Dáil Eireann

17/Dec/2008

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Official Engagements.

Requests to Move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Order of Business.

Spent Convictions Bill 2007: Motion.

European Council Meeting: Statements.

Priority Questions.

Air Services.

Departmental Agencies.

Public Transport.

Road Safety.

Other Questions.

Air Services.

Departmental Review.

Road Traffic Offences.

Public Transport.

Departmental Agencies.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Estimates for Public Services 2008: Leave to Introduce.

Estimates for Public Services 2008.

Appropriation Bill 2008: Order for Second Stage.

Appropriation Bill 2008: All Stages.

Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Message from Seanad.

Housing: Motion (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Services.

Departmental Funding.

Schools Building Projects.

Coláistí Samhraidh.

Written Answers.

Departmental Accommodation.

Customer Service Surveys.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Departmental Staff.

Cycling Strategy.

Public Transport.

Transport Infrastructure Projects.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Departmental Staff.

Public Transport.

Port Development.

School Travel Patterns.

Light Rail Projects.

Rural Transport Services.

Road Safety.

Air Services.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Light Rail Projects.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Departmental Staff.

Ferry Services.

State Airports.

International Agreements.

Departmental Properties.

Road Safety.

Departmental Programmes.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Rail Services.

Park and Ride Facilities.

Light Rail Project.

Public Transport.

Proposed Legislation.

Road Safety.

Light Rail Projects.

Departmental Agencies.

Taxi Regulations.

Port Development.

Air Services.

Proposed Legislation.

Employment Rights.

Public Transport.

Marine Safety.

Road Network.

Parking Regulations.

End-of-Life Vehicles.

Road Safety.

Labour Force Statistics.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Bodies.

Consultancy Contracts.

Redundancy Statistics.

Unemployment Levels.

Departmental Agencies.

Employment Rights.

Consultancy Contracts.

Work Permits.

Pricing Policy.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Small and Medium Enterprises.

EU Funding.

International Monetary Fund.

Counterfeit Currency.

Road Traffic Offences.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Surrender of Salary.

Tax Clearance Certificates.

Banking Sector.

Tax Yield.

Budget 2009.

Departmental Bodies.

Departmental Staff.

Public Private Partnerships.

Air Services.

Fiscal Policy.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Tax Code.

National Parks.

State Property.

Tax Code.

Financial Services Regulation.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Programmes for Government.

EU Funding.

Child Care Services.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Health Services.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Hospital Staff.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Health Services.

Mental Health Services.

Medical Inquiries.

Health Services.

Infectious Diseases.

Medical Cards.

Vaccination Programme.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Medical Cards.

Health Services.

Departmental Expenditure.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

EU Funding.

Road Safety.

Air Services.

Tax Code.

Rail Network.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Road Network.

Rail Services.

EU Funding.

Public Transport.

Regional Airports.

Ground Rents.

Visa Applications.

Prisoner Releases.

Visa Applications.

Residency Permits.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Crime Prevention.

Garda Operations.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Garda Equipment.

Garda Deployment.

Crime Levels.

Garda Strength.

Citizenship Applications.

Consultancy Contracts.

Prison Building Programme.

Garda Strength.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Garda Investigations.

Crime Levels.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Proposed Legislation.

Departmental Expenditure.

Visa Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Road Traffic Offences.

Crime Levels.

EU Funding.

Garda Operations.

Road Safety.

Human Rights Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

FAI Welfare Scheme.

Foreign Conflicts.

Human Rights Issues.

Pigmeat Sector.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Official Engagements.

EU Funding.

Sports Capital Programme.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Sports Capital Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

EU Funding.

Clár Forbartha Áitiúla.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Community Development.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

EU Funding.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Grant Payments.

Consultancy Contracts.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Social Welfare Benefits.

EU Funding.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Defence Forces Property.

Estate Management.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Funding.

EU Funding.

Environmental Policy.

Decentralisation Programme

Environmental Policy.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Planning Issues.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Housing.

Departmental Property.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Housing.

Local Authority Staff.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Departmental Expenditure.

Fire Service.

Urban Renewal Schemes.

Departmental Schemes.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Consultancy Contracts.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Constituency Boundaries.

Local Authority Funding.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Departmental Funding.

Local Authority Reform.

EU Funding.

Departmental Schemes.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Consultancy Contracts.

Waste Disposal.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Funding.

Media Funding.

EU Funding.

Fisheries Protection.

Grant Payments.

EU Directives.

Afforestation Programme.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Aquaculture Development.

Grant Payments.

Farm Waste Management.

Grant Payments.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Farm Waste Management.

Grant Payments.

Animal Feedstuffs.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Offices.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Funding.

EU Funding.

Animal Diseases.

Caiteachas Ranna.

Special Educational Needs.

Departmental Funding.

Grant Payments.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Higher Education Grants.

Data Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Property.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Expenditure.

School Staffing.

Disadvantaged Status.

School Staffing.

Departmental Expenditure.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Refurbishment.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Agencies.

Schools Recognition.

Departmental Funding.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Disadvantaged Status.

School Staffing.

Departmental Funding.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

EU Funding.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It now is patently clear that this is the most incompetent Government in the history of the State. On Sunday, the Minister for Health and Children announced she had approved and authorised a statutory service plan from the HSE involving cuts of €500 million. That plan was placed in the Oireachtas Library yesterday and is obsolete today. My understanding is the Health Service Executive prepared its service plan and submitted it to the Minister for Health and Children for authorisation.

However, in light of changing circumstances, the chief executive of the HSE will be obliged to seek a further €400 million in cuts. This will strike at the heart of the most vulnerable in our society as it pertains to a critical major public service plan. The Minister for Health and Children, who sat at the Cabinet table and heard of the changing economic circumstances from the Minister for Finance, should have been in a position to tell the HSE it was basing its service plan on the wrong figures, in the same way the budget was drafted using incorrect figures. Arising from the service plan submitted by the HSE that now must be amended, can the Taoiseach explain to the House the numbers of beds that will be cut and the number of people who will be made redundant? Can he spell out the impact on waiting lists and trolleys, 400 of which were occupied yesterday, as well as on capital projects for hospitals nationwide next year?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Kenny often has spoken of the need for efficiencies in the delivery of public services, which is precisely the context in which——

[2]Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Front line services should not be cut.

The Taoiseach:  ——the HSE has devised its service plan.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  What about beds?

The Taoiseach:  It has obtained efficiencies totalling €280 million during this year, which will be repeated next year. The figures being spoken about in the public debate this morning are not those of the HSE.

As Deputy Kenny observed, the HSE has set out a public service plan to support its goals, which are to maintain services to patients and clients in both hospitals and community settings in a manner that is fully consistent with patient safety and best practice. It is to expand certain services, particularly in respect of cancer and therapies for children with disabilities, to which additional funds of €15 million and €10 million, respectively, have been allocated, as well as an additional €120 million in other areas. Moreover, it is to support the reorganisation of services and the management of costs in such a way that services will be maintained and expanded. Furthermore, it is to work with the social partners in the health sector to achieve the objective of maintaining services to the public with a much tighter budget and to manage closely the significant risks of cost increases arising from the need to provide medical cards and other services as a result of the economic downturn.

The HSE service plan has been prepared and approved by the Minister on that basis. It refers to the budget of €14.7 billion that will be paid for health services next year, which constitutes an increase of 3.2% over this year’s budget. Her approval and the finalised plan take account of all recent developments, including the budgetary position, the deterioration in the economy and the need to manage risks. In her letter approving the plan, the Minister also has set some specific and challenging requirements for the HSE.

This is a challenging and much-improved service plan, which sets out clearly the links between the services planned, the budget for those services and the staff needed. It is a plan that will require more than ever the active involvement of staff at all levels to make the changes necessary to deliver it. The goals desired by the Government across all areas only can be achieved with real co-operative engagement of management and staff from the outset of the year, drawing on the commitment of all to patients first and foremost. The HSE’s management is engaged with staff representatives on these issues. I believe this is the best way to proceed and is the basis on which the plan was set up.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  An injection of reality is needed.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Can the Taoiseach explain the reason this Health Service Executive service plan, which was placed in the Oireachtas Library only yesterday, is out of line by a further €400 million this morning? Everyone is in favour of efficiencies——

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  In theory.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——and of giving patients the best level of service. While there were ten HSE employees at grade 8 in 2000, there were 713 in 2007. I asked the Taoiseach what are the implications, in respect of the cutting of front-line services, on foot of an amended plan involving cuts of €900 million from this service? What are the implications for front-line services, the employment of nurses and doctors and patient care? The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, appears to be the only person in Ireland who states that too many people are working in accident and emergency units nationwide. Last night, 400 people were obliged to lie on trolleys.

[3]A Deputy:  She never visited any of them.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Again I ask the Taoiseach, how many beds will be taken from the system by this cutback?

Deputy Brian Hayes:  That is the question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  How many people will be let go from the Health Service Executive? What are the implications for waiting lists and patient care? What are the implications for any future development to take place in the health business in 2009? The Taoiseach should answer these questions clearly and unequivocally, based on the up-to-date information in his possession. As this is the Taoiseach’s last morning in the House, this matter should be sorted out in order that Members know where they stand.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Hopefully it will be his last morning.

The Taoiseach:  Certainly——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Until next spring.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  The health service would never be sorted out were Deputy Kenny in charge, because he is in favour of the status quo plus——

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  The Taoiseach was in that Department for long enough. He was glad to get out of it. He called it “Angola”.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  What did Fine Gael do?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please let the Taoiseach finish.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He ran out of it.

Deputy Mary Coughlan:  I do not know what the Deputy is on about.

The Taoiseach:  Are the Deputies opposite finished?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let the Taoiseach finish.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach has blown his chance.

The Taoiseach:  Are they finished?

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He was afraid to face up to the problems and he ran out of it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to finish.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He ran out of it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I remind Deputy Kehoe this is Leaders’ Questions.

[4]The Taoiseach:  Whenever the Whip is ready.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  If the Taoiseach had his way, he would have——

The Taoiseach:  Whenever they are ready.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is seeking a diversion. He is trying to back out of it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  The position with Deputy Kenny is that he calls for reforms but when they are being implemented he opposes them.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I asked the Taoiseach a question.

The Taoiseach:  A continuing reconfiguration is taking place in the health service. There will be a continuing emphasis on more——

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Beds.

The Taoiseach:  ——day places and day surgery.

Sorry, Deputy Brian Hayes is talking about beds.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Beds, yes, that was the question.

The Taoiseach:  Beds do not determine the health service. There is more than a hospital service in developing our health service and the HSE is involved in a reform of the service.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Tell that to my constituent who cannot get one this morning.

The Taoiseach:  To stick to the point.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Bed numbers. Answer the question.

The Taoiseach:  Sorry, Deputy Hayes. I will answer it in my own way. If he ever becomes leader, he can ask the questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach is answering Deputy Kenny’s question. Please allow him to do so.

The Taoiseach:  The whole purpose——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  They have no idea.

The Taoiseach:  ——for driving these efficiencies is to maintain, not to cut, service.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  They are being cut every day.

[5]The Taoiseach:  They are not being cut every day. In fact, there have been improvements in the health services in a range of areas. Where waiting times were two to five years, they are now two to five months. In 60% of all of those specialties for which there are waiting lists, they were reduced during the course of this year, if the Deputies look at the statistics that have been produced by the relevant authorities.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Does the Taoiseach believe that?

The Taoiseach:  If Deputy McCormack wants to portray the health service being totally dysfunctional in every respect, that is his point of view but it is not fair on those who are working in the health service and it is certainly not the experience of the vast majority who receive health services in this country.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Nobody said that.

The Taoiseach:  That is not to contend for a moment that we do not have problems, but those problems are being dealt with on the basis of reforms of health services and we all know, if we were honest enough to admit it, that the status quo plus will not give us a sustainable level of services. We need work practice changes.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Why do they not do it then?

The Taoiseach:  We must see——

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  ——and we are already seeing in the engagement that is taking place——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Ten years.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  ——between the management and staff representatives that we have had efficiencies of €280 million alone this year, which will be repeated next year.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  What we have seen over the past ten years, to respond to Deputy Stagg, has been a continuing improvement——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  They poured money into a black hole.

The Taoiseach:  ——and an increase in funding to the health service.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  It is also clear that resources alone will not provide the solutions to the health service, but continuing and concomitant reforms with it, and that is what the HSE management is engaged in. If people were fair and looked at the changes taking place, they would recognise that in many cases those changes have been for the better.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  We only asked about beds. The Gettysburg Address all over again.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Gilmore, without interruption.

[6]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach seems to think that things are fine in the health service. Yesterday there were 390 people on trolleys in accident and emergency units. That is just ten less than the number who were on trolleys on the day that the Minister, Deputy Harney, announced an emergency in accident and emergency in 2006.

On Wednesday last, the HSE published a service plan which stated that there would be €500 million cut from the health services and yesterday it emerged that the figure is now closer to €1 billion. There are 500 beds already gone out of the health service and it is proposed to remove another 600, that is, 1,100 beds. It costs €200,000 to provide a bed, in other words, €220 million that has already been spent in providing hospital beds will not be used under this plan.

We are faced with a situation this morning where the Taoiseach or his deputy will come in here tomorrow morning to propose that Dáil Éireann be suspended for six weeks — that we go out of business for six weeks — at a time when the country is facing its worst economic crisis, when our banks are in crisis and at a time when Ministers, including the Minister for Health and Children, are seeking additional cuts in services. This country needs a Government and leadership. It needs people who have got a handle on the problems that are facing the country and the people. It does not have that.

What we have——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  A shambles.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——is a Government that is politically and economically dysfunctional, that is adrift and that is now staggering exhausted to the Christmas break.

One thing after another the Taoiseach is not getting right. He has not got the banks right. He told us on Sunday that there was going to be a €10 billion rescue plan and when I asked him direct questions on it yesterday, he could not answer a single one of them. We are no wiser today about what he is going to do about the banks than we were last week.

On the economy, the Taoiseach stated two weeks ago we did not need an economic recovery plan. At the beginning of this week he stated he had such a plan. We still have not seen it. We are now told it is some kind of a framework. When will we see this economic recovery plan that the Taoiseach has been talking about and dining over in Farmleigh? The problem is that the Taoiseach is not governing. The country has serious economic, social and service problems that are not being addressed by his Government and people are becoming increasingly depressed by that.

Everybody knows that the country is facing enormous challenges and economic difficulties and people are prepared to step up to the plate and to address them collectively. However, the problem we have in this country is that we do not have a Government which is giving leadership and direction and providing any sense that there is a solution and that we can get through these difficult times.

Is the Taoiseach serious about closing down the House for six weeks in these times? When will he tell us what the Government will do about the banks? When will we get the detail of these health cuts about which the Minister for Health and Children is talking? When will we see the economic recovery plan about which the Taoiseach has been talking?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There are more questions, as far as they want to go.

The Taoiseach:  I reject the assertions that are being made by Deputies Gilmore and Kenny continuously in this House and that provide the soundbites for the daily business here.

(Interruptions).

[7]The Taoiseach:  Deputy Gilmore spoke about people being prepared to step up to the plate. I believe people are prepared to step up to the plate and when they do, under the social partnership process, I will be interested to see what the Opposition in this House will do. The Opposition all agree with everything in theory but when it comes to practice, they oppose everything on every day, and they have no alternative.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  There were four questions.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  We are the problem.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let him finish now.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is manufacturing.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the framework plan and what Deputy Gilmore stated about economic recovery——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Hold on now. Fair is fair.

The Taoiseach:  One will not get it here.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore was listened to in silence. The Taoiseach must be listened to in silence as well.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The blueshirts are back.

Deputy Michael Ring:  What was that, Deputy O’Dea, about the Blueshirts? He himself is wearing one.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is losing it.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Another leader in the Fine Gael-Labour benches.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy McCormack, I have told you before this is Leaders’ Question.

The Taoiseach:  Another intellectual giant on the second bench over there.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Deputy O’Dea is wearing a blue shirt.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Another Mayo leader.

The Taoiseach:  Whenever they are ready. I would like to answer to the Deputy.

Deputy Michael Ring:  The Sunday Independent will hear from Deputy O’Dea but we do not hear anything from him.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  We heard Deputy Ring was moving to the Labour Party.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Have a chat about that later.

(Interruptions).

[8]The Taoiseach:  On the other points raised by Deputy Gilmore, on the question of economic recovery, the Government has based its programme on the agreed programme for Government. A new economic situation has emerged over the past six months and we will set out a framework which will shape the debate around the social partnership talks that will take place in the coming weeks. What we must do is rely on some of the strengths of this economy which we have built up over the past ten years. The totally negative way in which this economy is being portrayed in every respect by the Opposition is not a fair appraisal of an economy that is under stress and——

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  He is €8 billion out.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  ——faces huge challenges, but one that has some strengths it can market and utilise.

With regard to the recapitalisation of the bank, I made the point yesterday that the negotiations between Government and banks continue and that we will protect the taxpayer in respect of any exposure in which it involves itself. We will do that in the way that we have done it up until now.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  When will they be walking the plank? That would be one idea.

The Taoiseach:  Other countries have welcomed the initiatives that we have taken.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That was 11 weeks ago.

The Taoiseach:  We will continue to protect the taxpayer in the context of trying to maintain confidence and stability in our banking system.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Look at the Taoiseach’s backbenchers.

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the final matter Deputy Gilmore raised, it is our intention in the Government to continue to lead. It is our intention to engage with the social partners and to provide ourselves with the means by which we can deal with these challenges. These challenges will not be dealt with in the partisan way in which Deputy Gilmore wishes to deal with them. They will be dealt with through social partnership where we will set a credible timeframe within which health can be restored to the public finances on an agreed basis, which is the best and only way forward to deal with the magnitude of the challenge that faces us.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Will Deputy Cowen be here to do that?

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I am not sure there is any leadership there anyway.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach’s problem is not the Opposition.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let Deputy Gilmore put his question now please. Put your question. Deputy Gilmore, without interruption.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach’s problem is the Government that he is leading. It is not doing its job.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  You know a lot about co-operation. We have memories.

[9]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach received more co-operation from the Opposition than any other Government in a long time and, frankly, a lot more than he deserves.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Face up to it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He received co-operation from the Opposition on Lisbon, when a problem arose last week in regard to the pig industry and generally over the past several months in respect of the economy.

Deputy Seán Power:  What about the banks?

Deputy Joan Burton:  We were right.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Government received the Opposition’s co-operation——

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  That is good coming from Deputy Dempsey.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore should put his question.

Deputy Seán Power:  What about the banks?

Deputy Joan Burton:  Our analysis was correct.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  As far this party was concerned, we have turned out to be absolutely right in terms of the criticisms we made. What the Taoiseach is seeking, and what he will not get, is a silent Opposition.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Silent like his backbenchers.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He does not want a Opposition at all. He wants silence.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore, put your question please.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The one thing that constrains me in saying what I really want to say about the incompetence and the lack of drive, initiative and effort on the part of the Government, is that I might cause damage by doing so.

Deputy Johnny Brady:  Spit it out.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is the biggest constraint that I have.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore, put your question.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I will be absolutely clear lest there be any doubt. This Government is appalling. It is a deadbeat Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Put your question.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Eamon in Wonderland.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is not able to lead this country out of the problems it created in the first place.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

[10]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It has driven us into the worst economic problem the country has experienced in decades.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We have to deal with the problem.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore must put a question.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Gilmore just comes here to criticise.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It has no idea about how to get out of it.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It squandered it all.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to put his question.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I asked the Taoiseach four questions but with all his bluster he forgot to answer them. Is he serious about closing the Dáil for six weeks during this very difficult period? When will we be told exactly what he intends to do about the banks? What cuts will be made to the health service, when will they be outlined to us and will we have an opportunity to debate them or is it his intention to reveal them when the House is closed down for six weeks? Finally, when will we see the economic recovery plan? There is no point in telling us about discussions with the social partners in regard to the plan. It is the Taoiseach’s responsibility to produce it. Neither is there any point in telling us that negotiations have been entered into with the very same bankers who got us into the banking problem in the first place.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Deputy Gilmore has asked the questions, so let the Taoiseach answer.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  When will the Taoiseach tell us what he intends to do about recapitalising the banks?

The Taoiseach:  I have already answered Deputy Kenny regarding the health situation and have indicated that the need for more efficiencies and effective delivery of services is a critical part of maintaining services in the health service next year. That is on the basis that €14.7 billion is being made available to the health service, an increase which takes account of the €580 million cost of the nursing home subvention scheme over this year. Negotiations are ongoing between management and unions and there is every indication that we will achieve the work practice changes necessary to ensure that we have flexibilities, deliver services to the front line to the greatest extent possible and minimise adverse impacts on patients. That is the purpose of the exercise.

In regard to the banks, I have outlined the situation to the Deputy. The recapitalisation policy was enunciated in detail last Sunday. Proposals must now come from the banks with which we are in negotiations. It must be understood that the only interests I have are the stability of the financial system so that we have a banking system that serves the modern economy we have built and protecting the interests of the taxpayer in that effort. These are our primary considerations in dealing with the matter. We have indicated that proposals should be brought before the Government in early January.

The committees will return on 7 January and we will be involved in trade delegations to support Irish industry abroad. We will ensure the Government returns on 7 January. The Government is working hard, despite what Deputy Gilmore wants to say.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Bring the Dáil back on 7 January.

[11]The Taoiseach:  The Deputy can do all the name calling he wants because he is good at it. That is part of the rough and tumble of politics and I have no problem with it.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach seems to have a problem with it.

The Taoiseach:  However, I assure the Deputy that the Government will work hard on maintaining this country’s reputation as a good economy, a place to do business and a location where enterprise can prosper. We also know that an Irish recovery can only happen when a global recovery takes place because this is an open economy and we are affected by what happens abroad. We are not total masters of our own economic destiny in every respect——

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  You claimed we were.

The Taoiseach:  ——when one considers our membership of the eurozone and the fact that exchange rate policy is not decided here.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Pretend you did nothing.

The Taoiseach:  We also know we have inherent strengths on which we can build. While we experience these difficulties in the economy, can we please desist from suggesting that the past ten years were an illusion and that we did not create the numbers of jobs that were created or improve the quality of life of our people?

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  Where has the money gone?

Deputy Joan Burton:  You blew it.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The chance was squandered.

The Taoiseach:  We certainly did these things. We are now facing higher unemployment levels and we need to put in place policies that will help us to deal with the situation. This phase will pass. We have to indicate to the public where this economy can be in a number of years if we take the correct decisions now. I believe the correct decisions — the elephant in the room if Deputies would prefer — involve the discrepancy between expenditure and tax revenues which has emerged during the course of this year in particular as a result of the international downturn.

We have to be prepared to work with the social partners on finding a way to deal with the problem so that everyone gets behind the wheel to ensure we come through the difficult time that lies ahead. That is the approach of the Government and it is the right strategy. It is not a matter of instant gimmicks, soundbites for the media every morning or saying that we should have change but we will oppose change every time it is proposed.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  I am not asking the Opposition to be silent. That is a matter for Opposition Deputies.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Thanks a lot, that is great.

The Taoiseach:  They are capable of articulating their own points of view and that is a part of our democracy.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  Fantastic.

[12]The Taoiseach:  However, I will not have it said when I defend this Government’s record that I am suddenly attacking the Opposition.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Why not defend the economic plan in here?

The Taoiseach:  I am entitled to defend our record.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is indefensible.

The Taoiseach:  It has been a proud record and now that we have entered a new situation, this Government will ensure our response is appropriate to the challenges we face.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  No change there.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Are we going to see the recovery plan?

  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if a date has been set for the proposed visit to Ireland of the French President, Mr. Sarkozy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37826/08]

  2.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received an agenda for the December 2008 meeting of the European Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37827/08]

  3.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received an agenda for the December 2008 EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39365/08]

  4.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the bilateral meetings he plans to have with other EU leaders in advance of the December 2008 summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39366/08]

  5.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the special EU summit meeting in Brussels on 7 November 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40575/08]

  6.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the President of the Czech Republic, Mr. Vaclav Klaus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40576/08]

  7.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his participation at the informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government in Brussels on 7 November 2008. [40596/08]

  8.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his recent meeting in Dublin with the President of the Czech Republic, Mr. Vaclav Klaus. [40597/08]

[13]

  9.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting on 7 November 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40652/08]

  10.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister, Mr. Matti Vanhanen, on 27 November 2008. [43599/08]

  11.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Fredrik Reinfeld, on 28 November 2008. [43600/08]

  12.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent visit to Sweden; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44679/08]

  13.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent visit to Finland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44680/08]

  14.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, in advance of the December 2008 European Council summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45079/08]

  15.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meetings with President Sarkozy of France in advance of the December 2008 European Council summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45080/08]

  16.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meetings with the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, in advance of the December 2008 European Council summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45081/08]

  17.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of the EU Summit on 11 and 12 December 2008. [45967/08]

  18.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the recent European Council meeting in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46193/08]

  19.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his participation at the latest European Council meeting. [46289/08]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 19, inclusive, together.

I travelled to Paris on 1 October to meet with President Sarkozy. During the meeting we undertook to work closely together between that date and the December European Council. President Sarkozy expressed interest in coming to Ireland again during his Presidency but this was overtaken by my visit to Paris on 5 December.

I travelled to Brussels on 7 November for an informal meeting of Heads of State and Government. The meeting was called by President Sarkozy to discuss the current financial crisis. While there are no formal conclusions from the meeting, it gave the Union the opportunity to frame its general approach to the G20 discussions in Washington on 15 November on examining ways of reforming the international financial system.

[14]I met with President Vaclav Klaus on 10 November as part of the three day State visit to Ireland by the President of the Czech Republic. We held a bilateral discussion, following which I hosted a Government lunch in honour of the President and Mrs. Klausová. President Klaus’s visit, which was arranged earlier this year, was a return visit following President McAleese’s State visit to the Czech Republic in 1999. As Deputies will be aware, the Czech Republic will assume the Presidency of the European Council on 1 January 2009. We discussed the priorities for the Czech Republic’s forthcoming Presidency, the global financial crisis, the Lisbon treaty and bilateral relations between Ireland and the Czech Republic.

I travelled to Helsinki on Thursday, 27 November for an evening meeting with Prime Minister Vanhanen. While in Helsinki I also had a meeting with President Tarja Halonen. I then travelled from Helsinki to Stockholm for a meeting with Prime Minister Reinfelt. On 3 December I met with Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg. Following my meeting with Prime Minister Juncker I travelled to Berlin for a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The following morning I had a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Downing Street. I met with the current President of the European Council, President Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris on Friday, 5 December.

  11 o’clock

Our discussions were dominated by the Lisbon treaty and on his part, President Sarkozy confirmed that his contacts with the other member states made clear that the process of ratification could not be reopened. The meeting was part of an ongoing and intense co-operation with the French Presidency in our effort to secure a way forward that responds to the concerns of the Irish people while securing the support of all member states. After my meeting in Paris I travelled to Brussels for a meeting with European Commission President Barroso. Once again, discussions at our meeting focused primarily on the Lisbon treaty. We also touched on the climate change and energy package.

During each of these meetings the main topic of discussion was the Lisbon treaty and in particular the concerns of the Irish electorate and how they needed to be addressed. We also discussed other key EU issues, including the climate change and energy package and the international financial crisis.

I also made a series of phone calls to my colleagues in the European Council in the run-up to the summit in Brussels on 11 and 12 December, during which I explained to them what we were hoping to achieve at the European Council, and sought their support. I attended the European Council on 11 and 12 December in Brussels and as I will be making a statement to the House later today I will merely give a summary account of the proceedings.

For Ireland, discussions of the Lisbon treaty was a major focus, and I explained to the Council the concerns of the Irish people. First I indicated that retaining a Commissioner was a real concern for the Irish people and it agreed to that. Second, I stated that I needed an undertaking that the other concerns of the Irish people, such as tax, family and ethical matters and the Common Security and Defence Policy would be addressed in a legally robust manner. This was also agreed upon.

On the basis of the agreements made at the European Council, and on the condition of our being able to satisfactorily put guarantees in place, I have said that I would be prepared to return to the public with the new package and to seek approval of it. It is important to stress that there is much detailed work to be carried out in the months ahead regarding the content of the guarantees to be provided. In addition to the Lisbon treaty, the Council also reached agreement in a number of other areas, most notably the energy climate change package and economic and financial measures.

[15]Deputy Enda Kenny:  Arising from the Taoiseach’s lengthy reply, is he giving consideration to the appointment of Ireland’s next Commissioner? Apparently some people want the current Commissioner to come back here.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Whether he is coming or going, I do not see a question put down on it here.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Given the delicate circumstances under which the Taoiseach worked in Brussels and Paris, this country’s reputation has been damaged somewhat in the past 12 months. It is very important that a strong and early nomination would be made in order to secure a priority commissionership.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is going completely outside the boundaries of these questions, with all due respect.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  One of the central issues of the Taoiseach’s discussions in Brussels and Paris——

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  An Irish Commissioner

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——regarded the concerns expressed by the Irish people about each country having a Commissioner. I am merely asking the Taoiseach an extension of that question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is asking who it will be, which is a different matter.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  It is a very sensible question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle would ask it himself were he standing over here.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Carry on.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He would be a friend of the Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy knows what I am saying.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I know the Taoiseach will not answer the question but I am asking him anyway if he is turning his thoughts to the early nomination of a Commissioner to represent the country, assuming a satisfactory conclusion is reached and the people of the country endorse the Lisbon treaty whenever they are asked, be it the back end of next year or another time.

Is it intended that the Government will participate in the €200 billion economic stimulus plan presented by the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso? This is clearly a costly but important exercise. We are all aware of the European position and if Europe does not lead on all this alternative recyclable green agenda, it will be difficult to get other countries to follow suit. Has the Government decided to participate in the Barroso plan and teased out the cost and strategy implications for Ireland?

The Taoiseach:  I have not been turning my mind to the early appointment of the next Commissioner. On the second point, from our perspective the stimulus brought to the economy in view of our financial position has been the maintenance of our capital investment programme, which is twice the European Union average. Were it the European average, the capital programme would be approximately €4 billion next year, when we will have a programme of €8 billion.

[16]Deputy Enda Kenny:  Has the Taoiseach given consideration to a matter I referred to him before, the opting in to the justice and security issue which was part of the Lisbon treaty? I make the point because the Taoiseach is aware that over €700 million of drugs was seized off the Irish coast a number of months ago and earlier this year over €100 million of drugs was washed up at Mizen Head. Given the scale of international crime now, be it from human trafficking or the fact that this country is both a conduit and destination for serious amounts of drugs, does the Taoiseach consider it would be an important element of our central participation in Europe to opt into the justice and security element of the treaty?

The Taoiseach is well aware of the academic arguments put up by legal minds on the difference between common and civil law. The people of the country would like to know that the Government wants to participate fully — and demonstrate this — in all elements of justice and security, so our citizens are safe and our young people are not continuously exposed to the pressures of drugs, drug abuse and drug addiction. That scale of crime is happening on a continuous basis.

The Taoiseach:  Our position on the justice and home affairs area is to participate as fully as possible. There is a reserve in terms of ensuring the difference between common and civil law is respected and understood. We are legally advised there may be occasions where that full participation might not be possible as would otherwise be the case. Our demeanour in the area is to work co-operatively with colleagues in the European Union and further afield, such as in Interpol and other organisations, to deal with the worldwide criminal networks which run the drugs trade and bring much agony, sorrow and tragedy to so many lives. They blight many societies in the modern world in which we live.

These are legal questions which have been assessed by our Attorney General and the Government has followed that advice. All our colleagues are aware that it is our full intention to participate in all of these matters and our reserve is simply in the event of there being a legal problem by doing so.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to ask a few questions about the conclusions reached at the summit. It was agreed that if the Lisbon treaty is ratified and comes into effect, each member state will have the right to appoint a Commissioner. Has any consideration been given to what will happen with regard to the appointment of the new Commission if the Lisbon treaty is not ratified?

There were agreements on legal guarantees in a number of areas in respect of taxation and security and defence policy. I do not see any great difficulty with these because, as I read it, they were not affected by the Lisbon treaty in any event. There is also a provision for a guarantee that the provisions of the Irish Constitution regarding the right to life, education and family are not in any way affected by the Treaty of Lisbon, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the justice and home affairs provisions of the treaty.

We all understand that the abortion issue was raised during the course of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I cannot recall anybody raising issues relating to education during the course of the referendum campaign. In so far as family issues were raised, they certainly were not central. I have been through the research which was done following the referendum, but I cannot see anywhere in it that family or education issues surfaced as matters of concern. Perhaps the Taoiseach could explain where those issues emerged from, the nature of the legal guarantees being sought, and how that will be squared with the charter of fundamental rights.

I also wish to ask the Taoiseach about workers’ rights issues, which he raised during the European summit. The text of the conclusions states that high importance will be given to [17]those issues but not legal guarantees, as is the case in the other areas. Can the Taoiseach explain why that is so and what he proposes to do to address it?

The Taoiseach:  As regards the issue of a Commissioner per member state, in the event of the Lisbon treaty not being ratified the Nice treaty arrangements will be operable. Those arrangements state that when the membership reaches 27 the Council will have to agree to a reduction of that number and provide a solution along the lines of the Nice treaty. Therefore one cannot guarantee a Commissioner per member state if the Lisbon treaty is not ratified. If it is ratified, these conclusions confirm that the Heads of State and Government are prepared to undertake a procedure which will ensure that every member state has a Commissioner. That situation cannot continue under the Nice treaty. The Lisbon treaty currently states that a Commissioner per member state will be available to every member of the Union until 2014, whereupon on a principle of rotation a reduced number, to 18, will be agreed. That is an important point which arose during the course of the referendum. I am glad to note that the commitment given by the European Council last week is quite clear in that respect.

As regards other matters, we are involved in work in progress and further detailed texts will have to be worked out. We can keep the Deputy and his party apprised of that. The Deputy raised questions concerning the right to life, the family, the right to denominational education and other issues, some of which concern minority groups in this country.

The issue of workers' rights is about ensuring that, by ratifying the treaty, we incorporate the charter — which is part of the treaty — into the treaties of the European Union. On any objective reading of the situation, it is accepted that that would greatly enhance and protect workers’ rights in future. The difference in some respects is that the workers’ rights issue is not simply an Irish-specific question, it is one for all 27 member states. The other issues are Irish-specific ones, but that is not to say for one moment that we do not accord importance to this matter, which was raised during the last campaign. There are dossiers going through various sectoral councils at the moment dealing with delineating the exact implications of certain cases that were brought before the European Court of Justice, which were specific to those particular states. However, they obviously caused concern as to whether they would have a wider application or — in respect of the issues that were dealt with in those cases — what policy response will emerge between member states that would be agreed at Council level. Those dossiers will continue to be addressed in the forthcoming Czech Presidency and probably during the Swedish Presidency as well. That is the context in which these matters arose.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am still not clear about the references in the text of the summit conclusions to education and the family, or what is contemplated in those areas. Perhaps the Taoiseach might return to that.

I acknowledge that if the Charter of Fundamental Rights was adopted, it would strengthen the rights of workers both here and elsewhere in the EU. It would also strengthen the right to collective bargaining. As matters stand, however, that charter has not been adopted. That aside, would the Taoiseach acknowledge that the judgments in the Laval case and other somewhat similar cases before the European Court of Justice, have given rise to concern about the possibility of undermining pay and working conditions which are accepted as the norm here? Does he agree that it would be necessary to have those issues satisfactorily addressed in advance of another referendum on Europe?

Does the Taoiseach intend to involve the Opposition parties, particularly those which have supported the Lisbon treaty, in constructing the texts of the legal guarantees, assurances and other matters which are to be concluded as part of this process?

[18]The Taoiseach:  Providing support for vulnerable workers is of central concern to the Government. The development of European policy and practice reflected in the Union’s legislation has been hugely positive for workers in Europe, including Irish workers. To take but one example, this is reinforced by the adoption of the directive on temporary agency work. This measure continues the long established pattern of significant and effective protection for workers being reinforced by and, in many instances, originating with European initiatives. It is that tradition and its continued potential which was reflected in the decisions of the executive of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the European Trade Union Confederation to support the Lisbon treaty. As I said earlier, through the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the draft treaty represents a significant advance in the articulation of workers’ rights, not least in respect of the operation of collective bargaining.

Regarding the ECJ judgments to which Deputy Gilmore referred, the particular issues raised in, for example, the Laval and Viking cases relate to the specific social partnership and collective bargaining context which exists in Scandinavian countries. Therefore, the judgments are case-specific. Our legal advice is that there are no particular implications arising from the ECJ judgments in these cases for Ireland, with the particular arrangements in place as part of the Irish industrial relations system. We have a strong body of employment rights legislation which protects workers, including posted workers — that is posted from another EU member state — who have the same rights as Irish workers under Irish law. It is important to note that the transitional agreement, which was recently ratified by IBEC and ICTU, will serve to bolster and enhance our body of employment rights legislation. That said, the Government has made the case to our European counterparts that these ECJ judgments should be discussed among the social partners at EU level. In this context, we welcome the fact that the European Commission, backed by the Troika of French, Swedish and Czech Presidencies, has asked the EU social partners, as part of their work programme in 2009, to undertake an analysis of the balance between workers’ rights and competitiveness issues, having particular regard to the ECJ rulings. In the time available to us, we will continue to use that process to the greatest extent we possibly can, as a means of bringing the necessary clarity and orientation to that debate, which will provide reassurance to those who may continue to have concerns in this area. We would also be glad to apprise party leaders in the House, particularly those who support the treaty, of our efforts to go ahead with the envisaged detailed work arising out of the conclusions and to listen to and see in what way we can accommodate the ideas or proposals of others as part of a collective effort as comprehensively as possible.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach confirm that, at the European Council meeting last week, he secured no changes and no commitments to make any changes to the actual text of the Lisbon treaty? Given that no changes have been secured and no commitments to make any changes to the actual text have been made, why has the Taoiseach agreed to put the same treaty to the electorate, which has already rejected it? In a previous manifestation, it was rejected by other European electorates.

The Government has told us that key issues that arose in the referendum will be dealt with by what have been described as legally binding guarantees. What is the nature of those guarantees? Will the Taoiseach spell out for this Deputy and the House exactly what it is that the Government is proposing? How would he respond to this Deputy’s opinion and that of many others that the guarantees will be of questionable enforceability and will not measure up to amendments or protocols to the treaty, the necessary critical elements? Will they amount to nothing other than political declarations with no legally binding powers? Is it the case, as indicated by President Sarkozy, that some declarations or all of what has been suggested by the Taoiseach and other national commentators on these recent developments will accompany the accession treaty for Croatia in 2010 or 2011?

[19]The Taoiseach:  Regarding the questions raised, this is an exercise in democracy. Concerns were raised by our people about the Lisbon treaty, which meant the treaty was rejected last May in a referendum. The Government undertook a process, as did the Oireachtas, to see in what way we could first of all identify the main concerns. As the Deputy knows, different points of view were expressed on different issues by people who voted on any particular side, not all of them mutually supportive or mutually coherent.

We sought to identify those issues and a very structured process was undertaken, both in terms of a modern means of assessing public opinion and also, of course, ensuring the Oireachtas was fully involved in bringing forward a number of groups and discussing the matter publicly in our committee system in a transparent and open manner. Having done that, the Oireachtas sub-committee came forward with, while not a unanimous report, what was very much the view of the vast majority of those who sat on the committee, namely, that the concerns that influenced people to vote in any particular way could be identified. Those are reflected in the main in the conclusions suggested.

The Oireachtas sub-committee has other recommendations in respect of national procedures and national issues that could be dealt with at country level and that do not require the agreement or consent of our member state colleagues. These relate to how we deal with European legislation, scrutinise it and provide a further reassurance to people that, not only has the appraisal undertaken been rigorous on the part of governments or the Commission in terms of initiating legislation and the subsequent work at Council of Ministers level, but that the issue of subsidiarity should be given expression in this House to a greater degree than has been the case before. This point is well taken.

I have always believed that, as a proponent of European issues, we should contextualise many of the issues that we discuss here to a far greater extent, whether they are economic, social or cultural, in the context of the European Union itself. There is an interdependence and interlinking, not just in terms of financial resources in many respects, because we are moving on from that phase of membership, but also in terms of policy formulation and where competence lies in these areas, where there is a very strong European influence.

We need to articulate that to a far greater extent in our national debate on a whole range of questions in order for people to see the relevance and importance of European Union affairs in the daily lives of our own people. It is not simply a constitutional matter. While European issues have been dominated by an effort to accommodate enlargement and to define structures and systems within the European Union and its institutions to make it responsive to the wider needs of the new united Europe in the post-communist era in which we live, the constitutionalisation questions have, perhaps, dominated to an extent that has bemused many. We wish to move on from that.

The Lisbon treaty, perhaps, provides us with the best way of doing it. It represents the seven-eight year compromise that was reached after much deliberation. It is specific in terms of protecting member states’ interests and accommodating their concerns, perhaps by its complexity of structure, but this is an inevitable outcome of the accommodating and inclusive nature of the Union itself in reaching agreement on matters of importance to member states in a coherent fashion.

For that reason, it is important that we seek to address the concerns of the Irish people. It is totally open to them to come back to any issue at any time where our national interests are at stake. I strongly believe that our national interests are at stake. Deputy Ó Caoláin may disagree, which is his entitlement, but I strongly believe it. From the position I hold, I am all the more convinced of it as every week and month passes.

[20]Be that as it may and to answer the specific questions raised, I am glad to note from Deputy Ó Caoláin’s remarks that, if it were to occur that we would be able to obtain legal guarantees of protocol status, it would give him the reassurance that he requires in these matters, since he seems to be emphasising the importance of legal effect of the concerns raised being provided. I do not wish to move beyond the conclusions as they are currently stated at the December Council meeting or to anticipate the outcome of further discussions that must take place, but I have a clear political understanding that the legal effect that we will require can and will be forthcoming subject to a satisfactory conclusion of the work that is yet to be done.

This is an indication of the willingness of colleague member states to seek to accommodate the concerns that we have democratically assessed in this Parliament and that we are now communicating to colleagues in the European Union. If it is the case that this is ultimately what is to emerge, I would be delighted if it were an influential part of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s thinking on this issue for the future. I would welcome that.

The Deputy asked a question about ratification of the treaty. We are involved in a discussion with 26 member states. It has been portrayed by some who oppose the treaty that our work on this matter began two or three weeks ago. One would be quite naive to suggest that the objective results achieved at the Council meeting last week could have been achieved on the basis of two or three weeks work. In the aftermath of the rejection of the Lisbon treaty, I went to a European Council meeting where I informed the Council of the rejection of the treaty and the need for that rejection to be respected. In other words, if they were ever to return to this matter, they would need to try to address the concerns which caused the people to reject the treaty. It was made clear to me that a re-ratification of the treaty was not an option the other 26 member states wished to consider. We can take one of two approaches from that. We could decide there is no more we can do or we can decide to work in solidarity with those member states to try to resolve the problems that were specific to Ireland’s rejection of the treaty. I took the second approach because that is in the interests of the country and that we have an obligation to do that.

The response that is emerging from member states indicates a respect for the concerns to which I refer and a preparedness to give legal effect in the future for those concerns and to deal with the fundamental question relating to the representativeness of the Commission — that is, one Commissioner per member state — at all times. That is an advance on both the Lisbon and Nice treaties. Had I done nothing, we would have lost our Commissioner on the basis of the Nice arrangements. By engaging and negotiating with member states and asking them to respect the issues raised by the Irish people, we have come with a conclusion that is specific in respect of the institutions. This has not happened previously in respect of other countries that found themselves in a position similar to that of Ireland. Other member states are prepared to make this institutional change and to commit to it now in an effort to convey to the Irish people their willingness to address that important matter so people can reconsider the treaty. Had I taken the approach suggested by some, what we have achieved might not have been possible.

I understand the Deputy’s party, in the context of the criticism it has offered, has set down a range of issues in respect of which changes should be made. The problem is that the other 26 member states are not minded to do so. We must, therefore, make a decision: should we address and try to deal adequately with the main concerns identified Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union or should we continue to set the bar so high, as the Deputy’s party has done, to ensure that matters will never be renegotiated?

[21]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Taoiseach referred to people not being minded to make changes. If Sinn Féin had accepted that position over the years, the dramatic and important developments——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Deputy’s party has ways of softening people up.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——in the North of this island would never have occurred. The significant achievements made in the past 12 months were brought about because people were prepared to continue to play their part and to imaginatively explore the options. Does the Taoiseach accept that he has not so explored the mandate the electorate gave him in the referendum on the Lisbon treaty to the effect that he should engage directly in respect of this matter? Let us ignore the fact that other member states are not minded to introduce changes. We have heard that mantra on many occasions from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The reality is that the Taoiseach had a task to undertake. Does he accept he has not taken action in respect of that task?

The Taoiseach stated this matter relates to democracy. That is certainly the case. However, whether he has been engaged in an exercise of democracy is another matter. Many of us who voted “No” can detect neither respect nor regard for the position we articulated when we made our choice in the referendum held earlier this year.

The Taoiseach did not reply to a number of the questions I posed. In respect of President Sarkozy’s contribution vis-à-vis the expected treaty relating to Croatia’s accession in 2010 or 2011, will the Taoiseach state whether, unlike the position heretofore, this treaty and all future accession treaties will not be put to the Irish electorate? If President Sarkozy is indicating that the legally binding declarations relating to Ireland are to be part of such a proposition and if it is the case that these will not be put to the Irish electorate, does it not follow that the Taoiseach is asking the people to buy a pig in a poke? On foot of his earlier comments, will the Taoiseach acknowledge that he does not have a clear vision, in written form or otherwise, of what was allegedly agreed in the run-up to and during the European Council meeting which took place last week?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Other Members are offering. Questions to the Taoiseach cannot be allowed to last as long as Paradise Lost.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach accept he does not possess a clear formula to allow him to answer my question regarding the status of these oft referred to legally binding declarations? Does he also accept that, critically and clearly, no changes to the Lisbon treaty as presented to the Irish electorate, either by amendments to the text or by protocols, have been secured, and that is the critical fault line?

The Taoiseach:  It is best to use the language of the conclusions to avoid confusion. That is if one is not interested in spreading confusion. The conclusions state they are legally binding guarantees.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach explain how they are legally binding?

The Taoiseach:  I just explained that I have a clear political understanding with regard to obtaining legally binding guarantees as per the conclusions. We are in a work-in-progress phase. We will carry out the detailed work and when that is done, we will bring them before the House and explain them further. We will then hear from the European Council as to how it wishes to give legal effect to those guarantees. As President of the European Council, President Sarkozy indicated at the Council meeting, at the press conference which followed it and at the [22]European Parliament yesterday what he believes will be the means by which these legally binding guarantees will be given. I am prepared to await a formal decision from the Council on those matters. However, I have a clear political understanding which allowed me to provide the conditional commitment I gave. If I did not have such an understanding, I would not have given that commitment.

It is on the basis of that clear understanding that we are proceeding to the next phase involving detailed work on the text. The Deputy will have to accept that is the position at present. When the detail is completed, we will bring it before the House and have a further discussion on it and see what is the position at that point.

Deputy Ó Caoláin made a point about people being minded and not having put the case sufficiently. I put the case. He referred to his party’s involvement in compromise. He had to make some fundamental compromises in order to achieve political progress. However, that does not disbar him from continuing to pursue his political vision for the country, as I pursue mine. I do so with quite transparent and unsophisticated democratic principles. The Deputy’s experience could perhaps inform him better than anything I could say. One advances the position nationally in so far as is possible, based on the ability of others to agree with one.

Sinn Féin or the Deputy might prefer other changes to be made to the Lisbon treaty. However, the treaty can only be agreed, not on the basis of a diktat of his party or mine, but on the basis of a consensus agreed among 27 member states. The other 26 member states have come forward with a consensus position and they must take account of our concerns. They are seeking, willing and anxious to do so out of respect for the Irish people, for the fact they want Ireland to be fully part of the Union and in terms of the additional changes to the Lisbon treaty construct. The Deputy suggests there has been no change. Where in the Lisbon treaty does it say there will be one Commissioner per member state? It does not say that.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It does not say in the Nice treaty that we cannot.

Deputy Dick Roche:  It does.

The Taoiseach:  To be clear, the Nice treaty says that when the Commission reaches a size of 27 members it must be reduced.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is to be reduced to 27.

The Taoiseach:  There is no need for confusion.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Let us stick to the facts.

The Taoiseach:  Yes, let us stick to the facts. Is there sufficient generosity in Deputy Ó Caoláin to acknowledge that we have achieved, as a result of discussions and negotiations with 26 other members states, one Commissioner per member state.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Is there sufficient generosity in the Taoiseach to acknowledge——

The Taoiseach:  Is that accepted?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——that only the majority of Irish people voted “No” he would not have sought that and was prepared to have us accept far less than is even provided for in the Nice treaty?

[23]An Ceann Comhairle:  Never mind generosity. Please allow the Taoiseach to finish his reply.

The Taoiseach:  No.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach have the generosity to acknowledge that?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Ó Caoláin cannot interrupt again.

The Taoiseach:  My answer to that question is that were I to accept the “No” vote and do nothing about it I would have to have a Commissioner under the Nice treaty arrangements, which were worse than the existing Lisbon treaty arrangements. We put forward a proposal in the December Council that is better than the Lisbon treaty position.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It does not have to be worse under the Lisbon treaty.

The Taoiseach:  That is the situation.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Not at all.

The Taoiseach:  That is the legal situation and the Deputy cannot get away from it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It could be done by way of unanimity.

The Taoiseach:  What the Deputy cannot get away from is his continuous effort——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No.

The Taoiseach:  ——to suggest that to reject the Lisbon treaty puts Ireland in a better position. To reject the Lisbon treaty puts Ireland in a worse position.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No. We want to secure agreement in the interests of the Irish people and the broad electorate.

The Taoiseach:  Anyone who knows anything about politics or political economy understands that point. We are engaged in a democratic process. We must address the concerns that the people raised, as they are entitled to do, in terms of the democratic decision they made last May. That is what we are doing.

Sinn Féin has decided to use a different tactic, namely, to go about suggesting to the Irish people — I cannot recall how many amendments Sinn Féin was seeking, it may have been 25, in its famous document produced within a week of the rejection of the Lisbon treaty — that if the Government does not achieve what it suggests it cannot put the treaty to the people. Deputy Ó Caoláin has a problem in that the other 26 member states do not agree with him.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is not the way that was presented.

The Taoiseach:  The other member states do not agree with Sinn Féin.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The only one trying to paint that picture is the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach:  One cannot dictate what people should do. People sometimes think one can dictate but one cannot. One must work with practicalities and realities and deal with the concerns of the Irish people. The people must be given the reassurances they need not only in respect of sensitive issue in regard to our Constitution but in regard to workers’ rights and the Commission. We must give a clear indication to the people that if they vote “Yes” Ireland will [24]keep its Commissioner. That, perhaps, is the reason the poster erected by Sinn Féin will be redundant if we ever get to the next referendum.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is our duty and responsibility to point out to the electorate the deficiencies contained in that which the Taoiseach and other parties in this House have been promoting for so long. We will continue to inform them truthfully.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Costello.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I agree with the Taoiseach that there has been major progress in terms of the achievement of a Commissioner for each member state and that should be acknowledged.

I wish to put a question to which there are two aspects. The Taoiseach stated that his function was to ensure that the concerns expressed by the Irish people, in so far as we understood them, in terms of their rejection of the Lisbon treaty referendum, were addressed. There are two ways the Government can do this. It must first show good faith by addressing the issue of workers’ rights and protecting the hard won rights of workers in this country.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Why has the services directive not been passed into law? We have only until the end of next year to do so. We must address this issue quickly.

Also, we should pass the agency workers’ directive which is currently awaiting transposition in Irish law. Why not do that? Why has the migrant workers’ directive not been passed? It is causing mayhem in terms of employment of migrant workers in the service industry and, especially in restaurants, an issue raised yesterday by the migrant workers’ centre? What is the position in respect of the compliance Bill? We must deal with that legislation. The Government must, first and foremost, show good faith at home.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The Taoiseach also stated that the Viking and Laval cases do not concern us. They could concern us if a business from another country were to take a similar case. The European Court of Justice would then have to determine in respect of national law and practises and the freedoms of the European Union. We must put in place a legal mechanism that will protect us in the future. Otherwise, there is not much sense in putting a new referendum to the people.

The Taoiseach:  On the first matter, the parliamentary committee outlined various recommendations, some of which must be addressed with member state colleagues at European Council level and others which must be dealt with at national level. In the context of employment rights legislation and so on, it should be pointed out that we have a good record on employment rights. Employment rights legislation which protects migrants workers has been bolstered. For example, on the posted workers issue, these people now have the same rights as Irish workers under Irish law. Other issues are being discussed in the social partnership process. We have a voluntary industrial relations system.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Let us show some urgency about this.

The Taoiseach:  There is urgency in respect of this issue. However, there are also issues to be dealt with such as how we balance workers’ rights——-

[25]Deputy Joe Costello:  When does the Government propose to do this?

The Taoiseach:  ——with competitiveness issues in the interests of maintaining workers in employment, which is also a critical workers’ right. We must consider these matters in a sensible way.

There is no major ideological chasm between us in respecting the rights of workers, which is something to which I adhere. What we need to do is ensure this is addressed in a context that does not affect competitiveness or makes less likely that we will have more rather than fewer workers in employment. We must also maintain standards. I have no problem with any of this. It is something to which I subscribe. I was formerly a Minister for Labour.

Dialogue is taking place within social partnership. We will do anything we can to progress this issue and to provide reassurance on these matters. They are issues, at a national level, that must be considered with others in the Parliament during the coming months. Of course, we should do this. We must be helpful, open and co-operative in these matters. The contention was made that if one voted “Yes” to the Lisbon treaty one would be adopting a construct; that there is no such thing as a social market or social Europe and the European Union is hostile to workers’ rights. We all know that the genesis of much of the most progressive social legislation in our employment legislation originated from the European Union and the Commission.

It was the late Paddy Hillery who, through the first Commission on Social Affairs, introduced equal treatment and equal rights directives which have been transposed not alone into Irish law but European law. This is an area where the European Union has differentiated itself from the neo-liberal market economics of other major trading blocs in the world. We are seeking all the time to strike this balance, not because we are trying to dilute its importance but because we want to ensure that the context within which workers’ rights are exercised is an economy that will provide employment and a more fulfilled life for workers. It is a difficult balance and is a matter of judgment and of changing circumstance.

I take the point that this is not an exact science. In making these I am not suggesting that one is not committed to inclusion and to dealing with reassurances in this area. We need to do so with that context in mind. For this reason, and if, as Deputy Costello stated, I am to proceed in good faith on these matters, which is my intention, I do not believe this should be an issue between us.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Anois, iarratais chun tairisceana a dhéanamh an Dáil a chur ar athló faoi Bhuan Ordú 32. We now come to deal with requests to move the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I seek the Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, whether the Government will seek publication of a report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland into issues relating to child protection procedures in the diocese of Cloyne, if the Government will confirm if this report was commissioned by the Department of Health and Children, if the recommendations of that report have been implemented, and if certain persons have been removed from positions of responsibility in relation to child protection.

Deputy James Bannon:  I seek the Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of extreme national importance, namely, the huge risk posed to public health by the announcement that the HSE must save up to €900 million in 2009, with acute services in the midlands and the south east facing review next year and many developments uncertain.

[26]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I seek the Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss a matter of extreme importance, namely, health and safety issues regarding farmers who are desperately trying to complete slatted house units in order to comply with the deadline of 31 December under the farm waste management scheme. Two people have already been seriously injured while erecting slatted houses on farms in County Clare in the past two weeks. The deadline is unreasonable and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must put forward a case at this late stage to extend the deadline due to the continuing inclement weather conditions before lives are lost.

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

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. a12, motion re Spent Convictions Bill 2007; No. 25, statements on European Council, Brussels; No. 12 motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate [Vote 31] and, subject to the agreement of No. 12, to take Supplementary Estimate [Vote 31]; No. 4, Appropriation Bill 2008 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Remaining Stages; No. 24, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008 — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stages; and No. 37, Spent Convictions Bill 2007 — Second Stage [subject to the agreement of No. a12]. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of No. 61 — motion re housing (resumed), which shall be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 24, whichever is the later; (2) No. a12 shall be decided without debate; (3) the proceedings on No. 25 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and shall be confined to the Taoiseach and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time, and which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) immediately following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; (4) the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place at 1.30 p.m., or on the conclusion of No. 25, whichever is the later, until 2.30 p.m.; (5) No. 12 shall be decided without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith, and subject to the agreement of No. 12, Supplementary Estimate [Vote 31] shall be moved and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 minutes, and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith, and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time, and which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (6) No. 4 shall be taken today and Second and Remaining Stages shall be decided without debate by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; and (7) the proceedings on the Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stages of No. 24 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.

[27]An Ceann Comhairle:  There are seven proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I agree with the point Deputy Gilmore made in his leader’s question about the Dáil rising until the end of January. I wish to comment on Dáil sittings. The Taoiseach rightly pointed out that the committees are back on 7 January. I respect the fact that Ministers will be abroad at some stage in January on delegations and carrying out national business. That is part of Government responsibility and it is necessary that, on occasion, Ministers lead delegations abroad to make further connections with other countries on behalf of this country. I respect that.

However, at a time when 10,000 people a month are losing their jobs, and when the most time off for those who have jobs is a week at Christmas time, it is perverse that the Parliament — the Dáil — should be off until the end of January. It has always been a matter of perception that because the committees are back, the Dáil is in session. That is true to an extent.

I object to the Order of Business because I would like the Dáil to come back on 7 January, the same day as the committees, to conduct its business on behalf of the people. I know the Chief Whip does not like that but 10,000 people a month are losing their jobs and those who have jobs have a week off at Christmas and that is it. There is a real job of work to be done for the country. There is a real challenge facing Government and a need for drive, enthusiasm and leadership. I will accept the Order of Business if the Taoiseach tells me that the Dáil will be recalled on 7 January but, if not, I will vote against it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I agree with what Deputy Kenny has said. This House should be back on 7 January. When he was replying to me earlier the Taoiseach indicated the Government would be back on 7 January. He outlined that some Ministers have overseas commitments, which I understand, and that can be facilitated in the normal course of how we do our business.

It is important there is public confidence in politics. A Dáil recess up to the end of January will scandalise the public. Here we are in the middle of an economic problem and the Dáil is going into recess until the end of January. The history of Dáil recesses to the end of January goes back to a time when the budget was at the end of January. The rationale for it was that the Dáil did not come back after the Christmas recess until the end of January because the Government was dealing with the budget and needed time to prepare the budget. That no longer applies. There is no justification whatever for a recess up to the end of January.

I support what Deputy Kenny has said. The House should be back in business on 7 January. I support also his opposition to the Order of Business unless the Taoiseach can give us an assurance on the matter.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Of course there might be a budget in January.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Tomorrow’s Order Paper will inform us of the Government’s intentions regarding the recess over Christmas. As the Taoiseach is present today can he bring the Order Paper forward and advise the House as to what it will reflect tomorrow?

Yesterday, in my case, but other voices again this morning have reflected on the serious situation that now stands in the offing in regard to the health service. Yesterday we thought cuts of €500 million were planned but that has risen to some €1 billion in real terms in cuts within the health service. That needs to be addressed. The issue is critically important and it affects every one of us, irrespective of politics, as every citizen will be in need of health care in this State at some point in their lives. There is great concern already in regard to the haemorrhage of services and the continued move towards centralisation and privatisation. We need to [28]have a full-blown debate on the floor of this House regarding the Government’s intention for the health service in 2009. I ask that the Taoiseach accommodate that as early as possible, if not before Christmas at the earliest resumption date in the new year.

  12 o’clock

The Taoiseach:  I reiterate that the Government will be back at work, indeed before 7 January. There will be a Government meeting on 7 January but the Government will be back before then due to the pressing issues we are dealing with. In the course of the coming weeks I have indicated that as a result of meeting with the social partners there will be intensive discussions on bringing forward a plan for economic renewal, which will include a fiscal stability programme based on those discussions. We can come into this House and debate them. Similarly, that will also be the case with the service plan for 2009 for the health service.

It is important to point out that there will not be inactivity either on a Government or parliamentary level until the end of January. From the beginning of January there will be parliamentary activity in the committee system and the Government needs the time and ability to get on with that work we are talking about in terms of preparing such a plan for economic renewal with the social partners and also engaging in necessary trade delegations out of this country as we try to maintain and shore up the orders that Irish business is finding hard to win in the present circumstances.

Question put: “That the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 64.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Grealish, Noel.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Healy-Rae, Jackie.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Mary.
 White, Mary Alexandra.  Woods, Michael.



Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Clune, Deirdre.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P.J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and Niall Blaney; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a12 without debate, motion re Spent Convictions Bill 2007, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25, statements on the European Council, Brussels agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal regarding the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23 (1) agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12 without debate, motion re leave to introduce and take Supplementary Estimate agreed to?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I would like clarification on No. 12 before agreeing to proposal No. 5 on the Order Paper, which refers specifically that leave be given by the Dáil to introduce Supplementary Estimates relating to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I would like confirmation that this is in the context of the recent crisis in the pork and bacon industry.

Will the Taoiseach clarify, in the absence of the Minister, the Government’s disposition towards the applications for compensation from farmers north of the Border who used the [30]feedstuffs supplied by the producer on this side of the Border? Will the Taoiseach also comment on the Minister’s remarks on Monday that it was the Government’s intention only to compensate what he described as “Irish producers”? It is my understanding that the applicant farmers north of the Border are exactly that, Irish producers. They have used feed supplied and produced on this side of the Border.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now. Does the Deputy oppose proposal No. 5?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is most unusual that a matter of this importance would be met in the House with such heckling and interference. This is a hugely important issue with regard to the principle of the acceptance of farmers throughout the island of Ireland as Irish producers and the Government’s responsibility to compensate without discrimination based on geographic location. Can we please have clarification on this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach on No. 12.

The Taoiseach:  This relates to a Supplementary Estimate to provide €50 million to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the context of the food scare that arose recently. Unfortunately, we can only apply it to people in our own jurisdiction.

Question, “That the proposal to deal with No. 12 without debate, motion re leave to introduce and take Supplementary Estimate, be agreed to,” put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4 without debate, Order for Second Stage and Second and Remaining Stages of the Appropriation Bill 2008 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 24, Report and Final Stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008 agreed to?

Deputy Joan Burton:  We have just agreed that the Appropriation Bill, which used to be the subject of a long debate in the House and an Adjournment debate at the end of a Dáil term, does not merit debate from the Government. We are now being asked to guillotine the Finance (No. 2) Bill for 7 p.m. this evening. Many of the amendments on Committee Stage of the Bill did not have an opportunity to be discussed. The country is facing severe economic difficulties and we propose to guillotine the Bill and barely allow any decent discussion on what is happening in the economy or on the implications of a Bill that disastrously decided to raise VAT by 0.5% and send people in flight to shop in the North of Ireland.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is important to be consistent in the House. I made the point to the Chief Whip at the start of this session that Fine Gael would oppose, as a matter of principle, the guillotining of Bills. Therefore, I oppose the guillotining of this Bill. There are occasions where a Bill might run out of steam in any event, but I have made the point to the Chief Whip that we will oppose every proposal to guillotine a Bill. I object to this proposal on that basis.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  It is most unacceptable that a Bill dealing with millions of euro of expenditure will pass through the House without open-ended debate. It would be appropriate to have such debate. I oppose the guillotining of the Bill.

[31]The Taoiseach:  The time allocations were set out clearly in the normal way and the sections were grouped to enable a full debate were Deputies minded to move along those lines. Obviously, this is an issue we must address before we leave.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 24, Report and Final Stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 62.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Grealish, Noel.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Healy-Rae, Jackie.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Mary.
 White, Mary Alexandra.  Woods, Michael.



Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Clune, Deirdre.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Tom.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGrath, Finian.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P.J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and Niall Blaney; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I ask the Taoiseach to be more specific about the Government’s framework for the economic recovery plan and that he offer clarification. In that regard I understand there is to be a series of statements and questions tomorrow in the House in respect of banking, recapitalisation and the issues arising.

With regard to the report this morning, will the Government make an announcement tomorrow about a framework for economic recovery, or about a framework for a plan for economic recovery? Is that announcement to be made in the House, or has a different forum been chosen for it? It would appear somewhat unusual for the House to discuss the banking business, at my party’s request, and the Government to be found in a different forum outlining an economic framework. When will the Dáil have an opportunity to see the framework and discuss it?

Deputy Joan Burton:  A total of 65 minutes has been set aside to discuss the recapitalisation of the banks. That is inadequate and there is no provision for questions and answers from a Minister.

In the context of what we learned in the past 48 hours about the budgetary issues and cuts in the health services, and also about what the Taoiseach has said about an economic framework, it is very difficult to discuss the provision of up to €10 billion for Irish banks when other serious budgetary issues face the country over the Christmas period.

Can the discussion be expanded to cover not only to the banks but to include the budgetary emergency that yet again faces the Health Service Executive? Can it also include the general framework that the Taoiseach spoke about, an economic plan for getting the country through 2009? We need more time for that. If the time to be allocated was to be doubled and if there were to be provision for a question and answer session, there would then be some notion of parliamentary accountability about the exercise.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On the same issue, given the schedule for tomorrow, it is within the Government’s compass to accommodate what is being sought by Opposition voices here this morning. We need additional time to address the critical issue of the proposed recapitalisation of the banks. We need the opportunity to quiz the Minister. Some 20 minutes is not sufficient, as we have had examples of this and will have them again today in regard to other [33]matters. We need a full-blown opportunity. That is the critical focus this House should have tomorrow, which would include the service plan for the HSE.

The Taoiseach:  The Order of Business tomorrow will be dealt with. It is important to point out that yesterday I met the social partners and asked them to engage in a process, which they agreed to do. I will set out the shape of that debate by issuing a framework for those discussions which will be ongoing over Christmas and into January. That is the right way to proceed. As a result of those discussions bringing forward a comprehensive approach containing an input from all the social partners on the issues, there will be an opportunity available to the House to discuss this when we come back. That is the time when we should do so.

With regard to the question of statements, as a result of a query made yesterday, I said I would agree that we could have them if Members wanted to have statements on this matter and put their views on the record of the House. The Chief Whip has accommodated this and has provided for time tomorrow in what is a very busy schedule as we head into the last week of our deliberations for this session. Sixty-five minutes should be sufficient for people to set out their position based on the statement issued on Sunday.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Cá bhfuil an tAire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil? Tá sé as láthair arís inniu. An bhfuil slaghdán air? Ar sheol sé nóta chuig an Taoiseach?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Tá sé thuas i Lapland.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Cá bhfuil na leasuithe a bhí sé le moladh, i dtaobh caiteachais le linn na toghcháin áitiúla, ar an mBille Toghcháin (Leasú) 2008? Níl na leasuithe foilsithe aige. Has he gone completely AWOL or has he given up?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should leave that matter alone.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Does he accept there is a single-party Government?

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

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He promised amendments on the spending limits for the local elections.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Report Stage of that Bill is about to be taken but there is no sign of the amendments. Another issue in which the Minister had an interest and which I would like the Taoiseach to address is the civil unions Bill, which we were to have some time ago. When will that be published? When are we likely to see the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government making a——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A guest appearance.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——a guest appearance in the House?

The Taoiseach:  To be fair to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, he is here on all occasions he is required by the House.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He is never in the House.

A Deputy:  He might be here in spirit.

[34]Deputy Joe Costello:  He is like Lord Lucan.

The Taoiseach:  As is patently clear, the mandatory attendance of all the Front Bench Members at the Order of Business has been decreasing, although I see an additional honourable inclusion arriving. Tá a lán nótaí ag an dTeachta Gilmore. Bíonn a lán daoine as láthair ó am go ham.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Ar aon nós, níl sé sin in ord in aon chor.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am glad the Taoiseach can give the attendance record.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Minister made the 12 o’clock news, where he was wiped out by the Labour Party leader.

The Taoiseach:  It is hard to get going. On the question of the legislation, I understand the Electoral (Amendment) Bill will come to the House tomorrow for Report Stage.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is the problem. He was to have amendments for it but he does not have them.

The Taoiseach:  Amendments will be taken on Committee Stage in the Seanad tomorrow.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Committee Stage is over.

An Ceann Comhairle:  What of the civil unions Bill, Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach:  It will be early next year.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I raised with the Ceann Comhairle yesterday the fact the Minister for Health and Children sneaked the national service plan for the HSE into the Oireachtas Library at the end of last week and did not lay it before the House until yesterday and did not tell the health spokespersons in time for the debate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will stop the Deputy there. I will write to the Deputy about that. The Minister for Health and Children was not at fault. Unfortunately, it emanated from an error in our office for which we apologise.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I wish to raise a further issue. This document is now a complete work of fiction because there is a further €400 million in cuts, which the Minister neglected to tell us yesterday on Question Time.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Ceann Comhairle should get to the bottom of that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I accept we definitely made mistakes——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is an entire work of fiction. One has only to read the front of the plan, which reads: “Easy Access — Public Confidence — Staff Pride”. We are faced with huge cuts. I want to know——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We need a debate on the health services before the recess.

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

[35]Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Anything positive in this document is entirely negated by the €400 million which we were not told about before.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy knows I cannot go into that now.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is absolutely meaningless. We have Mary in wonderland as Minister who says——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Crawford.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We need a debate on the health services. We did not have the information yesterday when we——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the Whips. I cannot do anything about it. I call Deputy Crawford.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is ridiculous to publish the service plan yesterday and then yesterday evening tell us there is another €400 million in cuts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am certain Deputy Stagg will be able to represent the Deputy’s views at the Whips meeting. I call Deputy Crawford.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is disastrous for the health services.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I would gladly give time for a discussion on that issue because it is vital there is a full-blown discussion on the mismanagement of the health service.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy heard what I had to say about that so he should move on.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I want to raise three specific issues. First, thankfully, the industrial development Bill was given to us today. When will it be debated in the House? Retail and manufacturing business in the whole Border region in particular is disappearing and it is vital we get the Bill into the House as quickly as possible.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot talk about the Bill now.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Second, I am not sure whether the following Bill will be any use because Monaghan Hospital will be closed when the Minister gets away tomorrow.

Deputy Mary Coughlan:  It has nothing to do with that.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  It may not be relevant here but it is certainly relevant to the people of Monaghan. When will the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill be brought to the House?

Lastly, in light of the fact farmers in REPS 4 were promised their money last September and are now told they will not get it until the end of January, when will there be a debate on that whole issue——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  ——so these people will know when they will be paid?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach on the three Bills.

[36]The Taoiseach:  I understand the first Bill was published today. There is no date for the second Bill and the third issue does not require a Bill.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I understand the industrial development Bill concerns aggregate grants for research and development and also concerns Enterprise Ireland taking over from Shannon Development with regard to indigenous industry in the locality. It is critical that this is brought before the House as a matter of urgency in the context of the recession and, further, in the context of Dell in Limerick. I have written to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to wait for a reply because we cannot talk about it now.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I would like the Taoiseach to intervene. It is critical that this is brought before the House. The Tánaiste needs to make a statement on her discussions with Michael Dell. There is uncertainty and I would like the Taoiseach to comment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach has indicated when it will come before the House.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I support Deputy O’Donnell fully with regard to Dell in Limerick. It is dreadful for the area.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Taoiseach should comment because----

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not in order. I will try to facilitate the Deputy. I call Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I have put it down for the Adjournment debate.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am sure the Ceann Comhairle, like me and many others, is very concerned about the continued invisibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not, and the Deputy should not be either.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am just trying to help at this festive time. I suggest the heading of a Bill: the restoration of visibility Bill. Perhaps the Taoiseach would consider introducing such a Bill to encourage him back into the House. It would increase his visibility.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  He should wear a high-visibility vest.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I have two issues which are pertinent. One is in regard to the transfer of undertakings (pensions) Bill, which could be an appropriate Bill to discuss at present given that the Government proposes to raid the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The other issue is in regard to the concerns of the coastal and inland fisheries interests and anglers. Both the fisheries (amendment) Bill and the fisheries (consolidation) Bill would have an impact and are pertinent in the context of the current discussions at EU level.

The Taoiseach:  There is not a date for the first Bill mentioned by the Deputy and the other two will be next year, probably.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Is there a date for the disability Bill?

The Taoiseach:  There is not a date.

[37]Deputy Paul Kehoe:  A parliamentary question I tabled has been disallowed. I asked the Minster for Transport the action he will take following the recent “Prime Time Investigates” programme on the haulage industry. The question was disallowed on the basis that the Minister has no responsibility for this area and that it is a matter for the Road Safety Authority. Does the Minister have responsibility for anything?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am sorry, but we cannot go into that matter now.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  This is a very serious matter concerning road safety and the Minister has said he has no responsibility.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter is not in order. I strongly advise the Deputy to table the matter on the adjournment.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  I am pressing this issue and I call on the Minister to respond.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot press any further with this matter.

Deputy James Reilly:  I thank the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs for their response to an issue I raised last week on the Order of Business. However, the people of Balbriggan still have no labour exchange and——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can find out somewhere else. That is not related to any legislation.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is under legislation also. This has happened through lack of planning which is symptomatic of the Government. Everyone knew this lady would retire and that a new office was needed. People were left high and dry.

An Ceann Comhairle:  What is the relevant legislation?

Deputy James Reilly:  In the past 24 hours, 60 more jobs have been lost in north Dublin.

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

Deputy James Reilly:  Some people must now travel to Coolock and Gardiner Street.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot allow this.

Deputy James Reilly:  Is there any legislation planned for so-called head shops selling what should be illicit substances? They are legal substances under the law as it currently stands. Will legislation be tabled by the Minister for Health and Children, or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to control these shops?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised in this area?

The Taoiseach:  Not of which I am aware.

Deputy James Reilly:  I am disappointed, because the Minister for Health and Children said she would consider the matter.

I refer to the VHI legislation. People are receiving bills now. The levies are in place, yet there is no legal basis for them. When will the legislation for the VHI be tabled?

The Taoiseach:  Next year.

[38]Deputy Jack Wall:  What is the position regarding the adoption Bill? I have received numerous representations concerning the adoption of children from Vietnam. I seek an up-to-date position on the adoption Bill 2008.

The Taoiseach:  I expect it will be published shortly. It was discussed recently at Cabinet.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  One evening recently at 9 p.m. there were 11 citizens aged more than 80 years of age sitting on chairs in the accident and emergency unit of the Mater Hospital, Dublin. I represented a 96 year old constituent at the time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot deal with that matter now.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Is the Taoiseach ashamed of this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy may ask about legislation.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  My second question relates to the slashing of the budget for Pobal and local development companies. Will the Taoiseach indicate if there will be a chance to discuss this? The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaelatacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, told us in one of his more lucid moments there would be major cutbacks in the local development area.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot go into that now.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  This is at a time when we need more resources.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must move on if no one else has a contribution.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  My colleague has fought a very valuable campaign on the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is unfortunate that neither of the matters raised by the Deputy are in order. If I allow Deputy Broughan to ask such questions and if I allow the Taoiseach to answer, then I must do likewise for everyone else. I am sure the Deputy understands that we must be consistent. We will move on to the motion on the Spent Convictions Bill 2007, but first I call Deputy Burton.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000 requires the Government to make a contribution of 1% of gross national product to the National Pensions Reserve Fund every year. The Minister for Finance stated during the budget that he would call on Mr. Maurice O’Connell, the former secretary general of the Department, to review the situation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not sound as if it is in order.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Has the Government now decided not to contribute to the National Pensions Reserve Fund?

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is another way of raising that matter.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That may require amending legislation and, if so, when will the legislation be tabled?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will short-circuit the question for the Deputy. Is the legislation promised?

[39]The Taoiseach:  The statement last Sunday referred to the prospects of amending that Bill next year.

I conclude by wishing all Members of the House a happy Christmas. I hope everyone enjoys the break. I wish the Ceann Comhairle, his staff, the Superintendent, the Captain and all the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas a very happy Christmas and I thank them for their courtesy.

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

That the Order of the Dáil of 25th October, 2007, that Second Stage of the Spent Convictions Bill 2007, be taken in Private Members’ time, be discharged and that Second Stage of the Bill be taken today in Government time.

Question put and agreed to.

The Taoiseach:  I attended the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, 11 and 12 December. I was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, and the Attorney General.

The Council had an unusually heavy agenda. While the bulk of discussion centred on the Lisbon treaty, energy and climate change negotiations and the economic and financial crisis, other issues were also dealt with. That such a heavy agenda could be completed with unanimously agreed conclusions is testament to the excellent French EU Presidency of the past six months. France deployed its own highly successful mix of pragmatism, determination and dynamism. In acknowledging France’s success, I single out the particularly effective role played by President Nicolas Sarkozy. I met him on several occasions in recent months. We are indebted to him for the leadership and assistance he has provided for Europe. President Sarkozy has shown himself to be a friend of Ireland.

When I reported to the House following the October European Council, I said our task in the period ahead would be to work out how to address our concerns on the Lisbon treaty in a way which could be endorsed by all 27 member states. With the co-operation of our partners in the European Union, the outcome of last week’s Council represents a significant step towards delivering the way forward. Before outlining the detail of last week’s meeting, I will briefly recap on the context against which it took place, and the steps the Government has taken since the referendum.

The Government accepted the outcome of the referendum last June, and undertook to manage the impasse arising as a result of it. We sought to gain an understanding of the reasons underlying the rejection of the treaty. That included the commissioning of very comprehensive research, the findings of which have been published and with which the House is familiar. The Government co-operated with the other parties in the Oireachtas in the establishment of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, which undertook intensive and broad work, hearing from some 110 witnesses from more than 40 organisations.

We then brought the key concerns, as identified in the Government’s research and examined by the sub committee, to our partners in Europe and requested that these concerns would be addressed. We did this through direct and extensive contact at many levels. The Minister for [40]Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs and our diplomatic network were very active in engaging with all other member states.

I stayed in close contact with President Sarkozy, meeting on several occasions. As the Council meeting approached, I undertook a number of visits to European capitals to meet leaders and to discuss our approach with them and to hear their views. Early last week I spoke by telephone with as many of my European Council colleagues as proved possible to outline again our concerns and explain the nature of the response we felt was required. Last week, we took those concerns to the European Council. The following is a summary of what I said last week to my EU counterparts at the European Council.

I began by reminding my colleagues that Ireland had agreed in October to seek to identify the elements of a solution which could command the support of all at the December Council meeting. I stressed the Government’s belief that the Lisbon treaty is important for the Union’s future development. I also recalled that it could only enter into force if it is ratified by all 27 member states. I made clear that the concerns of the Irish people as expressed during the referendum must be reflected in any solution. I elaborated on my comments in October about those concerns. Many people felt that they lacked sufficient information or understanding to vote “Yes”. Many were concerned at a perceived loss of influence to Ireland, especially when the Commission ceased to include a national of every member state. Others were concerned that decisions on important social and ethical issues, especially, but not only, abortion, would be taken out of Irish hands. Some were concerned that workers’ rights would somehow be constrained. Some felt that the position on tax, notably corporation tax, was somehow undermined by the Lisbon treaty. Others were concerned that our traditional policy of military neutrality, to which very many Irish people, whether they voted “Yes” or “No”, hold a very strong sense of attachment, would be compromised by the Lisbon treaty. Some were even misled to fear that it could lead to conscription to a European army. I said that while some of these fears and concerns were misplaced or based on misapprehension or misinformation, it did not take away from the fact that they were sincerely held and require a respectful response.

I briefed my colleagues on the European Council on the work of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, noting that it had representation from across the political spectrum. Again, I record my appreciation for the work of that committee and the way in which it carried out its business. I informed the European Council that the Committee’s report stated clearly that to help secure Ireland firmly at the heart of Europe, the concerns that arose during the referendum campaign must be addressed. I made clear that the response to the concerns of the Irish people had to be satisfactory. I then set out the nature of the response to the concerns that I believed was required.

I stated that retaining a Commissioner was a real concern for the Irish people. There was no doubt that this was a very significant part of the debate during the referendum campaign, and that a change was necessary to respond to the belief among the public that the loss of a Commissioner represented a considerable loss of influence.

Second, I stated the Government needed an undertaking that the other concerns of the Irish people, which I had set out and that are recorded in the annex to the conclusions, would be addressed satisfactorily and in a legally robust manner, where appropriate. Moreover, such an undertaking required the inclusion of a reaffirmation by the Union of the value it attaches to issues such as workers’ rights and national competence in respect of key public services.

Negotiations on the conclusions lasted for many hours last Thursday evening and resumed on Friday morning. I am pleased to report to this House that the Council was able to reach unanimous agreement on the response to Ireland’s concerns. This unanimous agreement rep[41]resents an extremely encouraging response to the concerns of the Irish people. Our partners are prepared to adjust the institutional balance agreed within the Lisbon treaty to provide that member states keep a Commissioner each in response to Irish concerns. This is a very significant move. While several member states were strongly opposed, ultimately they accepted that this change is required.

Second, with regard to the other areas of concern I have outlined previously, the Union agreed that our concerns should be responded to satisfactorily, including through the use of legally binding guarantees. While the detail is yet to follow, our partners are clear about the nature of those guarantees. The Union also agreed on the need to confirm the importance of issues such as workers’ rights. On the basis of the agreement on these elements and on condition of our being able to put in place appropriate guarantees, I stated that I would be prepared to return to the public to put a new package and to seek their approval of it. I believe this to be a significant outcome.

I emphasise that considerable work lies ahead on the responses to such concerns. I also emphasise the nature of the agreement on the Commission because there was considerable confusion at the time of the referendum. The maintenance of one Commissioner per member state is not possible under the existing treaty arrangements, as the Nice treaty requires the size of the Commission to be reduced. Only if the Lisbon treaty enters into force will Ireland and every other member state now keep a Commissioner. The conclusions agreed last week are very clear on this point.

While my focus and that of my delegation was necessarily on the Lisbon treaty issue, other important issues also were discussed. On the economic front, there has been extensive coverage of the European economic recovery plan. This represents a framework for member states’ efforts and is designed to ensure consistency and maximum impact. In Ireland’s case, while we will continue to sustain our capital spending at a level far above the historical norm, the immediate focus of our efforts must remain on redressing the budgetary imbalance. The Council also agreed to take forward work on better global regulation of financial markets, better global governance and ensuring there is not growth in protectionism at a time of economic stress. As a small exporting nation dependent on favourable international trading conditions, avoiding growth in protectionism is important for us.

The agreement by the European Council on the climate change and energy package is of huge importance. It is a good outcome for the environment and for Ireland and a number of our key concerns were taken on board at a late stage of the negotiations. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and his officials for their excellent work in negotiations on this agreement. It represents a significant step in the effort to forge a wider international agreement to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our age. Nearly two years ago, under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel, Europe agreed to unilaterally reduce our emissions by 20% compared to 1990. Friday’s agreement under President Sarkozy’s watchful eye was, in effect, the setting down in detail of how that is to be done and Ireland played its full part in delivering on that.

The agreement represents the culmination of intensive and highly complex negotiations. Many people hoped for a more robust deal and Ireland supported the Presidency and the Commission in pushing for a package that was stronger than that which finally was agreed. However, one must recognise that compromise was necessary. The compromises, with which some are unhappy, were necessary to ensure that agreement was reached. Failure to reach agreement last week would have represented a serious set-back to the momentum we must bring to the climate change negotiations.

[42]The Minister, Deputy Gormley, led the Irish delegation at the UN negotiations in Poznan while the European Council was under way and we remained in close contact. Ireland sought an acceleration of the international negotiations to agree a deal next year and the EU’s leadership in this process was reinforced by last week’s deal in Brussels. The reality for all countries is that if progress is to be made in tackling climate change, meaningful adjustments must be made and inevitably this will involve some change for all. The agreement is testament to Europe’s ability to keep working, however challenging that may be, until agreement is reached. While this may be slow, and at times, tortuous, it is the best and the only way. On climate change, Europe now has shown the way forward by setting down its approach in detail on how it will reach reductions of 20%. If the rest of the world rises to the challenge, the Union is committed to stepping up its target to minus 30%.

The Council also adopted conclusions in several other areas, including agriculture, external relations and security and defence policy. The full text of the conclusions has been laid in the Oireachtas Library. As for the developments in Ireland in the pigmeat sector, at our request the Council agreed to invite the Commission to contribute to our efforts to support farmers and slaughterhouses. The Government is following up with the Commission on this welcome development. I record my appreciation to the Council and to Commission President Barroso in particular, for their support of, and solidarity towards, Ireland on this issue,

The extent of the challenge Ireland faces in respect of its future relationship with Europe can hardly be over-stated. There will be much written, accurately and regrettably otherwise, about the agreement reached last Friday and about what the Lisbon treaty itself does and does not do. We must be careful not to lose sight of the wood for the trees. My view, which I believe is shared by the vast majority of Members, is that our future must be within Europe. Within Europe, we must be close to the centre and not at the margins or with some semi-detached status. This has been the approach of Irish Governments of various hues for more than 35 years and it has served the country well.

This shared approach over a sustained period reflects the reality that Ireland’s relationship with Europe and its European partners is a truly national issue that transcends party politics. I appreciate the approach adopted by Opposition leaders, with whom I have had discussions in recent days. Whatever about our differences, we share a view that our future in Europe is so important that it requires as strongly united a position as possible within this House. Those who suggest Ireland can remain at the heart of Europe while refusing to work with its fellow member states, which are convinced of the necessity for more efficient and effective institutions and a stronger EU voice internationally, are attempting to render a great disservice to the public. Moreover, lest anyone consider that another referendum would create a pressure point around which concessions might be leveraged from the Government in return for support, I wish it to be understood that no good can come of such an approach. Advancing sectoral or narrow interests in such a way could be highly damaging for this country, especially at this time.

These are difficult times on a variety of fronts. Just as many of the challenges Ireland faces are international, so must be the response to them. Ireland must face outwards, not inwards, in seeking to advance its interests and protect its people and the hard-won improvements in living standards over the last decades. Serving our national interest requires us to play our full role within Europe.

Friday’s conclusions on the Lisbon treaty move us further along the path of identifying a way forward that could gain the support of the Irish people, while at the same time being acceptable to all our partners. The outcome of last week’s meeting augurs well. I am confident the Irish people’s concerns can be addressed and will be addressed satisfactorily. If a satisfac[43]tory outcome to the work I have described is achieved in the coming months, the Government will put the issue to another referendum. Whether our future relationship with Europe will be based on Ireland playing a full and constructive role in the European Union or otherwise, ultimately will be for the Irish people to decide.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I wish to share time with Deputies Timmins and Creighton.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Some time ago I criticised the Taoiseach and the Government for not being up front with those Opposition parties that have supported the Lisbon treaty. I acknowledge and thank him for his response, in that the Government now is open to keeping Opposition leaders briefed on the issues that are emerging as we proceed with this business. This is important, because whatever differences may exist between the Government and the Opposition, and there are many on matters such as the economy and the manner in which the country is run or otherwise, the Taoiseach may take it that Fine Gael always has supported Ireland’s position in Europe and will continue to so do. Some weeks ago, I stated that the only way the Lisbon treaty can come into effect is when the people give their decision on a different question, whenever that is to be asked. I also made the point that this must take place towards the latter part of next year. I acknowledge the response from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on being open to discussing these questions and how they should be dealt with.

It will be necessary to put in place a structure pertaining to ways of demolishing the extant myths, falsifications and lies about what was not contained in the Lisbon treaty and the fears generated for those who had concerns.

  1 o’clock

Let me repeat for the record that I think it is appropriate that either the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, which was chaired excellently by young Senator Paschal Donohoe, or some other independent group would carry out an audit of how we have transposed European directives into Irish law. This is important because there is a range of measures that were causing people concern such as red tape in business, for sheep farmers on the hills etc. Those concerns will not go away due to the fact the Taoiseach will hold a second referendum. It is important that we would be able to demonstrate that people have listened to those concerns and that at least the Government has tried to address them in the sense of having examples of how the directives have been transposed into law in France, Italy or Germany as against in Ireland, and so that one can say to people that these directives were agreed and this is the way they have been implemented in Ireland as distinct from other areas. I do not want to lessen the impact of a directive in any way but, in terms of common sense and flexibility, Government should respond here with an independent assessment of how that has happened.

In my capacity as a Vice President of the European People’s Party, I attended that party’s meeting before the Heads of Government meeting. I was struck by the generosity of the 14 prime ministers in that group towards this country and in wanting to help Ireland to deal with its difficulty. They recognise that Europe needs Ireland and Ireland needs Europe.

In the next 20 years, there will be the emergence of new global powers like China, India, Russia because of its natural resources, South Africa and Brazil, in addition to the United States. In there, at the tail end of that, is the European Union. Nobody wants to see a situation where catastrophe stares us in the face, as has happened with Iceland being outside of the eurozone and not having access to the European Central Bank. These all are elements of having a prosperous society where one can use the fruits to build a country where people can live their dreams and fulfil their aspirations.

[44]It might be appropriate if the Taoiseach could respond and give us an indication of when he intends to hold the referendum. I seek clarification from the Minister for Foreign Affairs about how the declarations can become legally binding. I hope they evolve to a point where there is a specific protocol given on these matters.

I campaigned on the basis of what was contained in the Lisbon treaty in respect of the commissionerships, and I was happy with that. However, it is a concern of people and I take the point that if people feel that a Commissioner for every country is an important element of this, then I will not object to it. The declarations given from the European Council meeting for Ireland are important and valid, and will go a long way towards ameliorating people’s concerns about this. If one gets to a point where the French Presidency under Presidency Sarkozy or, in June, the Czech Presidency, can evolve to a point of a legally binding protocol, then so much the better.

I would like to say a great deal about climate change and other areas of fiscal responsibility in this regard but time does not permit me to do that today.

Deputy Billy Timmins:  I take this opportunity to wish the outgoing Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Gallagher, well in his retirement. He has given a full life to public service and I wish him well. I hope he can find time in the days ahead to spend floating around regions of the upper Shannon. I wish his successor, Mr. Cooney, well.

Coming to the end of the French Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach mentioned the role played by President Sarkozy. The French President got much flak in certain quarters in this country at the end of June last, but one must acknowledge the tremendous role he played in taking on board the concerns of the Irish people and the Irish Government. He ensured, through his vigour and enthusiasm, that the EU responded in a positive manner to the needs of Ireland. The way he dealt with the crisis in Georgia, and the tremendous role that Europe played in it, his dealing with the international financial crisis and his efforts to get a global approach to financial difficulties epitomised for me the need for a full-time president of the European Union based on the two and a half year concept. That, to me, is one of the most essential ingredients required, as is outlined in the Lisbon treaty.

I also welcome the steps taken by Government to get undertakings on measures. One must acknowledge that from our point of view in the main, with the exception of the Commissioner, all of these were dealt with in the treaty. However, there was a lack of certainty among people. There were concerns and it is important those concerns have been addressed.

The EU is probably the most democratic political concept on the planet. I must admit it is much more democratic than we are here in this country where the Opposition gets generally only crumbs from Government, irrespective of who is in Government, and we are not blaming the Minister, Deputy Martin, exclusively for that. In the EU, everyone has a say, views are taken on board and compromises are made, notwithstanding the fact that many countries do not agree with the provision of a Commissioner for every member state because they feel that it will impinge upon efficiency.

I note from the “No” side of the campaign that the argument has moved on a little. The treaty contains so many matters that there are many new claims, and many new battles will be fought over the months ahead on new territory. It is important we do not lose sight of the treaty’s tremendous advantages.

The Lisbon treaty is not meant to replace what is there. It is not something new coming in for something old or unworkable. It enhances what is already there. It is an improvement on what is already there. The practitioners who operate on a day-to-day, month-to-month and [45]year-to-year basis feel the need for it. I cannot come around to the concept that there is a conspiracy by 26 or 27 governments to make life difficult for their people or for their administrators. We must bear in mind that the concept of this is for the common good.

I look at the many positive things it can do. It can deal with cross-border crime, and I hope that we can see it in our wisdom to opt in on judicial and home affairs. It can deal with the energy crisis. We are here at the periphery of Europe, at the end of the pipe. Where would we stand trying to create an energy security policy on our own? It would not be possible.

Ireland is the gateway to Europe. We projected ourselves as the young Europeans for decades. Europe has been very positive for us. Jobs are an issue with respect to Europe. I heard some of the “No” campaigners talk about scare tactics and I thought it was a little rich of them. Certainly, Ireland being at the heart of Europe is essential for our foreign direct investment needs and the “No” to the Lisbon treaty sent out a negative message. The message is not that tangible at present but, as some of the contributors to the sub-committee mentioned, by the time it becomes tangible it will be too late.

The Taoiseach mentioned earlier the issue of workers’ rights. It is important the legislation that is necessary here on home territory to deal with workers’ rights issues should be put in place in the first half of next year.

On the treaty, this morning I read bits of an extract from a speech by Mr. Gay Byrne. In the last campaign there was the great slogan, “If you don’t know, vote No”. In my view, if you do not know, you try to learn and find out about it. If you do not find out about it, do not go and impinge upon other people who have taken the time to go and find out about something and make an informed decision. I am not picking on Mr. Byrne specifically, but I will use him as the figurehead for many of the people in that campaign. He stated, “I agree with Ulick McEvaddy that the entire thing is unintelligible bilge”. If I adopted the same approach to the transport legislation on road safety as Mr. Byrne has done on this occasion, I would be saying to the public that if they had a vote on this legislation, do not pass it because they will not understand it. That approach is too simplistic. It is too serious a matter for opinion makers to adopt that approach. One goes out and informs oneself of the rights or wrongs. One does not need to know every comma and full-stop in the treaty but the information is freely available even if knowledge and interest is more limited.

I challenge opinion makers to study the material before they make an informed decision and, if they then discover an ideological difficulty with the text, people will respect them for it. They should not take the simplistic view that it is in vogue to vote “No” if one does not know. In regard to the idea of signing a contract on a house, I do not know how many people have read their mortgage contracts. I have not read them even though I have bought more than one house in my time. I signed my name and accepted my solicitor’s advice that matters were in order.

Mr. Byrne wrote: “One other thing I’ll guarantee: within six months of Ireland voting “Yes”, our special corporate tax rate will be gone”. The untruth of that statement will be copperfastened by a protocol following the commitment received by the Government on taxation. If Mr. Byrne and other commentators intend to participate in a national debate, they should at least afford the public the courtesy of learning the issues before they pass pronouncement. Their views will be respected even by those who disagree with their judgment if they are based on informed knowledge.

Senator Donohoe has produced a report on the findings of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union which is available on the Internet for free or the Government publications sales office for €4.10. Efforts are also being made to circulate copies of the report to libraries. It will not be the most exciting read this Christmas but it will probably be one of [46]the most important. A recent “The Gerry Ryan Show” included a segment in which information was sought on the report. The programme was contacted shortly after this segment aired but a decision was made not to inform viewers on the report’s availability. Anyone who wants a copy of the report could obtain one from the Government, Fine Gael or the Labour Party.

As this is probably the most serious issue we will decide in a referendum for a generation, people should inform themselves. If they make their decision on an informed basis, nobody can argue with them, but they should not vote “No” because they claim not to know. That is a simplistic and irresponsible approach. This is not the opinion of a Europhile or a member of an unelected elite lecturing to “No” people; it is basic common sense.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to share time with Deputy Costello.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Last week’s summit was critically important for Ireland and Europe because it considered a €200 billion recovery plan for the European economy and the urgent issue of climate change. These should have been the priorities for the European summit and today’s discussion. Instead, as a consequence of last June’s referendum, the first priority at the summit and for this House is the Lisbon treaty and the future constitutional arrangements for Europe. That may be good news for those who wish to slow down Europe for the sake of their commercial or political interests or whose politics thrive on institutional paralysis but it is not good news for those who need the European Union to respond more effectively to the economic crisis or wish the European Union to lead on the future of the planet.

The big story coming out of the summit was that a deal was struck on the Lisbon treaty and a second referendum will be held. Already people are lined up in their trenches. Those who were for it are for it again and those were against it are against it again regardless of what is written in the document. I do not take that approach. This is by no means a done deal. Important progress has been made but this matter remains a work in progress. What has been agreed is a carefully constructed formula which under certain conditions should lead to a second referendum. However, as the Taoiseach confirmed in the comments he made this morning, the holding of a second referendum is conditional on a satisfactory outcome for the work currently in progress.

If we have learned anything from the last referendum, it is the importance of reading the small print. I welcome the recognition in Europe that the same question cannot be put to the people again. Significant changes are required to address the concerns raised during the campaign and major progress has been in that regard. The decision to revert to one Commissioner per member state is a significant change to the proposition that was put to us last June. The proposal to reduce the size of the Commission arose from a concern for making that body more efficient. It was an agreed and important part of the new architecture but as my colleague, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, has pointed out and to paraphrase the Secretary General of the Commission, if one has to choose between efficiency and legitimacy, one chooses legitimacy. The decision that each member state will retain a Commissioner should be acknowledged as representing a real response to concerns raised during the Irish referendum.

The European Council has also undertaken to address a number of the other concerns that arose during the campaign. The proposals on abortion, neutrality and taxation are not controversial and were never going to be affected by the treaty anyway. Nonetheless, it is welcome the a belt and braces approach is being pursued in order to reassure voters on these points. However, I have concerns about two other issues.

[47]The first issue pertains to the summit conclusions, which commit to “a guarantee that the provisions of the Irish Constitution in relation to the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon attributes legal status to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or by the justice and home affairs provisions of the said Treaty”. What does that mean? I am aware that abortion was an issue in the referendum and I have no objection to a restatement of the status quo, in other words, that abortion is entirely an Irish matter. That was done in the Maastricht treaty. However, I have serious concerns about this paragraph in terms of where it came from and what it might mean. Exactly what are these issues of education and the family in respect of which it would appear that Irish recourse to the charter is to be restricted? I heard some ingenious falsehoods being peddled during the campaign but these issues are new.

One of the principal reasons the Labour Party supported the Lisbon treaty in June was the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which we believe would greatly strengthen the rights of the individual citizen in the European Union. We would be very concerned if the charter was watered down or if Irish citizens had more limited access than other European citizens to the rights enshrined therein. Clearly, the devil is in the detail and a process of negotiation must now begin. A mechanism should be found to allow the involvement of pro-Lisbon treaty parties in that process.

The other issue about which I have concerns is workers’ rights. I was satisfied that the Lisbon treaty would significantly enhance worker’s rights but a perception was successfully created during the campaign that the opposite was the case. This was not helped by the Government’s poor record in protecting and enforcing workers’ rights at home or in progressing European initiatives to enhance rights. The issue was further complicated by decisions of the European Court of Justice, including the Laval case. There is a real concern among working people that the way has been opened for undermining the levels of pay and working conditions accepted as the norm in this country and most other member states. These issues must be satisfactorily addressed before another referendum is held.

Working through the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, Deputy Costello has advanced a number of proposals that would protect workers’ rights. However, these proposals, which are discussed in the report of the sub-committee, were not adequately taken up by the Government. I welcome the political commitment made in the conclusions to attach high importance to this issue but this needs to be fleshed out. We also need to see a commitment from the Government to address this issue domestically. Again, I am aware this is intended to start a process of drafting and I am prepared to engage with the Government in this regard but the importance of this issue does not seem to have been grasped.

The Government has committed to holding another referendum before the end of next October. The proposition to be put to the people in that referendum is to be changed. We can see the shape of some of that change, but we do not know the detail. It is the detail of the change which concerns me and which will determine the Labour Party’s response.

This is not a done deal and two issues arise which are of real concern. These are the Charter of Fundamental Rights and workers’ rights. If a second referendum is to be held or passed, those concerns must be addressed and the Opposition parties need to be involved in the process that addresses them.

I want to say a few words about the economy and climate change. I welcome the decision made by the European Council to launch a co-ordinated economic recovery package across the European Union. The plan wisely avoids a one-size-fits-all approach but emphasises instead the need for a co-ordinated approach. It also endorses some key principles. The initial thinking from the Commission pointed to the need for short-term action that would build long-term [48]competitiveness. It pointed, for example, to the potential of the green collar sector to create employment, and the importance of investment in research and development and in infrastructure.

These are points which the Labour Party has been making for some time. I also believe that Ireland should play its part in this European initiative but again, there is no clarity as to what the Government is thinking or doing. After months of doing nothing, last Monday there was a big public relations exercise at Farmleigh, although there is still no plan. It is by no means clear whether the Government’s economic plan, when it eventually appears, will fit with the overall EU strategy. It should do so.

The EU has, in recent years, been one of the strongest advocates of international action to prevent runaway global warming. It was in this context that the Commission’s energy and climate change package was published at the beginning of the year. The intervening 11 months have changed global economics and politics almost beyond recognition. The reality of global warming has not changed, nor has our obligation to stop it.

Whereas much of the detail of the energy and climate change package is welcome, the major concessions to big polluters and the conditions now attached to a 30% reduction if goodwill is shown in Copenhagen by the United States, China and others are a cause for concern. This watering down of the original package is delaying the inevitable — that we must take radical, collective action to prevent catastrophic climate change, and that we must take it sooner rather than later.

The EU has been the most important vehicle for progress in recent European history. It has been vital for progress in Ireland of its citizens, economy and environment. We must not allow our current difficulties, or the political difficulties of this Government, to reverse this progress for the sake of a short-term fix.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I thank Deputy Gilmore for sharing his time. He has articulated very well the issues of major concern to the Labour Party and those matters which still need to be addressed. This European Council meeting was one of the most significant in many years. Some of the issues being addressed were major global matters, including the financial crisis, as now the full 15 eurozone countries have slipped into recession. The €200 billion recovery package has been extremely important in that respect.

As I understand it, none of the Irish banks has taken up the €30 billion package put forward in October, some two months ago, for small and medium enterprises. That would have been fantastic for providing liquidity in this credit crunch, with 54% of the small and medium enterprises in need of cash flow. Likewise, I was amazed to hear last night on “Oireachtas Report” the spokesperson from Allied Irish Bank, who appeared before a committee, saying that the bank did not need any liquidity and was quite happy not to get the €10 billion from the Government. Where are we on the banking issue and the money being made available from Europe?

On the climate change issue, it is good to see we have at last made the first rung on the ladder to the 20% reduction, efficiency and sustainability with regard to greenhouse gases. The challenge we face is that from 2012, it will cost the Irish economy an estimated €1 billion. We must address the challenge and ensure this becomes a benefit to the Irish economy, and the area of industry dealing with cutting greenhouse gases becomes an advantage. We have enormous resources in wind, geothermal and others that should enable us to add to the economy.

The central issue addressed with regard to this country was the aftermath of the Lisbon treaty rejection in June. We had a circle to square in that the people rejected the Lisbon [49]treaty while at the same time indicating strongly that they were in support of participation and engagement in the European Union going forward. We had preliminary work arising from the Millward Brown survey and the work of the sub-committee, which lasted for two months.

The Government went to the European Council with five central identified issues to address. The first was the matter of the Commissioner, which we must recognise was very successfully addressed. The second was the matter of taxation and legal guarantees have been given on this. The third was the matter of the European security and defence policy and how this relates to neutrality, and legal guarantees have also been provided on this. The fourth matter was right to life, education and the family, and again legal guarantees were provided in this area.

The fifth issue raised by the Government was the protection of workers’ rights and public services. No legal guarantee was sought or given in this respect, although assurances were sought and given. Even at this, it appears the United Kingdom was not happy with that level of assurance. This can be seen in almost the same terms as 40% of Irish voters voting in respect of the Lisbon treaty having considered the protection of workers’ rights as very important. The Council confirmed it considers the issue very important but it did not assert it would act on it, which was the case in terms of the other four issues.

The question remains of what will be done. How will we make the assurances sufficiently robust for the issues to be addressed? The nub of the problem is that we must find a legal mechanism to ensure that when a conflict arises with regard to the four freedoms of the marketplace and the movement of goods, services and people, it must be addressed in the context of not allowing them take precedence over the protection of the rights of workers. These are fundamental rights which have been based on long-term national law that has been discussed and put in place. Agreements and practices have also been engaged in, and these must be protected rather than undermined.

I am not so sure I wish to engage again in an all-party sub-committee where one party uses the forum to grandstand rather than engage. The party attempted to delete everything proposed within that sub-committee’s findings. Another party to that sub-committee did not make any submission of its own but went out to the plinth just as the sub-committee’s findings were being drafted and made statements of its own which, to a large degree, undermined the good work done in the previous seven or eight weeks.

Deputy Noel Treacy:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Joe Costello:  If we are to engage in an all-party sub-committee, we must engage with integrity and in a manner so that everybody will participate fully in it. No party should seek to use political sharp practice in the relationship.

We must have constant consultation with the Taoiseach and Ministers on this matter. I am not sure whether it would be better done on a bipartisan level at this point rather than with a process of re-establishing a sub-committee.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is interesting to note how difficult some colleagues find it to accept that everyone will not always agree with them.

Throughout the Lisbon referendum campaign Sinn Féin argued that a better deal was possible. We argued that the Irish people’s concerns on workers’ rights, public services, neutrality, democracy, tax sovereignty and international trade were valid and had to be addressed. The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, and his fellow “Yes” campaign supporters told the people that there was no better deal to be had. Last week’s meeting of the EU Council has proven this proposition wrong. However, the EU Council agreement raises more questions than answers. Earlier this morning, we had some opportunity to commence teasing that out.

[50]As it stands today, the Government has committed itself to re-running a referendum on the same treaty the people rejected on 12 June. They have not secured any changes to the Lisbon treaty or its protocols. The deal struck will not address the substantive issues raised by the electorate time and time again before and after the Lisbon referendum. Sinn Féin wants to see these issues addressed. Ireland is a full and active member of the European Union and will remain so. We want to see Ireland’s influence maintained and enhanced. We want to see neutrality protected. We want to see a social progress clause that will protect workers’ pay and conditions. We want to see a new approach on public services. We want to see the promotion of a trade policy that is good for Irish farmers and the developing world. We want to see the Government deliver on the mandate it was given.

What did the Government agree to? Over the last number of days we have listened to Ministers in the media telling us that the changes they secured on the issue of a Commissioner and a number of declarations will allow them to return to the people and re-run the referendum. The question is whether these assertions stand up to scrutiny. In our opinion, on the evidence before us, they do not.

We are told that the agreement which was reached allows all member states to keep their Commissioner if the Lisbon treaty is passed by October 2009, but that is not true. Under the Nice treaty unanimity is required to decide the number of Commissioners. An interim solution could have been found to allow for every state to keep its Commissioner until the broader issue of the reform of the EU was resolved. This could have been done while the broader issues of the EU’s democratic deficit, workers’ rights and public services, militarisation and the influence of small countries in the EU institutions were being addressed. The Government had the opportunity to put these issues on the table but, with respect, it failed to do so.

The second assertion is about legally binding guarantees. The Government has told the people that a number of the key issues of debate during the referendum will be dealt with through legally binding guarantees. We are also being told that this may happen in the context of the Croatian accession treaty in 2010 or 2011. How this is to be achieved, and what impact it will have on the Lisbon treaty, is not clear. What is clear, however, is that any future accession treaty will not be put to the people in a referendum. What we are likely to get is some form of declaration, promising protocols to an accession treaty that we may or may not see prior to a second Lisbon treaty referendum. That is a very important point.

Contrary to claims made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, in newspapers this week, Sinn Féin has not rejected any deal before considering its detail.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  That is new.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The problem is that the Government has agreed to hold a second referendum without putting the detail into the public domain, but why? The answer is that the Government does not have it, and it is telling us that it will not have it until later in 2009. How therefore does the Government know it will in any way resolve the substantive concerns that led people to vote “No” in June?

Declarations are not worth the paper they are written on as they are not legally binding. They are exactly what they are called — political declarations made by politicians with no legal status or force. They are like promises made by a Government at election time, sadly, more likely to be broken than implemented. Unless protocols are secured and ratified by all member states, guarantees as described by the Government are worthless.

On the issue of neutrality, even if this declaration were legally binding there would be huge questions about its value. The declaration refers to Ireland’s “traditional policy of neutrality”[51]which, given the role this State plays in assisting the transit of US troops to Iraq, would hardly instill confidence. It will do nothing to halt the drift towards militarisation of the EU, the enlargement of the EU’s military tasks, and the establishment of the European Defence Agency. It will not prevent closer, so-called EU co-ordination with NATO.

The declaration on taxation changes nothing in the treaties. Unanimity in the Council is still required for tax harmonisation measures, but the Council will have the ability to bypass popular referenda in order to take such a step. This point was confirmed in a legal opinion secured by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union. For the record, I will quote the legal opinion:

Article 48 expressly gives power to change the mechanism of voting and a ratification of this Article or the Treaty containing this Article by the Irish people in referendum gives authority in referendum for any subsequent change which complies with Article 48 without the necessity of further recourse to the people.

There is obviously a belief among EU leaders that a future Irish Government will be convinced to go along with such a move. A declaration, even if legally binding, would not change that. That is a crucial point. The authority of the Irish people to decide on this matter by referenda will be removed.

The Council conclusions on the issues of workers’ rights and public services are deeply worrying. These issues have been totally ignored by the Government since the “No” vote, despite Sinn Féin and others insisting they were critical issues that had to be addressed. The Government and the Council seem to have recognised, belatedly, that they are important issues but the way in which they are dealt with is completely inadequate. The undermining of workers’ pay and conditions has caused serious disquiet across the country. It is totally unacceptable that the Government has failed to secure a social progress clause to prevent the exploitation of workers in Ireland and across the EU. This is a missed opportunity.

The conclusions refer to “. . . public services, as an indispensable instrument of social and regional cohesion”. Not only is this limiting in terms of what public services are, for the conclusions of the Council make it clear that EU leaders have absolutely no intention of halting or reversing the liberalisation of public services as provided for in the treaties.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Read on.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The same is true with regard to “the responsibility of member states for the delivery of education and health services”. The conclusions also refer to:

. . . the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local governments in providing, commissioning and organising non-economic services of general interest, which is not affected by any provision of the Treaty of Lisbon, including those relating to the common commercial policy.

That is a reiteration of protocol 9 of the Lisbon treaty. The “non-economic services of general interest” definition is, as we know, constructed in such a way as to limit governments’ role in the broader field of public services, namely health, education, social services, transport, utilities etc.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Rubbish.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  All in all, the Council conclusions appear to be an exercise in smoke and mirrors. They do not provide credible guarantees where they are needed. They divert attention away from many of the real reasons for the “No” vote. They fail to deliver [52]positive reasons for voting in favour of the Lisbon treaty. They attempt to confuse a number of issues in order to give full reign to fear and misinformation in a rerun of the referendum.

Having seen them in action over this past short spell, the approach of some members of the Government, including those present, has been arrogant.

The Taoiseach:  Sinn Féin’s canvassers in Tullamore were talking about conscription.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It has been in evidence over the past six months.

The Taoiseach:  Sinn Féin’s is the only army that one cannot leave.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  When one interrupts and heckles, one has already lost.

The Taoiseach:  I have not lost it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It shows a complete lack of respect——

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has some neck talking to me about misinformation.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——for both the democratic institutions of the State and the democratic will of the people. That is what it amounts to. The Taoiseach can make all the mocking sounds he likes as to the irony of my saying this, but——

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy accused me of peddling misinformation.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——I point it out to him, nevertheless. However uncomfortable it makes him, it is his problem, not mine.

The Taoiseach:  Sinn Féin’s canvassers were going around my town talking about conscription and getting into an army, but there was nothing wrong with the one they were in themselves.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Rerunning the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, albeit one that will not be altered by one iota, would be a denial of democracy. It is no different from a defeated Government rerunning a general election in the hope that the people will change their minds. We have often wished it, but we know that it is never an option. If the Taoiseach proceeds with his intention to put the same treaty to the people for a second time, as matters stand and according to the information provided today, not only in the Taoiseach’s contributions to these statements but the earlier engagement with him during questions to the Taoiseach, he will have profoundly misjudged the public mood once again and be in for another sorry response.

Deputy Billy Timmins:  I would not like to hear Deputy Ó Caoláin’s contribution when Sinn Féin decides a position if that was his contribution while his party is still deliberating. Notwithstanding that, he is entitled to make his contribution.

Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs confirm whether, under the Constitution, the Government can introduce a proposal for a constitutional referendum as often as it wishes? I will not go down the road of discussing the number of times America’s suffragettes needed to make proposals. They were told “No” 30 or 40 times before they got the vote.

Will the Minister confirm the co-finance measures to deal with the pork crisis? What funding, if any, will be available from the EU? At the bishops’ conference this week, Bishop Fields called on the Government to urge the EU to send peacekeeping troops to the Congo. Did this possibility arise during the Council meeting? While the African Union-UN force in the Congo [53]is working to the best of its ability, additional forces are required in the region to restore peace and stability to the Congo. Currently, this could only be done by EU troops.

Reference was made to the Middle East peace process. Will the Minister inform the House of the EU’s role in the Quartet discussions?

Regarding the €200 billion economic stimulus package, what input will Ireland have and over what period will it last?

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  There are precedents of organising multiple referendums on various issues, such as electoral representation, divorce and abortion. There is no constraint on reverting to the people to allow them to decide on any particular question.

Regarding pigmeat, the issue was handled in the context of the EU through the European Food Safety Authority. This showed the importance of belonging to an international organisation where people on the veterinary, food safety and public health sides work collectively in accordance with best principles, such as the precautionary principle, as it gives the markets confidence. There is a direct link between an EU public health surveillance and food safety network and ultimate market confidence in food products. This was clearly displayed in the pork issue.

Last week, a private storage scheme for pigmeat was exclusively introduced for Ireland. This will allow the storage of some 30,000 tonnes of pigmeat products with an underlying value of €15 million for a period of six months. We managed to achieve a Council conclusion in text format, which will enable the Council to express its support for Ireland’s effort to deal with the situation and for its prompt precautionary action and ask the Commission to support farmers and slaughterhouses in Ireland by way of co-financed measures to remove the relevant animals and products from the market. The conclusion has been given politically and the Commission is working with the Government on the details in terms of how the former can add supports over and above what has been offered in terms of the private storage area. This demonstrates the good faith shown by our European partners during the exceptional situation in which we found ourselves.

Last week, the EU’s Foreign Ministers held two significant discussions on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. The first occurred at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on Monday and the second occurred over dinner at the European Council meeting on Thursday, 11 December. The key issue was our response to the request of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for assistance and support. The original request was for a deployment by the EU or some of its member states of a multinational force for up to four months, pending the arrival of reinforcements requested by the UN Security Council. The matter has been under discussion, including a detailed discussion at the meeting and a briefing by Javier Solana.

There have been some welcome developments on the regional political side of the issue, as leaders are engaging. There is no unanimity on the deployment of a battle group, but we agreed on further engagement with Ban Ki-moon concerning the details of what would be required on the ground and what could be deployed effectively. From a humanitarian perspective, we believe that there should be a positive and meaningful response to the Secretary-General’s request, which I articulated at the Foreign Affairs Council.

One can argue that the whole idea of battle groups was to have them in readiness to be able to respond to such situations. Obviously, circumstances are moving quickly. At Thursday’s meeting, there was a sense that matters had improved somewhat and that we should keep them under consideration. Discussions are continuing at senior level under Javier Solana’s office.

[54]At the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Thursday, our text contributed significantly to an extended discussion on the Middle East and found its way into the ultimate conclusions of the overall text in terms of developing broader support for the Arab peace initiative and a broader regional dimension and encouraging the prioritisation of the Middle East question by the incoming American presidential Administration.

With regard to the economy, we are spending approximately twice the EU average on capital investment. We are ahead of the game in that regard in the context of the stimulus policy. We welcome the initiative on the part of President Barroso in respect of this matter.

Deputy Joe Costello:  How does the Minister propose to progress the agreements reached at the summit in respect of the Lisbon treaty? What is the position regarding the conditional response to a second referendum? How does the Minister propose to deal with the Opposition in the House in respect of this matter? Does he intend to establish a new committee or will the existing sub-committee remain in place? What steps does he propose to take in the context of introducing domestic legislation relating to the EU directives — such as the services directive, the agency workers directive and the migrant workers directive — that are awaiting transposition into Irish law? There is also the question of the employment law compliance legislation. A report published yesterday indicates that fewer than half of those employed in the hotel and services industries are paid the minimum wage and that 75% of them are not paid overtime at weekends.

Between now and the summer of next year — when the Czech Republic will hold the Presidency of the EU — what steps does the Minister propose to take to deal with the issues raised at the summit? How does he propose to progress matters relating to them to a satisfactory conclusion?

On the €200 billion stimulus package, why does Ireland seem to have difficulty in drawing down the money available from the European Investment Bank? Why has none of the €30 billion available from this source in respect of small and medium enterprises not been drawn down by Irish banks to date? Such enterprises here are crying out for cash but the banks are not making it available. The banks are stonewalling these businesses and stating that they have no problem as regards liquidity. However, there is no sign of credit being provided. Why do we appear to have a problem with regard to drawing down EU money?

Matters relating to Zimbabwe were discussed at the Council meeting and I understand the case of Jestina Mukoko, a campaigner for human rights in that country, was raised. Was any progress made in the context of pressurising South Africa, the key player in the region, to take action? Did the possibility of imposing sanctions arise at the Council meeting? I understand certain Irish pension funds are invested in the region. Perhaps taking action in respect of these might be an appropriate avenue of action.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  As the Taoiseach stated, detailed work will have to be carried out in respect of dealing with the issues on which we received undertakings from our European colleagues and obtaining legal guarantees. These three issues are the protection of our traditional policy of military neutrality, ensuring that nothing under the Lisbon treaty will affect our competence in the area of direct taxation and our freedom to decide on ethical questions. Detailed texts will have to be drawn up in respect of these matters. These will be the subject of negotiations with our European colleagues.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Who will have responsibility in that regard?

[55]Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Government negotiates with other governments in the context of obtaining agreements. Normally it works with the member state which holds the Presidency, which then negotiates with the other member states.

On the domestic front, the Deputy made the point that there should be constant communication between the parties on a bipartisan level. Such communication will continue to be the norm. I am of the view that it may be useful to retain the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, which produced a report prior to the Council meeting. Notwithstanding some of the reservations articulated earlier by the Deputy, the sub-committee operated as an extremely effective vehicle within the Oireachtas for facilitating a debate on issues relating to Ireland and the European Union, particularly in the aftermath of the Lisbon treaty referendum result.

The sub-committee may have an opportunity to continue its work. I have been working on this matter since July and when we established the sub-committee, Deputy Costello suggested that it should issue an interim report and that there should, perhaps, be a second phase to its work. That may be one possibility as to what might happen. I will consult with the Deputy and others in order to decide on what might be the best way to proceed. We must go about our work in an effective and efficient manner.

On workers’ rights, it is important to again point out that we work with the other member states on the amendment of the EU’s body of law on labour and that we draw up domestic legislation in respect of this matter. We ensured that the conclusions agreed last week contain an acceptance and confirmation in respect of the importance attached by European Union member states to the issue of workers’ rights. That is a better outcome than we anticipated prior to the Council meeting. Our original presentation to the Presidency took the form of the attachment to the conclusions of an Irish text relating to this matter. Through a process of negotiation, however, we moved beyond that to a position where the undertakings to give legal guarantees to issues specific to Ireland — neutrality, tax and ethics — are contained in the conclusions, which are strong as a result. In addition, there is an attachment of high importance to the issue of workers’ rights.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The EU would have no choice but to attach high importance to workers’ rights.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Costello should not interrupt. Time is limited and Deputy Ó Caoláin wishes to ask his questions. The Minister should conclude his reply.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The matter relating to the hotel industry does not revolve around introducing even further legislation, rather it relates to the implementation and enforcement of existing law. The critical issue is that Ireland has in place a minimum wage. Sweden did not have a minimum wage and, as a result, the Laval judgment is extremely specific to that country. The absence of legal frameworks in Sweden made it fundamentally vulnerable. In this country there are recognised employment agreements, REAs, in the area of construction, joint labour committees, JLCs, operate in certain sectors and there is also the minimum wage.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The agreements to which the Minister refers are being breached because we do not have employment law compliance legislation in place.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  We are consulting with the social partners in respect of the employment law compliance Bill. I was involved in the process to establish the National Employment Rights Authority and also the appointment of almost 60 additional inspectors.

Deputy Joe Costello:  When will all to which the Minister refers be implemented?

[56]Deputy Micheál Martin:  As the Taoiseach stated, the decision on holding a referendum is conditional on our obtaining satisfactory resolutions in respect of the issues we have identified. In any event, it will all be implemented in 2009.

Acting Chairman:  There are just over four minutes remaining. In those circumstances, I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to keep his questions brief.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to put two straightforward questions to the Minister. The Taoiseach indicated that a number of member states were opposed to the retention of a Commissioner by each member state but stated that they ultimately accepted that this change is required. Will the Minister indicate the states that were strongly opposed and outline the specific arguments they put forward in this regard? Will he provide detail in respect of this matter in order that we might be assured that the undertaking relating to Commissioners is not merely being included to create the appearance of serious engagement?

  2 o’clock

President Sarkozy referred to the treaty relating to Croatia’s anticipated accession in 2010 or 2011. It has been stated that some of the declarations to which the Minister, the Taoiseach and their colleagues have referred since the European Council meeting would form part of that treaty. Will the Minister indicate if that is the case? Will we have a second Lisbon treaty referendum prior to our even seeing some of the ostensibly “legally binding declarations”, to use the wording employed by Government, that they will not present until 2010 or 2011? Perhaps the Minister would clarify the position in this regard.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Will the Minister arrange for a reply to be sent to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in respect of the points made by it when scrutinising the proposals for 2012-20?

In the context of changes made to facilitate other countries, was agreement reached on the establishment of a fund to deal with carbon capture and storage from coal? Also, was there any discussion on the energy super-grid, which would be of great interest to Ireland in terms of wind and wave generation?

Deputy Micheál Martin:  There were fundamental contradictions in Deputy Ó Caoláin’s original contribution in which he stated a better deal than expected was achieved. However, he quickly moved away from that. On his point in regard to the Commission, under Lisbon there will be fewer members of the Commission; that is a legal fact. There is no getting around this; an interim agreement cannot be provided.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I think the Minister is speaking about the Nice treaty.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I apologise. Under the Nice treaty the number of Commissioners must be reduced. That is a legal imperative.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We understand that.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Deputy does not.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is not the question I asked the Minister.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  No, through the Chair——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister is slating——

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I will address the point made by the Deputy.

[57]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——once again, which is typical of his arrogant approach. The Minister will not answer the questions I have asked.

Acting Chairman:  Only one minute remains and if the Deputy wishes to have answers to his questions he will have to restrain himself.

Deputy Dick Roche:  If there is one arrogant man in this House, it is Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister should, at the very least, answer my questions.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Ó Caoláin must restrain himself.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister should answer my question given we have only limited time.

Deputy Dick Roche:  It is Deputy Ó Caoláin who is arrogant and manipulative.

Acting Chairman:  We have one minute remaining. I call the Minister to respond.

Deputy Dick Roche:  I beg the Chair’s pardon.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I did not interrupt Deputy Ó Caoláin who asked about the Commission. I am making the point that we succeeded last week in obtaining agreement that under Lisbon there will be one Commissioner per member state. Everybody in this House knows that during the last referendum campaign Sinn Féin erected on every lamppost in Ireland posters stating “Vote No, Keep Your Commissioner”.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I asked the Minister to outline the member states involved and their arguments.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  If the Deputy allows me to finish, I will tell him. The member states in question are the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  What were their arguments?

Deputy Micheál Martin:  They believed that there was an institutional balance to be arrived at and had no difficulty articulating the view that they believe a reduced Commission would lead to more efficiency and so forth. They have articulated this view publicly and within the Council. Others had reservations earlier in the negotiating phase. I respect the positions they presented to us. This was a difficult and substantial issue. It was a major concession by our colleagues to Ireland to agree to change the situation in regard to implementation of the Lisbon treaty.

Deputy Ó Caoláin continually uses the word “declaration”. We never used that word. That word is not contained in the conclusions or used in any public articulation of the issues. I have nothing against the word “declaration”. One of the most far-reaching declarations we ever had was the “Downing Street Declaration” with which Sinn Féin had no problem. What we have referred to here are “decisions” of the European Council which in themselves have legal validity.

What we are talking about in this regard is a decision from the European Council which has undertaken to give robust legal guarantees that would have treaty status and will be attached to the treaties. Obviously, these will be attached to the treaties at the time of the next accession treaty, which potentially is the Croatian accession. There is a precedent in this regard in terms of the Danish experience. This is far better than Deputy Ó Caoláin ever thought we would get.

[58]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is a hell of a lot better than the Government was prepared to accept, but we are not there yet.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Deputy Ó Caoláin jumped the gun prior to Council and during the debate. Sinn Féin’s spokespeople continually stated we were getting meaningless declarations. They are more surprised than anybody by what has been achieved. President Sarkozy was open and honest and told the 27 members at the Council meeting that this will mean a legal guarantee, a protocol, will be attached to the treaties.

I would like to make a final and important point in respect of workers’ rights, an issue raised by all Deputies. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is key to Lisbon. It is part of Lisbon and refers to the right of workers to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at appropriate levels; to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action; workers’ and their representatives guarantee of information and consultation in good time; workers’ rights to protection against unjustified dismissal in accordance with union laws, national laws and practices; workers’ rights of access to a free placement service; workers’ rights to working conditions which respect their health, safety and dignity; workers’ rights to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to periods of paid annual leave; and the prohibition in respect of the employment of children. It states that the minimum age of admission to employment may not be lower than the minimum school-leaving age, without prejudice to such rules as may be more favourable to young people and except for limited derogations. Also, young people admitted to work must have working conditions appropriate to their age and be protected against economic exploitation and any work likely to harm their safety, health or physical, mental, moral or social development or to interfere with their education. These provisions are contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Why, in the name of God, does Sinn Féin insist on voting against these fundamental rights for workers?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Why does the Government not, in the first instance, include them in the Irish Constitution? Doing so would provide it with an opportunity to demonstrate its good faith on this issue. Then we might believe the Government is sincere. The Government continually refuses——-

Acting Chairman:  I ask the Minister to reply in writing to the questions put by Deputy Barrett.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I will do so. I wish to confirm that a substantial provision of up to €300 million was agreed for carbon capture and storage. There was a robust debate on that issue, in respect of which we obtained a satisfactory outcome. I will reply formally to the Deputy in regard to the committee’s work.

Sitting suspended at 2.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  59.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    his position on the proposed takeover of Aer Lingus by a company (details supplied); the implications that would have on aviation policy; if competition law would allow such a takeover; the communication he has had [59]with Aer Lingus and the company’s management on the latest takeover bid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46631/08]

  60.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    his national aviation strategy in view of his recent comments that he will consider a takeover bid for Aer Lingus by a company (details supplied) in the context of the national aviation strategy; the directions he has given to the three Government-appointed directors to the board of Aer Lingus in view of the recent €748 million proposal by the company to acquire Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46527/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 60 together.

I wish to bring to the attention of the Deputies the fact that under the applicable takeover rules there are constraints on any comments I can make about the matter at this stage. The reply is given in that context.

Ireland’s aviation policy, as set out in my Department’s current statement of strategy, is to promote regular, safe, cost-effective and competitive air services linking the country and key business and tourism markets. The priority, from an Irish economy perspective, is to maintain the highest possible levels of connectivity between Ireland and key markets around the world. That remains the strategic context against which any proposal for the purchase of the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus will be considered.

Following its initial announcement on 1 December, Ryanair posted a detailed offer to Aer Lingus shareholders on 15 December. In accordance with the takeover rules, the board of the company must set out a detailed response within 14 days following the release of the detailed offer so that shareholders can make a decision on the acceptance of the offer or otherwise. The Deputy will be aware that the board of Aer Lingus has publicly announced its rejection of the proposed offer.

I have said that the Government would consider the Ryanair offer when received. It is now being examined by my Department. The State’s nominees on the board were issued with a mandate to seek to reconcile commercial and public policy objectives on 31 January 2008. I have not given any specific directions to the State’s nominees on the board in regard to this matter. All members of the board of directors are subject to the requirements of the Companies Acts to uphold their fiduciary responsibilities and to act in the interests of the company and its shareholders.

Even if a sufficient number of Aer Lingus shareholders were willing to accept Ryanair’s offer, the completion of a merger between Ryanair and Aer Lingus would only be possible with the approval of the European Commission. The Deputy will be aware that Ryanair’s previous takeover bid, initiated in 2006, failed to obtain the necessary approval and that decision is now under appeal by Ryanair to the Court of First Instance.

On 11 December, I agreed to meet with the CEO and chairman of Aer Lingus who wished to convey to me their opposition to the Ryanair offer. The Deputy will be aware that the company made a public statement following the meeting.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  What is Government policy on this issue and how does it impact on the board members nominated by the Minister? If the Government were to decide to accept this offer, would the Minister be in a position to instruct his nominees on the board to do so or are they separate to and independent of his policy decision?

On 1 December, the Minister said there were two key issues. He did not include competition today. What is his view on competition? Would it be bad for consumers if there was only one [60]airline option in Ireland, in other words, if Aer Lingus and Ryanair were part of the one fleet and under the same ownership?

Does the Minister consider that the recent Ryanair offer, which is much less than a previous offer, is bad for the taxpayer in the context of the Government investment in Aer Lingus? The key point is that on 1 December the Minister said the Government’s shareholding was being held, in particular, to prevent hostile bids or takeovers. Can he define what he means by a “hostile bid”?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  As I indicated at the outset, I must be careful in what I say until such time as the Government makes a final decision on the issue. To try to be helpful to the Deputy, I repeat that it is Irish aviation policy to have maximum connectivity and competition. We have pursued a two-airline policy for many years, in the sense that we believe two airlines is the minimum number that should fly in and out of Ireland. We have more than that and we would want to see more than that, but in the context of that particular aviation policy I will present to Government when I know the full facts of the offer, and when I have the full response from Aer Lingus, which is due to be made on 29 December. At that stage I will make my recommendation to Government on the shareholding we have. I will take into account the matters the Deputy legitimately and correctly raised, namely, whether the offer is good value for taxpayers and whether it will enhance or hinder competition.

I have explained the specific details regarding the directors to the Deputy. The directors of the Aer Lingus board have already made their views on the offer known, but they have to make a formal response to it. The directors must have regard to the general aviation policies of the Government, but they must also ensure their fiduciary responsibilities are fully met. I cannot dictate to them how they should act but I can point out what is Government policy at the time. I will not make a decision on the matter until, first, I have seen the offer, which I have now seen and that is being examined, and second, Aer Lingus has made a full response to the offer.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  On behalf of the Labour Party, I have heard from both sides and I have read the Coinside Limited offer document. I have also heard from Aer Lingus. I agree with Mr. Conor McCarthy. I think this is an ego trip and a complete distraction by the chief executive of Ryanair. On competition and connectivity grounds, but above all on behalf of the Irish travelling public, I believe the offer should be rejected out of hand and Aer Lingus should stay as a totally independent airline. That is where my party stands. Tomorrow we will have an opportunity to question again representatives of the two airlines in public.

The Minister outlined the Government’s aviation policy. Does it encompass a two major airline policy? In other words, are we in favour of two major airlines connecting this island nation to the United Kingdom and to Europe?

I understand the three Government-appointed directors to the board of Aer Lingus are Mr. Hackett, Mr. Wall and Dr. Hunt. Has the Minister been in contact with them in any way? Has he spoken to them and will they fulfil the objectives of the national aviation policy? Has the Cabinet discussed the matter? Has the Minister spoken to any of the other large shareholders, such as, for example, Bank of Ireland, which I understand owns 4% of Aer Lingus, Mr. Denis O’Brien and, above all, the ESOT itself and Aer Lingus?

Will the Minister comment briefly on the competition issue? Is it not a fact that if the takeover were to be achieved, the number of routes out of Ireland would increase by approximately 20% or 25% immediately, that it would increase in terms of being a single airline route [61]and there would be much less competition? Is it not the case that this would be a major blow, that we would have a dominant, monolith airline with 75% or 80% of traffic?

In terms of connectivity, regarding the slots in Heathrow, for example, and Shannon, is it possible for the kind of guarantees Mr. O’Leary has said he would give to be incorporated into any takeover agreement, given the comments of the Stock Exchange on a number of offers?

Most Members would agree that Ryanair has a dismal record — sometimes an appalling record — in regard to the conditions and salaries of workers who work for the company on this island and in other parts of Europe. Does the Minister have concerns about the future treatment of the workforce of any merged airline?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I thank the Deputy for his contribution and his statement of Labour Party policy. I trust he will appreciate that Fianna Fáil has a party policy on the matter also but I cannot act on the basis of party policy. I have a particular role as adviser to the Government and to the shareholder, who is the Minister for Finance. I am somewhat constrained in what I can say. On aviation policy, which I outlined to the Deputy earlier, it is not that we just have two major airlines coming in here. If we could have ten major airlines, that would be Government policy, but at a minimum we should have competition — the point the Deputy made.

As I explained in the House the last day, very specific rules have been put in place by takeover panels, competition authorities, the Stock Exchange and everything else as regards shareholders acting in concert during a bid period. Therefore, when Mr. O’Leary requested a meeting with me, I felt it necessary, as did he, to have a legal adviser present to ensure these rules were obeyed. From that viewpoint, I can confirm that I have not had conversations with other shareholders, nor would it be right or proper to have had, as this could give rise to competition difficulties — and Stock Exchange difficulties.

As regards the slots at Heathrow, the “initial offer” suggested the Government would have to give its approval for changes to those. In the offer document it is now suggested that the Houses of the Oireachtas is the body that should have the say in that regard. I do not know, legally, whether that is a possibility and we shall take legal advice on that as we will on the other aspects.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  On the Government policy to have at least two airlines, is it not implicit that there will not be two separate airlines if Ryanair owns both? In terms of the hostile bid — the point the Minister referred to on 1 December — a hostile bid means that something would not be in the best interests of the company or of the Government’s shareholding, which is what I presume the Minister is talking about. It seems that implicit in what the Minister is saying is that he will reject this, even though, perhaps, he cannot say that.

What Ryanair is guaranteeing is the connectivity from Heathrow to Ireland. If Aer Lingus is taken over by any other company, that guarantee will not necessarily be there. Will the Minister please comment?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  At the time of the first attack on Aer Lingus by Ryanair, which the Minister’s predecessor should have expected, Commissioner Kroes demolished the bid on economic grounds, in terms of the severe lack of competition and connectivity and pointed out that this was different from other takeover bids in Europe. Has the Minister had any contact with the Commissioner?

Looking at the two airlines over the past year or so, is it not a fact that Ryanair has performed quite badly from its shareholders’ viewpoint, with massive losses and a serious failure in the hedging of fuel costs as well as other problems on the closure of bases and so on? At the same [62]time, the smaller airline has had a relatively good six months and looks as if it will break even in this very difficult period. Is this not really a smash and grab exercise by Michael O’Leary, in his typical buccaneer fashion, on an enormous asset which is worth three or four times the valuation he has put on it?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I do not know whether I can add much. However, Aer Lingus has done well in very difficult circumstances this year and the agreement reached with the trade unions and workers will help it to do even better, into the future.

I do not agree with knocking Ryanair, however. Ryanair employs a good many Irish people as well. It is a very successful Irish company, and we should bear that in mind, whatever our views might be as regards the current offer, or anything else. There are sufficient people across Europe knocking the airline, who are competitors of Ryanair, and would like to see it going out of business, without us starting to do so in this House. It employs a good many Irish people and while I would not share Mr. O’Leary’s attitude to trade unions, people who work in the airline are, by and large, well paid. That should be kept in perspective.

  61.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has met the board and senior management of all 37 agencies under the aegis of his Department; the outcome of such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46632/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Since my appointment as Minister for Transport, my practice has been to keep open lines of communication with the agencies operating under the aegis of my Department, primarily by maintaining regular and appropriate levels of contact with the chairpersons of the boards of the agencies, or their equivalents in the case of certain regulatory bodies. Communication takes place in several ways including by telephone and by way of both formal and informal meetings and encounters. Occasionally I meet the full board of an agency in a structured setting. I have also on occasion met senior management as required from time to time to address matters of particular pertinence for a given agency.

These discussions, encounters and occasional formal meetings have addressed, inter alia, issues such as review of overall strategies, business plans, financial outlook, performance by agencies, safety, reform and modernisation of the various sectors, structures or possible rationalisation, updates on investment programmes or on specific projects, or proposals for legislative change.

Clearly, my engagement with the agencies focuses mainly on issues of strategic note but I am aware that my discussions are complemented by talks which take place on an ongoing basis between my officials and the management of the agencies operating under the aegis of the Department.

While this form of engagement and oversight has worked well in the past, I recognise that there is always scope for improvement. For this reason, earlier in 2008 the Department carried out a comprehensive review of its corporate governance relationship with the State agencies. As a result of this review, I wrote to the chairpersons of the State agencies under my remit last month announcing the introduction of a new approach to corporate governance. This initiative is aimed at: providing a clearer mandate to each of our State agencies and enhancing the Department’s monitoring of their performance; ensuring continuing compliance by agencies with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies; and ensuring that more regular and structured engagement takes place at ministerial and senior management level with all [63]agencies, as a means of reviewing performance and ensuring that the Department’s objectives are being met.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Specifically, I have proposed to each agency the particular schedule of regular structured meetings, which should become the norm for that agency from now on, as meetings with me or alternatively with senior officials in the Department may be more appropriate in different cases. I propose to meet the boards of the larger agencies. The agenda at such meetings will cover my mandate and expectations, as well as the agency’s performance and will address any other pertinent corporate governance issue arising in the context of the particular agency.

The responses I have received to date from the State agencies have been very positive and I am confident that this new approach will significantly improve the oversight of the agencies under my remit and ensure that the performance dialogue will become more structured, focused and productive with all the agencies concerned from now on.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister has some 37 agencies under his remit. How many has he met? As he knows there was a review of his Department by the Department of the Taoiseach. Transport is a very critical Department, where €1.27 billion of taxpayers’ money is being spent on public transport, €2.1 million on national, regional and local roads, €40 million on road safety, €48 million on coastguard activity and so on. It is a very important Department. He mentioned the word, “governance”. The governance of his Department is inadequate. There is little consensus within the Department as to whether users of the services of these agencies are customers of the Department and what its oversight role is.

The criticism is that the Minister is not doing his job, that he is sitting back and not meeting these agencies. They are spending billions of taxpayers’ money and the Department does not know whether it has oversight. Those semi-State bodies do not know whether they are overseen by the Minister, either. In fact, they complain of the lack of direction and leadership from the Minister.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  If the Deputy spoke to some of those people, they would probably say I take too great an interest in their activities — to ensure I know what is happening. That has always been my style. It was for that reason we initiated the review of the relationship between the State bodies and the Department earlier this year. I did the same in the last Department I was in, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Deputy is talking about an internal organisational review report of the Department, but the criticisms levelled in it are not levelled at the Minister, as he will see if he cares to read the report carefully.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister is accountable in the Department.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am accountable for what I do in this regard and for ensuring my Department keeps in close contact with the various agencies.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  How many has the Minister met?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I have met with all of the major agencies of the Department, at CEO, chairman or board level, since I became Minister.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister has not answered the question I asked him. How many of the 37 has he met? The criticism I made is of the Department and the Minister is the leader of the Department in terms of policy. The report clearly states the Department needs [64]to take a more proactive leadership role in setting and clarifying strategies. The issue is that taxpayers’ money is being wasted in some of these bodies, but the Minister has no oversight of them.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  If I was in here in other circumstances and interfering in the day-to-day operation of the companies in question, the Deputy would make another complaint. He asked about the various bodies I had met. I have met with all the major ones since joining the Department. I met with Aer Lingus, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann, the Cork Airport Authority, CIE, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, the Commission for Taxi Regulation, the Dublin Airport Authority, the Drogheda Port Company, the Dublin Transportation Office, Dublin Port Company, Galway Harbour Company, Iarnród Éireann, the Irish Aviation Authority, the National Roads Authority, the Port of Cork Company, the Railway Safety Commission, the Road Safety Authority, the Railway Procurement Agency, representatives of the three airports and the Shannon Foynes Port Company, and the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has responsibility for the ports.

  62.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the size of the subvention for CIE in 2009; if he has had contacts with the Department of Finance, Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus on the subvention and any proposed programme of cutbacks for Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus services and jobs; if his Department or the Minister for Finance have suggested any series of cutbacks for public transport companies; if he will rule out large scale cuts to critical bus and rail services provided by public transport companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46528/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The 2009 Exchequer subvention to CIE will be €313.279 million, an increase of 1.5% on the 2008 figure. During the course of the Estimates discussion, my Department had discussions with the Department of Finance and with CIE on the overall financial position of the CIE operating companies, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann. The chairman and chief executive of each of the companies also briefed me on the financial outlook on 1 December.

CIE is projecting an operating deficit of €39.5 million for 2008 after Exchequer subvention, compared to an operating deficit of €1.47 million in 2007. This significant deterioration in the financial position of CIE is due in the main to losses in revenue due to a drop in demand for services and increases in costs, particularly fuel costs in the earlier part of this year. The outlook for 2009 is for a further deterioration in the group’s financial situation in the absence of corrective measures. In order to preserve the financial stability of the group, each of the companies must, in addition to increasing fares, pursue some rationalisation of services, ranging from frequency reductions, to service withdrawals. The CIE subsidiaries are considering service reductions that maintain the integrity and attractiveness of their networks and achieve significant cost reductions over time.

Following my discussions with CIE and its subsidiary companies and taking account of the emerging findings of a cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann by Deloitte, to be completed shortly, I have agreed the following package of measures to protect the financial position of the CIE group and to maintain public transport services to the maximum extent possible: an increase of €5 million in 2009 over 2008 in the compensation paid to CIE in respect of its public service obligation, provided for in the Estimates; a fares increase of 10% for January 2009; CIE to identify a package of service rationalisation and reductions, focused on heavy loss-making services, sufficient when taken together with the other measures set out to [65]ensure the financial stability of the CIE group; and measures to improve bus priority and bus journey times.

It is a matter for the CIE group of companies to secure operational efficiencies and to reduce costs so as to maintain services at the highest level possible. I have requested that, in deciding on service reductions, the group should aim to maintain rail services, peak-time bus services, and bus services to developing areas. Service reductions should be a last resort in the group’s efforts to maintain financial stability.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Does what the Minister now proposes to do with regard to bus transport and public transport generally not completely pull the rug from under his sustainable transport policy? The Minister will launch the sustainable policy in a few weeks’ time, but with these cutbacks he is completely wrecking the sustainable policy in terms of bus transport. Is it the case that the subvention to the CIE group of companies is among the lowest of the 27 European Union member states? It is certainly the lowest of the old EU 15. Is it the case that the cutbacks now proposed will involve the loss of 40 Dublin Bus routes, of 150 Bus Éireann routes, the withdrawal of 170 Bus Éireann buses and of 100 Dublin Bus buses and the loss of 400 jobs? Is the Minister not effectively eviscerating the whole bus-public transport strategy?

A few months ago the Minister agreed with me that buses must perform the core role until we get the major investment required into heavier public transport over the next five or six years. Is he not wrecking that policy now by these short-sighted financial constraints he and the Department of Finance are imposing?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The country is in the financial situation it is in and no amount of burying one’s head in the sand with regard to reality will help anybody. CIE is suffering as a result of the economic recession, just as is everybody else. Fewer people are using buses and trains and coming into towns to shop and fewer people are working. In that kind of environment, it is inevitable that services will end up in a loss-making situation.

The company has a responsibility to ensure that it trades responsibly. We provided an increase in the subvention and a fares increase. It is up to the company to try and ensure it works within those provisions to maintain services and try and grow them if possible. Taxpayers are providing €313 million to public transport, but there is no more money available from them. It is and will be taxpayers from whom these moneys must come. CIE, as it has done in the past and must do in the future, must live within its means and within its budget.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  When I spoke to CIE about nine months ago the key issue was escalating fuel costs, with oil at $150 a barrel. That cost has been cut by two thirds, down to $50 or so and I understand CIE and the various bus companies are well hedged for next year. Therefore, how can fuel be used as an excuse to cut back on transport? The Minister failed to get the European Union to do anything about the fuel rebate, which has hurt all public and private transport operators since 1 November.

Is it not the experience of our European sister countries that the lower fares are, the greater the number of people who will travel? Study after study has shown this to be true. Instead of increasing Luas, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann fares by between 5% and 10%, the Minister should be cutting them by 20% if he really wants people to use public transport. The Minister is taking a short-sighted and undynamic approach to policy, is he not?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am somewhat confused by the Deputy. I am not sure what he wants me to do on this matter.

[66]Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I want him to get more people on buses and trains. He is the regulator.

  3 o’clock

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  He is telling me I should cut fares. I would be delighted not to approve a request for higher fares. The original request was for a 20% fare increase. I would be delighted to be able to say to CIE that I was going to get it to cut its fares. If the Deputy thinks that is a wise policy to pursue, that is okay. I will do that. The Deputy cannot complain, on the one hand, that CIE will not be able to operate as it wishes and, on the other, that somebody must pay for this. Taxpayers must pay the €313 million. CIE must promote itself as much as it can, as companies are obliged to do. It is clear there must be rationalisation within Dublin Bus. Many services can be saved if that rationalisation takes place.

I do not use fuel as an excuse. CIE has a very good record of hedging. The most it was caught for in fuel costs was approximately $100 per barrel. It did well and saved. I am responding on the basis of what I have been told. I am not imposing anything.

  63.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Transport    the funding he has provided to local authorities for the provision of gritting; if he has been in contact with local authorities in 2008 regarding gritting; if so, when; if he is satisfied that all the stakeholders who are responsible for ensuring safe driving conditions during the winter months have acted appropriately; if he has communicated warnings to any of the stakeholders in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46633/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Under the Roads Act 1993, the maintenance of roads, including winter maintenance, is a statutory function of each individual road authority. This work is funded out of each authority’s own resources, supplemented in the case of regional and local roads by discretionary and block grants allocated annually by my Department. In the case of national roads, funding for maintenance, which includes the gritting of roads and other safety-related work in winter, is provided by my Department to the National Roads Authority which allocates it among the local authorities.

Local authorities are advised that they should set aside contingency sums from these resources to finance works necessitated by severe weather conditions. In 2008, the total discretionary maintenance grant allocated to county councils by my Department was €29.56 million and the total block grant allocated to urban authorities was €16.133 million. The maintenance grant by my Department to the NRA for allocation to local authorities in 2008 was €58.21 million. This includes provision for winter maintenance, forecasting and monitoring of weather conditions.

Local authorities are regularly reminded by my Department of their responsibilities in relation to winter maintenance of roads. During 2008, the matter was brought to the attention of local authorities on 5 February and again on 10 December.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  I listened to the Minister on the radio last week. He said, rightly, that we have not had road conditions such as we have had in the past few weeks for a number of years. Many new drivers are not experienced in these conditions. I doubt there is a Deputy in this House who has not had many complaints in respect of our smaller roads, particularly those roads that were not maintained over the past number of years. We know our major roads are safer.

[67]Is the Minister happy that the allocation he gave in 2008 is being used? There is a difference. If I contact local authorities in different areas some will claim, behind the scenes, that they are not funded properly. The Minister states that his Department funds them properly. Can the Minister clarify that all the county councils got the same money this year as they received last year?

We are coming near to the end of the year, and, please God, the Department can be proud of one thing, namely, that deaths are down. The Minister knows he has the backing of everybody in the House for every measure he takes in that regard. However, I am deeply concerned about the condition of our roads at present. I am concerned that funding is not being used specifically to grit roads if they continue to be in the same condition.

There is a serious problem throughout the country with regard roads that are newly tarmacadamed. They then have six-inch deep curves on their edges. I am aware of one road where there were four accidents last week due to non-maintenance of road edges.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  To my recollection, and I may be corrected, the amount of money provided under this heading at the beginning of 2008 was an increase on the figure given in 2007. There was no reduction in funding. The grants we give for roads are meant to supplement local authorities’ own resources. If the authorities feel they have not got an adequate amount in the grant they receive from us, they should put money from their own resources towards it. That is the situation as it is supposed to be.

I agree with the Deputy there appears not to be the same amount of gritting on minor roads. That is my experience and I hear the same from colleagues on all sides of the House. Perhaps the reason is that it is a long time since we had such a prolonged cold spell. Judging from the level of complaints we have heard, there has not been the same level of gritting as previously. The responsibility lies with local authorities and it is one they should take very seriously. I know the Deputy made that point publicly and I agree with it.

  64.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to develop the aviation industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46416/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Ireland’s aviation policy, as set out in my Department’s current statement of strategy, is to promote regular, safe, cost-effective and competitive air services linking the country with key business and tourism markets.

To this end, within the European Union, Ireland has consistently supported market liberalisation measures, which have, to date, served as the platform for the rapid expansion of aviation generally. We have also sought to influence the emerging EU and wider international framework for aviation to ensure that it continues to promote competition and innovation in the marketplace.

The introduction of the EU-US open skies agreement and the conclusion of a more liberal agreement on a bilateral basis with Canada illustrates our commitment to supporting liberalisation measures.

Our approach to the encouragement of air services is complemented by our policy on the development of airport infrastructure within the country. The main objective is to ensure that the three State airports have sufficient capacity to respond to the growth opportunities of a [68]competitive airline sector and to provide vital international access. The opening of terminal 2 at Dublin Airport in early 2010 will allow Dublin Airport to comfortably handle up to 35 million passengers per year and will create a vibrant modern airport that will be an efficient gateway to the Ireland of the 21st century.

In addition, the six regional airports have a role to play in facilitating access to the regions. My Department provides financial support for airport development and operations as well as for PSO services connecting Kerry, Galway, Knock, Sligo, Donegal and Derry to Dublin.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Is it not a fact that the number of tourists from Britain has dropped significantly in the past year? The figure is down 17%. Is it not the case that the Minister’s airport departure tax of €2 per passenger travelling to the United Kingdom will have an adverse impact on this decreasing number? Does the Minister not think he should do away with that tax? It is affecting profitability on routes for the main airlines and it affects people’s pockets, particularly when their income is reducing.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I do not accept that. The airport departure tax is not in play at the moment and it cannot be causing the fall in tourist numbers.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It will. That is a facetious answer.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I could claim that the question is somewhat facetious if the Deputy talks about an airport tax when he asked about Irish aviation policy.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister would not take my question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy will allow the Minister to respond.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It has not had any effect on tourism numbers. I expect that passenger numbers will reduce as they are currently reducing. That has more to do with the international economic situation and the recession we now face. I do not accept for a minute that the airport tax will be the deciding factor as to whether people travel in and out of this country.

Deputy Pat Breen:  In the Minister’s replies to questions put to him by the transport spokespersons, he mentioned aviation policy and Government policy in respect of maximum connectivity. Over the past few days we have had good news and bad news. In my own mid-west region we have seen 200 jobs announced for an American company in Ennis. The company is there because there is a daily direct transatlantic service which is very important. On the other hand, we have seen job losses because Heathrow was a very important hub of connectivity for the region. I know the Minister has had discussions with the airlines, particularly with Aer Lingus and Ryanair in recent days. Michael O’Leary mentioned that he would restore the Shannon-Heathrow slots in the event of his takeover bid proving successful.

The last time I questioned the Minister, I asked about the border customs protection facility and he told me he would make an announcement shortly, which he did two days later. Is the restoration of the Shannon-Heathrow service by Aer Lingus imminent and has the Minister had discussions with Aer Lingus in this regard? The news on the ground is that there may be an announcement before the end of the week. If there is, I hope the Minister will return to Shannon, make that announcement and act as Santa Claus for Christmas.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I do not think I would make a good Santa Claus. With regard to the Shannon-Heathrow route and the different meetings I have had with different representatives of Aer Lingus in the past 12 months, I have never failed to highlight that issue. I have also [69]discussed it on a number of occasions with our own directors on the board of Aer Lingus to try to ensure that the link, which is important, is restored. Again, we are back to the same situation as before. At the end of the day, it is a commercial decision that Aer Lingus will have to make.

Deputy Pat Breen:  Does the Minister expect Aer Lingus to make a decision shortly?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I can only go by what was said in public some weeks back, when Dermot Mannion of Aer Lingus indicated at a meeting in Shannon that it was considering increasing the number of short haul flights. I can only hope.

Deputy Pat Breen:  The Minister knows more than that.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  With regard to aviation policy, is it the Minister’s intention to produce a Green Paper? One of the core issues of that policy is the State Airports Act 2004. Will that now be repealed having regard to the separation of Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports? There seems to be some row-back on this and a feeling that on economic grounds it should not proceed. What is the Minister’s view?

On a related point regarding the investment we have made in the three national airports, is it not the case that the Ryanair company has been bitterly opposed to Terminal 2 at Dublin, the new facility at Cork and the additional facilities at Shannon? Do these issues concerning the past history of Ryanair concern the Minister given that the general plan in Dublin is for Aer Lingus to use Terminal 2?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a very broad question with many extra wings to it. I will allow Deputy O’Donnell to raise a brief supplementary question.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  To follow on from what Deputy Breen has said, has the Minister sought a meeting with Dermot Mannion given the media speculation at the weekend with regard to the restoration of the Aer Lingus Shannon-Heathrow route? Will he seek a meeting with his directors on the board of Aer Lingus to ensure there is certainty on this and that we get a date as to when this vital connectivity for Shannon and the mid-west region, including Limerick, is restored?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  There are no plans to repeal the State Airports Act. The state of play is that the business plans have been submitted, the DAA commentary on the business plans has been submitted and the two airports, Shannon and Cork, have also submitted letters to me stating their views of the proposal to have separation at this point in time. Both airports remain committed to the concept of separation. The three chairpersons and the chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority are currently in discussions and I expect them to make contact with me over the next few days to try to finalise this particular matter.

With regard to the investment in airports, it is a fair portrayal of the situation to say that on most occasions every proposed investment in the airports, particularly Dublin Airport, has been opposed by Ryanair, which believes that the Dublin Airport Authority is gold-plating everything in regard to Terminal 2, Pier D and so on. I had the discussion with representatives of Ryanair not that long ago that Government would see the airports, particularly Dublin Airport because of its size——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  And Cork and Shannon.

[70]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Particularly Dublin. They are the gateway to Ireland and are the first impression people get of Ireland. It is particularly important that we have good facilities and I am committed to that.

I have not sought any meeting with Dermot Mannion. He sought a meeting with me last week and I had discussions with him at that stage.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Did he tell the Minister anything with regard to the restoration of the route? The Minister should give us details.

  65.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason half the number of business customers who, as reported in the organisation review programme carried out on his Department, made a complaint to his Department in late 2005 and early 2006 have not had their complaint resolved; the nature of those complaints; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46472/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The reference in the organisation review programme report is to a finding in our business customer survey for 2005-06, which surveyed 328 business customers and found that of 47 who had made a complaint, over half had not had their complaint resolved at the time of the survey. As the survey was carried out on an anonymous basis it is not possible at this stage to identify either the business customers concerned or the nature of their complaints.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department makes every effort to ensure that all complaints are dealt with and I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some areas where we have made improvements for our business customers. In May 2008, the Department introduced a new on-line facility that enables approved motor dealers notify vehicle ownership changes to the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, over the Internet. The new on-line service at www.motortrans.ie presents an alternative to paper-based arrangements. In addition, the processing time for road transport operator licences has decreased from approximately 20 working days in 2006 to under five, and changes or additions to licences from ten working days in 2006 to two. Furthermore, following decentralisation to Loughrea in May 2007, the public office opening hours were extended by 1.5 hours per day.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It is a serious issue to suggest that having made their complaints to the Department of Transport, its business customers have not had them resolved after two years. While I accept the survey may have been anonymous, is there a complaints system or process within the Department so it can track its business customers’ complaints? If there was, I am sure they would not have waited two years for these issues to be resolved. Does the Department record all communications with regard to complaints?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The systems that operate in the Department are similar to the ones that operate in the Minister’s office in that all communications are recorded when they come in and where they go in the system is also recorded. We endeavour to ensure that replies are given. It is possible that when people do not get the answer they want, they regard the issue as not being resolved. The 23 people of 328 who say it was not resolved are not necessarily saying they did not get a reply; they may not have got the reply they wanted.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Two years later, they were not happy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  With regard to the efficiency of the Department, how far has decentralisation progressed and what percentage of the staff are now decentralised?

[71]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is broadening the scope of the question. I do not expect the Minister to have that briefing before him.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  To answer generally, the major portion of the decentralisation, which was the move of the Road Safety Authority and the haulage licence section to Loughrea, is now complete. We were also to move some of our operations in maritime safety to Drogheda but because of the stage it was at, it will not go ahead until 2011 under the review. We complied with all of the deadlines and we are probably one of the better Departments in regard to decentralisation.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The staff in the Department are probably too decentralised and one of the complaints is that they are in far too many buildings. There is only one case in which an assistant secretary and all his staff are located in one building. Therefore, there is a significant lack of communication and efficiency. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will explain in answer to a later question how he intends to reduce the number of premises from six to three.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy is correct and I do not know how this situation arose. The transport portfolio has been shifted from place to place and from Department to Department and we have ended up with six buildings. It is totally unsatisfactory. We hope that during the course of next year we will resolve the matter and reduce the number to three.

  66.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the issue of driving under the influence of drugs; and the measures, in conjunction with other Departments, he will take in this regard. [40849/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  Driving under the influence of intoxicants, which includes prescription, non-prescription drugs and alcohol, is one of the primary causes of road fatalities and a serious road safety issue.

The Road Traffic Acts provide for the testing of drivers under the influence of drugs. If a garda is of the opinion that a driver is under the influence of a drug or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a vehicle, he or she may require that person to attend a Garda station, and further require that person to submit to a blood test or provide a urine sample.

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is keeping abreast of developments in the area of preliminary roadside testing for drugs, but there is as yet no reliable system available. In the meantime, the road traffic and transport Bill, currently being drafted, includes provisions for field impairment testing, that is, non-technological methods by which the Garda could look for the presence of drugs. The Bill is expected to be published early next year.

The Minister for Health and Children, in collaboration with the Road Safety Authority, recently launched a new road safety leaflet entitled Medicines and the Driver. The new leaflet highlights the effects that prescription and non-prescription medicines can have on a person’s ability to drive safely. The leaflet also gives advice on how to avoid driving under the influence of medicines. I understand the Road Safety Authority hopes to collaborate in an initiative with the pharmacy sector shortly, whereby such information will feature on the bags used by pharmacy outlets.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I have been very concerned, as have my constituents and people throughout the country, with the very significant increase [72]in the number of people taking drugs in every town, village and county in the country. I spoke with some doctors this morning and we discussed the admission into psychiatric hospitals of people who have taken drugs. If this is happening, there must be more people driving under the influence of drugs. I welcome the compulsory testing measures for drink driving. The time has come in Ireland and every other country to put a test in place. There must be compulsory testing on a regular basis of people driving under the influence of drugs. There is no doubt there are hundreds of people killed in the country every year by people who have taken drugs and who subsequently walk away. We do not have the relevant figures. How close are we to having some compulsory drug testing in the country both for drivers and in the workplace?

Deputy Noel Ahern:  I used to have responsibility for the drugs strategy and I am aware of the issues referred to by the Deputy. At present, there is no recognised system by which the Garda can test people on the road. In some countries throughout the world trials are ongoing and we will wait and see how they develop. Such trials are not at the stage where they could be in place on a legal basis, because various people in the courts and elsewhere would drive a coach and four through arguments based on such trials. Part of the function of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety is to keep abreast of developments in that regard. As soon as there is a reliable roadside test for drugs, we will change the legislation to allow its implementation. I agree with Deputy Ring. There is mandatory testing for alcohol but not for drugs, which is illogical. However, we cannot proceed until such time as the system is in place. The new legislation will help the Garda to request that people walk in a straight line and so on.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  A Medical Bureau of Road Safety study found that one in three drivers who test negative for alcohol test positive for drugs. Hibernian Insurance carried out a survey the results of which indicated one fifth of drivers under 35 years of age were under the influence. The Minister of State indicated there are no operational drug tests anywhere in the world. However, they are in place in several Australian states, such as Queensland, where a major roadside drug testing policy is under way. Tasmania is introducing its policy involving a particle detection test. Can we not emulate such places and have this fundamental issue dealt with once and for all?

Deputy Noel Ahern:  I accept trials are ongoing in different parts of the world.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  They are not trials, they are tests.

Deputy Noel Ahern:  They are not yet at a stage where they would stand up to a rigorous legal system.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Minister of State should check it out.

Deputy Noel Ahern:  The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is especially keen to keep abreast of such developments. As soon as such trials can stand up to such rigour, I hope they will be introduce as quickly as possible. Under the current system, if tests prove negative for alcohol, they are automatically tested for drugs. That is already in place. We wish to reach a stage where there is the equivalent of mandatory testing for drugs.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Only if the Garda is allowed.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  That was exactly the point I intended to raise with the Minister of State. One year ago, the Minister promised he would introduce legislation on mandatory testing at the scenes of accidents. If this were introduced and included a provision whereby a blood [73]sample is tested for other substances, it would give an accurate figure of those who are in accidents. Those are the people who would have taken more than most other people.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I intended to ask the question raised by Deputy O’Dowd. Is data available on people who were tested following accidents who did not fail an alcohol test but who were found to have taken drugs? Such data would show the amount of people tested. I agree with the remarks of Deputy O’Dowd. We must do something as this is a very serious problem. The country is rife with drugs and the problem is increasing in every section of society. Some people are driving like lunatics killing others on the roads and we must do something about it.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Such people should at least be charged or put in jail if another person is killed.

Deputy Noel Ahern:  There is another parliamentary question tabled dealing with testing at the scene of accidents.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister of State could deal with that now.

Deputy Noel Ahern:  We will include measures related to that in the new Bill. Deputy Ring referred to people driving like lunatics. I accept there are some people using drugs and that we must deal with them. However, the number of road fatalities this year is reduced considerably from the numbers of previous years. While there are people transgressing the law who we wish to catch, we must accept that generally there is a good deal of buy in from many motorists who obey the law.

  67.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on recent figures showing a drop in the number of people taking buses in the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46487/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Dublin Bus passenger numbers have increased from 134.2 million in 2000 to 147 million in 2007. This increase was achieved despite the introduction of the Luas and improved suburban rail services in the greater Dublin area. Dublin Bus is the largest operator of bus services in that area. In the course of the past year, passenger numbers on its services have declined by approximately 4%. Passenger numbers on suburban rail and the Luas are also experiencing a drop in demand. Various reasons are suggested to explain this situation. These include the general economic downturn, reduced shopping in the city centre area and fewer migrant workers living in the city centre area. This drop in demand is despite the marketing efforts of the company, which has implemented a campaign through the media and directly to households advocating the benefits of travelling by bus and the value for money which is available.

The cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, carried out by Deloitte, is expected shortly and I understand that it will advise that, while many aspects of the operations of Dublin Bus are efficient, there is further potential for efficiency gain to attract more people on to the bus. On the basis of the ultimate findings and recommendations of the review, Dublin Bus will be mandated to target overall operational efficiencies including changes to its network to simplify routes and eliminate duplication, to improve timetables and to improve co-ordination of services on common route corridors and to introduce other customer orientated initiatives.

[74]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  One point is the gridlock in Dublin city causes a problem for buses as well as for everyone else and consequently, bus travel speeds are reducing all the time. In many cases, it would be quicker to walk, if possible, and it certainly would be much more efficient were one to cycle. I accept there are reasons for the decline in usage and fewer migrants using public transport appears to be an issue. Nevertheless, the modal shift that Government policy has been promising has not happened. The key point is the Minister’s policies have failed and, as I have pointed out previously, the Circle Line buses have been taken off the route. More than 30 buses are sitting idle and are parked forever because Dublin Bus has put them out of business. This simply is not good enough. New thinking is needed in the Department as the Minister’s policies have failed in this regard.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am unsure whether the Deputy asked a question, as that sounded more like a statement.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It means the Minister’s policies are not working.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I imagine the Deputy is asking whether the Minister agrees with him.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  No, I do not. The Deputy is aware the Department has introduced the Dublin Transportation Authority Act, which now is in place and will be rolled out. The question of competition in the market is dealt with in that Act and will be dealt with in the next national public transport plan.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Deputy O’Dowd may have inadvertently misled the House when he referred to a private company. I understand that a large part of the fleet in question is engaged in coach work and other tasks in hand and that the services it no longer fulfils were in addition to its core business.

Obviously, the 4% decline is disappointing. Does the Minister, who mentioned the network, envisage that the frequency and reliability of services could be increased? When operating a major public transport system, a major problem arises in respect of what to do with the fleet during off-peak hours. People have asked questions on this subject, which affects both private and public fleets. How does one cope during off-peak hours? Has the Department made proposals in this regard? I refer to ways to increase the usage of the fleets, particularly in urban areas.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Undoubtedly, the frequency and more particularly the reliability of a service are extremely important. I refer to frequency in the sense that one can predict when a bus will come. Once this is available to customers, people are encouraged to use the service. For example, on some of the quality bus corridors, QBCs, the service is reliable, there is the same headroom between each bus and so on. When such certainty exists, people use the service and in some cases this can result in an increase in usage of up to 40%. Consequently, there is a need for major change in the manner in which Dublin Bus operates. There is no question about that. Matters such as the frequency of the service, the operation of the networks, co-ordination of the services along the core corridors, direct routing and additional cross-city services all will be extremely important, as will real-time information in order that people will know when and where a particular bus will come. All such measures will be important in efforts to increase usage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to facilitate brief supplementary questions from Deputy Broughan, followed by Deputy O’Dowd.

[75]Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Minister rightly referred to the Dublin Transportation Authority, which is of great importance to public transport. When will it become operational? Members spent a considerable amount of time discussing the legislation in committee rooms and so on. Are the provisions pertaining to planning, that is, all new development will have the integrated public transport function at its centre, effectively operational since the Act became law? The Minister referred to how the fleet could be better utilised and it also must be expanded. Would the Minister consider a differential fare structure, with much lower fares applying during the off-peak period to encourage people to use buses?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister stated that Dublin Bus must change, which is true. Does the Minister agree there must be a much more proactive policy from Dublin Bus to use the private sector at peak times to use spare capacity? It does not make sense to have the buses to which I referred parked on a lot somewhere in County Kildare while at the same time, Dublin Bus buses, in their original livery colour and with 1997 registrations, are providing public transport on the streets of some British cities. I have photographs of this.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The question of what to do during off-peak hours certainly is an issue. The Deputy’s suggestion certainly could be considered by Dublin Bus. Bus Éireann uses quite a number of private subcontractors throughout the company. The off-peak issue also raises the question of work practices in Dublin Bus that must be addressed in respect of how one uses one’s resources. As for Deputy Broughan’s point, rather than more buses, capacity has increased by well over 30% and passenger numbers are falling. Consequently, it is not a question of not having the buses. Perhaps it is a question of not deploying——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  For five or six years, between 2000 and 2005, not a single bus was bought.

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

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I can show the Deputy the figures. Bus capacity has increased by 30%.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, remembers this. For a major portion of the lifetime of the Government, it refused to buy a bus.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to respond.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Capacity has increased by 30% while passenger numbers are falling.

The simple question that must be asked is whether the buses available are being deployed to the best effect. The answer is “No” and this must be addressed to increase the numbers. Deputy O’Dowd’s earlier point on congestion certainly is one of the causes of the problem of the service’s unreliability. I refer to the scenario in which no buses come for a long time and then two or three come at once. Congestion is a factor that is outside the control of CIE, Bus Éireann or Bus Átha Cliath.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am conscious that the matter raised by Question No. 68 also has been dealt with as Priority Question No. 61. However, in accordance with the rules of the House, it also has been tabled as a number of ordinary questions. For clarity, the Minister will reply to Questions Nos. 68, 73 and 117 together. Members could go through the Minister’s reply again.

[76]

  68.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he will take to significantly improve oversight of agencies under his Department’s aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46428/08]

  73.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has met the board and senior management of all 37 agencies under the aegis of his Department; the outcome of such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46470/08]

  117.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason structured meetings with board and senior management of all agencies under his Department’s aegis are not held regularly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46468/08]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 68, 73 and 117 together.

I have nothing to add to my earlier answer.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The key point is this constitutes a criticism of the lack of oversight by the Department. Many of the transport services the taxpayer pays for through the Minister are dealt with by State and semi-State agencies. The criticism is there is inadequate oversight of them. To be specific the commentary is there is no consensus among agencies of the Department as to whether the latter should have a role in monitoring these services.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Does the Minister not agree this leads to inefficiencies and wastage of money? I refer to the lack of oversight and the consequential lack of accountability and transparency regarding the billions of euro that are being spent on Transport. There is no oversight of them.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The report stated that the Department of Transport makes every effort to ensure compliance with the code of governance by the agencies. The Department’s responsibility is to ensure they comply with those codes. The report suggests the Department must adopt a strategic approach to the governance of the agencies, particularly in the context of the large number and variety of agencies under its aegis. It suggests structured meetings with the boards and that the Department should give them a clearer mandate as to what it expects from the agencies. It also suggests the Department should focus more on performance management and monitoring of the outcomes of those agencies and that it should try to improve the data flows from the agencies. The Department has addressed all four points in the initiative I instigated earlier this year to which I referred previously. I intend to implement the recommendations in this regard.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I understand the report states the Department must adopt a clear stance on customer services by its agencies. It states it is important that it considers this issue at a strategic level and develops a coherent viewpoint that is understood by all of its staff and all of its agencies. Clearly, there is a continuing serious problem in this regard.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  That means the Department should monitor the outcomes, not that it should respond to every complaint that is made by the public to the Department——-

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I am not suggesting the Department should do that.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  ——which is what it is doing.

[77]Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  It would be remiss of us during this debate not to state that many of the agencies we are talking about are doing a superb job. In particular, I would cite the Road Safety Authority. It is outstanding, as are some of the outcomes it is achieving with great difficulty. I commend the Minister of State with responsibility for the agency, Deputy Noel Ahern, who is here with us today.

One of the big problems with all of those agencies is that they are not answerable directly to this House. This is an issue which goes to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and to the Ceann Comhairle, and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Unlike the House of Commons, we cannot raise issues, for example, such as the port tunnel in the case of the NRA and some of the safety issues in the case of the RSA. The Ceann Comhairle turned down eight or ten questions in this current batch from me and Labour Party colleagues such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on the basis that the Minister cannot talk about the agencies. In the House of Commons, the former Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon. Ruth Kelly, spoke about any issue to do with transport. The present Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Geoff Hoone, who I watched a few days ago, speaks on any issue to do with transport on policy grounds irrespective of whether it relates to an agency.

The 30th Dáil was supposed to be a reforming Dáil. Deputy O’Dowd feels the same as I do. We were supposed to have a reformed Dáil whereby answers on all transport issues in broad policy could be obtained through the Minister. Has this Minister any objection in principle to answering the policy questions on the NRA or any of his Department’s other agencies? If those agencies are not answerable to this House, then we have a major problem. That, I think, is the thrust of the Fine Gael question.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I thank Deputy Broughan.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am responsible in this House for policy on the agencies and I am answerable to it. The agencies are responsible and answerable to the House through the committees as well. They are also answerable through the Committee of Public Accounts.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Why turn down questions?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The types of questions generally turned down in the Ceann Comhairle’s office are ones that ask about specific operational matters for which we are clearly not responsible.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  That is just a cop-out.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  While transport is not one of my portfolios, it is important that I rise to support the comments of Deputies O’Dowd and Broughan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This is actually Question Time. I hope Deputy Morgan intends to pose a question.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Should we really expect the Minister to answer questions given that the very purpose of bringing in these agencies was that Ministers would not have to answer questions? It is most unlikely that the Minister will change his mind and begin answering questions.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Deputy Morgan is welcome to intervene, even if transport is not one of his briefs. If he was here for all of the other Question Times he would be aware that his two colleagues on the other side have always held me to account very ably.

[78]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  In the 90 seconds we have left, there is no point in moving on to another question. I will allow a brief final supplementary question on this from Deputy O’Dowd.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We need a sea change in this area. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Broughan. The criticism of the Department and, indeed, of the Minister, is that he is not doing his job and does not have oversight of these bodies. Is it not a fact that the Department is divided as to whether these bodies should be accountable to the Minister?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  There is no division at all. These bodies are accountable to me.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The report states they are not.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  They actually are accountable to me. They report to me and we have in place, from the middle of this year, even stronger accountability procedures on reporting to me directly. I have no difficulty with them.

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

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Neville — the level of suicide among the Traveller community; (2) Deputy Bannon — the need for a new school building and teacher numbers at St. Mary’s national school, Edgeworthstown, County Longford; (3) Deputy McGinley — an gá atá le hathbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar chealú deontas caipitíochta do choláistí samhraidh i gceantair Ghaeltachta; (4) Deputy Burton — the potential loss in 2009 of 70 or more English language support teachers from primary schools in the Dublin 15 area; (5) Deputy Breen — the provision of accident and emergency and other services at Ennis General Hospital; (6) Deputy Upton — that Scoil Mhuire gan Smal, Inchicore, Dublin 8 be included in DEIS band 1 scheme in line with the remaining primary schools serving the same community in the immediate area; (7) Deputies O’Sullivan and Sherlock — the need to provide appropriate secondary care facilities at the mid-west and Mallow hospitals; (8) Deputy O’Donnell — the ongoing uncertainty with the future of and the recent jobs losses at the Dell Limerick plant; and (9) Deputy Broughan — the reduction in funding to Pobal.

The matters raised by Deputies O’Sullivan and Sherlock, Broughan, Bannon and McGinley have been selected for discussion.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I move:

That leave be given by the Dáil to introduce the following Supplementary Estimate for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2008:

Vote 31 — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Second Supplementary Estimate).

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I move:

Vote 31 — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Second Supplementary Estimate).

That a supplementary sum not exceeding €50,000,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December 2008, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, including certain services administered by that Office, and of the Irish Land Commission and for the payment of certain grants, subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid and for the payment of certain grants under cash-limited schemes.

The Irish pig industry has faced many challenges in recent years but none more so than last week when its very survival was threatened. On Saturday, 6 December last, test results confirmed the presence of dioxins in Irish pork fat samples and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, initiated an immediate recall of Irish pork and bacon products produced since 1 September 2008.

Not alone was the recall decision the right decision; it was the only responsible decision that could have been taken. It has been widely commended, particularly overseas and by a number of the country’s most important international customers. The decision was taken to reassure consumers that Irish pork and bacon products available on the market following the recall would be perfectly safe to consume. I am entirely satisfied that it has provided the necessary reassurance to consumers, as evidenced by the response of consumers to the reappearance of Irish pork products on the shop shelves last week.

That decision received the full backing of the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, having been asked by the European Commission for urgent scientific and technical assistance and to provide scientific assistance on the risks for human health. The EFSA findings give considerable support for the decisions we took both in recalling products and in the actions taken to resume production.

The Financial Times, in an editorial on Tuesday of last week, stated of the Irish authorities’ actions that “the main lesson so far is a positive one: as soon as you can discover unacceptable contamination in food, act without delay to withdraw everything that might be affected — and tell the public exactly what you are doing”.

The importance of the Irish pig production and processing industry is clear when one considers that it is worth €1.1 billion per annum and employs approximately 6,500 people, with approximately 500 farm families involved in pig production. Since the positive tests results were confirmed and the product recall initiated, the FSAI and the Department have worked through the various phases — protection of public health, restoration of consumer confidence, securing the future of the industry, and maintenance of markets and national reputation.

The recall was in respect of Irish pork products from pigs slaughtered since 1 September last. That date was chosen on the basis of the evidence available to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on a precautionary basis.

Contrary to suggestions, both in the media and elsewhere, the Dutch authorities only contacted my Department and the FSAI after my Department issued a press release on Thursday, 4 December last, confirming an investigation into the source of a contaminant in animal feed and the restriction of a number of farms.

Having recalled the product and taken the necessary steps to both protect public health and restore consumer confidence, the Government’s focus moved quickly to get processing resumed and get product back on the shelves.

[80]The Government was particularly anxious that processing would recommence as soon as possible after the recall decision was made. We were conscious of the threat to the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of factory workers as well as hundreds of producers throughout the country. It was also important that our domestic and international customers saw Ireland as being back in business in pork production in the shortest possible time span and with the least possible disruption to trade, and I was acutely aware that many producers were ready to move animals for slaughter.

On Monday of last week, the Taoiseach and I, together with my officials, commenced detailed consultations with representatives of the Association of Pigmeat Processors with the recommencement of processing being the principal objective of the discussions. We all agreed at the outset that it was in everybody’s interest that slaughtering recommenced quickly and that we get back into the market, restore consumer confidence and protect what is a vital element in the wider Irish agrifood sector.

These discussions, while lengthy and complex, were extremely constructive and led early on Thursday morning last to an agreement on the terms of a funding facility that provided sufficient reassurance to processors to enable them to commence processing later that day.

The agreement provided that processors would commence slaughtering immediately following the Department’s agreement to emergency funding for a product recall scheme in respect of eligible pigmeat products. The scheme will apply to all primary and secondary processed pigmeat produced from animals slaughtered in Ireland from 1 September to 6 December 2008. Detailed terms and conditions of the scheme are being prepared and I expect to be in a position to make interim payments to those directly affected who can demonstrate verifiably the extent of their need during this early period in the process. The total facility I am making available for this scheme amounts to €180 million and my request to the House is for an advance of €50 million for this purpose, which represents the amount that I can reasonably expect to discharge before the year’s end.

Having secured agreement with the processors to recommence processing, I met representatives of the producers last Thursday morning and my officials have been engaged with them since Friday on agreeing an appropriate solution which would allow restrictions to be lifted so that normal production can resume as quickly as possible. These discussions are ongoing because, while some progress has been made, a number of issues are still outstanding. However, I remain optimistic that a satisfactory outcome can be achieved quickly. My aim is to get these suppliers up and running again in terms of supplying pigs for slaughter and processing.

I am acutely conscious of the particular difficulties that have arisen for pig producers, many of whom have thousands of pigs ready for slaughter. My Department is also exploring the potential for finding suitable slaughtering facilities so that the animals may be directly removed from the food chain in a manner that is separate and distinct from the normal processing of animals.

Over the past ten days, Ireland’s EU partners and the Commission have been unstinting in their support for our efforts and actions. Last week’s meeting of the European Council unanimously expressed its support for Ireland’s efforts to deal with the situation relating to pigmeat and our prompt precautionary actions. The Council asked the Commission to support farmers and slaughter houses in Ireland by way of co-financed measures to remove animals and products from the market. We are in the process of following up on these initiatives and an application for funding is being finalised. Last Thursday the Commission presented a proposal to member states on a private storage scheme for pigmeat exclusive to Ireland. This proposal received the unanimous support of member states and will allow the storage of some 30,000 [81]tonnes of pigmeat products, with a potential value of €15 million, for a period of six months. This important support measure will give the industry an appropriate breathing space in view of the difficulties that may arise in the coming months. These measures demonstrate the solidarity and support that the European Union offers when one of its members, which on this occasion was Ireland, finds itself in difficulty.

In the course of my statement to the House last week, I outlined the inspection regime operated by my Department. The national residue monitoring programme together with the national feed inspection programme comprise the national food and feed control plan for Ireland. The national residue programme implements a risk-based sampling regime in which upwards of 30,000 samples are taken from across the food chain and tested for over 200 possible contaminants. The feed inspection programme involves approximately 2,400 inspections per annum throughout the feed chain. The annual inspection programme covers a range of areas, including feed importers, feed manufacturing mills, mineral mixture plants, recycling plants that manufacture feed using unused food of non-animal origin, feed retailers, wholesalers, hauliers and farms. The level of inspections carried out complies with and in many cases exceeds the requirements of EU legislation.

The premises from which the contaminated feed originated is registered with my Department as a feed business operator under the feed hygiene regulations which came into effect on 1 January 2006. The premises were inspected in September 2006 and November 2007 but on neither occasion was any problem detected. It was also scheduled for an unannounced inspection in December 2008. The EU regulation laying down the requirements for feed hygiene clearly states that the primary responsibility for feed safety rests with the feed business operator. That responsibility includes an obligation on the operator to identify as required under the legislation any hazard and critical control points and to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken to eliminate potential risks to the feed chain.

In regard to the specific investigation into the source of the contamination, my Department is being assisted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Garda. I also understand that Carlow County Council has visited the premises in the context of its responsibilities under the Waste Management Act 1996. The investigations focus on the type of fuel used in a burner which dried surplus food material for animal feed and the appropriateness of this type of oil. While the use of oil in the generation of feed drying facilities has not heretofore caused problems for the feed industry, this aspect is now being pursued with the industry and the relevant regulatory State agencies. In view of the apparent link to the type of fuel used in the drying process, I am asking the European Commission to consider whether the type of oil to be used by feed business operators can be more strictly regulated under EU Regulation 183.2005, which lays down the requirements for feed hygiene. I will also take the opportunity of tomorrow’s meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council to brief my colleagues on the events that led to the recall and the decisive response by the Irish authorities. I will also brief the Commissioners for Agriculture and Rural Development and Health.

When we have completed our investigations, we will review all activities associated with this incident. That review will inevitably include my Department’s annual feed control programme. As the Taoiseach noted last week, lessons are sure to be learned from this review. My Department has always been prepared to consider and constantly review the adequacy of control measures in the area of animal health, whether in the context of foot and mouth disease, BSE, avian flu or blue tongue. The same is true on this occasion. It is imperative that we continually assess our control measures. We are proud of our country’s reputation for food production and animal health and we work hard to maintain it. The House can be assured of my determination to ensure that the requisite measures will be introduced to maintain that reputation. While we are justifiably proud of Ireland’s reputation as the food island, we have a responsibility to [82]protect that reputation. I am conscious that events such as this have the potential to tarnish our reputation and damage important markets. Bord Bia and our embassies abroad are assessing the impact of recent events on those markets. Last Thursday I travelled to Paris, where I had the opportunity to reassure a number of Ireland’s most valuable customers of the safety and quality of Irish meat. I am ready to assist Bord Bia in any way I can to bolster our important international markets.

The actions we took after the discovery of dioxins in pork and beef samples were well judged and measured. We acted swiftly to protect public health, provide consumer confidence and safeguard a vital industry. It is the experience worldwide of food producing and exporting counties that the crucial factor is not the actual occurrence of an event but how it is addressed. Our response was balanced, proportionate and fully supported by our EU colleagues. Having made these vital decisions we have since acted in a decisive manner to get processing back on track and to keep Irish pork and bacon products on retail shelves throughout the world. Our actions will reassure consumers and, with the assistance of a new Bord Bia labelling system, Irish pork and bacon products will again be as popular as they were before this problem emerged.

The provision of a facility of up to €180 million secures an important element of Ireland’s agrifood sector, which is worth €1.1 billion per annum and which employs 6,500 people if related sectors are included. Approximately 500 farm families are involved in pig production. The industry comprises 11 major processors and up to 800 related enterprises. Approximately 50,000 pigs are slaughtered per week, or 2.6 million pigs annually, and 65% of the 200,000 tonnes produced per annum is exported. Pigmeat exports were worth €367 million in 2007 or over €1 million per day. It is estimated that the cost to the Exchequer from the loss of these 6,500 jobs in the industry in terms of social welfare payments and tax foregone would be €140 million in one year. That is to say nothing of the potential costs of statutory redundancy and the profound impact on both urban and rural communities throughout the country.

  4 o’clock

This assessment relates only to the impact of the loss of the processing jobs which would essentially mean the end of the pig production sector and the enormous impact on the 500 producers, many of whose enterprises would be lost, and the very severe impact that would have in rural communities up and down the country. The funding I am seeking today —€50 million — is part and parcel of this recovery. It is essential for my Department in meeting the commitments we have entered into with the industry and I commend it to the House.

I thank the Members with us, including party spokespersons Deputies Creed and Doyle from Fine Gael, Deputy Sherlock from Labour and Deputy Johnny Brady as chairman of the Oireachtas committee. I thank other colleagues from all sides of the House for their constructive contributions since difficulties arose last Saturday week.

Deputy Michael Creed:  I wish to share time with Deputy Andrew Doyle with the approval of the House.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Michael Creed:  The Acting Chairman might tell me when five minutes remain in the slot. Being here today is like waking up from a bad dream. It has also been a very expensive lesson for the State. We have previously had agricultural debates in this Chamber and in committee where we haggled over sums far less than the €180 million relevant here. Some €9.3 million would restore the installation aid and early retirement scheme on a national level when [83]money is not as plentiful as it was. We cannot find €10 million for a cervical cancer vaccination programme.

That puts into context the extent of the crisis we faced, and €180 million may well be an under estimation of the damage done to the food island reputation. That can only be quantified as we move forward and look at the implications in the marketplace. There is plenty of evidence emerging at the moment of markets being closed and difficulties, even within the EU market, of markets being cancelled. It is incumbent on us to learn from these mistakes.

I am pleased to report to the House that the agriculture committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Johnny Brady, met today and approved a very early detailed analysis of this incident. We will call as witnesses all the main players, including political figures and the administrative senior civil servants in the Departments involved. It is incumbent on us to learn from this. We must find €180 million in these financially stricter times, which I agree with, but it is important we do not repeat the mistakes.

In essence, the three factors standing out for me are the failure in traceability; the inspection regime in plants and the tests carried out; and the proportionality of the response. I listened to the Minister’s defence of the response and I must take that in the context of all the scientific evidence subsequently available. I accept there are issues between people on the marketing and medical or scientific side. Sooner rather than later we must critically analyse all these issues and decisions and report back to the House. I am pleased to say this work is under way in the Oireachtas agriculture committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Johnny Brady.

I am appalled that we are coming here today looking for a Supplementary Estimate of €50 million on a single sheet of paper. There is no detail available to the House or outlined in the Minister’s speech on the draw-down. As a guardian of the taxpayers’ money, that is the only document I received, with a brief statement from the Whip’s office, which stated, “The proposed expenditure relates to payments to processors, producers and renderers for the destruction of certain product and slaughter and destruction of animals, the rendering of product and animal carcasses and associated costs.”

I have been around long enough to know that people have undoubtedly had losses. There is potential in this compensation fund for persons not to be adequately dealt with while others benefit disproportionately. I will approve the Supplementary Estimate but it is extraordinarily lax of the Minister and his Department to come in with a request that the House approve €50 million for 2008 with no detail of who the beneficiaries will be or the criteria under which this fund can be drawn down. It is slipshod work in the extreme. I am sorry to have burst the harmonious approach we have had on the issue but the material is extraordinarily bereft of any detail at a time when taxpayers deserve us to place the utmost scrutiny on how we spend their money. There is no detail in this single page, which requests €50 million.

I accept the time frame has been remarkably short and that officials in the Department and the Minister have been under considerable duress. I appreciate the urgency of getting funding to people affected. Notwithstanding any of that, it is extraordinary to ask this House to approve part of the overall sum required. I would like to hear the Minister in his response tell us more about the remaining balance. Is the total sum €180 million or €178 million? When will we see details on that?

We have done the budget for 2009 and there is no provision in the Department’s Estimate for the balance of the fund. Where will it come from and who will fund it? Is there some other mechanism that the Department is not telling us about on funding? Were it not for the urgency and critical time scale involved for all, I would be inclined not to approve this Supplementary Estimate.

[84]It is important to voice our concern that all who have innocently been injured by this debacle receive proportionate compensation. I am anxious, in particular, that the deal concluded in the Minister’s Department between the main processors does not exclude secondary processors in the industry. The main players were in that room for many days but those locked outside are now most anxious that they receive their fair share of the compensation. I appreciate the reference in the Minister’s speech to the issue that all primary and secondary processors would be compensated.

Will the Minister tell us more on the rendering process as we have not seen any lists of what is being charged to the State and where the product is to be rendered? What arrangements are being put in place? All that detail is necessary and if it becomes available before Thursday the Minister should lay the detail before the House before it rises for the Christmas recess. I appreciate that officials in the Department are working in a very difficult timeframe.

From my perspective, the most innocent victims are the individual pig producers who took feed in good faith. I will not stand in judgment on this issue until the Garda inquiries are concluded. The individual pig producers must be compensated and as I understand negotiations are ongoing I will not be prescriptive with regard to the outcome. If these people are to be out of business, it is reasonable to expect that those who put them out of business pay towards getting them back into business. It is reasonable that the losses should be compensated until the businesses are up and running, as they were put out of business by the State.

One of the biggest issues that must be addressed is the failure in traceability. This has been sold to farmers in all sectors on the basis that one could reach out and forensically recall contaminated product. We did not test it in beef and I am not sure we have the real answers as to why we did not. If we have the forensic capacity to recall contaminated animals or herds, why did we not do so and take the contaminated product off the market?

It does not work in the pig sector at all once pigs go inside the factory gate. We should either abandon all the investment we have made in traceability, or we should bring to heel the processors who up to now have not operated a clearly defined traceability system. If there is resistance to that it must be dealt with and it is incumbent on us to deal with it. My preferred solution is to continue with traceability while ensuring we have a system that works. We cannot tolerate a system whereby the industry dictates that it will not have traceability beyond the factory gate.

I appreciate the Minister is involved in a new marketing initiative with Bord Bia but that cannot be done on fresh air. It will require funding, so will that entail a further Supplementary Estimate in 2009? From press reports, I see that markets worth €30 million in China and Russia are closed to pork. In addition, the weanling cattle trade to Italy is in jeopardy, so I hope every effort is being made to secure it. We are also having difficulty in Poland, South Africa and other markets. This has been a nightmare scenario for the Irish food industry and particularly for the pork and bacon sector. We must learn from it and it is imperative that we remedy the defects that have so expensively exposed the taxpayer. I look forward to hearing more details from the Minister on this matter.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  There is no doubt but that this Supplementary Estimate is needed. It will cost the State €180 million because of flaws within the food chain. We must rectify the matter to avoid being exposed to such a situation again. To that end, I compliment Deputy Johnny Brady and the other members of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for agreeing to hold an intensive series of sessions in January to prepare a report with recommendations that I hope will be put to the Dáil before the end of January.

[85]The primary cause of this problem was that the regime of scrutiny, including testing, at the feed supplier end of the cycle was not up to scratch. Even if the premises were being tested only once a year, it should be mandatory to send samples of the product for analysis. It happens with feed compounders and also when milk is collected at the farmyard gate. It should be standard procedure to send samples from batch numbers for analysis, including the testing of dioxin levels.

In addition the sooner our dioxin testing capacity is up and running the better. There has been a cost factor in sending samples to York for tests. I acknowledge that the results came back very quickly in this instance, but such testing facilities should be available here. Samples from companies such as the one that caused this problem should be sent for testing as a matter of course every week.

We heard earlier from Deputy Ned O’Keeffe that in Denmark pork and bacon products are 100% traceable. In reply to parliamentary questions, I have been told by the Minister for Health and Children that such provisions can only be justified here on the grounds of protecting public health, prevention of fraud or unfair competition. All three grounds are applicable in the pig and poultry sectors. We must get serious about this. There has been resistance within the food processing industry to clear traceability, including country of origin and production. It has been convenient for certain elements to ignore traceability and present foreign products as being Irish. We saw that by virtue of the products that remained on shelves recently. In recent weeks, it became a virtue to do so because the products were not Irish. However, the same products were being marketed beforehand as if they were Irish.

We have 51 abattoirs that operate under a scheme whose closing date was 29 February 2008. Various Fine Gael Members tabled questions about this scheme in July, October and this month, but they received the same answer. In the last reply, dated 1 December, we were told that results were expected from the 51 abattoirs shortly. If we had a network of abattoirs that were subject to full scrutiny we would have been able to contain the problem.

If this problem is properly rectified it should not recur. If it were to recur, however, we should be able to isolate and contain it and thus minimise the financial damage to our industry.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I wish to share time with Deputy Penrose.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I appreciate that we all had to act in unison last week and take the Minister’s statements in good faith as the crisis unfolded. Across the political divide we acted in the public interest. A total product recall was the only way to go to restore consumer confidence and export markets in the long run. This week, however, we are at a different juncture. The Minister is now asking us to stand over a payment of €50 million by way of a Supplementary Estimate. I have serious reservations about it because the Minister has not provided sufficient detail on how that sum will be spent down to the last euro. I agree that the compensation package must be negotiated but the lack of detail shows a certain disregard for Opposition Members who represent all sides, including consumers, farm workers and processors. We should be provided with far more detail of this Supplementary Estimate, given that it is taxpayers’ money.

My understanding is that this €50 million payout will cover interim payments to processors, although that is not stated in the Minister’s speech. Perhaps we can get some clarification on that. I did not hear anything in the speech to indicate that workers who were left out of pocket through last week’s closure of plants will be compensated. If plants such as Rossderragh are not in a position to compensate workers for loss of pay, which occurred through no fault of [86]their own, there is a strong case for the Government to compensate them. That is not an unreasonable request in this instance. I am disappointed, however, that there is no detail of such a scheme in the speech.

I did not write a speech in advance of this debate because I wanted to listen to the Minister before responding. I wanted my remarks to be based on his speech. Over the past 72 hours, I have read a great deal about Millstream Recycling company in Bunclody. The Minister stated: “In regard to the specific investigation into the source of the contamination, my Department is being assisted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Garda”. Why is the Garda involved? Is it the Department’s opinion that an illegal or nefarious process was involved? If people are being asked to stand over a payout to the industry of between €50 million and €180 million, it is fair that they ask pertinent questions as to why the Garda has become involved.

The Minister also stated: “The investigations focus on the type of fuel used in a burner which dried surplus food material for animal feed and the appropriateness of this type of oil”. He went on to state: “In view of the apparent link to the type of fuel used in the drying process, I am asking the European Commission to consider whether the type of oil to be used by feed business operators can be more strictly regulated”. It appears that the use of this type of fuel is not governed by the Department’s rules, the hazard analysis and critical control point, HACCP, legislation or EU regulations. Will the Minister clarify this issue and inform the House as to why the Garda is involved? If the Garda is involved, a nefarious scheme is the presumption. If there was an illegal process, will there be a source of redress? Was the Millstream process illegal? It is the reason for this debate. The process will cost the State up to €180 million.

Ironically, anything that I have read about the factory in question suggested that the process was a forward looking venture well ahead of the posse in terms of new industry initiatives. This does not sit well and I hope that we are not hanging a particular individual out to dry. The issue must be addressed transparently. While we agree that compensatory measures must be put in place, we need to know who negotiated the package on behalf of the pig industry. We also need to know when the funding will be divvied up and, in light of the public interest, whether the details of who gets what will become available. If the taxpayers are to cover the cost, it is only fair that they know what is at stake and in play.

There has been a failure of regulation, but I do not attribute it to the Government necessarily. By way of constructive criticism, I suggest that we have a single figurehead — a supremo, if the House wills — to be in charge of food regulation. I am not discussing the creation of a new agency or quango. However, the statements issued by the Department, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, and the European Food Safety Authority could give rise to a certain degree of confusion as to where competencies lie in food safety. It took some 24 hours to realise that competence lay with the FSAI. Rather than a merger of competencies, I propose there be one voice within the regulatory framework so that when the members of the Fourth Estate and the Legislature need questions answered, we will know to whom we should go.

More details are necessary. I will stand over the Department’s decision to effect a withdrawal. We stand over the necessary compensatory package, but there should be more detail.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  I thank my colleague for sharing time. While it is his brief, I wish to say a few words because I have some knowledge of this area.

I endorse the Minister’s decision on behalf of the people last week, as it was a matter of national interest. We are well on our way back to market recovery. It will take some time because some organs of the media carried adverse publicity and used inflammatory and unwarranted terms.

[87]It is important that we have a properly integrated system of identification and traceability in terms of all foodstuffs sold. As Deputy Brady is aware, it is easy to have traceability from the farm to the factory. The cattle movement monitoring system, CMMS, brings the process to a certain point, but what occurs after an animal goes into layerage? I once visited France as a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to try to identify sheep so that we could measure the impact of how the French advocate their own products to consumers. I remember well how a little French flag was placed in lamb on display. As Europeans, we are too good. We are reticent to show people the green, white and gold on our fine product and to tell them that it is traceable the entire way. It is the best product in the world.

There also appears to be a European reticence to country of origin labelling. The Minister should take Europe on and tell it to get lost, as the labelling must be done. There are idiotic ideas about substantial transformation, where something is supposedly manufactured or processed in Ireland if one throws a package of breadcrumbs on a basic product that comes from an external country. It is a nonsense. Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked a necessary question forcefully. How is it that, within three or four hours of the announced withdrawal, some of our shelves were packed with hams and processed goods? They were already in stock and ready to hit the market.

We are not doing enough. We must call on everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel. We have a fine product and one little hiccup should not be used by people who want to say that there is an issue. Deputy Brady’s committee and mine, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, respectively, will tell the Commissioner in plain Meath and Westmeath language what we want. It is time to stop kowtowing to eurocrats. Instead, we should tell them that we want country of origin labelling. The same situation obtained in terms of Brazil. We have strict regulations due to foot and mouth disease and BSE. Everything is in its place. It is about time.

I am generally not critical. However, I am critical of the waste management scheme. The Government met at Farmleigh House, but the Labour Party has been advocating the building of schools. Some 400 need to be built, a labour intensive project that would give construction workers a chance. The farm waste management scheme could be another project. Only half of the total number of people in question have submitted applications to the Department. There will either be a flood of applications between now and 31 December or many eligible applicants will be prevented from carrying out necessary work aimed at protecting the environment. What will be the position in respect of these people? The Minister had the ideal opportunity to extend the scheme. I accept that he probably fought hard in respect of it but I am sure, due to the fact that there was money involved, it was the Department of Finance which put the kibosh on it.

The closing date for the scheme is 31 December 2008 and there is a stipulation that there can be no additional entrants. The scheme provided people with the opportunity to carry out vital work. However, it also provided much needed employment in rural areas where construction workers are being laid off. In recent months, farmers obtained good value because people began to submit competitive tenders to carry out the building work they required. All these farmers would have required was an extension of three to four months in order that the work might be carried out after the winter. There were three or four months during the summer when the weather was so bad one would not have put a snipe out on one’s land because it would not have survived. It is for these reasons I cannot understand why the scheme has not been extended.

I have heard that a new invigilation or inspection regime is going to be put in place and that local authorities will be given responsibility for it. I hope this will not lead to duplication or [88]even triplication. The officials from the Department carry out examinations in respect of the matters under discussion and these are extremely satisfactory in nature. Like me, I am sure the Minister does not wish to see duplication arise in respect of such examinations.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  In respect of the compensation package for the pigmeat sector, I am sure everyone is pleased that production was resumed relatively soon after the all-clear had been given. The compensation package agreed also seems to have addressed the concerns of the processors. However, another issue that must be addressed is the entitlement of workers in processing factories to receive compensation for wages lost while they were temporarily laid off. Several thousand workers in different factories, all of whom suffered loss of earnings, were affected.

The fact that €180 million has been made available for compensation means that there are adequate funds available to ensure that the losses of earnings to which I refer will be made up. I calculate that the actual sum involved would constitute a small proportion, perhaps only 1%, of the €180 million. One of the companies involved seems to be implying that the terms of the compensation deal agreed with the Government prevent it passing any of it on to its workforce. This appears to be a weak excuse for the company to fail to look after its employees, who were, after all, affected more than the owners of the factories. Not too many working families can afford any major loss of income for even a week and particularly at this time of the year. Even if the terms indicate that it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that workers obtain their fair share, as I have already stated the amount involved represents only a small proportion of the overall fund.

Now that the immediate issues relating to the crisis in the pigmeat industry have been or are in the process of being dealt with, a number of important questions remain to be answered in the context of how the dioxins in question came to be passed to the infected animals and with regard to the regulatory procedures that apply. One aspect that has struck many people, particularly farmers, is the apparent lack of rigour applied in monitoring certain sectors of the agricultural industry in comparison to the huge resources dedicated to farm inspections and subsequent investigations, often, it seems, in respect of trivial matters or on quite dubious grounds.

My office is dealing with one farmer who has been threatened with deductions to his single farm payment on the basis of an inspection supported by, of all things, evidence in the form of satellite photographs. He claims, and would appear to have proof, that the parcel of land in respect of which he was found negligent does not even belong to him and that the inspector involved changed the reasons for his negative report.

The contrast between the level of inspections for individual farms in respect of animal feed hygiene and companies such as that at the heart of the crisis is stark. On average, approximately 850 farms are identified, on a risk-assessment basis, for inspection each year. This illustrates that the level of attention paid to individual farmers is in contrast, it seems, to the monitoring of the plant, Millstream Recycling, which is at the centre of the pigmeat crisis. Said plant was not inspected at all in 2008 and only once in 2006. The only other plant involved was also inspected on one occasion in both 2006 and 2008. However, it was not inspected last year. As already stated, this contrasts with the level of on-farm inspection, particularly in light of the relative place in the scheme of things of an individual farm and a plant such as that to which I refer.

Even if an inspection had been carried out this year, it would not have examined the oil responsible for the contamination. This raises a number of serious issues in respect of regulatory procedures. Even though the contamination in this case was not sufficient to present a [89]serious threat to public health, it is crucial that in the future this aspect of processing should be monitored in order to prevent any recurrence of problems such as those to which I refer or a more serious contamination of the food chain.

As already stated, a number of questions remain to be answered. A number of these questions have been tabled by Deputies Ó Caoláin, Creed and I with regard to the use of the oils concerned. We inquired, in particular, as to the origin of these oils, how they were supplied to processors and the position with regard to their destruction. In reply to a parliamentary question tabled yesterday, the Minister stated that up to now the oils used have not presented any problem and that, therefore, a specific regulatory procedure is not yet in place in respect of them. The latter is something which must be addressed immediately.

We need to know where the oils to which I refer originate, where they were manufactured and bought, the procedures governing their use and how they are disposed of after use. We must also ensure that mineral oils, including those that have been used in electricity transformers or which have been contaminated with such oils, are not used in the drying processes for animal or human foodstuffs in any processing plant. We must be presented with a full report on any circumstances where the use of those oils has been detected.

I asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has engaged in discussions with the ESB regarding the traceability, sale, use and disposal of oils that have been used in its electricity transformers, particularly in light of concerns that such oils may have been responsible for the contamination of the Millstream Recycling plant. We also need to know the extent to which the ESB ensures that when oils are removed from its installations, they are kept under proper control and properly disposed of as per its agreement with the companies charged with responsibility in this regard. There are only three such companies licensed to carry out this work and only two are actually involved.

In reply to questions tabled yesterday, the Minister stated that he is satisfied with the annual inspection programme relating to other aspects of the sector. What he must do now is ensure that procedures which will lead to a similar level of confidence in respect of the use of these oils are implemented. That can only be accomplished if this is made part of the overall monitoring and inspection regime.

The Minister also said that the tests carried out by the Department enabled the source of the foodstuff that was responsible for the contamination to be identified. As a result the Department was able to identify and take appropriate measures in respect of the farms that received that feed. The animal foodstuff was confiscated and restrictions were placed on the movement of animals from the farms that were affected. Any other farms which received the same foodstuff were similarly identified and feed was removed from them.

In light of this information and in the context of the entire issue of traceability, which was an issue of central concern when this matter was debated last week, a number of questions must be asked. If the Department was able to identify the source of the contamination and the farms affected — and was able to do so quickly — was it appropriate to impose an overall ban? Does confidence in the existing traceability system not extend to situations where if the source of contamination and the destination of affected products are identified, the farms and products involved could be quarantined? Where confidence exists, as it seemingly should have in this case, that an outbreak has been limited and contained, should the remainder of the sector not be allowed to continue as normal? I raise these matters to highlight an aspect of the situation that should also be subject to departmental review.

There is also the question of whether meat from pigs reared organically should have been subject to the restrictions imposed. A further issue arises in that some of the wrapping that was supposed to be removed at the Millstream plant may have found its way into the pro[90]duction process. In a written reply yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food avoided answering in respect of this specific point but stated “there is no evidence to suggest that any residual wrapping material that may be present in the product presents any health or environmental hazards to human or animal health”. While that is all well and good, I do not think people will be satisfied that animals may have been fed foodstuffs that include plastic bags and wrapping paper. Surely ensuring that does not happen, and that the wrapping material is properly and fully removed, ought not be a huge task?

The article by Sean McConnell in today’s The Irish Times addresses some of the issues relating to the contaminated oil thought to have contained the dioxin found in pork. For example, he quotes some of those involved in the investigation to the effect that the oil, believed to have come from electricity transformers, may only be exported by companies issued with a special licence. Also, waste oil from the electricity transformers, and containing high levels of PCBs, is passed to these companies for export and destruction under special conditions, a process that involves incineration at temperatures greater than 1,200 degrees and which is not carried out in this country. I am told also that the same companies are involved in collecting similar oil from transformers in the Six Counties which they are supposed to take to England for destruction.

An even more disturbing aspect of this situation is that it has been claimed by some people involved in the general sector that one of those licensed to export the oil in question has been supplying the plant, where the contamination originated, with oil collected from the electricity transformers. Instead of the oil in question being exported and destroyed as detailed above, it was being used in the processing plant.

This, if true, is a serious claim and one that needs to be thoroughly investigated. I presume it is one of the aspects of the case currently being examined by the Garda. If it is the case that the oil was being sold in this manner, this raises several questions regarding the integrity of the company involved. Is it the case that these companies are being paid twice, once in respect of collection of the oil from ESB transformers for supposed export and destruction and again when they sell it on to the processing plants?

While the actual danger to human health in this instance may have been minimal, a huge question hangs over the supplier in question and his entitlement to hold a licence for the purpose of dealing with this oil. This, if found to be true, should be thoroughly investigated and dealt with. It is particularly important, in terms of the recovery of the pigmeat sector and for the overall image and health of the food production industry, that companies involved in any aspect of food processing is operating in full compliance with the relevant regulations and is in general worthy of trust.

Sean McConnell also highlighted the fact that as yet no satisfactory response, or indeed any response, has been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in regard to the licensing requirements to export the oils in question. Also, he referred to the fact that the Health and Safety Authority has not yet been requested to conduct an inquiry into any possible negative health issues concerning the workers at Millstream Recycling. It is hoped the level of risk involved is similar to that related to the eating of any contaminated pigmeat. Nonetheless this issue needs to be addressed, if only to put at ease the workers’ minds.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  On a point of order, may I ask——

Acting Chairman:  I am sorry but the procedure is, according to the order of the day, that the Minister or Minister of State shall have five minutes to reply, following which I must put the question.

[91]Deputy Seán Sherlock:  Will the Minister of State respond to our questions?

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Trevor Sargent):  I have taken note of the order and will endeavour to respond to Members’ questions as best I can. I thank Members for their contributions.

There is no doubt that the pig sector has been adversely affected by recent events. The primary responsibility of Government was to protect public health and to safeguard the excellent reputation of Irish food. The evidence shows that the Government acted responsibly and correctly to the dioxin incident. This is not alone our view but the view of others who commented on the matter independently of Government.

When the positive analysis result was received, we acted immediately and effectively. The decision to recall pork products was not a decision taken lightly but it was, as acknowledged, a necessary one. It is worth referring again to the international and expert commentary cited by the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, that shows we are viewed as having taken decisive action and as having informed the public as to exactly what we were doing. In addition, the BBC was complimentary as to the manner in which we handled the incident and pointed to the “meltdown” the industry would have faced had we not acted as we did. The Minister referred earlier to the costly alternative, a bill of €140 million per annum, with which we would have been faced had workers been let go en masse, a danger while evident at the time has now been rectified.

As Deputy Creed stated the timeframe involved is critical. The Minister will tomorrow attend a Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels. We needed to bring before the Dáil this Supplementary Estimate prior to the Houses going into recess. In response to those Deputies who requested a further breakdown of the details in regard to this Supplementary Estimate, it was not possible, unfortunately, to do so as this would have caused unnecessary delay. We are caught between a rock and a hard place in this regard.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Will the Minister accept we are buying a pig in a poke?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  No, not in this instance.

Deputy Trevor Sargent:  I do not accept that. On the public health issue, I need only refer to the independent scientific assessment from the European Food Safety Authority. I take this opportunity to once again emphasise that Irish pork and bacon is safe to eat. It is important also to reiterate that we continue to take seriously our food safety responsibilities.

The Minister, Deputy Smith, referred to the national residue monitoring programme, which together with the national feed inspection programme, makes up the national food and feed control plan for Ireland. The sampling regime under this overall plan is an internationally recognised risk-based assessment and is comprehensive in nature. I accept urgent lessons need to be learned. This review is part of the overall response to the crisis.

I visited the laboratories at Backweston and noted there a huge level of commitment and urgency in respect of testing. It is well established but not widely known that Irish laboratories can turnaround tests in respect of PCBs. While this is not yet the case in respect of dioxins, it is hoped it will be possible for them to do so by late February or March.

Apart from the determination to safeguard public health, our economic interests dictate that our agri-food sector is safe and of the highest reputation. For example, the meat sector accounts for €2.4 billion worth of exports and is a major contributor to employment and investment, in particular in rural areas. I agree with Deputy Creed that we should not exclude secondary processors who, along with renderers, were represented at the negotiations. They continue to [92]work with the Department to identify, quantify and value the product in-store and for recall. I assure Deputy Creed that they are being included.

The agreement between my Department and the pig processors provides the necessary framework and allows for stocks and other product covered by the product recall to be removed for destruction. This will free possible bottlenecks in the processing sector. As I stated earlier, we are caught between a rock and a hard place in this regard. Obviously, protection of workers was a huge priority and we need approval of this Supplementary Estimate to ensure this. It is not, unfortunately, possible to provide Members with all the details they seek although we would do so if we had the luxury of more time.

I am heartened by the support and understanding shown by our EU colleagues and the Commission. The financial assistance being provided for private storage is tangible evidence of their good will. I am grateful to Bord Bia, the Minister and his officials who worked hard while visiting other countries to ensure we return our market, following temporary suspension of our exports in some countries, to full capacity. I am also grateful to the House for the general interest and support in the national interest in the past ten days. The investigation is ongoing involving all agencies. In reply to Deputy Ferris, the investigations have to involve the Garda Síochána, given the reasons he outlined. The Supplementary Estimate is a necessary part of that process and I commend it to the House.

Vote put and agreed to.

Bill entitled an Act to appropriate to the proper supply services and purposes sums granted by the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965, to make provision in relation to deferred surrender to the Central Fund of certain undischarged appropriations by reference to the capital supply services and purposes as provided for by section 91 of the Finance Act 2004 and to make provision in relation to the Financial Resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann on 14 October 2008.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  In accordance with the Order of the House today, I must put the following question:

That the Bill is hereby read a Second Time, that sections 1 to 4, inclusive, the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill is, accordingly, reported to the House without amendment, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  This Bill, which is certified to be a money Bill in accordance with Article 22.2.1° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 15:

In page 38, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

[93]

“8. Where medical expenses claimed as a tax credit consist of or include IVF treatment, the expenses shall to that extent be allowable at the higher rate,”.

—(Deputy Joan Burton).

Deputy Joan Burton:  I raised this issue yesterday. I pointed out to the Minister that where a woman is undergoing a course of IVF treatment, that treatment is only available privately and it is very expensive. First, there are detailed medical investigations to find out whether a woman is suitable and, second, people undergoing treatment are advised that they will often need three or more courses of treatment. As the cost of each stage can be in excess of €2,000, and even €3,000, it is not unusual for a course of IVF treatment to cost €10,000 and I have heard of cases where the cost was €20,000.

When the Minister flat-rated medical expenses he exempted, correctly, people paying nursing home fees. For the relatively tiny number of people who use IVF as one of their last avenues to have a baby, which they long to have, the Minister’s decision can make the finances of IVF extraordinarily, additionally expensive, especially for people who are in the middle of a course of treatment. For a course of treatment costing €10,000 the tax relief would have been €4,000 but that will now be slashed to €2,000, reducing the relief expected by €2,000, and that is at the cheaper end of the scale.

Even if the Minister does not accept the amendment I urge him to examine the situation to see if the State can do something. I spoke also to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who said she might consider some kind of State scheme. The amendment deals with a particular situation.

Yesterday we heard about the situation where children who are committed to undergoing an expensive round of orthodontic treatment cannot opt out once started. Again, that has a particular impact on families who often save to allow their child to undergo such treatment. Up to now the tax relief has been an important element in relieving the overall financial burden.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  We dealt with the amendment in some detail last night. The position is that income tax relief in respect of health expenses will be granted at the standard rate of tax for 2009 with the exception of nursing home fees, which will continue to be granted at the marginal rate.

The changes provided for in the Finance Bill follow on from the changes made in the Finance Act 2007, with the removal of the de minimis threshold for a single individual and a married couple. The 2007 Act also provided for the removal of the requirement that there be a defined relationship between the taxpayer and the person who is the subject of the tax claim.

Standard rating health expenses relief will make the tax system fairer and more equitable for all taxpayers in accordance with Government commitments. The standardising of health expenses relief brings it in line with other reliefs such as rent relief, trade union subscriptions relief, medical insurance relief, third level fees relief and service charges relief.

In addition, the standard rating of health expenses relief will mean better value for money for the Exchequer and will ensure that the relief will benefit the broadest range of taxpayers in a fair and equitable manner.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 17 not moved.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 18:

In page 47, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

[94]

“(c) are derived from innovative activities meaning the development of a new technological, telecommunication, scientific or business process”.

I beg the Acting Chairman’s pardon. I was momentarily distracted. This matter came up in the Committee Stage debate when we were discussing the remittance tax basis, which is a concession being given by the Minister to certain high earners who come here for a limited period and who significantly add value by their location in Ireland. The Committee Stage debate revolved around the potential of the scheme to be used for purposes for which it was not really intended by the Oireachtas, as we were drafting and as I understood the Minister’s presentation of the proposal.

I have added an additional condition into the requirements of the scheme that would provide that the employee involved would derive income from innovative activities, namely, the development of a new technological, telecommunications, scientific or business process. It is a definition the Minister has used elsewhere in the Bill to ring-fence certain desirable activities he is seeking to promote in the research and development area and it could be similarly applied to the section here where we are trying to delineate the cases where the remittance scheme could apply.

It is a generous concession but at the same time I recognise that if individuals can be attracted to the area of science and development, for example, if one could have a team leader here even for a period of time he or she could be a catalyst from which beneficial activities could be derived. In the amendment I was trying to meet a broad sense of the committee’s deliberations that this should be more targeted than in the existing draft.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I am happy to support amendment No. 18. In the course of Committee Stage the Minister spoke on several occasions about how he seemed to see this package as being particularly attractive to people in the financial services sector, such as the IFSC. Given that our economic situation is facing meltdown, does the Minister consider that this is the time to attract more international bankers to the IFSC with schemes, or whether it is time to regulate the IFSC properly?

  5 o’clock

I question whether this scheme should be concerned with traditional research and development and the improvement of new products and processes, especially where the emphasis is on science, technology and communication — the kind of areas that would employ many people and add real value to exports in terms of the Irish economy — or whether this is to be another string in the packages offered in the IFSC where, effectively, the Financial Regulator has a completely hands-off approach to regulation and where there is a kind of innovation in banking products. Some of this has found a home in the IFSC and has led to the financial ruin the world is facing. Does the Minister really want to attract more of this, or do we want Ireland to get back to work in a decent and sound manner, and forget the type of bubble of speculation that has characterised his party over the last ten years and brought the country close to a perilous economic situation? We shall not now see the brighter side of this for probably two to three years.

The amendment by Deputy Bruton seeks to corral and rein in the Minister’s desire to hand out the remittance basis to anybody who suggests he or she has something to offer. Deputy Bruton’s amendment seeks to corral the definition of who it applies to. It is a very reasonable comprehensive definition. It allows latitude to technology, communications, science and business procedures, and at least reins in latitude on fly-by-nights, who are interested in many cases in using the name of Ireland in a way that is no longer an advantage to us as an economy.

[95]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The purpose of section 13 of the Bill is the attraction of individuals from overseas with the necessary high level skills that are required in the current economic climate. These individuals will, in turn, act as potential magnets to attract individual levels of business to Ireland, which will enhance our ability to further develop the sectors within which they work. It will also enable us to benefit from emerging areas of growth in the future. These factors are especially important in light of the current increasing competition Ireland faces from other jurisdictions in attracting high skilled people.

The Deputy’s amendment seeks to restrict the scope of the new remittance basis for foreign employment to individuals working only in certain industries. This would involve obtaining information from a number of Departments as well as substantial cost to the Exchequer. In relation to the high skill sectors, I mentioned specifically on Committee Stage, and I reiterate on the floor of the House, that I only received direct representations from foreign direct investment in Ireland in industry in connection with this particular relief. I referred to a report prepared by a high level group at the Department of the Taoiseach, which has responsibility for the financial services industry and its future.

Deputy Burton should realise that we are dependent not just on domestic banking, but on our international traded banking sector for a substantial proportion of our gross domestic product, so I hope the people involved in that sector are not fly-by-nights, or there will be a considerable loss to the State.

Those which should benefit from the remittance scheme include the ICT sector, where some of the biggest multinationals based here stressed the importance of having such a scheme. They indicate it would help them being the best people in Ireland in roles such as principal investigator for major research and development projects and vice-presidential roles overseeing plant expansion and other product line introduction. In the pharmacam sector it is seen as having particular potential to help attract plant and new process managers. In particular, specific skill sets likely to be attracted include research and development, senior management, quality, project and validation managers. For the medical devices sector, which is seen as very important for research and development, process development and also marketing are vital. Medical devices and marketing are seen to have a low-level capacity in Ireland and need to attract specialist skills.

As regards the financial services industry, it helps build businesses and employee teams around key talented people, with a significant multiplier effect.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The Minister coughed at the moment he was saying that my amendment would prove to be of high cost to the Exchequer. My understanding was that restricting it would reduce the cost to the Exchequer, by confining it. I could not quite follow the logic of what the Minister was saying.

In his elaboration of the cases, where he sees opportunities for this scheme, the only deviation I saw from my amendment was that it should, perhaps, be the development and application in Ireland of new technological, telecommunication, scientific or business processes. He envisaged that the management of the installation of new processes would also be strategic. I should be happy, if the Minister is disposed towards broadening it slightly, to say “the development and application in Ireland” or words to that effect, which would catch the import of what he is saying.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I accept the essence of what the Minister is trying to do here. There is no doubt that globally there are many examples of people who come with gifts, for want of a better term, who are gifted and who can bring substantial worth, whatever their industry happens to be. I am instinctively supportive of Deputy Bruton’s amendment, however, because [96]he shares my concern as regards monitoring as he said on Committee Stage. How can one ensure the system is not abused, and that we can keep an edge on it so as to stop the abuse that happened in the past? I suspect that is exactly what Deputy Bruton is doing here, trying to limit the areas where it might apply and in so doing, the potential for abuse.

I support what the Minister is doing, but I have a substantial concern as regards monitoring.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I thank Deputy Morgan for his support as regards the general principle of the measure. It is designed to attract people into this country and can play a key role in that regard. It is not being introduced on the same basis as in the past. Revenue will have a far more effective policing system for this relief in a number of ways. First, the relief will be by way of repayment of tax, so all of the salary related to the exercise of the foreign employment in the State will have to be subject to the PAYE system in the first instance. Indeed the levy will be deducted from it in addition to that, as I pointed out yesterday. If Revenue is not satisfied by the information provided by the person making a repayment claim under this section, the official may refuse it and the individual will then have to appeal if he or she is dissatisfied with the ruling. Any abuses of the new arrangements will be reported by the Revenue Commissioners to my officials. In those circumstances I believe that on this occasion, unlike in the past when this relief was enforced, we have ample powers of surveillance of the operation. It would be better to let the relief proceed on that basis, given the welcome it has had, and monitor its operation. If any disturbing trends emerge, we will be in a position to legislate to deal with them at that stage.

I do not believe it is a good idea to narrow it too much at the very initial stage, along the lines suggested by Deputy Bruton, although I cannot rule that out with the passage of time. However, rather than making a prejudiced view about a particular sector of industry or services, we should simply start on the basis that this is a way of attracting a number of individuals into Ireland who can generate economic activity here. If we are concerned about any trend establishing itself, we can immediately move to deal with that in next year’s Finance Act.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I am not really satisfied with the Minister’s response. I can see the “suck it and see” argument and accept that the “surrender and regrant” approach has a long tradition, which goes back into the annals of history. People pay the money, in effect, and the concession is regranted. That gives a better hold, as the original inventors of the scheme thought it would, over their fiefdoms. I am still uneasy, however. While the Minister says Revenue may refuse, it may not do so on grounds that are of concern to people on this side of the House, namely, that this is being used for purposes for which it was not intended. The only grounds on which Revenue could refuse it would be those as set out in the sections. The Revenue Commissioners cannot act unreasonably. They are not courts and cannot invent reasons for challenging a relief of this nature. While they can use these sections, they can only ask whether a claimant was here for a period of three years or whatever. It is a very limited box-ticking exercise. Once claimants comply with these very narrow requirements they will be seen to be in order, even if the purpose is wholly different from that which the Minister has described in his articulation of the scheme. I have no doubt the Minister has the numbers to get his way, but I am not happy about introducing a scheme that is loose in its drafting in the hope that it will work out. We, as an Oireachtas, never get to see these things again. Perhaps in ten years time some expensive consultant will do a report that tells us we got it wrong and defined the scheme too widely when it was originally designed. We will rub our hands sagely and say: “What foolish people the original draftsmen were.” We might as well draft this tightly now and, perhaps, expand it next year if the Minister feels it is not achieving the required results.

[97]Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman:  I have been informed that I should have put amendment No. 16, in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton, to the House already. The amendment arises from Committee Stage proceedings and was discussed with amendment No. 15.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 38, line 18, after “year” to insert the following:

“except in the case of persons aged 70 years or over, when it means the highest rate at which they paid tax”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman:  Amendment No. 20 is related to amendment No. 19 and both may be discussed together.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I move amendment No. 19:

In page 50, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“16.—Retirees partaking in a private pension scheme may postpone the purchase of an annuity for up to two years.”.

It is one of those delicious ironies of the parliamentary draftsman that the previous amendments concerned the Minister’s decision to reintroduce a remittance scheme for highly paid people coming into this country, where only the first €100,000 of their income would be subject to tax. Any tax they paid over and beyond that is to be refunded. On the other hand, amendment No. 19 attempts to address the situation relating to the pension funds of tens of thousands of people. Following the Minister’s predecessor’s — Charlie McCreevy’s — deregulation of much of the pension regulation here in order to let people make up or invest in their own pension fund and then purchase an annuity, many people followed that process. Many of those pension funds are now in crisis.

A proposal has been made, which I understand has been accepted in principle by the Minister, that people in a defined contribution pension scheme should not be required now, as normally required, to purchase an annuity when they come to retirement age. The Minister must bear in mind that, unfortunately, many of these schemes, as a result of what has happened in capital and investment fund markets, are worth only a fraction of what people reaching retirement age expected them to be worth.

The Government, through the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and all its Ministers for Finance over the years, encouraged people to invest in the private pension fund sector. My amendment seeks to provide some flexibility for these people so they can salvage something from the situation. Many people of relatively modest means who have worked hard all their lives put their money into a pension scheme and were encouraged by the Government to do so. They were encouraged by a Government which has also, through the kind of political economic structure it has developed, encouraged the disappearance of defined benefit schemes. Significant numbers of companies have closed such schemes in favour of defined contribution schemes.

We did not expect that Irish pension funds or funds in which Irish people looking forward to retirement hold their money would be subject to the kind of dramatic fall they have suffered. Therefore, my amendment urges the Minister to announce, as he has indicated he may do, [98]flexible arrangements with regard to the requirement to purchase an annuity. I see no reason the Minister cannot be positive and make this arrangement and announcement now.

With regard to the regulations governing the employers’ side of defined contribution schemes, we know that under technical regulations, many of these schemes will be in default if the stock market continues its current trend, because employers are required by law to top up the contributions to an appropriate level to keep the fund viable. Again, we have suggested that the Government should state clearly the position in this regard.

I am aware that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, has suggested on several occasions that she is agreeable to making this change with her colleague, the Minister for Finance. However, there is currently no certainty for people about to retire as to the situation. People who ring up to inquire about their pension funds can get no hard information or advice in this regard. They do not know what will happen if they reach the age of 65 in January or March or whenever. In the normal course of events, these people would, by law, be required to purchase an annuity within a short period of time.

I urge the Minister to accept the principle of this amendment. More importantly, he should set out clearly what will happen with regard to those people who are living in fear and dread. They do not know what has happened to the money they invested in good faith or what will happen them now with regard to their pensions. The Government is going to provide up to €10 billion for bankers who have behaved unbelievably recklessly, but there is much less certainty about what it will do for people on trolleys in accident and emergency units where services will be cut or for people who in good faith put their pension funds into investments. They had no other choice but to do so, because they were required by their employer and encouraged by the State to do it. Will the Minister indicate clearly where they stand now?

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I am not exactly clear as to the Government’s intention. I understood it proposed a period to allow for the postponement of the purchase of an annuity.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy’s understanding is correct. That has already been decided.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  That does not seem to be reflected in the Finance Bill as we have seen it. My amendment is a reflection of an amendment I tabled last year and relates to the inequity of the current arrangements whereby people in defined contribution pension schemes are forced to purchase annuities, whereas self-employed people investing money in retirement funds have the flexibility, once they have other income that provides an income to the value of at least the non-contributory old age pension rate, to put their money into a fund and manage it according to different rules. There is clear discrimination, therefore, against people paying into a standard contributory scheme, which is the predominant type of scheme for people currently. People who pay into defined contribution schemes are being discriminated against by being forced to purchase these annuities.

The Government is being forced, due to the collapse of interest rates and the deplorable value in the purchase of an annuity, to make the provision it proposes for two years. However, I raise the wider issue of why it would treat some people as fish and others as flesh. It seems that the former Minister’s, Charlie McCreevy’s, approach towards the self-employed, allowing them flexibility, should be applied equally to people who pay contributions towards pension funds that are equally subject to the vagaries of the market. They should be allowed the flexibility to manage them as best meets their needs. I will be interested to hear the Minister comment on the wider issue, as well as on the two-year moratorium on what I regard as an unfair rule.

[99]Deputy Seán Barrett:  I support the principles behind both amendments. There is a simple point about pensions. A person gets tax relief on the amount of money put into a fund. When one takes it out one pays tax. I always felt it was wrong to put too many restrictions on the ways people deal with their pension money. Circumstances are different for different individuals. Some people may need money immediately and others may not.

When one’s pension age, or retirement age, arrives one can take the pension, automatically. However, some people continue in employment, do not need the money and want to allow it increase. The way things are going, people will work beyond the usual retirement ages of 60 or 65. I always fail to see why the State should worry too much about when a person takes his or her benefit. Whenever people take their benefit they will be taxed fully.

Deputy Bruton made a point about the self-employed. I can offer a personal example. My retirement age was 60 and I got the fund but because I was still working I did not need to draw down my money. I spoke on this issue last year. The Minister required that 1% had to be taken last year, 2% this year, 3% next year. My fund has decreased considerably——

Deputy Joan Burton:  Vanished.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  ——but I still must take out 2%. My point is that the tax the Minister will get on the 2% is far less than he would get if it were allowed to recover and grow. Taking 2% of a lesser amount means taking less tax. It seems crazy that people in my position are forced to take 2% at a time when it is not required. If my retirement age were 65 it would be a different matter. Flexibility, whether of defined benefit or defined contribution, or for the self-employed, is irrelevant. People should be treated as individuals. The money is theirs and they should be allowed take it when they feel like it. Once they pay their tax, whenever they take the money, the State will not lose anything.

This is a time for radical thinking in the whole area of pensions, particularly given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I chose where I would invest my money and in what retirement fund I would invest it but everybody does not have that choice. Perhaps it is time we looked at regulations concerning where pension fund moneys should be invested. An employer, or the person advising an employer, can use his or her discretion to invest money in funds without the knowledge or the authority of the individual whose money it is.

I believe we have learned a lesson from what has happened to pension funds. Perhaps we should look at flexibility with regard to where people invest. It is different for the public servant who gets a pension and does not have to worry about the funds. This applies to all of us in the House. However, people outside here, whose retirement age is this year, are devastated. To say that the State will force them to purchase annuity at this——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is crazy.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  ——point would be criminal. I am pleased the Minister is making provision in this regard. Perhaps we might have an opportunity to discuss the issue further in respect of next year’s Finance Bill.

There are two parts to section 15, which concerns the assessment of days spent outside the country. The Minister said the change in question will occur as and from 2009. Is it reasonable to expect somebody to change lifestyle from one year to the next? Would the Minister not consider that the appropriate date should be 2010? That would give people a chance to make alternative arrangements. The Minister is changing regimes all of a sudden and this will affect many people. Ultimately, he will lose revenue because of this move. The fewer days a person stays in this country the less money will be spent. To change from one regime to the next on 1 January appears to me somewhat harsh.

[100]Deputy Arthur Morgan:  This is a very important issue. We are dealing with people who have just arrived at their pension age. I agree with Deputy Barrett that people should have options. I shall give an example. In recent years I have seen a significant change in attitude in a number of Departments, including the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and also within the Revenue Commissioners. To some degree, personnel are trying to give people what they are entitled to receive. Things could be better but in recent years there has been a considerable improvement.

In similar fashion, we should seek to accommodate people who arrive at pension age in order to get the best possible options for them. That is surely the least we can do for people who have worked all their lives. I support the amendments because they endeavour to give better options to people who have arrived at pension age. Making a simple change of date, from 2009 to 2010, would be an immediate example of a better option, if it were possible to do that.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Members will be aware I recently announced that the rules relating to the requirement for members of defined contribution occupational pension schemes to purchase an annuity with their pension funds in retirement are to be relaxed by the Revenue Commissioners, on a temporary basis.

These amendments have, therefore, been overtaken by events. The deferral arrangement will be operated on an administrative basis by the Revenue and I understand it has finalised the detailed arrangements of the initiative with the pensions industry since my announcement. Under the arrangement, members of defined contribution occupational pension schemes who retire in the period from 4 December 2008 to 31 December 2010 have the option of taking their tax-free lump sum and purchasing a retirement annuity immediately on retirement, or they can take the lump sum and defer the annuity purchase, subject to agreement with their scheme trustee, up to and including 31 December 2010, by which date the concession will end.

By way of background, my Department was approached by the Irish Association of Pension Funds and others in the pensions industry to look at this issue. They were seeking some flexibility on the timing of annuity purchase in view of the fact that affected defined contribution scheme members retiring at this time will have suffered considerable losses in the value of their pension funds in the past year. The argument was made that in the event of such individuals having to purchase an annuity immediately on retirement these losses would be locked in.

Coupled with more recent falls in interest rates and the likelihood of more interest rate reductions to come, the purchase of an annuity in current market conditions with depleted funds would prove likely to be more costly. It would not provide the same level of guaranteed income as in the recent past. The point was also made to me that the position is even more acute for those who have not yet reached normal retirement age, but who are obliged to retire early due to redundancy. This situation, unfortunately, has been increasingly evident in recent months. This is because the normal shift to a more conservative investment strategy in the years running up to retirement will not have occurred for those individuals as they would not have been planning to retire at this time in the normal course.

In acceding to the request, I was conscious that any decision to defer the requirement for annuity purchase is not a risk-free option for the individuals concerned. As I said in my press statement when I announced this change, in giving individuals the option to purchase the annuity immediately, or within the two year deferral period, there is no guarantee they will get better value if they postpone, for two years, or a later date, the decision to purchase. Those individuals who are retiring now or approaching retirement must take this into account. In this regard, I am happy to note that as part of this initiative, the Pensions Board will publish appropriate risk guidance in this matter in the near future.

[101]I also wish to emphasise that the deferral of annuity purchase announced recently is the result of consultations carried out with the pensions industry and represents what the industry proposed as a means of addressing the immediate issues facing certain individuals coming up to retirement or facing redundancy. In light of the fact that the Revenue Commissioners are facilitating a relaxation of the annuity purchase rules, which largely do what these amendments seek, I do not propose to accept the amendments.

Deputy Bruton asked some wider questions about pension policy in general. He is seeking flexibility for employees to put pensions into an approved retirement fund, ARF, or a personal retirement savings account, PRSA. This is a wider issue to be dealt with in the context of the Green Paper on pensions.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Minister make arrangements to have that broadcast fairly widely? People are in fear and trepidation that what they have saved for is literally gone down the Swanee in terms of the money they put into their investment funds. I hope the Minister will be open-minded enough so that if the current falls in the markets continue for more than two years, as it would seem they may do, he will be flexible. There is an opportunity here for the National Treasury Management Agency, for example, to offer a safe vehicle for an annuity at a low cost. The Minister makes friendly references to the pensions industry. The reality of the pensions industry in Ireland is that, among the pensions industries of the world, it has the highest level of charges. Other jurisdictions seek to limit and cap charges but our Government does not.

I would also like the Minister to address an issue which is very important from an employment point of view, namely, how he, as Minister for Finance, proposes to advise his colleagues about the treatment from an employer’s point of view of defined contribution schemes where the current rules are that if the scheme comes into deficit, the deficit must be topped up. If the deficit is not topped up, the scheme technically comes into default. If that issue is not addressed rapidly, that default will become a reason for many companies seeking the protection of receivership if the deficit involved in pensions schemes for which they have a liability becomes excessive. In the time available, I would like the Minister to address his attention to this. It is very important from the point of view of thousands of companies and their continuation through very lean times.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The Minister contends I am raising a wider issue; I am not. In two years time, the Minister will be faced with this same issue. As he rightly says, if the market has not recovered he will again force people to buy at low interest rates annuities that will be wholly unsatisfactory. I raise the point that what is good for the self-employed and has applied to the self-employed for a considerable period is just as good for people in defined contribution schemes which are reaching maturity.

If the Minister did want to raise the wider issue, Deputy Burton has raised it, namely, what happens to people in their 60s who have a pension fund. It is the existing pensioners who have priority. Someone very close to retirement age is no more secure than someone aged 20 in the status of a defined benefit pension scheme that is in difficulty. Those are the wider issues we would like to see addressed. However, I am sticking strictly to the context of the forced purchase of annuities.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The deferral arrangements for annuity purchase which I announced recently are by definition temporary. However, as Deputy Burton suggested, if present conditions persist over an extended period, that issue might have to be revisited. Changing the scope of the existing ARF arrangements is one of a range of issues to be addressed in the long-term pensions policy framework being developed by the Government.

[102]Some speak of extending the ARF option as though it was a panacea for the problems of the pensions area. It is an important issue but not as simple as it is portrayed. There are arguments for and against extending it to pension arrangements where they are not available at present. The arguments are set out in the Green Paper and relate to the whole question of balance.

I was giving Deputy Burton attention when she asked about the accounting treatment of pension funds at present. As I understand the position, and the Deputy will appreciate it is a prudential issue rather than a revenue issue so I am speaking without the benefit of official advice, there is an EU requirement in regard to the accountancy standards that must be observed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 20:

In page 50, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“16.—Part 30 of the Principal Act shall be amended by inserting a new section:

“(785) A person who reaches retirement under a Defined Contribution Pension Scheme shall from 1 March 2009 not be required to purchase an annuity unless they do not have an income equivalent to the Non-Contributory Old Age Pension prevailing at the time of retirement.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 21 in the name of Deputy Morgan is out of order as it entails a potential charge on the State.

Amendment No. 21 not moved.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I move amendment No. 22:

In page 52, to delete lines 1 to 21 and substitute the following:

“20.—Section 26 of the Finance Act 2008 is repealed.”.

The amendment seeks to delete section 26 because this section facilitates tax exemptions for the private health care sector. I would argue it facilitates a road towards the privatisation of the entire health care system in the State, to which I am clearly opposed.

There are many examples of problems having arisen. The Bill deals specifically with enhancing tax relief for hospice facilities. We all want to see and there is a huge need for the provision of additional hospice services throughout the State. Currently, 12 counties have no hospice facilities. Rather than providing those facilities, a trend for 11 years under this Government has been to hand over that section of the health care service lock, stock and barrel to the private health care industry. This is unacceptable.

I do not disagree in principle with certain tax incentive initiatives. Several years ago, for example, we saw derelict parts of towns which attracted exemptions for a short while — some would argue for far too long — which increased activity in that area of the town and renewed activity. While I am not against such initiatives per se, I am against them with regard to the health service. For example, to take the issue of nursing home beds, since the huge tax incen[103]tives were built into that section of the health service, only a very small number of public beds have been provided. It has got to the stage where people are almost wholly dependent on the private sector for nursing home beds, which is a bad situation.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund has a similar effect with regard to the privatisation of health care. Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, which has been closed since mid-November and will remain closed until mid-January, is the orthopaedic hospital in the region where hip replacements and such treatments occur. The people who would have attended for hip treatments are on the waiting list and will remain there for three months, when they can apply for the National Treatment Purchase Fund scheme. Each of those procedures would cost between €3,500 and €4,500. As the HSE has admitted, the only savings made will be in regard to replacement artificial hips, yet a significant number of these people will be referred through the National Treatment Purchase Fund to private hospitals for that procedure. In that event, the cost of the procedure will be somewhere between €8,000 and €12,000. Clearly, this is not a cost-saving exercise. It is about driving an ideology and driving the privatisation of the health care system, which I totally oppose.

I will give one other example. Although it has not been announced, the ambulance service has recently been subject to significant cutbacks because the operatives are not allowed overtime. Rather than have people working, especially at this time of year when there is increased activity on the roads because of parties, additional home visits etc., the ambulances will be parked. There is a significant increase in the rate of accidents and deaths on the roads at this time of year. The HSE stated its position in the event of someone not being available because overtime could not be facilitated. For example, if an operative is out sick, he or she cannot be replaced by a colleague because overtime would be incurred. In such cases, ambulances from other outlying areas would be required to cover that area. Such an ambulance would require additional time to arrive at the scene of an accident, involving a heart attack victim or whatever the emergency. That is completely unacceptable.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is straying beyond the realms of the amendment.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  It is analogous, and a consequence of privatisation of the health care service. That is the issue I am addressing.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Are these grounds for the Minister for Finance——

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  In addition to being unsafe, it is significantly more costly, because the fallback position is that the HSE will hire private ambulances. Rather than pay some operatives in the local area overtime, it will incur not only the cost of the two operatives in the ambulance, but the cost of the private ambulance itself. It is a substantially increased cost and it makes no sense.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, tax exemptions for developers of private hospitals cost the State €10 million. We are all aware of how €10 million could be spent. Such an amount could not be found for the cervical cancer vaccine programme. It was found and then cancelled. However, in this case a preference is given to developers of private hospitals, which is alarming and I am concerned that this is the case.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We are discussing a scheme for hospices. It was introduced last year at the request of the relevant voluntary groups. Developing hospice care was widely welcomed at the time. Deputy Morgan’s amendment proposes that the new scheme of capital allowances for the construction and refurbishment of buildings to be used as specialist palliative care units does not come into effect. I appreciate Deputy Morgan tabled an earlier amendment which [104]was ruled out of order, and that he spoke to that. However, the scheme Deputy Morgan seeks to repeal was introduced in Finance Act 2008 but has yet to receive EU Commission approval from a State-aid perspective and be commenced by me. It was introduced in response to identified gaps in the supply of and demand for palliative care facilities throughout the country. The scheme has similar terms, conditions and exclusions to those that apply in the case of qualifying private hospitals and qualifying mental health centres. It aims to encourage private sector investment to fill some of those gaps, but only where proposed developments of facilities are in line with the longer term public health policy objectives in this area. For expenditure to qualify for capital allowances, the development of a facility must have pre-approval from the Health Service Executive, with the consent of the Minister for Health and Children, as being in line with national development plans and needs assessments for palliative care facilities.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Finance Bill contains some amendments that will make the scheme more effective when it comes into operation. Since I was persuaded by the arguments made during the debate on the introduction of this scheme in the Bill that the minimum bed capacity requirement of 20 beds could be a significant hurdle for some palliative care units, I am lowering this requirement to eight beds. I am also allowing capital expenditure under the scheme to qualify for capital allowances from the date of the enactment of the Finance Act 2008, because I do not believe it is reasonable that legitimate capital expenditure on qualifying projects should be excluded from benefiting under the scheme in the period pending EU Commission approval.

Tax incentives for similar schemes have proved to be an effective way of attracting the necessary private investment into areas of the economy where investment is needed. This scheme has the potential to make a real contribution to increasing the provision of much needed palliative care facilities and I am, therefore, unable to accept the amendment. As with similar schemes that have been reviewed in recent years, I will keep this scheme under review to ensure that it meets the requirements I have in mind for it.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I am unsure if the Minister understands that the financial world as we knew it has changed. Tax-based capital schemes led his predecessor in office, the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, to ruin in respect of the economy. It produced activity which, as it turns out, is unsustainable. The contribution of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and her party, the Progressive Democrats, now happily deceased, to health services has been ruinous. It has produced several investments backed by groups of private investors. They have established private hospitals, some of which are independent and some of which are proposed for public hospital lands.

The basis of these schemes is the use of leverage, which is made easier by the availability of generous tax breaks. It involves high net worth individuals or groups of such people, lending or, more likely borrowing, large volumes of capital. The borrowings are then used to fund private health care initiatives which are given tax breaks by the State at the top rate of 41%. That form of leverage is over. As in his dealings with the banks, the Minister does not seem capable of appreciating this fact.

Earlier this year, the Minister introduced the scheme for hospices. Initially, those connected with the hospice movement knew nothing of the scheme. It turned out a party colleague of the Minister prevailed upon an institution in Munster to seek this scheme, presumably to assist in an investment by a select group of investors. These high net worth individuals planned to borrow money for the investment and consequently receive a very handsome tax break at the marginal rate of 41%. This year, the Minister announced an amendment to reduce the number of beds required for the scheme. I do not understand why the amendment was necessary. [105] However, it was probably on the basis of some kind of representation from some individual investor or private project to which the amended scheme would be more attractive.

Unfortunately, instead of representing fairness and universality of treatment, the health service has been driven into a two-part system by the Government, the better and faster treatment privatised. However, there was the case of Ms Susie Long, who became very ill and died. Her colonoscopy was delayed entirely because she was a public patient. She wrote to Mr. Joe Duffy on “Liveline” using the name Rosie, and referred to a person seeking treatment at the same time as her. It turned out that, luckily, the man had private health insurance and consequently could avail of private treatment. As a result, that person was able to get the test in sufficient time to save his life. In her case this was not possible.

I do not understand why the Minister is so determined to extend these schemes when everyone knows that given the current collapse of the financial markets such schemes are as dead as a doornail. No financial adviser worth his or her salt would advise people to proceed with such a scheme. In any event the money is not available in banks. The banks do not have funds to lend for such schemes. These are the banks to which the Minister proposes to give €10 billion of pensioners’ money. He ought to be deeply ashamed.

The Minister’s proposals are little better than the Ponzi scheme that gentleman in New York used to rip off approximately $60 billion. This is the Government’s own version of a Ponzi scheme. I do not understand what the Minister is playing at. Members have never been informed who are the precise beneficiaries of this proposal. However, although the Government introduced the original scheme less than 12 months ago, the Minister already seeks to amend it to favour more intensively a group of unknown investors. The Minister ought to share this information with the Dáil.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I must repeat that I accept the need for palliative care beds. As my constituency in particular has one of the highest rates of cancer on the island, which consistently is 12% or 13% above the national average, I accept such a need completely. In a way, I accept that in respect of occupancy, better efficiency is to be gained, for example, from a ten-bed unit than from a 20-bed unit. Consequently, I see some merit in the Minister’s specific amendment to the scheme. From the perspective of the investor, having full occupancy would be efficient.

However, this should not be about investors. People’s health care should be dealt with by the State and they should not be obliged to enter private hospice care. This is the biggest issue in this regard. Another point worth making is that tax breaks cost taxpayers money. They do so for the simple reason that the cash does not come in. However, the Government appears to be in favour of writing off as many schemes for tax breaks as one wishes, which I consider to be a ridiculous concept. This appears to be the prevailing mentality, with both the present Minister and successive Ministers for Finance, for a considerable time and is particularly lamentable.

In conclusion, I am not opposed to hospice care. I see more than enough of it through visits to the small number of hospice beds that are provided. While I recognise the need for them, they should be provided by the State and we should not be moving in this direction.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  In respect of Deputy Morgan’s remarks, the State does not provide hospice services, which are provided on a voluntary basis.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Palliative services.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  As for palliative services, that is the reason for the introduction of this particular tax incentive. I must refute Deputy Burton’s suggestion that this is a sinister plan involving high net worth individuals, who appear to populate her imagination at regular [106]intervals. First, high earners, whose income is in excess of €250,000, do not obtain marginal rate relief on incentive investments. This restriction on reliefs was introduced by my predecessor, the current Taoiseach.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is a postponement, not a restriction.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Effectively, it has reduced the rate of reliefs——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is not an abolition.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  —— to the standard rate and early indications——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is a postponement. The Minister’s note is wrong.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Early indications from the Revenue Commissioners——

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister’s note is wrong.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Can I speak?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to make a contribution.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister’s note is wrong. He is misleading the Dáil.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Am I permitted to finish?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please. The Deputy will allow the Minister to make——

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister is misleading the Dáil.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As the Deputy is aware, she is not allowed to make that charge.

Deputy Joan Burton:  On a point of information——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is no such thing as a point of information. I take it the Deputy is rising on a point of order.

Deputy Joan Burton:  —— people are restricted for a year. They carry it forward as the officials ought to have written in the note. The Minister does not know his own provisions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  That is not a point of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please Deputy. The Minister is in possession.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The crucial point I wished to make, which Deputy Burton did not allow me to complete before interrupting, is that early indications from the Revenue Commissioners suggest the restriction is working as intended, by reducing the effective tax rate to 20% in such cases. The key point is the information I have received from the Revenue Commissioners suggests——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is wrong.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  —— that this particular restriction has worked as intended.

[107]Various other extraneous comments were made about the banking system and alleged arrangements therein. First, had Deputy Burton been responsible as Minister for Finance for the banking system on 30 September last, the banks would have gone over a cliff by now. I certainly will not hazard——

Deputy Joan Burton:  They would be reorganised by now, not ruined.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to respond.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  —— pension fund moneys in investments that are not soundly based for the pension fund concerned.

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

Amendment declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Unfortunately, amendment No. 23 in the name of Deputy Bruton is out of order as it poses a potential charge on the State.

Amendment No. 23 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 24 in the name of Deputy Bruton is out of order for the same reason.

Amendment No. 24 not moved.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  On a point of order, on Committee Stage a contention was circulated to all members of the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service to the effect that this amendment would assist only eight out of 95 of the qualifying types of Seveso investments.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot debate the amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  However, the section was not reached on Committee Stage. I tabled an amendment in the expectation that I could speak on the section because there was no opportunity to address the section on Committee Stage. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle’s order stands, there will be no opportunity at any stage in the debating procedure to address this issue. Consequently, I move:

“That the Bill be recommitted in respect of section 21.”

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a proposal to recommit. Is that agreed?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Does this pertain to amendment No. 24?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  No, amendment No. 24 is out of order.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  In respect of the materials pertaining to the amendment, I am agreeable to recommital.

Bill recommitted in respect of section 21.

Question proposed: “That section 21 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Richard Bruton:  My understanding is that this section introduces a concession for urban dockland developments where there is a need to move certain activities from such lands [108]to new sites to free the former for wider development. In principle, I can see the merit in a tax relief. However, the Minister will have had sight of the letters sent to the committee in which it has been presented that this provision, as it has been structured, will disadvantage many investors who are already engaged in such activity. There will not be a level playing field because although there are 95 designated Seveso sites, under this proposal only eight would become eligible for some tax support.

The issue is that this provision will create a non-level playing pitch and the proposal must be reconsidered in some way to make it more broadly based. I understand that those who consider themselves to be adversely affected have submitted an amendment — I presume it has reached the Department as I received it by e-mail — that they believe would create a level playing pitch. A genuine concern exists in this regard, which was shared by all sides on Committee Stage. However, Members were frustrated that the guillotine prevented them from reaching this matter.

  6 o’clock

Deputy Joan Burton:  This is another example of lobbies that have the ear of the Minister for Finance, which gives rise to legislation that results in significant tax advantages to a select few. When the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Brian Cowen, was finally persuaded that the structure of capital-based tax breaks he had introduced was dangerously damaging the property market and creating a property bubble, comprehensive studies were conducted by an independent firm of consultants and studies were carried out by the Department of Finance. Unfortunately, the bubble has burst, leaving many construction workers unemployed and the State coffers heavily depleted. The outcome of such studies was a declaration by the Minister that he would row back on the principle of tax breaks for property development and that where he proposed to introduce other tax breaks, a clear cost-benefit case study analysis would be undertaken that would show exactly what was involved, what were the benefits of the suggested action and what were the costs of the suggested action, in respect of tax forgone.

When the Minister announced this in the budget, it was immediately suggested that this measure would particularly advantage certain developments in the Cork docklands area and, potentially, certain developments in or near the Dublin docklands area, and particular developers, whose investments would be significantly enhanced by these developments, were also named in the media, some of them prominent supporters of the Minister’s political party.

We, along with other Deputies in this House, received representations from developers and investors in other schemes around the country who suggested that, because the developments or locations named by the Minister on budget day would get a specific advantage, they would be heavily disadvantaged. Clearly, the investors concerned in the Finance Bill would have a very attractive way of reducing their exposure to taxation by investing in the Minister’s scheme.

From a public interest point of view, it is really important that the details of this come out. It is, of course, potentially, a state aid to industry and I understand it must be examined by the European Commission with a view to seeing whether it constitutes an unfair illegal state aid to industry to particular groups as opposed to other groups.

There are all around the country dockland areas where, for instance, part of docklands were used to import and hold liquid petroleum gas, oil and other items which give rise to a Seveso-type definition if, subsequently, those sites come to be redeveloped because they are heavily contaminated.

On the additional tax breaks the Minister has put forward for wealthy people to reduce their incidence of taxation, all of the Deputies speaking in this debate have asked for details, for cost-benefit analyses and the identity of the beneficiaries, but we are none the wiser. This is [109]why the business of tax breaks by his Government and the tent at the Galway races have become such bywords for a kind of political corruption, which has plagued this country and which in the end has been one of the reasons for the severity of the economic decline we are now suffering.

The Minister is proposing another one of these tax incentives. There are profound arguments in their favour but they must be done fairly, openly and honestly. The regime of the Minister’s party and Government has been anything but.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  In terms of any tax relief there should be equity. We all received the correspondence from the particular Seveso company and it should be looked at by the Minister in terms of equity.

On the broader issue of docklands development, in the context of my own constituency in Limerick we have a working dock but we would like to see development of the area as an amenity. The Minister needs to look at the overall development of docklands from a sustainability viewpoint and strictly not from the viewpoint of this issue, which is not equitable to all the Seveso sites. In fact, it only applies to eight out of the 95. The Minister might take that on board.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  First, there was an independent cost-benefit analysis prepared in respect of this relief for Cork County Council.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Minister make it available to us?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Yes. I can arrange for that to be done. I really deplore Deputy Burton’s suggestions of corruption in respect of developers.

On the section, it is not a tax incentive for property developers. It is a scheme to remove and relocate industrial facilities involved in the regeneration of urban docklands because of health and safety concerns that arise under legislation in the Seveso directive.

The section only applies to Seveso sites which a local authority wants to remove for urban regeneration purposes. That is important. That is written into the section. It is not a question that any developer, any owner of land or any dockland can trigger this relief. It is under local authority control. There must be a proper regeneration scheme.

On the correspondence received by Deputies which I myself read with great care, it must be borne in mind that written into the section is a provision for the clawback of the benefits in cases where there is any element of undue competition. Indeed, Deputy Bruton raised that question. The clawback provision in the section deals with the danger identified in the correspondence of unfair competition. The clawback provision is essential under the state aid provisions applied by the European Commission.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Bruton sought the recommittal. I am anxious to make progress.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I have not had the chance to study in great detail this clawback provision but I understand that the representatives of those who made the case to the committee that this was discriminatory, had several meetings with officials in advance. The Minister’s officials, or the officials of the relevant Department, have not succeeded in convincing the companies concerned that this represents a level playing pitch.

I am very uneasy about accepting at this very late stage an assurance that there is an adequate clawback provision. My reading of the section led me to table amendments seeking to restrict it because I thought it was broadly phrased.

[110]I realise we are time constrained, but when the Houses are informed that this is discriminatory and that it will apply to only a limited proportion of the sites that have the problems to which the public policy issue accords, we need a more comprehensive statement from the Minister before we would be asked to give our approval of this.

It is not the Chair’s fault, but it is unsatisfactory not to have had a Committee Stage debate on this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We can have that now. We are in committee.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  On the Minister’s comments that the planning here was a matter for the local authorities, I can give him any amount of examples but perhaps the best and most startling example of local authorities’ planning being distorted by one means or another is in east Meath, for example, all around Laytown and Bettystown where an area that used be a lovely countryside and seaside area is now coming down with houses. It is a concrete jungle. There is not a proper road in or a proper road out. There is no school in the area. We all could argue that that planning process was conducted under the auspices of Meath County Council but there are issues involved that require explanation. I would merely suggest that that is what is causing suspicion on this side of the House.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  In reply to Deputy Bruton first, there was one meeting at official level with one company on this matter, not a sequence of meetings. The clawback provision is written into the legislation.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Which section?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will draw the Deputy’s attention to it in a minute. The scheme is, of course, subject to EU approval. It is good that the European Commission will have to test the clawback provision for its robustness.

In response to Deputy Morgan, in this instance we are talking about a regeneration programme specifically drawn up by a local authority. It is not a question of planning around the country, although I appreciate his comments.

There is a problem with the regeneration of dockland areas in the State. There are very onerous obligations imposed under the Seveso directive and it is important that those obligations are complied with. They amount to a substantial disincentive for the regeneration of these areas and the relief is designed to address that issue.

I ask Deputy Bruton to bear with me for a moment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will come back to the Minister to get that piece of information.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The relevant provisions can be found at section 380V and 380W.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Those sections appear to deal with new machinery. They do not appear to make reference to unfair competition.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I wish to make a point of clarification.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is no such thing but the Deputy can no doubt make a point of order.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  This applies purely to a transfer of a Seveso site in an urban——

[111]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is not making a point of order but he is perfectly entitled to make an intervention and put a question to the Minister.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his indulgence.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Deputies will appreciate that I am somewhat slow in responding, as I am not briefed for Committee Stage.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I will make allowances for that. This section deals with Seveso sites in urban dockland areas which are subject to local area plans. It does not provide for Seveso sites which are located in non-urban dockland areas. That strikes me as anti-competitive. If an operation is required to relocate from a Seveso site in an area other than docklands, it should be given the same tax breaks. That is the essential point being put across in the correspondence we are receiving on the matter. I would like to hear the Minister’s opinion of this straightforward point.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The purpose of the scheme is urban regeneration. There is no requirement in respect of non-urban regeneration. Section 380W states clearly that where the allowance under the sections has been made to any person in respect of expenditure incurred on the provision of machinery or plant or the construction of a building or structure that was sold by the person without the machinery, building or structure having been used for the purpose of the relevant trade within two years from the date on which it began to be so used, then the allowance under those sections will be withdrawn and all such additional assessments and adjustments will be made.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The restrictions to which the Minister adverts mean that if greater capacity is created than the original or if the plant is not used within two years, the relief will be restricted. However, there is no way in which these provisions could be interpreted as dealing with a concern that some sites are being ring-fenced as qualifying for this relief while other similar sites are not. I do not see how an unfair competition element is built into either of the clauses to which the Minister drew my attention.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I ask the Minister about section 380R(6), which provides that the market value of the whole or part of establishment land means the price that whole or part might reasonably be expected to fetch on a sale on the open market if the old installation was removed. In the context of current market values, what exactly does that mean? What values and dates are we considering? Some of these developments changed hands at the height of the property bubble and their value could reasonably be expected to be considerably lower.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  On the issue of competition which Deputy Bruton raised, the allowances available under the scheme are limited to the net cost of the removal and relocation. This means the benefits from the sale of the land where the industrial facilities were previously located will be deducted. The allowance granted will also be adjusted in the case of productivity gains which may occur when a company constructs a more efficient facility. That is the reason for the sections to which the Deputy referred.

The additional capital allowances for the purchase of new plant and machinery and buildings will be clawed back if they are sold within the two year period. All that is permitted is the replication of the existing facility without any undue advantage to the person making the relocation. Nothing more than that is permitted under the relief. The reason for these provisions is to ensure there is no prejudice against competing providers. The clawbacks and the provisions to net off the benefits from the sale of the land of the initial site ensures that the scheme will be fair and reasonable in only meeting costs necessitated by the removal and relocation of [112]Seveso listed industrial facilities which are hindering the regeneration of an urban dockland area. That is essential in order to comply with EU requirements. In respect of market value, the adjustment is the actual sale price when sold in this context.

Deputy Joan Burton:  What are the relevant dates? Can they be carried back to when the property market was at its height or are these values carried forward? It seems obvious that some of the competition issues discussed earlier would arise in lands which are less valuable because they are not in, for example, Dublin 4 or the south Cork docklands. The enhanced market values would be very important in this case.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The relevant expenses that attract capital allowances include both the removal of the old installation and the set up of its replacement. There are two elements. If one does not have this relief, one does not get relief on either element. The Minister stated that the removal is a necessary additional cost. The logic of what he said is that he would restrict the relief to the removal element and would not therefore be offering a competitive advantage. At least in terms of a level playing field, it would seem that confining the relief to the removal element and not allowing it on the new investment would be a fairer way of proceeding.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Market value is based on the date when the relocation starts but the final adjustment is made by reference to the actual sale price of the lands. It is the actual market price rather than a notion of past market values.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I ask the Minister——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should complete his reply before I call other Deputies.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Perhaps the Minister will set out his reply in full.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The date on which the relocation starts is the date for fixing the market value. In other words, a notional value is fixed at the start of the relocation but an adjustment is made by reference to the actual sale price agreed.

Deputy Joan Burton:  What I want to learn from the Minister are the exact dates.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Perhaps the Minister will reply to Deputy Bruton’s question before Deputy Burton intervenes.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I am still trying to compose a reply to Deputy Bruton’s question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is fine. Let us tease out Deputy Burton’s question first.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I will make it easier for the Minister. What extent of backdating is included in this provision? How far back does it go in regard to acquisitions? Does it simply provide for future deals and, if so, how are the market values dated and what is the composition of those values?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  On that issue, it is prospective in effect. It is subject to the existence of an urban regeneration plan developed by the relevant local authority. The market values will be determined when the relief is claimed and the relocation is made. The final payment represents the actual market value for the lands in question. Past market values are irrelevant to the measure.

[113]Deputy Joan Burton:  Land involved in Seveso type activities may have changed hands several times or a canny developer may have passed it through several companies. It may well be that two years ago the value of this dockland site was potentially very high. Some time later, such as now and into the future, the market value, as I understand it, will have plummeted. How is market value categorised? Is it open market value or fair price at the date or going forward? Is it fair price at arm’s length between a willing buyer and seller as determined by an independent arbitrator? Is it a built-up market value? If we go back to market values of some years ago, they would be far higher.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  As Deputy Burton knows, the market value is always what a willing purchaser will give a willing vendor in an open market. This must be determined. In this context it is not a matter of going back to past values. This is a prospective relief and the market value is fixed by reference to what value is attached at the time of the relocation. There is provision for an adjustment where the market price diverges from that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am anxious to let Deputy Bruton in at this stage.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I raise the point that if the Minister was——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I was going to reply on the matter. It is clear we have restricted the legislation with regard to any suggestion of a productivity gain by the relocating enterprise, any suggestion of an additional benefit from the sale of lands and also in the non-use of the new facilities. We have attempted to deal with those matters.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Before calling the Deputy, I indicate we should make progress on this issue as there are only approximately 35 minutes left to deal with all other amendments. I know Deputies are anxious to make progress.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I will leave it at one point. If we are seeking to provide some assistance to the cost of moving out of an urban dockland, the relief should be confined to the cost of moving from the urban dockland rather than, as this section seeks, include the cost of the establishment in the new location. If the cost of establishing the new location is grant-aided, an uneven playing pitch is being created for others with similar facilities.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I do not understand how one could incentivise the removal without giving the person providing the service the incentive to replace it with a facility that was of no greater advantage to the enterprise than the pre-existing facility.

Question put and declared carried.

Bill reported without amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 25:

In page 63, line 10, to delete “23 per cent” and substitute “22 per cent”.

The Minister stated very clearly on Committee Stage that he sought to introduce uniformity in the taxation of certain transactions such as capital acquisitions and capital gains. He seemed to lose his way when it came to the treatment of deposit interest retention tax, DIRT, when he applied a 23% rate rather than a 22% rate. I hoped to give him the opportunity on Report Stage to mend this error that he overlooked.

It has been indicated to me that there is an unfair aspect of DIRT in that banks do not provide people with a statement of their deposit interest retention tax, which would give them [114]the opportunity to claim it back. Should there be a legal provision requiring the banks to give a statement? Older people are entirely entitled to claim relief if they are not in a taxable position and such a statement would inform them of the tax they pay in deposit interest and would prompt them with the opportunity to claim it back.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Automatically.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The CGT and CAT rates were increased by 2% and the 1% levy did not apply to deposit interest. The 3% increase as provided for in section 26 was necessitated by general budgetary constraints. I was influenced by the fact that general levels of deposits in banks are very high currently.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Interest rates are very low. Does the Minister care to comment on the point of requiring banks to issue a certificate?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The legislation at present requires that banks issue a certificate if requested. Deputy Bruton is looking for a more positive obligation on the banks.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Yes.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will certainly raise that question with them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 26 is out of order.

Amendment No. 26 not moved.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 27:

In page 76, to delete lines 6 to 20 and substitute the following:

“‘Threshold amount’ means a baseline of zero spending on research and development as and from the start of the tax year 2009;’,”.

Since we debated this I received comments from the taxation division on the possible costs. This related to research and development going back to a baseline of zero. I am not disposed to withdraw the amendment so may I have clarification from the Minister about his intentions regarding other published or discussed concessions relating to research and development, which we hear is part of the Government’s economic recovery strategy? Are these additional concessions and will we have occasion to debate them? Are these the concessions being talked of when the Minister says he will have a research and development package?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The fiscal elements of the package are contained in the Finance Bill before the House currently, other than those regarding intellectual property. I signalled in my budget speech that I intended to bring forward proposals on that next year.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I move amendment No. 30:

[115]

In page 100, line 14, after “2008” to insert the following:

“except in the case of disposals arising from compulsory purchase orders, it shall apply to disposals, on which the order was confirmed on or after 15th October”.

This amendment, which we did not have the opportunity to discuss on Committee Stage, deals with the capital gains tax threshold, which has been increased from 20% to 22%. The difficulty arises with regard to lands that were the subject of a compulsory purchase order during the periods in question. With one example in Ballaghaderreen in my constituency, An Bord Pleanála confirmed the compulsory purchase order on 26 September. As a result of the way the legislation is currently written, it will be liable for the higher rate of capital gains tax.

In light of the fact that the Department of Finance must provide the funds in the first place to allow for the higher rate of capital gains tax because the compensation must include the tax element, it makes sense to accept this amendment. In the first instance, this means the Department of Finance pays compensation — and the related tax — at the lower rate. It also means the land owners in question are not liable to the higher rate of tax.

There is no financial benefit in this issue. The amendment facilitates streamlining the proposal for everybody involved. There will be an additional cost on the Department of Finance in furnishing the funds in the first instance before having to recoup them through capital gains tax. There would be net saving to the Exchequer so I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The general principle, as has always been the practice, is contained in section 542 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 where the compulsory purchase order was confirmed before 15 October but the local authority had not agreed compensation with the owner of the land or entered on the land by that date. That is the case identified.

The general principle, as set out in section 542 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, has always been clear. The time of disposal of land acquired under a compulsory purchase order is either the date when the compensation is agreed or the time when the local authority enters on the land, whichever is earlier. However, where a disposal of farm land is made under a compulsory purchase order for road building or road widening, the CGT liability will not arise until the year of assessment in which the compensation in received. I do not consider that one can have an exception in the rate of tax applicable to disposal on or after 15 October 2008, notwithstanding the Deputy’s generous suggestion.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  The Minister has highlighted another problem in that the CGT liability will be paid at the higher rate for landowners or farmers who are paid subsequent to the date of the legislation’s introduction. Therefore, where CPOs were agreed a considerable time ago, the compensation has also been agreed but because of delays, due sometimes to the incompetency of the National Roads Authority, farmers will be liable to a higher rate of tax even though the compensation was agreed at the lower rate. Will that have to be revised due to cost implications for the Department of Finance? Surely it would make sense for everyone if it kicked in at the lower rate.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Under the arrangement, the landowner who happens to be a farmer is at an advantage in that there is no obligation to pay the CGT when the land is taken. In that sense, there is an extension of a facility to that landowner as against any other class of landowner in the interim period.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  But at the higher rate.

[116]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  No. It is an entire liability which is deferred under the operation of this section. The fact that the rate increased this year means it is at the higher rate, which can happen in any financial legislation. The fundamental point is that the landowner who happens to be a farmer can defer his liability under this section. I am advised that the rate of tax does not affect the amount of compensation.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  The Minister’s advisers are not saying that. Prior to going to the Seanad, I ask the Minister to re-examine this issue, which has financial implications for the Exchequer.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 not moved.

Amendment No. 33 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 34 arises from committee proceedings.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. 34:

In page 116, line 30, to delete “33” and substitute “20”.

On Committee Stage, we discussed this amendment which concerns the concession on VRT to people in the rent-a-car industry. The concern is that the Minister is moving rapidly to withdraw a concession that was designed to promote low-cost access for tourism. In the past, it was deemed to be an important element of the attraction package for the tourism sector. The case against it was not well made by the Minister. On Committee Stage, he indicated he felt the provision was being widely abused. I do not know whether the Minister has had occasion to give the section any further thought having no doubt received further representations on the matter from the industry.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I support this amendment on the basis that it would benefit the tourism sector, which I appreciate is a very important one and is most affected by this measure. In addition, many people who do not need to own cars would be happy to hire them if they were more reasonably priced. That would have a major benefit for CO2 emissions. The amendment goes beyond the tourism sector in that regard, so I strongly support it.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Finance Act 1993 introduced a VRT repayment system for the short-term car hire sector — that is, cars hired on contracts for 35 days or less. The purpose of the scheme was to address shortages in the supply of cars for hire within the tourism industry at that time. The effect of the repayment scheme is that a car is effectively free of VRT for the period it remains in the car hire fleet.

Arising from Revenue audits, especially in 2007 and 2008, there is strong evidence that the sector has manipulated contracts to ensure that cars used for the provision of services, which were not originally envisaged under the scheme, nonetheless benefit from the VRT relief available. In addition, operators have applied the scheme to cars for use outside the tourism area, including enabling corporate clients to provide a pool of cars to visiting executives or to their own staff, and also allowing VRT-free driving by Irish citizens who hire rather than own a car, while their neighbours who own cars have to pay VRT.

The scheme was amended by section 80 of the Finance Act 2008 to try to limit such abuses. However, the sector raised objections and concerns. The scheme, especially following amend[117]ment, necessarily imposes a considerable administrative burden on individual firms, and on Revenue, to ensure that the conditions for the VRT refund are being met and that the scheme is not being abused. A number of meetings were held between Revenue and the sector.

It has been complained that the scheme, if operated correctly, is complex to administer. It was also argued that it not only restricts normal competitiveness between firms, but limits the potential to grow the car rental market outside the tourism sector to other longer term rentals. Some operators have made the point that to continue to qualify for the relief on cars actually used in the provision of cars to tourists, as the scheme intends, they would have to maintain two separate vehicle fleets — one for hire to tourists and another for the domestic market — and this would be uneconomical and unworkable in practice.

Easing further the terms of the scheme, while widening its availability, would not cover everyone currently availing of the scheme, legitimately or otherwise, nor would it significantly reduce the growing administrative burdens. It would also effectively remove any distinction between short and long-term car hire.

The cost effectiveness of the relief is now questionable, as rental prices in Ireland are quite low compared to equivalent prices in other EU member states. In addition, the increasing use of the scheme to support a range of business models, which have little to do with tourism, would indicate that the current supply of vehicles required for the tourist industry in the State more than meets current demand and the excess is therefore being put to other non-tourist related uses.

Given that the scheme is prone to abuse, and the considerable necessary administrative burdens imposed on both Revenue and operators to ensure that the conditions for the VRT refund are being met and that the scheme is not being abused, a decision to phase out the scheme has been taken. I see this as a balanced response to the issues of short-term car-hire repayments.

The retention of existing repayment provisions for 2009 recognises the difficulties being experienced by the car sector generally at present. It also affords the sector further time to make considerable savings on VRT liabilities by switching more of the rental fleet to lower CO2-emitting vehicles in 2009. Abolition of the scheme will remove existing restrictions and allow operators to develop their business models based on the domestic rental market.

While some firms in the sector may resist the phasing out of the scheme, other operators have indicated that they would prefer abolition of the scheme, rather than having its use restricted, as a consequence of which some business models would qualify under the scheme while others would not.

I see no need for an adjustment to the phasing provisions included in the Bill, hence I cannot accept the amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The Minister’s note is quite persuasive. Does he feel, however, that a longer period than the one proposed should be given to phase out the scheme?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is a full three-year period and in the circumstances that is adequate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 35 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 36 arises from committee proceedings. If the question on this amendment is agreed to, amendment No. 37 cannot be moved. Both amendments will be discussed together.

[118]Deputy Joan Burton:  I move amendment No. 36:

In page 122, to delete lines 20 to 22.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  This amendment deals with the increase in VAT. There is a general sense that this was not the most appropriate move to make at present. It may serve to depress the market, particularly at the present time with Border trade suffering acutely. The gap has widened between the UK’s rate, which has decreased to 15%, and the rate that applies in Ireland. It was not the best move in the budget and seems to be causing problems for traders, particularly those on the Border. There appears to be a sharp fall in retail trade, which may be making matters worse.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Increasing the VAT rate in the budget was a disaster and had a considerable psychological blow. It is unfortunate in terms of revenue income that the British sought to reduce their VAT rate by 2.5% effectively at or about the same time. The impact was significant. I will not share any more of the incidents from Newry car parks or precincts with the House because the media had a particular interest in those episodes the last time. We will stick with the VAT issue.

Even a marginal reduction would have had a significant positive impact as opposed to the increase’s negative impact. I regard it as ham-fisted and unnecessary. We should be seeking to stimulate the economy and encourage people to get back into spending mode, but the opposite is occurring. Consumption rates are decreasing across all indices.

The increase was wrong because VAT has a disproportionate effect on low income families. For this reason alone, it should not have been increased. Many household goods that those families would seek to purchase have been affected. The additional annual cost to them is approximately €500. Instead of increasing the rate, will the Minister consider reducing it at this late stage?

Deputy Joan Burton:  When the Minister sat down at the conclusion of his Budget Statement six weeks ago, the Fianna Fáil, Green Party and Progressive Democrats Members rose to give a standing ovation to a budget that unravelled faster than knitting. Of all the disastrous aspects of the budget, aspects that have not just been unlucky for the Minister, the Government and his party, but also for traders and businesses across the country, the decision to raise the VAT rate by half a point has left unbelievable misfortune in its wake.

The Minister’s argument, to which there is some point, is that the vast wedge between prices North and South is being driven by the failure of importers, British multiples and others to pass on the reductions in the value of sterling. Nonetheless, the psychological hammer blow was struck by his foolish decision to increase the VAT rate from an already high 21% to 21.5%.

Currently in the Chamber there are five Members, not including the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, four departmental officials and a number of other officials. I remember the benches opposite being full of people screaming about the budget’s wonders. It followed the Minister’s call for patriotism. Is there not a Chinese curse to the effect that one should be careful what one wishes for? For a long time, many of us have wanted an all-Ireland economy, following on the patriotic tones of Wolfe Tone and others. We now have that economy, but it is like West Germany after the fall of the wall, in that those in West Germany needed to pay for reintegration.

The Minister has driven shoppers in their tens of thousands north of the Border. Traditionally, people within 20 miles of the Border have shopped on whichever side of it the advantage lay. Perhaps the standing ovation was for this. The Green Party Members would possibly have [119]disapproved on the grounds that driving trade north would lead to greater emissions, unless people were driving hybrid cars. However, the Fianna Fáil and Green Party backbenchers jumped up and applauded until the Minister’s ears rang. It has been the single most disastrous policy in a disastrous budget that also included attacks on the elderly and schools.

A Spanish curse tells people to ask of God what they want, but to then pay. The Minister is paying. It is the 11th hour and only 15 minutes remain until the end of the debate on the Finance Bill. The Minister should withdraw it. While that would not produce a significant immediate change, it would signal that the Government is recovering some element of economic sense. While it would cost the State, it is replaceable by other revenue-raising amendments. The Minster applied a levy that could not be called income tax and he increased VAT so that he could say that he had not increased income tax.

It is a disaster. The Minister has an opportunity in the 11 minutes remaining for an 11th hour convention and to withdraw the measure. I strongly suggest that he do so in the interests of trying to restore some sense of financial rationale to the budget.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister introduced this provision as a revenue collection measure, but I expect that it will have the opposite effect. He introduced it for the month of December, but the increase of 0.5% will drive down the tax yield. Representatives of the small business sector appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service yesterday. The sector is struggling to make ends meet. December has been a rough time for it, as the numbers shopping are decreasing. People are conscious of the extra 0.5% in VAT and are going North. The Minister expects traders to adjust everything in the middle of the November-December VAT period because of 0.5%.

The measure is impractical and will drive down revenue for the month of December. The decision should be reversed. Last Thursday, the Minister assured the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the House that a report on the impact of the VAT changes in the South and the North has been drafted by his officials. While we wish for the North to do well, we must be competitive and consider our businesses and jobs on this side of the Border. The Minister’s measure will lead to a reduction in taxes and job losses. These are the practicalities.

When will the report be ready? It will hardly be ready before 7 o’clock so that we can make the changes. This is an impractical measure. It will not deliver any additional taxes and will instead result in job losses.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  On Deputy O’Donnell’s question in respect of the inquiry, I have asked the Revenue Commissioners and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, to examine the question of the loss to the Exchequer arising from cross-Border shopping. Officials from Revenue and the CSO met yesterday to consider how best this task can be undertaken. The difficulties involved in trying to accurately estimate the extent of increased cross-Border shopping and the resulting direct cost to the Exchequer from increased levels thereof should not be underestimated. As already stated, there are factors other than taxation differentials at play, most notably the euro-sterling position. The position in respect of the 0.5% is that it is an estimated yield of €227 million in a full year.

Deputy Burton seems to entertain a number of extraordinary economic theories, one of which is that one of my predecessors as Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, is singularly responsible for the collapse in world stock prices.

Deputy Joan Burton:  He assisted a great deal in that regard.

[120]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Equally, the Deputy suggested that I caused a flight of shoppers across the Border.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is correct.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The widening differential between sterling and the euro is the fundamental reason people are travelling to shop in Northern Ireland. I never appealed to people’s sense of patriotism in order to encourage them to shop at home. However, I have stated that if they shop at home, they will support their local economy and tax base. I have never made any secret of that. The euro-sterling differential is the major factor responsible for the shopping crusade to Northern Ireland. A second factor, which Deputy Burton acknowledged, is the variable pricing policies employed by the UK multiples.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  If the Government is seeking increased revenues, it would have been far more practical for it to ensure that the depreciation relating to sterling was passed on. This would have brought in additional VAT receipts to the Exchequer and assisted in the retention of jobs. Instead, the Minister has introduced a measure which is driving people north of the Border. When will the report to which the Minister refers be produced?

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I was not particularly upset by Government backbenchers applauding the Minister on budget day. The response of the backbenchers opposite reminded me of what used to happen on Hughie Green’s programme “Opportunity Knocks”— which the Minister may be too young to remember — when someone at the front of the audience would hold up a sign proclaiming “Clap now”, “Cry now” or “Laugh now”. I did not find the response of the Government backbenchers on budget day at all enthusiastic.

I am of the view that it would be more patriotic to develop good public policy in order to assist families on lower incomes and those who need help most. While substantial numbers of shoppers continue to travel north, traditional traders in the North are not really enjoying the benefits of what is happening because their regular customers cannot get to their shops as a result of the traffic from the South. I am sure the major British retailers are enjoying what is happening because it is they who are really benefiting.

The Minister estimated that the loss to the Exchequer will be of the order of €227 million in a full year. I am of the view that this figure understates the position. The Department of Finance has not been entirely accurate in the context of projections it has made in recent times. We must, before it is too late, consider what happened. There is still time to turn matters around, particularly for those low income families who can least afford to be affected. Perhaps the Minister will reconsider the position.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I expect to receive the report of the Revenue Commissioners and the CSO in respect of this matter by the end of February.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Why will it take so long?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  As a result of the detailed assessment that must take place in order to arrive at a figure which will be informative.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  So it will take three months to produce the report.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Yes, that is what the Revenue Commissioners have advised.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Perhaps the Minister might ensure that it could be produced earlier.

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

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 37 to 41, inclusive, not moved.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I move amendment No. 42:

In page 136, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

“92.—The annual charge for the bank guarantee shall be brought within the scope of published exchequer accounts and budget forecasts and shall be earmarked as a contingency fund for 2010.”.

The annual charge for the bank guarantee is €1 billion — calculated at €100 million per annum for ten years — and payable in instalments over a two-year period. The amendment suggests that this should come within the scope of published Exchequer accounts because it will otherwise be floated out as a fund until 2010. If it is not called upon, it will then revert to the Exchequer. While I do not want to attribute any bad intentions to the Minister, if the fund comes to the benefit of the Exchequer after 2010, it would make a nice pot of money for distribution as we move towards a general election at that time. We may, of course, have a general election before then.

Events have shown that, in respect of the fund, the banks got off extraordinarily lightly. The fund is simply payable by way of the provision of monetary amounts and there is no provision for an additional gain to the taxpayer for this extraordinary guarantee which, in the case of some banks, may need to be called upon. Subsequent to the publication of the scheme, the Minister altered the terms in order that the banks will not be obliged to support each other in the first instance. The calls will be on the State guarantee provided on the basis of taxpayers’ money. The amendment will clarify the position in respect of the fund, which could otherwise be used to gain a political advantage by the parties in government.

  7 o’clock

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  In light of our current fiscal and budgetary position, it would be useful to have this sum at my disposal. I am not sure it would be any more useful to have it at my disposal at the end of 2010. The position is that the sums are credited to a designated account maintained by the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland as a reserve for any payments to be made under the scheme. The sum remaining in the account on 30 September 2010 will then be paid to the Exchequer. In the financial year of 2010, it will become a benefit to the Exchequer. I am not sure there is any great difference, in fiscal terms, in allocating approximately €500 million to the Central Fund in 2009 and a similar or slightly greater sum in 2010 or paying it in one lump sum.

The previous Dáil was dissolved in 2007. In the normal course of events, I would not anticipate a dissolution of this Dáil until 2012. In such circumstances, I fail to see the relevance of the amendment.

Deputy Burton made a serious point with regard to the guarantee being called upon. There has been no suggestion that the guarantee will be called upon. The only circumstances in which it could be called upon would be where there was a run of deposits on Irish financial institutions. There has been no evidence whatever of the latter since the guarantee was provided. With the important task of capitalisation under way, the guarantee has given us time to assess the actual deficiencies in the loan books of the banks. The figure identified by the Government [122]in respect of that capitalisation will give us the opportunity to reduce the exposure of the State on foot of the guarantee by ensuring that the capital base of the financial institutions is sound.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As it is now 7 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: “That Fourth Stage of the Bill is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed.”

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  On a point of order, I am obliged to read a note into the record before Fifth Stage of the Bill is taken. There is a closure motion before the House. Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle could provide guidance on the procedure in this regard.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have no guidance on the matter. Perhaps the Minister would read his note, following which the position may be clearer.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I was instructed to read this note prior to Fifth Stage. It relates to an amendment to be made on page 93, line 9 requiring that “or” be replaced with “for”. I understand I must request the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to instruct the Clerk to make the necessary correction.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  With the agreement of the House, I instruct the Clerk to correct the clerical error. Is that agreed? Agreed. I again put the question: “That Fourth Stage of the Bill is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 81; Níl, 66.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gormley, John.
 Grealish, Noel.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kenneally, Brendan.  Kennedy, Michael.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Michael P.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Clune, Deirdre.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P.J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This Bill, which is certified to be a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22.2.1° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Michael Woods):  Seanad Éireann has passed the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008, without amendment.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Ciarán Lynch on Tuesday, 16 December 2008:

“That Dáil Éireann:

expressing its serious concern at:

the huge increase in the numbers on social housing lists which have jumped from 43,700 to nearly 60,000, an increase of more than 30% in just three years;

the continuing problem of homelessness, with an estimated 5,000 experiencing homelessness at any one time;

the worrying increase in the number of repossession orders for family homes being sought in the courts;

the need for the proper implementation of an inspection regime regarding housing standards in the rental sector;

the ongoing difficulties faced by many residents in both apartments and housing estates as a result of the unregulated operation of management companies; and

the failure of the Government to honour the commitment contained in the programme for Government to expand delivery of social and affordable housing options to meet the needs of 90,000 households;

calls on the Government to:

take steps to ensure that, where possible, existing, unsold housing units are secured for purposes of social housing;

approve the construction of an additional 10,000 social housing units each year for the next three years;

make rent supplement (RS) more employment friendly by bringing means assessment into line with differential rent schemes;

enhance families’ access to the rental accommodation scheme;

adequately resource and fully implement, “The Way Home”, a strategy to address adult homelessness;

negotiate a new code of practice with the financial institutions providing for a moratorium on repossession orders for family homes during the current recession;

amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to provide for the creation of a national inspection regime regarding housing standards in the rental sector, along with the establishment of effective and efficient timeframes in which disputes should be resolved;

publish as a matter of urgency a Bill, based on the draft provided by the Law Reform Commission, aimed at reforming the law on multi-unit developments including apartment developments;

strengthen the powers of local authorities to deal with anti-social behaviour; and

broaden the terms of the current tenant purchase scheme along with allowing local authority tenants the right to buy their apartments.”

[125]Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“welcomes:

the comprehensive and ambitious modern housing policy framework set out in Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, and the continuing substantial progress made in implementing its programme of policy reforms and improvements in housing services and their delivery, to be underpinned by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008;

the achievement of the 9,000 social housing ‘starts’ target under Towards 2016 in 2007 and the continued high level of activity which will deliver in excess of 9,000 social housing completions in 2008;

the significant overall progress made in 2007 when the needs of a record 18,300 households were met through the range of housing programmes in place, a very credible first step towards achieving the National Development Plan target of meeting the needs of an average of 20,000 households per annum over the seven year period of the plan;

the substantial increase in the delivery of affordable housing to over 3,500 units in 2007, with an output of over 4,000 anticipated for 2008, and proposed new options for the more efficient and equitable delivery of affordable housing announced in the context of budget 2009;

the publication of an ambitious new homeless strategy, The Way Home, which, building on strong progress made under previous strategies, sets out a vision for addressing adult homelessness over the next five years, and reflects the Government’s commitment to addressing homelessness in a comprehensive and coordinated manner;

the introduction of a revised suite of housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability to provide a more targeted and integrated response to their housing needs;

the progress made in implementing the second round of local authority traveller accommodation programmes, with some 1156 traveller families accommodated under the programmes up to end 2007;

the recently approved range of measures which significantly improve the standards for rented accommodation, the doubling of funding for inspections by local authorities between 2005 and 2007 and the achievement of a 42% increase in the number of inspections carried out in 2007 compared with 2006;

the significant changes made to means testing under rent supplement to provide greater incentives for recipients to take up employment; and

the clear and focused response of the Government to unprecedented conditions in the financial and housing markets by developing the new Home Choice loan to assist prospective first time buyers affected by the credit crunch, the provision of improved mortgage interest relief arrangements for first time buyers, and the availability of effective supports for existing home owners having difficulties in meeting mortgage repayments;

notes the outcome of the Financial Regulator’s examination of procedures for handling mortgage arrears and repossessions across credit institutions and other mortgage lenders, [126]including the findings that lenders generally have procedures in place which clearly state that the repossession of a residential property is a last resort, borne out by the limited numbers of repossessions secured through court orders, and the issuing, by the Regulator, of best practice guidance prepared on foot of its examination; and

welcoming the Government’s clear prioritisation of housing through the provision of almost €1.66 billion in funding for 2009 across the range of social and affordable housing programmes and the strong focus in prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged households within the overall allocation, supports the Government’s key objectives for 2009 to:

continue the strong momentum towards meeting our commitments in Towards 2016 and our longer-term goals under the national development plan, including meeting social housing needs through long-term leasing of available private accommodation and through a substantial expansion of the number of households transferring to the rental accommodation scheme;

complete the implementation plan for the new homeless strategy and roll out a comprehensive implementation agenda, supported by funding which is being increased by 5% in 2009;

complete and publish a national housing policy for people with a disability;

ensure the adoption of new five year traveller accommodation programmes by all local authorities;

roll out a programme of Towards Carbon Neutral demonstration projects, commence a house condition survey of the local authority rented stock and progress a number of pilot retrofitting projects as part of an overall strategy for modernising the building and energy standards of the public housing stock;

complete the passage of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 through the Oireachtas, including the introduction of provisions in relation to the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour in the local authority housing stock, and the extension of the tenant purchase scheme to local authority flats;

complete the implementation of the new standards regime for rented accommodation and continue the programme of strengthening the local authority enforcement regime; extend the range of supports for home ownership through commencement of the home choice loan scheme on 1 January 2009, introduction of revised arrangements for affordable home purchases and the roll-out of the incremental purchase scheme;

bring forward legislative proposals in response to the Law Reform Commission’s report on multi-unit developments; and

keep the mortgage market under review, having regard to the information available from the Financial Regulator and the banking sector, to ensure that households in difficulty with mortgage repayments receive fair treatment by mortgage lenders and can continue to avail of financial assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance system, where necessary.”

—(Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran).

Deputy James Bannon:  I thank the Labour Party and Sinn Féin for bringing this important motion before the House, which Fine Gael supports.

[127]Homelessness in 21st century Ireland has taken on a whole new meaning and reality for a broad-based spectrum of people who are falling victim to the current economic crisis. We are seeing a new threat of homelessness generated by house repossessions. The social wreckage that has been caused by the giving of loans to people who cannot afford to repay them is impacting on the rapidly rising homeless figures.

According to the Financial Regulator almost 14,000 mortgages were more than three months in arrears at the end of June this year. That figure represents 1.4% of residential mortgages and is up from the end of December 2006, when 11,252 mortgages or 1.2% of all mortgages were in arrears. Figures for repossessions by court order show that there was a total of 128 repossessions between January 2005 and June 2008.

The Labour Party is calling for a new code of practice for financial institutions to provide for a moratorium on repossession orders for family homes during the current recession. I support such a move. I called on the Government in an Adjournment motion last month to introduce mortgage rescue schemes similar to those already in operation in many European Union countries.

The rising number of homeless people will impact adversely on the inadequate Government provision of social housing, with the numbers on the waiting lists rising from 43,000 in 2005 to in excess of 56,000 at the end of March this year. It is disturbing to think there are also 5,000 plus people experiencing homelessness in this country currently, of which a shockingly high proportion are children. Within a quarter of a mile of the Houses of the Oireachtas one can see homeless people sleeping in doorways and alleys. That is a grave indictment of the Government’s housing policy and an indication of the imperative need to address the problem.

The situation arises at a time when the traditional support systems are under severe financial pressure, due to the economic downturn and Government cutbacks. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which has been the bedrock of aid and support, has said this week that several of its branches, particularly in urban areas, are running out of money.

The Simon Community has warned that its services are operating at full capacity and that it urgently needs more support as homelessness is due to rise. Origins of home ownership in Ireland date back to the rural land reforms of the early 20th century and the policy of tenant purchase of local authority housing, which emerged from reform precedents and led to a long tradition of grant giving. Fiscal supports for owner occupation have also played an important role in the development of housing policy. Housing rights, as defined at UN level, include the right to affordable housing, but personal or household costs should not threaten or compromise the attainment or satisfaction of other basic needs.

Rights to adequate housing should be in tandem with a location which allows access to employment, health care, schools, child care and other social facilities. The Council of Europe is creating a precise definition of affordable housing rights in accordance with Article 31 of the revised social charter — although the Government has refused to ratify this article. We are, unfortunately, dealing with a Government that lacks credibility, whose policies have failed to deliver for those most in need — and its housing policy has been high on aspiration and spin, with no delivery. A Government that cannot provide housing for its citizens, which is the most basic of human needs and rights, looks to others to do it. The social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, endorsed the principles set out in Building Sustainable Communities. It envisaged that through the provision of social and affordable housing, the housing needs of 60,000 households would be met between 2007-09, according to the Irish Council for Social Housing. This is just another useless aspiration, an empty promise from the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, and the way it has behaved since the last general election is scandalous. It promised plenty and has delivered little.

[128]Due to the last housing boom, developers had a free hand, literally, throwing up houses wherever they could without providing the necessary facilities, which of course were promised but never delivered. There are currently 300 recorded unfinished estates in the country, which are long past their completion dates and by no means up to taking-in-charge standards.

The Minister of State has failed to address the excessive enforcement period, which under section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for a seven year check to ensure developers have completed an estate to the required standard. This is totally ridiculous, working as it does in the interest of the developer, against the owner occupiers.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement published guidelines on management companies today, but unfortunately it does not offer much in the way of positive help to apartment holders who fall victim to such companies. What is needed is legislation to copperfasten suggestions as outlined in these guidelines, but where is it? My colleague, Deputy Terence Flanagan, has asked on numerous occasions when such legislation will come before the House. On each occasion he was assured it was being drafted, but it is still no further on, today. Unless it is being produced to the standard of a work of art or Celtic treasure, surely the Minister of State will agree that the drafting process is going on for an unduly long time. The losers are the apartment owners who are being ripped off by both the Government and the management companies, which are being allowed to get away with blatant extortion. The Minister of State should end the delay and bring the property services regulatory authority Bill before the House directly after the Christmas recess. That is why I believe we should come back one week earlier to introduce this and other pending legislation. The long break in the month of January is scandalous when the country is in crisis and on its knees.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  The Deputy took a long summer break.

Deputy James Bannon:  An alternative viewpoint to the emphasis on home ownership asserts that by taking a comprehensive view of the rental as well as the ownership occupation markets, a strong case could be made for new affordable housing initiatives being directed in equal measure and perhaps even primarily at the rental sector. I would also support the acceleration of social and affordable housing, although this as such was axed by the Minister for Finance in the 2009 budget and lumped into the Government equity initiative about which we have heard absolutely nothing further — fine words but no follow-on, as usual. This has been the policy of the Government over the past 12 months — negligence to our community.

The association of affordability and the rental sector needs to be examined and plans made to open up the concept to other interpretations, to offer some hope for those seeking access to realistic accommodation. We must look to the rental option, which despite the historical emphasis on ownership, may be the answer to the local authority lists, which are growing in every county as we speak.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  I wish to share time, with the permission of the House, with Deputies John Curran, Ciarán Cuffe, Áine Brady and Charlie O’Connor.

I find it somewhat ironic that this Private Members’ motion is being tabled by the Labour Party, in particular. From my experience of the local authority in Fingal, which encompasses my constituency, Dublin North, over the last five years the Labour Party with six out of 24 councillors has consistently opposed numerous social housing schemes as well as successive development plans — voting against housing projects that included the full quota of 15% affordable housing. Perhaps Deputy Ciarán Lynch might pass on to the leader of the Labour Party——

[129]Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The quota is actually 20%, not 15%, if the Deputy had checked.

Deputy John Curran:  It is at the discretion of the local authority.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  That is not the case in Fingal. Deputy Lynch might pass to the leader of the Labour Party that he should, perhaps, exert some control over his councillors so that they actually practise what Labour is preaching here in the Dáil.

Several Deputies have referred during the course of the debate to the need to regulate apartment management agents and mediate between agents and apartment owners.

As set out in the counter motion tabled by the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, the Government is committed to bringing forward legislative proposals in response to the Law Reform Commission’s report on multi-unit developments. The Government’s legislation programme for the current Dáil session, published in September, listed two important items of legislation for regulating this area. The property services regulatory authority Bill will establish a regulatory authority on a statutory basis. Its primary task will be to operate a licensing system for auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents and to improve standards in the provision of property services by licensees.

The authority will specify and enforce qualification requirements for licences, including levels of education, training and experience and other requirements such as minimum levels of professional indemnity insurance. The authority will establish and operate a system for investigating and adjudicating on complaints against property service providers. In this context, the legislation will refer to the possibility of resolving disputes by mediation between the parties concerned. With a view to improving client protection and ensuring clarity with regard to the services being provided by a licensee, the legislation will require that property services agreements be entered into between service providers and their clients. Such agreements will specify the services to be provided, fees payable by the client, details of redress procedures etc.

In the planningarea, the Law Reform Commission made a number of recommendations in its consultation paper issued in late 2006. It recommended a review by planning authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of planning and housing policy relating to multi-unit developments. It identified issues relating to the physical nature of such developments, such as their size, configuration, facilities and location. In particular, the commission considered that in the past far too many multi-unit developments had not been built to suit families, which was undesirable in terms of sustainability. The commission also recommended that guidelines should be issued on the taking in charge of estates.

I am aware that in its final report the commission commended the progress made by the Minister and his Department on these matters, noting that in the period since the publication of the consultation paper, the Minister has published a suite of planning guidelines focused on planning and a sustainable built environment. These include, in particular, Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Design Standards for New Apartments, published in September 2007. These promote successful apartment living for individuals and families, by responding to people’s reasonable demand for well-designed apartments, particularly in terms of better internal space standards, including storage areas.

I understand also that the Minister has finalised and will shortly publish Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas, which is accompanied by a best practice urban design manual. These guidelines will promote high quality living standards in new residential developments, encourage higher density developments at appropriate locations, such as those with access to public transport, and emphasise that new residential development must be integrated with facilities and services for the new community and promote energy efficiency. In addition, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and [130]Local Government published comprehensive guidance on the taking in charge of residential developments and management arrangements in February 2008.

In its final report the commission stated that it considered these guidelines to planning authorities should have the status of policy directives. While I understand that the Minister does not agree that directives are appropriate, as guidelines of their nature allow a degree of latitude and discretion in their application, consideration will be given to including a provision in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill to replace the current requirement that planning authorities should “have regard to” ministerial guidelines with a stronger provision which would require them to adhere to or substantially comply with such guidelines. This amendment will have the effect of substantially implementing the commission’s recommendation.

In its final report the commission also recommended that the wording of section 180(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which allows occupiers as well as unit owners to vote on the question of taking in charge of a multi-unit development, be reconsidered in light of the practical difficulties pertaining to the current wording. I welcome the fact that such an amendment is being considered in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, and also welcome the full range of actions being taken by Government in this important area.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this debate. There are many aspects of the housing issue on which we could focus, but I would like to refer to the area of private rented accommodation.

My area, the South Dublin County Council area, was one of the areas used to pilot the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which has proven very successful. I meet constituents with housing requirements on a regular basis and the scheme is proving popular with them. When the scheme was launched initially, there was much scepticism as to how effective it would be. However, the beneficiaries of the scheme hold it in high regard and it has proved an effective means of providing residential accommodation.

One of the issues raised last night concerned the standard and inspections of rental accommodation. Last night many Deputies called on the Government to enforce and improve standards in the private rented sector, but many of the comments made were inaccurate. I would like to set the record straight on some of those issues.

In the partnership agreement, Towards 2016, the Government committed to updating and effectively enforcing minimum standards regulations for rented housing. Updating these standards is a core component of the housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, and the Government recently delivered on this commitment by approving a package of measures to update the standards regulations.

It is important that these regulations reflect the requirements of the modern rental sector and general quality-of-life improvements over the past number of years. With this in mind, and as part of the overall package of measures approved by Government, new regulations entitled the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008, under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 were made recently. These will come into effect on 1 February next year, with certain provisions not coming into effect until 2013.

All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with the standards regulations. Responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding allocated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The resources allocated by the Department to [131]assist local authorities in their statutory functions in enforcing standards are significant. Over €9 million has been provided to local authorities for this purpose since 2004.

Funding for inspections, which is paid from the proceeds of tenancy registration fees, has more than doubled since 2005 when €1.5 million was disbursed. In the current year, 2008, some €4 million has been allocated for this purpose. Increasingly this funding is being related to inspection performance, effectively rewarding those authorities that are most vigorous in their approach to inspections, and the trend towards performance-related funding will continue.

However, it is not just a matter of increasing funding and hoping that, of itself, will solve the problem. The increased funding is having a significant impact on the number of inspections carried out by local authorities. For example, in 2005 local authorities carried out a total of 6,800 inspections. The following year, 2006, that figure rose to 9,800, an increase of 44%. In 2007, over 14,000 inspections of rental accommodation were carried out by local authorities, an increase of 42% on the figure for the previous year.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  If the Minister of State would allow me make a point of information, I could correct those figures for him. The figures he has given are incorrect. If the Minister of State went to the departmental website, he would find the correct figures.

Deputy John Curran:  In 2005, local authorities carried out 6,800 inspections, in 2006 they carried out 9,800 inspections and in 2007 they carried out over 14,000 inspections of rental accommodation. Each year there was a 40% plus increase since the previous year. Clearly, the enforcement regime stepped up to the plate in terms of co-ordination and effectiveness.

This will continue to be the case once the new regulations have commenced. There is no doubt that effective enforcement of the new regulations will be the key to their success. I welcome the fact that local authorities will be encouraged to focus their inspection efforts on properties most likely not to be in compliance with the minimum standards, rather than inspecting new properties that are less likely to be in breach of the regulations, focusing the glare of the inspection regime where it is needed most. This is important.

I gave the figures, but Deputy Lynch disputes them.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government disputes them. If the Minister of State visits the departmental website he will get the correct figures.

Deputy John Curran:  I have read the figures into the record. The point I want to make ——

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The Minister of State should visit the Department website and get the proper figures.

Deputy John Curran:  The point I want to make more specifically is that it is not just a question of the total number of inspections. The inspections must be appropriately targeted.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Some 60% of the total number of——.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy should allow the Minister of State continue, or we will have to impose a penalty on him.

Deputy John Curran:  The inspections must be appropriately targeted, and I make that point specifically. With regard to non-compliance——

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The Minister of State should speak through the Chair rather than to me.

[132]Deputy John Curran:  Sorry for looking at the Deputy. It is important to point out that standards are already improving in this context. We should be heartened to note that the rate of non-compliance with the existing regulations among those properties targeted for inspection has decreased. Whether we agree or disagree on the figures the rate of inspections has risen substantially and it is important to note that with regard to those properties targeted for inspection for non-compliance, the rate of non-compliance has decreased significantly, to 16% of the properties inspected in 2007, compared to over 30% for non-compliance two years earlier in 2005. The rate of inspection has increased substantially and the rate of non-compliance has halved during the period. I will conclude as my time is up.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  I welcome the motion tabled by the Labour Party. It is important to bring attention to the challenges that face us with regard to housing.

The motion points out, rightly, that there are important issues to address in respect of housing policy in Ireland. The broad range of changes we have seen in housing, social housing and policy over the past ten years have been, in general, positive. By way of circular letter and changes in legislation, we have seen a move away from the very large local authority housing estates that characterised housing policy in the 1970s, up to the late 1980s and early 1990s. There has been a move away from the very strong segregation of private and public housing. I look back on some of the schemes that were built over the past ten or 15 years and see that there has been a quantum change and improvement in the quality of housing on offer. When one considers that, and puts it together with the improvements in building performance in respect of energy performance brought in by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, we can see the bar is set much higher today than it was in years past. In housing provision the emphasis must be on quality as well as quantity.

It is important to applaud the successes of the voluntary housing agencies that have been at work. They moved in to play a central role in the provision of housing construction and management. In many respects that is a positive situation. One can look at the record of local authorities, particularly one such as Dublin City Council over the years. It has been one of the largest, if not the largest, landlords in the State. It has had a chequered record in management and maintenance of its own housing stock. The addition of the voluntary and social housing agencies that play a very valuable role has been an important one. That role is set to continue.

In my area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, I note very significant new housing developments that will be under the control of the National Association of Building Co-operatives and other agencies involved in housing construction. This is a positive role.

The targets were set quite high in the national development plan but we are not far off them. Last year, in Towards 2016, we had a record 9,000 social housing starts. That is not bad. We could do a lot better but it is a step in the right direction.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  A lot done, more to do.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  I am trying very hard not to use certain phrases that perhaps have been used ad nauseam over the years.

I note that the Labour Party motion states that we should build an additional 10,000 social housing units a year. We would all love to do that.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Fill the empty ones.

[133]Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  We would also love if there were to be an endless stream of funding available from the Exchequer to double, treble or quadruple the housing output. That is not the case. Ireland Inc. is in difficulty at the moment.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Deputy said it when he was on this side of the House.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  The belief that this Government could simply pull rabbits or housing units out of a hat and deliver them on a plate——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The houses are there.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  ——overnight to every household in need of housing makes a mockery of the financial process that Ireland Inc. must go through. Itmakes a mockery of the need to balance the books at the end of the day. My view is that we should increase housing output. Many people on the Deputy’s side of the House have pointed out the number of people joining the live register who have come from the construction sector.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Deputy is a member of the Government that caused that. He supports the party that caused it.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  We cannot simply snap our fingers and suddenly produce jobs in the State housing sector for these areas.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  There is no plan.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  We have a plan. We not only have a plan to tackle homelessness, but we have a plan to improve both local authority and affordable housing and the other range of options that exists.

Looking at the plan for homelessness, I would prefer if there were a lot more detail in it. However, I believe it is a step in the right direction. I am somewhat disturbed by Deputy Bannon’s remarks that all we need to do is provide houses. Most informed people in the House recognise that homelessness is tied into a range of issues relating to——

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  They never had an opportunity.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  ——alcohol abuse, drug abuse and psychiatric issues.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Government abuse.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  We must provide for all those needs in addition to providing a roof over people’s heads. There has been considerable progress in the provision of wet hostels and in the provision by many agencies of emergency accommodation and long-term accommodation to meet those needs. I wish there were time to have a very informed debate in the House——

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  We are all concerned.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  ——as to the role of the homelessness agency and the more recent remarks by the Lord Mayor of Dublin expressing concern. She has significant direct experience in dealing with homelessness.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  We need action.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  We must have a debate on that. There has been steady progress and we must ensure that progress continues.

[134]Deputy Áine Brady:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I support the Government amendment regarding our housing policy.

Let us consider homelessness. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, clearly showed the extent to which the Government has demonstrated its commitment to tackling homelessness. It set itself a target of ending long-term occupation of emergency accommodation and the need to sleep rough. This commitment is clearly shown by the fact that, despite the most difficult budgetary situation in decades, we are increasing the funding for homeless accommodation by 5% to over €62 million in 2009.

Some Opposition Deputies claimed that 5,000 people will be on the streets this winter. This is wrong and I do not know whose interest they are trying to serve by exaggerating the figures for homelessness. The 2008 housing needs assessment, the most reliable and accurate means by which national housing need is measured, identified 1,394 homeless households that had applied for, and been considered eligible, for social housing support. That is a decrease of 30% on the last assessment in 2005.

The needs assessment does not capture all homeless people, only those who have applied for social housing. The Count It In report launched by the Minister last Monday provides a very comprehensive method of measuring general homelessness. It indicates that homelessness in Dublin has not changed significantly since 2005. There has been a small decrease relative to population growth. This did not stop Deputy Ó Snodaigh from coming out with his gem, namely, that the number of homeless people is growing by 1,800 every year or that there are 2,300 people on the streets of Dublin.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  That is right.

Deputy Áine Brady:  This emotive reference to people on the streets is misleading and disingenuous. The Count It In survey in Dublin——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There are 5,000 on the homeless list now.

Deputy Áine Brady:  ——provides a very refined and comprehensive method of measuring homelessness. It indicates there were 110 sleeping rough, down 40% on the figure for 2005, and less than 5% of the figure used by Deputy Lynch. Of course, this is 110 persons too many. That is why Departments and agencies are working to eliminate the need to sleep rough and long-term homelessness. Those are the key aims of the strategy on homelessness. This blatant twisting of statistics does nothing to advance these aims.

With regard to the overall net need figure published for the 2008 housing needs assessment, it is unclear how Deputies have managed to concoct the charge that we massaged figures when an increase of 30% in the number of households in need was reported. Surely massaging the figures would have yielded a better result.

As usual, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, rather than engaging in a serious discussion on the issue, went straight to wild accusation. Had the Deputy actually read the needs assessment guidelines given to local authorities——

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Everything is backed up by fact.

Deputy Áine Brady:  ——which I understand were given to him on foot of a parliamentary question in October, he could not have made such an error. In summary, those guidelines make clear that it is true that households that apply to a local authority for housing support which are already in local authority housing, are not included in the assessment. These cases are [135]called transfers. The exception is those who apply for reasons of overcrowding or unfit accommodation.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Deputy cannot distort the figures.

Deputy Áine Brady:  With regard to those in the private rented sector, the Deputy will find that the guidelines also set out instructions for local authorities to pay particular attention to the long-term housing needs of this group in their assessment. The Deputy will also find an instruction to authorities to pay particular attention to capturing the housing needs of older people and those with a disability.

It is in nobody’s interest, least of all that of the Government, to misrepresent the number of households in need of housing support. An accurate picture of need is our key tool in prioritising the very substantial resources the Government is making available. The Minister of State has been very clear in identifying the challenges that lie ahead for housing and the broad range of measures he is putting in place to meet these challenges. Once again this demonstrates the Government’s commitment to meeting housing need. It is to be hoped that in future debate on this issue of great importance to the Government the Opposition might offer more constructive participation, rather than making unsubstantiated and factually incorrect accusations.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  They are well substantiated.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I preface my remarks by passing on my good wishes for Christmas to all my colleagues, the staff and the media.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Without mentioning Tallaght.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  Colleagues on the Opposition benches will know I am a quiet, sensitive soul from Tallaght so I was hoping they might take it easy with the heckling and let me get my message through, because I cannot handle it like everybody else. Just to calm him down, I compliment Deputy Ciarán Lynch on his work in this regard, which I appreciate. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the issue of housing, about which I have much to say. If Members want to follow me around Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue, Brittas or Bohernabreena any week——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  They might learn something.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  ——they will see that of all the issues I try to deal with, and I do my best, housing is one of the biggest. As someone who was a member of the local authority from 1991, was chairman of the council in 1999 and is a proud Dáil Deputy for the area since 2002, I will not be afraid to bravely say from the Government benches that we must continue to do that. I am pleased the Labour Party leader has come into the House especially to hear my contribution. Deputy Gilmore is very welcome.

As my party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, pointed out yesterday, the doomsday scenario being painted for mortgage holders is inaccurate and irresponsible when all logic suggests that early contact between a distressed lender — we all know them — and a borrower is the best way to avoid the trauma of repossession. There are those who continue to raise the spectre of mass repossession, encouraging people to keep their heads in the sand and avoid the very engagement that could ease their troubles. I sincerely hope that mortgage holders facing difficulties with their repayments pay less heed to that loose talk and take heart from the findings of the Financial Regulator on arrears and repossessions.

[136]I wish to put on record some of the facts on home repossessions. Following a new examination of procedures for handling arrears and repossessions of properties, the Financial Regulator has confirmed that repossession is a very last resort for lenders, which should be welcomed across the House. The study did find that in line with the requirements of the Irish Banking Federation code of practice on mortgage arrears, which is mandatory for the covered institutions benefiting from the State guarantees, lenders accept revised payment arrangements when a person is in financial difficulty and is willing to repay a mortgage. The consumer director in the Office of the Financial Regulator has urged people to contact their mortgage providers as soon as they become aware they will experience difficulty in meeting their mortgage repayments, as if they do so it is unlikely the question of repossession will arise.

The Financial Regulator has carried out research which bears out the effectiveness of arrangements adopted by mainstream lenders for dealing with mortgage arrears. Out of a total of almost 1 million mortgage accounts, a total of 128 residential properties were repossessed in the three years to June last and of these 19 were investment properties. Comparing 2007 to 2008 to date, there is no indication that the trend has accelerated significantly.

Statistics from the Financial Regulator illustrate an increase in the number of people falling into arrears, which reflects the deterioration in economic and financial conditions. Once again, however, the picture emerging from the regulator’s research — that is, the one based on actual evidence — is that this is not the epidemic of loan difficulties some would have us believe exists. According to the research, the number of mortgage accounts in arrears represents less than 1.5% of total residential mortgages. Nevertheless, for the households experiencing those difficulties, this is evidently a traumatic time. It is essential that we maintain our strong performance in this area and ensure best practice procedures are in place for dealing with mortgage arrears governing the activities of all lenders.

As a Dublin-based Deputy, I welcome the fact the Minister of State responsible for housing has acted so promptly, meeting both the Financial Regulator and the Irish Banking Federation earlier this week to examine how the code of practice could be extended to the whole of the mortgage lending sector. Progress on this is expected, I am told, in the new year. This is a further demonstration which I am sure will be accepted across the House of the Government’s close attention to and proactive engagement with this important issue. Safeguarding the interests of households that experience difficulties in meeting their mortgage repayments owing to circumstances beyond their control can make a significant contribution to supporting confidence in the economy and its future prospects.

I also wish to refer to the issue of homelessness. Deputy Ciarán Lynch spoke well and sincerely about the issue yesterday. I will not stand here and deny there is a problem. Those who know me know I am a proud Dubliner from these parts, although they might not know it from my accent. Like everybody else, it upsets me to walk the streets, not only in my home town but in the centre of the city also — I hope the city-based Deputies do not mind. We have gone through a time of economic growth and we are now in very difficult times but I always made the point, standing by my social inclusion principles, that at a time when all boats are rising, we must remember the little boats, and shame on anybody who does not do so. At a time of difficulty, we must help the little boats.

There is a range of issues and all Members are having many issues brought to their attention each day. It is sad that one can walk these streets and find people who are homeless. I will take Members out to Tallaght, where I live——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  What bus?

[137]Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  It upsets me that people who are homeless in my town must take the bus into the city centre to access services. In that regard, I want to put on record——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy had ten years to do something about it and he did nothing.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I am trying to do something about it. I am not afraid to talk about it. I will take the heckling some other day. I am too busy now.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy should not be such a hypocrite.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  It is important.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy is a hypocrite. He should vote against the amendment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Ciarán Cuffe):  Deputy O’Connor should conclude.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I do not feel a bit threatened by the heckling from the Labour Whip.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy should vote against the amendment.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I am going to do my duty.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Deputy can vote against the amendment or be a hypocrite.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  The Deputy is the hypocrite in saying that. Private Members’ time is just play-acting. It is what the Opposition Deputies do every Tuesday and Wednesday but they do nothing about the issue. When you were in Government, you did nothing about it either. Have a look at the record.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy should conclude.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  In that case, I again applaud the work of the various agencies which sincerely look after——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Which are starved of the money the Government will not give them.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  Unlike the leading Labour Party heckler, they do something about it. They do not just roar and shout about it. In that regard, the Tallaght homeless advice unit does a superb job, for which I compliment it.

I again wish the Labour Party a happy Christmas, including Deputy Stagg.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I wish to share time with Deputies Sherlock, Wall and Morgan.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  What about Deputy Finian McGrath?

Deputy Joe Costello:  That is the Deputy’s prerogative. We are delighted to have the opportunity to allow Deputy Charlie O’Connor to stand by his socialist principles tonight. We will look to see which way he walks.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  The Deputy knows what way I will walk.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Walk the walk.

[138]Deputy Joe Costello:  I compliment Deputy Ciarán Lynch for tabling this motion, which is extremely relevant in terms of the times we are in and the fact we are coming close to Christmas. The opening sentence of the motion sums it up where it refers to “the huge increase in the numbers on social housing lists which have jumped from 43,700 to nearly 60,000, an increase of more than 30% in just three years”. That is an increase in the social housing lists in three of the supposed best years ever in the history of the State. While the private residential construction sector was literally going through the roof, on the other side of the coin local authority housing construction was spiralling downwards. That was the contradiction of the Celtic tiger.

  8 o’clock

A huge surplus overhang of private construction, which nobody wants or can afford to buy, is lying idle at present or in various stages of part completion. It is frozen in time and I am sure this year will be remembered as the great recession of 2008. Meanwhile, 60,000 households who are desperately in need of social housing have no new homes to go to. The Government put pressure on local authorities to provide social housing through the public private partnerships, giving their developer friends a share in the rich bank of prime location social housing sites and dressing it up as “social regeneration”. Residents were promised long overdue social and community facilities and new modern homes to replace much neglected and poorly maintained flats. The Government parties told these residents it would be a win-win, that the developer was taking the risks and that there was no risk to the local authority. There was supposed to be no risk to the tenants. However, we saw what occurred on 26 May. Five public private partnership projects worth in the region of €2 billion collapsed, four of which were in my constituency. It was not the developer who took the risk and paid the penalty but the tenants who had worked hard with the developer, the local authority and the Government and who had waited years for the regeneration of their communities. In my constituency last week another public private partnership regeneration project went belly up and the hopes of a further 100 tenants have been dashed.

I note the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, is present. The Government’s policy of forcing local authorities to fund projects through PPPs and under Part V of the housing Act was clearly aimed at helping developers to profit from public lands in good times. The Government facilitated such people at the time, but washed its hands of responsibility when the going got tough. That is what is taking place.

The budget for 2009 provides further evidence, as if it were needed, that the Government is looking after the developer at the expense of social housing provision. The new home choice scheme was not produced by a benevolent Government wishing to provide housing for first-time buyers. Rather, it was a rescue package for developers to continue to sell houses at inflated prices. While local authorities are starved of funding to provide for those on housing waiting lists, the State is paying a small fortune to private landlords in rent allowances. In the meantime the recipients of rent allowance are not allowed to work and, therefore, forced into a poverty trap. If they could access local authority housing, they would be in a position to find a job and thus improve their circumstances and those of their family.

The right to a home is one of the most basic civil and human rights. For more than 11 years the Government had unlimited funds to put together a comprehensive housing programme. The figures speak for themselves. The developer and landlord led approach to the provision of social housing by the Government is a complete and utter failure. The Labour Party motion proposes a new way forward which, if adopted, could resolve the failures of the current social housing policy.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  There is a local authority housing development in Mitchelstown, north County Cork. The houses are some of the finest I have ever seen and there is a mixture [139]of social and affordable housing. However, many of the affordable houses are empty because they cannot be sold. The empty houses have given rise to anti-social behaviour, as a consequence of which they have been vandalised. The estate is wonderful and the residents are very proud of where they live. They have organised residents’ associations. However, they are very concerned that some of the empty affordable houses will not be sold, as they have been on the market for almost two years. I have a list as long as one’s arm of people in the Mitchelstown area who would gladly take one of these houses if they were transferred to social housing status.

Officials in the northern division of Cork County Council told me that because of certain funding and resource stipulations put in place during the preparation of the affordable housing scheme, the status of these houses cannot be changed from affordable to social housing. I am certain that is not the only such estate in the country. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should allow some flexibility. In cases where the social housing waiting list is of a certain size, it could show some degree of flexibility to ensure such houses are occupied. In this way the problems of anti-social behaviour can be offset. We need a common-sense approach to the use of empty houses under the auspices of local authorities.

I refer to the tenant purchase scheme. I have encountered many people who have paid rent to local authorities and invested thousands of euro in their house during the years. As a result of restrictions on the tenant purchase scheme, they are prevented from purchasing their house. If there was greater flexibility and the discounting system was more extensive, many older local authority residents who have invested much money in their house and made it their own could purchase it. It would realise a certain amount for the State and allow it, in turn, to embark on a further housing programme. I realise that my colleague, Deputy Lynch, has done a lot of work in this area, which I acknowledge. The State must find imaginative solutions to this problem and should examine the possibility of introducing such schemes. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Cuffe, stated in his contribution to the debate that some progress had been made. However, a good deal more could be made and many imaginative solutions implemented. We may propose such solutions through motions and the work of Deputy Lynch who is the Labour Party spokesperson on the issue. Such solutions must be taken on board. We seek to work positively to address the issue.

Many rural dwellers do not wish to be shepherded into large urban areas to be facilitated in social housing. The State must make provision for such persons and allow them, if eligible for social housing, to be housed within their communities. The vibrancy of any community depends on a housing mix in which that demographic is also catered for.

Deputy Jack Wall:  I congratulate Deputy Lynch on tabling the motion and I thank Deputy Costello for sharing time.

I reject the comments made on the homeless in Dublin. The first citizen of Dublin stated homeless services were as chaotic as the lives of some of the people for which they were in place to help. One should listen to such statements because the first citizen is a member of Fianna Fáil. I understand from reading the newspapers that she works hard to help people on this issue. Her assertion contradicts the statement by the Minister distributed to previous speakers which, in turn, rejected the statements of Deputy Lynch on the matter. She merely states a fact, as will be evident when the Lord Mayor’s dinner which will be attended by several thousand takes place. It has not been derived from a civil servant writing a speech for someone to deliver in the House, the contents of which may try to reject statements made on the Opposition side of the House. The problem of homelessness has been articulated by someone who is knowledgeable and has worked in the area for many years.

[140]I refer to rented accommodation. During the debate on the Social Welfare Bill I raised a matter of some disgrace for the Government. There was a decision by the Minister of Social and Family Affairs to give €7 to senior citizens, single parents and others in rented accommodation. However, the value of that rise was removed in one fell swoop by the Minister through a claw-back measure and given to owners in the rental accommodation sector — friends of Fianna Fáil.

In many cases, such unfortunate people are obliged to live in hovels because of the downturn in the economy. The owners of such buildings lease them to try to lower the cost factor in respect of the mortgages that have caused so many problems for the banks lately. However, no inspection system exists to assess the hovels into which senior citizens and single parents are being put and that is a downright disgrace. The Green Party is as responsible as Fianna Fáil in this regard as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in charge but has done nothing to counteract this.

Perhaps the Government’s financial position is in such a state that it must claw back €4 from the senior citizens and single parents who live in such hovels. Every Member is familiar with the conditions to which I refer. During the general election campaign, one would know whether one was approaching rented accommodation because the door would be hanging off, the windows would be bad etc. However, were the occupant to seek help to do something, it would transpire that the landlord had an agent through whom one spoke and no work ever got done. This is the position we face in respect of rented accommodation. I refer to those who are in need of houses that are not being provided by either the Government or the local authorities that seek funding from the former for such housing.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, both are present in the Chamber this evening and I ask them to put in place an inspection system in respect of rented accommodations to benefit those who suffer and who in many cases are afraid to make a complaint to the local authority because the hawks who are in charge of such places threaten to evict their tenants if they report them. This is a fact of which all Members are aware, because everyone encountered such scenes during the election campaign. When debating the fair deal scheme, Members may argue that one’s home is one’s castle. Although the people to whom I refer are far from living in a castle, absolutely nothing is being done about it. If anything is to emerge from this debate, it is that the Minister should give an undertaking to the House that he will provide an inspection system that will offer some assurance as 2009 approaches.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  That was spot on.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Morgan has 15 minutes. Does he intend to share his time?

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I wish to share time with Deputy Finian McGrath, if Deputy Costello agrees.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I must think about that.

Acting Chairman:  Will the Deputy’s time be divided into slots of ten minutes and five minutes?

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The slots will be 12 minutes and three minutes. We must keep Deputy McGrath in his place and not allow him to get away with it.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Deputy Morgan is more generous than Deputy Stagg.

Acting Chairman:  We would have given Deputy McGrath more time.

[141]Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Behind the headlines of the banking crisis, bank guarantees and proposals for recapitalisation lies a human story. The credit crunch and subsequent recession is not only putting developers out of business and constructions workers out of jobs, it also is putting people out of their homes. According to Threshold, every week an increasing number of people are having their homes repossessed because of difficulties in paying their mortgages or are being threatened with illegal eviction as some landlords attempt to hike up rents. This of course is against the general trend in respect of rental rates at present and approximately ten families a week experience such threats. Earlier this year, Threshold estimated that at least seven families were having their homes repossessed by the banks every week and as many as ten families in the private rented sector were being threatened with, or actually evicted from, their homes.

Moreover, yesterday’s newspapers reported that according to the Financial Regulator, almost 14,000 people were unable to meet their monthly repayments on home loans. The same report indicated that 1,000 people have run up mortgage arrears with sub-prime lenders. According to yesterday’s edition of the Irish Independent:

Figures gathered from 24 mortgage lenders by the Financial Regulator show that 13,931 mortgage accounts were three months in arrears by June this summer. This was up from 11,252 at the end of December 2006, a rise of 24pc over that period.

However, the scale of the crisis is probably worse, as a significant number of cases of voluntary surrenders never make the headlines. While it has been suggested by certain mortgage experts that there may be a substantial number of voluntary repossessions, the exact number may not come into the public domain as the banks will try to keep a lid on it. John Monaghan of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spoke recently of personally knowing of 16 cases of voluntary surrender, one of which involved a sub-prime lender.

When responding yesterday to the crisis facing families with mortgage and rent payments, the Minister of State spoke with breathtaking arrogance and again demonstrated that Ministers are on a different planet. He accused Members of “foaming-at-the-mouth scaremongering” and “wide-of-the-mark claims” but the facts to which they have referred have been taken from reports such as that produced by Threshold, as well as the number of cases of repossessions that come before the High Court on a weekly basis. Last Monday, almost one third of cases listed before the weekly chancery summonses resulted in an order for possession. This is simple fact, not scaremongering.

It is clear to everyone but the Minister of State that this is a crisis and it beggars belief that his only response is to give people “sound advice on what action to take” and to “warmly welcome the publication by the Financial Regulator of best practice guidance”. Despite all the reports of the rising numbers of people who are in default of their mortgage repayments, the Minister of State did not come up with a single new initiative to deal with this emergency. There is no doubt that repossession orders, evictions and defaults in mortgage repayments are tied to rising unemployment. More than 100,000 people have been laid off in the past 12 months and the unemployment rate could rise to 10% by the end of 2009. Due to the Government’s mishandling of the economy and the public finances over the past 11 years, take home pay rose at a far greater rate than did unemployment benefit. There is a substantial difference between people’s average pay and unemployment benefit. This means that workers who now face unemployment and are on welfare will take a significant cut in their income. As Ireland has the highest mortgages and rent payments in Europe, this obviously has placed the homes of hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy.

[142]The problem is further compounded by the reported delays of up to 12 weeks in processing applications for jobseeker’s allowance. If job losses rise as expected over the next 12 months, the delays in processing jobseeker’s allowance can only increase. In addition to the economic impact, the real human costs are almost unquantifiable. Repossessions and illegal evictions significantly increase people’s level of housing need and increase their risk of homelessness. As with social housing and homelessness, the Government is failing to address this specific level of need and all indications suggest the problems are going to get much worse.

Nevertheless, many things could be done, if the political will to do them existed. The Government could intervene to halt repossessions and illegal evictions. It could use its political and financial influence with both banks and wayward landlords. The Government could introduce a two-year moratorium on repossessions, while requiring lenders to conclude an affordable mortgage and debt payment arrangement, which would protect a minimally adequate standard of living. The Government also could increase the resources allocated to the money advice and budgeting services, MABS, to ensure that debtors are guaranteed access to MABS personnel when they are negotiating the affordable mortgage and debt payment arrangements. The lending institutions who, together with the Government are responsible for this crisis, should be compelled to suspend interest and other charges and penalties, as these only exacerbate a family’s financial distress.

Furthermore, introducing a court protocol to require lenders seeking a repossession on secured debt to be forced to show they have explored all possible alternatives through the above debt settlement mechanism is another option that should be explored. Repossession should always be the last resort and mortgage lenders must be compelled to carry their responsibility for lending recklessly, which has caused the nightmare for many unfortunate families in the first place. To help people who are now unemployed, the Government should increase awareness of, and access to, mortgage interest supplement to assist those mortgage holders experiencing temporary financial difficulties. This would require a reversal of the cuts made in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will limit the payment of mortgage interest supplement.

The Government must engage in a similar process with private sector landlords and their lenders, securing a protocol on repayments by developers to their banks; a moratorium on evictions; greater access to MABS for those in financial hardship; and a significant increase in the resources of the Private Residential Tenancies Board to deal with those threatened with illegal eviction.

Repossessions and illegal evictions are bad for families, bad for communities and even bad for the economy. The Government must intervene now and take the necessary steps to reduce the burden on those currently experiencing such housing need, and to halt the growth of families being placed in financial hardship and at risk of homelessness by lenders and by some landlords.

The proposed recapitalisation scheme may provide a golden opportunity to tackle the impending housing crisis that faces us. While speaking to an Oireachtas committee on 14 October last, Mr. Patrick Neary, CEO of the Irish Financial Service Regulatory Authority, told us that such speculative lending to the construction and property sectors in the State amounted to €39.1 billion and that he anticipated “losses on property-related loans”. He also stated that “increased provisions and write-offs will be necessary”.

Mr. Neary also revealed that a PwC audit of the six largest Irish banks had found that €15 billion of the lending was secured on those properties alone. Can we learn anything from the Swedish experience in the early 1990s, where a similar case of ill-advised commercial lending [143]in a property boom led to a collapse in its banking system? As part of the Swedish bailout, its government forced banks to write down losses and sell off the distressed assets. In the Irish case, some of the assets in question are the land banks amassed by speculators, unfinished housing estates and commercial retail ventures that should be sold off as bad debts.

The Swedish Government formed a new agency to supervise institutions that needed recapitalisation and another that sold off the assets, mainly property, that the banks held as collateral. In Ireland, we have a unique opportunity to return control of the planning process and commercial development to local government by breaking up the property cartels that have been holding Dublin city and many other towns across this land to their own development strategy, wilfully thwarting local council development plans. As property prices fall and these assets are sold, local government could provide a unique route to dealing with the growing housing crisis and the taxpayer could be given a better return for the investment in the banks, rather than let cash-strapped developers sit on these assets now only to make a significant profit on them in the decades to come. I hope the Minister will heed some of these suggestions.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I thank Deputy Morgan and Sinn Féin for allowing me the opportunity to share its speaking time. I also thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Cuffe, for the opportunity to speak on this Private Members’ motion on housing, and particularly social housing and homelessness.

I speak as a former full-time voluntary worker and also as a former soup runner for Simon Ireland, the homelessness charity. I worked in the night shelters and in the housing projects, and I also worked on the streets assisting the homeless. It deeply saddens me that this debate is still going on and that we are still here pushing the housing issue and the urgent need for action on this matter.

It is time to ask serious questions about what is going on in the State when there are still 60,000 on social housing waiting lists and an estimated 5,000 people experiencing homelessness at any one time. Coming up to Christmas, this is all the more relevant when one thinks of the families and the young children involved. It is important to remind ourselves, those of us who have a home, of the families and the young children who do not have a home.

Why is there always a problem or a big deal about funding issues such as the medical card for the elderly, retention of class sizes, cervical cancer services and tonight’s issue of homelessness? There is never an issue about assisting the banks or the meat industry. I supported the action needed on these issues, but what about families and young children without a home? This is a question we all and the Government must ask ourselves. The Government can get €180 million to support an industry and come up with €10 billion to support the financial services and the banking industry, and although I accept we have an economic problem, how come we can never find the few millions of euro required to fund homelessness services, cervical cancer services or education and class size issues? It is important that we ask these questions in the debate tonight.

Why are these always at the bottom of the priority list? Tonight’s motion, which I strongly support, attempts to bring them to the top of the list. Where I come from, health disability, education and housing should always be top of any priority list. These are the kinds of tough decisions that I would like to see people in this House make, and they should be made in the interests of the weaker sections of society.

There is nothing tough or macho about cutting services. It is a hell of a lot tougher to tell people straight that we are increasing taxation in order to develop public services or housing projects for the homeless. That is the reality we should face as well.

[144]If we approve an additional 10,000 social housing units each year for the next three years, one should think of those from the construction sector who are on the dole at present coming into the industry and then paying their taxes. That would make a massive contribution to the economy. These are the tough decisions that I would like made, in the interests of the people, in this debate.

I also strongly support the part of the motion dealing with the code of practice on the financial institutions providing for a moratorium on repossession orders for family homes during the current recession. This is a sensible proposal and is one of the other reasons I am supporting it. In the current climate, that is sensible and we all should agree that is a solution for many families.

I also strongly support the section which calls for the resourcing and funding of The Way Home, a clear strategy to address adult homelessness. These all are sensible proposals which should be backed by every Member of the House.

The motion refers to anti-social behaviour. Most Deputies deal with this matter on a regular basis at clinics in their constituencies. This is a significant problem and it only surfaces when somebody is actually killed. Most people do not even bother reporting anti-social behaviour to the Garda and others are so intimidated by fear that they regularly contact their Deputies and councillors rather than contact the Garda. Fear and intimidation are widespread in our communities and some of these people from hell are destroying private and local authority houses while 60,000 good people wait for a home. It is not acceptable.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy’s time has concluded.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  The Garda must deal with this kind of bullying in our community, but it is also up to the community to deal with it.

I urge all Deputies to support the motion tonight. There are a number of key proposals to resolve the housing issue. They are good for the housing sector, good for the workers and, above all, they are good for those on the housing lists and the homeless.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I thank the Opposition parties for giving us the opportunity to reflect on an area in which we continue to be highly innovative, highly effective and unstinting in our efforts to ensure that we have a coherent housing policy framework that can cater for housing needs as comprehensively as possible.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Without success.

Deputy John Gormley:  In short, it is a housing policy that sets out a vision to guide the transformation of the housing sector over the medium term by delivering more and better quality housing responses, and by doing this in a more strategic way, focussed on the building of sustainable communities. It is a housing policy that has, at its heart, a range of flexible and graduated housing supports to meet the full diversity of need. It is a housing policy that delivers real and tangible outcomes for households in need, with over 13,000 social and affordable housing units delivered in 2007 and the needs of almost 18,300 households met across the housing spectrum.

Regarding the policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, a housing policy which I suggest both parties read,——

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I suggest the Minister should implement it.

[145]Deputy John Gormley:  ——my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, has already gone into detail on our solid record of achievement. There is no need for me to dwell further on that.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Thank God.

Deputy John Gormley:  Fortunately, the Opposition motion also gives us the opportunity to compare our ambitious agenda for further reform to the Opposition’s fairly bare cupboard. For example, while its motion seems to suggest that it has no future plans to cater for the needs of older people and people with a disability, we are committed to completing and publishing a national housing strategy for people with disability, carrying out a review of the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability, and implementing recommendations and developing an approach to the delivery of sheltered housing for older people to feed into the Government’s national positive aging strategy.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There is no money for disability grants.

Deputy John Gormley:  Opposition Deputies neglected to mention climate change. Perhaps they have found a solution to the greatest challenge humanity faces but, if so, they are keeping it to themselves. However, they have given us an opportunity to outline the leadership we are showing in ensuring that the residential sector plays its part in meeting our emissions reduction targets.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Does the Minister's arrogance know any bounds?

Deputy John Gormley:  Some in the Opposition made interesting comments regarding the extent to which the Government’s housing policies are developer led.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  He is only reading a script.

Deputy John Gormley:  In the next breath, they went on to suggest that we should continue to purchase properties developers are unable to sell. That inconsistency appears to have been lost on many Opposition Deputies——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What is the Minister going to do?

Deputy John Gormley:  ——as does the fact that a significant proportion of the output under the main programme has for several years come from turnkey acquisitions and Part V agreements. We will encourage local authorities to continue sourcing newly built properties, particularly given the greater value to be achieved in the housing market.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Is that why 60,000 people are on the housing lists?

Deputy John Gormley:  Second-hand acquisitions and leasing arrangements are also important because they can open up urban areas that have traditionally experienced housing needs and a shortage of accommodation.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It is a disgrace.

Deputy John Gormley:  The importance of maintaining a complementary relationship between social and economic objectives may be new to some of the parties opposite but it is not new to the Government.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He is arrogant.

[146]Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  How quickly they forget.

Deputy John Gormley:  They have allowed us an opportunity to outline the steps being taken across several Departments to bring forward legislative proposals in response to the Law Reform Commission’s report on multi-unit developments. These will ensure the difficulties that arise in regard to the management of these developments and the operations of property management companies are fully addressed.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  When will the legislation be introduced? It was promised five years ago.

Deputy John Gormley:  The Green Party is in Government and it will be delivered.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It has not been delivered yet.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It has been two and a half years.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister without interruptions.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  He is looking for interruptions.

Deputy John Gormley:  My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, is also ensuring the implementation of these measures. I remind my colleagues in the Labour Party who constantly interrupt——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  We do not see the Minister often enough to interrupt.

Deputy John Gormley:  I am glad I do not see them often given how frequently they interrupt.

Acting Chairman:  I ask Deputy Stagg to reduce the quantity of his heckling.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  A letter will be written to The Irish Times stating that the Minister was here.

Deputy John Gormley:  Deputy Wall spoke about substandard accommodation. When we made announcements about accommodation standards, getting rid of beds——

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The Government is not even enforcing the current legislation.

Deputy John Gormley:  ——and ensuring that the exterior of rented accommodation would be improved, the Members opposite rejected our proposals.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Get a few inspectors to inspect what is currently being rented.

Deputy John Gormley:  They said we would cause rents to increase.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Enforce the existing law.

Deputy John Gormley:  A positive measure was once again rejected by the Labour Party.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  It took four years to get rid of bed-sits.

Deputy John Gormley:  When the Labour Party was in Government it did nothing about the matter. We are in Government and we are doing something.

[147]Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Thousands of bed-sits still have outside toilets.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister should conclude.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  His time is up. He should come here more often.

Deputy John Gormley:  In regard to Deputy Finian McGrath’s contribution, I worked in the homelessness sector during the late 1970s. Along with the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, I have made it a priority to increase funding for the homelessness sector notwithstanding the severe economic recession. We have spent €100 million, which represents an increase of 5%. That is a decision of which we can be proud and we will continue to provide for the most vulnerable in society.

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

Ar son Sinn Féin ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a ghlac páirt sa dhíospóireacht seo agus le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála in éineacht le Sinn Féin. On behalf of Sinn Féin I thank those who have participated in this debate and especially those who have exposed their outrageous dispositions to these glaring social needs. Ranked not least among these is the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, whose efforts last night regarding turkeys and stuffing was an absolute disgrace. I thank the Labour Party for joining Sinn Féin in putting forward this motion on the crisis in housing and homelessness in our country.

All I can say in response to the Minister’s remarks on inconsistency is “wow” because he should know a great deal about that subject from his time in Government. I will rehearse a statement with which I very much agree:

the Government congratulates itself on the tremendous level of activity which is in progress, while overlooking the misery, injustice and division which it is creating for generations to come. There is no planning. There is no environmental or social thinking and ultimately that will be a cost to our economy.

These words are not mine. They are the words of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, when he spoke on behalf of the Green Party in November 2003 in support of a Sinn Féin Bill that would enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. He was describing the disastrous lack of policy on housing in successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments over the past decade. That approach to housing was developer driven and greed based. It was fuelled not by the housing needs of the people but by the profit motive of developers and the avarice of banks and other lending institutions. We can see the consequences in the virtual collapse of the Irish financial system and the deepening recession in the economy.

Ironically, after a decade of madly spiralling house prices, over-dependence on construction for employment, reckless lending, massive mortgage debt and the construction of unprecedented numbers of private dwellings, we still have a housing crisis because tens of thousands of our people do not have adequate homes. More than 60,000 people are on the local authority waiting lists for housing, a jump of more than 30% in the three years during which the Green Party has been a shareholder in this coalition arrangement. At the same time the phenomenon has arisen of empty houses and apartments in unfinished estates around the country, especially in the commuter belt surrounding the greater Dublin area. This is a mess of the Government’s own making.

I was shocked and greatly disappointed by the remarks made by the Minister of State. I have seldom heard such an insulting speech as the one he delivered. His juvenile jibes at the Labour [148]Party and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this considered and substantive motion are beneath contempt but they will be especially felt by the homeless and those who languish on housing lists throughout the State, including in his own constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim. His contribution will not be forgotten by the people who have been languishing for years without their needs being addressed.

More than 40,000 households in the private rental sector are in receipt of rent supplement. These households are more likely to live in dwellings which do not meet the Government’s existing standards. Many tenants are on low incomes and are more at risk of living in sub-standard units.

The capacity of local authorities to enforce standards needs to be increased. This critical area has not been sufficiently addressed. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must ensure that local authorities take a proactive approach to their responsibilities for inspecting rented accommodation as part of the first line of defence for those who are in need of support and who cannot be expected to indefinitely occupy inadequate or inappropriate housing.

I urge all Deputies to support this motion and to reject the Government’s amendment. We do not have to walk far from the gates of this institution to see the reality of the 5,000 people who are homeless on the streets of our major towns and cities at any given time. That is an absolute disgrace and it cries out for the Government to face up to its responsibilities. The contributions we have heard last night and again tonight are another exercise in hand wringing with no commitment and clearly no strategy. The Minister and his team of colleagues in Government, at either Minister or junior Minister level, must pull their act together or the next Government will have to pick up on the failures the current Government has presided over.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I thank Deputy Ciarán Lynch for proposing this motion, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh for seconding it and the Sinn Féin Deputies for co-signing the motion with the Labour Party. I thank all the Deputies who have contributed to the debate this evening and yesterday.

A couple of nights ago I watched on my television the appalling sight of children in Zimbabwe suffering and dying from cholera. President Mugabe then appeared on the screen to tell us this was all some kind of Western conspiracy, there was no cholera in Zimbabwe and anybody who had the disease had been cured.

I do not want to accuse our Government or imply it has gone quite as far as President Mugabe but there are parallels in the kind of delusion that people in power for too long tend to suffer. The contribution last night of the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and to some extent that of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, tonight is evidence of that kind of delusion.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  What about the Deputy’s own delusion on the Order of Business?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is unfair; the Minister’s script is written for him.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is the kind of thing one sees happening to emperors at the end of an empire. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, stated the motion before the House is ill-judged and accused the Labour Party, and myself in particular, of being hysterical, scaremongering and causing panic and unease. The point of the motion is to address the panic, unease, fear and in some cases hysteria among people who are now afraid of losing their home.

In the High Court last week there were 37 cases for repossession of homes and we know cases are being queued for house repossessions. We have heard of something in the order of [149]over 7,000 people who are now in receipt of mortgage subsidy, many experiencing the pleasures of social assistance for the first time. Some 14,000 people are now behind in their mortgage payments by a minimum of three months. There are many people who are worried about losing their home, and as more people lose their jobs and businesses, that is likely to increase.

It does not have to be like that. There is a way in which people can be reassured that they can continue to live in their own home. It is possible to devise arrangements whereby for the period of the recession — we may be talking about a period of two to four years — people can at least be reassured that they will not be put out of their home. That is a practical proposal which can be achieved through arrangements with the banks, for which the Government is acting as guarantor. Apparently the Government will recapitalise the banks by putting at least €4 billion from the pension reserves into them in some form or other.

In any event, if people have their homes repossessed, the Government will have to pay rent allowance or provide social housing or some kind of shelter for people losing their homes. It makes sense for those arrangements to be recast so that people will know if they lose their job because of bad times for a couple of years, at least they can continue to live in their own home.

If the Government did this, far from creating panic, fear and all the other things we are accused of, much of the fear among people about their future and where they will be for the next couple of years would be reduced. If the Government could do that much in that kind of climate, new possibilities would be opened for the direction of the economy. Confidence would be increased and the kind of reassurance would be provided for people to enable other necessary actions through social partnership over the next year or two. It is a practical proposal.

What is the Government’s response to this? It rejects the proposal.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  I did not reject it. I have already acted, and I did not wait for the Labour Party to tell me about it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Government indicated it would keep the mortgage market under review, having regard to the information available from the Financial Regulator and banking sector. Is this the same Financial Regulator and banking sector that provided the Government with information on the state of the banks over the past year? This is hardly comfort to people worried about losing their jobs.

We can consider the position the Government has led us into. This country has had a number of years of record housing output. Over the past three years we produced 90,000, 80,000 and 75,000 housing units respectively. In that period, the Government managed to bring about a 30% increase in the number of people on council housing waiting lists. There are 60,000 families——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  More.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——and more on the list because the figures have been doctored. Sticking with the official figure, even the 60,000 on the council waiting list is the highest number of people applying for council housing since 1964. That was a time which caused people to rise in Dublin and march on the streets and led to the establishment of the housing action committee.

We have proposed a very simple solution. We have indicated there is a housing overhang but the Minister, Deputy Gormley, came in here and thought it outrageous that we should suggest that surplus houses built in the private sector might be made available to address a public housing need.

Deputy John Gormley:  I did not say that. That is a total misrepresentation.

[150]Deputy Michael Finneran:  We did not wait for the Labour Party to tell us about that either.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He thinks this is some kind of assistance for developers. He has a blinkered view of it. This is not difficult. There are empty houses.

Deputy John Gormley:  I have just said we are doing what the Deputy proposes.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  They are all over the country and cannot be sold.

Deputy John Gormley:  As I said, we are doing what the Deputy proposes.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  He is not.

Deputy John Gormley:  It should not be developer-led.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am delighted to see the Minister here this evening because we do not often see him.

Deputy John Gormley:  I have been in the Seanad.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a real pleasure.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He could be there for longer than he thinks.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He may soon be in the Seanad for a lot longer than he wants to be.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  He is bought and will stay bought.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  If the Minister is doing it, why do we have the highest number of people on the housing list since almost the time the Minister was born? It is at the same level as 1964.

Deputy John Gormley:  I was not born in 1964.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That year saw the highest number of people waiting on council houses. With regard to the multi-purpose legislation, the Labour Party has been asking the Government to introduce legislation to address problems with management companies, fees and the running of these apartment blocks for years. We are still waiting for it.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  There is no sign of it.

Deputy John Gormley:  The Deputy will get it.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Minister will not get it in coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Deputy John Gormley:  The Deputies will get it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Frankly——

Deputy Michael Finneran:  We will support the Minister.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Government regularly accuses the Opposition of not putting forward positive suggestions. We have a number of positive suggestions in this motion that will deal with the housing problems people are experiencing today. We have not said anything unduly critical of the Government in the motion and yet a blinkered, arrogant and out of touch Government has decided to amend it from existence and put in some kind of self-serving——

[151]Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Rubbish.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——back-clapping amendment that is worthless to the people in need of housing but will somehow provide some kind of political comfort rag to the Government in its dying days.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  As a teller, under Standing Order 69 I demand that the vote be taken by other than electronic means, given the importance of the issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As Deputy Stagg is a Whip, the vote will now proceed.

Amendment again put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 68.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gallagher, Pat The Cope.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Healy-Rae, Jackie.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Mansergh, Martin.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Clune, Deirdre.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P. J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Emmet Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

  9 o’clock

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  In raising this matter, I am seeking to highlight the fact that, in the view of the 100 plus GPs who refer people to it, Mallow General Hospital is a centre of excellence. It is also a secondary care facility that caters for the needs of a population base of well over 100,000. If the national service plan, as envisaged, is implemented, the accident and emergency department at Mallow General Hospital will be downgraded to a minor injuries unit. The GPs from whom I have received representations and the people who live in the area want to know what will be the future of the accident and emergency department. There is a concern that if it is downgraded to the status of a minor injuries unit, many GPs in the area will bypass Mallow General Hospital and refer [153]people instead to Cork University Hospital, CUH. Given an expected population base of 4.53 million in 2009, it is vital hospitals such as Mallow General Hospital maintain some coherence in terms of accident and emergency services. Reducing or diminishing it to a minor injuries clinic will result in more people being put into the narrow funnel that is Cork University Hospital, which is not the way to go.

I have taken advice on the matter from general practitioners who refer stroke patients and people with heart complaints to this hospital. Many of these interventions can be dealt with by the accident and emergency department. Downgrading the hospital to a minor injuries unit will have an adverse effect on outcomes for patients.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I concur with what Deputy Sherlock said. A Teamwork report completed in the mid-west more than a year ago has not yet been published. There are all sorts of rumours going around about accident and emergency services at hospitals in Nenagh, Ennis and Limerick being reduced. There is no evidence whatsoever that capacity in the Mid-west Regional Hospital in Limerick will be increased to cater for extra patients. People living in places like west Clare will be a considerable distance from the central hospital in Limerick should this downgrading go ahead. We are hearing rumours to the effect that this will happen in March 2009.

I have repeatedly called for the publication of the Teamwork Management Services report and have received conflicting answers, some of which indicate the report has not yet been submitted to the board of the HSE and others from the Minister and Professor Drumm who indicated in committee that they do not want to publish it because it may give rise to opposition. This is no way to democratically address the issue of how we run our hospital services in this country.

It is important to state on the record that secondary hospitals have an important role to play. They are much more cost effective in dealing with certain matters than are tertiary hospitals. We need to have a proper debate and evaluation of the role of secondary hospitals before they are downgraded in some type of secret operation, with no publication of a plan and only a vague generalised reference to reconfiguration as set out in the HSE plan launched yesterday.

While a copy of the Teamwork report is floating around in the mid-west it has not yet been published. In effect, patients, the public and public representatives are being denied an opportunity to participate in a debate on this issue and to ensure we maintain a level of service in secondary hospitals in the mid-west, south, north-east and in various other parts of the country that is appropriate to what a secondary hospital can do. An excellent service is being provided by these hospitals in a cost effective manner in comparison with larger hospitals.

It is appalling that this is happening in a type of secretive manner without any public discussion. I urge the Minister to genuinely address the issues of concern in these areas because people do not know what is happening. I have spoken about the issue to people in Clare, north Tipperary and Limerick. They are hearing rumours about what is proposed for their hospitals but there is no public announcement in this regard. It is almost as if this is being done behind closed doors with only particular people being brought on board and senior rather than regular staff at the hospitals being told about it.

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  I am responding to the Deputies on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney.

The Government is committed to ensuring the delivery of best possible quality health services in an effective and efficient way. Patient safety is of paramount importance in ensuring people have confidence in the services and that the best possible patient outcomes are achieved. [154] It is essential that patient safety and quality are prioritised and that services are organised and managed accordingly.

The six hospitals in the mid-western region providing acute services have a complement of 828 in-patient beds and 124 day beds. Between them, the hospitals have a total operating annual budget of €275 million, with a staffing complement of 3,248. The activity profile for the service consists of 47,000 in-patients, 34,000 day cases, 180,000 out-patient attendances and 110,000 accident and emergency presentations per annum. The maternity hospital deals with 5,500 births per annum. These figures underline the importance of the work done by the hospitals in the mid-west area and the contribution they make to the health services of the region.

Mallow General Hospital provides a valuable range of in-patient, out-patient and day case services. It is, and will continue to be, an important health care facility. In the past years, there has been a considerable level of investment in equipment and infrastructure at the hospital. A capital sum of €1.5 million was provided for the provision of CT scanning services at Mallow General Hospital on a five-day week basis. The support staff has been put in place and the CT scanner has been operational since September of this year. A refurbishment programme has also commenced at the hospital. Work on the upgrading of the emergency department has been completed and work on the extension of the regional laboratory system is about to commence. A sum of €260,000 was allocated in the current year for ward and other minor equipment, upgrading of toilets and compliance with hygiene and decontamination standards.

The HSE has commissioned a number of strategic reviews of the configuration of acute hospital services including in the mid-west and the south. In each case, the first priority is patient safety. The challenge in the years ahead will be to organise, manage and deliver high quality services that are focused in the first instance on the safety of patients. Horwath Consultants in association with Teamwork Management Services were commissioned by the HSE to work on the strategic reviews in the mid-west and southern regions. The reviews focus on identifying the best configuration of acute hospital services in the regions, including arrangements for accident and emergency, critical care, acute medicine and surgery, together with diagnostic services so that the highest quality of care can be delivered to the population of the regions concerned.

The HSE reviews will act as inputs to decisions on how best to reconfigure acute services in the regions concerned. The Government and the Executive are committed to ensuring that the approach to reorganisation of services is carried out in consultation with the key stakeholders and that each element is progressed incrementally.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  What about the public? Are they not key stakeholders?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  The Minister believes it is important to work with health professionals and other interested parties to secure an increasing set of improvements over time. This approach will, she is confident, produce the best outcome for patients. Patient safety will determine how services in the mid-west and the south are configured in the future.

A detailed planning process is currently underway in each network to ensure that secondary care services are assigned to each hospital in the network in an appropriate manner, which takes account of their ability to manage complex care safely and to the highest standard. The Government is committed to ensuring high quality acute services throughout the country.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Gobbledygook.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Throughout the local development sector there is grave concern at the savage cutbacks that have been imposed on Pobal and its staff with resulting negative impacts on local development companies and partnerships.

The establishment of the ADM company under the partnership process was a significant step in delivering necessary centralised and efficient back-up to hundreds of local development projects across Ireland, with which the Minister and I are familiar. The evolution of ADM into Pobal under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was a milestone in creating an accountable and more effective local voluntary and social economy sector. The organisation has received a great deal more work in terms of invigilation and an increased accounting role as a result of the recent changes introduced in the management of such companies.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has, under budget 2009, imposed a savage 33% cut in the administration and support costs of social inclusion programmes which are managed by Pobal, with a clear indication that even more severe cuts of up to 50% will apply in 2010. As I understand it, the result will be the loss of almost 100 jobs in Pobal.

I am informed by Pobal staff representatives that 74 redundancies are now being sought from a workforce of 250. I am aware also of course that 90 Pobal workers have less than two year’s service and that their work has developed as a result of recent changes introduced in the organisation. Clearly, these extraordinary cuts in a relatively small organisation seem totally disproportionate, even in the context of the overall severe budgetary cuts being imposed for 2009. The Department’s justification is to enable the maintenance of frontline services but the key liaison support and development functions performed by Pobal with local agencies will clearly be damaged by these cutbacks. The result will be major cuts at local level in supports for effective and transparent delivery of funds to communities. Cuts will also affect specialist support staff in employment, community development, and educational disadvantage, including disadvantaged groups, Travellers, lone parents, prisoners and citizens recovering from addiction.

Similarly, cuts will affect the connection between Departments and beneficiaries at local level, in addition to their impact on evaluation and research capacities, the production of strategy guides and good proactive tool kits, and in necessary networking meetings of partnership staff, and other cross-learning events.

The local development social inclusion, LDSIP, programme supports local agencies such as partnerships to address complex problems of inequality, poverty and social inclusion. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the Department of Finance value for money review of the LDSIP clearly identified the need for ongoing “sophisticated” evaluation and ongoing guidance and technical support for local groups. However, the Department has said it is employing the Centre for Effective Services, CES, to design a successor programme to the LDSIP. I understand that the CES received funding from Atlantic Philanthropies in addition to funding from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Why could the work not have been carried out by Pobal? There does not appear to have been any tendering process for the work that will now be carried out by the Centre for Effective Services. I am further informed that Pobal was not given a chance to tender for the project, which seems central to its statutory remit and for a task in which it has built up 16 years of valuable experience. The VFM to which I referred identified areas for improvement in Pobal but it did not question the fundamental capacity, integrity or efficiency of the organisation. [156] How can its vital public support and invigilation role in local development be effectively delivered with the massive cut of 100 jobs?

Ireland is plunging into a severe recession, partly due to gross errors by the Government since 1997. Unemployment may rise to in excess of 10%. The impact may be most severe in disadvantaged and low income communities. It seems crazy therefore to impose this level of cutbacks in Pobal that will have a knock-on effect on important local employment and enterprise programmes across the country that are served by Pobal.

The Ceann Comhairle is aware that I have long experience as a community activist with local development projects. I am a long-time director of Coolock Development Council and of the Northside Partnership and a number of its related companies. As a community director, it is always reassuring to know that Pobal exists and that high standards of invigilation and audit are being maintained. The new light touch invigilation proposed by the Minister, including an end to quarterly reports that must be presented to and invigilated by Pobal, will result in weakening the system of accountability, which may have disastrous consequences. I am also a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is currently invigilating a major State agency where it appears lapses occurred.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I fully concur with the Deputy on the need to keep an eye on money and to make sure it is spent where it should be spent. Pobal is a private company. It is not a statutory company or agency and it is important that one would understand that.

What is proposed is a 33% cut in funding for 2009, as referred to by Deputy Broughan, relating to administration and overhead funding. It is not commensurate with overall funding for programme delivery for 2009. The reduction in the administration funding available to Pobal reflects an emphasis on the prioritisation of front-line services over intermediary and ancillary supports.

As the Deputy is probably aware, Pobal administers a range of programmes and schemes on behalf of my Department, namely, the local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, to which Deputy Broughan referred, and the dormant accounts fund, DAF, which will give rise to less activity next year because it has less money. It is inevitable that this would happen over time. We are considering the structure of the community services programme, CSP, in order to streamline it. Other programmes include the RAPID programme, the rural social scheme, RSS, and grant schemes to community and voluntary organisations. The overall provision in the Abridged Estimates for 2009 for these programmes is just under €175 million.

As previously indicated to the House, my primary concern is to make every effort to ensure that the front-line services provided by, or supported through, my Department — especially those focused on the needs of the most socially deprived communities — are protected. That is being achieved by requiring significant administrative savings in my Department and public bodies within its ambit, through the cessation of the use of intermediary bodies, such as community development support agencies and by reducing administrative overheads across bodies such as Pobal. In that way, the wide range of services my Department provides, including services under its social inclusion programmes, can be broadly maintained.

It is appreciated that Pobal has had a key role in the delivery of successful local development services and programmes for many years for several Departments. The Government has acknowledged the work and commitment of board members past and present, both individually and collectively in contributing to the many achievements of the company. It is those achievements and commitment that gives confidence that the board of Pobal will support the Department in prioritising the restricted resources that will be available in the coming years in the interests of the programme beneficiaries. Intensive discussions are ongoing with Pobal in regard [157]to how the administrative costs and overheads can be reduced while maintaining service delivery at 2008 levels.

The situation amazes me but it is inevitable in politics. We are told there are too many overheads and too many administrators. We hear that every day from the Opposition. I have been trying to rationalise this sector for a long time, as it was all over the place with community partnerships, area partnerships, Leader companies and Leader partnerships. There was a significant amount of companies. I have streamlined all of that and I will keep streamlining it.

Deputy Broughan might disagree with me but my absolute obligation is to get the money on to the ground. We have to look after the money but that does not have to be done through the creation of endless reports that do not determine the value for money on the ground. I am determined to protect front-line services for people who need them and if that means cutting administrative overheads then so be it. I look every day at ways of cutting the administrative overheads right across all of the agencies under my Department. I am right to do that. I have been doing it for a long time.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Minister should not damage the services.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Let us compare the relative overheads of the community services programme and the rural social scheme, one we inherited from another agency to which the Deputy referred as being before the Committee of Public Accounts. The rural social scheme was conceived by me and operated by my Department. One can ask the people on the ground which one is working better. If we ask Deputy Bannon which scheme works better, he will tell us.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Do not drag Deputy Bannon into it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  It is the one with the slim overheads, the get out and do it scheme. That is the one Deputy Bannon would say delivers on the ground. I will stick by that approach. I know one thing; I will have the support of the main Opposition party in what I am doing.

Deputy James Bannon:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. It is an important issue in my area given the urgent need for the Minister for Education and Science to provide funding for a new school building for St. Mary’s national school, Edgeworthstown, County Longford. I seek an update on the loss of essential teaching staff at the school despite rising roll numbers.

The reality for St. Mary’s is that it needs a new 16-classroom school at the cost of €3.6 million, as compared to the shameful waste of €1.1 million from 2002 to date on temporary accommodation. Just in case basic maths is a problem for the Minister, the new school has already reached a cost of €4.7 million and that is without including fees of €120,000 paid to consultants or the €40,000 for ESB for the temporary prefabs and the rising cost associated with the delay in the commencement of works.

If the new school building were to be deferred for another few years, which is beyond contemplation, the cost of building it would have been totally thrown away on temporary accommodation, which would still be temporary and by then in urgent need of replacement or restoration. That is madness. As I have continually said, the Government is penny wise and pound foolish. It makes no economic sense to continue to throw away money on temporary accommodation that would be better utilised on permanent buildings, particularly as one third of the final cost has already been spent on temporary structures.

[158]St. Mary’s currently has 20 teachers and their pupils in prefabs. The school which is expecting to have 120 plus EAL pupils in September 2009, is losing three language support teachers. It currently has five language teachers for 99 EAL pupils, which again if you will forgive me for drawing attention to the basic maths, does not add up, and the children will suffer as a result. The general allocation for learning support will have to absorb the balance, encroaching on the already overburdened learning support teachers. The school is also to lose one class teacher. In September 2008, enrolment was five pupils above the appointment-retention figure of 367 and with the increase in class size it is now three short of the 375 appointment-retention figure. To retain the teacher, enrolment will have to increase by 25 pupils to achieve developing school status. St Mary’s is a vibrant school which serves the community under the excellent care of the principal, Ms Helen O’Gorman. It provides a first class education for a rapidly increasing primary school-going population in Edgeworthstown and surrounding areas. It does so despite the limitations imposed by the Government, but the built environment is becoming more and more of an issue for teachers, pupils and parents. The population has grown by 68.4% in the five years from 2001-06 and enrolment has grown accordingly, but EAL has remained static. The school should be included in the Department of Education and Science’s development area units.

I am asking the Minister to stop throwing good money after bad. Instead of ploughing more money on top of the third of the cost of the new building already spent into temporary accommodation which is totally unsuited for the purpose and facing rising costs, building must be permitted to go ahead at this school. I hope that in the Minister’s reply, there will be a Christmas box for students, teachers and parents in the Edgeworthstown area. I should very much appreciate a favourable response to this important motion for this area of my constituency.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the position with regard to the proposed building project for St. Mary’s national school in Edgeworthstown, County Longford and the position in relation to the allocation of teaching resources for the new school year.

St. Mary’s national school was formed as a result of an amalgamation of St. Mary’s boys’ and St. Elizabeth’s girls’ national schools in September 2001. The St. Mary’s boys’ national school building was deemed suitable to act as a host for the school and it is operating from these premises at present. However, in the intervening years, enrolments have increased by over 60% at the school and the Department of Education and Science has provided temporary accommodation to meet this growing need for pupil places, including three new prefabs for the current school year. It accepts, however, that a new building is needed to provide adequately for the school.

A project to provide this new building is currently at stage 2 of the Department’s architectural planning process, which is the initial sketch scheme stage. A revised stage 2 submission in this regard has been received from the school authority and this is currently being examined by the Department’s professional and technical staff. While the Department is not in a position to say when the project will be allowed to proceed further after the stage 2 submission has been approved due to the level of demand on its capital budget, the Minister for Education and Science is committed to delivering the project as soon as the necessary funding is available. With regard to teaching resources, when the country was able to afford it, the Government reduced the basis on which primary teachers are allocated to schools from being based on an average number of pupils per teacher from 35 down to the current level of 27.

[159]The change to a new average of 28 pupils per teacher has to be viewed in that context. Significant additional support went into schools, particularly in the area of special education. The Government also reduced class sizes for the most disadvantaged in our DEIS schools to an average of one teacher for every 20 pupils in junior classes and an average of one for every 24 pupils in senior classes and these will not be changing in 2009. When all the teachers in the system are added up, there is one for every 16 pupils in our primary schools.

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. While teacher numbers are important, numerous influential reports have highlighted the fact that teacher quality is the single most important factor, far above anything else, in improving educational outcomes for children. Ensuring high quality teaching and learning is a challenge and dealing with factors that inhibit this represents a challenge for the Government, the Department, school management and indeed the teacher unions.

The Department will be advising individual schools in the normal way in relation to staffing 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 the 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.

The Minister for Education and Science has no difficulty in setting out for this House or for the public generally the overall changes on aggregate teacher numbers to schools for the 2009-10 school year. The Minister will do this when the allocation processes have been completed. Furthermore, the staffing schedule will be published and it is a transparent and clear way of ensuring that schools are treated consistently and fairly and know where they stand.

At this time the priority for the Department within the resources available to it is to carry out those processes in a timely manner. Diverting resources in order to create staffing profiles for the school requested by the Deputy, information which at this time would only be speculative, could not be justified and would in fact impede the process.

The Minister for Education and Science is 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 economy. As the full extent of the global crisis seeps into public consciousness, the Minister believes there will be general acceptance that taking difficult decisions now in order to secure future economic prosperity and secure employment is the first imperative of Government.

Again, I thank the Deputy for raising the issue.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  Ar dtús ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Cheann Comhairle as an deis an cheist thábhachtach seo a thógáil. Is ceist thábhachtach í seo, ní hamháin don Ghaeilge, ach do oideachas na tíre agus don Ghaeltacht. Táim cinnte go n-aontóidh an tAire liom go bhfuil stair fhada glórmhar ag na coláistí Gaeilge sa tír, a théann siar breis agus céad bliain ó bunaíodh an chéad choláiste Gaeilge i mBéal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, i gContae Chorcaigh, Coláiste na Mumhan.

[160]Bliain nó dhó ina dhaidh sin bunaíodh an dara choláiste Gaeilge i mo cheanntar féin, i nGort ‘a Choirce, Coláiste Uladh. Coláistí iad seo a raibh freastal ag mór laochra agus pearsain mhór i staire réabhlóide na tíre seo orthu. Mar shampla, i gColáiste Uladh bhí daoine móra cosúil le Ruairí Mac Easmainn, an Piarsach féin agus ar ndóigh daoine ó Thuaisceart Éireann a bhain leis an aicme eile, an aicme dílseoirí.

Ainm amháin a thagann chun mo chuimhne ná Róis NíÓgáin, Rose Young, sean-aintín leis an Tiarna Brookeborough, a tháinig go rialta chuig Gort ‘a Choirce agus a d’foghlaim a cuid Gaeilge agus a chuir an Duanaire Gaeilge ar fail. Taispeánann sé sin an fiúntas, an feabhas agus an mhaitheas a rinne na coláistí Gaeilge ó bunaíodh iad breis is céad bliain ó shin. Tááthas orm go dtí an lá inniu go bhfuil na coláistí sin ag gníomhú go héifeachtach ar fud na tíre.

’Sé an tAire féin a dúirt go raibh freastal de 6,020 dalta ar na coláistí Gaeilge i seachtan amháin i mbliana. Dúirt an tAire sa ráiteas sin gur fiú€50 milliún do cheantair Ghaeltachta na tíre seo tionscal na gcoláistí Gaeilge. Ní hamháin go mbíonn na daltaí ag freastal ar na coláistí, ach bíonn a gcuid tuismitheoirí agus a gcuid gaolta agus daoine eile ag tabhairt cuairteanna orthu i rith an tsamhraidh. Ar ndóigh, dúinne a bhfuil cónaí orainn sa Ghaeltacht, bíonn na coláistí Gaeilge agus teacht na ndaltaí cosúil le teacht na bhfáinleog sa samhradh, faoi mar a bhí ag an Phiarsach sa scéal sin Eoghainín na nÉan. Táim cinnte go bhfuil eolas ag an Aire ar an scéal sin.

Bhí trí fhoinse d’ioncaim ag na coláistí Gaeilge i gcónaí, an táille a dhíol na tuismitheoirí féin as na daltaí a chur chun na Gaeltachta, an táille a dhíol Roinn an Aire a chuaigh go dtí na mna tí agus an deontas caipitíochta a thug an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta le haghaidh gach dalta. Cuireadh ionadh an tsaoil orm nuair a tarraingíodh siar go huile agus go hiomlán san cháinaisnéis an deontas caipitíochta sin. Tá mé cinnte go n-aontaíonn sibh gur buille mór sin dos na coláistí Gaeilge a chuireann ar chumas daoine óga, ní hamháin dul agus an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim ach eolas a chur ar chultúr agus thraidisiún na tuaithe agus na Gaeltachta agus an cheantair sin den tír. An méid atáá tarraingt siar le ciorrú an deontais seo ná€1.25 milliún, amach as €9.5 milliún, an caiteachas ar fad don Roinn. Suim an-bheag í don Roinn, ach is suim an-mhór í dos na coláistí Gaeilge.

Beidh roinnt de na coláistí Gaeilge ábalta é seo a sheasamh ar feadh bliana nó dhó. Sin iad na coláistí atá sean-bhunaithe a bhfuil airgead cruinnithe acu agus nead déanta acu mar go raibh siad ag cruinniú fá choinne na coise tinne. Ach ba mhaith liomsa go gcuimhneodh muid ar na coláistí atá ag na comharchumainn, na coláistí atá ag eagraíochtaí cosúil le Gael Linn, a threoraíonn an t-airgead agus an brabús a dhéanann sé bliain in aghaidh bliana isteach sna comhluadair agus na ceantair ina bhfuil siad lonnaithe.

B’fhiú smaoineamh freisin ar choláistí nach bhfuil ach i ndiaidh tosnú. I mo cheantar féin tá coláiste úr i mBun an Inbhir, a bhí ann don chéad uair athrú anuraidh. Is beag achmhainní atá ag an gcoláiste sin go fóill. Tá siad ag tógáil chomh maith agus is féidir leo agus ag iarraidh níos mó daltaí a fháil. Cuirfidh an tarraingt siar den deontas seo isteach go mór ar na haicmí sin.

Iarraim ar an Aire, cé go bhfuil a fhios agam nach eisean atá i gceannas na Roinne Oideachais agus Eolaíochta — ach tá sé i gceannas ar An Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta agus tuigeann sé an cás agus cé chomh trom agus a bheidh an buille seo ar an chuid is mó de na coláistí— dul chuig a chomhghleacaithe agus an Rialtas agus iarradh orthu athmhacnamh a dhéanamh ar tharraingt siar an deontais seo agus é a thabhairt do na coláistí i mbliana. Níl i gceist ach €1.25 milliún, suim bheag i gcomhthéacs caiteachas na tíre seo, ach suim mhór chomh fada agus a bhaineann sí leis na coláistí.

[161]Tá an tAire in ann agus san áit cheart le bronntanas breá Nollag a thabhairt dos na 633 teaghlach, de réir a fhocail féin, a dheineann freastal ar na daltaí seo i rith an tsamhraidh sna ceantair Ghaeltachta. Go raibh maith agat.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an dTeachta as ucht na ceiste seo a ardú anseo anocht. Táim anseo thar cionn an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta mar go mbaineann an scéal leis an Roinn sin.

Go deimhin, bhí spéis agam sa mhéid a bhí le rá ag an dTeachta maidir le bunú na gcoláistí Gaeilge. Mar a tharlaíonn sé, sa bhliain 1903, bhí cruinniú i gCorcaigh, agus ag an gcruinniú sin, mhol mo sheanathair, Seán Ó Cuív, go mbunófaí coláiste Gaeilge. Ag éirí as sin, bunaíodh coláiste Gaeilge Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh. Aisteach go leor, bhí an seanathair eile ag an gcomóradh a rinneadh in 1966 ar bhunú an choláiste agus bhí mise, mar Aire na Gaeltachta, ag an gcomóradh a rinneadh ar bhunadh an choláiste sin 100 bliain i ndiaidh a bhunaithe. Mar sin, tá ceangal fada ag mo mhuintir leis na coláistí Gaeilge. Go deimhin, d’fhreastal mé féin ar an gcoláiste i mBéal Átha an Ghaorthaidh ar feadh trí bliana, agus uair amháin sa Spidéal. Mar is eol don Teachta, caithfidh go ndeachaigh an Spidéal go mór i gcion orm, mar phós mé bean as an Spidéal ina dhiaidh sin.

Aithníonn an tAire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta ról tábhachtach na gcoláisti samhraidh Gaeltachta agus molann sé obair na gcoláistí as ucht Iíofacht a chothú i measc na mac léinn a dhéanann freastal orthu. Is ábhar dóchais é go leanann líon suntasach mac léinn orthu ag freastal ar na coláistf seo sa Ghaeltacht. Aithním chomh maith go mbíonn tionchar nach beag ag na coláistí ar eacnamaíocht na gceantar Gaeltachta in a bhfuil siad lonnaithe.

Ni raibh aon dul as, afach, ach roghanna deacra a dhéanamh thar gach réimse de chaiteachas poiblí i mbuiséad 2009. Rinneadh na cinntí seo chun srian a chur le caiteachas poiblí agus marthanacht a áirithiú sa fad-téarma. Ina leith seo, níorbh fhéidir an t-oideachas a sparáil ina iomláine cé gur cosnaíodh é níos mó ná formór na reimsí eile den chaiteachas poiblí.

Níor mhór roinnt bearta a chur i gcrích in earnáil an oideachais chun cabhrú le costais na hearnála poiblí a shrianadh agus soláthar a dhéanamh ag an am chéanna d’athruithe deimeagrafacha agus eile. In ainneoin an mhéadaithe de €302 milliún sa bhuiséad oideachais do 2009, éacht nach beag agus an eacnamaíocht mar atá sí, ni raibh aon dul as ach roinnt cinntí crua, deacra a dhéanamh.

Léiríodh na cinntí seo i mease na bhfógairtí lá an bhuiséid, agus ina measc bhí cealú an deontais a bhíáíoc ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta do na colaistí samhraidh Gaeilge. B’é ráta an chúnamh deontais seo, a cuireadh ar fail i 2008, ná tuairim is €53 in aghaidh gach mhic léinn a bhí rollaithe ar chúrsa trí seachtaine, méid ab ionann is cuid bheag go leor den chostas foriomlán a ghabhann le freastal ar an gcúrsa. Cuireadh an chabhair a soláthraíodh in aghaidh an mhic léinn ar fail ar bhonn an lín fhoriomláin a bhí rollaithe ins na cursaí samhraidh, is cuma faoi acmhainní na dtuismitheoirí.

Leanfar le tacaíocht an Stáit do mhic léinn a fhreastalaíonn ar na coláistí samhraidh Gaeltachta i bhfoirm na bhfóirdheontas a íoctar le teaghlaigh a chuireann cóiríocht ar fáil do na mic léinn. Ina theannta sin, leanfar leis an maoiniú a dhéantar ar fhreastal ábhar oidí ar na coláistí samhraidh sa Ghaeltacht agus leis na socruithe maidir le saoire phearsanta bhreise a cheadú do mhúinteoirí bunscoile a mhúineann ins na coláistí samhraidh.

Tuigeann an tAire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta an tábhacht chultúrtha agus socheolaíoch a bhaineann leis na limistéir Gaeltachta d’fhoghlaimeoirí na teanga agus leanfaidh an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaiochta le tacaíochtaí Stáit a thabhairt de réir mar is féidir sin leis na hacmhainní mar atá siad ins na toscaí deacra eacnamaíochta atá ann faoi láthair.

[162]Cuireann an Roinn raon bearta ar fáil chun tacú le múineadh agus foghlaim na Gaeilge agus le foghlaim trí Ghaeilge. Orthu seo tá: tacaíochtaí breisithe múinteoireachta agus maoinithe do Ghaelscoileanna; forbairt ghairmiúil do mhúinteoirí ag an leibhéal bunscoile agus iarbhunscoile tríd an gclár tacaíochta don churaclam bunscoile agus tríd an tseirbhís tacaíochta dara leibhéal, faoina gcuirtear 34 oiliúnóir lánaimseartha ar fáil; cláir mhodúlacha do mhúinteoirí tríd an nGréasán lárionad oideachais; agus soláthar téacsanna, ábhar agus acmhainní i nGaeilge trí fhorbairt Shéideán Sí agus obair na Comhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta.

Tá mórán athruithe tarlaithe sa bhliain a chuaigh thart agus is í an chéad aidhm atá ag an Rialtas ná an t-airgeadas poiblí a chosaint. Is é seo an t-aon bhealach inar féidir linn gnóthachain a choimeád agus cur ar ár gcumas féin feabhsúchain a dhéanamh amach anseo. Táimd ag déileáil, áfach, le staid eacnamaíochta a bhfuil deacracht gan fasach ag baint leis. Tá sé de dhualgas ar an Rialtas aghaidh a thabhairt ar seo agus cinntí fíor-dheacra a dhéanamh ar mhaithe leis an náisiún. Agus sin á dheanamh againn, tá iarracht déanta againn foscadh éigin a thabhairt don earnáil oideachais, ach i bhfianaise scála an chaiteachais phoiblí ar an oideachas, ní féidir cinntí crua a sheachaint.

Cabhróidh bearta an bhuiséid lena chinntiú go mbíonn Éire suite go maith chun tairbhe a bhaint as nuair a thiocfaidh feabhas ar an eacnamaíocht domhanda agus nuair a bheidh ar ár gcumas tógáil arís ar éachta móra na mblianta deireanacha agus déanamh amhlaidh i slí a bheidh i gcomhréir le bainistíocht chríonna eacnamaíochta na hÉireann ina iomláine.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil arís eile leis an dTeachta as ucht deis a thabhairt dom an fhreagra seo a thabhairt ar son mo chomhgleacaí, an tAire Batt O’Keeffe, agus an scéal a mhíniú ar a shon maidir leis na coláistí samhraidh Gaeilge agus a Roinn.

The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 December 2008.

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The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

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Questions Nos. 1 to 19, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 20 to 58, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 59 to 68, inclusive, answered orally.

  69.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Transport    the plans he has to improve the accommodation within his Department in view of the significant level of dissatisfaction with same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46453/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  My Department was established in 2002 and since then it has experienced significant functional and staffing change that has contributed to the present situation whereby the Department’s staffing complement of approximately 450 Dublin-based staff is dispersed in six locations.

This level of dispersal has posed considerable operational difficulties in the delivery of a satisfactory standard of accommodation in all cases. A more cohesive accommodation structure is therefore considered essential to address these difficulties. For this reason my Department, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, has devised detailed plans to consolidate and reduce the number of buildings it currently occupies in Dublin from six to three.

These plans are at an advanced stage and it is envisaged that this consolidation will be achieved by the end of 2009. With a fewer number of buildings to manage, my Department will also be able to take a more focused and cost effective approach to the delivery of maintenance and improvement works in the future.

In addition to progressing the rationalisation of the Department’s accommodation portfolio, my Department has in the past year carried out a number of miscellaneous office improvement schemes such as office layout. It is planned to deliver a series of other improvements in the coming years with the assistance of the OPW. The basic objective of these schemes is to ensure that working conditions are to an acceptable standard.

  70.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason his Department has not published its findings from customer surveys; if he will provide these findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46462/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The results of the Customer Surveys for 2003 and 2005/2006 are accessible under the ‘Other Information’ link on my Department’s website. We are currently updating our Customer Charter and Action Plan, which will apply for the period 2009-2011. A customer service survey will be carried out early in 2009 as part of this exercise and the results will be published.

While the 2003 Customer Service Survey was published on 14th November 2003, due to an oversight the 2005-2006 Customer Service Survey was not published on the website but was made available internally on the Staff intranet.

  71.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Transport    when compulsory testing of alcohol testing will be introduced for all those involved in road traffic accidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46492/08]

  121.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will introduce measures to facilitate the mandatory testing of all drivers involved in serious road collisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46361/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 121 together.

The current position regarding the testing of drivers for alcohol at the scene of a collision is that a member of An Garda Síochána may require a driver involved in a collision to provide a preliminary breath specimen. This discretion is provided in acknowledgement of the fact that urgent medical attention may be required for seriously injured victims and must take precedence over breath testing.

In addition, a Garda may request a blood or urine sample from a driver who is in hospital following a vehicle incident, where the Garda believes that person was intoxicated.

Advice has been received from the Attorney General on possible amendments to legislation to provide for mandatory alcohol testing at the scene of a collision which continues to take overriding medical circumstances into account. The issue is included in the Road Traffic and Transport Bill, which is currently being drafted. It is expected that the Bill will be published early next year.

  72.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    the percentage of public transport buses in County Cork which are wheelchair accessible; the number of wheelchair buses being used for County Cork public bus services; his plans to support the expansion of wheelchair accessible buses in town and rural services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46402/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Bus services in Co Cork are provided largely by Bus Éireann. The company has a fleet of 164 buses in Co Cork. Of these, 116 are wheelchair accessible which represents over 70% of the fleet and, as older buses are replaced, all new [165]urban buses are required to be wheelchair accessible. In fact, all bus services in Cork city are operated with low floor buses.

My Department’s Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act 2005, titled ‘Transport Access for All’, contains time bound targets for the progressive realisation of accessible transport in Ireland. To achieve these targets some statutory measures have been adopted and others are planned. The Plan provides that by 2015 practically all vehicles used for bus and coach services will be accessible. The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 requires public transport service contracts to provide, inter alia, for accessibility standards for services. I intend to include a similar measure for areas outside the Greater Dublin Area as part of proposals that I am developing to modernise the 1932 Road Transport Act. I also intend that the Authority may impose minimum accessibility standards on licences for commercial bus services operated by both public and private operators.

In addition, the system for tendering and procurement of services under my Department’s Rural Transport Programme (RTP) has been reviewed to ensure that incentives and weightings are applied to encourage compliance with accessibility goals. Also, community owned vehicles are either already accessible or are being adapted to ensure that they meet accessibility requirements.

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 68.

  74.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason his Department lacks the capacity to plan and deliver the information and communication technology service that his Department needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46458/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have confidence in the technical ability and competence of my officials in the information and communications technology area to deliver quality service to my Department. However, I agree with the findings of the recently published Organisation Review Programme Report (ORP) that long-term unfilled vacancies together with increased workload consequent, inter alia, on the acquisition of new maritime functions have limited the capacity of the Information Services Division to deliver the full range of services.

My Department’s current ICT Strategy envisaged a significant increase in staffing in our Information Services Division. However, difficulties arose in filling the vacancies in question. Accordingly, the Division has taken steps to increase its capacity to deliver the necessary services, primarily through outsourcing work.

Looking to the future, the simple solution to these challenges cannot always be the allocation of extra staffing. While the Department wants a radical increase in the deployment of ICT, prevailing external factors place constraints on our ability to fully resource the development of the IT function. Difficult choices will have to be made in reviewing ICT priorities in light of the new constraints on budgets. My Department will also seek support from our agencies and other Departments with relevant ICT expertise to further our priorities.

In this context, my officials will focus in 2009 on the development of those new systems that can have the most direct and immediate impact on the efficiency of the Department on the basis of agreed priorities.

  75.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the National Cycling Strategy; the reason the deadline for the publication of this strategy by the second [166]quarter of 2008 has been missed; the measures that will be contained in the cycling strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46355/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  It is my intention to publish a national cycling policy as early as possible in 2009 following the publication of the Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan. This is in line with the commitments that I made earlier in the year and which never included a target of the second quarter 2008 for publication.

The final approved policy will set out the detail of the measures which will range from cycling infrastructure and traffic management to issues such as training and awareness. I intend that the National Cycling Policy will be not only a comprehensive response to current difficulties faced by the cycling community in terms of road priority and safety issues, but will also prove to be a springboard to creating a culture of cycling in Ireland. In this respect I have indicated that the proposed policy should aim to increase modal share of cycling from 2% to 10% by 2020.

  76.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the report on CIÉ (details supplied); if legislation will be necessary arising from this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46350/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I expect to receive shortly the cost and efficiency review of both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and I will arrange to have it published on my Department’s website in due course. When I have considered the Report I will be in a position to determine if any amendments to legislation are required.

  77.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the planning of a post Transport 21 programme in view of projected population increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46449/08]

  83.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport    the way the 7% cut in the public transport investment programme will affect the roll out of public transport infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46375/08]

  88.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the degree to which the original objectives set out in Transport 21 remain achievable in full within the projected timeframe; if the progress to date is in accord with projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46396/08]

  120.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    the commencement and completion dates for each public transport infrastructure project in Transport 21; if he will list each project that has been delayed or deferred indefinitely and provide a reason for each delay; if Transport 21 will be fully implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46347/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 83, 88 and 120 together.

At the launch of Transport 21, the Government identified the projects in the national roads, public transport and regional airports sectors that it wishes to see prioritised for development in the ten-year period from 2006 to 2015 and provided indicative completion dates for the major projects contained.

[167]Significant progress has been made on Transport 21 in its first three years and a number of projects have been completed and others are well advanced in planning terms.

A very extensive construction programme is also currently underway and a number of additional projects were approved recently to go to construction, including the N18 Gort to Crusheen, the Citywest Luas extension and Phase 1 of the Navan rail line.

The adjustment in the capital allocation for Transport 21 in 2009 has brought about a re-examination of the priorities in the investment programme. My priorities for investment in national roads are the completion of the major interurban network by 2010 and the progressive development of the Atlantic Road Corridor. I understand from the NRA that it is currently in the process of drawing up its programme of works for 2009 based on its funding allocation for the year.

On the public transport side, the provision of increased capacity will be a key consideration in determining investment priorities. Given their potential to greatly increase capacity of the public transport network in the Greater Dublin Area, Metro North and the DART Underground are key priorities. Investment in increased bus capacity, subject to the outcome of the cost and efficiency review of the CIE bus companies, and bus priority are also investment priorities.

The adjustment in capital funding in 2009 will not have a significant effect on the roll out of the Transport 21 public transport programme and will not result in the postponement of the start of construction of any public transport project.

The planning of the major transport capital projects identified in Transport 21 is continuing and these will be released for construction as soon as they are through statutory procedures and the available financial resources permit and consistent with the priorities I have outlined.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to commence the preparation of a successor to Transport 21 in 2011. This work will take account of the updated CSO population projections.

  78.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made to date in reducing transport emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46447/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Meaningful progress towards reducing transport greenhouse gas emissions will only be achieved through undertaking a comprehensive set of measures over an extended period.

The present National Climate Change Strategy contains a number of measures to reduce transport emissions, including technology improvements, excise relief for biofuels, traffic measures in the Greater Dublin Area, rebalancing of motor taxes, fuel economy labelling, modal shift through Transport 21, alignment of spatial planning and transport investment and efficient driving awareness. Notwithstanding these measures, the benefits of which have yet to be fully realised, emissions from the transport sector have continued to grow very much in line with economic growth, a trend that is normal in other developed countries.

It is clear to me that more needs to be done if the transport sector is to play its part in reducing emissions generally. I signalled that when I launched a public consultation process on sustainable transport in February of this year. The detailed issues I raised and the public’s response are available on www.sustainabletravel.ie.

Following on from that consultation process, it is my intention to publish the Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan, which will detail the measures that need to be taken not [168]only to reduce emissions but also to enhance competitiveness, reduce congestion, deliver dividends in relation to public health and social inclusion and improve quality of life, as early as possible in 2009.

  79.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason eight staff vacancies in his Department’s information and communications technology unit remain unfilled for two years thus affecting the capacity of his Department to plan and deliver the ICT service that his Department needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46464/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As part of an overall review of my Department’s staffing requirements and following a review of ICT strategy, 8 additional posts were allocated to Information Services Division during 2007.

While a number of these vacancies were filled, a number of other staff left the Division due to, for example, promotions, staff rotations and the need to release staff under the Decentralisation programme. There were also difficulties in filling some of the remaining vacancies due to the specialized nature of these posts. As a result the overall complement of ICT staff was not reached.

The requirement on the Department to reduce overall staff numbers means that a number of the vacancies have had to be suppressed.

As part of the Action Plan prepared in response to the findings in the Organisational Review Programme (ORP), my Department will review the allocation of resources required for delivery of our strategies, including delivery of the ICT Strategy. The Department will also seek support from our agencies and other Departments with relevant expertise to assist us in furthering ICT priorities.

  80.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will reinstate the public transport fuel rebate; his views on measures to replace the public transport fuel rebate which includes school transport services and public and private transport operators in view of the difficulties that the transport and tourism sectors are experiencing at the moment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46352/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As already stated in my answer to question numbers 28 and 33 on 1 October last and to eight subsequent questions in the House, the Finance Act 2008 provided 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 position in regard to school transport is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Education and Science.

  81.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he is reviewing the governance arrangements in place for Dublin Port; his views on the position of members of the board of the Port of Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46368/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The corporate governance arrangements for Dublin Port Company are laid out in the Companies Acts, the Harbours Act 1996 and the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies.

[169]The structure of the port company boards is outlined in section 30 of the Act. In the case of Dublin Port Company, there are three local authority directors, two employee directors and one CEO director. The remaining six directors are Ministerial appointees.

The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, which is currently at Committee Stage in the Seanad, proposes changes to the structure of port company boards. The Bill proposes to remove the statutory right for local authorities to elect three directors, and to reduce the number of employee directors in the larger port companies from two to one. This will reduce the size of the boards from the current twelve to eight.

  82.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received representations in relation to a link-up or merger of Dublin Port Company and Drogheda Port Company leading to a joint development for large scale port traffic at Bremore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46372/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I am not aware of any representations received in my Department relating to a link-up or merger of Dublin Port Company and Drogheda Port Company leading to a joint development for large-scale port traffic at Bremore.

Drogheda Port Company has for some time been developing a proposal for a new port facility at Bremore in the context of a proposed joint venture arrangement. This proposal is consistent with established ports policy and the company is continuing to progress its plans.

Question No. 83 answered with Question No. 77.

  84.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to tackle the school run; if he has had recent contact with the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in advancing the green schools pilot project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46491/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  School travel patterns are influenced by a wide range of factors including distance of residence from the school, availability of choice in relation to transportation, existence of safe routes to schools, standards of roads and footpaths in the vicinity of schools and personal choice. The Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan, which I intend to publish early in 2009 and which benefited from consultation with relevant Departments, including the Department of Education and Science, will refer to this aspect of travel in some detail.

My Department is well aware of An Taisce’s Green-Schools Travel Module and I intend to continue, in 2009, to provide significant financial support to the Module, through the Dublin Transportation Office. The Module is planned to encompass 534 schools next year.

  85.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Transport    if the Luas line BX/D and phases 2 and 3 of the western rail corridor and the Dublin rail interconnector have been deferred or rescheduled; the estimated completion date of each of these projects; if Metro West and the Lucan Luas have been abandoned; when the railway safety programme will be fully completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46344/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The provision of increased capacity will be a key consideration in determining investment priorities in the coming years. Earlier this year, [170]I mandated the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) to proceed with planning the delivery of Line BX/D, based on the Agency’s preferred route for Line BX and the use of the Old Broadstone railway alignment for Line D.

It will not be possible to fully construct Luas Line BX at the same time as construction of Metro North because of the traffic management implications which would arise in the city centre. The RPA is developing a construction strategy for Luas Line BX, in close co-operation with Dublin City Council (DCC), which includes use of Metro North construction sites and recognises the traffic management requirements of the city centre. The RPA is also engaging with DCC on the basis of the contemporaneous delivery of Lines BX and D. In this regard it is the intention of the RPA to make a single railway order application for the combined Line BX/D to An Bord Pleanála in the latter part of next year.

The emerging preferred route for Metro West was announced by the RPA in July 2007. The selected route alignment will connect Tallaght, Clondalkin, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown and also connect with Metro North at Metro Park, close to Dublin Airport. It will provide for integration with the Luas Red Line, the Kildare and Maynooth suburban rail lines and the Lucan Luas line.

A further round of consultation is now underway to provide greater definition to the route after which the RPA will proceed with the preparation of a railway order application. The RPA plans to apply for a railway order in 2009.

The RPA announced the emerging preferred route corridor for the proposed Lucan-city centre Luas Line in October this year. The selected route is based on route options that were originally presented to the public in September 2007. Having selected the route corridor, RPA will begin the next phase of consultation focused on design. This consultation will confirm the specific location of the alignment, Luas stops, Park and Ride and a depot.

The second Railway Safety Programme commenced in 2004 and will be completed, as scheduled, at the end of 2008. The programme involved a €444 million investment in renewing the Iarnród Eireann fixed infrastructure (including track, fencing, signalling, level-crossings, bridges, cuttings and embankments etc.) in order to bring it up to an acceptable safety standard. A further €68 million was invested in enhancing the safety culture and safety management systems in Iarnród Eireann, through measures such as safety training, development of standards, safety auditing and the development of tools such as the Risk Model and the Infrastructure Asset Management database. Discussions on the composition of the third Railway Safety Programme are ongoing.

The Interconnector, which is now known as DART Underground, is planned to be completed in 2015. Further funding for this vital project was approved by my Department in November 2008 and I understand that an application for a railway order will be made in September 2009.

The first phase of the Western Rail Corridor will be completed by mid-2009. I understand that further studies are planned for 2009 to determine up to date costings of phases 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor.

The start and completion dates of Transport 21 projects, which have not yet commenced, will be determined by the funding allocation available during the current difficult economic climate. The commencement dates for these projects will also be influenced by the time taken for public consultation, the relevant statutory process and the procurement and contract award processes.

  86.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    the policies being adopted to sustain and develop the rural transport programme. [46377/08]

[171]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Government’s continued commitment to the Rural Transport Programme (RTP) is reflected in Towards 2016 which includes phased increases in the annual RTP allocation over time.

Euro 9 million was provided for the RTP in 2007 which led to an increase in the frequency of a number of existing services, extended area coverage, and additional groups of passengers accessing rural transport. Euro 10 million was provided for the Rural Transport Programme in 2008 and the 2009 allocation is Euro 11 million.

The RTP is being expanded on a phased basis in consultation with individual rural community transport groups, with a goal of achieving nation-wide coverage in due course in line with Government policy.

  87.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Transport    the outcome of his recent meeting with transport Ministers regarding the cross border enforcement of traffic laws in all 27 EU Member States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46496/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I attended a meeting of EU Transport Ministers on 9 December and the draft Directive on Enforcement in the Field of Road Safety was one of the items on the agenda. In this context, a progress report on the draft Directive, presented by the French Presidency was noted. The draft Directive does not relate to the cross-border enforcement of all traffic laws, but specifically to the offences of drink driving, speeding, failure to wear seat belts, and failure to stop at a red light.

The draft Directive will now be a matter for the incoming Czech Presidency.

Question No. 88 answered with Question No. 77.

  89.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the scale, scope and extent of discussions he, his Department or other Government Departments or representatives thereof have had with companies (details supplied) in the context of the recent takeover bid for Aer Lingus; if an improved or enhanced offer or offers in respect of Government shareholdings has been made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46397/08]

  288.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he or his officials have held discussions with Aer Lingus regarding a Shannon/Heathrow service in view of the strategic importance of this route for the mid west region; if he will report on these discussions; if his attention has been drawn to plans to reinstate the route; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47110/08]

  295.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his preferred options for the future development of air passenger transport to and from Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47226/08]

  296.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the discussions he has had with management or agents of a company (details supplied) in the context of speculation on the future of Aer Lingus; if the reinstatement of Aer Lingus flights from Shannon is part of such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47227/08]

  297.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of meetings or contacts he has had with representatives of airlines in the context of the future development and structure of Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47228/08]

[172]

  298.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number and nature of meetings he has had with persons, groups, bodies or agencies involved in a possible takeover or purchase of share options in Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47229/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 89, 288 and 295 to 298, inclusive, together.

I refer the Deputies to my response to a priority PQ answered today, Dáil Question No. 60.

On 3 December, I accepted a request from the CEO of Ryanair, as a courtesy, for an informal meeting at which the CEO outlined, in general terms, the main features of their proposed cash offer for all shares in Aer Lingus.

On 11 December I agreed to meet with the CEO and Chairman of Aer Lingus who wished to convey to me their opposition to the Ryanair offer.

I did not indicate to either Ryanair or Aer Lingus any policy position in relation to the proposed takeover. The Deputy will be aware that both companies made public statements following the meetings.

As regards the reinstatement of the Aer Lingus Shannon Heathrow service I have taken every opportunity I could since August of last year to make it clear to Aer Lingus Management and Board Members with whom I had contact to stress the importance Government attaches to the resumption of a Shannon Heathrow service. I will continue to do so in the future.

  90.  Deputy P. J. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has taken cases against road hauliers for breaching regulations since 2006; if so the number that have resulted in successful prosecutions since 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46498/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Gardai are responsible for prosecutions of all offences under the Road Traffic Acts. In addition, the Road Safety Authority since its establishment in 2006, is responsible for the enforcement of legislation in relation to licensing, breaches of drivers hours and tachograph rules, the roadworthiness of vehicles and safety standards and the prosecution of related offences.

My Department has not taken any cases against road hauliers since 2006.

  91.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the development of light rail systems for Cork, Limerick and Galway; if he will publish the feasibility studies for each of the projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46349/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In the 2007 Programme for Government, we made a commitment to carry out feasibility studies into Luas-style Light Rail Transport (LRT) systems in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford within two years. I have since asked the local authorities undertaking the studies to include consideration of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

I expect these studies to be completed within the original timeframe and to be published.

  92.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will place the Road [173]Safety Authority operated scheme for approved driving instructors on a statutory setting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46473/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The Road Safety Authority has submitted proposals for the registration and regulation of driving instructors to my Department. Consideration of these proposals is at an advanced stage, and I expect to be in a position to make the necessary regulations shortly.

  93.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will introduce legislation to replace the 1932 bus licensing law; what the heads of the Bill will be; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46351/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Proposals for a new bus licensing regime will be contained a forthcoming Public Transport Regulation Bill which is currently being drafted. The Bill will deal with the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. It will also encompass provisions relating to the subvented bus market outside the Greater Dublin Area in a manner consistent with EU Regulation No. 1370/2007 on public service obligations and similar to the contractual framework used in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.

It is my intention to seek Government approval for a General Scheme of the Bill shortly with a view to publication next year.

  94.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason some Department staff who are underutilised are not moved to areas of greatest need as recommended in the report of the organisational review programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46466/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  There have been considerable fluctuations in the functions of my Department since its inception in 2002 including taking on responsibility for maritime matters in 2006 and for regional and local roads and the management of the National Vehicle and Driver File in January 2008. The net effect has been a significant increase in both the policy and service delivery functions of the Department and a great degree of change for staff. The frequent churn and change and the fact that the Department is evidently stretched, as acknowledged by the Organisational Review Programme (ORP) has militated against rapid re-deployment of staff to areas of greatest need in recent years. In response to the findings of the ORP my Department has prepared an action plan which includes the implementation of a structured approach to the assignment, development and promotion of staff. The structure of the Department is being re-aligned to focus on updated priorities and a resource capacity study will be conducted during 2009 to review the capacity of the reducing staff quota to deliver on the Department’s agenda and how available resources might be deployed more efficiently.

  95.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the re-establishment of the Cork-Swansea ferry as a link to facilitate the development of tourism in the south west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40980/08]

[174]

  128.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether the suspension of the Cork-Swansea ferry in 2007 has had a detrimental effect on tourism in the south west; if attempts have been made to quantify these adverse effects; and if his attention has been drawn to the efforts to re-establish that tourist link. [40981/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 128 together.

The Cork Swansea Ferry Company suspended its service in 2007. I can appreciate the concerns that have been expressed in the region in response to this development. My colleague, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, T.D., recently met with representatives from county councils in Cork and Kerry who outlined to him the detrimental effects this suspension has had in the South West.

Quantification of adverse effects on tourism in the region would be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Mr. Martin Cullen, T.D.

The Port of Cork Company is continuing to engage in discussions with a number of interested parties and stakeholders with a view to the latter commencing a new passenger and freight service on the Cork-Swansea route. The Port of Cork Company also completed a feasibility study on the route and this indicated that a service, subject to procuring a suitable vessel, could be feasible for an operator for year round passenger and freight operations. The Port of Cork Company will continue to do what it can to facilitate resumption of a service.

As Minister of State for Transport, I feel it is important that the market offers a diverse range of viable maritime links in and out of the State. This is vital to facilitate trade and tourism. I certainly hope that the current efforts show that the service is commercially viable and that it can be resumed as soon as possible.

  96.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of the proposed separation of Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports; if he will repeal the State Airports Act 2004; if he will revise the debt allocation arrangements that are in place for the three airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46343/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The State Airports Act, 2004 provides the framework for the establishment of Shannon and Cork as independent airports. As part of the airport restructuring process the boards of Cork and Shannon airport are required to prepare business plans for eventual separation.

All three airport business plans have to be coordinated by the Dublin Airport Authority for eventual approval by myself and the Minister for Finance. Among the requirements to be satisfied in advance of separation is the need to ensure the financial sustainability of all three state airports.

I have now received business plans from each of the state airports and I have been in consultation with the three Airport Authorities concerning the approach to the separation of Cork and Shannon having regard to the current economic climate and trends in the aviation market generally. I hope to announce the outcome of those consultations shortly.

I should add that the repeal of the State Airports Act, 2004 does not arise.

  97.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will provide a full report on the recent intergovernmental agreement on full US pre-clearance facilities for Shannon and [175]Dublin airports; if this new agreement will require extra information sharing between the Irish and US authorities for Irish passengers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46342/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I was very pleased to sign an Inter-Governmental Agreement for the provision of Pre-Clearance services at Irish airports with Secretary Chertoff of the US Department of Homeland Security in Washington last month. The agreement provides for the pre-clearance of passengers in respect of U.S. customs, immigration and agricultural matters prior to boarding of aircraft in Ireland for U.S. destinations.

I anticipate that the agreement will bring major benefits to Ireland such as under it aircraft will be able to land at less congested and less expensive domestic terminals in international airports or at domestic airports in the U.S. This will facilitate onward connections for passengers to other parts of the U.S. Passengers will also benefit from uninterrupted passage through US airports on arrival.

Under the agreement pre-clearance officers of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service will be authorised, under Irish law, to carry out certain functions at designated pre-clearance areas of Irish airports in relation to passengers and aircraft bound for the U.S. that would otherwise be carried out on arrival in the U.S.

There is no provision in the agreement for the sharing of additional information between the Irish and the U.S. authorities.

Pre-clearance will require new legislation and Departmental officials have commenced the preparation of a general scheme of a Pre-clearance Bill with a view to having the legislation in place for pre-clearance to be operational in Shannon in the Summer of 2009.

  98.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will improve the maintenance of his Department’s buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46451/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  My Department, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, has agreed a multi-annual maintenance programme which is designed to ensure that the Department’s building stock is retained in good condition. This programme consists of a variety of maintenance measures that will progressively improve and upgrade the standard of accommodation.

My Department is also engaged in a consolidation of its current locations with the aim of reducing the number of its locations in Dublin from six buildings to three by the end of 2009. It is envisaged that this consolidation will permit a more focused and cost-effective approach to maintenance works.

  99.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress that has been made with his opposite numbers in Northern Ireland or in the UK regarding a common structure for penalty points; the problems with same; when a united approach will be achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40242/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The enforcement on foreign registered drivers of penalties for road traffic offences is a complex legal and administrative matter for many States, and my Department is pursuing this question at European, British/Irish and North/South levels.

[176]We are working with the authorities of the United Kingdom on the mutual recognition of penalty points, but a recent feasibility study carried out by the UK Department for Transport has underlined complex legal issues and the probable need for new primary legislation both here and in the United Kingdom in due course.

It is expected it will be some time before the mutual recognition of penalty points is in place.

  100.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the Sustainable Travel and Transport Plan; the reason this national policy document has been delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46354/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  While I had previously indicated my intention to publish the Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan by end 2008, it is now my intention to publish it as early as possible in 2009.

  101.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Transport    if the Dublin outer orbital road remains his policy; and if so, when he expects construction to begin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46484/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As the Deputy will be aware, as Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the Roads Act 1993 in conjunction with the relevant local authorities.

Neither Transport 21 nor the National Development Plan provides any funding for a Leinster Orbital Route to be constructed in the period to 2015. The Government has already made it clear, under Transport 21, that priorities for the roads investment programme after the completion of the major interurban network in 2010, will be the Atlantic Road Corridor as well as the improvement of other key national primary routes and the targeted improvement of certain national secondary routes.

The Leinster Orbital Route proposal remains an important potential element of our longer-term infrastructure development. My Department will continue to liaise with the roads and planning authorities concerned to ensure that route options are preserved free of impediment for this potential project.

  102.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he is reviewing road traffic legislation; if he has made recommendations to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on updating road safety legislation in view of the large number of motorists who have had speeding offences thrown out of court because of legal loopholes; if he has had contacts with the Road Safety Authority in terms of a more comprehensive review of road safety legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46360/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I take it the Deputy is referring to the recent speeding cases struck out by a District Court, and questions as to whether there was a requirement to publish a notice in Iris Oifigiúil of the making of special [177]speed limit bye-laws by local authorities. There are no such requirements under the Road Traffic Act 2004 or in the guidelines made under it relating to the making of such bye-laws.

The enforcement and prosecution of speeding offences and any further action in relation to these particular cases is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the DPP.

The Road Traffic Acts are kept under review and amended from time to time, and my Department is in regular contact with all the agencies involved in road safety and traffic, including my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority. A Road Traffic Bill is currently being drafted for publication early next year.

  103.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he gave a 10% increase in fares to Iarnród Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46457/08]

  106.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has placed conditions on the 10% fare rises for Irish Rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46454/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 106 together.

An average 10% fares increase was recently approved for Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to cover cost increases in fuel earlier this year, labour, other general costs and also taking into account the overall financial position of the CIE companies.

The fares increase was granted subject to the implementation of a package of customer focused/performance based measures to promote the greater use of public transport through, inter alia,

the early implementation of the recommendations of the forthcoming cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann currently being undertaken and a plan in that regard;

promotion of the greater use of smartcard ticketing and the preparation of a specific action plan in that regard;

the introduction next year, on a pilot basis, of mobile phone and web-based real-time passenger information for bus services in the Dublin area.

  104.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will review the nationwide provisions in place for commuter park and ride facilities in view of the need to encourage a modal shift to public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46362/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  My Department supports park and ride as having a role to play in encouraging commuters to switch to public transport. The provision of dedicated park and ride facilities at railway stations is a matter for Irish Rail, and at Luas and proposed Metro sites it is a matter for the RPA. Local authorities also have a role in providing commuter park and ride facilities.

In the Greater Dublin Area, the TAS consultancy Report for the DTO indicated that overall bus-based park and ride has a limited role to play because of the population size and distances involved. However, the Report indicated that there is some potential for satellite park and ride facilities. The local authorities in the hinterland area of the Greater Dublin Area have been [178]examining the potential of such satellite park and ride facilities, and while funding has been made available by my Department no proposals have been submitted by local authorities as yet. In at least one case, this is due to planning difficulties.

In Cork, one very successful park & ride has been developed on the southern side of the City. A proposal for a second park and ride is currently being actively developed by Cork City Council on the western side of the city. In Galway, Limerick, and Waterford the local authorities are continuing to examine the feasibility of permanent park & ride while a temporary Christmas park & ride is currently being operated by Galway City Council.

My Department makes funding available to local authorities for the development of park and ride facilities both in the Greater Dublin Area and in the regional cities and is prepared to provide capital support for such facilities on the basis of sound business plans from proposers for the projects.

I have no plans at this time for a review of park and ride provisions nationwide.

  105.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Transport    if he expects Metro West to be completed by 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46475/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Provision will be made in the 2009 grant allocations to facilitate significant progress in the planning and design of Metro West. The RPA intends to submit an application for a railway order for the project by the end of 2009.

The start and completion dates of Transport 21 projects, which have not yet commenced, will be determined by the outcome of the statutory approval and procurement processes and the funding allocation available during the current difficult economic climate.

Question No. 106 answered with Question No. 103.

  107.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans in response to CIE claims of its major budget deficit in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46480/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Priority Dáil Question No. 62, which I answered earlier today.

  108.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on amendments to the Harbours Bill 2008; if he will ensure that the level of employee director and county councillor representation on the board of the six national ports is maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46369/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 was published in July 2008 and is currently at Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann. The primary purpose of the Bill is to give effect to certain aspects of the Government’s Ports Policy Statement, launched in 2005.

A total of 17 amendments were proposed for consideration at Seanad Committee Stage, including an amendment in relation to the proposed removal of the statutory representation of local authority directors on port company boards.

[179]The various amendments remain the subject of debate and consideration in the Seanad and I look forward to continuing that debate in the stages that remain in both the Seanad and the Dáil.

  109.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of times he is briefed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety; his views on recent submissions by the MBRS to increase the funding of programmes to monitor and detect drug drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46364/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  I have visited the Bureau on two occasions this year, most recently at the official opening of their state of the art facilities at UCD Belfield, and my officials are in regular contact with management and staff on a range of issues. My Department is represented on the Board of the Bureau and this mechanism also facilitates good communication between both organisations.

It is a function of the Bureau to undertake research on drink and drug driving and to keep abreast of international developments in these areas, and the Bureau provides information and advice on these matters to my Department.

Funding of €4.4 million was provided for the Bureau this year, and my Department will endeavour, in these challenging times, to ensure a reasonable level of funding for the Bureau for 2009.

  110.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to reform the penalty points system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46383/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  Penalty points were first applied in October 2002 to the offence of speeding and have been rolled out in stages between then and September 2006 in respect of a total of 36 offences. The focus of the roll-out of the penalty points system to date has been on road safety critical offences that relate primarily to the behaviour of drivers.

The progressive extension of the penalty point system will continue to be pursued and the system is being kept under review.

  111.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on progress on the big dig infrastructure works necessary in Dublin city centre to facilitate the construction of metro north, the Luas link-up and the Dublin rail interconnector; if adjustments have been made to the contingency plans of the big dig in view of the reports on the deferral of the Luas Line BX; the stakeholders involved in planning for the big dig; when he will start a public information and awareness campaign on the big dig; the major traffic changes that will be made in April 2009 or later in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46348/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) lodged their application for a railway order for Metro North with An Bord Pleanála on 18th September last. Subject to the grant of an enforceable railway order, preparatory works such as utility diversions will commence in 2009. Good progress is also being made in planning work for the DART underground (Interconnector) and Irish Rail has set itself a target of making a railway order application in 2009.

[180]Pending the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority, the Dublin City Manager chairs the Dublin Transport 21 Implementation Group which co-ordinates and oversees the investment programme in Dublin. The Group comprises the chief executives of the principal implementing agencies, an Assistant Secretary from my Department, the Fingal County Manager, the Director of Traffic and representatives of the Garda Síochána and business associations.

Two sub-groups have been established and the business community is represented on both:

The Contingency Planning Group is overseeing the preparation by Dublin City Council of a traffic management strategy for the Transport 21 construction phase, focussed particularly on the city centre. This strategy will take account of other construction activity by local authorities, public bodies and private developers.

The Communications Group is preparing a co-ordinated communications strategy for the construction period of major Transport 21 projects, such as Metro North and the Interconnector. The theme of this strategy will be “Dublin is open for business”.

In addition, Dublin City Council is holding focus meetings with the city centre business community while the RPA continues to meet individual businesses and residents’ organisations along the Metro North preferred alignment to inform them of its plans and to address issues of concern. I understand that in early in 2009 a multi-agency joint strategy, including a public information and awareness campaign, will be rolled out.

It will not be possible to fully construct Luas Line BX at the same time as construction of Metro North because of the traffic management implications which would arise in the city centre. The RPA is developing a construction strategy for Luas Line BX, in close co-operation with Dublin City Council, which includes use of Metro North construction sites and recognises the traffic management requirements of the city centre. The RPA is engaging with Dublin City Council on the basis of the contemporaneous delivery of Lines BX and D (City Centre — Liffey Junction). It is the intention of the RPA to make a single railway order application for the combined Line BX/D to An Bord Pleanála in the latter part of next year.

I hold regular quarterly meetings with the Transport 21 implementing agencies, An Garda Síochána and business organisations in Dublin to identify the principal concerns of the business community and to review progress on traffic planning for the construction phase of Transport 21 projects. I last met with the Dublin City Centre Stakeholders Group on 29 September 2008. It was agreed at that meeting that the next meeting of the Stakeholders Group will be in January 2009.

  112.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport    when the new Dublin Transport Authority will be fully operational. [46376/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  It is my intention to establish the Dublin Transport Authority as early as possible in 2009 once I am satisfied that it has the financial and staffing resources necessary to enable it discharge effectively the functions assigned to it by the Oireachtas under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.

Discussions are currently taking place between my Department and the Department of Finance on the financing and staffing of the Authority against the background of the difficult position faced by the Exchequer as outlined in the recent Budget.

  113.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received and reviewed the recent legal opinion (details supplied) prepared for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport on the taxi sector and the possibility of introducing a cap or moratorium on the issuing of taxi licences; his views on the legal opinion; the deadline for the submission of the report by the Taxi Regulator on the taxi industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46339/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, the Commission for Taxi Regulation is the independent public body responsible for the development and maintenance of the regulatory framework for the control and operation, including licensing, of taxis, hackneys, limousines and their drivers. However, the Commission does not have any remit or statutory power under the Taxi Regulation Act in relation to the control of the number of licences issued.

My Department has received a copy of the opinion of the Senior Counsel on taxi deregulation referred to by the Deputy. In response I wish to say that I have no proposals to introduce quantitative restrictions on entry to the taxi market. I do support, however, the application of standards of a qualitative nature, which are determined by the Commission. The proposed new standards for the taxi industry were published in November 2007 and I understand they will be introduced on a phased basis from next month and will be fully rolled out by 2012.

In addition, the Commission has appointed consultants to undertake an extensive economic review of the small public service vehicle sector. I understand that the review will be completed early in the New Year.

  114.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the progress to date in implementing the recommendations of the 2003 high level review of commercial ports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46444/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The High Level Review of the State Commercial Ports, carried out by Raymond Burke Consulting in association with Posford Haskoning Consulting Engineers and Farrell Grant Sparks, was published in May 2003. This was the first such review of the port companies established under the terms of the Harbours Act 1996.

Subsequently, the Review was the subject of an extensive public consultation process on its findings and recommendations. The work undertaken as part of the Review, and the earlier statutory Performance Audit of the State Port Companies in 2001 carried out by Jonathan Packer, together with the submissions and observations received during these processes, fed into and informed the development of the Ports Policy Statement in 2005. The development of a ports policy statement was one of the recommendations of the Review itself.

A key focus of both the High Level Review and the Ports Policy Statement was the need to further enhance the commercial ethos conferred upon the port companies by the Harbours Act 1996. To that end, important recommendations were made inter alia regarding board size and composition.

The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 is intended to give a legislative basis to these recommendations by reducing the number of directors on port company boards from 12 to 8, removing statutory local authority representation, ending the practice of appointing port users to boards and standardising the number of employee directors at one per port company.

[182]The Bill also contains other amendments to support the recommendations contained in the Review and Ports Policy Statement designed to enhance the commercial ethos of the State port companies. These proposals include allowing port companies to invest in commercial opportunities outside their harbour limits and introducing a greater degree of flexibility regarding borrowing by port companies, which will aid their continued development and progress.

The High Level Review also specified the desirability of recognising the integral role of the ports sector in the overall transport chain by transferring responsibility for the ports from the then Department of Communications, Marine, Energy and Natural Resources to the Department of Transport. This transfer took place in January 2006.

The High Level Review and the subsequent development of the Ports Policy Statement provided a clear framework for the development of the commercial ports sector in the State. The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, when enacted, will considerably supplement the progress made since the High Level Review was published in 2003.

  115.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    when the report on the future of Dublin Port will be published; if the report will recommend changes to the future location and size of Dublin Port; if he will publish new legislation to accompany the report; if measures in the report will require new legislation; his views on the proposed reclamation of 21 hectares at Dublin Port; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46370/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  Indecon International Economic Consultants have been commissioned to undertake a comprehensive review of the role of Dublin Port as provided for under the National Development Plan 2007 — 2013.

This study will examine the feasibility of various scenarios relating to Dublin Port, including:

Existing port activities continuing to expand with demand,

Relocating all or part of Dublin Port’s existing activities to an alternative location(s),

Port activities continuing at current levels with growth being catered for at alternative locations.

Work on the Dublin Port study is progressing and I expect a final report for my consideration in the early part of 2009. I will consider the report’s findings upon receipt and take appropriate action.

I am aware that Dublin Port Company has lodged a planning application with An Bord Pleanála under the Planning and Development (Strategic Development) Act 2006 to reclaim and develop 21 hectares of foreshore within the port area.

As a “prescribed body” under that Act, I was formally notified of the application and my Department has written to An Bord Pleanála with an update on the progress of the Dublin Port study.

  116.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the position the three Government appointees to the board of directors at Aer Lingus took on proposals for the outsourcing of key ground and cabin crew jobs at the airline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46341/08]

[183]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The State’s nominated directors on the Board of Aer Lingus are mandated to ensure that all future decisions of the company that have significant implications for wider Government, aviation or regional development policies are considered at Board level. The mandate specifically states that the possible decisions concerned would include decisions on proposals with significant local or national economic implications including a direct impact on employment.

It is a matter for the directors concerned to respect the mandate in the context of their overriding fiduciary duties under the Companies Acts to act in the best interests of the company and shareholders generally.

I am pleased to note that the Unions and management at Aer Lingus have found a mutually acceptable way forward at a very challenging time for the aviation industry generally.

Question No. 117 answered with Question No. 68.

  118.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    if he is planning to change the blood alcohol level for drivers; if so, when he will introduce the necessary legislation; the level to which he plans to reduce the blood alcohol concentration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46363/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The Government recently gave its approval to the drafting of a Road Traffic and Transport Bill, which inter alia proposes a reduction in the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level for drivers. It is hoped to have the Bill published early next year.

  119.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of inspectors monitoring the wages and conditions of maritime workers on vessels in Irish ports; the number of random inspections carried out each year from 2005 to 2008; if he will strengthen the monitoring of wages and conditions of mariners in Irish ports and water; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46371/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The terms and conditions of employment on board vessels are a matter primarily for the State in which the ship is registered.

A comprehensive body of Irish employment rights legislation governs the conditions of employment of workers on board vessels under the Irish flag. This includes legislation dealing with minimum wages.

If the vessel is not registered in Ireland, then the port state control inspections cover the International Maritime Organisation’s various Safety and Environment Protection Conventions as well as the International Labour Organisation Conventions. The inspection of the latter includes the welfare of the crew (food, accommodation, hours of work etc) but would exclude rates of pay.

The number of marine surveyors, who carry out a range of duties, employed by my Department currently stands at 22.

The figures for port state control inspections under the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on foreign flag merchant ships visiting Irish ports in 2005 to 2007 were 422, 440, and 410 respectively. Inspections to date in 2008 are just over 400.

[184]In addition to the Port State Control Inspections, safety inspections on ro-ro passenger ferries and high-speed passenger craft operating on scheduled international routes to/from Ireland are conducted. The figures for these inspections are 24 each year for 2005 and 2006 with 31 last year and 28 to date in 2008.

Ireland has consistently supported the International Labour Organisation in its efforts to promote global labour standards for seafarers. A new consolidated Maritime Labour Convention was adopted in February 2006 at the 94th International Labour Conference in Geneva. Ireland was represented at the Conference by a tripartite delegation consisting of Government officials, nominees of the employers (IBEC) and of the workers (ICTU). The new Convention sets out clear principles and rights for seafarers. EU member states are committed to ratifying the new Convention by 31 December 2010 and it is expected to come into force internationally in 2011.

Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 77.

Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 71.

  122.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    when the integrated ticketing project will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46384/08]

  123.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the integrated ticketing project; the final completion date for the full integrated ticketing scheme; the estimated costs for developing and implementing integrated ticketing; if Bus Éireann will be fully incorporated into the integrated ticketing scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46374/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 123 together.

A smart card for public transport services in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) is available on Luas services. In recent months all buses in the Dublin Bus fleet have been fitted with smart card validators and smart cards are now in use on these buses in respect of a number of ticket products such as annual and monthly bus tickets, annual and monthly integrated bus and rail tickets and 5-day rambler tickets.

Irish Rail will launch its own interim smart card scheme from next summer. These smart card schemes will enable both users and operators to familiarise themselves with the use and flexibilities of smart card systems in advance of the introduction of the single smart card scheme.

From late next year, a single smart card will be introduced for ticket products on Dublin Bus and Luas services. This smart card will also have an electronic purse capability for use on both services.

This single smart card system will then be extended to Irish Rail DART and commuter rail services within a further 12 months. The new gating systems at Irish Rail stations in the GDA have been designed to handle the new smart card.

In relation to Bus Éireann, the smart card will be introduced on a pilot basis on a number of its commuter routes in late 2010. It is also envisaged that private bus operators will join the scheme over this timeframe.

[185]The overall capital budget for the project is €55.4 million.

  124.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will introduce new regulations on the issue of overloading of private leisure boats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46483/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  My Department’s approach to maritime safety involves an appropriate combination of statutory regulation, safety awareness promotion and enforcement. The balance to be struck between regulation and safety awareness promotion has a particular significance in relation to recreational craft, which are intended for leisure and sporting purposes. It is the responsibility of owners and operators of recreational craft to ensure that a vessel is properly operated, equipped and maintained.

To assist them my Department developed and published in 2006, the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft following a public consultation process. The Code sets out in a user-friendly way, the legislative requirements and standards relating to recreational craft and guidance on best practice. It includes information on legal requirements on voyage planning relating to amongst other things, the capability of the boat, pre-departure safety checks and safety equipment.

The Code also outlines the requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) which has been transposed into Irish law. The RCD provides that recreational craft placed on the market since June 1998 must comply with specified safety requirements. These requirements include being appropriately marked with the number of persons recommended by the manufacturer for which the boat is designed to carry when underway and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load for which the boat is designed.

The Code of Practice gives advice to members of the public on the purchasing of recreational craft having regard to the requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive.

I consider that the legislation in place together with the Code of Practice is an appropriate and proportional response to addressing the issue of overloading on recreational craft. If observed they can save lives. There is an onus on all of us to take personal responsibility for our safety whether on the roads or on the water.

  125.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the final costs for the construction of the Dublin Port Tunnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46367/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The implementation of individual national road projects, including the Dublin Port Tunnel, as well as the responsibility to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads, are matters for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the Roads Act, 1993 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

The construction of the Dublin Port Tunnel project was procured by Dublin City Council and funded through the NRA. In relation to cost matters, discussions between the contractor and Dublin City Council concerning the finalisation of outstanding cost issues are continuing, utilising the relevant mechanisms set out in the contract between the parties, and I understand that good progress has been made in this area.

  126.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    if he is reviewing and updating legislation in relation to parking; his policy in relation to the growing problem of larger vehicles parking in residential areas; the measures he will take to combat this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46373/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 to 2006 are currently being reviewed and updated in my Department.

Road authorities have power under the 1997 regulations to prohibit the parking of large vehicles on a public road, at either a particular location on a public road or in a particular zone.

The road authority parking regulations can be enforced by the Garda Síochána and traffic wardens and authorised persons (vehicle clamping operators).

  127.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the results of the investigation led by his Department into the presence of Irish and foreign registered car write-offs on Irish roads; the measures he will introduce to address the problem of car write-offs on Irish roads; if that includes a system for the compulsory reporting of car write-offs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46365/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  With the assistance of data made available voluntarily by the insurance industry the Department, following analysis against the 2.5 million active vehicles on the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF) has written to the registered owners of 1,117 vehicles which the records indicate may still be in use on public roads. All of the data provided by insurers has now been analysed and follow up action has been taken where warranted. This exercise has now been concluded satisfactorily.

As I indicated in responses to previous similar questions voluntary arrangements with insurers have also been put in place whereby the NVDF now receives regular notifications of write off instances. These arrangements enable the NVDF to have current write off data and are operating well.

Provision of write-off data in relation to imported used vehicles at the time of registration is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners.

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 95.

  129.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish the National Pedestrian Safety Strategy; the reason the deadline for the publication of this strategy by the third quarter of 2008 has been missed; the measures that will be contained in the pedestrian safety strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46356/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No 477 of 2006) this is a matter for the Road Safety Authority.

  130.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish legislation to facilitate the introduction of the full graduated driver licence scheme; the reason this legislation has been delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46358/08]

[187]Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Noel Ahern):  The Road Safety Strategy 2007 — 2012 outlines a range of measures to be considered in relation to a Graduated Driver Licensing System. The driver licensing regulations, which were made in October 2007, providing for the introduction of a learner permit to replace the provisional licence and some other measures, were the first step in the introduction of a Graduated Driver Licensing System.

A progressive roll-out of appropriate measures is envisaged as the most practical approach for implementing the Graduated Driver Licensing System.

The Road Safety Authority is currently preparing a consultation paper on the issue, and I will consider in due course the proposals which emerge from that process.

  131.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Taoiseach    the estimate he has made of the number and percentage of the workforce who will be over the age of 65 years in 2013, 2018, 2023 and 2028; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46654/08]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey):  The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the following table. The data are taken from the Population and Labour Force Projections published in April 2008.

Because of the uncertainty involved, the labour force projections are only given for the period to 2021, while the years distinguished are 2011, 2016 and 2021.

Three migration scenarios are given: M1 assumes average annual net immigration of 50,000 in the period 2006-2021, M2 36,700, while M0 assumes zero net migration.

Projected Labour Force aged 65 and over, and as a percentage of the total labour force, 2011, 2016 and 2021

M0 M2 M1
2011 Labour force 65+ (000s) 51.1 51.5 51.6
As a percentage of total 2.3 2.2 2.1
2016 Labour force 65+ (000s) 72.8 73.9 74.2
As a percentage of total 3.2 2.9 2.8
2021 Labour force 65+ (000s) 96.3 98.4 99.0
As a percentage of total 4.2 3.6 3.5

  132.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the amount of money paid by the Office of the Attorney General in respect of official business abroad by the holders of positions (details supplied) for each year since 2000 to date in 2008. [46751/08]

  133.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the amount of money paid by the Office of the Attorney General in respect of official business abroad by each lawyer at the equivalent grade of assistant secretary level for each year since 2000 to date in 2008. [46763/08]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 132 and 133 together.

The Information requested by the Deputy in these questions is being compiled by the Office of the Attorney General and will be forwarded to him as soon as possible.

  134.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    if the contract drafters hired between 1996 and 2008 from outside the EU received training in European Communities law in the Office of the Attorney General before transposing European directives and regulations. [46767/08]

  135.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    if the contract drafters hired between 1996 and 2008 received training in Irish law in the Office of the Attorney General before drafting Irish legislation. [46768/08]

  140.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    if he will furnish the written instructions given to contract drafters on being hired to ensure uniformity of style. [46773/08]

  141.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    if knowledge of Irish law and European Communities law is a requirement before being hired as a contract drafter of Irish legislation in the Office of the Attorney General. [46774/08]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 134, 135, 140 and 141 together.

I am advised by the Attorney General that when seeking contract drafters the Office of the Attorney General requires candidates to possess very high levels of skill and experience in common-law jurisdiction. Many have formerly been heads of Offices in their own jurisdictions and all come with the highest recommendations. Where it is necessary, the Office arranges appropriate training to ensure that such staff are fully competent to perform any particular task they are assigned. This is in accordance with Office practice as training is available to all Office staff as necessary.

Contract drafters are given any necessary guidance in relation to relevant issues including Irish Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, European Law and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is not a requirement that contract drafters have a prior knowledge of Irish and European Community Law on their engagement as this expertise already exists in the Office. Contract drafters are assigned to Groups within the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government. These Groups are headed by permanent Parliamentary Counsel at Assistant Secretary and higher level who provide the necessary expertise where required, including in Constitutional, Irish and European law. These Parliamentary Counsel monitor and guide the work of the contract drafters and deal with issues on drafting files as appropriate. Additionally, as with all drafting staff, contract staff work closely with Advisory Counsel in the AGO who are specialists in their legal field. Contract drafters are supplied with the Office’s Drafting Manuals and this assists in ensuring a standard approach. Finally, of course, like all drafters, contract drafters work in close liaison with the Departments sponsoring the Bills and statutory instruments that they are drafting.

There are procedures within the Office for quality assurance of all drafting files prior to the transmission of final drafts of legislation to client Departments. Furthermore, where legal issues arise on drafting files, requests for advice are made to Advisory Counsel and in some cases submissions are made by the Advisory Counsel to the Attorney General in relation to these issues.

It should also be noted that contact drafters have, allied to their extensive drafting skills, and experience, brought other insights and expertise into the Office. Their advice in respect of Bill management at Government level and their knowledge of other jurisdictions’ steps to improve the clarity of legislation have been of much assistance to the Office in developing its views and [189]know-how on these matters. This is an important contribution to the continuous development of skills and expertise in the Office. The Office also utilises the skills and experience of the contract staff in the training of its own permanent staff.

  136.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the number of permanent drafters who left their positions in the Office of the Attorney General each year from 2003 to 2008 to take up other positions in the public service. [46769/08]

The Taoiseach:  The figures sought by the Deputy are as follows:

Year Number
2003 None
2004 None
2005 2, of whom one left on secondment for a position in the Irish Public Service and one left on career break for a position with the OECD
2006 None
2007 1 left for a position in the Irish Public Service
2008 1 left for a position in the Irish Public Service

  137.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the number of contract drafters employed by the Office of the Attorney General on 1 January in each year from 1996 to 2008. [46770/08]

The Taoiseach:  The figures sought by the Deputy are as follows:

Year Number
1996 3
1997 2
1998 2
1999 4
2000 2
2001 4
2002 4
2003 5
2004 6
2005 5
2006 7
2007 6
2008 5

  138.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the number of entry level advisory counsel who entered the Office of the Attorney General each year from 2000 to 2008. [46771/08]

The Taoiseach:  The figures sought by the Deputy are given below. Entry level advisory counsel entering in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were largely recruited for secondment as legal advisers to other Government Departments and Offices.

Year Number
2000 None
2001 8
2002 2
2003 3
2004 1
2005 None
2006 6
2007 7
2008 4

  139.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Taoiseach    the number of entry level drafters who entered the Office of the Attorney General each year from 2000 to 2008. [46772/08]

The Taoiseach:  The figures sought by the Deputy are as follows:

Year Number
2000 None
2001 3
2002 2
2003 None
2004 2
2005 None
2006 2
2007 None
2008 3

Questions Nos. 140 and 141 answered with Question No. 134.

  142.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Taoiseach    the equipment and data that was lost or stolen from his Department in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46671/08]

The Taoiseach:  No equipment or data has been reported lost or stolen from my Department in the past 12 months.

  143.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Taoiseach    the amount of money spent on hotel accommodation by his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department for each of the years 2004 to date in 2008; if he will provide the information available in tabular readable form. [46686/08]

The Taoiseach:  The amount spent on hotel accommodation from my Department’s Vote and each State agency under the aegis of this Department from 2004 to end of November 2008 is detailed in the table below.

[191]Department: Hotel Expenditure (includes Foreign & Domestic)

Year Amount
2004 246,431
2005 190,447
2006 220,392
2007 136,493
2008 (to end November) 211,508

These figures include Programme spend in respect of the bodies operating under the aegis of my Department, other than those referenced out separately below.

Expenditure by NESDO (which was established on a statutory basis from 1 January 2007) is detailed in the following table for 2007 & 2008.

National Economic & Social Development Office (NESDO): Hotel Expenditure (includes Foreign & Domestic)

Year Amount
2007 23,613
2008 (to end November) 23,646

Expenditure by the Central Statistics Office is detailed in the following table from 2004 to 2008 inclusive.

Central Statistics Office: Hotel Expenditure (includes Foreign & Domestic)

Year Amount
2004 2,116
2005 3,407
2006 2,945
2007 8,995
2008 (to end November) 4,628

In general, CSO staff travelling on official business make hotel bookings themselves and pay directly for their accommodation so an overall figure for hotel costs is not available. As a decentralised Office, the CSO occasionally pays directly for hotel accommodation in Ireland, for a small number of meetings involving staff from the Dublin and Cork offices.

  144.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Taoiseach    the procurement arrangements in place in his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department for the sourcing of hotel accommodation for him, for his Departmental staff and staff at each State agency, when overnight accommodation is necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46701/08]

The Taoiseach:  My Department has a travel policy which is based on the guidelines laid down by the Department of Finance. It is applicable to all staff and sets out the policy regarding appropriate hotel accommodation to be used. The aims of the travel policy are to minimise [192]official travel costs and to achieve value for money for expenditure necessarily incurred, consistent with the effective discharge of official duties.

Hotel bookings in relation to my official foreign travel are made by the Department of Foreign Affairs in consultation with the host Government and the local Irish Embassy. In regard to procurement arrangements for sourcing hotel accommodation, the central contract for travel booking services for government officials includes provision for making hotel reservations. This contract is currently held by Club Travel Limited and was awarded following an EU-level advertised procurement process conducted under the lead of the Department of Finance earlier this year.

With regard to Departmental staff, in most instances, hotel bookings are centrally co-ordinated by my Department’s Finance Unit which ensures that the travel policy and Department of Finance guidelines are complied with. A designated Travel Officer has responsibility for making bookings on the basis of a decision by the Department of the options put forward by Club Travel. Where exceptionally, Department officials book their own hotel accommodation, they are required to adhere to the Department’s Travel Policy.

The procurement arrangements in NESDO are to select a hotel which is convenient to the location of the official business and which is competitively priced. With regard to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the normal civil service rules for travel and subsistence expenses apply to staff of the CSO travelling on official business. Staff claim travel and overnight expenses in accordance with the rules and rates appropriate to the relevant destination. In general, staff travelling on official business make hotel bookings themselves and pay directly for their accommodation.

As a decentralised Office, the CSO occasionally pays directly for hotel accommodation in Ireland, for a small number of meetings involving staff from the Dublin and Cork offices. When the CSO sources accommodation for official purposes (e.g. meetings, interview rooms, overnight accommodation) the Office follows national procurement guidelines. All bookings are made on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender.

  145.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Taoiseach    the number of computer servers that are owned or leased by his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department; and the amount of capacity on each server. [46716/08]

The Taoiseach:  My Department owns and operates 52 servers across two separate networks. These servers are configured so as to provide resilience and failover in case of equipment failure. The table below outlines the actual capacity, in gigabytes, of each server, some of which hold a ‘mirror’ of the data on other critical servers.

Server No. Capacity (GB) Server No. Capacity (GB) Server No. Capacity (GB) Server No. Capacity (GB)
1 18 14 25 27 73 40 140
2 18 15 36 28 73 41 140
3 18 16 36 29 73 42 140
4 18 17 36 30 73 43 140
5 18 18 36 31 73 44 150
6 18 19 36 32 73 45 205
7 18 20 36 33 80 46 205
8 18 21 40 34 80 47 205
9 18 22 70 35 80 48 210
10 18 23 70 36 100 49 270
11 18 24 70 37 135 50 560
12 18 25 73 38 140 51 650
13 20 26 73 39 140 52 720

The following section details the servers owned or leased by the state agencies under the aegis of my Department

NESDO

Server No Capacity (GB)
1 145
2 217
3 277
4 277
5 68
6 72

Forum on Europe

Server No Capacity (GB)
1 270

CSO

The CSO has 104 computer servers with an average capacity of 150 gigabytes per server: and three Storage Area Networks (SANs) with a total capacity of 65 terabytes.

  146.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the budgeted cost to his Department for 2009 of incremental pay increases for all staff in and under the aegis of his Department; the comparative cost for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46992/08]

The Taoiseach:  The estimated cost of incremental pay increases for staff in this Department and the agencies under its aegis in 2008 and 2009 is detailed in the table below. Cost of increments is not identified as a separate cost in the budget process and consequently is not readily available for the years 2002 to 2006. I do not consider it an efficient use of administrative time to provide comparative details for 2002 to 2006 as this would necessitate an inordinate amount of time and cost in my Department.

Department/Agencies Estimated cost 2008 Estimated Cost 2009
Department of the Taoiseach 202,000.00 201,000.00
Central Statistics Office 420,000 440,000
National Economic Social Council Office (NESDO) 17,248.00 14,570.00

  147.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of civil servants and other public servants, who have relocated to locations outside of Dublin under the decentralisation programme; the estimated number of each category who will have relocated by the end of 2009; the breakdown of each set of figures in terms of those who are relocating from Dublin and relocating from elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47007/08]

The Taoiseach:  To date, 23 former members of staff from my Department have already been assigned to decentralised posts. There are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the bodies under its aegis. It is a matter for those Departments to which staff from my Department have decentralised to assign such staff to locations outside of Dublin.

  148.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of people working in his Department; the number earning below €50,000 per annum; the number earning between €50,001 and €60,000 per annum; the number earning between €60,001 and €70,000 per annum; the number earning between €70,001 and €80,000 per annum; the number earning between €80,001 and €90,000 per annum; the number earning between €90,001 and €100,000 per annum; the number earning over €100,001 per annum; the number in each staff category (details supplied) for each income band. [47022/08]

  149.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of civil and public servants working in or under the aegis of his Department for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47037/08]

  150.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of locations in which civil and public servants working in or under the aegis of his Department are located; the locations of same; the number, and the number in each category (details supplied) of staff at each location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47052/08]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 to 150, inclusive, together.

The number of whole time equivalent civil and public servants working in or under the aegis of my Department for each year from 2002 to 2008 is set out in the table below.

Year No. of staff in Dept NESDO Central Statistics Office
2002 222.0 21.5 753.0
2003 220.2 22.5 686.3
2004 215.5 21.5 684.3
2005 213.3 20.8 776.0
2006 215.0 22.6 877.6
2007 220.0 23.4 787.9
2008 214.0 24.0 773.2

NESDO (National Economic and Social Development Office) first operated on a non statutory basis from its inception in April 2002 until the entry into force of the National Economic and Social Development Act 2006 on 1 January 2007. Details in relation to NESDO comprise staff serving in all its constituent bodies, i.e.the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP).

[195]All staff in my Department and the National Economic & Social Development Office are based in Dublin. The Central Statistics Office has staff in both Dublin and Cork. Details are provided in the table below.

Staff by location and grade (W.T.E — whole time equivalent)

Cork Dublin Field Staff
Director General/Assistant Director General/Director 5.00 2.00 0.00
Senior Statistician/P.O. 15.00 13.00 0.00
Statistician 50.40 43.80 0.00
A.P. 17.35 5.50 0.00
H.E.O. 49.60 27.40 0.00
E.O. 106.30 47.20 0.00
S.O. 11.70 4.40 12.00
C.O. 218.30 48.20 78.05
Other 12.00 6.00 0.00
Total 485.65 197.50 90.05

The breakdown of the salaries of staff in my Department in the format requested by the Deputy is set out in the table below. It should be noted that the details refer to actual staff rather than whole time equivalents.

No. of persons
> 100,001 28
90,001 – 100,000 7
80,001 – 90,000 10
70,001 – 80,000 13
60,001 – 70,000 6
50,001 – 60,000 37
< 50,000 135

  151.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the agencies, bodies or authorities under the aegis of his Department that have been scheduled for merging, amalgamation, abolition or sharing of services as announced in the Budget 2009; the progress that has been made on the implementation of these organisational changes; the details of the implementation plan for these organisational changes; the cost savings that will arise from each of these organisational changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47067/08]

The Taoiseach:  There are no agencies, bodies or authorities under the aegis of my Department scheduled for merging, amalgamation, abolition or sharing of services as announced in the Budget 2009.

  152.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    the amount of taxpayers’ money given to the Institute for International and European Affairs in the lead up to the Lisbon Referendum. [47105/08]

The Taoiseach:  The Department of the Taoiseach does not provide any direct funding to the Institute of International and European Affairs, other than payment of a yearly membership fee for the Department. The membership fee for the Department of the Taoiseach for 2008 is €6,000.

  153.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to EU Directive 2002/44/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to mechanical vibration, and its transposition deadline of no later than 6 July 2005 and its provision of a transitional period of five years in relation to Section 5 (3) where work equipment is used which was given to workers before 6 July 2007. [46934/08]

  154.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to EU Directive 2002/44/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to mechanical vibration, its transposition deadline of no later than 6 July 2005 and its provision of a transitional period of five years in relation to Section 5(3) where work equipment is used which was given to workers before 6 July 2007. [47069/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 153 and 154 together.

Directive 2002/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibration) was originally transposed into Irish law through the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Control of Vibration at Work) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 370 of 2006). These Regulations were subsequently revoked by and reincorporated in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007) in an exercise of consolidation and simplification of regulatory provisions in the area of occupational safety and health.

Specifically, Chapter 2 of Part 5, Regulations 133 to 142, and Schedule 6 of the 2007 General Application Regulations retransposed Directive 2002/44/EC into Irish law.

This Chapter sets out requirements relating to the control of vibration at work including exposure limit values and action values, determination and assessment of risks, provisions aimed at avoiding or reducing exposure, employee information and training, health surveillance, records and effects and exemptions. Regulation 134, inter alia, provides that Regulation 139, relating to the application of exposure limit values, applies on and after 6 July 2010, but not until then, where work equipment is used which was first provided to employees before 6 July 2007 by an employer, and does not permit compliance with the exposure limit values.

  155.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will expand on Parliamentary Question No. 138 of 9 December 2008 to include the duration and dates of the visits made by her or other Ministers in her Department [197]to FÁS events abroad since 2000 to date in 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46518/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The information below sets out details in relation to visits made by Ministers of this Department to FÁS events abroad since 2000. The exact dates in relation to a number of the trips made in 2000 and 2001 are not readily available and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Minister Trip Date
Minister Martin Science Challenge Florida 10–14 July 2005*
Minister Killeen FÁS Jobs Fair New York 18-22 October 2006
Science Challenge Houston 23-27 October 2005
Minister Ahern Science Challenge Houston 24-28 April 2006
Minister Harney Science Challenge Florida 7-12 July 2004
FÁS Jobs Fair S/Africa 25-27 November 2000
FÁS Jobs Fair London 13 May 2000
Minister Kitt FÁS Jobs Fair NY 2001
FÁS Jobs Fair Moscow 2001
FÁS Jobs Fair Berlin 2001
Minister Treacy FÁS Jobs Fair Newfoundland 2000

  156.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the equipment and data that was lost or stolen from her Department in the past 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46664/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department’s records indicate that in the past 12 months one laptop has been reported stolen, one laptop reported missing and one BlackBerry device reported stolen. None has been recovered or found. There have been no other computers or data devices reported lost, missing or stolen during this period.

It is my Department’s policy to invoke the facility to remotely erase all data from a BlackBerry device as soon as it is reported missing, and immediately cancel the subscription with the service provider. In the case of the stolen BlackBerry it was not possible to do this locally and the device was disabled by the service provider at my Department’s request.

It is also the policy in my Department to encrypt all new laptops before they are issued. A project to encrypt all laptops already issued to officers of my Department is currently underway and should be completed by year-end. The two missing laptops were not encrypted but they were reported not to contain any sensitive or private data at the time of their loss.

  157.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount of money spent on hotel accommodation by her Department and each State agency under the aegis of her Department for each of the years 2004 to date in 2008; if she will provide the information available in tabular readable form. [46679/08]

[198]Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  As a general rule, staff of my Department who are necessarily detained away from home or headquarters on official business in Ireland on an overnight basis are responsible for the payment of their own accommodation expenses. In accordance with Department of Finance travel and subsistence regulations, staff are usually paid a flat rate allowance in such circumstances to cover their combined accommodation and subsistence costs. My Department does not generally receive or record details of their hotel costs.

Occasionally, my Department organises meetings in hotels which necessarily require accommodation for some staff of the Department. The accommodation costs in such cases usually form part of a wider package of conference facilities and are paid as part of a total invoice. The accommodation costs are not recorded separately on my Department’s accounting systems in such instances.

Where an officer avails of hotel accommodation while engaged on official business abroad, he/she may be reimbursed expenses by way of: (a) a flat-rate allowance to cover combined accommodation and subsistence costs, or (b) vouched accommodation costs, with a reduced subsistence allowance.

Any hotel accommodation costs reimbursed by my Department in these situations are aggregated with associated subsistence costs on my Department’s accounting systems and are not recorded separately.

Similar procedures also apply in relation to hotel accommodation costs for myself and my Ministers of State. In accordance with Department of Finance travel and subsistence regulations, Ministers and Ministers of State are reimbursed vouched accommodation costs and receive a reduced subsistence allowance for overnight absences on official business, whether in Ireland or abroad. However, the accommodation costs are not recorded separately on my Department’s accounting systems.

It is not feasible, therefore, to identify separately the amount of money spent on hotel accommodation by my Department, as this exercise would require every expenses claim and a number of individual invoices processed by my Department to be reviewed. My Department processes several thousand expenses claims each year.

Expenditure on hotel accommodation by the State agencies under the aegis of my Department is an administrative matter for the agencies concerned and my Department does not have direct access to those details.

  158.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the procurement arrangements in place in her Department and each State agency under the aegis of her Department for the sourcing of hotel accommodation for her, for her Departmental staff and staff at each State agency, when overnight accommodation is necessary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46694/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  As a general rule, staff of my Department who are necessarily detained away from home or headquarters on official business on an overnight basis in Ireland are responsible for selecting their own accommodation. This arrangement also applies to myself and my Ministers of State.

In accordance with Department of Finance travel and subsistence regulations, officials are usually paid a flat rate allowance in such circumstances to cover their combined accommodation and subsistence costs. Ministers and Ministers of State are reimbursed vouched accommodation costs and receive a reduced subsistence allowance.

[199]Occasionally, my Department organises meetings in hotels which necessarily require accommodation for some staff of the Department. The accommodation costs in such cases usually form part of a wider package of conference facilities and are paid as part of a total invoice. Public Procurement procedures apply in organising such meetings.

With regard to the sourcing of hotel accommodation for official business abroad, my Department, together with a number of other Government Departments, has engaged the services of a travel management company to process flight and hotel bookings. The contract for these services was awarded following a public tendering process managed by the Department of Finance. The service provided by the travel management company allows my Department to access competitive hotel rates abroad, often at short notice and in times of peak demand.

In some situations, hotel accommodation for Ministerial visits abroad is organised through the Department of Foreign Affairs or by agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. My Department does not have any role in the selection of hotels in these instances.

The procurement of hotel accommodation by the State agencies under my Department’s remit is an administrative matter for the agencies concerned and my Department does not have direct access to the details of their procurement arrangements.

  159.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of computer servers that are owned or leased by her Department and each State agency under the aegis of her Department; and the amount of capacity on each server. [46709/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Server specifications for servers owned by the agencies under the aegis of this Department are day-to-day operational matters for the agencies involved and not ones in which I have any function.

My Department’s records include details of servers with relevant storage capacity, owned or leased by the Department or its Offices and which are on the Department’s network. These details are set out in tabular format as follows:

Server Identity Owned / Leased Capacity (Gigabytes)
1 Owned 625
2 Owned 625
3 Owned 489
4 Owned 2,800
5 Owned 2,800
6 Owned 2,300
7 Owned 2,300
8 Owned 68
9 Owned 66
10 Owned 66
11 Owned 407
12 Owned 60
13 Owned 34
14 Owned 407
15 Owned 40
16 Owned 37
17 Owned 78
18 Owned 534
19 Owned 534
20 Owned 534
21 Owned 534
22 Owned 540
23 Owned 540
24 Owned 101
25 Owned 366
26 Owned 272
27 Owned 476
28 Owned 340
29 Owned 476
30 Owned 68
31 Owned 510
32 Owned 272
33 Owned 34
34 Owned 283.9
35 Owned 156
36 Owned 863.9
37 Owned 7.75
38 Owned 34
39 Owned 12
40 Owned 863
41 Owned 272
42 Owned 68
43 Owned 67
44 Owned 340
45 Owned 68
46 Owned 396.26
47 Owned 396
48 Owned 337.7
49 Owned 68
50 Owned 170
51 Owned 166
52 Owned 170
53 Owned 82
54 Owned 37.2
55 Owned 67.7
56 Owned 597
57 Owned 880
58 Owned 880
59 Owned 880
60 Owned 262
61 Owned 208
62 Owned 477
63 Owned 390.53
64 Owned 312
65 Owned 148.4
66 Owned 68
67 Owned 68
68 Owned 168
69 Owned 65
70 Owned 270
71 Owned 73
72 Owned 231
73 Owned 219.1
74 Owned 1
75 Owned 160
76 Owned 79
77 Owned 85
78 Owned 216.9
79 Owned 170
80 Owned 170
81 Owned 296
82 Owned 340.1
83 Owned 160
84 Owned 701
85 Owned 270.6
86 Owned 160
87 Owned 221.6
88 Owned 204.95
89 Owned 155.73
90 Owned 399.63
91 Owned 289.8
92 Owned 70
93 Owned 29
94 Owned 283.9
95 Owned 316.6
96 Owned 315.9
97 Owned 170.2
98 Owned 170.2
99 Owned 68
100 Owned 68
101 Owned 340.1
102 Owned 270
103 Owned 32
104 Owned 47
105 Owned 387.6
106 Owned 880
107 Owned 340.1
108 Owned 477
109 Owned 67.7
110 Owned 205
111 Owned 498.12
112 Owned 61
113 Owned 136
114 Owned 17
115 Owned 168
116 Owned 169
117 Owned 171
118 Owned 171
119 Owned 137
120 Owned 160
121 Owned 477
122 Owned 160
123 Owned 440.35
124 Owned 112
125 Owned 136
126 Owned 136
127 Owned 136
128 Owned 136
129 Owned 136
130 Owned 58
131 Owned 477
132 Owned 67.7
133 Owned 68
134 Owned 107
135 Owned 29
136 Owned 33.7
137 Owned 101.4
138 Owned 136
139 Owned 101.95
140 Owned 56
141 Owned 136
142 Owned 17
143 Owned 101.51
144 Owned 73
145 Owned 360
146 Owned 17
147 Owned 160
148 Owned 160
149 Owned 160
150 Owned 135
151 Owned 160
152 Owned 160
153 Owned 160
154 Owned 135

  160.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and [203]Employment    the advisory committees, boards, quangos, taskforces, fora or any other ad hoc bodies which were created by her or her Department in 2008; the purpose of the body in each case; the reason such a body such a body was required in each case; the membership of each body; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46781/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department established five such groups in 2008. The specific details requested by the Deputy for each are as follows:

Advisory Group on Media Mergers

(a) Purpose of the Group — To review the legislative framework in relation to the public interest aspects of media mergers and to make recommendations as appropriate

(b) Reason the Group was established — To assist in the overall review of the Competition Act 2002

(c) Membership of the Group:

Paul Sreenan Senior Counsel (Chair),

Marc Coleman, Author, Broadcaster and Writer,

Professor Colum Kenny, Dublin City University,

Michael O’ Keeffe, Broadcasting Commission of Ireland,

John Herlihy, Chief Executive, Google Ireland,

Olive Braiden, Arts Council,

Peter Cassells, National Centre for Partnership & Performance.

Sales Law Review Group

(a) Purpose of the Group — To conduct a review of the legislation governing the sale of goods and supply of services, and to provide analysis and evaluation of the proposed EU Consumer Contractual Rights Directive and to make recommendations as to how the Directive and Irish contract and sales law can be integrated

(b) Reason the Group was established — The area to be covered by the review is heavily legalistic, complex and technical, particularly in the general sales law field.

(c) Membership of the Group:

Professor Robert Clark, UCD (Chair);

Tony Burke, nominee of Irish Exporters’ Association;

Caterina Gardiner LL.B, LL.M, NUI Galway;

Michael Kilcoyne, Vice-Chairman Consumers’ Assoc of Ireland;

Roderick Maguire LL.B, LL.M, BL, Honorary Secretary of the Bar Council of Ireland;

[204]

Sean Murphy, Legal Adviser NCA;

Richard Nesbitt S.C. nominee of IBEC;

Kevin O’Higgins, Solicitor nominee of Incorporated Law Society;

Nathan Reilly LL.B, LL.M, Barrister;

Fidelma White LL.B, LL.M, UCC.

Interim Advisory Board to the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA)

(a) Purpose of the Board — To advise the Director of NERA on matters relating to compliance with, and enforcement of, employment legislation.

(b) Reason the Board was established — To enable representatives of employers and employees to advise the Director of NERA on matters relating to compliance with and enforcement of employment legislation having regard to Sections 19-21 of the Employment Law Compliance Bill, 2008.

(c) Membership of the Board:

John Dennehy (Chair), former public representative,

John Walsh, former Assistant Secretary, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,

Stella Skowronska, Language Course Co-ordinator and Teacher,

James Somers, former General President, SIPTU and Executive Member & Treasurer ICTU,

Linda Tanham, Assistant General Secretary, Mandate,

Patricia King, National Officer, SIPTU,

Owen Wills, General Secretary, TEEU,

Mary Cryan, HR Director, Brown Thomas Group,

John Flanagan, Head of Branches and IT, EBS,

Eddie Keenan, Director of IR, Employment and Manpower Services, CIF.

Enterprise Feedback Group

(a) Purpose of the Group — To provide feedback from business and industry on the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) and advice on the commercialisation of research outcomes from the Government’s substantial investment in research and development

(b) Reason the Group was established — Feedback from Group will inform the continuing development of policy for the achievement of the SSTI’s targets.

(c) Membership of the Group:

[205]

Lionel Alexander (Chair) Vice President and General Manager, Hewlett Packard Irl

Sean Baker, IT Consultant

William Carty, Finance Director, Abbott Ireland

Dr. Gabriel Dennison, NTR plc

Aidan Fitzsimons, Commercial Director, Dairygold Cooperative Society

Michael Gallagher, Managing Director, Swan Net-Gundry Ltd

Eleanor Garvey, General Manager, Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals

Tony Golden, Managing Director, Citi Ireland

Cathy Kearney, Managing Director, Apple Computer International

Henry McGarvey, Managing Director, Pramerica Systems Ireland Ltd

Sean McGrath, Chief Technical Officer, Propylon Ltd

Martin McVicker, Managing Director, Combilift Ltd

Julie O’Neill, General Manager, Gilead Sciences Ltd

Steering Committee for the Review and Assessment of the EQUAL Community Initiative 2000-2006

(a) Purpose of the Committee — The EQUAL Community Initiative, an ESF co-financed programme that addressed issues around inequality and discrimination in the labour market under the 2000-2006 Structural Funds is being wound up at the moment. The purpose of Steering Committee is to oversee a review, by external consultants, of the learning from the activities and pilots carried out under EQUAL.

(b) Reason the Committee was established — The Steering Committee was set up to oversee the review, by external consultants, of the learning from EQUAL and ensure it is carried out and implemented in a correct manner. It is expected the review will provide recommendations / advice on how best to implement the lessons in labour market policy and programmes to the Department.

(c) Membership of the Committee:

Vincent Landers, Head of ESF in Ireland (Chairperson)

Catherine Curran, Head of the EQUAL Authority in Ireland

Carol Baxter, Equality Authority,

Margaret Barry, FÁS,

Niall Monks, Labour Market Policy Section of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,

Finola McDonnell, IBEC,

[206]

Willie McIntosh , Human Capital Investment Operational Programme 2007-2013 OP, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,

Frank Vaughan, ICTU,

Tony Tyrrell, WRC,

Jim Deane, Department of Finance.

  161.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the external consultants hired by her Department in 2007 and 2008; the work carried out and the cost of such work in each case; the reason it was not possible to carry out such work internally within her Department or an agency of her Department in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46782/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The information requested by the Deputy insofar as my Department is concerned is set out in the tabular statement below.

The figures provided relate to consultancies as defined in the Department of Finance December 2006 “Guidelines for the Engagement of Consultants and Other External Support by the Civil Service”.

My Department continues to seek greater efficiencies, effectiveness and value for money in the administration of its financial resources. My Department’s requirements for consultancy only arise where appropriate skills, knowledge or expertise are not available within the Department, or where a particular need arises that cannot be addressed within the resources available. When it becomes necessary to engage consultants, Government tendering procedures are followed, which ensures that contracts are awarded to the most suitable and cost effective tenderer. Where possible, my Department utilises the expertise available in other Government Departments and Offices, such as obtaining legal advice from the Chief State Solicitors Office in preference to engaging external consultants.

A feature of the Department’s procedures for approving funding for consultancies under the Consultancy Subhead (Subhead A07) or, indeed, the Research Subhead (Subhead U), is that before any funding is approved by the Management Board of my Department, the Line Section requesting such funding must make a strong business case, outlining the anticipated benefits, the value-added nature of the consultancy, and the argument for engaging outside consultants in preference to undertaking the work using the internal resources of the Section.

I would point out to the Deputy that, even on occasions where consultants are engaged, significant skills transfers occur. Additionally, training and development resources are allocated to encourage participation in appropriate third level and postgraduate courses, designed to meet the business goals of the Department. During the period in question (i.e. 2007 & 2008), thirty-one staff participated in courses designed to enhance their competencies in the areas of policy analysis, economic policy studies and project management. This training will contribute towards reducing dependency on consultants in future years. Furthermore, a number of officers in my Department have undertaken training courses provided through the Department of Finance’s Expenditure Reviewers Network, to provide them with the appropriate skills sets and techniques to undertake work which may otherwise have needed to be undertaken by [207]external consultants. Although the input of consultants is still sometimes required in some expenditure reviews, the level of input and the associated expenditure is considerably reduced.

In light of the need to pursue greater efficiencies and value for money, my Department will continue to endeavour to ensure that any funding provided for consultancies is necessary, and results in the optimal use of the Department’s financial and human resources.

[208]2007

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
Leo Burnett Advertising increase in National Minimum Wage 50,163
Corporate Risk Strategies Ltd (CRS) Prepare a Health and Safety report on each of the Department’s buildings together with the appropriate Safety Statements. 24,200
ESRI National Survey on Workplace Bullying 84,232
Tom Walsh To provide advice to the Department on the development of occupational health and safety policy and legislation 81,493
Arup Consulting Engineers To support the Department in its review of Review of Dangerous Substances legislation 28,814
Indecon Economic Consultants To prepare a report on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. 30,000
Indecon Consultants Prepare a Report — Value for Money Review of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) 111,244
The Media Group To devise, implement and manage a national promotion and advertising campaign across a range of media for the ICT Audits Programme for Small Business in Ireland 135,000
Noel J. Travers BL Drafted a legal instrument. 8,440
RITS To prepare a series of reports re IT Security 118,928
Version 1 To prepare a report on the Insolvency Payments Section BPR (Business Process Re-engineering) 7,187
Work Research Co-operative Social & Economic Consultants Acquired Disability and Job retention report 26,632
Goodbody Economic Consultants Review of Wage SubsidyScheme 23,595
Farrell Grant Sparks Ex-ante evaluation of the Human Capital Investment OP 2007-2013 66,671
Indecon Economic Consultants Study of efficiency and Effectiveness ofVocational Training Services 5,087
DHR Communications Dissemination of information etc, on the SEF co-funded “EQUAL” Community Initiative (CI) 28,305
Tom Ferris To carry out six case studies investigating the administrative burdens arising due to regulation and to prepare a report 2,997
Dan Flinter To facilitate two business workshops, examining the burdens of regulation on business, and make recommendations 8,643

[209]2007 —continued

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
Nathan Reilly Review of consumer legislation 7,053
Keating and Associates Communications Strategy for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) 32,670
Millward Brown IMS Market Research for ODCE 44,790
Cyril O’Neill Legal Costs Assessment for ODCE 13,273
Connolly Lowe Legal Costs Assessment for ODCE 2,588
Carr Communications Effective communications with Companies Registration Office (CRO) clients 45,372
Millward Browne Carry out market research for the CRO 27,062
Grant Thornton Consultancy on Public Procurement and Business Solutions 57,521
O’ Mara, Geragthy, Mc Court Provision of legal services and advices 35,086
Q4 Public relations services/advice 18,150
Owens DDB Advice on advertising and placing of same in various media 128,566
DKM Economic Consultants Research on multi-unit developments 1,210
RPS Consultants Research on energy policy 9,575
Vision Consulting Ltd Consultants were engaged to carry out a review of the operation of the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) Information Services and to make recommendations on the structures, processes and systems that should operate in the Unit in order to achieve the highest possible standard of excellence in terms of meeting customer needs. 95,711
Keating and Associates To provide NERA with PR Consultancy Services 46,462
Mason Hayes & Curran NERA legal costs 16,611
Ellard Browne NERA Management Information Framework work 7,550
PriceWaterhouseCoopers NERA Management Consultancy 30,189
Vision Consulting NERA Communictions Strategy 186,334
Cawley Nea Ltd NERA Advertising Media 181,335
Design Tactics NERA Advertising Media 6,285
McCann Fitzgerald Provision of legal advice under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts for the CRO 18,184
Millward Browne Market Research for CRO 42,144

[210]2007 —continued

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
DNM Technology VMWare advice on the use of software to run virtual PCs 4,840
S.F.Hughes & Co Legal Services/advice 938
James W. Houlihan Legal Services/advice 1,210
James Dwyer Legal Services/advice 1,815
John Hennessy BL Legal advice 126,324
Matthias Kelly QC Legal advice 162,742
Form Creative Ltd Advertising campaign for Work Life Balance Day 2007 52,398
Form Creative Ltd Advertising for Panel of Consultants 2007 8,673
Helm Corporation Ltd Consultancy Service Oracle Review –Finance Unit 8,146
European Commission Engagement of consultants to carry out National Evaluation of the impact of the European Employment Strategy in Ireland 4,973
Mazars Engagement of a consultant to undertake 2 audits from the Department’s 2006 Audit Plan (Finance Unit and Personnel Unit) (continued from 2006) 10,482

2008

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
DHR Communications Dissemination of information on the ESF co-funded “EQUAL” Community Initiative (CI) 9,547
Social and Market Research Conduct an “EQUAL” Survey 23,850
Farrell Grant Sparks Ex-ante evaluation of the Human Capital Investment Operational Programme 2007-2013 7,025
Work Research Co-operative WRC Job Retention and return to work 26,632
Keating Consulting Ltd NERA PR 63,189
Ellard Browne Ltd NERA Advertising 605
Cawley Nea Ltd NERA Advertising 27,410

[211]2008 —continued

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
Tom Walsh To provide advice to the Department on the development of occupational health and safety policy and legislation 63,422
Arup Consulting Engineers To support the Department in its review of Review of Dangerous Substances legislation 35,930
Kilroy Solicitors Legal Advice 16,263
Version 1 To prepare a report on the Insolvency Payments Section Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) 13,177
RITS Security Advice 38,535
IQ Content Ltd Review of Department’s Website 20,604
Goodbody Economic Consultants Review of the Wage Subsidy Scheme 23,595
IPA Quality Assessment of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Value for Money Review 3,630
Carr Communications Communications Advice for the Companies Registration Office (CRO) 25,593
Open Interface Website accessibility advice for the CRO 3,993
Grant Thornton Procurement and business solution advice for the CRO 71,874
Millward Brown/IMS Market Research for ODCE 15,898
Mathias Kelly QC Legal advice 167,171
Experian Ireland Provision of statistical analysis of returns to the CRO 182
PricewaterhouseCoopers Media Research for the Advisory Group on Media Mergers 26,965
Emily Gibson BL Legal Services for the Advisory Group on Media Mergers 5,596
Form Creative Ltd Advertising campaign for Work Life Balance Day 2008 €4,994
Form Creative Ltd Advertising campaign for Work Life Balance Day 2008 120,000
Arthur Cox Prioritising Information Obligations in Company Law Legislation 2,226
Scannell Solutions Prioritising Health and Safety Obligations — Additional Review 605
IQ Content Ltd Review of Department’s Website 41,261
Indecon Economic Consultants Value for Money Review of SFI 74,163

[212]2008 —continued

Name of Consultants Purpose Cost
Tom Walsh To provide technical & research support to the Department in relation to certain aspects of occupational health and safety and chemicals policy 8,000
Arup Consulting Engineers To support the Department in its review of Review of Dangerous Substances legislation 79,327
Cawley Nea Advertising consultants 27,101
Keatings PR consultants 22,458
Achilles Procurement Services Ltd Consultancy on the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) case management system 602
Gordon Green Consultancy on NERA enforcement database 1,268
KPMG Assessment of a restructuring plan 273,460
RITS Information Security Services 17,669
Trigraph Professional Services Review of ICT Unit Project Management Procedures & Practices 2,995
Mason, Hayes & Curran Procurement Legal Advice 8,534
Computer Associates Review of ICT Backup Systems 13,310
Dermot McCarthy SC Legal Advice 9,100
Brian Murray Fees to Counsel 1,724
Douglas Clarke Fees to Counsel 41,029
Remy Farrell Fees to Counsel 7,719
Work Research Co-operative WRC Carry out work by providing Technical Support for the Department on the co-funded ESF EQUAL Community Initiative. 100,672
Ernst & Young Audit of “DAWN” under the ESF co-funded EQUAL Community Initiative 25,090
PA Consulting Review and Assessment of the EFS co-funded EQUAL Community Initiative 2000-2006 14,898
WRC Carry out work by providing Technical Support for the Department on the co-funded ESF EQUAL Community Initiative. 38,514
Goodbody Economic Consultants Review of the Wage Subsidy Scheme 23,595
Indecon Economic Consultants To carry out work relating to the Leonardo Da Vinci Programme 2,000

  162.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of redundancies reported to her Department for County Kildare in each of the past five years; the areas of the county in which the redundancies occurred; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46792/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The numbers of redundancies occurring in County Kildare in each of the past five years are shown on the table attached. The figures for 2003/2004 show the number of redundancies notified to my Department in those years, while those figures from 2005 onwards represent the number of actual redundancies occurring in County Kildare. Information on redundancies is maintained on a county basis and is not available separately for areas within a county.

Actual Redundancies County Kildare 2005 — 30th November 2008

2003* 2004* 2005 2006 2007 2008 Total
Kildare 721 706 745 796 1,147 1,773 5,888

  163.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the plans or investigative mechanisms that she is planning to address the major increase in unemployment figures in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46823/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Unemployment is increasing across the country due to the downturn in the economy and this has impacted on Kildare also. This situation is unwelcome and is an indication of the challenges that are now facing the labour market and that are within the economy as a whole.

The Government is taking specific measures to address this challenge and to ensure that job losses are minimised as much as possible and for as short a time as possible. The enterprise development agencies, along with FÁS the employment and training authority, are actively engaged in facilitating job opportunities in Kildare.

At present there are 25 IDA Ireland supported companies in Kildare employing approximately 10,356 people. Kildare has in recent years attracted some world class manufacturing companies including Wyeth Medica, Braun Oral B, Intel and Hewlett Packard. The Millennium Park in Naas has three modern 40,000 sq.ft. advance office buildings which are now available for marketing to inward investors, with all the necessary infrastructure, including ducting for broadband.

New indigenous companies have also been established and have created new employment in the county. The major €22.6 million expansion investment, supported by Enterprise Ireland, is underway and on target in Green Isle Foods. It is expected to lead to the creation of 130 new jobs in the area. A major investment of €28 million also is underway in Dawn Farm Foods Ltd. Overall 100 new jobs will be created.

[214]FÁS is providing a number of training and employment programmes in Kildare and has, with the Local Employment Services, geared up its Employment Services further to provide increased capacity for increased referrals from the Live Register.

  164.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if there are itineraries planned by any of the State agencies under her remit to visit Kildare south in the next six months; if the contacts made by her or her Department created or met on any of the trade missions that she led or was part of since she came into her Ministry, are part of any of the itineraries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46824/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland and its regions. The marketing of individual areas, including Kildare, for new or expansion FDI investments and jobs is a day-to-day operational matter for the Agency. While I may give general policy directives to the Agency, I am precluded under the Acts from giving directives regarding individual undertakings or from giving preference to one area over others.

I travel abroad on missions organised by IDA Ireland to assist the Agency in the attraction of foreign direct investment to this country. These visits are targeted at specific sectors and do result, in some cases, in follow up visits by foreign companies to this country. The arrangement of such itineraries, is a day to day operational matter for the Agency and not one in which I have a function. In the final analysis, it is the investing company, who decides where to invest and where to visit. However I have been informed by IDA Ireland that there have been 2 IDA sponsored itineraries to Kildare during 2008.

I also travel on trade missions abroad that are organised by Enterprise Ireland. The aim of these visits is to promote the exports of goods and services produced in this country into foreign markets and to thereby grow indigenous Irish firms.

  165.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if progress has been made or if meetings have taken place between the Industrial Development Authority and Kildare County Council in relation to the sale or leasing of the vacant IDA lands in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46825/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The management of IDA Ireland’s industrial property portfolio is a day-to-day operational matter for the Agency, as part of the statutory responsibility assigned to it by the Oireachtas and it is not a matter in which the Minister of the day has any involvement.

I am informed by IDA Ireland that, at present, the Agency has approximately 2.27 hectares remaining available in Monasterevin, approximately 1.77 hectares remaining available in Athy, (Woodstock), and approximately 1.53 hectares remaining available in Castledermot. I understand that the Board of IDA approved the sale of all these lands to Kildare County Council at its Board meeting on April 9th 2003. However, this transaction was never finalised due to a failure in negotiations.

The Agency also has approximately 1.72 hectares available in Tipper Road Naas

[215]IDA is currently reviewing the future use of all these lands. As part of this review, in November 2008 IDA had meetings with Kildare County Council to determine their interest in the acquisition of these lands. At present these discussions are ongoing pending a review of the current land prices.

  166.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the action she has taken regarding employment law (details supplied); if no action has been taken to date, when action will be taken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46907/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  I understand that the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), which is responsible for monitoring compliance with employment rights legislation, is aware of, and has commenced enquiries in relation to, the company referred to by the Deputy. NERA advise me that appropriate action will be taken in the event of breaches of employment legislation by that Company being discovered.

  167.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when this Deputy will receive a full reply to Parliamentary Question No. 159 of 18 November 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46908/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The information covering the last nine years, requested by the Deputy in his earlier Parliamentary Question, took longer than I or my Department had anticipated to finalise. Nonetheless, the information has issued to the Deputy this week.

  168.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when a work permit will issue to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46922/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  A work permit has now issued in this case.

  169.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the steps she has taken and each of the measures she has introduced in the past three months to ensure that retail outlets and other businesses importing products priced in sterling are passing on to consumers to the fullest extent possible the benefits of the weaker sterling exchange rate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46943/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I have previously advised the House of the Government’s concerns in relation to the importance of retailers passing on to consumers the benefits of the Euro’s appreciation in value against Sterling. Given widespread concerns that consumers were not enjoying these benefits in terms of the prices that they pay for goods, particularly goods sourced in the UK, I initiated an [216]engagement with the retail sector in June of this year as to the reasons why the benefits of the Euro’s appreciation were not being passed on to consumers. In the course of that engagement I met with IBEC and leading members of Retail Ireland, and also wrote to major individual retailers to express the Government’s concern on this matter.

By way of response, retailers advised that while the retail price of goods imported from the UK had lagged exchange rate movements due to factors such as the forward purchase of goods and currency, there had already been reductions in the price of some goods and further reductions were in the pipeline. In this regard, I would acknowledge that since my initial engagement with the sector in June, there has been some reduction in prices and the Deputy will be aware of the price campaigns of the various retailers, which has helped to some degree in the ongoing reduction in the annual inflation figure.

Notwithstanding these welcome price reductions, concerns still remain in relation to the differential in prices between the north and south. Retailers have contended that one of the main reasons for this price differential is that the cost of doing business in Ireland is significantly higher than that in the UK. To that end, in September of this year, I requested Forfás to carry out an analysis of the relative cost of doing business in a number of locations in the Republic, Northern Ireland and the UK. I expect to receive Forfás’ analysis of its findings on this matter very shortly. I recently met again with the retail sector to discuss some of Forfás’ preliminary findings and to reiterate the Government’s concerns in relation to the level of the differential in prices between the north and the south.

It is my strong view that where there are significant differentials in consumer prices and retailers have a duty to their customers and to the economies in which they operate to explain why there are such differentials. It is my intention to continue to pursue this matter with the retail sector.

  170.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the budgeted cost to her Department for 2009 of incremental pay increases for all staff in and under the aegis of her Department; the comparative cost for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46985/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The year to year costs of incremental pay increases are normally offset by corresponding reductions in costs associated with retirements and other movements by staff on higher points on the incremental scales and their replacement by staff on lower points. Incremental increases are not therefore individually costed and there is no separate provision for incremental increases in my Department’s estimates. Therefore it is not possible to provide the Deputy with the information requested for the years 2002 to 2008 or for 2009.

The cost of incremental pay increases awarded to existing staff in the agencies under the remit of my Department is a day to day matter for the agencies concerned. My Department has no role or function in this process.

  171.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of civil servants and other public servants, who have relocated to locations outside of Dublin under the decentralisation programme; the estimated number of each cate[217]gory who will have relocated by the end of 2009; the breakdown of each set of figures in terms of those who are relocating from Dublin and relocating from elsewhere; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47000/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department has been making good progress in the relocation of the required 250 posts to Carlow under the Government’s Decentralisation Programme.

Officials of my Department, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the OPW, as well as decentralising staff and Business Units, opened an advance office in Carlow on July 30th 2007. The number of staff in this decentralised advance office is 98. This number is expected to increase to 103 in 2009 with the balance of staff decentralised in 2010. Of the 98 staff in place in Carlow, 60 have decentralised from Dublin and 38 from outside Dublin.

Health and Safety Authority

Under the decentralisation programme, 110 staff of the Health and Safety Authority were assigned to decentralise to Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. In anticipation of the move to Thomastown, the Authority established an interim office in Kilkenny city in August 2006.

The Authority currently has 33 staff based in its interim office in Kilkenny. Of these, 7 staff have relocated from its Dublin Office and the remaining 26 staff have been assigned to Kilkenny on recruitment to the Authority.

Significant further progress on decentralisation within the Authority awaits the review of decentralisation to be completed in 2011.

FÁS

There are currently 25 posts in Birr and all of these posts have been transferred from Head Office, Dublin.

FÁS will continue to seek to accommodate 15 additional posts for transfer to Birr, as the vacancies arise.

  172.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of people working in her Department; the number earning below €50,000 per annum; the number earning between €50,001 and €60,000 per annum; the number earning between €60,001 and €70,000 per annum; the number earning between €70,001 and €80,000 per annum; the number earning between €80,001 and €90,000 per annum; the number earning between €90,001 and €100,000 per annum; the number earning over €100,001 per annum; the number in each staff category (details supplied) for each income band. [47015/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  There are a total of 1,151 people employed in my Department. The table below sets out the number of staff in each staff category and in each income band.

These figures do not take into account the various worksharing patterns.

Grade Below €50,000 per annum Between €50,001 and €60,000 Between €60,001 and €70,000 Between €70,001 and €80,000 Between €80,001 and €90,000 Between €90,001 and €100,000 Over €100,000
Secretary General 1
Assistant Secretary 7
Asst. Secretary Equivalent 5
Principal Officer 10 7 42
Principal Officer Equivalent 2
Assistant Principal 1 11 27 59 3
Administrative Officer 4 6
Higher Executive Officer 26 122 24
Executive Officer 255 51
Staff Officer 46
Clerical Officer 373
Service Staff 48
Auditor 2
Solicitor 2
Examiner 3 1
Economist 1
Professional Accountant Grade 1 3 8
Controller of Patents 1

  173.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of civil and public servants working in or under the aegis of her Department for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47030/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  It has not been possible in the time available to compile the information as requested by the Deputy. My officials are working on preparing the material and I will communicate with the Deputy as soon as the information is available.

  174.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of locations where civil and public servants working in or under the aegis of her Department are located; the locations of same; the number, and the number in each category (details supplied) of staff at each location; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47045/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  It has not been possible in the time available to compile the information as requested by the Deputy. My officials are working on preparing the material and I will communicate with the Deputy as soon as the information is available.

  175.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the agencies, bodies or authorities under the aegis of her Department that have been scheduled for merging, amalgamation, abolition or sharing of services as announced in budget 2009; the progress that has been made on the implementation of these organisational changes; the details of the implementation plan for these organisational changes; the cost savings that [219]will arise from each of these organisational changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47060/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  In so far as the rationalisation of state bodies under the aegis of my Department is concerned, the recent budget statement included an announcement in relation to the merging of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority. Since the budget announcement my Department has being working in conjunction with both bodies to bring about a smooth transition to a unified single body to oversee the area of competition and consumer protection.

As both the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority were established under statute, it will be necessary to give effect to the newly merged body by way of primary legislation. It is my intention to bring forward the necessary legislation to give effect to this merger as soon as possible. In so far as cost savings are concerned, whilst it is expected that the synergies arising from the merger of the two bodies will result in savings to the Exchequer, particularly in areas such as shared services, it is not possible to precisely quantify the amount of savings involved at this stage.

  176.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount of taxpayers’ money given to the Institute of International and European Affairs in the lead up to the Lisbon referendum. [47099/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  No monies were given to the Institute for International and European Affairs by my Department in connection with the Lisbon Treaty Referendum. My Department holds corporate membership of the Institute for which an annual fee of €6,000 is payable.

  177.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her plans to increase the number of business mentors available to small and medium enterprises outside of the current schemes in operation by the State agencies under the aegis of her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47178/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Enterprise Ireland runs a range of training programmes, including, inter alia, the Enterprise Ireland Mentor Network, to help Irish businesses develop business leadership, increase skills and enhance management capabilities within companies both large and small.

Under the Mentor Network Programme, new mentors are recruited on a client needs basis. The Network currently has over 170 active mentors. I am informed that the number of new mentors to be added in 2009 will be determined by client demand.

The Enterprise Ireland Mentor Network was set up in 1988, and has provided thousands of Irish companies across the sectors with tailored advice, guidance and support, helping them accelerate growth and build management capability. Enterprise Ireland has published a Best Practice Guide which incorporates elements of International Best Practice and ensures the Mentor service is delivered to a consistently high standard across the Network.

The Mentor Network carries out approximately 300 assignments a year for Enterprise Ireland clients and also for clients of the County Enterprise Boards. Mentors on the Enterprise Ireland Network are successful senior executives, entrepreneurs or owner managers who volunteer to advise clients based on their own business experience.

[220]Each year the service develops in order to be able to assist Irish companies to meet the challenges and opportunities they face. In 2009 the services of the Mentor Network will be expanded to:

First Time Exporter clients of the County Enterprise Boards and Enterprise Ireland under the First Flight programme.

Mentors with significant experience of diverse economic conditions that can advise companies throughout 2009.

Mentors with experience in the high growth markets where new opportunities exist, e.g. Brazil, China, India, Russia and the Gulf States.

Enterprise Ireland is also leveraging the deep experience that exists within the mentor network through utilising the mentors as advisers on the International Selling Programme that will have between 75 and 90 companies participating next year.

Enterprise Ireland also has a number of senior executives in international markets that mentor and advise our client companies.

The County and City Enterprise Boards are the principal government agencies at local level with responsibility for enterprise promotion and micro business development. The key objectives of the Boards are to stimulate and promote local enterprise culture and entrepreneurship and to assist new business start ups and the expansion and growth of existing small business. The Enterprise Boards pursue these objectives by providing a number of crucial management and capability development or soft support services to businesses and individuals across a diverse range of sectors, including a business information service, business mentoring, business consultancy, business training programmes and various business networking opportunities. Over 143,000 people have participated on the various Management Development and Mentoring Programmes available from the CEBs since their inception in 1993 to end 2007.

  178.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will introduce a new health check scheme for small and medium enterprises similar to that recently introduced in the United Kingdom; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47179/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy John McGuinness):  The State development agencies under the aegis of my Department such as Enterprise Ireland, the County and City Enterprise Boards and FÁS provide financial and non-financial assistance to small and medium enterprises to assist in their development and growth. Business advice, mentoring and management capability and development programmes are provided as part of this assistance.

The UK health check system referred to by the Deputy is an on-line web based facility which enterprises may use to assist them to identify key areas of potential weakness in their businesses. Where such weaknesses are identified, individuals are generally directed to obtain specific advice and assistance. The UK facility is similar to the European Commission’s “Vaccinate Your Business Against Bad Times” available to SMEs in all Member States, including Ireland, through the Commission’s “European Portal for SMEs”.

In view of the assistance already provided by the State development agencies, I have no plans to introduce a specific on-line web based facility similar to the UK. The agencies are already responding to the challenges presented by the current economic difficulties. The type [221]of assistance from these agencies is kept under review and will be modified to reflect changing needs of enterprise.

  179.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount of EU funding received by her Department directly or for institutions, groups, organisations or bodies under her aegis in the past 20 years to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47243/08]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Ireland has qualified for Structural Funds since we joined the EU in 1973 and my Department, and its predecessor the Department of Labour, has been the National Authority for the European Social Fund (ESF) since that time. As National Authority for the ESF, my Department receives all ESF monies paid to Ireland by the European Commission. The ESF received by Ireland is used for the implementation of agreed Programmes or Initiatives, which are implemented by a range of Government Departments and States Agencies, and my Department transfers ESF payments to the Departments and Agencies concerned.

For the 2007 to 2013 round of funding the European Commission has allocated a total of €375.36 million of assistance to Ireland from the ESF. A total of €18.768 has been received to date.

Under the 2000 to 2006 round of funding a total of €1,030.05 million has been received to date by Ireland through the ESF. That assistance was delivered through five Operational Programmes operated by various Departments and Agencies. Total ESF allocated to each of the 5 programmes of the 2000 to 2006 round of funding is as follows:

Programme Funding
Employment & Human Resource Development OP 892,087,000
Southern & Eastern Regional (S&E) OP 87,337,000
Border, Western and Midlands (BMW) OP 37,063,000
Peace II OP 45,859,983
EQUAL Community Initiative 34.498,648
Total 1,096,845,631

Under the 1994 to 1999 round of EU funding, over 2,181 million was received by Ireland from the ESF. That assistance was delivered through 6 individual Operational Programmes (OPs) and a further 9 distinct Community Initiatives (CIs), and Innovatory Actions as follows:

Programme Funding
Tourism 107.224
HRD 1,633.79
Ind OP 130.391
Agric 64.133
Adapt 26.402
Fisheries 6.616
Employment CI 79.91
LURD 69.968
SME Initiative 1.614
Leader II 8.559
Peace 30.062
Interreg 7.937
RETEX 1.85
Pesca 0.678
Urban 8.522
Innovatory Actions 4.108
Total 2,181.764

The ESF figures for the years 1973 to 1993 from Table 11 of the “Budgetary and Economic Statistics” which was published by the Department of Finance in 2007 are provided below. It is not feasible to give a further breakdown by programme of ESF payments for this Department for these earlier years.

Year European Social Fund (million)
1973 0.0
1974 4.6
1975 5.1
1976 5.8
1977 10.4
1978 24.5
1979 36.6
1980 59.3
1981 57.5
1982 92.9
1983 117.7
1984 107.0
1985 179.4
1986 161.8
1987 245.7
1988 161.0
1989 176.0
1990 163.2
1991 470.7
1992 352.1
1993 395.7
Total 2,827.0

In addition, my Department would also have received some direct funding outside of the Structural Funds in support of specific activities in areas such as Consumer Affairs, or as a participant in the “BRITE” Project, administered by the European Business Register (EBR), for example.

[223]The Department would also have been involved in European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) co-funded projects since Ireland’s accession to the EU, however, ERDF receipts would have been paid directly to the central Exchequer by the European Commission and not channelled through individual Departments.

Finally, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment would also have co-ordinated a number of EU Programmes over the years under which European funding was awarded on the basis of competitive “Calls for Proposals” issued by the European Commission. However, the funding successfully accessed by many different applicants would have been paid directly to the successful applicants and not channelled through the Department.

  180.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the recently announced International Monetary Fund rescue package for Latvia; the full details of same, and the response to the crisis which the European Union has made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46613/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The IMF has not announced a Balance of Payment assistance package for Latvia. However, the IMF has indicated that Latvia is experiencing a sharp downturn in output growth and external funding pressures and that accordingly the Latvian authorities have asked the Fund, together with the EU, to provide technical and financial support.

Under Council Regulation 332/2002, the EU can grant medium-term financial assistance to Member States outside the Euro area. This arises from Article 119 of the Treaty, which says assistance can be provided to a member “in difficulties or seriously threatened with difficulties as regards its balance of payments either as a result of an overall disequilibrium in its balance of payments or as a result of the type of currency at its disposal”. The Council Presidency and the Commission are in close consultations with the Latvian authorities and the International Monetary Fund with a view to developing a joint response to the economic and financial situation in Latvia. It is expected that an agreed funding package will be decided on shortly.

  181.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of counterfeit €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes that were removed from circulation for each of the years 2003 to date in 2008; if he will provide the information in tabular readable form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46643/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Information on euro banknote counterfeiting is published biannually by the European Central Bank (ECB) in January and July. The following table published by the ECB on 10 July 2008, indicates the half-yearly trend in the number of counterfeits recovered:

Period 2003/2 2004/1 2004/2 2005/1 2005/2 2006/1 2006/2 2007/1 2007/2 2008/1
1000s 312 307 287 293 286 300 265 265 296 312

Number of Counterfeits

The table shows that the quantity has not varied greatly over recent years. When these figures are compared with the number of genuine euro banknotes in circulation — on average 11.5 billion notes — the quantity of counterfeits is very small. The breakdown of counterfeits by denomination is as follows:

€5 €10 €20 €50 €100 €200 €500
Breakdown by denomination (in %) 0.5 2 33 36 21.5 6.5 0.5

It can be seen that the three mid-range denominations (€20, €50 and €100) together account for about 90% of all counterfeits. As can be seen from the following table, the level of counterfeits discovered in Ireland is broadly in line with the overall figures for the Eurosystem.

Denomination 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 to mid-December
5 11 21 23 61 73 55
10 765 2,174 1,586 848 386 417
20 3,674 3,830 3,158 2,009 992 800
50 10,749 7,485 12,126 8,026 10,351 12,029
100 365 1,648 512 883 465 586
200 35 174 338 50 406 794
500 1 1 5 4 0 2
15,600 15,333 17,748 11,881 12,673 14,683

Euro banknotes are produced to the highest standards and contain security features which are hard to counterfeit. However, The Central Bank advises the public to be alert and to check the authenticity of the banknotes they receive, particularly at busy times such as the Christmas trading period. Anyone who suspects they may have received a counterfeit should contact the Garda Siochána, giving as many details as possible about the banknote’s origin. Further information on the banknote security features is available on the Central Bank’s website: www.centralbank.ie.

  182.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the penalty for people having number plates on vehicles that are not up to standard or unclear; the number of people who have been summonsed for such an offence in each county to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46916/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that Section 131(6)(a) of the Finance Act 1992 provides that the identifying mark (i.e. the registration number) assigned to a vehicle, once registered in the State, must be displayed in the format prescribed by the Revenue Commissioners.

Under section 139 of the Finance Act 1992 (as amended), the display of an identification mark (number plate) in contravention of section 131(6)(a) carries a penalty of €5,000 on summary conviction.

The Deputy may wish to note that Revenue enforcement officials, who are based at numerous locations around the country, carry out regular and on-going checks to identify breaches of VRT legislation. Instances of non-compliance with registration plate regulations are initially dealt with by means of verbal or written warnings and subsequently followed up by officials to confirm that the position has been regularised.

[225]In the course of such checks, sixty-nine formal warnings issued for non-compliance with VRT number plate regulations in 2008. Follow-up assurance checks have confirmed compliance with the regulations, following the issue of warnings. Accordingly, no summonses were issued to date in 2008 for contravention of the VRT number plate regulations.

The Deputy will be aware that An Garda Síochána also has a role to play in policing number plate legislation.

  183.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the income levy to be introduced in January 2009 applies to gross income which includes the contributory State pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46521/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The position is that the income levy will apply to gross income but this excludes social welfare payments and the contributory and non-contributory State pensions.

  184.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 64 of 6 November 2008 the position regarding this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46562/08]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  It is expected that a meeting with the relevant stakeholders will take place early in the New Year to discuss the proposed pilot project to remove silt from the Shannon Cut.

  185.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the equipment and data that was lost or stolen from his Department in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46666/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Following is the information requested by the Deputy.

Year Device Type Reported lost/ missing/stolen Recovered
2008 USB Memory Stick 1 0

To date in 2008, one memory stick has been reported stolen and has not been recovered. I understand that no sensitive or private data was compromised with the loss of this device.

  186.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of money spent on hotel accommodation by his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department for each of the years 2004 to date in 2008; if he will provide the information available in tabular readable form. [46681/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In general civil servants whose work requires them to stay overnight at a location distant from their home or headquarters are paid a fixed [226]sum which is designed to cover the cost of accommodation, three meals and a small amount for incidentals. There are different rates for different locations. Accommodation is generally arranged by the officers themselves and in most cases my department is not informed whether the officer has stayed in a hotel or in other accommodation. In this situation it is not possible to separate out accommodation costs from other costs.

The amounts listed below show the total amount paid out in overnight expenses by my Department for official travel.

Year Subsistence Expenditure
2004 342,402
2005 268,828
2006 332,367
2007 382,908
2008 291,942

In relation to the bodies under the aegis of my Department the figures are currently being collated and will be forwarded to the Deputy directly when this process has been completed.

  187.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the procurement arrangements in place in his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department for the sourcing of hotel accommodation for him, for his Departmental staff and staff at each State agency, when overnight accommodation is necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46696/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In general, where an overnight stay is required, the staff of my Department and agencies are paid a fixed sum which covers overnight expenses i.e. the cost of accommodation, three meals and a small amount for incidentals. However, to take account of the wide variation in circumstances that can arise with foreign travel, in some cases, instead of an overall subsistence rate, the cost of the accommodation can be separately claimed by the official. In such cases, the rate of subsistence is reduced. There are different rates for different locations. Accommodation is generally arranged by the officers themselves.

From time to time the Revenue Commissioners books hotels for conferences, seminars etc. Given the geographic spread of Revenue staff, it will be appreciated that such events may include overnight accommodation. To ensure optimum value for money, the accommodation costs for staff can be included as part of the overall package agreed with the hotel, with corresponding reductions in subsistence payments. Procurement for this type of accommodation is carried out in accordance with EU and National guidelines.

When I travel abroad on official business the relevant Embassy advises on the most suitable accommodation. The location of the accommodation would usually take into account the cost; the distance from the airport/meeting venues etc.

  188.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of computer servers that are owned or leased by his Department and each State agency under the aegis of his Department; and the amount of capacity on each server. [46711/08]

[227]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The information requested by the Deputy is provided in the following table. No servers are leased by my Department and I have been informed that this is the case in relation to the bodies under the aegis of my Department.

Number of Servers Capacity — Gigabytes
Department of Finance
29 1 – 100
20 101 – 200
18 201 – 300
5 301 – 400
9 401 – 500
2 501 – 600
6 601 – 700
1 801 – 900
3 901 – 1000
3 1101 – 1200
1 1301 – 1400
Commission for Public Service Appointments
2 135
1 82
1 36
Public service Appointments Service
110 7,400 (Total capacity)
Office of the Ombudsman
4 280
2 200
3 130
Valuation Office
1 900
2 280
2 270
1 236
1 136
1 100
5 68
2 34
1 26
State Laboratory
21 35-80
Office of Public Works
98 19-545
Office of the Revenue Commissioners
463 These range across high spec, medium spec to low end capacity

  189.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    the grades of all individuals who [228]have voluntarily surrendered pay; the value of the pay surrender to the State in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46795/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The main groups that have made a surrender of salary are Members of the Government, Ministers of State, Secretaries General and holders of posts at an equivalent level in the Civil Service. Other groups that have made a surrender of salary include certain members of the Oireachtas and a number of individual senior public servants. As the gifts are personal and voluntary it would not be appropriate to disclose the grades of those individuals. In the last category mentioned above, citing the grade/position held would allow identification of the persons concerned in most instances.

The approximate values of the amounts surrendered are as follows:

2008 2009
Members of the Government and Ministers of State 114,000 670,000
Secretaries General and equivalent posts 127,000 690,000
Other Groups 51,000 323,000

  190.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of working days it takes to have a tax clearance certificate issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46910/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax clearance certificate will normally be issued within six working days to a person whose tax affairs are up to date. This means that at the time of the application, the person:

has made all of the required returns to Revenue, and

has paid all tax known to be due or agreed a payment schedule in respect of such tax debts.

Where an applicant for tax clearance does not meet the criteria mentioned, a formal notification of refusal setting out the basis for the refusal, is issued by Revenue. If the applicant subsequently satisfactorily resolves the issues that have been notified to him/her, Revenue will then issue a tax clearance certificate.

  191.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    when a person (details supplied) will get a tax clearance certificate issued to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46911/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax clearance certificate issued to the person concerned dated 12th December 2008.

  192.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the relevant information which has been put at his disposal with regard to the availability of credit to small businesses here; if he has been provided, and if so if he will make available, monthly or other regular statistics [229]analysing these credit flows; if he has in recent months instructed the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator or other appropriate authorities to step up monitoring of such credit flows; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46942/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Nobody wants a situation where viable businesses fail because banks will not lend them money. At my meetings with certain financial institutions over the last two weeks, I asked those institutions covered by the Government’s guarantee Scheme to consider the contribution that they can make to the economy through appropriate credit initiatives in relation to small and medium sized businesses and otherwise. I have, therefore, welcomed the fact that certain institutions have announced initiatives in this regard.

The Deputy may also wish to be aware that I recently met Mr Plutarchos Sakellaris, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, which recently announced that it was providing additional funding through its lending facility for SMEs in the European Union. Mr Sakellaris confirmed that the Bank has been in discussion with a number of Irish financial institutions about participating in this facility for SMEs and that the EIB hopes that agreements to provide such loan facilities can be finalised as soon as possible. I have urged Irish banks to utilise the facility to the maximum extent possible with a view to making the additional funding available to SMEs as soon as possible. It is therefore pleasing to note that a number of banks have announced their intention to do so. Additionally, with my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I have been in regular contact with the banks regarding the flow of lending to small business.

The Central Bank’s October Monthly Statistics showed that lending to the Irish economy was essentially flat in October and this is a matter of concern. However, we should be cautious about drawing strong conclusions from one month’s data. Forfás/Enterprise Ireland are surveying 200 clients or County Enterprise Boards and Enterprise Ireland in order to gather more detailed information.

  193.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will set out for each tax credit and tax relief available to individual taxpayers, including but not confined to tax relief on mortgage interest, tuition fees, BES, service charges, rent payable in private tenancies, trade union expenses, health and medical expenses, the cost to the Exchequer in terms of tax foregone for each year from 2002 to date in 2008; the budgeted cost for 2009; the number
of taxpayers availing of the tax relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46944/08]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the total identifiable costs to the Exchequer of all income tax credits and reliefs available to individuals are set out in the following table for the income tax years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, the most recent year for which the necessary detailed information is available except where otherwise stated. Relevant notes relating to items in the table are also set out below.

Projections for income tax receipts are based on assumed movements in macro-economic parameters and not by reference to the costs of individual tax reliefs. Accordingly, I am not in a position to provide the data requested by the Deputy for the years 2006 to 2009 in relation to the above mentioned reliefs.

The numbers availing represent income earners who were in a position to absorb at least some of the tax relief and thereby give rise to an Exchequer cost. They do not include the [230]numbers of potential claimants whose entitlements to other tax reliefs were sufficient to reduce their liability to tax to nil without reference to the specific relief. The numbers availing are rounded to the nearest hundred as appropriate.

A married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

[231]Cost of Income Tax Credits, Allowances and Reliefs for 2002, 2003 2004 and 2005

2002 2003 2004 2005
Tax Relief Provision Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1
INCOME TAX €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers
Exemption limits:
General Exemption (2) 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0
Child Addition (2) 1.0 2,900 1.3 2,800 0.3 900 0.3 1,000
Age Exemption (2) 21.9 31,700 49.2 48,500 58.6 53,500 61.5 49,600
Married Person’s Credit (3) 1805.1 629,400 1,820.6 631,000 2,015.5 698,200 2,268.9 756,500
Single Person’s Credit (3) 1552.8 1,169,600 1,612.4 1,209,800 1,655.1 1,228,300 1,854.3 1,330,100
Widowed Person’s Credit (3) 122.3 72,950 125.3 73,800 125.7 73,400 132.2 71,500
Additional Credit to Widowed Person in Year of Bereavement 6.1 4,000 4.9 4,000 4.9 4,000 4.7 4000
Additional Bereavement Credit to Widowed Parent 5.6 3,500 5.2 3,300 4.0 2,500 4.3 2,400
Additional Personal Credit for Lone Parent 137.8 102,700 149.3 109,200 150.8 101,700 194.1 124,900
Homecarer Credit 73.7 100,800 72.6 99,200 75.1 103,600 63.9 87,900
Additional Credit for Incapacitated Child 4.4 8,800 4.6 9,000 5.0 9,800 10.3 10,400
Employee (PAYE) Credit 917.2 1,257,800 1,141.5 1,311,900 1,512.7 1,372,400 2,030.8 1,493,300
Dependent Relative Credit 1.1 16,600 1.1 16,000 1.05 15,650 1.02 15,200
Person Taking Care of Incapacitated Taxpayer 0.6 600 0.9 1,000 1.3 870 1.8 660
Age Credit 19.3 68,100 18.3 64,500 19.4 65,100 20.6 68,800
Blind Person’s Credit 0.7 850 0.7 850 0.7 830 0.8 890
Medical Insurance Premiums (4) 161.7 859,000 190.6 909,700 218.2 941,300 229.6 1,073,400
Health Expenses 63.2 143,850 81.9 172,700 109.6 218,100 134.0 260,700
Contributions Under Permanent Health Benefit Schemes, after Deduction of Tax on Benefits Received (5) 1.7 20,000 2.0 20,300 2.5 21,300 3.2 21,600

[232]Cost of Income Tax Credits, Allowances and Reliefs for 2002, 2003 2004 and 2005 —continued

2002 2003 2004 2005
Tax Relief Provision Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1
INCOME TAX €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers
Employees’ Contributions To Approved Superannuation Schemes (6) 430.0 569,200
Employers’ Contributions To Approved Superannuation Schemes (6) 90.0 296,700
Exemption of Investment Income and Gains of Approved Superannuation Funds (7)* (12) 1,050.0 N/A
Exemption of employers’ contributions from employee BIK (6) 370.0 296,700
Tax Relief on “tax free” lump sums (6) 120.0 N/A
Retirement Annuity Premiums 250.9 110,600 264.0 109,500 318.9 115,000 357.7 121,200
Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (8) N/A N/A 6.0 2,440 13.7 6,300 42.2 32,900
Interest paid:
Loans relating to Principal Private Residence 192.8 430,000 220.7 443,800 231.5 477,400 279.0 587,800
Other (9) 15.6 5,260 19.5 5,100 19.6 5,500 22.2 4,800
Rent Paid in Private Tenancies 26.4 97,400 28.1 102,400 33.0 118,500 48.07 144,500
Expenses Allowable to Employees under Schedule E 153.8 866,420 111.5 866,600 122.1 867,300 65.0 908,800
Third Level Education Fees 6.9 17,500 8.6 21,900 11.1 26,600 14.3 29,900
Exemption of Certain Earnings of Writers, Composers and Artists 23.9 1,600 22.5 1,700 32.1 1,970 34.8 2,220
Dispositions (Including Maintenance Payments made to Separated Spouses) 12.8 5,900 15.0 6,000 17.1 6,000 18.9 6,100
Exemption of Interest on Savings Certificates, National Instalment Savings & Index Linked Savings Bonds 108.8 N/A 140.1 N/A 150.1 N/A 129.5 N/A
Rent a Room 1.8 1,440 2.6 2,000 2.7 2,330 3.3 2,820
Exemption of Income of Charities, Colleges, Hospitals, Schools, Friendly Societies, etc. (10) 23.4 N/A 19.9 N/A 19.3 N/A 19.8 N/A
Donations to Approved Bodies 16.3 25,600 28.6 38,450 25.9 42,900 34.0 63,800
Donations to Sports Bodies (11) 0.1 140 0.3 300 0.2 380 0.2 430

[233]Cost of Income Tax Credits, Allowances and Reliefs for 2002, 2003 2004 and 2005 —continued

2002 2003 2004 2005
Tax Relief Provision Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1 Estimated cost1
INCOME TAX €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers €m Numbers
Retirement Relief for certain Sports Persons (11) N/A N/A 0.1 17 0.2 41 0.25 42
Exemption of Irish Government Securities where owner not ordinarily resident in Ireland (12) * 130.1 N/A 142.8 N/A 199.7 N/A 169.3 N/A
Exemption of Statutory Redundancy Payments 25.1 25,100 42.5 25,800 76.9 25,300 72.8 22,000
Service Charges 5.2 124,900 8.2 169,300 12.7 229,600 17.2 304,700
Top Slicing Relief — Reduced Tax Rate for Payments in Excess of Exemption Amounts Made as Compensation for Loss of Office 5.7 1,300 0.1 1,500 12.2 1,420 11.1 1,480
Revenue Job Assist allowance 0.9 1,700 0.6 900 0.4 550 0.4 550
Allowance for seafarers 0.2 120 0.3 150 0.4 230 0.4 200
Trade Union Subscriptions 11.0 229,600 6.5 232,100 10.7 248,300 11.8 272,100
Exemption From Tax of Certain Social Welfare Payments:
Child benefit * 266.4 336,300 327.3 337,100 404.9 344,200 366.6 373,500
Maternity allowance * 8.4 9,600 9.4 10,600 9.7 10,400 9.6 10,800
Exemption of Pensions, Benefits or Gratuities Payable to Veterans of the War of Independence, their Widows or Dependents 0.09 1,400 0.08 1,200 0.08