticulture and nursery sector contributed approximately €282 million to farm output in 2007 and has considerable potential for further development but producers concentrate for the most part on supplying the home market and on import substitution. The only notable exception is the mushroom sector in that up to 80% of this crop is grown for export to the UK.
Aid is available under the NDP scheme of investment aid for the commercial horticulture sector and scheme for capital investments in marketing and processing in the horticulture sector to assist in the upgrading or development of facilities with the aim of maximizing the potential of the sector. The EU producer organisation scheme provides an important mechanism for growers to become part of a larger supply base, concentrate marketing and improve quality. Bord Bia can provide information on international market trends and support producers in their efforts to develop new markets. It can help in the area of product innovation and also provide support for horticultural producers in the application of marketing skills, including merchandising, product presentation and public relations.
168. Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when a transfer of entitlement and payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43214/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): An application was received on the 8 May 2008 requesting the transfer of 32.69 standard entitlements by way of lease from the first person named to the second person named. As the first person named had insufficient entitlements to cover the requested transfer, it was necessary to obtain clarification and approval regarding the number of entitlements to be transferred. This issue has now been resolved and 32.17 standard entitlements have been transferred by way of lease from the first person named to the second person named. Payment will issue shortly.
169. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the status of a headage payment and single farm payment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; when payment will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43215/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The person named submitted an application under the Single Payment Scheme/ Disadvantaged Area Scheme and he included a commonage parcel on this application. The Department is currently examining the usage of this commonage parcel on which the person named is a claimant. This examination has been necessitated as the claims submitted on this commonage exceed the area of the commonage that is eligible for payment. The Department has communicated with all the claimants concerned and is awaiting documentary evidence of their right to their claim. A decision regarding payment will be made when the Department has received and reviewed all of the documentation requested.
170. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of applications for installation aid and early retirement being processed by his Department; if applications that are otherwise in order and for which legal arrangements were put in place prior to the budget 2009 announcements will be allowed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43241/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The number of applications under the Early Retirement Scheme currently being processed by my Department is 156. There are 941 applications under the Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme; of these 326 have been paid. All fully completed applications for these Schemes received by my Department up to and including 14 October 2008 will be processed and, if in order, payment will be made.
171. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received payment for their first year in REP scheme four; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that because the applicant was not permitted to join REP scheme three there is now an undue delay on payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43317/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): Where a valid REPS 4 application has been submitted, advance payments of 75% under the EU regulations governing REPS 4 can issue only when all administrative checks on all 2008 applications for REPS 4 and the Single Payment Scheme are completed. The balancing 25% payment will follow when all 2008 REPS on-farm inspections have taken place. Following the resolution of industrial action in local offices of my Department, the administrative checking has been resumed with a view to releasing payments as soon as possible.
172. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received their single farm payment or their area based payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43321/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 7th May 2008. 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 shortly. The delay in this case arose because of the need to clarify a number of issues relating to the parcels claimed by the person named.
173. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the suckler cow welfare grant will be awarded in respect of all animals sought on application by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a small mistake occurred; if he will accept that the herd owner made a genuine mistake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43327/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): The person named applied for the Suckler Welfare Scheme on 15 January 2008. Each applicant is obliged to submit data in respect of animal events for beef calves born during 2008, e.g. disbudding, meal introduction and weaning. These mainly consist of dates, with the date of weaning the most important, as it triggers the payment process. To date, 17 calves have been tagged and registered, and of these 12 have been processed following the receipt of the weaning date.
Five animals have qualified for payment, with €81.18 paid on 11 November 2008, and a further €316.52 is now due to issue. The remaining 7 animals are still in error as a result of conflicting dates for weaning and meal feeding, and this has also resulted in a penalty deduction of €12.30 from the first two payments. Staff from the Suckler Herds Section of my Department in Portlaoise will be in contact with the person named shortly to seek to resolve the error queries.
174. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the effect the budget cuts for 2009 will have on a secondary school (details supplied) in County Mayo in relation to staffing numbers, abolition of book grants, abolition of grants such as home economics, physics, chemistry, and leaving certificate applied, and the increase in pupil teacher ratio; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43184/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The 2009 Budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect, Education, while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure, could not be totally spared. The various impacts at school level were included in the Budget day announcements. Even with the Budget measures in place, there will still be a significantly increased borrowing requirement in 2009.
My Department will be advising individual schools, including the school referred to by the Deputy, in the normal way in relation to their staffing and grant allocations. The preparatory work for this has commenced with the processing of enrolment data that has been received from schools. The staffing allocation processes, including notification to schools, will commence early in the New Year. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules.
In addition to the mainstream classroom teachers, my Department also allocates teaching resources to schools for special needs and language support. 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. At this time the priority for my Department, within the resources available to it, is to carry out those processes in a timely manner.
175. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress on the commitment in the programme for Government to double the primary school capitation fee; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that nearly every school has a funding shortfall for essential services and that this has to be made up through fund-raising; his views on the inequality in funding for schools as the fund-raising abilities of parents in disadvantaged areas are clearly less than those of middle and upper income families; the action he will take to reduce this inequality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43200/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): This Government’s continued prioritisation of education over the last 11 years is evidenced from our investment in 2009 of €9.6 billion — over treble what it was in 1997. The increase of €302m in the Education budget for 2009 is a real achievement in the current economic climate. Education is one of only three Government Departments to have increased funding in 2009. The commitment in relation to doubling the capitation grant to primary schools can only be looked at and considered in the context of the overall economic and budgetary position.
While I appreciate that the abolition of certain grants will make it a challenging year ahead in terms of the day to day funding of schools I have prioritised funding for primary schools. The Education Budget for 2009 has provided for improvements to capitation and ancillary grants for primary schools which will increase from €167 million in 2008 to almost €190 million in 2009. This builds on the progress that has been made in recent years that has seen the primary school capitation grant increased from €81.26 per pupil in 2000 to its current rate of €200. This represents an increase of 146% in the standard rate of capitation grant since 2000. The budget improvements involve an increase of more than €21 to bring the rate to €200 per pupil and the ancillary services grant for primary schools will also be improved by €3.50 to €155 per pupil.
Taken together, these increases mean that primary schools eligible for the full ancillary services grant will get €355 per pupil — or almost €25 extra — in this school year to cover their day to day running costs, with a primary school of 300 pupils getting €7,475 more. In 2000, a primary school with 300 pupils was in receipt of less than €40,000 to meet its day to day running costs. That same school under these new rates will receive €106,500. This excludes the salary of teachers and Special Needs Assistants which are paid by the Department. Furthermore, enhanced rates of capitation funding are paid in respect of children with special educational needs who attend special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools. The current rates range from €512 to €986 per pupil — an increase of 59% from the rate in 2006.
My Department recognises the additional funding pressures that arise in schools serving disadvantaged areas. A very significant number of schools — about a fifth of all primary schools and almost a third of our second level schools — are within the Department’s DEIS programme for disadvantaged schools and get additional funding that recognises this. In the region of €800 million will be spent by the Department this year on tackling educational disadvantage at all levels — from pre-school to further and higher education. This represents an increase of nearly €70 million on the comparable 2007 figure and is testament to the Government’s determination to prioritise social inclusion and ensure that children and young people get the supports they need to do well at school.
We are committed to investing in education but we have to invest at a level that is consistent with what we can afford and what is sustainable at the moment given economic circumstances. I am confident that as the global economy improves it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and do so in a manner consistent with overall prudent management of the Irish economy.
176. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of additional undergraduates and postgraduate primary school teacher places introduced since 2003, up to and including the 2008/2009 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43212/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The level of student intake to the Colleges of Education is determined annually by my Department and it takes account of the supply of, and demand for primary teachers. The number of places on the Bachelor of Education and Post Graduate courses are detailed in the following table.
The intake into the Colleges of Education in future years will continue to be kept under review by my Department to ensure that there is an adequate supply of teachers. In this regard the Teaching Council’s database of registered teachers will be able to provide a range of different information on the numbers of registered teachers in various disciplines and on their qualifications. This information will provide valuable input into my Department’s examination of issues around the supply and demand for teachers.
As the Deputy will see from the table my Department approved an additional 210 post graduate primary teacher education places for the 2008 intake bringing to 490 the total number of post graduate students in the four colleges who are studying to become primary teachers. 490 post graduate teacher education places have also been approved for the 2009 intake. In addition to the above, an on-line Graduate Diploma in Primary Education, accredited by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC), has been provided by Hibernia College since 2004. This is a part time course and allows third level graduates to continue working while studying for their teaching qualification. The Graduate Diploma conferred at the end of this course, is recognised by my Department for the purposes of primary teaching. It is estimated that there will be in the region of 500 graduates from the Hibernia College in 2008.
|Year||Post Graduate February||Bachelor of Education September||Increase|
|2009||490||Not yet known|
177. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans to visit Kerry in the near future; if he will include a visit to schools (details supplied) in County Kerry in the visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43213/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have already met with a deputation from one of the schools he refers to. I do not have any plans to visit Kerry at the moment.
178. Deputy John Cregan asked the Minister for Education and Science the authority and process by which a second level school (details supplied) in County Dublin can expel or suspend a pupil; the criteria or regulation under which a pupil can be expelled on a Monday morning because of an altercation between them and a fellow pupil which took place over the weekend; if his Department will assist in getting this pupil back into school after eight months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43274/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): Under Section 15 of the Education Act 1998, it is the duty of the Board of Management to manage a school on behalf of the patron and for the benefit of the students and their parents. As part of its functions, the board has a duty to publish the school’s policy on the expulsion and suspension of students. Section 23 of the Education Welfare Act 2000 requires all schools to have in place a code of behaviour. It is the responsibility of the board to ensure that students comply with this code of behaviour and to deal with disciplinary matters in the school in accordance with this code. The National Educational Welfare Board is the statutory agency that assists parents who experience difficulty in securing a school place for their child.
I am advised that the board is aware of this case and is providing advice and guidance to the parents. Sanction for Home Tuition has been approved by the Department of Education and Science as an interim measure, until a school place is secured. Under section 29 of the Education Act 1998, where a school board of management permanently excludes a student from school, that decision may be appealed either to the relevant vocational educational committee, or to the Secretary General of my Department. I understand that the father of this student has initiated a section 29 appeal to my Department and my Department has requested additional documentation before it can commence the appeal process.
179. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Science the sources of funding available for the installation of an arsenic filter at a school (details supplied) in County Meath. [43314/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): A devolved minor works grant is paid to all fully recognised primary schools annually. Primary school authorities may use their minor works grant to deal with the type of issue raised by the Deputy. Individual primary schools receive a grant of €5,500 plus €18.50 per pupil. My Department intends to pay the next round of minor works grant early in 2009.
180. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding an application for summer works at a school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if approval will be given for the same application. [43315/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): Since the summer works scheme was introduced in 2004, over 3,000 projects costing in excess of €300 million have been completed. With so many smaller projects having been completed over the past few years, the particular emphasis in 2008 is on providing sufficient school places in developing areas, while showing the Government’s commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary school accommodation throughout the country. Accordingly, my Department has focused on delivering as many large projects as possible in 2008.
There was no summer works scheme this year. However, I recognise the benefits of the scheme in addressing the needs of schools. I have previously informed the House of my intention to have a summer works scheme in 2009. The details of the operation of the scheme in 2009 and the level of funding to be made available under the scheme in 2009 are being considered.
181. Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans he has to provide additional accommodation at a school (details supplied) in County Galway; if his attention has been drawn to the congestion there is in this school due to the increase in pupil numbers over the past few years; his proposals to provide grant aid for an extra classroom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43318/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The school authority referred to by the Deputy applied for an additional classroom in June 2008 to cater for a projected increase in enrolment. The enrolment on 30 September 2007 was 31 pupils and the school currently has a staffing of principal plus one mainstream teacher. This application for an additional classroom was refused on the basis that no additional mainstream teacher was due to be sanctioned for September 2008.
182. Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made with granting permanent recognition to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 9; the reasons for the delay in dealing with this request; and the timescale for the provision of a modern school building to replace the prefabricated accommodation in which the school is located. [43336/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The school to which the Deputy refers commenced operation in September 2002 with provisional recognition from the Department on the basis that it would provide multidenominational education in the Clontarf, Marino and Fairview areas of Dublin. The location of the school in Glasnevin, which is served by two multidenominational schools, was intended to be a purely temporary measure. The Department has asked the Office of Public Works to identify a suitable site for a permanent school building for the school in a more appropriate location. When this happens, the Department will review the question of permanent recognition.
183. Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the schools amalgamation project in respect of primary schools in Cahir, County Tipperary; when the next step in the process for this project is planned; the amount that is budgeted for the school building; the level of priority of this project; the number of other projects across the country that have the same level of priority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43337/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The project to which the Deputy refers has a band 1.4 rating under the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. This reflects the fact that accommodation is needed to facilitate an amalgamation. The project, which involves the acquisition of land to extend the site, is in the early stages of architectural planning. It is included among over 360 other projects at the various stages of this process. Of these projects, 105 have a band 1.1 rating, 25 have a band 1.2 rating, 6 have a band 1.3 rating and 37 have a band 1.4 rating. However, the Deputy should be aware that these numbers are subject to ongoing change as other projects come through the assessment process. This information also has to be taken in the context of the fact that the progression of large scale capital projects is just one element of the Department’s capital programme.
The Department’s capital programme in any given year comprises a number of component elements or sub-programmes. These include large-scale building projects — new school buildings and major extensions or refurbishments; emergency works; site acquisitions; remediation programmes — asbestos removal or radon mitigation; furniture and equipment; and the provision of temporary accommodation, etc. It is my intention to have a summer works scheme in 2009. A budget is not assigned to an individual project until a tender has been accepted and a project is allowed to proceed to construction. This happens during the advanced stages of architectural planning. Due to the overall extent of the demand on the Department’s capital budget, it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project in question at this time.