Dáil Eireann

31/Mar/2009

Prelude

Business of Dáil.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Departmental Staff.

Social Partnership.

Priority Questions.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Health Services.

Cystic Fibrosis Services.

Retinopathy Screening Programme.

Child Care Services.

Other Questions.

Hospital Services.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Requests to Move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Order of Business.

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Social Welfare: Motion.

Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Services.

Draft Net Fishing.

School Accommodation.

Written Answers.

Care of the Elderly.

Health Insurance.

Health Service Staff.

Medicinal Products.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Medical Cards.

Health Service Staff.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Child Protection.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Departmental Expenditure.

Care of the Elderly.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Drugs Payment Scheme.

Departmental Funding.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Health Promotion.

Health Services.

Vaccination Programme.

Community Care.

Health Services.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Departmental Reports.

Medical Laboratory Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Medical Consent.

Accident and Emergency Services.

National Drugs Strategy.

Infectious Diseases.

Health Services.

General Practitioner Services.

Health Insurance.

Care of the Elderly.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Health Services.

National Drugs Strategy.

Hospital Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Departmental Expenditure.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Hospital Services.

Food Labelling.

Hospital Services.

Care of the Elderly.

Health Service Staff.

Mental Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Consultancy Contracts.

National Statistics.

Official Engagements.

Export Credit Insurance.

Redundancy Payments.

Consultancy Contracts.

World Trade Negotiations.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Work Permits.

Community Employment Schemes.

Employment Statistics.

Departmental Expenditure.

Departmental Reports.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Employment Rights.

Redundancy Payments.

EU Funding.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Departmental Expenditure.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Tax Code.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Tax Code.

Consultancy Contracts.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Tax Code.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Fiscal Policy.

Tax Collection.

Flood Relief.

Tax Code.

Pension Levy.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Tax Code.

Financial Services Regulation.

Pension Levy.

EU Directives.

Pension Levy.

Freedom of Information.

Tax Code.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Fiscal Policy.

Tax Code.

Pension Levy.

Tax Code.

Departmental Staff.

Pension Levy.

Tax Collection.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospital Services.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Medical Cards.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Services.

Medical Cards.

Health Service Allowances.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Parliamentary Questions.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Ambulance Service.

Care of the Elderly.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Medical Cards.

Community Care.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Child Protection.

Health Services.

Departmental Correspondence.

Health Services.

Health Levy.

Youth Services.

Health Insurance.

Health Services.

Suicide Prevention.

Health Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Hospital Services.

Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Care of the Elderly.

Medical Cards.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Ambulance Service.

Hospital Accommodation.

Medical Cards.

Consultancy Contracts.

Road Traffic Offences.

Rail Network.

Company Closures.

Road Network.

Departmental Correspondence.

Transport 21.

Road Network.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Citizenship Applications.

Courts Service.

Prison Accommodation.

Crime Levels.

Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Residency Permits.

Refugee Status.

Residency Permits.

Refugee Status.

Citizenship Applications.

Residency Permits.

Citizenship Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Residency Permits.

Road Traffic Offences.

Official Engagements.

Deportation Orders.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Recruitment.

Garda Complaints Procedures.

Closed Circuit Televisions Systems.

Garda Stations.

Citizenship Applications.

Public Order Offences.

Crime Levels.

Proposed Legislation.

Garda Deployment.

Prison Service.

Garda Operations.

Crime Levels.

European Arrest Warrants.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Equipment.

Prison Building Programme.

Court Procedures.

Asylum Applications.

Residency Permits.

Visa Applications.

Residency Permits.

Passport Applications.

Consultancy Contracts.

Emigrant Support Services.

Overseas Development Aid.

Human Rights Issues.

Emigrant Support Services.

Middle East Peace Process.

Consultancy Contracts.

Sports Funding.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Community Development.

Consultancy Contracts.

Community Development.

Social Insurance.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Tax and Social Welfare Code.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Insurance.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Consultancy Contracts.

Departmental Expenditure.

Pension Levy.

Legislative Programme.

Local Authority Housing.

Environmental Policy.

Library Projects.

Recycling Policy.

Election Management System.

Community Policing.

Private Rented Accommodation.

Local Authority Housing.

Proposed Legislation.

Local Authority Housing.

Planning Issues.

Local Authority Grants.

Election Management System.

Animal Welfare.

Consultancy Contracts.

Broadcasting Services.

Fisheries Protection.

Departmental Bodies.

Grant Payments.

Consultancy Contracts.

Departmental Expenditure.

Foreshore Applications.

Grant Payments.

Commonage Division.

Fishing Industry Development.

Grant Payments.

Afforestation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Official Languages.

Grant Payments.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Consultancy Contracts.

Special Educational Needs.

School Enrolments.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Home Tuition.

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Refurbishment.

Legal Proceedings.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

School Management.

School Enrolments.

Schools Building Projects.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 2.30 p.m.

Paidir.
Prayer.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  On a point of order, is it in order to ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children to withdraw the proposal to cut funding for the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is completely out of order. There are no circumstances under which the Deputy can proceed with it.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  This is a major issue for 1,135 families who are genuinely——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will ask the Deputy to leave the House if he persists. This is the Taoiseach’s Question Time.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  ——upset by Friday’s cut.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot raise that matter now.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Out of respect to the Ceann Comhairle, I want to put on the record of the House this criminal cut. It was a disgrace and totally out of order. I would like to walk out in the interest——

A Deputy:  It is a matter for a question to the Minister, a Cheann Comhairle.

[2]An Ceann Comhairle:  It is unprecedented and under no circumstances can it be allowed.

This constitutes a gross disorder.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I wish to walk out.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is a matter for a question to the Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This constitutes a gross disorder and I ask Deputy McGrath to resume his seat.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I will walk out in protest——

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is entirely without precedent.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  ——as it is disgraceful that——

An Ceann Comhairle:  He will have to do so as he cannot raise this issue now.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  This is disgraceful.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are no circumstances under which it could be allowed. A precedent——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is very hard on him.

Deputy James Reilly:  To be helpful, it is a question to the Minister later.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a bit helpful.

Deputy James Reilly:  I shall not try to be helpful again.

  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the number of staff employed in the Government Information Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8424/09]

  2.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the staffing levels in the Government Information Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9620/09]

  3.  D’fhiafraigh Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    den Taoiseach    cén méid duine atá fostaithe ag Seirbhís Eolais an Rialtais. [9854/09]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The number of staff employed in the Government Information Service, the Government Press Office and the communications unit is 15, ten of whom are civil servants. They are as follows: the Government press secretary, two deputy Government press secretaries, three Government press officers, a departmental information officer and eight clerical staff.

The Government Press Office and the Government Information Service provide an information service on Government policy to the public through the national and international media on behalf of myself, my Department and the Government. It also promotes a co-ordinated approach to media matters across all Departments.

[3]The Government Press Office issues press releases and speeches to the media, briefs political correspondents, organises photocalls, information campaigns and ministerial representation on current affairs programmes. It disseminates information to the domestic and international media on the web and via e-mail. The Government Press Office and the Government Information Service, in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs, organises and manages the media aspects of State visits and major State occasions. Staff in the Government Press Office and departmental press officers are available after hours and at weekends to answer media queries.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  While I did not catch it all, last November the Taoiseach stated he was to explore the appointment of a single provider of information across all Departments as a cost-cutting measure and as a cost-saving device. In recent weeks, every Minister has been talking about this proposal. Has the Taoiseach decided on a single information provider across all Departments that will go towards reducing the costs of the service being provided? What cost will be saved and when will it be implemented?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There has been a walkout of Ministers.

The Taoiseach:  No decision has been made in respect of any reviews that are taking place at present. I recall a previous parliamentary question in which information to some effect was given to the Deputy. I must check it as I do not have to hand that supplementary information.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I hope this is one small measure that can be included in next Tuesday’s budget and that a decision can be made by whoever is in a position to do this.

In respect of the Government Information Service and leaving aside the issue regarding the matter raised publically last week that received much attention, it appears as though the Government press secretary did contact the national television broadcaster regarding an apology to the Taoiseach in respect of a matter that took place in the National Gallery. Was this the case? Did the Government press officer contact the national broadcaster, RTE?

An Ceann Comhairle:  In all honesty Deputy Kenny——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  What does the Ceann Comhairle mean?

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——this question is about the number of staff employed and staffing levels in the Government Information Service.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I refer to one of the staff.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will not go into that. The Deputy will ask what they had for their breakfast next.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Hang on.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny should ask a question that is relevant.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I have no intention of asking what they had for their breakfast.

Deputy David Stanton:  It was about the work they do.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Kenny to please ask a question that is relevant.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I have no intention of asking about their breakfast or any other meal.

[4]An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question that is relevant. We must stay within the ambit of the question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I am asking the Taoiseach in respect of——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Ceann Comhairle should give the Deputy a chance.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach read out what the Government Information Service does——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Look——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  —— such as arranging for photocalls and so on in respect of Government coverage, which is right and proper. I am asking a legitimate question about an officer who is appointed as part of the Government Information Service and I wish to know whether the Government press secretary contacted the national broadcaster to state that what it had done to the Taoiseach was wrong and that it should apologise.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is up to the Taoiseach himself but this is not in order.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  All the Deputy seeks are the bare facts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Then I strongly suggest that he tables the bare question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is waiting to reply.

The Taoiseach:  Well done Deputy McCormack. That was one of his better efforts.

As for the press secretary, he was not acting on my instruction or that of any Minister and nor did he seek an apology, as RTE itself decided to do that.

Deputy James Reilly:  Did he make contact?

An Ceann Comhairle:  While I will come back to Deputy Kenny, he has had his supplementary questions. Deputy Burton is next.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is confirming that the Government press secretary——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will return to Deputy Kenny. Deputy Burton is next.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is confirming that he did contact the national broadcaster.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Burton is next. I will come back to Deputy Kenny.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Can the Taoiseach confirm that he did make contact with the national broadcaster?

Deputy James Reilly:  We are halfway there, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Taoiseach:  That is well known. Just as with Deputy Kenny’s own press officers, there is a fair bit of contact between them.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Burton is next——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is all justified.

[5]An Ceann Comhairle:  ——and the Deputies can have a chat about it afterwards.

The Taoiseach:  When Deputy Kenny’s man does it, it is justified but when my man does it, it is not justified.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies should not mind that stuff.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Is there still a Government information service? Traditionally, there was a Government press secretariat made up of political appointees, the five people to whom the Taoiseach referred, dealing with political issues while a separate Government information service, staffed by civil servants, dealt with the dissemination of routine, non-political information. The Government press secretary of the day was head of the Government information service but there was a clear distinction between the roles of political appointees and the civil servants working in the Government information service. The website of the Department of the Taoiseach no longer makes reference to the Government information service. There is only reference to a Government press office. When did the change happen? Did the Taoiseach make a public announcement of the change? Was a decision taken to abolish the separate Government information service and absorb it into the Government press office? Does the Taoiseach accept there is a great importance in keeping clear and distinct functions between the Government information service, civil servants, and the political appointees who deal with the press on a daily basis? Given the way the two sections have morphed together, does the Taoiseach expect civil servants to deal with political inquiries from the media, which are more pertinent to a political appointee?

The Taoiseach:  The Government information service continues. A central Government information service is essential for information issuing from the Government. When the Government wishes to release information this can only be done by a central information service such as the Government information service. The Government information service has grown from early days when there were only three major national broadsheets and one national broadcaster. Today there is 24-hour coverage and instantaneous access to information from newswires and websites. Today’s information from Government can be released via paper press releases, e-mails, text messages, podcasts and webcasts, to name a few of the new technologies used.

The staff of the Government information service are subject to the usual conventions that apply to civil servants in respect of political impartiality in their work at all times. Their duties and those of the Government press secretary are to liaise with the media on behalf of the Government. The Government press office provides a comprehensive information service on Government policy to the public through the national and international media on behalf of the Government. Political correspondents are briefed on a daily basis. Through regular contact with departmental press officers they ensure a co-ordinated approach to media matters.

Deputy Joan Burton:  In what capacity did the Government press secretary contact the national broadcaster? Was it in his capacity as head of the Government information service——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Burton is back to the same old thing. That is not relevant to these questions.

Deputy Joan Burton:  ——or as the Government press secretary?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot understand the fixation with that matter.

[6]Deputy Joan Burton:  Is it normal procedure that when the Government has an issue with RTE coverage, it goes straight to the director-general of RTE?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question deals with staffing levels and the number of staff, an méid daoine atá fostaithe ag Seirbhís Eolais an Rialtais.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does the Government press secretary go straight to the director-general of RTE? Is it appropriate that the Government press secretary contact the director-general in this way?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not within the ambit of these questions.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I sympathise, as I did before, particularly with the family of the Taoiseach, in that the particular matter was offensive but this is a general principle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I told Deputy Kenny already that this is not within the ambit of the question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  When the Government press secretary sees coverage on RTE, of which he may disapprove, does he pick up the phone, as was done last week, to the director-general of RTE?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question deals with staffing levels.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Is this appropriate? How many times has the Government press secretary made contact with the director-general of RTE?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a completely different issue.

Deputy Joan Burton:  In this case——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Burton to comply with the Chair’s ruling.

Deputy Joan Burton:  ——was the press secretary acting alone?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask you to comply with the Chair’s ruling. I told you that question was not relevant.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Was he acting alone?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Ó Caoláin. The question is not relevant.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Maidir le seirbhís eolais an Rialtais, an bhfuil straitéis ann chun ráitis agus doiciméid a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge? Má tá, cé mhéid daoine atá fostaithe chun é sin a chur i bhfeidhm?

The Taoiseach:  Is í an Ghaeilge teanga dhúchais an príomhoifigeach san oifig sin. Tá sé ar fáil chun eolas a thabhairt trí Ghaeilge do gach éinne sna meáin chumarsáide mar gheall ar an méid atá ag tarlú sa Rialtas.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  An bhfuil an Taoiseach ábalta freagra a thabhairt dom maidir leis an straitéis atá ag seirbhís eolais an Rialtais? An bhfuil straitéis ann? An bhfuil daoine ag obair go speisialta chun ráitis agus doiciméid a chur an fáil i nGaeilge? Is é sin mo cheist. Iarraim ar an Taoiseach freagra specific a thabhairt ar an straitéis sin.

[7]The Taoiseach:  Ní chóir go mbeadh straitéis ann. Nuair a chuireann daoine glaoch ar an oifig, tá oifigigh ann chun an eolas atáá lorg a chur ar fáil trí mheán na Gaeilge. Tá sé ar fáil i nGaeilge.

  4.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he has responded to the request of the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for a resumption of social partnership talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8619/09]

  5.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    when he next plans to meet the social partners; when the steering group referred to in section 7 of Towards 2016, Review and Transitional Agreement, 2008 to 2009, is expected to hold its next meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9621/09]

  6.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he plans to invite the social partners to resume negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10598/09]

  7.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received a response to the invitation he issued to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on 24 March 2009 to engage in talks; the issues he plans to have on the agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13024/09]

  8.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the progress of the recently restarted talks with the social partners. [13025/09]

  9.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the agenda and schedule of meetings for his renewed engagement with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13187/09]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, together.

In January, the Government and social partners agreed on a framework for a pact for stabilisation, social solidarity and economic renewal. That framework acknowledged that urgent and radical action was required to restore stability to the public finances; maximise short-term economic activity and employment; and improve competitiveness. Intensive discussions followed between the Government and social partners to attempt to agree, within that framework, the key elements of the fiscal adjustment required.

In the context of the discussions, the Government tabled proposals to achieve a saving of €1.4 billion through the introduction of a pension levy in the public service. The unions were not in a position to agree to that proposal. The Government’s consequent decisions on achieving the €2 billion adjustment were taken within these parameters and in accordance with principles agreed with the social partners.

The challenge now faced by the country is immense and this is already evident from the very significant reduction in economic activity and the associated sharp rise in unemployment. It is in turn reflected in the very serious fiscal position. The Government is preparing to announce further measures on 7 April to address the deteriorating situation.

In that context, and having regard to the potential for further severe impacts on jobs and living standards, I am convinced that there is a case for the development of what the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, called an integrated national response to the complex interplay of domestic and global forces which must be confronted, and for this response to be effective by commanding wider societal ownership.

[8]For that reason, last week I invited the social partners to engage as a matter of urgency with the Government in seeking to develop and conclude a national agreement building on the shared perspectives which emerged in our discussion in January and in the recent NESC report. I welcome the decisions taken by the social partners last week to accept that invitation and, in particular, the ICTU decision to call off the planned industrial action.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It has been broadly noted that the Taoiseach has indicated a broad welcome for the ten-point plan put forward by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. His statement was in the context of workers right across the board having voted for industrial action yesterday. That action was deferred because of the commencement of new talks, which are most welcome.

Will the Taoiseach be specific with regard to the elements within the ten-point plan where he sees the potential for real progress in the course of this engagement? It is broadly seen that the Taoiseach is making a pitch, most particularly to the trade union movement, and making the case that real progress can be made in negotiations. If that is the case, will the Taoiseach be specific in addressing the ten points put forward by ICTU and give us an idea of his thoughts? We can, for example, deal with four of them.

Will the Taoiseach ditch the so-called public service pension levy, which the ICTU has correctly described as crude and unfair? With regard to those who have been made unemployed as a result of the contraction in the labour market, is the Taoiseach prepared to guarantee incomes of 80% of salary in order to allow workers to participate in extensive training and upskilling? Will he introduce a three-year moratorium on house repossessions and replace all the bank executives who played a direct role in the collapse of the banking system in this jurisdiction?

What does the Taoiseach propose to do in the context of restoring the crucial pay elements that were negotiated as part of the social partnership agreement? He must have noted that significant numbers of private sector companies have already paid the first tranche of increases that were committed to as part of that agreement. However, the Government, the Construction Industry Federation and IBEC are rowing back in this regard and are refusing to pay the increases that are due. The ICTU has described what is taking place as a campaign against wages.

Will the Taoiseach indicate where he stands in respect of these four aspects of the ten-point plan, particularly if he remains of the view that they offer the merit he indicated when commenting on the plan on its initial publication? If not in respect of these matters, in which areas can progress be made?

The Taoiseach:  In welcoming contributions to a process of discussion, one does not, by that token, provide prior agreement. There are a number of principles contained in the framework that are central to trying to devise a way forward. One of these principles is that which relates to stabilising the public finances. An issue that has arisen is the ongoing question of how to deal with this matter. In the absence of stabilising the public finances and working towards a process of dealing with the structural deficit that has arisen, the prospect of economic recovery will be deferred. We must, therefore, consider these issues in the context of priorities of this nature.

There is an acknowledgement in the framework up to which the parties signed on 28 January last that the Government and the social partners agree on the necessity to deal with the deficit through an appropriate combination of expenditure and taxation adjustments. In the interim, the NESC report has deepened the shared analysis within society regarding the nature of the [9]problems with which we are confronted and the approaches we must consider if we are to provide a degree of stabilisation for the economy in the short term and, subsequently, to plan for recovery.

The Government and the unions disagreed in respect of the pensions levy. The latter was a necessary part of an adjustment introduced by the Government earlier in the year. That adjustment, which was necessary, was designed to bring in €2 billion in an effort to ensure that international markets and people at home would recognise the Government’s determination to make decisions that would address what was then a deteriorating position vis-à-vis the public finances.

The terms and conditions of public service workers and the question of job security are important considerations. The value of public service pensions as against depleted pensions in the private sector, which have been adversely affected by the financial crisis, must be seen in the context of fairness. From my point of view, the proposal in this regard was in keeping with the requirements of the situation and the principles we outlined in the framework document.

The Minister for Finance has continually outlined to the House Government policy on the banking sector. He has not attained unanimous or consistent support for those measures but his measures regarding the State guarantee and recapitalisation were the right decisions. He is now examining the position regarding risk management and how we deal with issues arising in our own system, which are not unique to us, but the question of impaired access etc. is an issue that must be examined carefully.

On the question of pay, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation has re-engaged with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in regard to examining the current pay agreement agreed last year. Those discussions are bilateral between IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and to what extent any progress will be made in that area is a matter for the parties directly concerned. For our part as a public sector employer, we have indicated our position on pay for this year and next year.

On the question of home repossession, we insist that the code of conduct drawn up by the Irish Banking Federation now be put on a statutory basis and include all providers of mortgage finance and not simply those who are members of that federation to ensure that the code of conduct, by being put on a statutory basis, will greatly assist in ensuring that precipitative action is not taken against those who fall into arrears in the immediate term.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall teacht ar ais do Theachta Ó Caoláin. I call Deputy Burton.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Ní raibh seans agam ceist a chur.

An Ceann Comhairle:  B’fhéidir go mbeidh.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  An mbeidh?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Tá súil agam go mbeidh.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Labour Party has already welcomed the Taoiseach’s rather belated decision to write to the unions inviting them to re-enter talks with Government. However, would the Taoiseach acknowledge that it is not acceptable for Government to arbitrarily breach an agreement that it had freely entered into only a few months earlier? In particular, does the Taoiseach understand the anger of many ordinary public servants — teachers, nurses and gardaí— in respect of the arbitrary way the pension levy was imposed at the 11th hour in the talks compared to what they see as the treatment of the chief executive of Irish Nationwide, Mr. [10]Fingleton in terms of his extraordinary bonus, his even more extraordinary pension and the fact that one quarter of that pension, which could be as much as €5 million, will be paid to him entirely tax free? Also, we had the case of Mr. McCaughey and two other people who made very large capital profits on the sale of their business. They sent their wives, perfectly legitimately, offshore to Italy. Who would not like to go to San Remo in Italy for 183 days and immerse oneself in Italian culture? We would all like to spend 183 days in San Remo at the end of which, instead of having to pay the cost of a sojourn abroad in Italy, we would make a handy €5 million profit. Does the Taoiseach understand that ordinary civil servants who give fantastic service to this country are understandably angry that there is, as it were, one treatment for them, which is the imposition of a severe levy, and another for others? The details of the levy are unfair in that in some cases people on lower income are paying more levy than people at the top echelons, particularly the top administrators in the public service. Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that that is an enormous difficulty? Does he propose to address that when he goes back into talks?

  3 o’clock

Also, does the Taoiseach have a timeframe for when the talks will recommence? Is there a deadline? Is he having discussions about discussions? The unions have laid out their stall, indicating that they want a three-year moratorium on home repossessions and the use of mediation instead of the courts. They have also indicated that pension funds which might be suffering solvency problems should be examined in the context of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The unions have pointed out that the National Pensions Reserve Fund is being allocated to rescuing the banks but the Government has no plan to address pension funds such as that in Waterford Crystal or in other companies which have gone into liquidation and which may have solvency difficulties.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the Government must give a strong commitment on fairness, where people in the public service, particularly teachers and nurses and the like, get a fair deal? We all know these are difficult times, but measures must be applied fairly. The Fingleton and McCaughey examples are like a bone in the throat for many public servants when they compare such treatment to their own.

The Taoiseach:  The talks will proceed and their length will depend on the progress that can be made on the issues that arise. On the levy, there is a subjective perspective — people see it in a certain way. The wider context in which the pension levy had to be considered was the need for a €2 billion adjustment to be made as a credible response to the fiscal situation at that time. This was agreed with the social partners. I have not heard from anyone what area of services should have had money deducted if the levy was not to be imposed. If €2 billion was the figure to be obtained, the levy represented €1.4 billion and I have not heard from people on the opposite side where they feel it should have been borne if it was not to be borne there. Where in the services should it have been borne? Should it have been in the health area, for example?

The levy as introduced did not affect existing pensioners. It was a question of the public service employer looking at the financial situation and finding savings to meet the requirements of that situation. One would like to think it would not have been necessary to impose such a levy but it was necessary. I have not heard alternatives in terms of economies that were to be outlined that would make up for the difference, since €2 billion was the figure to be obtained.

The money that has been used to recapitalise the banks will get a coupon. There will be a return for that money, probably a higher return than is available from other avenues of investment at present. It is not a question of being used other than in a way to assist the economy. We need a functioning bank system if we are to have economic recovery and there is more work [11]to be done in that respect. It is also important that the proposals formulated by Government are on the basis of a return being provided for the taxpayer and as an investment by Government in the same way as these pension funds have been invested elsewhere in the past. We have ensured that those funds are available for investment in Ireland in the banking system at a time when it is needed and when a return is being sought by Government on behalf the taxpayer in respect of them.

On the issues raised by the Deputy about individual cases, I introduced the change in the Finance Act 2006 to cover that situation. I also introduced changes in the pension system generally and I would point out there has been a return of the bonus that was paid to the chief executive of the Irish Nationwide Building Society by agreement.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In February the Taoiseach said he would listen attentively if there were proposals to tweak the pension levy that would bring the unions back on side. Has there been a tweaking of the levy? I welcome the unions’ response to the Government’s invitation to talks and their calling off of the day of national industrial action. However, the discussions must, to some extent, be meaningful. Will the Taoiseach tell the social partners he is in a position or intends to address the unfairness of the levy, which was a central issue to the unions, in the emergency budget?

The Dáil never gets any of the information discussed between the social partners and the Government, which is a shame. Last week, Fine Gael put together a detailed document, broadly welcomed by the Government Chief Whip, which outlined how we believe 100,000 jobs can be created in four years. It deals with the leveraging of money which would not pile more on the national debt and which could create hope and confidence for people. It also would be a help to the Government in the difficulties it faces in drafting a budget for next week. Will the Taoiseach respond to our invitation that he, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, discuss Fine Gael’s proposals with myself and Deputy Bruton? Will he respond, in a positive and constructive fashion, if the Government wishes to adopt these proposals, which we consider well-costed, relevant and capable of creating 100,000 jobs?

The Taoiseach:  While the Chief Whip welcomed Fine Gael’s proposals, they will have to be examined in detail. I do not wish to throw cold water on the initiative the Deputy took on behalf of his party but we would not necessarily agree with the approach. We are in an advanced stage of the budgetary process and it needs to be finalised over the next several days. These matters put in the public realm by Deputy Kenny can be debated on the floor of the House in due course when we can give our considered views on them.

There is nothing under discussion in social partnership that is not already in the public domain. The framework has been published, people are aware of its contents, the principles that inform it and the discussions taking place. The Government, as a public sector employer with a difficult financial situation with which to contend, can only examine proposals or submissions made by any of the parties to these discussions in the context of their overall contribution to maintaining the public finances in good order. There is very little room to manoeuvre in many of these areas, unless an alternative proposal is made which keeps the Government in a position in which it can obtain savings of the order required. I do not see how the basic proposal of the levy can be withdrawn. It is not possible with the financial situation we face. We will examine all proposals in good faith.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Is that a “Yes” or a “No”?

The Taoiseach:  I am trying to explain the situation. Deputy McCormack opposed the levy by not voting for it. Now he is wondering if I will take it back. In his next breath he is telling [12]me not to borrow any more and to save more money. He cannot have it every way. If he wants to play games, he can play games; he is good at it. It is about the only contribution he makes anyway.

What I have to do in terms of the finances is to say to people that we had to take up €2 billion at that time. This levy formed part of that and it resulted in a saving of €1.4 billion. We have heard no alternative from anyone else as to where €1.4 billion of that €2 billion was to be obtained. People talk around and about it. They do not agree with it but they cannot tell us where else we are supposed to find it. That is in this House. On the constructive proposals coming from anyone else, I will examine them, but I cannot give any commitment whatever, other than to say this Government will have to find savings of at least equal and probably greater measure in order to consider anything from there.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Ó Caoláin and then finally Deputy Barrett.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I just want to say for the record that——

An Ceann Comhairle:  No. I will have to try to come back to the Deputy.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——the Fine Gael Party proposed an alternative to the saving of €2 billion involving the freezing of pay——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please. I will have to try to come back to Deputy Kenny.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——reducing bonuses, introducing windfall taxes and the use of generic drugs. An alternative was proposed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call an Teachta Ó Caoláin, then Deputy Barrett and that is it then.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On the resumption of talks, which we have all welcomed, what measures or indications has the Taoiseach either taken or given to merit confidence within the trade union movement that the Government is serious about addressing the ten-point economic recovery plan put forward by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions? We all recognise that the facilitating legislation is now an Act in terms of the public service pension levy. Has the Taoiseach even considered suspending the implementation of that element of that particular piece of legislation in order to show good faith entering into these negotiations given that congress has very clearly stated that this is a matter that must be addressed substantively in the course of any resumed talks?

What steps has the Taoiseach taken to address what is now a growing resource within our economy, that is, the some 100,000 additional people out of work, many of whom are qualified in the professions, who are highly trained in their respective trade or in employment over many years and are now in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance? Surely those people are one of the greatest resources we have? What steps does the Government propose to take to reactivate that tremendous resource that currently is not making a direct contribution in terms of productivity and the overall take of the Exchequer? Can the Government seriously continue to ignore that huge well of skill——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have very little time. I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to conclude.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——that needs to be put to work in this country, given the opportunity of the dignity of work and the opportunity and the chance to make a direct contribution? Those are the questions that people are asking the Taoiseach to answer.

[13]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Barrett. He should be brief and then I will ask the Taoiseach to reply.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  When we were talking about tweaking the pension levy I presume the Taoiseach’s criticism was not intended for this side of the House. He may not be aware that an amendment was tabled by the Fine Gael Party through Deputy Bruton, on which I spoke, seeking to tweak the pension levy in favour of the lower paid and that the loss of revenue would be made up by increasing the top rate by a small amount.

The criticism that has been levied about people putting forward proposals, taking away money that he is trying to raise, is unfair. It begs the question as to the role of an Opposition in a democracy — when people cannot accept good amendments, meant in good faith and tabled in response to a Government proposal, which it now appears the Government is prepared to discuss with bodies outside this House.

Deputy James Reilly:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  Let me make it clear; we made a decision to impose——

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I wish to make it clear that we tabled——

The Taoiseach:  I am sorry but I was just about to respond to two questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The time is up Deputy Barrett.

The Taoiseach:  I wish to make it clear that we introduced a pension levy, with which the unions could not agree and so disengaged from the talks process. Re-engagement has only commenced. It was agreed at the time that we needed to raise €2 billion, €1.4 billion of which was from a pension levy.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  We were aware of that fact.

The Taoiseach:  I know that, but Deputy Ó Caoláin has suggested that I should defer its implementation. That seems to suggest to me that he has not yet grasped the seriousness of the position in regard to the public finances or the fact we are not in a position to defer its implementation. It is being implemented. If any proposal comes up for discussion, I will look at it and act in good faith with regard to any tweaking or whatever is suggested. I made that point when the measure was introduced. However, I want to make it clear that the €1.4 billion we required is a requirement that has not gone away. In fact, the requirement for further funds has emerged and that is the reason we have a supplementary budget to consider for next week. If people suggest the possibility of tweaking, they must also understand that, from the Government’s point of view, the overall financial position of the country and Government, in terms of the wider public sector pay bill, must also be addressed. We must not end up with a worse situation, without the imposition of the levy.

Deputy Barrett can table amendments if he wishes. We were in a position where we had to proceed with obtaining the €1.4 billion as we outlined. I am not aware that Fine Gael Members have been going around the country, saying they support the pension levy. If that is now their position and they just have a problem with some detail of it, that is fine, but that is not what I hear in my area.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  What steps is the Taoiseach taking to create work?

  34.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the situation in hospital accident and emergency departments in view of the fact that almost 400 patients are lying on trolleys throughout March 2009; her plans to address this problem or if she is resigned to seeing patients continue to lay on trolleys; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13410/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The average number of people waiting admission to hospital during the month of March was 137 people. It is my intention to continue to reduce waiting times for all patients presenting as emergencies to our hospitals. The HSE has set a lower waiting time target of six hours for all patients. The aim is that all patients, irrespective of whether they are admitted, will be assessed, treated and discharged or admitted within six hours of arrival. Up to now, the focus has been on waiting times for those awaiting admission to hospital.

The Healthstat data published by the HSE last week measures a number of elements of hospital activity which directly affect emergency departments. One of the Healthstat measures the number of patients who are given a discharge plan from the hospital. The target for this is that 60% of all patients should have such a plan and a discharge date. This will allow for increased efficiency and certainty regarding bed usage in hospitals. The most recent bed utilisation study, taken in June 2008, indicates that, of the patients surveyed, 48% had evidence of discharge planning, while only 16% had a documented date of discharge.

Another element of hospital efficiency on which I expect to see improvements is the number of elective patients who are admitted to hospital on the day of their procedure. The international target for this is 75%. The current national average in Ireland is approximately 30%. The majority of our hospitals need to make significant improvements on this front. The acute hospital bed capacity review of 2007 indicated that up to 140,000 beds a year could be freed up if Ireland was to reach best practice standard in this regard.

The HSE’s service plan commits to reducing inappropriate admissions, reducing average length of stay and shifting activity from in-patient to day case procedures. I am confident that these measures will ensure more efficient use of available capacity and facilitate further improvements in the delivery of services in the emergency departments.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister stated the average number of people waiting admission was one hundred and something. I do not know where she gets her figures. The INO figures indicate that some 340 people are on trolleys today while on 27 March some 305 people were on trolleys. On 24 March, some 387 people were on trolleys while the figure on 20 March was 304 people. The figure does not dip below 300. Therefore, five years after the Minister’s ten-point plan, we still have a mess with regard to patients on trolleys. It does not matter how one dresses up the figures or how we dispute them in the House because the reality, irrespective of whether we like, is that people are lying on trolleys in accident and emergency units for two and three days at a time. No amount of gloss can change that.

We hear today of plans to address this issue rather than of actual results. In 2006, the authorities in Northern Ireland set up a system to deal with the matter. In March 2008, one year ago, 92% of patients were seen within four hours of arrival. We are still counting waiting times [15]and the number of people on trolleys from the time a decision to admit is made rather than from the time of arrival at the hospital. The two measures are entirely different.

Why, after five years, does the crisis continue? Why are the numbers still so high? Even using the Minister’s own numbers, one cannot say there has been any real decrease since the time she said the problem should be treated as a national emergency. Where has all the money gone? Why have we not done what we said we should do, that is, address the bed capacity issue with regard to beds occupied by those whose acute phase of treatment is over and who have nowhere to go in the community?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I agree with the last point the Deputy made. The Fair Deal, which will be implemented later this year when legislation is enacted, will play a very important role in facilitating patients, particularly older ones moving from the acute setting to long-term care, because we will have a fair system of funding for all persons.

We are measuring time of arrival now. We are considering this measure and not just the time of the decision to admit a patient. This involves a six-hour timeframe. There has been a reduction of 20%. Measuring patient statistics at 8 a.m. is not appropriate, as the Deputy knows. The measurement that is taken by the HSE is at 2 p.m. every day and, according to this, there has been a 20% improvement. This continues to be the case.

Issues do arise within the hospital system. There have been serious infection issues in Beaumont Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital and others. During the months of February and March, these issues have affected some of the targets we have set. Notwithstanding that, there has been an enormous improvement with regard to the number of people waiting to be seen in emergency departments, certainly in recent years. We are beginning to see a drop off in the number attending emergency departments because individuals are instead going to primary care facilities, which practice I know the Deputy supports.

Deputy James Reilly:  How can the Minister possibly hope to improve circumstances when she plans to cut another 600 beds from the system this year after having cut 500 last year?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The emphasis must be on how we use the beds. As I stated, we should have a national standard whereby 75% of those admitted for surgery would be admitted on the day of surgery. This does not happen. We do not have discharge plans for the vast majority of our patients.

The new HealthStat system, which will drive the performance of our hospitals, will be enormously beneficial in helping hospitals to do better with their existing stock of beds. I refer in particular to moving to more day-case activity, which is in line with the service plan that has been submitted to me by the HSE.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister had the information for two years.

  35.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has received proposals from the Health Service Executive for the cuts it proposes to make to achieve the savings in its budget required of it by the Government in 2009; the action she will take to protect patients from the effects of these cuts; the estimated number of bed closures envisaged in these proposals and the timeframe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13183/09]

Deputy Mary Harney:  The HSE is facing significant financial pressures. These are due to a range of factors, including the implications for the HSE of the broader economic circumstances [16]of the country. There have been intensive ongoing discussions between the executive and my Department regarding the executive’s emerging financial position. Based on figures for the end of January and the end of February, the best estimate of the shortfall in HSE funding for the year was in the order of €480 million, including a shortfall of €100 million in health contributions. Subsequent to this overall assessment, the Department of Finance has notified an increase in its revised figure for the shortfall in health contributions from €100 million to €160 million. This figure is being kept under review in the context of the overall economic circumstances.

All projected overruns are influenced by the difficult circumstances we are in and subject to the limitations of forecasts. I wrote to the chairman of the HSE earlier this month and emphasised that it was crucial that the HSE manage the costs in its control. I indicated that under the circumstances, the HSE should focus on the measures required to be implemented to deliver on the service plan as outlined to me. As I have indicated to this House, the challenge to the HSE to break even within its financial allocation, while still protecting services, will present major difficulties. The board had previously agreed measures amounting to some €133 million and was asked to further examine how it could achieve another €72 million in savings.

I have indicated to the board that issues such as the income loss in health contributions, extra costs associated with the long-stay repayments scheme or the extra costs arising from increased medical card numbers will have to be considered by the Government in the context of the supplementary budget, which will introduced to the House next Tuesday.

The board of the HSE met yesterday to further consider its financial position. I understand a revised service plan will be submitted to me within the next five days. It will include proposals to save the further €72 million. I will consider the proposals contained in the revised service plan when it is submitted for my approval in accordance with the Health Act 2004.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I thank the Minister for her reply. I understand she has not yet received the revised plan. When she does, will she establish a bottom line as regards the services she will protect? What will occur if she does not agree with the plan? Will she be in a position to reject it or will she make alternative proposals if she feels it is too harsh on health services?

Is it true that the cuts will include cuts to the home help service and cuts in respect of acute hospital beds, as reported in a newspaper today? If true, will the Minister approve the cuts? It is clearly policy that people should be catered for in the community or their own homes, where possible, and it is clear that cuts to the home help service will affect that. What is the Minister’s bottom line with regard to health cuts and the protection of the patient?

Did the Minister state, in respect of the levy, there will be a shortfall of €160 million rather than €100 million? Where will the €60 million be found? We were only aware of a shortfall of €100 million the last time we received answers.

I do not know whether the Minister wants to refer to the cystic fibrosis issue given that it will be discussed on the Adjournment tonight. It is the cause of serious concern. I realise the problem relates to 2010 but money pertaining to 2009 is obviously involved.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  That issue is referred to in the next question. I call the Minister.

Deputy Mary Harney:  In deference to Deputy Reilly, who tabled a question on cystic fibrosis, I will reserve my comments on it until we take that question.

The sum of €160 million arises because of the emerging economic circumstances in March, according to the Department of Finance. I said at the committee last week that the shortfall was [17]€160 million rather than €100 million. Furthermore, I stated in my reply to Deputy O’Sullivan’s question that, in the context of the budget next week, the Government is considering the shortfall. It has a considerable impact on the HSE because it affects appropriations-in-aid and the consequent increase given the level of unemployment and the number of medical cards.

Even accepting all that, the HSE clearly has a budgetary challenge. The HSE spends approximately €1.2 billion each year on what I would call some archaic work practices. I refer to junior doctors getting paid for their lunch and to live out of the hospital. These are practices that would never be negotiated in current circumstances. The priority for dealing with the financial constraints must be in the context of that envelope of very rigid work practices whereby we cannot deploy people from where they may not be needed to where they are needed.

When the HSE submits its service plan to me, I will want to ensure it is dealing with issues such as travel and subsistence, work practice issues and legal issues. The HSE spends an enormous sum each year on legal issues. Since we are reducing professional fees to doctors, dentists and pharmacists by approximately 8%, I hope the HSE will be in a position to do the same in regard to legal fees. My priority will be to ensure we minimise, if possible, the impact of the financial constraints on services to patients, either within the hospital or the community, and that we maximise the potential to live within budget on the basis of some of the sources to which I referred.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Will the Minister answer my question on whether she has a bottom line on what she would consider to be going too far in terms of affecting patient care?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The bottom line is that the use of the money allocated to the HSE which, in gross terms, amounts to approximately €15 billion on the current side, must be maximised in the interest of patients. Therefore, any restrictions must hit hard in areas such as travel and subsistence, work practices, overtime issues, redeployment and legal costs.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It will be very hard to get those kinds of cuts in those areas.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I have the power to reject the proposals submitted and suggest alternatives.

  36.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason only eight of the additional 14 fast-tracked cystic fibrosis beds promised to be put in place by the end of summer 2008 have been delivered; the further reason that the remaining beds have not been delivered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13411/09]

Deputy Mary Harney:  Since 2006, some 19 additional staff have been recruited in St. Vincent’s Hospital to work with cystic fibrosis patients. The physical infrastructure has also been enhanced through the refurbishment last year of accommodation to provide eight single en suite rooms for the exclusive use of people with cystic fibrosis.

It had been intended to free up a further six beds at the hospital for the use of cystic fibrosis patients. This has not yet happened due to serious infection control concerns in the care of the elderly unit in the hospital which required immediate essential refurbishment work. In order to do this, patients from the care of the elderly unit had to be moved to the area which had been planned for the additional six beds. This work has been completed and the elderly unit has reopened.

In order to provide six additional single en suite rooms for cystic fibrosis patients, the current configuration of the ward will have to be changed from five three-bedded rooms and one six-[18]bedded room to six single rooms. The current complement of 21 beds would be reduced to six and the hospital would therefore lose 15 beds which are available to it. The additional 15 beds are necessary at the moment to accommodate patients requiring admission from the emergency department.

Phase 2 of the development at St. Vincent’s is being designed to provide a new clinical building which will include 120 replacement beds. The new facility will include appropriate isolation facilities and accommodation for cystic fibrosis patients. Design work and preparation of tender documents is continuing in respect of the development.

A number of other significant capital developments are being progressed for cystic fibrosis patients throughout the country, including in Beaumont Hospital. An additional 48 staff, including consultant, nursing and allied health professionals, have been appointed across the hospital system in recent years to enhance the services provided to cystic fibrosis patients. I intend to continue these improvements, including the development of outreach services to facilitate the treatment of patients outside the hospital setting where appropriate.

Deputy James Reilly:  I thank the Minister for her response. There is one chink of light for the many people in this country who suffer with cystic fibrosis, the people who love them and those who try to treat them, and this is that the Minister has the power to change the HSE’s suggestions and plans.

Since this issue came to the airwaves last year, two of the brave young women who were on “Liveline” with Joe Duffy have passed away. We know this unit was costed at €40 million. We know from the Minister’s own testimony at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that building costs have decreased by 25% so we are now looking at a cost of a mere €30 million. We know that in the current climate builders, if pushed and pressed, will take deferred payment to keep their employees at work. I must put it to the Minister that failure to address this issue and progress this development will impact on all other facilities for cystic fibrosis in the country.

We can defer payments but these young Irish citizens die ten years sooner than their cousins 40 miles up the road. They cannot defer their demise if this facility is not built for them. I plead with the Minister to use her good offices to examine what the HSE has planned and where the cutbacks are planned and make this an absolute priority. Some of the people who would be outspoken about this issue this week and next week may not be with us next year if she does not make that decision.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is a priority but, to be fair to the HSE, if it does not have the money it cannot do it. Virtually all of the HSE’s capital plan is contractual. Yesterday, I stated that I know the hospital has an alternative proposal on how this could be funded in the immediate period and we need to explore options in an innovative and imaginative way to bring this facility into place as quickly as possible. I agree it is important and certainly it is a priority for me and for the Government to make this happen.

Deputy James Reilly:  Given how long it takes for matters to be explored, will the Minister explore in a very urgent fashion the possibility of putting in place a pre-modular unit to have at least some beds and isolation facilities available for these very needy young people? This could be done in a matter of weeks while an alternative way to provide the 120-bedded unit is being explored.

Deputy Mary Harney:  That was explored last summer and the hospital’s very strong preference, because of space issues, was to do it all together. We committed to doing this, which is [19]why we reorganised within the hospital. Certainly, all options will be explored. As the Deputy may be aware, the care of the elderly facility at St. Vincent’s leaves much to be desired. The facilities there for very old stroke victim patients are not what people are entitled to expect. If we can provide the 120-bedded facility in an innovative way with the hospital’s support, and this is a voluntary hospital which is not owned by the State, then we should be prepared to do so. I am exploring this in the context of next Tuesday’s budget.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  The Minister promised 30 beds for cystic fibrosis patients.

Deputy James Reilly:  The children and young adults in this country suffering from cystic fibrosis require these facilities in the most urgent possible sense. Unless a commitment is given that can be kept to build the 120-bedded unit, then another facility should be provided which can meet their needs.

The problems in St. Vincent’s do not stop with the elderly. A haematology unit there has stopped admitting people who have neutropenia, a low white cell count, which is a complication of illness, because of two episodes of vancomysen resistant e.coli. The inpatient unit has one toilet so the problem goes deeper.

I am pleading on behalf of children and young adults with cystic fibrosis. We have lost some already and we will lose more. As a society, we cannot stand over the fact that people here in the so-called Celtic tiger economy die ten years younger than their cousins in Northern Ireland.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The matter of life expectancy is not confirmed by the registry. However, this is not the issue. The issue is having appropriate facilities for these patients and I am committed to making this happen.

  37.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will roll out the national retinopathy screening programme in view of the fact that retinopathy screening for people with diabetes is highly cost effective in terms of the long-term health gain and money saved through prevention and in view of the recent publication of the Health Service Executive report recommending the programme; if not, the reason for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13412/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  As the Deputy is aware, this issue was the subject of a full debate in the House on 26 February 2009. As I indicated then, the HSE plans to roll out a diabetic retinopathy screening programme on a phased basis by HSE area. It is proposed to commence in the HSE west region, as a population-based screening programme had previously been established in the former North-Western Health Board. Funding of €750,000 is being allocated to implement this first phase of the screening service. This will allow the service to be offered to approximately 30,000 people with diabetes, registered with the programme, between west Limerick and north Donegal. It is estimated that this programme will commence in the third quarter of 2009. Once the first phase has been established, the programme will be rolled out on a phased basis, having regard to overall resource availability and other competing priorities.

Deputy James Reilly:  For the record, we did not have a debate on this issue. We had statements on it which is quite a different matter. Will the Minister bear in mind that approximately 5% to 10% of people with diabetes have sight-threatening retinopathy? This requires treatment and if they do not receive it, some 14,000 to 16,000 will end up with sight-threatening retinopathy by the end of next year. The cost of providing a comprehensive retinopathy programme is [20]approximately €1.9 million with ongoing costs of €2.5 million per year. The cost to the State of the care of 100 people who are sight impaired runs to €2.4 million. For the price of looking after 100 blind people, we can prevent thousands of cases of blindness. If there was ever a case of penny wise pound foolish, this is it.

I recounted the story at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, and I will repeat it here, of a gentleman who went blind waiting for an outpatient’s appointment. He went to England and had partial sight restored to his left eye. He has returned here and on at least three occasions prior to a six month appointment he was told it had been put back for another six months. This man is extremely angry for his own sake and for the sake of the many other people he knows who suffer the same consequences. It is a small amount of money for what is a form of prevention. Tough decisions will always have to be made, but we must invest in prevention to save money tomorrow. For every euro we spend on prevention, between €12 and €20 will be saved on treatment, and this €1.9 million needs to be made available.

Deputy Mary Wallace:  Funding of €750,000 is available in 2009 for the purpose, but the estimated total cost of the scheme nationally will be €4 million. The key message is that despite the difficult financial situation, this is being rolled out in the HSE western region. We picked that area because a population based screening programme was located there previously. We are putting in place all of the various pieces we need to put in place for 2009, including governance and committee structures and the processes involved. There also has been recruitment of staff for the IT side of the scheme. It is a good news story as it is getting priority under the current financial situation and the roll out is happening on a phased basis.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister of State is well aware that this money was available in 2008 and 2007, when we were not in such straitened times, yet it was not spent. While we welcome the fact that it is being rolled out in the west, what about the rest of the country? What about the rest of those with diabetes who may lose their eyesight due to a failure to detect their retinopathy, which is an eminently treatable condition?

Deputy Mary Wallace:  There is no doubt we are facing resource constraints and that is why it was not rolled out in 2008. We can certainly say this is a positive development as it is happening in 2009 in the west, where 30,000 people will be screened. Thereafter, depending on the availability of overall resources, this will be the first phase of the national roll out.

Deputy James Reilly:  So there will be no relief for the remaining 110,000 people with diabetes.

  38.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has been furnished with the Health Service Executive review of adequacy of child and family services for the year ending 31 December 2007; when she expects to receive the Health Service Executive review of adequacy of child and family services for the year ending 31 December 2008; her views on the failure of the HSE to publish such reports promptly following the conclusion of each year; her views on whether the HSE is in breach of its statutory obligations with regard to its delay in publishing the review of adequacy of child and family services 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13184/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  It had been expected that the review of the adequacy of child and family services report for 2007 would be completed and published before the end of 2008. However, following discussions [21]between my office and the HSE in late 2008, it was agreed to give priority instead to the preparation of a social work and family support services survey. The finalisation of this comprehensive survey necessarily involved the same cohort of HSE officials working on the validation of the interim data set for 2007 to support the section 8 report. I am advised, however, that the section 8 report for 2007 will be published within the next two weeks and that future reports will be produced in a timely fashion. In this regard, I do not consider there has been any breach by the HSE of its statutory obligations. In regular meetings with HSE child welfare protection managers, I have been impressed by their commitment to addressing the many issues surrounding the provision of timely, accurate and consistent management information.

A draft version of the social work and family support services survey document has been already presented to me by the HSE. It provides a good indication of the breadth of information which will follow in the final version, which is expected to be ready before the summer. In addition to an array of statistical data, including data on current caseloads and family support services, the document also contains a considerable amount of valuable contextual commentary which will support better management and service reform. Informed by the social work and family support services survey, I intend to discuss with the HSE how the section 8 report can be enhanced in future years, and how the information now becoming available can be used in HSE performance reports submitted to the Department.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Is the Minister of State telling the House that as a result of his intervention, the HSE has failed by the end of March 2009 to publish its report on the workings of the child protection services for the year ending 31 December 2007? Is he in a position to tell the House how many children were taken into care in 2007? Such information would be contained in this report if it were published. Is the Minister of State in a position to tell the House how many children, either at the end of 2007 or at the end of 2008, were reported to be at risk but whose family circumstances had not been comprehensively investigated and whose case had not been expressly referred to a social worker? Can he explain to the House how, in the absence of up-to-date statistics and background information on the workings of the child protection services, it is possible to assess the efficiency of those services, the extent to which they truly provide children with the protection they require or to determine what new initiatives may be required to improve those services?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  I am working very closely with the HSE and I am satisfied we have made very considerable progress on the issues the Deputy identifies as shortcomings in the child welfare and protection service. The information should be at hand in two weeks, and I am absolutely confident that we will have it to hand before Easter. The survey to which I referred will give us the further context mentioned by the Deputy, so that we will not be just presented with raw data and will be able to check these figures against matters such as the demographics of an area and the level of deprivation in an area. We can then develop strategies based on those figures, rather than leave them to collect dust on a shelf. They will provide the basis for the preparation of a proper strategy. I am confident we have made considerable progress in this area.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The Minister of State has failed to answer the questions I asked. Will he confirm that he does not know on 31 March 2009 how many children were taken into care at the end of December 2007? Will he confirm that he does not know how many children reported to be at risk have not had their cases investigated? If the report for 2007 has not been published, even though it is required by the Child Care Act 1991 to be published with a degree of promptness, when will the report for 2008 be published?

[22]I am told there are hundreds of cases involving reports of children at risk across the country, within 32 child care regions under the supervision of the HSE, whose files are sitting on shelves and are unallocated to social workers for proper family investigation. Does the Minister of State know this? Does he agree that since the formation of the HSE, it has been incapable of collating up-to-date information on the workings of the child protection service, for which it has statutory responsibility?

Will the Minister of State with responsibility for children confirm that he has no idea about the current position regarding the efficiency or otherwise of the workings of our child protection system? He has no up-to-date information on which he can rely.

Deputy Barry Andrews:  In the main body of my answer, I explained to the Deputy that I have been furnished with the draft social work and family support services survey, and the Deputy will be given that report as soon as it is finalised and validated. This report presents up-to-date information and context for the first time. It was not available to policymakers before.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Does he have the children’s figures I requested?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  I have the interim data for 2006, which are what this survey is based on.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The 2006 figures were published last October.

Deputy Barry Andrews:  The HSE will publish the 2007 figures within two weeks. Thereafter, we will endeavour to ensure the 2008 figures are published in a timely fashion. The reform of social work, child welfare and protection is my priority. This always has been the case since I was appointed to this job. I cannot stress enough the progress we have made in partnership with the HSE in the last year. I am very satisfied with what the organisation has done.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  What did the Minister of State’s predecessor do?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  It has set up a task force to work on the standardisation of business processes. That will be reported in May and will provide us with the capability to ensure we have a much better X-ray of child welfare and protection on a contemporaneous basis in the future.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  In other words, the Minister of State does not have a clue what is going on. That is a substantially inadequate reply.

  39.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she intends to close Mallow General Hospital, County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12819/09]

  87.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if there are plans to close hospitals here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13076/09]

Deputy Mary Harney:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 87 together.

[23]I have no plans to close any acute hospital. My priority is to ensure all acute hospital services are delivered to the highest standard of quality and safety to patients and in the most efficient way possible.

My aim is to make certain that we provide the right type of acute care in the right type of hospital. There is an abundance of expert medical advice that small hospitals with low patient volumes should not provide very complex forms of treatment. The best outcomes for the population will be achieved where complex care is provided in specialised centres where all of the necessary clinical expertise and facilities are immediately available. At the same time, developments in health care mean that smaller hospitals can meet much of the demand for less complex services, especially those that are increasingly carried out on a day case basis.

The review of acute hospital services for the HSE South by Teamwork consultants has recently been completed and will inform HSE plans for the reorganisation of acute hospital services in the region. The objective of the HSE is to ensure that there is a clinically safe and sustainable model of care. One of the key elements of reconfiguration will involve developing smaller hospitals to provide a much greater proportion of less complex care, especially in day surgery, medicine and diagnostics. With this in mind, I am confident that Mallow General Hospital will continue to play an important part in the provision of acute health care in the southern region.

I am pleased Professor John Higgins, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital, has accepted the appointment of clinical project director for the reconfiguration process in the HSE South. The HSE will consult with key stakeholders in the region and Professor Higgins has commenced his work in this regard. The HSE proposes to publish the Teamwork review following the completion of the initial phase of this consultation process.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I welcome the Minister’s statement. This is the second time in a short period that the Minister has clarified the situation in respect of Mallow General Hospital. When will the Teamwork report be published? The reconfiguration document was published on 15 January and laid before the regional health forum. The document stated that the only services rotated through Mallow General Hospital would be outpatient and obstetrics and gynaecology services and no other services were envisaged. ENT services are now being cut, which does not tally with the Minister’s statement. Will the Minister further clarify what day procedure services she envisages would rotate through Mallow General Hospital in future?

Deputy Mary Harney:  Professor John Higgins has been appointed as the clinical project director. I met him last week. His task is to engage with the clinical community in the region and to reach agreement on what should take place in Mallow General Hospital rather than Cork University Hospital or the other hospitals in Cork or Kerry. I believe this has been a very successful process and it is working well in the mid-west and the north east. Mallow General Hospital scored very well in the health statistics and the hygiene audit and I compliment those involved. Notwithstanding how well the hospital performed, there is room for improvement. It performed very well on average length of stay.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  There are a number of centres of excellence in Mallow General Hospital also.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is probably top of the class in the country in that regard. The national day case target is 75%, but in the case of Mallow General Hospital it is only between 30% and 40%. Its mix of public and private patients is very far off the mark. Some 50% of the surgical patients are private in Mallow General Hospital and, as the Deputy is aware, the [24]national target is 20%. I hope that in the context of the reconfiguration the targets established could be met for all hospitals. In the case of Mallow General Hospital and other hospitals, whatever is safe to take place there will take place there.

We must meet a new licensing and accreditation regime for acute hospital services, probably by 2011. If we were to introduce that licensing arrangement now and if we had the legislation, many of the services would not be licensed by any competent or objective authority because they do not meet the quality and standards of care that people are entitled to expect. Therefore, the configuration has very much been driven by patient quality and safety. I believe Professor Higgins has the capacity and vision to win the clinical support of the doctors in Mallow General Hospital. The engagement has begun, but I am unsure whether it has begun in Mallow. However, he has begun to work with his colleagues and I remain optimistic that he will reach agreement on the procedures which should take place there. It is not a matter for me, because I am not a clinician, nor would I be competent to decide.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  Does the Minister not acknowledge that a lack of investment in a day procedures unit, which has been mooted for the past ten years, is the reason those statistics are low? If there had been such investment, Mallow General Hospital would be punching even further above its weight than it does at present.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I hasten to add I am not being critical, because it was placed top of the class along with St. Vincent’s Hospital on the hygiene audit. Last year, I visited Mallow General Hospital and I was very impressed. There are infrastructural requirements for the hospital as there are for many acute hospitals. There are a large number of very old hospitals providing services and we must ensure any moneys available for the capital plan are used to address safety issues such as those mentioned by the Deputy.

There is also a high level, that is 20%, of “did not attends” at the outpatient unit in Mallow General Hospital. I am examining measures to disincentivise people from not showing. Thousands of outpatient appointments are being lost to other patients because people simply do not attend. We must examine that also.

  4 o’clock

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The House should note that at last week’s meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children the Minister put on record that she had the authority to halt the closure of hospitals and the removal of acute services from hospitals such as Mallow General Hospital, Monaghan General Hospital, Nenagh General Hospital, Ennis General Hospital and Roscommon County Hospital, to name but five. There will be others too. Has the Minister ever given consideration to the substantial body of work which argues, contrary to her long held view, that centralisation is the best way to proceed, and that strongly contradicts the notion that high volumes means best outcomes in all cases? Has the Minister noted or re-read the York Health Economics review, often cited as one of the key reports supporting the notion of centralisation? Has the Minister taken heed of the fact that in its conclusion the review makes clear that there is no casual link between high volumes and best outcomes?

Does the Minister not accept that, as in Mallow General Hospital and each of the other hospital locations I cited, there is a very strong expression of opposition throughout the range of service providers, both in terms of in-hospital services providers, namely, consultants, doctors and nurses, and the general practitioners within the community, who strongly and vehemently oppose what she proposes to do? This is replicated throughout each of the sites I have instanced. When, if at all, will the Minister listen to the contrary view and give due regard to the opinions of those entrusted with the coal face delivery of acute hospital services at each of [25]these sites, given that the model she proposes to introduce is based on the experiences of other jurisdictions which are now being revisited?

The Minister is taking no cognisance whatsoever of the unique make up of the Irish health care delivery system, especially in respect of acute hospital services. When will she desist in her plan, or will she allow the opportunity for others to revisit the damage that she has already inflicted on the hospital system throughout the State?

Deputy Mary Harney:  We are not centralising. We are bringing hospitals together to work as a network. The evidence is overwhelming. Every training body has signed on. For example, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland strongly supports the cancer control plan. Volume equates with quality. Since the volume in terms of rare diseases is low, this does not apply to all cases, but volume and quality are linked in common conditions.

When the Deputy’s party colleague was the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland, she adopted the same approach to cancer services. Indeed, the North is far ahead of us. From every meeting that I have attended, Ministers across the EU face the same challenge.

More than 7,000 doctors work in our hospitals, but the manner in which they are organised does not deliver the best results for patients or best practice. Last week, I met the clinical directors appointed under the new consultants’ contract. They are enthusiastic about what is occurring at hospital level and the re-organisation of services into teams of doctors. In the mid-west, 12 surgeons will work as a team instead of there being four teams. This makes eminent sense in terms of patients, the use of expertise, critical mass and the other matters about which we are concerned.

A decision to halt matters would be based on politics, not patient safety and outcomes, which must come first. In terms of good patient outcomes, the clinical expertise must be put before political interests. This is what is occurring. There is huge——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  There is considerable evidence to contradict the Minister’s position.

Deputy Mary Harney:  There is not. There are individual pockets——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  There is no guarantee of good outcomes in terms of volumes.

Deputy Mary Harney:  ——in which people are perceived to have been adversely affected and might not be happy from time to time. In the main, all of the training bodies support the reform. There may be issues along the edges, but the reform of hospitals is supported.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Within the regulatory——

Acting Chairman:  We are almost out of time, but the two Deputies offering can make brief comments. We have given these questions ten minutes.

Deputy James Reilly:  The regional hospitals are not getting the additional resources required. The Minister mentioned the considerable successes in the mid-west and the north east, but the people in those areas view them as anything but. People in Drogheda and the rest of the north east are sorely disappointed and disillusioned. I fail to see how a 55-bed acute medicine unit at Monaghan General Hospital will be replaced by a medical assessment unit at Cavan General Hospital.

[26]People can reflect on a modus operandi. A hospital starved of resources consequently starts to engage in unsafe practices and a report commissioned to confirm this fact is used to undermine the hospital further and to close it down.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Mary Harney:  What is the Deputy discussing?

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The process in the mid-west, which will be similar to the services in the south and elsewhere, involves the reduction of accident and emergency units to a 12-hour service, the removal of all surgery bar day surgery through the lack of surgeons available on a 24-hour basis and the events occurring in respect of the medical team. This gradual removal, the first element of which will occur in the mid-west in April, is of concern to people, as the Minister has not committed to making the investment that will be necessary to allow the smaller hospitals to fulfil their important economic and community service roles. Nor will money be invested in tertiary hospitals.

During these times of cutbacks, people are fearful that all of the service reductions will occur, beginning with accident and emergency units and followed by surgery and medical services, but that none of the positives about which the Minister speaks so eloquently will be forthcoming. This is a fear even among those who believe that some of the Minister’s proposal is a good idea. With genuine reason, they are concerned that the proposal will be used to reduce services in smaller hospitals without making a return.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I am not aware of the report on a hospital not performing because it had been starved of resources to which Deputy Reilly referred. We have increased resources five fold in the past 12 or so years, but it is not just an issue of resources. Were there never to be an extra penny, the manner in which we organise services does not meet the patient safety test. This issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Regarding the mid-west, people from counties Clare and Tipperary will receive more treatment at their local hospitals than is currently the case through the re-organisation of the services.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Will the Minister invest the capital and other resources identified in the teamwork report?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The resources necessary to do what we want this year will be forthcoming. We have already given——

Deputy James Reilly:  Will we have our eight accident and emergency consultants and our high dependency units, HDUs?

Acting Chairman:  Allow the Minister to conclude, as we have gone over time.

Deputy James Reilly:  We are being told dreams.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Deputy Reilly needs to read the report in its entirety instead of taking pieces from it. The commitment to the——

Deputy James Reilly:  Likewise.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The Deputy has been briefed by Dr. Paul Burke, Dr. Cathal O’Donnell and many of the region’s other clinicians, who are enthusiastic. I am sure that there [27]are doctors in the mid-west who do not agree, but everything has its enemies and reform has quite a few cynics, who we know. However, the majority of hospital doctors in the mid-west are enthusiastic about the changes, including doctors in Clare, Nenagh, St. John’s Hospital and Limerick. That is a fact.

Deputy James Reilly:  They are not enthusiastic about the manner in which they are being done.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is wrong to use language like “enemies”. I said that doctors were——

(Interruptions).

Acting Chairman:  I apologise to my colleagues, but we must move on.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is an outrageous slur and the Minister should withdraw it.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair has been generous in allowing time for this question, which was in Deputy Sherlock’s name. The next questions will be Nos. 40, 101 and 212.

Deputy Mary Harney:  They relate to another part of the country.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The same story.

Deputy James Reilly:  A stock response.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is like the Monaghan template in that it is multi-transferrable.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister without interruption.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I must repeat the truth.

  40.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans for the development of services at Roscommon County Hospital, which will benefit efficiency within the health system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13020/09]

  101.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans for the development of services at Portiuncula Hospital, County Galway, which will benefit efficiency within the health system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13021/09]

  212.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the second general surgeon at Roscommon County Hospital will be appointed on a full-time permanent basis; if this appointment is dependent on funding being made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12817/09]

Deputy Mary Harney:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 40, 101 and 212 together.

The Government is committed to ensuring the delivery of the best quality health services for the people of County Roscommon in a safe and cost effective way. Ensuring patient safety is paramount so that people can have confidence in the services and that the best possible patient outcomes can be achieved. It is essential that we prioritise patient safety and quality and that we organise and manage services accordingly. The priority is to provide safe services as close as possible to where people live.

[28]In the past, Roscommon County Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, have operated independently, with two consultant general surgeons in each hospital. The difficulties faced by Roscommon and Portiuncula in maintaining surgical services independently and the need for closer co-operation between them were highlighted by the former Comhairle na nOspidéal in March 2006. Advances in clinical care and ever increasing levels of specialisation mean that the present model of care faces important practical difficulties, which must be addressed.

In light of these factors, the best way of retaining and developing services at Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals is for them to work closely together and with University Hospital Galway. The Health Service Executive has advised that it is proceeding with the proposal for a joint department of surgery and anaesthesia at Roscommon County Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital. There will be five consultant surgeon posts in all with joint services between the two hospitals. The detailed arrangements for the operation of the joint department will be developed in consultation with the consultants involved once all are in place and following a period of operation.

Funding of these posts is not an issue. One of the two consultant surgeon posts at Roscommon is currently filled by a locum, as the permanent postholder is unavailable. The appointment of a permanent consultant surgeon to this post at Roscommon will be considered by the HSE in the context of the establishment of the joint department of surgery and anaesthesia.

Interviews have been held to appoint a third consultant physician at Roscommon County Hospital with a special interest in respiratory medicine, with sessional commitments at Portiuncula Hospital and at University Hospital Galway. A replacement post of consultant physician with a special interest in endocrinology at Roscommon County Hospital, with sessional commitments to Portiuncula Hospital and University Hospital Galway, has also been advertised. I understand that interviews for the post of clinical director at the two hospitals were held last month and that a candidate has been appointed.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I thank the Minister for her reply, which addresses three of my questions.

On the issue of patient safety, I cannot understand how one can describe as safe for patients the closing down of smaller hospitals and transportation of people to the next available facility, without additional ambulance service resources, in journeys lasting an hour to an hour and a half. This is the fundamental issue that has not been addressed in respect of the hospitals under discussion today.

Why have I received the same standard reply in January, February and March regarding the third consultant physician post and the replacement consultant physician post? Nothing seems to have happened during the first three months of the year. In the context of the current issues regarding capital funding, where now stands the central sterile supplies department? This reverts to the point made by Deputy Reilly regarding starving facilities of resources because unless one’s theatres possess basic facilities for sterilising equipment, one will not have a surgery department. Can the Minister guarantee that such investment will be put in place this year? The day surgery spoken of by the Minister cannot take place without such basic investment. On a number of occasions, the Minister has discussed the development of outpatient services at Roscommon County Hospital. Nothing has happened to expand such services even though she has given numerous commitments in this regard. Moreover, the dermatology clinic again is being relocated from Roscommon.

[29]I refer to Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals. A national review has been completed of critical care facilities. Publication of that review was expected in November last year. Why has such publication not taken place and why is this leading to a lack of investment in respect of the coronary care high-dependency units at the hospitals, which are fundamental to the maintenance and development of both?

Finally, can the Minister explain the reason the special care baby unit at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, has not been opened? If the Minister gets the opportunity, she should look at the appalling condition of the current facility there. Although the hospital has a new state-of-the-art facility, there are no resources to staff and man it.

Acting Chairman:  Two minutes remain in this slot.

Deputy Mary Harney:  As for the aforementioned consultant appointment, the Deputy is aware there are personnel issues in this regard. I understand the current post-holder has an illness.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  No, I referred to the two physician appointments, namely, the third consultant physician and the second replacement physician. I am familiar with the issue in respect of the surgeon.

Deputy Mary Harney:  At present, we are in the process of appointing two physicians.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  Yes, but nothing has happened since January. I refer to the stock reply I received over the three months of January, February and March.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I have not been briefed to answer that question and will revert to the Deputy, if that is in order.

As for the sterile unit, it will happen this year. There is a commitment——

Deputy Denis Naughten:  Is it not dependent on cutbacks taking place?

Deputy Mary Harney:  No.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  It will go ahead?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I am advised this will happen during 2009.

In respect of many of the issues pertaining to critical care and high dependency, if the hospitals continued to operate separately as two independent hospitals, it would not be possible to deliver the high-quality service that currently is the benchmark. While this may not have been the benchmark in the past, in regard to the answers to earlier questions, we undoubtedly must change the way in which we work to meet the patient safety criteria of today, given the new environment including the presence of HIQA and so on.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  When will the report be published?

Deputy Mary Harney:  As for the services within Portiuncula, the HealthStat data on Portiuncula were highly disappointing and serious issues must be addressed within that hospital pertaining to a number of issues, including the public-private mix and many other areas that I will not go through here. From henceforth, they will work virtually as a single entity, certainly as far as surgery and other services are concerned. Therefore, these issues must be addressed because there is no point putting more money into services that are not delivered in a cost-effective manner.

[30]Deputy Denis Naughten:  The Minister should answer two of the questions I asked. First, why has the special care baby unit, which is a state-of-the-art facility, not been opened and manned properly? Second, when will the critical care report be published? I refer to the national report.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I do not know the answer regarding the critical care report. As the Deputy is aware, there are serious industrial relation issues in Portiuncula, which are costing an enormous amount of money. That issue is before the industrial relations machinery of the State at present and the sooner it is addressed, the better because of the amount of money that is being wasted. I do not know whether that is the reason.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  No, it is not.

Deputy Mary Harney:  We have been losing €30,000 on this dispute for quite a long time now.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  It is a resource issue. This is a state-of-the-art facility for very premature babies. This is appalling.

Acting Chairman:  Briefly, I call on Deputies Reilly and Ó Caoláin. Deputy Reilly must be brief.

Deputy James Reilly:  I remind the Minister, in respect of her remarks that I should read the full report, that perhaps she might do the same herself in respect of the Teamwork report. She asserted in this House that there would not be the same need for beds, as they were not closing down the maternity and orthopaedic units in Macroom. The beds that were mentioned in the report were in addition to those beds and not instead of them.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I will be brief and refer to two statements, the first of which states:

The latest . . . attempt by the Western Health Services Executive to remove in-patients surgery and to downgrade the services at the Roscommon County Hospital is in direct conflict with stated Government policy.

The second states:

Four consultants at Roscommon County Hospital have seen fit to state publically in writing that the Western Health Service Executive proposals are unsafe for patient care and will lead to the loss of life.

The author of both statements is none other than Deputy Finneran, who now is a Minister of State in the current Government arrangement. Why is it that statements such as these that have been made in respect of Monaghan General Hospital have been ignored and yet Roscommon seems to merit a different response? What is the explanation? While I welcome that Roscommon still has the semblance of a hospital at its site, why does the haemorrhage of services continue, to the point at which we are almost at a turn of the key in the door, at Monaghan General Hospital?

Acting Chairman:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister should explain.

Deputy Mary Harney:  As the Deputy is aware, Monaghan and Cavan will operate as a single hospital.

[31]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I thought Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals were doing——

Deputy Mary Harney:  They are a single hospital.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——something similar?

Deputy Mary Harney:  Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals will work much more closely together than was the case in the past.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Why have services been removed from Monaghan?

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy should allow the Minister to conclude.

Deputy Mary Harney:  As the Deputy is fully aware, they were removed for patient safety reasons.

Acting Chairman:  That concludes——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is absolute nonsense.

Acting Chairman:  ——Question Time for today.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Acting Chairman:  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 Mattie McGrath — Bansha health centre, Tipperary, County Tipperary, where the people of Bansha and surrounding area recently signed a petition to keep the centre open; (2) Deputy James Bannon — the need for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to explain the reason applications forms for funding under the lottery sports grants for 2009 are not yet available and when he envisages such grants will be paid; (3) Deputy Joe Costello — the need to proceed, without delay, with the metro north and Luas BXD projects; (4) Deputy Seymour Crawford — the provision of the rehabilitation services provided by Pathways Rehabilitation Centre on the grounds of Cavan General Hospital; (5) Deputies Jan O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath — the provision of facilities for sufferers of cystic fibrosis at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin; (6) Deputy Michael Ring — the cost of draft fishing licences in the west of Ireland; and (7) Deputy David Stanton — the provision of new accommodation for a gaelscoil in Midleton, County Cork.

The matters raised by Deputies Seymour Crawford, Jan O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath, Michael Ring and David Stanton have been selected for discussion.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach will this morning have seen the verdict by Standard & Poors’ on the Government’s handling of the economy, and its analysis was damning. It argued that even were the global economy to improve in 2010, Ireland would be left behind because of a seriously damaged banking system and a calamitous loss of competitiveness over the past five years. As a result, it states there will be little or no growth in the economy before 2012. Effectively, Ireland has been demoted from the first division of European economies.

This obviously will mean credit shortages, insurance indebtedness and that it will be impossible, from this perspective, to export our way out of this recession. I have been informed that [32]this downgrade could cost €200 million this year and somewhere between €400 million and €1 billion next year. What is the Government’s assessment of the cost of the downgrade by Standard & Poor’s? Has the NTMA provided its analysis or verdict to the Government on the cost of this downgrading?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Finance and his Department have not yet had an opportunity to inform the Government of that cost. However, I note the announcement by the rating agency Standard & Poor's that it is revising its rating of Ireland from AAA to AA+. In considering this, one also should bear in mind the following key points. Ireland is not unique in this regard as a number of other countries have had their credit ratings revised recently. A range of factors, both domestic and international, influence the ratings that countries attract. While we recognise that we have challenges, particularly in the public finances and our banking system, the Government has taken considered and deliberate action to help stabilise and bring sustainability to the public finances for some time. That will be further evidenced in next week’s budget.

Ireland is currently experiencing a significant contraction in economic growth and it is expected that we will grow above trend once world growth resumes. After a long number of years running surpluses, the Government will have to run deficits for the next number of years. A sizeable part of the deficit relates to the very substantial public investment capital programme we continue to pursue. While there is considerable pressure on the public finances, we should recall that we are coming at this from a position of relative strength given our relatively low public debt burden. While it will rise over the next few years, our debt levels should be at projected EU averages. Many of the factors that facilitated Ireland’s economic success in recent years still remain. The NTMA has already successfully raised significant sums on international markets this year.

Regarding the banking situation, we have continued to take a strategic approach regarding the State guarantee, the recapitalisation policy and risk assessment is being actively considered by the Minister.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  If the sum is to be €500 million, that will be 1,000 gardaí, 1,000 teachers and 200 schools. I assume the Government has made some analysis of what this will cost. The Taoiseach says there will be some evidence of changes to the banking structure in the budget next week. Our belief is that the Government could have acted more swiftly and decisively in this matter. Arising from that, what was the cost to the Government of the advice of Merrill Lynch? Has that been taken into account or is the evidence given to the Government shoved aside in respect of what Mr. Peter Bacon says about a bad bank for toxic debt?

When does the Taoiseach expect world trends to resume? He made the point that Ireland will be able to get back on top when world trends resume. Does the Taoiseach have a timescale for that? What actions is the Government taking to ensure the country will be competitive, which it lost in the past five years, to avail of it?

I refer to the comment made by the analyst of Standard & Poor's, which is not a comment from Fine Gael or the Labour Party, to the effect that when it looks at the Government through the financial institutions, it trusts neither. The analyst made the point that the probability is that a change of faces behind the Cabinet table is needed to restore trust, integrity and confidence in the Irish financial institutions and the Irish Government. The €500 million question is what is the Taoiseach’s view of that. Does he share the analysis of the analyst, whose words can change the market overnight, that there is no confidence in the Irish Government, that the Taoiseach has failed to deal with the economic challenges of the country, that he has presided over a [33]disastrous banking system, that we have had a calamitous loss of competitiveness and that the Taoiseach should go?

The Taoiseach:  I have no comment on the gentleman from the credit rating agency other than to note that his job concerns credit rating. I do not know what he knows about Irish politics or what the choices are.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  He must know something.

The Taoiseach:  The important point is that the Government has reacted in the face of a deteriorating financial situation——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  But never acted.

The Taoiseach:  ——last July, in the October budget and in February. Very little support was available from all sides of the House. We continue to do this and will do so again next week. There is broad agreement in respect of economic discussions that have taken place and a recognition that a structural deficit of the order of 8% has emerged in the public finance position. Over the next five years we must deal with that and satisfy the European Commission regarding the Stability and Growth Pact parameters and requirements regarding the deficit being reduced to 3%. That represents a major challenge for the economy and this House. The Minister for Finance will indicate his plans next week, specifically on how we will deal with the remainder of this year and looking to 2010 and 2011.

Regarding the question on when the upturn will come in the world economy, nobody can give a definitive timescale for that. There are indications, perhaps on the optimistic side, that towards the end of this year the green shoots of recovery may emerge in the US economy. It is too early to say how effective the stimulus plan implemented by the Obama Administration will be. The G20 meeting in London this week is an important event in that it will hopefully see a measure of international co-ordination with regard to how we can deal with this international financial crisis and get a greater degree of transparency into the financial system that would provide confidence.

In our domestic effort, we will continue to examine the next steps for the banking situation. These are not decisions that could have been taken some months ago. They can only happen on the basis of due diligence and expert advice provided to the Minister and the Department by the NTMA, the Central Bank and others. That deliberation continues.

Deputy Joan Burton:  We are now two days away from the publication of the Exchequer returns for the first quarter of the year. We were surprised that, for the February returns, the Taoiseach and the Government were not watching the trends. Is the Taoiseach examining the trends for the outturn for March? Last Thursday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, told the Opposition finance spokespersons that he expected tax receipts to amount to €34 billion. When the Taoiseach appeared on RTE on Sunday night, he referred to returning to the figures of 2002 and 2003. The tax receipts for 2003 were €32 billion. Did we lose €2 billion over four days? It seems an awful lot of money to lose over four days. With respect, is this not one of the problems for the ratings agencies? This Government keeps chopping and changing the figures. There is grave uncertainty about what it is doing about the banks.

What is the target for the general Government deficit? The Taoiseach said repeatedly that it was 9.5% but now says that the target for the structural deficit appeared to be 8%. The Taoiseach will recall that the Minister for Agriculture and Food referred to €6 billion, while others in Government talked about €4.5 billion. Uncertainty in business is the hardest thing to price. The continued uncertainty of the Taoiseach and his Government is partly what is driving [34]the rating agencies to take such a negative view of Ireland. Has the Taoiseach reached a view on what he is seeking to address in terms of the general Government deficit next Tuesday? Is it 8% or is it €4.5 billion? How much of it will be recovered by way of tax increases and how much will be recovered through expenditure cuts? Has the Taoiseach decided on these figures yet?

The Taoiseach:  Budgets are prepared and deliberated upon but they are announced on budget day, not the week beforehand. I did not mention any figures when I spoke last Sunday.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach mentioned years.

The Taoiseach:  I did not mention any figures. I was simply trying to convey to the correspondents who attended the briefing the scale of the issues we were dealing with and conveying those to the public in a way that was not technical. It was about saying we have seen a gap arise in the public finance position which means our spend and taxation levels vary between 2009, 2003 and 2004 levels. That is a four or five year period and I was making the point that the correction would occur over four or five years. I was seeking to convey that while the scale and magnitude of the problem is of that order, we have the next four to five years to correct it. It was not something that would be resolved in year one, two or three but over a longer period.

I also made the point — I will make it again so it will not be misinterpreted — that the structural deficit I spoke of is 8%, which is what is regarded by most as the structural deficit in our public finance position at the moment. That seems to be a point of common agreement among us. It is therefore necessary to address the structural deficit in the first instance. There is a cyclical part of the deficit and as I hope growth will return during those five years, we will see a pick-up in our revenue position because the cycle will move into positive territory vis à vis where it is currently.

I was simply seeking to convey the thinking behind the Government’s position and the scale of the problem, thinking about how one could convey to people in ordinary language the size of the issue and over what period of time we can expect to resolve it. I also indicated why we should have some confidence about resolving the matter over that period, as we have those five years to make up the five-year deficit that has emerged in recent times. The budget details will be announced by the Minister next Tuesday on the basis of finalised decisions.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Has the Taoiseach at this stage examined the Exchequer trends for the quarter to the end of March, the results of which we will have in two days? It would seem very odd if the Taoiseach did not do what the proprietor of any business would; if there are cash flow difficulties or if one is in a hard situation, the person would sit on the receipts on a week by week basis and monitor trends closely. That is what every business person in the country must do, along with many households, with regard to budgets. They must watch what money is coming in and on the basis of that decide what can be spent.

In the RTE interview, the Taoiseach referred to the years 2002 and 2003, when our tax revenues were €29 billion and €32 billion respectively. The Taoiseach did not speak casually so is there information about the trends? In that context, has the Government priced in the cost of higher interest as a result of the negative rating by Standard & Poor’s? My understanding of the drop in rating from AAA to AA+ by the rating agency would probably cost us an average of half a percentage point. Depending on how much the Government decides to borrow — we will not know this until the budget — the cost this year could be up to €500 million and it could be double that for the whole of next year. Has the Taoiseach had the opportunity to price in the Standard & Poor’s action?

[35]I listened with some astonishment to the gentleman from Standard & Poor’s commenting on the composition of the Irish Government. That is not any business of a foreign rating agency. I am one of the people who for the last two years, together with the Party of European Socialists, has called for rating agencies to be reformed but the Taoiseach’s former colleague, Commissioner McCreevy, has consistently refused to entertain such reform.

These guys boosted everything on the way up but are negative about everything on the way down. They have some factors relevant to this country wrong and we have more better prospects than the agency acknowledges. As the rating agencies are not subject to supervision, we are as a country unfortunately at their mercy. The Taoiseach may discuss that with his colleague in Brussels, Commissioner McCreevy, who has taken the very high-handed attitude that controlling rating agencies would be bad for international markets and capitalism.

What are the trends arising from the Exchequer receipts? Has the Government priced in the downgrade by Standard and Poor’s and will the Taoiseach have a conversation with his colleague about reforming the rating agencies so that all countries get a fair deal from them?

The Taoiseach:  The Commissioner is in the business of acting on credit rating agencies with regard to conflicts of interest or anything that arises in the work they do and the forecasts they make.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It will be a light-handed approach.

The Taoiseach:  It is incorrect to say that Commissioner McCreevy is indifferent to the role they play. I am sure the opinions are given in a professional manner but I know that the credit rating agency issue has been taken up by the Commissioner. I suggest that member states, the Council and ECOFIN must step up to the plate in this matter in as much as there is a role played by the Commissioner or the Commission.

The Deputy raised a number of issues and I am trying to recall them. On the budgetary position, the Government has been working in a very focused way to measure the adverse impact various options may have and has come forward with a proposal which we believe will be in the right interests of the country given the fragility of the economy this year and going forward to meet our objectives in controlling the borrowing requirement up to 2013. Getting the agreed timeline with the EU Commission over five years rather than four has been helpful in that respect.

I have been indicating for some time that there is a need for us to take those factors into account. As I have stated, the structural and cyclical side of the deficit is a helpful way of explaining what Ireland needs to do in a way that will be credible and helpful to us internationally. The National Treasury Management Agency has been in a position to raise large sums of money through bonds during the course of the first quarter of the year and I have every reason to believe that this can continue.

On the end of March Exchequer returns, when I was asked about this before I stated that one finds out the full picture at the end of the month. As the Deputy is aware, in the last week or number of days, amounts are still coming in, particularly relating to VAT and other subheads. I was making that point.

The end of March Exchequer returns will be published on Thursday and although they are not yet available, indications are that the decline in tax receipts evident in January and February has continued into March. I have also stated that the tax revenues this year, in the absence of corrective action, would be some €3 billion less than forecast in January and as put forward by the Minister for Finance.

[36]The Government is committed to restoring order to the public finances by bringing the deficit below the 3% limit by 2013, which is the agreed timeline with the European Commission. The supplementary budget to be presented next week will set out the multi-annual strategy in that regard.

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

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to address the following matter of national importance, namely, the appalling decision by the Minister for Health and Children and the Health Service Executive to renege on their commitment to develop the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to the standard required to save the lives of cystic fibrosis patients; and the immediate need for the Minister to reverse this decision to ensure the development proceeds as promised and that the unit is fully operational by 2010, especially given that these developments should have taken place long before now, that the delay has cost the lives of cystic fibrosis patients, that Ireland has the highest prevalence and most severe types of cystic fibrosis in the world and the poorest resources for patients in Europe, and that if this decision, described as “devastating and soul-destroying” by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, is not reversed patients will undoubtedly die unnecessarily.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss an issue of national importance and concern, namely, the need for the Minister for Health and Children to fulfil her promise to provide facilities for cystic fibrosis patients at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, by the end of 2010.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss an issue of national importance and concern, namely, the need for the Minister for Transport to make an urgent statement to the House on the Goodbody report into the taxi industry, particularly in light of the current crisis in that sector and the continuing adverse impact this is having on incomes, working conditions and health and safety standards for taxi workers, on ongoing massive disruption to services for those who use taxis and on his plans to reform the dysfunctional and failing regulation system for the taxi sector.

Deputy Frank Feighan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss an issue of national importance and concern, namely, to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to comment on the decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse permission for a €200 million mixed-use development in Rooskey, County Roscommon, which has the potential to create up to 1,000 jobs and to indicate what can be done to reverse this terrible blow.

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, I do not consider them to be in order under Standing Order 32.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 15, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 15, Broadcasting Bill 2008 — Order for Report and Report [37]and Final Stages. Private Members’ business shall be No. 52, motion re social welfare — consumer debt.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are no proposals to put to the House.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  When the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment was present for the Order of Business on Thursday, I raised with her the problems that are arising as a result of the Defamation Bill being before the relevant committee for the past ten months. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has indicated that a number of amendments to the Bill are being drafted by the Attorney General. This matter is worthy of attention because those on the newspaper side did a deal under which the previous Taoiseach and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform were supposed to take further action. Will the current Taoiseach, in due course, make available some information regarding the range or nature of the amendments that are under consideration?

The debates on the Bill in the Seanad and on Second Stage in this House were quite lengthy. I would not want the situation regarding the Bill to unravel. This could happen if cover is not given in respect of judgments that are reported by the Press Council. The council will be producing its report this week.

Earlier today I met representatives of the financial payments company, Western Union. I am sure officials from the Department of Finance also met these individuals. As the Taoiseach is aware, Western Union is a major international operator and is seeking to expand its activities in Ireland. In addition to Western Union, PayPal, another financial payments company, employs 900 people in Dublin. These companies are concerned with regard to the transposition of the directive on payment services into Irish law. This directive was adopted by the European Commission in November 2007 and has since been adopted and transposed into law by the UK. The difficulty appears to be that in January the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was unable to indicate how he proposed to draft the regulations relating to Article 52.3 of the directive in question, which states, “The payment service provider shall not prevent the payee from requesting from the payer a charge or from offering him a reduction for the use of a given payment instrument.”

Western Union and others are anxious to give consideration to expanding their operations — and hence employment — in Ireland. However, the fact that the regulations have not yet been drafted is a cause of some concern. Will the Taoiseach contact the Department of Finance to ensure that the regulations, particularly those relating to Article 52.3 of the payment services directive, be drafted as quickly as possible in order that the directive might be transposed into law?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicates that the amendments relating to the Defamation Bill are at an advanced stage of preparation. He is hopeful that they can be brought before the Government, approved, published and inserted into the legislation, which can then be enacted, before the end of the summer session.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment also met the representatives to whom Deputy Kenny refers earlier today. She has given a commitment to expedite the matter with the Minister for Finance in order to identify ways in which we can assist these companies. I agree with the Deputy that the companies have excellent operations. I visited the offices of PayPal last week, which has established a European centre of excellence in Dublin and which employs over 900 people here.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I thank the Taoiseach for his reply.

[38]Deputy Joan Burton:  What is the proposed timetable regarding the introduction of the Finance Bill in the aftermath of next week’s budget? Will a social welfare Bill also be required? If so, what will be the timetable relating to it?

It has been indicated in recent months that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is willing to facilitate changes in legislation to provide wider and updated powers to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The latter is involved in a number of important investigations, including one relating to Anglo Irish Bank. When will the legislation relating to this matter be introduced? We are of the view that the Director of Corporate Enforcement should be given whatever enhanced powers are required.

The position with regard to management companies continues to give rise to major difficulties for tens of thousands of home owners, particularly in Dublin and Leinster where responsibility for many new developments lies with such companies. As a result of the financial difficulties affecting the construction sector, young people are living in estates and apartment blocks which were constructed by builders or developers who have effectively gone into liquidation and in respect of which there is no actual legal structure in place to govern the activities of management companies. Legislation has continually been promised in this area. The position regarding management companies is creating major problems in the housing market because people wishing to sell on their houses or apartments — in the limited market that exists — are being impeded from doing so if such companies have responsibility for the upkeep of the estates or blocks in which those houses or apartments are located.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Finance has already indicated that the Finance Bill will be introduced in April following the Easter recess. The question of whether a social welfare Bill will be required remains one for decision.

The legislation relating to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, was brought before Cabinet earlier today by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Tánaiste received approval in respect of the legislation and she will provide whatever resources the ODCE requires to conduct its affairs.

The matter relating to management companies is one which must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. This is a complex area and we are moving towards having the relevant legislation introduced in the House as soon as possible. A Cabinet sub-committee is currently working on the matter.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Government plan to introduce legislation in respect of the funding of third level education? When will the report commissioned by the Minister for Education and Science be made available to Members? Is the Taoiseach aware that the reintroduction of third level fees will have a devastating effect on the number of people from lower income families and from rural areas who will be able to attend third level?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We can discuss that matter on another day.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Yes, but let us hope that we will not be obliged to do so. Will the Taoiseach indicate if legislation is in the offing in respect of this matter?

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware of any legislation being in the offing in respect of this matter. A parliamentary question to the relevant Minister might elicit accurate and up-to-date information in respect of the matter.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Is the Taoiseach aware of a glitch in the system relating to the medical cards for those who are over 70 years of age? Many people with such medical cards are presenting with prescriptions at their local chemist shops, only——

[39]An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a question for the Minister for Health and Children.

Deputy Joe Costello:  ——to discover that, according to the HSE website, their cards no longer exist.

An Ceann Comhairle:  You will have to ask a question which is in order, Deputy Costello.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Is that the proper implementation of the legislation? How is that taking place? I understand it is the primary care reimbursement service——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The implementation of the legislation, unfortunately, is not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputy will have to raise the question with the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Health and Children.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He would not answer it. He would say it is a matter for the HSE.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I understand this was introduced by ministerial order. I am not sure if that is the case. If it concerns secondary legislation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is secondary legislation promised in this area, Taoiseach?

Deputy Joe Costello:  ——the Minister might tell us what is wrong with the system and how she will correct it or whether it will have to be corrected by legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, that is not in order. I call Deputy Broughan.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It is secondary legislation.

The Taoiseach:  I understand the legislation related to this matter was passed before Christmas.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Yes. There was a ministerial order.

The Taoiseach:  If the card is invalid it cannot be used for prescription purposes but if there are specific issues coming to the Deputy’s attention on which he needs clarification, contact with the Minster’s office to determine the position would be helpful.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Can we all do that?

The Taoiseach:  I understand approximately 19,500 cards have been withdrawn voluntarily.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I am sure the Minister heard about that before I did. It would have come to the Minister’s attention before it came to mine.

The Taoiseach:  A number of cards have been withdrawn.

Deputy Joe Costello:  It is happening in my constituency on a widespread basis.

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware of that. The Deputy will have to take it up——

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Can we all contact the Minister’s office——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can put it down for the Adjournment. I call Deputy Broughan.

[40]Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I refer to the matter I raised under Standing Order 32. I realise we will be very busy on financial matters in the next week or two but would it be possible to discuss the Goodbody report on taxis given that the Oireachtas committee chaired by the Taoiseach’s colleague, Frank Fahey, has determined that urgent reform of the taxi sector is needed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have speeches, Deputy Broughan.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  As usual on transport matters, the Minister opposite has his head in the sand.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must move on.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Is there any chance we could discuss that report in the House for a few hours?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a matter for the Taoiseach. It is a matter for the Whips.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It would appear that organised crime, which we have raised on this side of the House on numerous occasions, continues unabated. In that regard I draw the Taoiseach’s attention to the fact that such items as pipe bombs and material for making pipe bombs have been found on a regular basis. It is also a fact that approximately 14 people have been executed in the whole area of organised crime since the beginning of the year.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must ask a question that is in order. This is the problem.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is in order. There is a plethora of promised legislation. I asked the Taoiseach previously, as did other Members of this House, whether it was intended to bring in a single consolidated legislative measure that would crack down once and for all on organised crime and reassure the public that it was the intention of Government to tackle this issue head on. I do not want to read out the entire list of legislation----

An Ceann Comhairle:  No. Do not.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  ——but it includes No. 71, the Criminal Justice (Cybercrime & Attacks against Information Systems) Bill, the European Evidence Warrant Bill and the Extradition (Amendment) Bill. There is a series of such legislation. I want to reiterate the urgent necessity for somebody somewhere to tackle the issue with a single response. That is not forthcoming.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised in this area, Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach:  In regard to criminal justice Bills, I have replied very frequently in this House on these matters. If a specific question arises today I can read them all out again. If it is the best use of our time, fair enough.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have multiple choice questions.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  On a point of order, I realise the Taoiseach is dealing with other pressing issues but that should not result in——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  ——neglecting this issue.

[41]An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to ask a specific question on legislation. He cannot ask multiple choice questions on the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is in respect of promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are several good reasons for it. Does the Deputy know the reason he cannot ask multiple choice questions?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  There are several good reasons. They have been on the Order Paper for the past two or three years and they are not being moved. Why are they not being moved?

An Ceann Comhairle:  He cannot ask a multiple choice question on the Order of Business because——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Why are people being shot on the streets on a daily and nightly basis? Why does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform opposite not do something? His expression has not even changed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Lynch.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Can I ask, notwithstanding the fact that the Taoiseach does not like to repeat the answers to the House——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has asked the question. I call Deputy Lynch.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  There are many things the Taoiseach does not like to repeat about——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has had his run.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy asked the question and he has received a reply.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Would you not agree, a Cheann Comhairle, as a legal practitioner——

An Ceann Comhairle:  No. I would not agree no matter what you say because you are not in order.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  ——that there is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with and it is not being dealt with at the present time?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It does not matter what the Deputy says. He is out of order and he has been ruled out of order. I call Deputy Lynch.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Before any further work is done on the mental capacity Bill, and I hope it is fairly well advanced at this stage, I ask that we change the title to the legal capacity Bill. That would change the entire emphasis of the legislation but give a better focus to the legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That sounds like an amendment.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I am not talking about the detail.

[42]An Ceann Comhairle:  It sounds like a fact in respect of which you can put down an amendment.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I understand that, a Cheann Comhairle, and I appreciate your patience but it would give a greater focus on the issues that need to be dealt with.

The Taoiseach:  I will ask the Minister to examine that but I understand the Law Reform Commission spoke about mental capacity in the context of its report and that is probably from where the title of the Bill emanates. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Moloney, and the Minister, Deputy Harney, to examine that.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  That is very outdated thinking.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Will the Taoiseach indicate a timeframe for the Animal Health and Welfare Bill?

The Taoiseach:  There is no date yet, unfortunately.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Is a date envisaged because there is a sense of urgency about the Bill in that the principal Act was introduced in 1911.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is urgent.

The Taoiseach:  In fairness to the Deputy, that would be an indication of its urgency.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  That is a typical response, a Cheann Comhairle. There is no urgency.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  In light of the difficulty in getting simple facts from the HSE, when will the Health Information Bill be brought before this House that would allow us believe something we hear from the HSE in the future?

The Taoiseach:  I understand that should be handled some time this year. We are working on that at the moment.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  It is more urgent now.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Is any legislation promised or does the Government intend to bring in legislation to deal with the position of wards of court whose income has been frittered away by the banks——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  ——and who are now left penniless in view of the fact that our courts gave over the money to mind for them because they said their relatives were not capable of doing it? They are now pauperised. The courts gave the money to the banks——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Part of it.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  ——and the banks frittered the money away, and these people are now left penniless.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is wards of court legislation promised, Taoiseach?

[43]The Taoiseach:  I understand there was some indication as a result of this matter being raised in the House that we try to accommodate dealing with this issue in the mental capacity Bill mentioned by Deputy Lynch.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Does the Taoiseach think they will get back their money? Will the State give them back their money?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Stagg, it is an important question but I cannot allow it now.

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Upton was in possession. I understand Deputy Upton is sharing her time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. There are 13 minutes remaining in this slot.

Deputy Mary Upton:  I wish to share time with Deputy Costello.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mary Upton:  I was addressing the matter of homelessness and the reason this important issue is not adequately addressed in the Bill. I would like to see it addressed in a holistic way rather than in the current piecemeal fashion. While the issue deserves much more time, there is a number of other matters to which I want to move on.

I refer to what I call the explosion of apartment blocks throughout the city of Dublin but in particular in my constituency where there has been an inordinate level of that type of development. When people told me these apartments would become the tenements of the future I wanted to disagree with them but it was more in hope than in confidence and, unfortunately, they are beginning to be proved correct. We have a very large number of apartments and there is planning permission for further development of apartment blocks on what are derelict sites with little possibility of any development taking place on them in the foreseeable future. There is also a large number of empty apartment blocks.

  5 o’clock

There is scope for much improvement in this area. The problem I fear is that a great deal of damage will be done to the local communities, and to the environment, if these developments do not go ahead. Very little consideration has been given to the requirement for infrastructure around these apartment blocks in many cases. I refer again to my constituency. There is little reference to, or acknowledgement of, the need for transport infrastructure, traffic management or schools, and little consideration given to the growth of new populations in the area. The developments, with a few notable exceptions, were born out of greed, where the defining principle was to squash as many apartments as possible into the smallest possible space, with no storage facilities and tiny bedrooms in predominantly single bedroom apartments. The outcome of this short-sighted approach is that a transient population has developed, living spaces are cramped, there is no encouragement for families to stay put and management companies are dysfunctional. This approach to housing reflects the now well-established cosy relationships between builders, bankers and this Government.

Many of the apartments and houses in new developments remain unoccupied. This presents an opportunity for local authorities to buy some of them to address the housing needs of the communities. This approach must be teased out. Apart from considering the investment involved, there must be careful planning to ensure a social mix is achieved and that the quality of housing on offer is good. We must not walk into the trap of buying out and propping up the failed developers. Any decisions taken to alleviate the housing shortage must be addressed [44]from the viewpoint of the tenant or owner and not from the rescue package for a developer. The situation has now developed where affordable housing costs more in some cases than houses available on the open market and, therefore, the entire affordable housing scheme must be revisited.

Section 22 provides for an element of standardisation in defining how houses should be allocated by housing authorities. While it may be desirable to have a degree of flexibility at local level, it is most important that there is a transparent system in place to ensure the criteria that define one’s entitlement to housing are rigidly adhered to. There also must be transparency when refusal of housing occurs. I have encountered many people who feel aggrieved because they have been refused a house or a flat and cannot establish a reason for that refusal.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It is worthwhile legislation that provides a framework for the delivery and management of social housing and gives effect to social housing reform in terms of “Delivering Homes Sustaining Communities”. Any legislation, however, should start with a recognition of the right to a roof over one’s head. It must be established that every citizen has a right to a home.

Many Deputies have received documentation requesting that the legislation include the recommendations contained in “The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008-2013”, the Government’s new homeless strategy, that would place on a statutory footing local homeless fora and action plans, with a responsibility on the local authorities and housing agencies to ensure they would meet their commitments in housing terms. Those of us who have been dealing with local authorities, housing agencies and the homeless would like to see a legally binding commitment whereby those who are in charge of providing services deliver them adequately, efficiently and in a reasonable timescale.

In my constituency or that of Deputy Upton, one will see flats and houses boarded up and left unrepaired. There are complexes that have been run down, with unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour leading to swift deterioration, making life miserable for large numbers of people. These are services where there is a requirement on the local authority and housing agencies to ensure complexes are maintained to a high level but they are services that will not be delivered unless there is a legal obligation to do so.

The Bill should ensure the homeless are housed within a reasonable time. During the glory days of the Celtic tiger, the number of homeless increased because the rule of the market was let rip and the private sector did the ripping. Land banks were sold by local authorities to the private sector and private development boomed while local authority development stopped. The housing and homeless lists have as a result increased. That is the sad fact.

Now the boom has turned to bust and we saw recently how the regeneration programme under public private partnerships went belly up in many Dublin City Council areas. The same has happened elsewhere. That happened because there was no coherent approach and the money was not spent in the right place or in a targeted way to allow local authorities to carry out work. They could have done it through contracts that allowed for control over design, delivery and resources. Many complexes could have been regenerated but have been ruined by anti-social behaviour.

The Government proposes to examine the bad debts that exist and set up an agency that would deal with the disposal of property and sites that are now worth only a fraction of what they were when the banks gave out major loans to buy them. These debts have caused the toxic nature of our banks. Is it not possible to provide a mechanism for local authorities to buy back some of those properties or land banks that were sold to the private sector and, therefore, [45]there could be a regeneration by the local authority of the necessary social housing in a planned fashion? Is this not the time to provide the country with a land bank for social housing in the future? If the money was forthcoming from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, this would present the opportunity to buy land and property at bargain basement prices because, otherwise, these sites will be bought at such prices by the developers of the future. We should note how Irish Glass was bought and sold to the docklands consortium for more than €600 million, and what is happening to the Beamish and Crawford site in Cork, where Heineken suggested it would turn the oldest brewery in the world into an interpretive centre but now it will be sold off. All sorts of vultures will be circling to grab these prime locations for bargain basement prices. Why should local authorities not have the resources to purchase such sites and replenish local authority housing stock for the future?

It is time to re-examine the Kenny report and introduce some of its recommendations. The idea the market rules supreme, unfettered and untrammelled is gone. Development land must be for homes for people, not property portfolios. In the past, rezoned land developed an exorbitant profit value. Should we not be regulating the property market? It is not unreasonable that land for development purposes, once rezoned, should retain its market value with only a 25% mark-up. That should be the only advantage a property developer gets, no more. The common good must rule supreme in this, above that of any individual speculator or developer.

These are provisions that should be introduced in a housing Bill, particularly when we look back at what has happened. It is sobering when one considers the property boom was once at the centre of the Celtic tiger economy but was also the cause of its collapse. A regulatory system is needed that benefits people rather than private individuals or consortia. Any developments in this Bill must take into consideration the lessons of the first major economic boom and bust episode in our history.

The current economic situation provides an opportunity for repairs and maintenance to be carried out to existing local authority housing stock. It also provides an opportunity for homes to be properly insulated, so that it does not cost an arm and a leg to heat them, and extensions to existing homes for the disabled and those of enlarged families. This is an opportunity for reviving construction in the local economy.

As Deputy Upton pointed out, the affordable housing market needs to be addressed. The prices for many of these affordable homes are off the wall. Why would anyone get involved, particularly considering the conditions laid down by local authorities, in purchasing an affordable home when one can buy a house in the private sector for less? The local authorities have not responded to the changed circumstances. This is where direction should be coming from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government so that people will avail of affordable housing schemes.

Deputy Áine Brady:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Áine Brady:  Housing grants available through local authorities, which are mainly funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, provide an important facility and incentive for people to upgrade their homes. They also provide an opportunity to provide employment in the construction sector. Works carried out under the housing grants generally use local employees and suppliers and can be in effect a local mini-stimulus package.

A revised suite of housing adaptation grant schemes was implemented in November 2007 to facilitate the continued independent occupancy of their own homes by older people and people [46]with a disability following a review of the former disabled persons, essential repairs grant schemes and special housing aid for the elderly, administered by the Health Service Executive. The revised schemes target the available resources to those in most need, streamline operational and administrative procedures and ensure equity and consistency of operation across all local authority areas.

Three new schemes were introduced. The housing adaptation grant for people with a disability, which replaced the disabled persons grant scheme. The mobility aids grant scheme which provides grants to cover a basic suite of works to address mobility problems, primarily but not exclusively, associated with ageing. The housing aid for older people scheme which amalgamated the old essential repairs and special housing aid for the elderly schemes with the aim of improving the existing housing conditions of older people.

The revised schemes are administered by the local authorities and are funded by 80% recoupment available from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is a matter for local authorities to provide for the remaining 20% contribution in their annual Estimates. Local authorities will be notified of their combined capital allocations immediately following the publication of the 2009 Revised Estimates. Individual capital allocations are being determined on the basis of available resources, local authority expenditure in 2008 and anticipated levels of activity in 2009. It is, therefore, important that local authorities take note of the impact on their drawdown from the previous year has on their proposed spend.

It is a matter for each local authority to decide on the specific level of funding to be directed towards each of the schemes from within the combined allocation notified to them by the Department and to manage the operation of the schemes in their areas from within the allocation. In light of the high level of demand under the grant schemes, local authorities are requested to operate the schemes on a prioritised basis. Particular consideration should be given to applicants requiring adaptations to facilitate discharge from hospital or alleviate the need for hospitalisation in the future and those applicants requiring improvement works to facilitate the continuance of care in their own homes.

The total estimated demand by local authorities for the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability in 2009 is over €140 million. However, this estimate includes applications that have been assessed as eligible, as well as applications not yet assessed and the projected intake of new applications during the year.

Funding for the schemes has been accelerating every year with expenditure increasing from some €13 million to almost €95 million between 1997 and 2008. Approximately 86,000 older people and people with a disability have been assisted in remaining in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. In many cases, the grants have prevented premature entry to residential care. Expenditure in 2008 amounted to €94.9 million with some 12,000 grants paid.

On foot of a decision taken in February 2006, it was decided to transfer the administration of the special housing aid for the elderly scheme from the Health Service Executive to the housing authorities. It arose on foot of a recommendation made in the report, Core Functions of the Health Service, which stated a more integrated service and better value for money may be achieved by transferring responsibility for the special housing aid for the elderly scheme to the local authorities, who already had responsibility for the essential repairs and disabled persons grant schemes. The scheme has been funded through a task force under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

It was agreed between the Department and the Health Service Executive that the special housing aid for the elderly scheme would be discontinued from 1 August 2008, with all claims [47]on hand at that date to be processed by the Health Service Executive. The Department provided €14.7 million to the Health Service Executive in 2008 for the operation of the scheme and it is expected that an allocation will be made shortly in respect of remaining claims on hand. All new applications for home repairs and improvements with effect from 1 August 2008 are directed to the local authorities under the provisions of the housing aid for the elderly scheme.

To ensure the adaptation grant schemes continue to provide a seamless response to the housing needs of vulnerable groups, the Department is committed to undertaking an evaluation of the new regime following the first year of implementation. The evaluation, which has recently commenced, is being undertaken by the Centre for Housing Research. It will provide for a call for submissions from interested parties and focus groups; and interviews with housing practitioners and front line local authority officials, occupational therapists and relevant statutory agencies and non-governmental organisations. The special housing aid for the elderly task force will be also consulted. Interviews will take place with contractors in sample local authority areas. A postal questionnaire of all successful applicants of the schemes in 2008 will be followed by interviews with a sample of successful applicants and unsuccessful applicants. An analysis will be made of the take-up of grants vis-à-vis the profile of older people and people with a disability in local authority areas. A determination will be made of prioritisation systems in operation locally, and a profile will be drawn up of the nature of works and level of grant aid awarded. It is expected that a final report will be available by June 2009.

Many people in Kildare have benefited from the housing grants. The improvements brought about to their homes as a result of the investment has helped to improve their lifestyles and ensure a greater level of comfort in their homes. Given the reduced construction costs, I should also point out that the value that can be now extracted for the housing grants will be significantly enhanced over and above what could have been obtained a couple of years ago.

While I have concentrated on only one element of it, the housing Bill is a comprehensive package to deal with many issues related to housing policy. I refer to issues such as the further provisions for the functions of the housing authority to provide for the making of housing services plans and to provide for the making of an anti-social behaviour strategy. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy John Browne:  I thank Deputy Brady for sharing her time. I welcome the Bill. I always get worried when told a Department has decided to carry out a re-evaluation of a scheme because it usually means it will reduce the amount of money available or it will withdraw some schemes, which would be of concern.

I support what Deputy Brady said about the grant system. The essential repairs grant, the disabled person’s grant and the re-roofing grant are essential to allow elderly people to remain in their homes. The problem with the grant system is that, first, there is not enough money and, second, the councils are too slow in carrying out the assessments. That is an area in which the Minister of State with responsibility for housing should take a direct interest. He should ensure adequate moneys will be available in 2009 to meet the demands. It is preferable that older people and people with disabilities remain at home rather than go into nursing homes or hospitals. It would be more financially beneficial to the Department and local authorities for people to remain at home.

The housing aid for the elderly scheme was, as Deputy Brady said, abolished on foot of a recommendation in 2006. I disagreed with the decision at the time and I retain that position. FÁS was closely involved in the housing aid for the elderly scheme and many good works were carried out around the country, especially in my county. The scheme had a two-fold policy. It solved the problems of elderly people and people with disabilities by building bathrooms, re-[48]roofing houses and building extra bedrooms where that was essential but it also retrained and re-skilled young people who wanted to qualify as carpenters, bricklayers or electricians. With so many young tradespeople out of work again the scheme should be reconsidered. I hope the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, will consider the reintroduction of this scheme. Perhaps it would have to be administered through county councils. That scheme was worthwhile and should be considered.

Although it would add a cost, I believe people building two-storey houses should be obliged to put a bedroom and bathroom downstairs. That should be compulsory. It is costly for local authorities and the Department to provide those facilities as people get older and it would be preferable to include them when houses are being built. We introduced compulsory bathrooms downstairs to cater for people with disabilities and other people confined to wheelchairs. We should now consider making a downstairs bedroom compulsory. I urge the Minister to seriously consider the matter.

We have all been lobbied by builders from around the country. A total of 35,000 new houses that were built remain unsold and the Minister for Finance is anxious to get money into the coffers. The builders made the point that if those houses were sold in the next two years it would generate €1.1 billion for the Exchequer. We must consider incentives and how we can encourage people to get back into the buyers’ market. People are not buying houses currently as they feel house prices will drop further. I know that to suggest tax breaks currently is akin to using a dirty word in some media quarters, but a once-off, targeted €15,000 new-house grant over a one-year period would bring people back into the market, and we should seriously consider that option.

The Minister for Finance, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities should be able to put together a package to encourage people to buy their own homes. In addition, local authorities should become involved in buying some of the houses that are available. Significant numbers of people are on the housing list and 35,000 houses that were built remain unsold. Surely there are enough brains within those three areas of responsibility to come up with a policy that would enable local authorities to acquire a substantial number of such houses on a rent-to-buy system or on a rental system for allocation to people currently on the social and affordable housing lists.

Most people who have applied to buy an affordable house tell me they are no longer affordable. The Minister must examine the matter. I am aware that local authorities in Dublin are considering the issue but it needs to be done on a countrywide basis because some of the prices that local authorities paid for affordable houses no longer apply and the Exchequer or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have to help local authorities to sell off the houses at current market values, not the value at the time the properties were acquired.

I accept tax incentives are not flavour of the month but I still think there is an opportunity for a targeted regeneration of run-down areas in villages and towns. The urban renewal scheme was very successful in the past. It worked well in my town of Enniscorthy and in Wexford, Bunclody and a number of smaller towns in County Wexford. However, we still have run-down areas and the Minister should consider a targeted regeneration scheme. As Deputy Brady indicated, that would encourage builders to get back to work, and to provide jobs and opportunities for young people.

We were expecting the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to make an allocation in February, then March. I accept the budget is due next week but I urge the Minister to make [49]the allocations to local authorities as soon as possible. A substantial housing stock is available and there is an opportunity to buy houses at a reduced price. If local authorities have the money they should buy those houses, as many builders currently want to sell them. Good value for money is available at present and the Minister should allocate the money as soon as possible.

I understand some local authorities have large amounts of money in the bank. They should be encouraged to spend some of it on the purchase of houses. There is no point in having money in the bank at present as there is very little return for it, but one would get good value from house purchases. Local authorities should consider that option.

Local authorities have not always been upfront in regard to the provision of the 20% or 25% that is required for disabled person’s grants or essential repair grants. The Department allocated substantial moneys for such projects, but the local authorities reduced the moneys they would invest. That is not good enough. It is important that disabled person’s grants, essential repair grants and other grants available to people with disabilities and older people are available on request, almost. I accept that local authorities have had to prioritise areas over the past 18 months because of inadequate funding. However, if it is essential that the Minister with responsibility for housing makes reductions next week in the budget — hopefully, he will not have to — he should not interfere with or reduce the moneys available for essential repair grants, disabled person’s grants, roofing grants or grants for any of the areas so beneficial to people suffering from disability or older people. If cuts are required, they should be made in some other area of the Department and grants in the areas I have mentioned should be increased. Deputy Áine Brady mentioned the number of people on the application list for housing. We need to make inroads on that as quickly as possible and to look after the most vulnerable people in our communities. I urge the Minister to ensure that this area of funding is protected, enhanced and increased. This is essential.

I welcome the Bill as it gives us an opportunity to discuss housing and issues about which we are concerned. I urge the Ministers for Finance and for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authority and county managers around the country to come up with a solution with regard to the 35,000 built but unsold new houses. We have a huge number of people on council housing lists. Surely, the Ministers, local authorities and county managers have enough ingenuity and modern ideas to come up with a plan. Rather than have these houses remain unsold and unoccupied, they should find a way for local authorities to take them on board and allocate them to people on housing lists.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I welcome this Bill. The housing situation has reached crisis point. Sadly, the country’s wealth in recent years did not translate into improved housing standards, did not see those most in need being allocated social and affordable housing, did not see viable regeneration projects being delivered as promised or a reduction in homelessness on our streets. Instead, we saw developers and banks grow richer and richer, while the ordinary person on the street was priced out of the market. We saw an abundance of exemption certificates allow social and affordable housing units to be sold off as private units at crazy prices. We saw thousands of people being encouraged to take out huge mortgages on over-priced homes miles from their place of work and we saw our homeless population grow.

We are now stuck with a long list of failed schemes. First-time buyers are forced to reject affordable housing as it is no longer affordable; young people are unable to get on the property ladder because they can no longer secure a mortgage as a result of the credit crunch; public private partnerships have been dissolved; regeneration projects have failed; thousands of apartments lie empty around the city; and millions of euro of taxpayers’ money has been spent on rent supplement for sub-standard accommodation.

[50]A statutory assessment of housing needs is carried out every three years by all housing authorities in accordance with the terms of the Housing Act 1988. The most recent assessment took place in March 2008. This showed that there were just over 56,249 households in need of social housing support, an increase of almost 30% on the corresponding figure in 2005. In February, Daft’s rental report revealed that rents in Dublin south city are down 10% and the total number of properties available to rent today is twice that of this time last year. With rental properties flooding the market, tenants should seize the opportunity to renegotiate their rent with their landlords. Many tenants are in a good bargaining position, given the greater choice of more affordable rents on offer.

This Bill presents a golden opportunity for reform of the rent supplement scheme. While this scheme serves a good purpose in the short term, supporting individuals and families who might otherwise not be able to afford their rent, it is open to abuse, especially when it comes to money being handed over to unscrupulous landlords who do not maintain their properties to basic living standards. The lack of checks and inspections on such properties means that valuable funds are being paid for sub-standard accommodation right across the country. Although rents have decreased by an overall 12%, rent supplement payments have fallen by just 2%. Clearly, adjustments should be made to ensure that the Government does not pay over the odds and line the pockets of wealthy landlords.

Expenditure on rent supplement was €392 million in 2007 and €441 million in 2008. What does this huge amount of money actually pay for? I have seen where people receiving rent supplement are forced to live in totally sub-standard flats and houses. Landlords must be made accountable and answerable for the state of the properties for which they are being paid handsomely by the State. Last week, I received a letter detailing the comments of a number of residents living on a particular road in Dublin South-Central. There are 72 houses on the road in question. I will read two excerpts from the letter.

The first lady wrote:

I was so excited about moving into my new house. It was great. We had been waiting years for this. I used to sit in my kitchen looking out at my children playing. Now I sit in the back room as I cannot sit in the front room any more watching the comings and goings on the road, drug dealing and people going to the toilet at the doors. The noise level from the drug dealers and the filth of the road are horrible. It is much worse than the flats in the bad old days. I wish somebody could do something about this, the landlord just wants his money.

A second person wrote:

Since I moved into my house, I have had horrendous experience in dealing with rat infestation related to houses adjoining mine, which is related to the dumping of rubbish at the lane at the back of the houses. I have spent hundreds of euro trying to address this. I have been in contact with the environmental health office of Dublin City Council, public representatives and anyone who could try to help me with these problems. I have young children and have had to move them out of their bedrooms at different times as we have heard rats behind the walls and partitions. The ongoing difficulties of antisocial behaviour are terrible.

The conditions in which these people are living are a disgrace. The problems relate to ten of the 72 houses on the road. These ten houses are owned by the same landlord. None of the houses is of a decent living standard.

I am aware that from 1 February, new minimum standards for rental accommodation came into effect. I sincerely hope that local authorities take their role seriously, inspect rental proper[51]ties and ensure that the new minimum standards are implemented and complied with. I also hope that these standards will be applied to accommodation which is covered by rent supplement.

I welcome the provision in the Bill to give a legislative basis to the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. This scheme is more transparent than rent supplement and is a better solution for people with long-term housing needs. It requires proper standards to be met and compliance with regulations and provides tenants with a better choice of properties deemed acceptable by the local authorities. Unfortunately, the uptake of the scheme has been quite slow. This is partly due to the low number of landlords signing up for the scheme. It is also important that RAS approved properties are dispersed throughout the city. We must work hard to avoid creating new ghettos that will breed antisocial behaviour and other social problems.

The provision for the incremental purchase scheme in the Bill is also welcome. Unlike many European countries, we do not have a tradition of long-term renting in this country. Rather, people strive to own their own homes where possible. The current home ownership schemes run by local authorities have had some success in allowing people who might not otherwise have been able to own their homes to do so. Unfortunately, the major failure of this Bill is the failure to include provision for the sale of local authority flats and maisonettes to long-term residents. The Minister must clarify the position on this in the Bill and make provision for existing tenants and households, regardless of the type of property they are living in, such that they can benefit from the incremental purchase scheme. We all know that tenant purchase is available for people living in houses. Therefore, why not for those in flats and maisonettes? It is a fact that there are many residents in flat complexes in Dublin South-Central who would welcome the chance to buy their homes outright from the local authority.

I recently sent a questionnaire to the residents of the main flat complexes in Dublin South-Central. The aim was to find out for how many years individuals and families have been living in those complexes. The survey gave me an opportunity to determine whether the residents would be interested in buying their own homes. Of approximately 600 questionnaires sent out, I received 238 replies. Of these, 164 people, or 69%, said they would purchase their homes if given the choice, and just 74 people, or 31%, said they would not. Many of these council tenants have lived in the complexes for years. My findings show that 32% of people surveyed have lived in their flat or maisonette for more than 20 years, with no legal stake in or claim to it. In quite a few cases, two to three generations of the same family have lived in the same flat complex, and this obviously creates a sense of attachment to the community where one puts down roots.

Rents in local authority flat complexes are still quite high in some cases. Almost half of those individuals I surveyed pay between €40 and €80 euro per week in rent, while a quarter pay over €80 euro per week. In spite of relatively high rent, many people must put up with poor living conditions, such as dampness, the availability of only one socket in a kitchen, which socket is supposed to supply every electrical gadget, no proper kitchen presses in which to store food and no storage places for anything. Giving the tenants the opportunity to put their money towards buying their homes outright cannot and should not be put on hold due to legal complications. I understand there were obstacles to this but surely the legal issues should be resolved at this stage.

I know a number of residents in my area who have lived in the same flat for over 40 years. They have been good tenants and, had they been able to buy their houses in 1998, as was the case with those in houses, they would not have had to pay, a number of times over, what they would have paid by way of mortgage repayments. They are caught in limbo because of the lack of legislation, which means they have no option to buy their homes and are still paying rela[52]tively high rent to the council. We must afford them the right to own their own homes, as we do for everyone else. Where there is a will there is a way, but there is obviously no will at present.

I welcomed the affordable housing scheme most sincerely when I was on the city council and I actually sat on one of the committees. The scheme represented a real opportunity for many young people who could not afford to buy a home. I refer in particular to young couples who invested in the scheme in the belief they could continue to live in accommodation of a good standard without being cheated.

Recently, I read that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is to allow local authorities to sell properties from the affordable housing scheme stock on the open market in an effort to offload the units. I am in favour of people being able to buy their own homes but believe this move is grossly unfair. Has the Minister considered all those young people who have bought under the affordable housing scheme and who will have to make clawback payments ranging from €40,000 to €80,000 if they ever want to sell their homes? These people participated in the scheme in good faith and are now at a complete disadvantage because the clawback will not apply to new home buyers. Bearing in mind the question as to what is affordable, the affordable housing scheme is now a joke. I call on the Minister to withdraw the clawback requirement in respect of all affordable housing and give young people an opportunity to own their homes, as was supposed to occur when the scheme came into being.

With regard to management companies, many young couples are being fleeced by considerable management fees of up to €3,000 annually. They have no advice, they go to meetings at which they offer their views and there is very poor maintenance and poor waste management. This needs to be addressed.

I welcome the inclusion of the antisocial behaviour provisions in the Bill as a positive development. Sadly, in recent years, no community has escaped the torment and threat of antisocial behaviour on its doorstep. Even my community has seen tragedies. Communities have been torn apart by a few mindless thugs who are intent on causing trouble on our streets. It is, therefore, very important that the new antisocial behaviour strategy be implemented properly and that all tenants be informed that they must comply with the rules as set out by local authorities.

Most people living in a community have respect for other members thereof. They are law abiding citizens who want a quiet, peaceful life and who want to contribute to the community. Sadly, I have seen many people being tormented by a minority who have no respect for person or property. I have noted great frustration among the staff in local area offices over the time it takes to effectively tackle antisocial behaviour among some of their tenants. This Bill ignores completely the problems experienced by private tenants owing to antisocial behaviour. I have experienced many cases in which private tenants were victimised and terrorised by neighbours. They had no choice but to go to the Garda, which often makes circumstances even worse. This is a major loophole in the legislation and must be addressed.

I recently met neighbours who have been tormented by the people living next door in private rented accommodation. The neighbours have, after two years of trying to deal with the problem, decided to sell their home. That this was necessary is a disgrace.

With regard to housing regeneration projects, I want to say a few words on St. Michael’s estate and O’Devaney Gardens. I heard today that six regeneration projects in Dublin are to be suspended indefinitely and there are doubts about funding for another three. The regeneration of St. Michael’s estate in Inchicore was to bring new hope and new housing and, above [53]all, a new social agenda for the area. For such communities, the regeneration projects were long awaited and there was genuine excitement over residents having a chance to participate in the process of rebuilding their communities. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the development of St. Michael’s over the next seven years. I hope the project goes ahead to give people an opportunity to have somewhere to live and be part of a community.

That there is no reference to homelessness in the Bill is really incredible. We need a firm commitment from the Government that it will improve homelessness services and focus especially on reducing the number of homeless individuals. It is important to identify those people with a serious housing need and ensure they are not abandoned to a life on the street.

The most recent figures show there were 2,366 adults in the homelessness services in 2008. This represents a 4% increase over the figure for 2005. There are currently just over twice as many men as women accessing homelessness services — 68% versus 32%. The majority of homeless people who call to my clinics are single men. They are on the homelessness list because they have nowhere else to turn. The majority are being placed in transition housing, which is totally unacceptable and unsuitable. They need to be accommodated in long-term accommodation and they need stability and hope, in the absence of which they can suffer from serious health problems, including depression, and a lack of self-esteem.

This Bill affords a great opportunity to include provision for ending long-term homelessness. The Government’s homelessness strategy, The Way Home — A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland, 2008 — 2013, was published last August. However, unless the measures outlined in this document are given a legislative basis in this Chamber, it will be just another glossy document left on a shelf to gather dust. We need to consider people’s long-term housing needs and not only provide emergency accommodation in the short term.

I compliment the voluntary housing agencies that participate in many projects in Dublin, such as the National Association of Building Co-operatives, Circle Voluntary Housing Association, Clúid Housing Association and Habitat for Humanity Ireland. I have a long established connection with the latter group. When I was Lord Mayor, I opened in Ballymun the first development by Habitat for Humanity Ireland. I have been very impressed with how the association is run.

I congratulate the organisation Alone which was founded by Willie Bermingham in 1977. It is an excellent voluntary organisation which provides shelter and accommodation for those in need, especially the elderly. These organisations do great work but they cannot do it alone and should not carry the can for local authorities.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution on this important Bill. This is an occasion on which I can speak comfortably about Tallaght and my wider constituency because this is where my experience of housing is based. I remind colleagues that I was a member of the local authority from 1991 and I miss it. Much of my work still concerns housing issues and they remain of great interest to me.

I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, is not present because I wanted to compliment him on his work and to wish him well in the lead up to the budget next week. As other speakers have stated, it is important that we support the work of the Minister of State and other Ministers. Everybody has a point of view on where Government funding should be used. I have an interest in the brief of the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, who is in the House, because I am anxious to have a new Garda station in Tallaght.

With regard to housing, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, has the support of all colleagues in fighting his corner and trying to ensure that money is made available to continue to [54]properly fund social housing and other housing programmes. Last week, I brought to his attention my upset at newspaper reports that 291 proposed homes in South Dublin County Council’s programme for Tallaght were being axed. I understand this is not the position but I await confirmation. It is important that we continue to provide homes through local authorities and other schemes where people cannot get their own accommodation.

I lived in the inner city many years ago. My family waited patiently for a Dublin Corporation house and then we lived in Crumlin. Much of what crosses our desks on housing, including a number of provisions included in this Bill, concerns issues with which I grew up. I am glad to be able to bring my life experience to my work as a Deputy for a major population centre. I am very happy about the experience I obtained over many years. Mr. Frank Feeley, the then city manager, told me a long time ago that I would survive as a politician because having been a member of the county council for only three or four weeks in 1991, I criticised Dublin Corporation. I did so because in those days Dublin Corporation had provided 5,000 houses in the Tallaght area but there was no accountability or public representation and we had to fight our corner as far as these issues were concerned.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill contains a number of important provisions. It makes further provision for the functions of housing authorities. It provides for the making of housing services plans and the carrying out of social housing assessments for the purposes of social housing support and the allocation of dwellings. It also provides for rental accommodation arrangements and for the management and control functions of housing authorities. In addition, it provides for the making of antisocial behaviour strategies. It also makes further provision for tenant purchase of dwellings by incremental purchase arrangements. For these and other purposes it amends and extends the Housing Acts 1966 to 2004, the Housing Finance Agency Act 1981, the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Civil Registration Act 2004. It also provides for other related matters.

I wish to address a number of issues, some of which were already mentioned by colleagues. I listened carefully to my fellow Dubliner, Deputy Catherine Byrne, when she spoke about homelessness. It is very important, even at this stage, that the Minister listens to those representing people affected by homelessness. There is a strong view, which has been represented to me throughout my constituency, that the question of homelessness should be addressed in the Bill.

I have mentioned often that I live in Tallaght and thank God Tallaght has developed hugely over recent years and we are a city in all but name. However, despite the progress and the good things that have happened, which I have listed often so I will not test the patience of the Ceann Comhairle by doing so now, there are still gaps in services. I am very unhappy that there is still no provision in Tallaght, which is the third-largest population centre in the country, to deal with those who are homeless. There is no hostel. I have stated on many occasions that we send people with such a problem to Dublin city on the bus. That is not right. In this context I compliment the Tallaght Homeless Advice Unit, an organisation based in Tallaght village which does its best to cater for those who are homeless and provide them with information and resources to deal with their situation. I strongly support it.

I receive quite an amount of correspondence from various groups, as I am sure do colleagues, including from St. Mary’s Priory, which makes the case for legislation to make a commitment on homelessness. Even at this stage, I hope the Minister will acknowledge and examine this. He has acknowledged the correspondence he has received from many colleagues with regard [55]to the MakeRoom group which has organised an online campaign on homelessness. The group makes strong points and I hope the Minister takes them into account.

A number of colleagues raised issues which I feel strongly should be provided for in this Bill. We all receive representations from many groups and young people with regard to the operation of apartment management companies. All of our constituencies have had problems with these. Over recent years throughout Dublin South-West and in Tallaght there has been a huge increase in the development of apartments. In some cases this has been good and in others it has not. If one walks around Tallaght or any other place, and Deputy Catherine Byrne spoke about Crumlin, one sees a huge number of apartments lying idle. Nobody lives in them or uses them and this causes all sorts of problems, including antisocial behaviour. I wonder where this will end. I want to be positive about Tallaght but if one walks around Tallaght village, the new town centre area and a number of the estates one will find vacant apartments.

  6 o’clock

Where apartments are occupied I receive huge numbers of calls, as I know colleagues do also, about the operation of management companies. I hope the long-promised legislation on these issues will be fast-forwarded because many people are asking us to address this issue. It is very unfair that young people under much pressure, in good times as well as in more demanding economic times, receive fewer services than those to which they are entitled. In general, management companies seem to be very difficult to deal with. Not a day goes by that I do not receive inquiries in this regard. It is time that various Departments put their heads together and introduce legislation to deal with this problem. I hope this will be sooner rather than later.

Colleagues made reference to tenant purchase, another area in which I am interested. It is important that we support the view that families should be assisted as much as possible in owning their own homes. That was my view all those years ago when I was reared in Crumlin. That was my view when I moved to Tallaght and when I became involved in community life and then political life.

There was a time when the Government introduced a grant to assist people to leave local authority houses and to go to other places. I will not dig this up again, but it took families from local authority estates who were doing well, contributing to the local economy and the local community fabric. It is very important to encourage people to own their local authority homes as much as possible. Every effort should be made by the local authorities to ensure that people do that. I know the Minister is keen on this and we should encourage it.

The question of antisocial behaviour is something that concerns us all. When I was small, I did not quite understand what it meant, but I know now that it is not just a modern phenomenon, even though it seems to have got worse. Where a family is living peacefully in a local authority estate, its members should not be hassled by people, have stones thrown at their windows, have their cars interfered with, have graffiti sprayed on their walls and so on. It is not happening just in my community, but everywhere in every county. Different colleagues will tell stories about antisocial behaviour. It is important that the local authorities are given as much power as is necessary to deal with this. I do not want to throw families out or penalise them, but where decent families are being hassled due to antisocial behaviour, it is important that action is taken. It should be done in a fair way. There is now talk about antisocial behaviour in every single community in the country, so it is important to get the point across.

There have been stories in all our newspapers about graffiti attacks in different situations. We are used to seeing graffiti on walls, but houses are now being attacked in some communities. There was an incident in Old Bawn recently where people sprayed graffiti on the walls of houses in the area. I know we see graffiti everywhere we go in the world, but that does not [56]make it right. The local authorities and the Garda Síochána must understand that writing graffiti is a serious crime as far as the communities are concerned. I believe Senator Harris was quoted this morning as saying that sterner action should be taken for crimes against the person. I will certainly not disagree with that. He also made a point about crimes against property, but I would say to him that antisocial attacks on property upset people. It is right that they are condemned, and I am not a bit afraid to condemn them.

I spoke earlier about the need for people to be accommodated. All of us who deal with housing list applications are aware that the emphasis is always on catering for family units, which is fair enough. The number of three bedroom houses being funded is greater than the number of two bedroom and one bedroom apartments. There is not much of an argument against that policy, except for the fact that there are different groupings of families that need to be catered for. The separated fathers’ group, which is based in Tallaght but which is known to many people in the region, makes the point about single fathers. It is very difficult for local authorities to concentrate on one group rather than another group, and it is certainly not popular to concentrate on a group to the extent that more formal family units are eliminated from the list. However, it is a demand on the services in this modern age, and it is important to state this. The local authorities need to grapple with that challenge. I know it is a difficult challenge and it is far more prevalent today than it was ten or 20 years ago. I do eight advice clinics every week in my constituency, and the number of single fathers with that problem has increased.

Local authorities used to have a scheme which was known as “accommodation in lieu”. If an application was received from somebody who was already in a family but needed his or her own accommodation, such as a single parent, a provision existed whereby a local authority could allow accommodation in lieu to be built on to the house. The applicant could then live close to the family home. I know there were reasons given when it was discontinued, but I still get inquiries about this. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who has just joined us, will know that we must continue to look at a range of innovative schemes to ensure that local authority housing stocks remain strong and that people who have a clear need for local authority housing are still facilitated. I hope that somebody will look at that. I do not want to turn the clock back, but if there is a challenge——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Go on. Wheel it back.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  Why would I do that? I am a forward thinking Fianna Fáil Deputy, so Deputy Durkan would not want me to talk about the past. I take it that the Chair will protect me if I need it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  Absolutely.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  There were good schemes in the past and we should not be afraid to look at them again.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Bring them back.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  We should understand that even in the good times, there were demands for local authority housing. If we are now in more challenging times, it is important to take account of that fact. If the challenging times are to continue, they will put pressure on families and this issue will be dealt with in the Fine Gael Party Bill tonight, and was dealt with in a previous Labour Party Bill. The question of assistance for those families will have to be a [57]priority. The Opposition Deputies should not believe that there is nobody on the Fianna Fáil benches who would share some of their views on this question.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Yes. I like that.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I am an ordinary community worker. I spend my time in my constituency and hear what people say and I am not afraid to represent those views, or to represent the views on social inclusion I have often expressed. There is a very strong sense of social inclusion as far as this Bill is concerned. I look forward to the passage of the legislation and I wish the Minister and the Minister of State well.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  “Even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forebear to cheer.” The words of the Deputy opposite resonate on this side of the House.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  That is not bad.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Housing Act 1966, the City and County Management (Amendment) Act and the Local Government Acts laid the basis for good housing policy and action and a good response by the local authorities to the housing need. Unfortunately, many changes have taken place. Many of the principles of those Acts have been set aside. Experts have been called in. Consultants were called upon to advise Governments in the past ten years regarding how the situation might be addressed. Unfortunately, as is the often the case when consultants are called in, the results are only as good as the degree to which the consultants are experts and only an expert can determine when an expert should be called in.

I am dismayed at the way the housing situation has degenerated in so far as the local authorities are concerned in recent years. The number of family size homes now being built is very limited. In my constituency, the possibility of acquiring a three bedroom house is remote. There are 3,700 families on the waiting list. Some of those families have been on the waiting list for the past ten years and some of those families will be on the waiting list until their children are teenagers. I cannot understand how the Government has remained altogether immune and impervious to the fact that this has taken place. I cannot understand why it has taken until now to introduce a housing Bill to somehow address some parts of the problem.

In recent years there has been a failure by Government to recognise the true housing situation. There was urgency on the part of the Government to divest itself of all responsibility for any action which might be construed as being a means of resolving the housing problem. It opted out. It stated the private sector should take the necessary action. It reached over to its friends in the private sector and requested they do something about it, but nothing occurred.

The whole culture in the area has completely changed. Under the 1966 Act, there was an onus and responsibility on local authorities to provide housing and the funding for housing to ensure those who were first time house buyers would be able to afford a house. Where did that go? It is long since gone, lost and forgotten. In the past ten years there has scarcely been a single instance where one could acquire a truly affordable house. What has occurred? The voluntary sector moved in. In the absence of Government policy and because of the laziness of Government to address the issue, the voluntary sector was called in. What has taken place? I do not blame voluntary organisations for this because anyone would do the same thing, but they received a 100% capital grant to build houses. They acquired free sites. The voluntary agencies own those houses for ever. Some of them are now the largest landlords in the country and some own up to 4,500 houses. The tenant can never buy those houses. I acknowledge there [58]are references in the proposed legislation to address some of the issues, but I do not believe the Bill will properly address them.

Another issue is the definition of affordable. What does affordable mean? Is a dwelling affordable by virtue of being lower in scale than the market price, or is it affordable by virtue of the fact that it should address the housing need of a given individual? Let us also bear in mind such a person’s ability to repay. In other words, I refer to the sustainability of the loan.

In recent years, we carried out an experiment in my constituency whereby we challenged the local authority to make sites available to those on the local authority housing list at the same price the sites were being made available to the voluntary sector. That was a challenge, but it was legal under the legislation. We succeeded until the various ministerial bodies, bureaucrats, consultants and all such “crats” became involved and decided to close off that loophole and charge a meaningful fee for the sites. Previously, we would have acquired the sites for free, for £1 or €1, which was done. What resulted was local authority houses of good quality were provided on foot of a local authority loan to people who had no other means of obtaining a housing loan. Such people are in those houses to this day. Their loans were sustainable and they were able to live there even in the highly inflationary environment which was in place in the housing sector.

We had to change our approach and move in different direction because the loophole was closed off. The next step was to identify how to deal with the new situation emerging and how persons on the local authority housing list could obtain a loan whether through the shared ownership scheme, the SDA, severely disadvantaged area, scheme and whether they would qualify under one or the other. We discovered it was possible, but with somewhat greater difficulty. Again, we succeeded in securing the building of several houses. The cost of these, even in the past two years, was no more than between €140,000 and €165,000, which was quite an achievement.

The local voluntary groups were obliged to purchase the site and they were subject to a clawback. Deputy Catherine Byrne mentioned the clawback already. I cannot understand the purpose of the clawback. It permanently punishes the unfortunate person who falls into the category of housing need. Such people will never put together a deposit to move out because if they ever make a profit it is taken from them by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Such people cannot move anywhere. It would have been very simple to say the housing need of a given person is met and if that person sells the house to another person at a later stage the housing need is still met and the person has the ability to use their deposit or whatever profit is made — in some cases a loss would be made — to move on to different accommodation. It used to be the case that there was a clawback for local authority sites and housing and each case had to be approved by the local authority. However, that procedure was disbanded because it was holding up and restricting the extent to which a person could sell his or her house on the open market and move on with satisfaction.

During the time of the Celtic tiger the one group of people seriously neglected was those dependant on a first housing start. Such people remain set aside. Some of the most recent schemes have an entitlement and an upper limit of €280,000 or €300,000. In the present market those who took up these schemes are not looking forward to a positive future. I do not know where we are going, but we must consider more carefully to what we commit people.

I refer to tax incentives in the housing area. They completely skewed the housing system and took the emphasis away from those in need. Why was it not possible to provide tax incentives to produces houses for first time buyers? That would have been simple. Incentives were intro[59]duced for speculative purposes and to encourage investment and investors, which is fine. However, we now know the difficulty with that approach.

I refer to another occurrence in recent times which must be addressed urgently. Deputies referred to the degree of antisocial behaviour taking place. I recognise action is proposed in the legislation. I do not know whether that action will be effective, because legislation to address this issue was previously introduced and nothing occurred. There are local authority housing estates in some parts of the country and in my constituency where the existing long-term tenants wish to move out. In some cases, people who have purchased their homes have moved out because they can no longer tolerate antisocial behaviour. What is the reason? The local authorities do not seem to be trying to ensure that people appointed to tenancies in some housing schemes recognise their serious responsibility, which affects their neighbours.

The voluntary housing sector is also affected. It cherry picks by skimming, not scamming, the list of housing applicants. Its allocation policy is not subject to local authority or transparency requirements. Having cherry picked several times, there is a tendency to wear down the core and the social fabric of the housing schemes. Those who have lived in a scheme for a number of years find themselves isolated. In some cases, by virtue of the shortage of housing available to local authorities, they find that undesirables have been located among them. By “undesirables” I mean people involved in drug dealing and other antisocial activity. This serious matter has damaged the social fabric of countless housing areas.

I wish to raise an issue relating to a number of points made by other Deputies, namely, meeting the needs of those who have been entrusted to our responsibility. I refer to people with, for example, special needs who receive disabled persons grants, DPGs, and those who are in need of essential repairs grants. Currently, grants from local authorities have been frozen because they are awaiting a Government decision on what should occur next. It is sad that people who, in many cases, are elderly or are young and have special needs still find that they must travel upstairs without assistance. Their disabled person’s grant, DPG, applications are being assessed or it has been indicated to them that assessments will be carried out at some point. Does anyone understand what this is like for the applicant? How does placing someone, often an elderly person, on a long waiting list and telling him or her that we will consider the case next year or at the end of this year, depending on the availability of funding, resonate with that applicant? He or she may experience a shortage of funding, but what about civilised society’s recognition of the person’s special needs — his or her inability to live a reasonable quality of life in his or her home — and the system’s failure to respond positively?

I do not know what the outcome will be, but every Deputy has a list as long as his or her arm of people who keep reminding us that they have made applications for DPGs. Local authorities have told them that, because of the current financial situation, the grants have been put on hold. Life itself is being put on hold as far as I can see. The Minister sitting across from me knows full well that efforts should be made as a matter of urgency to deal with these special needs cases. While it might not receive the same amount of good publicity, this scheme generates as much employment as other schemes that will likely be before the House in the not too distant future and some of which are before us already. If possible and notwithstanding any proposals in the Bill, will funding be made available to deal with the DPG issue as a priority?

I wish to discuss the economic needs of the house building sector. The building industry has suffered a severe setback in the current economic climate. Approximately 70,000 families are seeking accommodation on local authority and affordable housing lists. Bringing these two inter-linked areas together is a necessity, as one can resolve the other. How to do so and the logistics involved are matters for the Minister and his Department, but I am uncertain as to [60]whether the Bill goes even a fraction of the way. It is not enough to say that we do not have enough money. We will never have enough to carry out the type of attack on housing needs that is required. We never had it or the will to do this in the past, which is the sad part.

Once upon a time, most local authority members, many of whom were Deputies, would meet four or five applicants for affordable home loans on a weekly basis. Sadly, that time is past. What is affordable? How affordable is a mortgage of €250,000 or €300,000 to someone who applies for a loan from a building society, mortgage company or so on in the public or private sector? It is not.

As I stated at a committee meeting today, I had occasion in recent weeks to attend court to give evidence on behalf of an unfortunate constituent whose house was being repossessed. I am annoyed by how people must go to the various financial institutions before a local authority will consider him or her. The unfortunate constituent’s family was given a loan by a mortgage company amounting to approximately 200% of the family’s then entitlement. It was a question of matching the loan to the house price. This practice was unsustainable, as has proven to be the case. The family’s house will be repossessed and, when placed on the market, will not be sold. The family’s credit rating will be damaged by the selfishness of the mortgage company, which has piled compound interest charges and penalties upon the original low interest rate to such an extent that it will be impossible for the person to extricate himself from his situation.

The question of affordability must be examined, particularly given that local authorities have on their hands a fairly large number of what are deemed to be affordable houses. Does the Minister know what is happening? Some houses on the same estates are on sale at prices lower than those being offered to applicants by local authorities. How can this be? It is a regular occurrence in every local authority from Cork to Dublin and from Kildare to Carlow, Meath and so on. I do not understand why the penny has not dropped and someone has not said that the applicants must be treated with fairness and that prices be decreased to a point at which they are at least in keeping with today’s market values. Otherwise, further problems will be created by people entering negative equity situations, particularly if they have gone to the private sector for their mortgages. How much time have I remaining?

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy’s timing is impeccable.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I was accused of that previously.

Acting Chairman:  He has one minute remaining.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  In the final analysis, we should pay particular attention to the needs of first-time buyers, those in an income bracket who would previously have applied for ordinary annuity loans, SDA loans as they were called or housing finance agency loans as they were called in the 1980s.

While that is out of the equation at present, there is an urgent need to bring it back and to ensure that one protects those families that now are applying for loans, affordable or otherwise, in order that they do not find in four, five or six years time, that they will be obliged to sell their houses at a loss. There are various reasons for this into which I cannot go at present and I will conclude by thanking the Cathaoirleach.

Deputy Frank Fahey:  I welcome the introduction of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 and I congratulate the Minister and Minister of State on the work they and their departmental officials have done on this Bill. The reforms proposed in the Bill are timely, [61]particularly the powers given to the Minister to issue policy directions with which housing authorities must comply and guidelines to which housing authorities must have regard in the performance of their statutory duty. I also welcome a new power for elected members to make housing service plans for delivery in their areas of social and affordable housing supports, in line with housing strategies in the development plans. Such plans will be implemented through a three-year programme drawn up by managers and will be rolled over every year.

Moreover, the fact that the Bill makes provision for a number of important social housing supports is significant. I refer to a comprehensive statutory framework for the provision of rented social housing through leasing or contract arrangements, notably the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, that was introduced in 2005 and which involves housing authorities progressively taking responsibility for accommodating people in receipt of social welfare rent supplement who have a long-term housing need. Under RAS, the housing authority pays the rent to the landlord on behalf of the tenant and the tenant pays an income-related rent contribution to the statutory authority. This highly significant change is greatly to be welcomed.

I refer to the new incremental purchase scheme, whereby existing social housing tenants and households that qualify for social housing support are helped to become owners of houses that are newly built by local authorities and voluntary and co-operative bodies. Full ownership of the house is transferred to a household on purchase of an initial share of the equity. The housing authority or body charges the property for the proportion of the equity not paid for and releases this charge in equal proportions for each year that the buyer occupies the house until the charge is completely eliminated. The incremental purchaser can resell the house at any time but must pay the housing authority or body that proportion of the proceeds equivalent to its prevailing charge share of the equity. I welcome this initiative in particular.

The main problem with local authority estates down through the years has been the fact that many local authority tenants who were paying rent ad infinitum simply were not concerned or interested in the upkeep of their houses. On the other hand, many good tenants looked after their houses well and ensured that the costs of maintenance and so on to the local authorities were kept to a minimum. However, particularly on foot of the fairly significant buy-out of houses under the tenant purchase schemes, many tenants who held on to their houses did not really concern themselves in any way with the proper upkeep of their homes. All Members know of local authority estates in every town, city and village in which it is clear there are a number of tenants who have no interest in or regard for the houses in which they are living and who always are on Members’ constituency lists seeking support and help in the maintenance of such houses. I welcome the concept in this scheme whereby people are encouraged to take ownership of their house by degrees and compliment the officials and Ministers involved in this initiative.

The new range of powers given to the local authority or its elected members also is of great significance. Easily the most important of these new powers is that enabling the elected members to adopt strategies for the prevention and reduction of antisocial behaviour in the local authority housing stock. Members have sought such a provision for many years. Antisocial behaviour by local authority tenants should be dealt with in a zero tolerance way. The definition of antisocial behaviour has been extended to cover graffiti and damage to property, bringing it more into line with regard to legislation on Garda behaviour orders. I welcome the extension of the existing antisocial behaviour powers of housing authorities, notably the power to seek excluding orders against individual household members to cover accommodation provided through both rental or leasing arrangements, notably the RAS and incremental purchase. For far too long, behaviour that is unacceptable in any sphere has been tolerated among a small [62]percentage of local authority tenants nationwide. All Members know the families involved. I could name those families in Galway who give constant difficulty and trouble to their neighbours, the local authority, the Garda, the social workers and everyone else. It is time that we had proper legislation to deal with such people and when dealing with this issue, a zero tolerance approach must be taken.

It is extremely important also to put in place preventative measures to try to ensure that families that are dysfunctional or that are experiencing difficulties are assisted in an appropriate way to enable them to live in a house or within a community. During my time as Minister of State with responsibility for youth affairs and for children, I found the difficulty often was due to the personal circumstances of the family. In such families, the mother involved, through no fault of her own, may have been obliged to cope with a large family or a husband who was alcoholic or absent. Some tenants experienced great difficulty when trying to deal with some of the ordinary everyday issues of life. We must ensure that proper co-ordinated and joined-up support is given to such families. We do not do so at present. Although it is critically important that the agencies involved should get their act together, I am satisfied that this has not happened and is not happening.

I can point to examples today in Galway city in which serious issues exist within families that are not being addressed because of the lack of proper joined-up thinking between the agencies that visit such households. Members will note that this is what happened in the infamous case in County Roscommon. Before this welcome legislation is applied, we must ensure that supports are provided to families who are finding it difficult and who in many respects are dysfunctional.

I recall a Garda chief superintendent in Neilstown who visited me one day while I was Minister of State with responsibility for children. He gave me the names of ten young delinquents and told me they would be the best criminals in Dublin in five or six years time. I had an examination carried out on these young lads, who were nine, ten, 11 or 12 years of age. However, in the company of the chief superintendent concerned, I visited the mother of the most notorious of the aforementioned kids. On the chief superintendent’s arrival at the mother’s door, she welcomed him as they knew each other. He interviewed her in my presence about the difficulties she was having. One of the points she made to him was that were she to make tea for everyone who visited her every week, she would be making tea all day, such was the number of different agencies and officials who were visiting this woman to try to be of support to her. Such was the lack of co-ordinated, joined up support that is essential for these families, some of these agencies did not even know that some of the other agencies were visiting the same house. My first appeal to the Minister is to ensure preventative initiatives are set up and that gardaí, the HSE, those in education, social workers and so on deal with dysfunctional families in a co-ordinated way.

When I published legislation on children I visited New Zealand to see the system there, which is the best in the world. We copied the legislation so that all agencies would deal effectively with families that had difficulties. I am not satisfied that this legislation is being implemented as well or as effectively as it could be. It is not a matter of resources, there are sufficient resources, but inefficient action is being taken by the agencies involved. If there are situations where families are not prepared to play ball, where children, teenagers, fathers and mothers have total disregard for their neighbours, the community, the local authority and the law, we must act tough. We must act in a no-nonsense way on drug and alcohol abuse. It is sad to hear stories of neighbours of dysfunctional families and the kind of misery they must put up with [63]because some families are out of control and disrespectful to everyone. This is an initiative with which I wholeheartedly agree. This Bill would be worthwhile if there was nothing other than the power to deal with antisocial behaviour in it.

We are not spending money wisely on rental subsidy. I recently tabled a question on the number of families in receipt of €800 or more in monthly rental subsidy. The reply indicated some 13,000 families, which is money down the drain. Families receiving sums of more than €800 per month in rental income subsidy should be put in a house immediately. I recommend to the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to capitalise rental income subsidies and purchase houses in the current market. This would be more cost effective for the Exchequer. One can buy houses in parts of the country for as little as €130,000 for a three bedroom or a four bedroom semi-detached house. It would make more sense to buy out houses across the country and put people on large rental income subsidies in those houses. We could give them ownership and make them pay back some contribution on a continuing basis. That would make far more sense because rental income subsidy is putting money into the pockets of the owners of the houses. The support continues ad infinitum because these people cannot, by and large, get houses. I do not know the bill for the rental subsidy but it is larger than it should be. With the housing market in the condition it is in, now is the ideal time for local authorities to buy out houses. In Galway, the local authority bought out houses at high prices in the past few years. Now the houses have dropped in value. I do not blame local authority officials, who did not know what would happen any more than anyone else. Notwithstanding the difficult financial situation, one of the better ways to save money is for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to switch from the rental subsidy to buying out the houses instead.

Trying to provide housing stock to meet waiting lists has not been successful. There have been significant increases in the amount of money available to local authorities but, equally, local authorities were caught by spiralling prices in the construction and rental of houses. When I was a member of Cabinet I showed that a three bedroom house could be built in Galway for approximately €100,000 at the time. The same houses were costing the local authority €220,000 or €230,000, which made no sense. There is now an opportunity, with the landbanks around every town and village around this country, for innovative thinking where the Government, the banks and the local authorities can provide new housing stock, built out of the ground, for a very cost effective price. This would provide housing stock to deal with the significant waiting lists cost effectively and would be an opportunity for employment for the construction industry. I appeal to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to examine the opportunity that exists and to move before it is too late.

As sure as I have these pages in my hand, the price of houses will increase. I have previously said that there is excellent value at the moment. As soon as confidence returns the overhang in the housing stock will be reduced and this will happen quite quickly. One can borrow €200,000 and the repayment, taking the tax free allowance into account, is far less than €700 per month. We never had a situation where a young person could borrow €200,000 and have such repayments. Interest rates came down since I checked the price and they are due to be reduced again in the next couple of weeks. A person can buy a house with a mortgage of €200,000 for somewhere between €600 to €700 per month. That is far better than renting the same house. There is an opportunity for the Government but it will not be there forever. As sure as prices have collapsed, they will increase. I urge the Ministers involved to address this.

[64]A section of the Bill deals with improving standards of maintenance and management of local authority houses. This is long overdue. It enables housing authorities to manage and control dwellings provided under a contract or lease between the authority and the housing provider. It strengthens the legislation considerably. Section 30 enables housing authorities to delegate management and control functions to a designated body and empowers the Minister to make regulations on the terms, procedures and monitoring of the designated body. Section 31 deals with rent schemes and charges and empowers the Minister to make regulations governing matters to be included in rent schemes. Section 35 concerns moneys owing to housing authorities and provides for interest to be payable and the setting off of money due from the local authority against money owing to it. This is a good arrangement.

It is past time to remove the block that exists in the affordable homes scheme, whereby people must pay back the amount of subsidy. With house prices as they are, the price available to a purchaser of an affordable home should not attract a clawback. That would immediately enable many people to go ahead with affordable homes.

With regard to social housing and the need for people on lower incomes to avail of such stock, we must put in place, as outlined in the Bill, an effective mechanism whereby people on lower incomes can have a rental purchase arrangement so they can finally buy out a house. I have no doubt that we are now in a time when we can improve our local authority housing practice and I hope this legislation will be the main tool in doing that. I compliment everybody involved with the Bill and am fully supportive of it.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Ar son Shinn Féin, cuirim fáilte roimh Bille na dTithe (Forálacha Ilghnéitheacha) 2008. Cinntí dearfacha a chabhróidh le seirbhísí tithíochta an Stáit atá i gceist sa reachtaíocht seo sa chuid is mó. Is trua é, áfach, nach ndéanann an Bille déileáil níos iomláine leis an cheist ríthábhachtach seo, go háirithe sa chomhthéacs ina bhfuilimid ag obair faoi láthair. Is mór an trua é go bhfuil roinnt bunábhair in easnamh sa Bhille. Is féidir linn an fhadhb sin a leigheas, áfach, má chuirimid na leasuithe is gá chun cinn ar Chéim an Choiste. Is féidir leis an Aire a leasuithe féin a moladh nó leasuithe an bhFreasúra a ghlacadh. Measaim gur chóir don Aire an deis seo a thapú chun reachtaíocht níos iomláine agus níos foirfe a achtú agus córas tithíochta níos cothroime a fhorbairt sa Stát seo. Ba cheart dúinn bheith in ann léiriú os comhair an domhain go bhfuil ceann de na seirbhísí tithíochta is fearr againn. Tá bealach fada le taisteal againn sula shroichimid an phointe sin. Tá mé chun iarracht a dhéanamh impí ar an Aire déileáil, ar Chéim an Choiste, leis na ceisteanna móra gur chóir dúinn a réiteach sa Bhille.

One of the key areas which this Bill fails to address is the question of homelessness and it is disappointing to see such a Bill published only a month after the publication of the Government strategy on homelessness, The Way Home. We have all been lobbied recently — and the Minister in particular — by the MakeRoom campaign and I encourage people to continue this lobbying. It is an indication that the public is concerned about the issue and is looking for us to address the shortfalls in the Bill relating to homelessness.

Lobbying in this way leads to a participative democracy, although some people seem to be afraid of it. There was talk recently of restricting e-mails to Deputies and Ministers but such talk is against the policy of open democracy. That some are afraid of dealing with the public in such a fashion is an indication that lobbying is having an effect.

I would like to see legislative commitments outlined in The Way Home strategy included in this Bill. Placing local homeless fora and action plans on a statutory footing would, I hope, [65]ensure that all local authorities and statutory agencies would have to meet their commitments under that strategy. I have one word of caution, as we are still waiting for some local authorities to deliver on their statutory commitment to produce Traveller accommodation in their areas.

It is interesting that, to quote from the Green Party document on homeless and Traveller accommodation, the Minister’s party policy is that if local authorities continue to fail in their obligation to deliver and implement Traveller accommodation programmes, the Green Party will consider sanctions against the local authorities which fail to meet the requirements. I am looking forward to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, introducing those sanctions in this legislation as it goes through Committee Stage. It is scandalous that at this stage, some local authorities have not addressed their commitment.

On the issue of homelessness itself, recently Sinn Féin’s Dublin MEP, Mary Lou McDonald, initiated in the European Parliament Written Declaration 111, the aim of which is to promote an end to street homelessness by 2015. The declaration was passed by the Parliament last year and I hope this Government and others in the EU will live up to the commitments and strategy included in that declaration.

We in Sinn Féin believe homelessness is the most acute denial of housing rights in our society. The fact that the Government cannot bring itself to propose an adequate legislative definition of homelessness in this Bill, let alone keep its own commitments to combat the problem, is an indictment of an appalling Government which has no regard for those people who sleep in doorways off our streets and in lanes at the back of shops or restaurants, many of which are frequented by Ministers and the infamous bankers we hear so much about these days.

The Government has done nothing to realistically help address the homeless people living in emergency accommodation, shelters, hostels and bed and breakfasts. Homelessness is a real-life manifestation of social exclusion and poverty, as well as an inadequate supply of secure and appropriate social housing. If this Bill is left unchanged, it will do nothing to rectify the problem.

Official data significantly underestimates the real extent of the problem of homelessness and this Bill will not change the Government’s indifference to this plight. For example, I was made aware last year of a large number of unemployed Polish men living rough in tents in the Phoenix Park for a while. Although this is no longer the case, with the current recession how long will it be before this happens again? Street homelessness is on the increase despite the good work of many voluntary groups. That is why the strategy must be fully implemented and put on a statutory footing.

I also have reservations about the proposed new definition of social housing, which will now include dwellings under the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. It is our view that the RAS has a role in addressing social housing problems but it is also our firm belief that the provision of social housing funded by central Government via the local authorities must be the central element in any successful housing strategy. Once a person is renting through the rental accommodation scheme, he or she is effectively housed, according to the local authority. Why should the taxpayer continue to subsidise private landlords through this scheme when it would make far better sense for the State to provide those in need with the social housing accommodation they require?

I mentioned Traveller accommodation earlier. This Bill is a missed opportunity to remove the disproportionate provisions in the last Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in 2002, which criminalised Travellers living on the side of the road where no alternative is available or where local authorities had failed to deliver on the Traveller housing strategy commitment. [66] I ask the Minister to even at this stage consider removing that provision on Committee or Report Stage.

  7 o’clock

There are currently nearly 60,000 families on the social housing waiting list and this number will continue to escalate at a rapid rate, particularly given the State’s dire economic circumstances, of which Fianna Fáil is also trying to wash its hands. This will happen unless current levels of social and supported housing provisions are dramatically increased. Sinn Féin did not accept homelessness nor did it accept the glib attitude of the Government parties towards those who were homeless during the booming years of the Celtic tiger. We will certainly not entertain the idea that it is now okay not to deal with the issue.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy will have 11 minutes remaining in his slot when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

noting:

that the processing time of welfare applications, particularly jobseekers supports, is too long with some individuals and families waiting up to 16 weeks for their claim to be processed, and with potential delays of many months in processing appeals;

official HSE figures which show an 85% increase in the number of requests for emergency welfare assistance over the past two years, while the number of community welfare staff has remained unchanged;

the unacceptable delay in recruiting additional staff to deal with the dramatic increase in welfare claims;

the 35% increase in the number of people seeking support from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS);

that the Legal Aid Board has a function to provide legal advice and representation to people with debt problems;

that there are currently more than 9,616 people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement, an increase of 134% (4,111) over the number in receipt of payment at the end of 2007;

that the new code on mortgage arrears does not sufficiently protect borrowers and fails to include any sanctions for breaches of the code; and

[67]

that problems experienced in repaying debt are not limited to mortgage debt, but that the recently unemployed face difficulties repaying a series of debts including: household bills, credit card repayments, car loans, personal loans, hire purchase agreements and so on;

considering:

that 276 people were jailed last year for failing to repay debt, many of which were jailed for failing to repay loans to credit providers, and received an average sentence of 27 days and served an average of 20 days;

that this Government has not taken any steps to update or reform the current system of debt enforcement which is ineffective in collecting debt, is extremely costly to taxpayers and wasteful of court, judge and Garda time;

that unlike many other EU countries, Ireland has no system of regulation of debt collectors; and

pending the completion of the Law Reform Commission report, that there is a need for urgent measures to be taken, as set out below;

calls on the Government to:

immediately increase the number of community welfare officers, social welfare and social welfare appeals office staff by redeploying staff within the HSE and the Department of Social and Family Affairs;

encourage MABS and the Legal Aid Board to co-operate more closely so that they can deal with the surge in people seeking advice and support for debt difficulties;

expand the role of MABS into debt settlement and mortgage renegotiation, which will take less time, is less expensive to the taxpayer and offers a more integrated and effective approach when dealing with consumer debt;

introduce legislation to regulate debt collection and to ensure that debt collectors are registered and vetted; and

review legislation including the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts 1926 and 1940 and the Bankruptcy Act 1988.

I wish to share time with Deputies Noonan, O’Dowd, Ring, Connaughton, Doyle and Joe Carey.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce this motion on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. It is a timely non-contentious motion which seeks to ensure that our social welfare system is responsive to the needs of the people it is supposed to serve and that it is adequately staffed to carry out this function. We are seeking the creation of an alternative dispute resolution system for those who find themselves in debt, together with greater co-operation between the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, and the Legal Aid Board in order that both organisations might deal with the surge of people seeking advice and support with debt difficulty. We are also seeking to have the role of MABS expanded in order that it will be sufficiently resourced to allow it to deal with — through the further training of staff — debt settlement and mortgage negotiation for which, unfortunately, there is a growing need.

[68]Fine Gael is further seeking the introduction of legislation to regulate debt collection and to ensure that debt collectors will be registered and vetted. In addition, legislation such as the enforcement of court orders Acts and the bankruptcy Acts must be reviewed and amended to take account of the current climate.

I am disappointed with, but not surprised by, the Government’s amendment to the motion. The amendment displays the typically unimaginative everything-is-all-right, head-in-the-sand approach we have come to expect from the Government. I do not believe anyone will deny that over-indebtedness is a serious problem in the lives of many Irish people, although the amendment prompts me to question whether the Government has any idea of the extent of the problem.

During the past decade, the personal household component of private sector credit has risen to record levels in Ireland and in many other countries. In 2007, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland admitted that the gross indebtedness of the household sector in Ireland — before account is taken of its financial net worth — is high by comparison with that which obtains in other euro area countries. In 1997, personal sector credit as a percentage of disposable income was in the region of 60%. Ten years later, this figure had risen to well over 175%.

Many people have a variety of debts. These include mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, car loans, hire purchase agreements, household debts, store cards, etc. While this was a matter of concern in times of high employment, it is of even greater concern now. The downturn in the economy and the increase in unemployment has placed a massive strain on Irish families. People are losing their jobs, are unable to repay loans to a variety of institutions and are under severe pressure.

The delays in the processing of social welfare applications and the subsequent delays in appeals are adding further to the strain. While families are awaiting the processing of their applications or of appeals, they often find themselves being plunged further into debt, with their mortgage bills unpaid and their electricity, gas and car loans mounting as they struggle to pay for their day-to-day household and living expenses.

It must be remembered that one third of the cost of houses in recent years went on taxation. For many individuals and couples, one third of the mortgages they are struggling to pay off went directly to the Exchequer. Many of these people’s homes are no longer worth what they paid for them and they are struggling to pay off loans they took out during a building bubble from which they obtained no benefit. If a house is repossessed by the State, these people will be obliged to seek rent supplement and to return to their local authority housing lists.

There are currently more than 9,600 people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement. This represents an increase of 134% on the figure that obtained at the end of 2007. The Government is in the process of reviewing the mortgage interest supplement. However, I am unclear as to what is the aim of this review and I am gravely concerned that — like many previous reviews — it is designed to make the supplement more difficult rather than easier to obtain. There are a number of serious difficulties regarding the way in which the scheme operates at present. Claimants are not eligible for mortgage interest supplement if their mortgages are considered to be too expensive. However, there seems to be huge discretion across the country with regard to what is “too expensive”. This raises questions in respect of the uniformity of the system. In addition, the scheme ignores the fact that a mortgage may have been affordable when the person who took it out was in employment. If a mortgage is granted on the basis of two incomes [69]and one income is lost through unemployment, illness or disability, the household will still not be eligible for mortgage interest supplement because there is still one income coming in. That people have mortgage arrears seems to be irrelevant when this criterion is put into operation.

There are also extreme difficulties for people who were self-employed but who are now unemployed, particularly in the context of producing up-to-date accounts and the fact that the previous year’s accounts are generally taken into consideration. There are many people who were working last year and who had steady incomes but who literally do not have an income at present. These individuals find it extremely difficult to access the supplement. Unbelievably, there is a lack of valid data. As the Minister previously admitted, the Department of Family and Social Affairs does not collect figures regarding the number of people who want to apply for mortgage interest supplement. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to judge the fairness of the system.

Why does the Department not collect such data? I am aware from speaking to a number of community welfare officers that they retain this information. What kind of system allows us to pay a supplement to some and refuse it to others? Why is it not possible to examine the objective criteria that are being used to decide who is paid and who is refused? The system must be changed. I urge the Minister to obtain the data to which I refer from community welfare officers and to make it available in order that we might discuss people’s real needs in an informed way.

There is also a lack of awareness regarding the existence of the supplement, which is a matter of some surprise. It is as if the Department hopes people will not become aware of the supplement in order that it will not be obliged to pay it. This matter must be addressed because it is giving rise to real difficulties for some people.

Perhaps one of the biggest scandals in the banking sector in recent years was the lengths to which financial institutions and sub-prime lenders would go to encourage and induce people into consolidating all their loans into a single mortgage. Needless to say this seemed an extremely attractive proposition at the time, particularly when people had a number of debts with various institutions in respect of which different repayment dates applied. These individuals received letters or saw advertisements suggesting that they “consolidate it all into one simple mortgage”. Matters have not proven to be so simple. Many people who consolidated their debts are being particularly badly hit if they find it difficult to meet their payments because the mortgage interest supplement is paid only in respect of the portion of the mortgage that relates directly to the purchase of their dwelling house.

Poor Government regulation over the past 12 years allowed lenders to operate as they pleased and to actively encourage people into this position. Those making the type of commitments to which I refer would have been unaware of the criteria relating to the mortgage interest supplement and would certainly never have expected to find themselves in their current position. These people must be given the benefit of the doubt. We should, by all means, ensure that the regulations will be in place from now on and we should make people aware of that. However, it does not make sense to provide people with support only in respect of the portion of the mortgage that relates to the house. If the lender calls in the loan and repossesses the house, the proportions involved will be irrelevant.

Repossession orders sought by banks and mortgage lenders soared by more than 100% last year. Figures compiled by the Courts Service show that in 2008 some 758 new applications for repossession orders were brought before the High Court. The figure for the previous year was 347. The increase in the figure for repossessions is the largest recorded by the courts and it [70]points to aggressive tactics deployed by some lenders to recover their debts. The Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmond Honohan, recently warned that an avalanche of home repossession cases is anticipated. He stated that the number of such cases is increasing weekly, with an emerging ratio of approximately 80:20 between sub-prime lenders and mainstream banks. Mr. Honohan expects an avalanche because few of the cases that have appeared to date relate to recent job losses. In all cases before him since last October, the mortgage arrears were already in excess of nine months when proceedings were initiated. It is estimated that there are approximately 15,000 sub-prime mortgage holders in Ireland and it is feared that many of them are in difficulty.

The Government must act to protect all struggling home owners. While the recent code in respect of mortgage arrears is welcome, provision has not been made in respect of breaches of that code. In addition, the code has little or no impact on sub-prime lenders. The Government must address this matter immediately. The dismissive amendment to the motion effectively informs people that their difficulties are a matter for them and their financial institution and will only serve to isolate them further and escalate the problems they face.

The majority of people want to repay their loans. However, the downturn in the economy and the increase in unemployment means that many are finding it increasingly difficult to repay their debts. In dealing with individual cases, I have been struck by people’s determination to find a way through their current difficulties. There is a strong desire on their part to find alternative employment in order that they can recommence paying their mortgages as soon as possible. These are people who entered into mortgage agreements in order to purchase homes for their families. They did what was considered the right and sensible thing. Many purchased houses at hugely inflated rates and are now finding it impossible to make ends meet.

Our changing economic environment brings into focus the current system of debt enforcement in Ireland and makes me question what we achieve by dragging an impoverished person under pressure from a debtor through an intimidating, costly and ineffective legal process. I accept that there must be a constitutional right of recourse to the courts. However, this is not the place from which we should start. Ours is one of the last governments in Europe to accept that fact.

Our debt enforcement legislation was last updated in the 1940s and has little or no relevance to the society in which we live. Most debt enforcement procedures take place at District Court level and assess the capacity of the debtor to pay. However, the way judgments are enforced is outdated. Many believe that the open court procedure — whereby people are exposed to members of their communities and the press in their local courts — is a natural deterrent. If a debtor does not file a defence, there will be no hearing and judgment for the amount claimed will be given in his or her absence when the solicitor for the creditor files the correct papers.

According to the Free Legal Advice Centre, FLAC, only some 20% of debtors appear at hearings. As a result, judgments are made in their absence and in the absence of up-to-date financial information. The repayment schedules that are decided are, therefore, often at a level which debtors cannot afford. In many instances, a debtor will be unaware that a judgment has been made against him or her. It is important to point out that many creditors are also unhappy with the system as it currently operates.

Last year alone, 276 people were imprisoned for failure to pay debt. The average sentence received was 27 days and the average sentence served was 20 days. Where is the financial logic for such a system? The person comes out of prison still owing the debt. They still have no means of repaying it. The creditor still does not receive the money and yet we have paid the [71]courts system, judges, gardaí, prison officers, legal fees and whatever else. There is no economic sense to this system.

The overall cost to the State of over-indebtedness is hard to quantify but it is time for a complete overhaul. We must also bear in mind how innocent parties suffer. Chronic debt and imprisonment for failure to pay debts will have consequences for partners, children and relatives of the debtor who find themselves struggling further while their partner, father or relative is imprisoned, with the debt still hanging over the family.

I appreciate that there are those who could repay their debt and choose not to, but a real distinction must be made between those who cannot pay and those who will not pay. Money advisers will say that this becomes very clear in most cases, and those who will not pay should be subject to the full rigors of the law.

Is the Government and the Minister satisfied with the existing system and do they intend to take any action to relieve families suffering from debt? The existing system is archaic and there is common agreement among all stakeholders that it does not serve the interests of the creditor, debtor or taxpayer.

There are actions that can be taken immediately to address the situation. First, we should simplify documentation. Too many people under pressure from debt do not open registered letters and if they do, they panic at the prospect of court hearings and documents that are unintelligible to them. No explanatory information is included to explain the consequence of the legal proceedings in plain, understandable language. No contact numbers for MABS, the Legal Aid Board or FLAC, which the debtors could contact for assistance, are included. Effectively, people just see the long hand of the law reaching through their front door and try to bury their head in the sand.

It is not clearly explained to people that the creditor may also apply for legal costs or that interest may be claimed, increasing the debt substantially. A covering letter accompanying the summons will suggest that the debtor contact their solicitor for advice. Many cannot afford that and individuals can wait months for civil legal aid, depending on where they live. The system must be changed to ensure the legal jargon is removed. People receiving the documents should be able to understand clearly what they mean and the consequences of them. They should also be advised as to where they can turn for help. We must move also to regulate debt collectors, an issue Deputy Flanagan will expand on tomorrow.

We must examine a means of having an alternative dispute resolution system. We must review legislation. The legislation dealing with this area was introduced at a time when borrowing money was extremely rare. The process must be amended to deal with debt in a more effective way.

The Government must create an alternative dispute resolution system to help with debt settlement and mortgage renegotiation. MABS is an extremely useful service but its function is somewhat limited in that it is not equipped to engage or negotiate directly with lenders, although it has done some good pilot work in this area.

The approach to debt enforcement through this system will take less time, prove to be less expensive to the taxpayer and will be a more integrated and effective approach when dealing with consumer debt. Most stakeholders, except the Government, agree with that. The Irish Banking Federation supports calls by FLAC and MABS for an overhaul of the system.

I will deal briefly with the Government’s response to the huge increase in the numbers of people seeking jobseeker’s assistance. At best the response is inadequate. Every Member in this House has received complaints about the length of queues in social welfare offices. Restric[72]ted opening hours together with shortages in staff have resulted in serious queues. Community welfare officers have seen an 85% increase in the number of requests for emergency assistance in the past two years.

Last December, after much pressure, the Minister eventually announced the provision of 115 additional staff. The response was too little too late, and it is not clear if all of those have taken up their positions. She may tell us that tonight. It must be borne in mind that staff being deployed do not necessarily have the skills in this area. They have to be trained, which takes considerable time. We are expecting a continuously growing number of people in receipt of unemployment benefit in the immediate future. The Minister must act now to ensure sufficient numbers of staff are trained to cope with that.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  Ireland is facing a massive jobs crisis. Thousands of jobs are being lost every week. Some are being lost because Ireland is no longer competitive and the difference in wage, transport, telecommunications and energy costs explains succinctly how we recently had 1,900 redundancies in the Dell plant in Limerick.

The chairman of the jobs task force set up by the Government after the Dell announcement, Mr. Denis Brosnan, has estimated that 50,000 persons will be unemployed in the Limerick region by Christmas. The Taoiseach has estimated that 450,000 people will be unemployed nationally by the end of this year. Yesterday, the head of the OECD, Mr. Angel Gurria, estimated that unemployment in the 30 most advanced OECD countries would swell by approximately 23 million persons this year, which he described as “by far the largest and most rapid increase in OECD unemployment in the post-war period, which is rapidly turning into a jobs and social crisis”.

The misery of joblessness is appalling but if, as a consequence, one loses one’s house as well the misery is turned into a personal and a family disaster. The Government must act to ensure that house repossessions are minimised. Every decision the Government takes in the budget on 7 April must be measured against its effect on jobs and rejected if it does not pass the jobs test. People will still lose their houses, however, and the Government must take explicit action to support home ownership and forestall foreclosures to give people time to get back to work and maintain their homes.

In its recent recapitalisation arrangement with the banks, the Government secured commitments from them to provide a moratorium on repayments for unemployed persons. This is welcome in so far as it goes but it only applies to the three main banks. I know of one mortgage broker who has been arranging loans for people with 17 different finance companies. Government agreements with Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank are welcome but what about the 14 other finance companies that are taking people to court to foreclose on their mortgages?

Today’s The Irish Times illustrates what is happening in the High Court. As reported in yesterday’s High Court, IIB Homeloans repossessed a property in Tullamore, County Offaly. Later in the morning, three further possession orders were granted to IIB Homeloans. One of the properties was in County Clare. The court heard that the defendant couple had attempted to sell their property for some time but without success. They had a mortgage of €220,000. The arrears were €13,483 and the total balance was well in excess of the value of the property by the time the court proceedings took place.

Later in the day a repossession of a home in County Kildare by Start Mortgages took place and the judge, in handing down the order, said that he was seriously concerned that the prop[73]erty was still not worth €400,000, the value attributed to it when the mortgage was raised. Later in the day a repossession order was granted to Leeds Building Society after the court had heard that no mortgage repayments had been made on the loan since it was drawn down, and so on.

This is the story every week in the High Court where repossession orders are given. They do not involve Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland or Anglo Irish Bank but the multiplicity of other lending agencies that have been active since the Celtic tiger took off. I know one broker who has given out mortgages sourced at 17 different lending agencies.

Some months ago in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced that a six months moratorium would apply to all persons in difficulty with their mortgages and that a two year period where interest payments would be suspended would also apply to persons unemployed. The Government of the United Kingdom would underpin this arrangement but the two years would be added on at the end of the mortgage period when the individual would get back to work. The 30 year mortgage, therefore, would become a 32 year mortgage but there would be a two year gap in the middle. That is reasonable, and the Government here should follow that example.

MABS should be allowed to retain persons who have the skills to renegotiate mortgages. That could be done on a case by case basis. It could be paid for on a no foal, no fee basis, with a few hundred euro per mortgage renegotiated, but MABS, despite its excellence, does not have the skills to renegotiate mortgages. That should be done, and it is included in the motion before the House.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I wish to make a few brief but important points. The community welfare officer is becoming more important in his interaction with the community than had previously been the case. I compliment the Department on the training of the community welfare officers so they can deal with people who are in desperate situations and I support them in their work.

Increasingly I am hearing from people who have been refused assistance on the basis of the habitual residence clause, an issue of growing concern. Returned emigrants who have been out of the country for over a year have been refused social welfare claims on that basis. They have worked abroad, losing their employment benefit entitlement even though they are Irish citizens. Perhaps the Minister could provide statistics on the numbers involved.

I have been seeking information on the number of appeals to community welfare officers in County Louth but I have not received a satisfactory response. In my experience, rarely, if ever, is an appeal successful. I would like to find out what is happening throughout the country and I ask the Minister to publish a league table of appeals to superintendent community welfare officers and further appeals to the HSE. There must be more transparency about those facts and figures.

In many cases those who have lost an appeal have not prepared the best possible case for themselves and there may be a need for assistance in the preparation of appeals. The wording of refusals can also be very cold, with phrases such as “I received your undated letter of...” smacking of bureaucracy.

The CWOs and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul work well together in County Louth and I pay tribute to the work they do to deal with cases. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul can assist in cases where there may be a doubt — it errs on the side of generosity and I welcome that.

[74]In County Louth, 14,700 people are claiming job seeker’s benefit or job seeker’s allowance. Of those, fewer than 200 are on the back to work or back to education allowances. There is a job to be done around the country in dealing with people who would benefit from the back to work or back to education allowances, particularly young people who were involved in the construction industry, to get better qualifications. Perhaps the Minister will direct attention to that area when applications are being assessed, with someone appointed to tell people about educational options that are available in a way they can act upon.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I compliment Deputy Enright on tabling this important motion. People are hurting at the moment and they are feeling the pressure. People who have never gone near a social welfare office or a community welfare officer are finding it strange and difficult and are upset at the length of time it takes to process their cases. Even before the recession, there were problems last year getting some benefits from the Department. It would take weeks for claims to be processed and now, with the recession, it takes even longer, putting further pressure on the community welfare officers who must pay out money in the meantime.

There was much talk last year of taking staff from the Department of Health and Children and placing them in the Department of Social and Family Affairs. They say that a week in politics is a long time but a year in this country is not a long time. This time last year everything was booming and now we have a depression and people are feeling the pressure. The community welfare officers are working very hard under a lot of pressure. I see it in my own town where we have massive unemployment now. Many people were working in the hotel industry but, with the decline in numbers visiting and hotels under pressure, they are on a three-day week or using the social welfare system.

Even the social welfare offices are under pressure. More resources must be put in place for social welfare offices; they need more staff and support. I tried to contact a local officer today about a case I had yesterday. He told me he is at breaking point and that he is unable to cope. He is at it seven days a week because he feels for those people he sees coming in. He knows they are under pressure and that he must deal with their cases immediately. He does not want them to have to wait because he knows these people are under pressure. He told me he was seeing people he had never seen in his life and he has been working in the Department for 30 years. These people have never been in a social welfare office or seen a community welfare officer. He is trying to do the right thing by them, by the Minister and by the Department to ensure that they are looked after.

I ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs not to allow what is happening in the west — the centralisation of the medical card distribution to a centre in Dublin. We have enough agencies and eejits in Dublin we cannot deal with already. We cannot deal with these eejits. At least we can deal with local people at home. I do not want to see discretion taken away from the community welfare officers because if a person needs to talk to an eejit in Dublin, he or she will not answer the phone and there will be more problems. If I table a question, I will be told the Minister has no responsibility. Keep that service in the regions, in the counties and with the community welfare officers.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  They will not answer people who call them eejits.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I am talking about the eejits the Ministers is going to put in place now.

[75]Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I congratulate Deputy Enright on tabling this motion. Like anyone who has been around this House for a few years, I thought I would never see this day and I am sorry that it has come. I know people who have been waiting between ten and 16 weeks for a decision on their job seeker’s benefit. That is a denial of a basic human right because it is fundamentally important to people for their everyday lives. It is nothing short of shameful.

I join Deputies on all sides in saying that I have never found, particularly now the pressure is on them, a more dedicated brigade of people than the community welfare officers. They work under terrible conditions. I heard the Minister announce some time ago that she was increasing the numbers. Whatever she did, it was of no use at all because they are swamped with people and she knows that as well as I do. There is a breaking point and those men and women have reached it.

That is no good, however, to the people who are waiting so long for their money. There are two problems here. If the Department cannot make the assessment and pay the claim quickly, the community welfare officers must pay out supplementary welfare. Two systems are running in parallel unnecessarily. This is the same money so there is a need to streamline this system as soon as possible.

Apart from sickness, one of the worst things to befall a man or woman is when they lose their job. Not alone do they lose their dignity, they have problems paying back loans. They know they will be able to pay back money to the credit union on loans for furniture, televisions and other small items. However, if there is not enough money coming into a household, one can imagine the pressure caused by repayments. One can see why the illegal moneylenders become so welcome in such situations. These current economic conditions are heaven to the moneylenders. We will see them sprouting up like mushrooms all over the place in the next 12 months if no action is taken on repayment conditions.

This evening I saw the starkest figure I have ever seen in my long political life. Currently, 2,250 people are on Galway County Council’s housing waiting list when it usually is approximately 1,000. The astonishing aspect of this figure is that 500 people went on the waiting list in the past three months. These are the people who have had problems with job losses and receiving social welfare payments, many of whom will soon lose their homes.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I thank Deputy Enright for tabling this Private Members’ motion. This afternoon I learned of the imminent closure of Schering-Plough in Bray, County Wicklow, which will lead to the loss of 240 specialist jobs and add to the 10,000 people already unemployed in the county. With unemployment on the rise, we must examine how our social welfare and community support systems operate.

On 3 March, I put down a parliamentary question asking the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the various unemployment and training social welfare schemes are outdated in the current economic climate in view of the varied profiles of the people applying for State assistance. For example, the back to work allowance is designed to assist the long-term unemployed. It does not, however, define long term. The Minister’s reply concluded, “the qualifying conditions will continue to be monitored in the context of the objectives of the scheme and the changing economic circumstances”.

We cannot continue playing catch-up. Community welfare officers and social welfare inspectors have informed me they are dealing with many new social welfare recipients, profiles of whom they have never before encountered. Those at the coalface are sending recommendations to their head offices for further assistance, requests which are constantly declined. They are [76]trying to be creative in the current existing structures because they recognise the predicament faced by social welfare recipients.

Deputy Charles Flanagan recently raised the matter of 13 of the 15 State prisons being overcrowded. Last year, 276 people were jailed for failing to repay debt, serving an average of 20 days, which equates to two year’s servitude for a criminal. All of these people wanted to pay their debts but such a distinction has not been made. Many of them have been contributors to society, self-employed workers who now cannot get any assistance from the State as they are means-tested.

In the 1990s, there were start-your-own-business initiatives in which people could access seed capital. Now, no small business, even those which are relatively healthy, can get seed capital or credit. People who find themselves in such personal circumstances are being forced to cut into their savings and whittle them down to €20,000. In crude terms, that is not much more than what will bury someone these days. The cost of living is going down but the cost of dying is going up.

We cannot wait until next year to respond; we need to respond now. We need imaginative thinking to help these people who want to help themselves. Much of the responsibility for the current economic state of affairs lies with the Government.

Deputy Joe Carey:  The Private Members’ motion tabled by Deputy Enright offers an opportunity to reflect on the more human aspect of the perilous financial situation in which the country finds itself. It is an effort to provide practical support to people who are finding this period extremely difficult.

During the last significant recession in the 1980s, the critical issue was Ireland’s national debt which ultimately focused all minds on finding a solution. This time round, the factors are significantly different. Debt has in essence been transferred from the State to the citizen. Personal debt in the form of credit card repayments, car loans, personal loans, hire purchase agreements and mortgages comes to hundreds of billions of euro. The State, through its Government, must support its people to ultimately support itself.

Similarities in the treatment of customers can be drawn between how we purport to run our public service and what has happened with our banking system. Historically, a bank manager was a community’s counterbalance, between those that had money to lodge and those that required a loan. With the wisdom of Solomon, he adjudicated on what was put before him. The system worked reasonably well for nearly 200 years, with the odd hiccup on occasion.

However, in the past ten years, when an individual’s car loan or a mortgage was approved, it was packaged up with many others to be sent off to Wall Street, London or the Docklands Financial Services Centre where somebody bet on the person’s ability to pay the loan back. This dehumanising of the process has placed us in the current economic position in which we find ourselves.

With this in mind, it is only correct the Government should act by implementing this motion’s proposals in the redeployment of social welfare staff and the creation of legislation to address a matter that will become more prominent. As a matter of urgency the Government must reallocate social welfare staff. A Civil Service that is responsive to the needs of the people is required. It is not acceptable for families to have to wait up to 16 weeks for welfare payments because of a shortage in staff to deal with claims.

[77]More than 9,616 people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement, an increase of 134% over the number in receipt of this payment at the end of 2007, will become a time bomb for the Government. Young couples and individuals are stretched on 25, 30 or 35-year mortgages with repayments of up to €2000 a month. The loss of one job in such a household would have catastrophic consequences. Any reduction in salary places an enormous strain. Yet the new code on mortgage arrears does not sufficiently protect borrowers and fails to include any sanctions for breaches of the code. The moratorium agreed by the banks and the Government must be monitored carefully in light of disagreements between the parties on its length.

The introduction on the website of the Department of Social and Family Affairs reads, “Our mission is to promote a caring society through income and other support services, enabling active participation in society, promoting social inclusion and supporting families”. While such words are fine, it is the manner in which the mission is implemented that is key. The modest proposals in this motion would go some way towards addressing the imbalances people are experiencing in this regard.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

noting that the average processing time nationally for jobseeker’s benefit was three weeks in February and that the average for the jobseeker’s allowance was six weeks;

welcoming the provision of extra staff to social welfare local offices and the process improvement initiatives and other steps that have been taken to reduce delays;

acknowledging that jobseekers may get a supplementary welfare allowance from the community welfare officer while they are awaiting a decision on their claim;

recognising that the HSE is currently reviewing the allocation of staff engaged in the delivery of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme and associated income support payments in the context of the Government policy on public service manpower levels;

appreciating the importance of the mortgage interest supplement scheme in assisting mortgage holders and the provision of almost €30 million for that scheme in 2009;

welcoming the publication of the statutory code of conduct on mortgage arrears;

valuing the role of the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, in helping people to organise their debts and make arrangements with debtors and the Legal Aid Board in providing legal advice to people with debt problems;

recognising that 90% of callers to the MABS helpdesk get the assistance they need over the phone without having to make an appointment;

noting that the MABS is represented on the Legal Aid Board’s consultative panel and that the two organisations do and will work together;

further noting the commitment of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to continuing to review legislation including the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts 1926 and 1940 and the Bankruptcy Act 1988; and

[78]

recognising the review in the current Law Reform work programme on the examination on debt enforcement and securing interests over personal property; supports the Government’s determination to:

take further steps to reduce processing times in offices where they are much longer than the national average and to ensure that jobseekers receive financial and other supports as early as possible;

continue to publicise the supports that are available through the MABS and to encourage people to contact it early before their debt problems accumulate;

ensure that the MABS continues to play a vital role in negotiating with creditors on behalf of people with debts;

assert that civil debt is generally a matter best mediated between the two parties involved;

acknowledge that the current legislation includes safeguards that are there to ensure that imprisonment is a final resort and is invoked for breach of a court order or contempt of court; and

note that it is necessary in the interests of competitiveness and the rule of law that third parties can ultimately rely on the courts to ensure that contracts can be enforced.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Cyprian Brady and Deputy Dara Calleary.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  I thank Deputy Enright and all those who spoke tonight for their constructive comments on a serious issue. The motion is a comprehensive one that covers a wide range of issues and for that reason both I and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will speak in the debate. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will speak tomorrow evening to address some of the issues that relate to debt legislation.

We all acknowledge the extremely hard working staff we have in social welfare offices and community welfare offices throughout the country. I accept they are under pressure. That is primarily due to the pace of the change and the rate of increase that has placed great demands on them. Despite the additional staff that have been made available, the further staff that will be going into the offices and the improved processes that have been put in place I accept there are some offices where the waiting times are too long. We are working seriously with them to address the issue. In my local office in Dún Laoghaire, staff are coming in on Saturdays to make sure they are dealing with the backlog. That is happening throughout the country to try to give people their entitlements. It is a key concern for the Government.

Deputy Noonan inquired whether the budget is about jobs; it is. It is about protecting people in jobs and the people we are concerned about tonight to get them back into work, and in the meantime to support those people who have lost their jobs. As everybody knows, unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in the live register and tomorrow we will see a further increase. Year on year it is up more than 165,000 on the February figures, which is an increase of 87%.

[79]As has been stated, we are talking not just about the persons on the live register but their families, children, spouses, homes, and the debts they have accumulated. I assure people that right across all sectors within Government we are committed to doing our best to try to meet the needs of those people in recognition of their vulnerability. Staff are genuinely working flat out. We were fortunate in recent years that we did not have this type of problem, namely, people losing their jobs in such numbers. The staff have responded well and between the last quarter of 2007 and the final quarter of 2008 productivity of existing staff increased by 74%.

The Deputy inquired about the total number of posts that were allocated, including facilitators. A total of 266 extra staff have been allocated but of the 246 allocated to social welfare offices in recent months 223 of them are already in place and the rest will be assigned in the next couple of weeks. Various practices had to be adhered to that had been agreed with unions and it is important that we try to get through those practices quickly to facilitate the needs in the various offices. Of the 246 posts, 190 staff are being assigned to local offices, while 16 additional inspectors are being put in place in various locations around the country to undertake means testing and other work associated with the processing of jobseeker’s allowance claims. Inspectors and the investigation unit are also doing valuable work on control and fraud, which is a central part of ensuring the right people are getting the money. Members may have seen evidence of that especially in the cross-Border work we are doing.

Many local offices have reached capacity, or are close to reaching capacity, in terms of the number of staff that can be accommodated in them. Therefore, as was mentioned in the House recently, a number of central decisions units are being set up around the country. There will be four of these units initially, one in Townsend Street in Dublin city centre, one in Finglas, one in Sligo and one in Carrick-on-Shannon. A total of 40 of the additional staff are being assigned to the central decisions units. A further unit is planned for Roscommon and it is expected that additional units will be set up in other areas in the coming months. The great advantage of them is that they will simply be deciding offices. Staff there will go through the paperwork and be able to make speedy decisions.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Good. That is right.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  In addition to those 246 staff, the number of facilitators providing support for people who are unemployed has also been increased from 40 to 60. A question was asked about who would advise people about the back to education and back to work schemes. Again, we have seen significant increases in participation in the back to education scheme, which is important. We hope to see more of that. In accordance with Government policy, the majority of those posts were filled by the redeployment of existing civil servants, either within the Department or from other Departments.

Given the number of locations involved in administering jobseekers’ payments in the Department, the deployment of staff was complex and, in many cases, involved the lateral transfer of individuals from one location to another. However, that is being done as quickly as possible. We recognise that providing additional staff is only one element in dealing with the increased volume of claims. Therefore, a number of measures have been taken to date to improve claim processing procedures. These include the introduction of a streamlined process for people who had a claim in the previous two years; an improved procedure for claimants moving from jobseeker’s benefit to jobseeker’s allowance, which we plan to extend to all offices later this month — that should be completed by now; on-line availability of application forms for the jobseeker schemes; and the use of an appointment system for taking claims in some offices, which we intend to roll out to other areas over the coming months. That has worked very well. [80] People are given an appointment and come with all their documentation and a decision is made there and then for them. We are rolling that out to all our offices in the coming months.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Is much of that going on?

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  We operated it on a pilot basis initially in one of the offices to see how it would work and as it is working well we are spreading it throughout the country.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Very good.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  It protects the dignity of the person also if he or she is not left waiting.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  CWOs are able to do that everywhere.

Deputy Joe Carey:  Exactly.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  It is practical.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  Members will be aware that what happens in a social welfare office is that everybody turns up together on a Monday morning. They all turn up at 8 a.m. even though the office might not open until 9 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. People want to try to get on with their lives as best they can——

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  Why can they not schedule appointments?

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  ——and they are also people who are used to getting up and going to work so they tend to arrive before the offices are open. The streamlining process will help.

The average processing times for applications processed in February was three weeks for jobseeker’s benefit claims and six weeks for jobseeker’s allowance claims. That is the average nationally but, as I indicated, there are variations between offices. The length of time it takes to process claims varies and depends not only on the availability of staff in a given office but also on the complexity of the claim, the provision of the necessary documentation from the applicant or his or her employer and the need to carry out additional inquiries including assessment of means. That is why it takes longer to process jobseeker’s allowance claims. By providing extra staff and improving the processing of claims, we are trying to ensure that the process is as efficient as it can be. I accept that processing times are still too long in some areas but in many big offices the processing times are very quick and perhaps other offices can learn lessons from them. We will continue to take the necessary steps to improve the situation and we will keep matters under review.

Deputies paid tribute to community welfare officers. If people need support while they are awaiting a decision on their jobseeker’s payment they can apply for a supplementary welfare allowance, SWA. In the same way as social welfare staff are under pressure, the same is true of community welfare officers. The latter are still employed by the Health Service Executive even though they administer the scheme for the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Expenditure in that area is under our control. There has been a long drawn out process to bring over community welfare officers to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and I hope we can conclude the process as quickly as possible.

Deputy Michael Ring:  They need to work in their areas and not in Dublin.

[81]Deputy Mary Hanafin:  There is no question of that.

Deputy Michael Ring:  There is. There was talk of bringing the administration of medical cards from local areas to Dublin.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  I am sorry. I thought the Deputy was talking about bringing community welfare officers to Dublin.

Deputy Michael Ring:  No.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  The social welfare payments they make will all be kept at local bases also.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Do not centralise it.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  The payments are extensive. They include the basic weekly payments, rent and mortgage interest supplements, diet supplements, miscellaneous other supplements, exceptional needs payments, and urgent needs payments. Total expenditure on the supplementary welfare allowance scheme in 2008 was €882 million, which is a substantial amount of money. The Department funds the HSE on the basis of the proportion of the community welfare officer’s time that is spent administering SWA, as opposed to activities carried out for other organisations such as medical card assessments for the HSE or homeless services on behalf of local authorities.

The issue of increased demand on existing resources is a matter for the HSE in the first instance to prioritise workloads and redeploy resources where necessary so that front line services are maintained. My Department is working closely with the HSE to ensure effective delivery of services and any request by the HSE for an additional staffing allocation will be given due consideration. The question of any increase in expenditure for staffing within the community welfare service, above that currently provided, would have to be considered in the context of overall Government policy on public service manpower levels. In 2008, the Department paid the HSE €58.3 million in administration costs, which was used to fund 636 community welfare officer posts, 58 superintendent community welfare officer posts and 172 additional support staff.

As I mentioned earlier, recourse to the supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, is an important resource for people waiting for their jobseeker’s claim to be decided upon. A long processing time in some areas can lead to increased demand for the SWA. Extra staff have been assigned to the Department’s social welfare local offices and, hopefully, this will speed up the processing and relieve some of the pressure on the community welfare officers.

The motion before the House tonight also refers to the mortgage interest supplement scheme, which is designed to help those who run into difficulties with meeting their mortgage repayment schedule when their income drops significantly. There has been much mention of the loss of a job being the worst thing that could happen to somebody, but losing one’s home must come very close to that. The most recent figures indicate that approximately 11,000 people are in receipt of mortgage interest supplement, an increase of almost 7,000 over the number receiving payment at end 2007. This is a significant number. If Members feel we have not advertised this relief adequately, I will be happy to do that. Whenever I mention the relief in the media, I notice an increase in the uptake. People like to know it is there.

The provision for this demand-led scheme has increased from €12 million to almost €30 million and will continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis in light of the current economic [82]circumstances. The supplement assists with the interest portion of the mortgage repayments only, in respect of a house which is the person’s sole place of residence. The capital element of the repayment is not taken into account in calculating the amount of supplement payable as it is not considered appropriate that the Exchequer should repay part of the initial loan and thereby provide assistance towards the accumulation of a capital asset on the part of the individual concerned. The HSE must be satisfied that the loan agreement was entered into at a time when the person was in a position to meet the repayments.

The amount of the mortgage interest payable by the claimant must also not exceed such amount as the HSE considers reasonable to meet the claimant’s residential and other needs. In exceptional circumstances, the HSE may award a supplement where the amount of mortgage interest payable by a person exceeds such amount as the HSE considers reasonable to meet his or her residential and other needs. Such a supplement is payable for a maximum of 12 months from the date of the claim.

Mortgage interest supplements are normally calculated to ensure that a person, after the payment of mortgage interest, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to their family circumstances less a minimum contribution, of €18, which recipients are required to pay from their own resources. Many recipients pay more than €18 because they are also required, subject to income disregards, to contribute any additional assessable means that they have over and above the appropriate basic social welfare allowance rate towards their accommodation costs. The existing mortgage interest supplement assessment provides for a gradual withdrawal of payment as hours of employment or earnings increase. In recent years, improvements have been made to the means test to encourage eligible people to engage in employment without losing their entire mortgage interest supplement. Those availing of part-time employment — less than 30 hours a week — and-or training opportunities can continue to receive mortgage interest supplement subject to their satisfying the standard means assessment rules.

Since June 2007, where a person has additional income in excess of the standard weekly rate of supplementary welfare allowance, the first €75 of such additional income together with 25% of any additional income above €75 is disregarded for means assessment purposes. This ensures that those returning to work or participating in training schemes are better off as a result of taking up such an opportunity.

We appreciate that becoming unable to meet one’s mortgage payments is a hugely stressful situation. By helping with the interest part of the mortgage, this scheme significantly reduces the burden on people who would otherwise be likely to default on their mortgage. However, the advice is that in the first instance, people should negotiate with their lender or financial institution. Many of the mainstream banks are taking a reasonable approach in this regard.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  People need help to do that.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  This is in the context of looking for the mortgage interest supplement. If their mortgage repayments can be put on hold or renegotiated, that would also be a help. The mortgage interest supplement is something on which people can fall back. The scheme is being reviewed in order to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the maximum number of people possible.

We put forward suggestions as to what people should do with regard to their debt and that is the reason we have the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS. It is a wonderful operation and provides advice to people on how to cope with their debts. The number of visits [83]to MABS has increased significantly. The budget for MABS this year is €18 million. The service operates from 65 locations throughout the country and also offers a national telephone helpline. I urge Deputies to recommend this helpline to people they know in need of help because it is very efficient and is available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday. The service also has a website that can be accessed 24 hours a day.

In 2008, over 16,000 new clients approached MABS for assistance with debt difficulties and the telephone helpline dealt with almost 11,000 callers. Up to the end of February this year, 3,400 new clients approached the service and over 4,200 calls were received on the telephone helpline. Some 252 staff have been allocated to the MABS service, so that it can provide vital money advice and assistance services all over the country. Deputy Noonan made a valuable suggestion earlier about renegotiating mortgages and people with particular skills. I will see if I can accommodate that.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  We made that suggestion a month ago on Question Time. We need action on these matters.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  The Deputy was talking about employing people with particular skills to work with MABS. However, MABS people have particular expertise. They have worked and continue to work with the financial institutions. They have said that, unfortunately, some lenders — the ones most likely to take people to court — will not deal with MABS or anybody else. However, the more mainstream financial institutions are willing to talk to them and discuss the issue.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  That is the reason people are so vulnerable. They are very alone in such situations.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  Yes. The statutory code has it written into it that mortgage providers must recommend that people go to MABS. This is written in formally and will, hopefully, improve the situation. We put in that provision to ensure that those, almost sub-prime, lenders most likely to evict people would be obliged to negotiate with borrowers and MABS. As we know, people approaching MABS may have debt owed to a range of creditors, including banks and financial institutions, credit unions, electricity and gas companies, and moneylenders. MABS NDL, the national support company, works closely with the Financial Regulator and the Irish Bankers Federation to ensure that the best advice is available to people.

I already mentioned the statutory code and the advice MABS offers. It provides budgeting advice on setting up accounts with local credit unions. It does tremendous work for people with particular financial difficulties. The telephone helpline is particularly significant for people who need immediate advice. Over 90% of callers to the helpline find that their money management and budgeting issues can be resolved with the assistance of the helpline adviser. It is a great support to people to have somebody at the other end of the telephone line who is able to provide good advice. Some 10% of callers or more difficult cases are referred to the local MABS for appointment.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Perhaps the Government should ring the helpline.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  The Government is working very hard to meet all of our needs, but that is not easy.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  That would be phoning a friend.

[84]Deputy Mary Hanafin:  We all recognise the valuable work MABS does. Consulting MABS can be a very positive step for people and helps them overcome the difficulties they have in meeting and repaying their debt. MABS is also represented on the Legal Aid Board’s consultative panel and the two organisations work well together. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will deal with those issues tomorrow.

Tonight’s debate has demonstrated there is a genuine concern among all Members for those people who are losing their jobs and that we are willing to see how we can meet their needs. We are doing that through additional staff, more stream-lined processing and through ensuring that we meet their needs through social welfare, community welfare officers or MABS as far as possible.

Deputy Michael Ring:  The staff should be complimented on what they achieve under pressure.

  8 o’clock

Deputy Cyprian Brady:  As one of the Dublin eejits who worked in the employment exchanges back in the 1980s, at which time they were under severe pressure, I can appreciate the viewpoints on both sides of the counter. Those behind the counter have a particularly difficult job to do and are under severe pressure while those on the other side find going into an employment exchange in the first place traumatic, as the Minister stated. Everybody must accept in this crisis that every effort must be made to protect the most vulnerable in society. All sections of society must adapt and adjust as we proceed.

Over the past decade, we have managed to make improvements, particularly to our welfare system. We have managed to increase payments and improve the service provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The dramatic and rapid increase in claimants we have witnessed recently is probably unprecedented. Our population is growing continuously and immigrants came here to work when work was available. We had one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, if not in the world. These issues must be taken into account.

The Minister has alluded to the increase in the number on the live register. In February 2008, there were approximately 190,000 thereon but this number had increased by 165,000, or 87%, by the end of February 2009. This is an unprecedented and rapid increase. A welfare system must adjust and cannot just be changed over night. Staff, management and structures must adapt and the Department of Social and Family Affairs is probably one of the best Departments in this regard, particularly in terms of its use of technologies. This represents a significant change over recent years.

It is a highly traumatic experience for a person to have to sign on in an employment exchange after losing a job, which in many cases might have been held for the preceding ten or 15 years. The Department has, for some time, been trying to process such claims as efficiently and quickly as possible.

I remember when there were two or three main offices for signing on in the centre of Dublin. People had to travel to them from the suburbs. There are now local offices throughout the country providing a service. In many cases, they are connected with many other local services, not just those associated with the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

An increasing number will fall into arrears on loans and mortgage repayments. This side of the House has been conscious of this, particularly since the economic downturn. I understand discussions are under way and mandatory new rules — on mortgage mediation, for instance — will be introduced by the Government shortly to ease the fears of those who are afraid of [85]losing their homes. The new rules will affect all mortgage providers, including the sub-prime lenders, to which other Members have referred.

The system itself will have to adjust to the rapid increase in demand for social welfare. The staff of the Department of Social and Family Affairs are doing so but, unfortunately, those who must now avail of the services of the Department must do so also. There have been changes and we now face a different, challenging set of circumstances. We must ensure that those most in need are provided with the services they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Deputy Dara Calleary:  I acknowledge the progress set out in the Government’s amendment and the Minister’s input into making such progress, including by way of providing extra staff and resources to try to address the dramatic turnaround in the demand for welfare payments in the past 12 months. This turnaround was referred to by Deputy Cyprian Brady. I pay particular tribute to the staff in all the local offices who have had to deal with the matter head-on. In many cases, they will be able to manage the problem within their existing resources. They are at the coalface and deal with people who do not want to be in their offices. In the majority of cases, such people arrive at the offices in a shocked and embarrassed state. The staff deal with them and process their claims.

The staff at the Department of Social and Family Affairs lead the way in terms of their service and assistance to clients and Members of this House. I stated privately to the Minister that I appreciate the work of all the staff who man the Oireachtas helplines. If every Department’s Oireachtas helpline were as efficient and helpful, the number of questions in this House would be reduced greatly.

I am concerned about staffing arrangement in the Ballina office, as the Minister is aware. I have spoken to her about it and I ask that she look into the delay in appointing the extra staff. The Minister is continuing to hammer her colleague in the Office of Public Works with regard to the need for the new social welfare office in the town, which was never more needed than at present.

The Minister referred to the variations in response times from office to office nationally. The shortest period mentioned was three weeks and this needs to become the standard. At a time when people must sign on and receive payments, we need to provide some sort of income certainty to address the very real anxieties people face. In the context of the current partnership talks, the Minister should table, on behalf of the Government, a proposal to the unions to commit to achieving a minimum turnaround time for responding to claims. This is because people’s incomes and daily lives are being dealt with. People are not statistics and it is not a survey; it is real life in real situations. I ask that the unions become involved in reducing the turnaround time. If this means redeploying staff from other Departments, let it be done, and done quickly.

I, too, pay tribute to community welfare officers. Deputy Ring’s comment on ensuring they are local is hugely important. Local officers understand local circumstances and, more particularly, local personalities. They can see one coming a mile away and, in this economy, that is needed as much as anything else. This is why I want to put on record the centralisation of medical card processing to Dublin, in spite of its being the subject of a different debate. Nobody operating a computer understands a person. We need to retain the community welfare officer model at the level of medical card processing.

The Government’s commitment to dealing with debt issues was shown in the discussions with the banks, particularly in regard to the handling of the mortgage arrears problem. The [86]Minister referred to the supplementary allowances available for mortgage interest relief. There is much confusion over this and Members of the Oireachtas need to direct people further towards those allowances.

The work of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, is superb. We often end up doing its type of work in our offices. MABS is a success story of this economy and it suggests how something small can grow and respond in a very timely manner using technology to address real queries. We should all commit to promoting the work of MABS in our own newsletters and through our own publicity work. We should give the service a boost.

Over the next week as the Minister is addressing the issue of resources in her Department, she should note that many people were self-employed in recent years, be it in a trade or some other form of employment. They paid tax and PRSI and, in many cases, employed others and paid PRSI on their behalf. Those whom they employed, who may now be unemployed, are entitled to social welfare but their employers are not immediately entitled to it. They are stuck in a catch-22 situation and we need to assist them. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, with the Minister for Finance, should consider this even if it involves taking resources from another section of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, as it probably will.

Particular attention must be paid to credit card debt. Although we are concerned here with mortgages and personal debt, the issue of credit card debt merits study by MABS or the Department to determine how we can help people to pay it off. Interest rates on credit cards are crippling, yet the temptation to use the cards still exists. This is not the case with other forms of debt. I ask the Minister to consider this.

Deputy Róisín Shortall:  I will share time with Deputies Arthur Morgan and Mary Upton.

I commend Fine Gael on bringing this motion to the House. I agree with the majority of its proposals, and the Labour Party will support it in full in the vote tomorrow night.

Yet again, we find ourselves in here discussing long queues at social welfare offices. In recent days, the Department of Social and Family Affairs provided me with figures which showed an escalating problem with 27 welfare offices now having a waiting time of nine weeks or more for jobseeker's allowance applicants. Bandon, with a waiting time of 14 weeks, has the worst record in the country. Drogheda and Edenderry are next with waiting times of 13 weeks while Boyle, Castlepollard and Loughrea have waiting times of 12 weeks.

Last week, the Secretary General of the Department told the Committee of Public Accounts that the target waiting time was five weeks. This is not good enough. We are not discussing a reservation for a posh restaurant, we are talking about someone’s income. People need to know where they stand in order that they can adjust their household budgets accordingly. The actual position at present is that 63 welfare offices, more than half of the total, have average waiting times of more than five weeks. This is not acceptable.

I have examined these figures in detail. While the single biggest problem is the force of numbers turning up to sign on, there are also clear organisational difficulties. For instance, the rate of increase of numbers signing on is below average in Drogheda, yet this office has the second longest wait time in the country. By contrast, the number signing on at the Westport office has risen by 120% in a year, which is well above average, yet that office has a waiting time of just two weeks.

I am not convinced that the current system works at times of high demand or that there is enough flexibility generally within the public sector to deal with such problems. The problem [87]was evident at least six months ago, yet even the staff which the Minister has been able to secure are not yet in place. I implore the Minister to find the staff and to reduce the waiting times because people who have lost their jobs deserve nothing less.

I also want to speak about mortgages. I am particularly disappointed that the motion does not include a proposal on mortgage interest supplement because it is a very pressing issue. The boom-bust policies of Fianna Fáil did not just mess up our public finances, they have left a permanent hefty monthly bill for thousands of Irish homeowners. This has been largely overlooked by the media in recent months. It is fair to say that safeguards for mortgage holders have played second fiddle to safeguards for mortgage providers during the current financial crisis. It is long past time this imbalance was addressed.

The code of conduct on mortgage arrears is incredibly weak. The focus on delaying home repossessions instead of dealing with the debt issue itself is a major flaw. Very little protection remains for people struggling with their mortgages. At the Labour Party conference in Mullingar last weekend I called for several key commitments from the Government and the banks on mortgages.

There has to be a total overhaul of the mortgage interest supplement scheme. I am very concerned for the future of many families if the scheme is not changed soon. Most of the rules for this scheme were set down before the housing boom. They reflect a time when mortgages were much lower and were paid back with one wage rather than two. At present, if one of a couple works 30 or more hours a week, they do not qualify regardless of how high their mortgage is or how low their income may be. The figure of 30 hours seems to be arbitrary and it does not relate to the circumstances in which people find themselves. For many families, it means that where one partner has lost employment, the other must reduce his or her working hours or give up work altogether. Very often, this is the only way they can continue to meet the cost of their mortgage.

In recent weeks, I have had contact from dozens of newly unemployed people, such as painters, printers, plasterers, carpenters, builders and electricians, each with high mortgages and young families. I had to tell each and every one of them that they are better off on the dole and their partners are too. If the rules are not changed quickly, it is only a matter of time before people will be giving up their marriages instead of giving up their jobs in order that the family is not made homeless. There must be a better way.

The Government is the first to tell those struggling with debt that the worst thing one can do is to ignore the problem, yet this is exactly what the Government is doing in respect of the mounting crisis of private mortgage debt. There are at least four areas where the Government could make a difference. The Government should scrap the 30-hour rule that penalises people because they work. It should revise the means test for the supplement to ensure it does not act as a disincentive to work as it does at present. It should examine ways in which the State could revise the shared ownership scheme to help struggling home-owners to qualify, thereby allowing the State to take equity in the home which could be paid back over a more manageable timeframe and at a more manageable rate. The Government should get the banks, which have just received €7 billion in welfare payments themselves, to postpone interest payments for struggling mortgage holders for two years. It is in no one’s interest that family homes are repossessed, families are separated or workers are forced onto the live register. Yet these will be the consequences if the Government does not act quickly.

I also want to discuss those on fixed rate mortgages. For mortgage holders on a tracker mortgage, the cost of interest on their monthly payment has declined significantly, by approxi[88]mately 26%, in the past 12 months. This has helped somewhat to offset the pay cuts, extra taxes and extra levies with which people have been faced. It has also helped them to meet higher costs on items such as groceries, insurance, child care and GP fees which continue to increase. However, not everyone has been so lucky. Mortgage holders on a fixed-rate mortgage also have had to bear all these extra costs, cuts and charges, yet their monthly mortgage bill has not reduced. For most, there is a very hefty penalty if they try to switch. One constituent told me his bank is charging him €14,000 to switch from his 12-year fixed rate mortgage. It is time the banks played their part. It should be possible for the banks to offer a once-off penalty-free switch to a variable rate mortgage to existing customers or at least to reduce the penalty significantly. The Government should have made this a condition of financial support.

The motion also refers to the role of MABS. It already has a role in mortgage renegotiation and debt settlement, although this could be improved with more resources. I am concerned about the growth of for-profit intermediaries for people experiencing debt. I received an e-mail from one such intermediary last week, as I am sure other Members did also. It talks of doing all the things that MABS does but for a price. There is a delicate balance to be struck between allowing people the free choice of paying someone to handle their affairs and at the same time ensuring their obvious vulnerability is not exploited when a free State-supported service already exists.

I would like the Minister to arrange for the publication of the waiting times at each MABS office. Debt problems, by their very nature, require immediate attention and it encourages recourse to money-lending if people are turned off by long waiting times. Statistics on this would be helpful in identifying where extra resources are most required. They would also, I expect, promote greater efficiency in the overall service.

I welcome this motion which covers a wide range of issues which face those who have lost their jobs in recent times. When people experience the trauma of losing their jobs they are in a very vulnerable position. The least they should expect is that when they turn to the State for assistance, such assistance is available in a timely, professional and caring manner. Regrettably, due to the inadequate resources that are allocated to the area, that is not the situation at the moment. This area needs to be tackled immediately.

The issue of growing personal debt, which is just below the radar at the moment, will be a major problem in the future. The Government needs to take action to deal with it. I commend Fine Gael on bringing this issue to the floor of the House, and I confirm that the motion will receive the full support of the Labour Party.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I thank Deputy Shortall for sharing time with me, and I commend the Fine Gael Party on bringing forward this motion. I support almost everything in it. It is a very broad motion and it is unfortunate that we do not have more time to debate it in the House, because each one of those items could occupy a good three hours debate in its own right.

The tsunami of unemployment that is occurring across the land is well known to every single Member of this House. Members must deal with a significant number of representations about it. First, somebody must suffer the trauma of being made unemployed, whether it is through a call to the office in the factory or through written notification. I am sure the shock is the same, irrespective of how the news is conveyed. It was bad enough at any time to be told that one is being made unemployed, but to be told in the current economic climate is truly a shock to the [89]individuals and the families concerned. We all know that there is very little prospect of acquiring other employment, so the sentence is very severe.

The second trauma is trying to deal with the consequences of being made unemployed. One of the first consequences is to deal with the system and to get into the welfare office. I have been stopped on the street in Dundalk and Drogheda and asked for directions to the local social welfare office by natives of both towns. They never had any need for the office in the past, so they were never sure where it was. Another consequence of being made unemployed is the difficulty in meeting mortgage repayments and hold onto the family home. What about the car loan? The education of children is a financial challenge to any family. There are many schools that were involved in the book rental scheme, but I have been told by the management of a number of schools in my constituency that they are considering not running the book rental scheme any more due to the significant cutbacks to that scheme. It represented very poor vision on the part of the Government to cut back that scheme.

The next issue is school transport. When the fuel subsidy was cut back, the impact on families was absolutely huge. In some of my own constituents’ cases, their transport bill went from €300 to €800 over the academic year. That is an absolutely huge cost, and if there are several children in a household, then we know the impact that can have.

A person who has just been made unemployed has to experience entering a social welfare office. Very often, there is just a single hatch for new claimants, so the person will have to join the queue. I received a phone call last Friday from a constituent who was concerned because her son had been queuing for one hour and 35 minutes at a single hatch to sign on and was number 38 in the queue on a Friday afternoon. She felt this was grossly unfair because she and her children, two of whom are now signing on, had paid their taxes and felt they deserved better treatment than this. It was their first time in the office and they were in a lengthy queue. That is certainly evidence of trauma.

When a person gets to the hatch and gets his or her claim processed, the next step is when to get funding. It can take up to 12 or 16 weeks for this, which seems to be the average at the moment. Some offices are making better progress than that, but because people are not getting quick payment, they must go to the community welfare officer. My experience has been that when the documentation making the claim arrives on the deciding officer’s desk, minor matters can sometimes cause a huge delay. For example, people arriving at the hatch may not know that they should have some kind of photographic identification with them. They may not have utility bills, or other evidence required to satisfy the social welfare officers. These problems lead to more queuing and force people to come back another day and go around the circle again. My concern is that some deciding officers are really looking for any excuse to refuse the application. When that happens, as it does all too often, then the person is into the appeals system. Any poor crathur going into the appeals system is in serious trouble, because he or she will wait for months on end to get a decision.

I join with colleagues who sympathised with staff in the social welfare offices. I know a few of them personally, and there are times when they cannot get a break for a cup of tea. They are working through their breaks because they see the trauma in the faces of those in front of them. They are trying to work their way through this trauma, and I would describe that as grossly unfair. Community welfare officers have received no additional staff at all. That may be because they are hired by the HSE. We are all familiar with them and we all have had occasion to make representations to them. In many cases, these people also have to go out and hold clinics in other offices, which puts them under huge pressure.

[90]I commend the Money Advice and Budgeting Service on its work, which is absolutely brilliant. The service is grossly understaffed and is under huge pressure. The Minister spoke about 252 people, but I wonder was she referring to 252 additional people. One element of the work done by MABS relates to the banks. I must come to Dublin next Friday with a constituent to negotiate with a bank on her behalf, as she is in serious difficulty due to the economic situation. It is ludicrous that we must travel with constituents to help them negotiate with banks. Something needs to be done with these banks to ease pressure on householders, rather than getting into this mess whereby public representatives must negotiate on their behalf.

I would have loved time to talk about debt collection, which is also a serious issue. People are going to prison for failure to repay debt. We will see if Seánie Fitzpatrick and his friends will go to prison for their carry on, although I very much doubt it. However, there are people going to prison up for up to 20 days for very minor outstanding debts.

Debate adjourned.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment. Pathways, which is a high quality rehabilitation centre set up in Cavan many years ago, is now closed to all intents and purposes. Some three weeks ago I received two different calls from families in County Cavan who raised questions regarding the future of this very important unit. In both cases, they pointed out the tremendous benefit resulting from the use of the centre by the family member in question. In one case the family was very worried about what would happen to their loved one if, or when, he needed to attend Pathways again.

I subsequently contacted senior executives of the HSE and was advised that there was a short-term staffing problem, but that there was no question of the service being removed and that I would be advised of progress by the middle of the following week. Of course, this did not occur, but by Friday of last week two County Monaghan families and a further County Cavan family made contact with me. One of the County Monaghan families were near neighbours whom I have known all my life. I was alarmed at the information I received.

Again, I contacted the HSE to be advised that everything was okay, that the ward was not closed and that those patients who were not in the Pathways ward were receiving the same service as if they had been. On Saturday evening, I visited the Lisdarn unit for the elderly, adjacent to Pathways and found several of the Pathways patients and their immediate families there. I subsequently walked to the Pathways unit and found four of the long-term patients from the Lisdarn unit who were not receiving Pathways-type treatment, but had been moved into it such that it did not seem empty. This meant the HSE personnel were telling the truth and that Pathways was not closed.

I spoke to several of the families who had clients or patients in the Pathways unit before they were removed. They were very worried about their family member who had been receiving treatment. In one case, a person had been in the Pathways unit for four weeks before the service was removed and the family had seen a lack of progress or worse in the patient in the [91]two weeks subsequent and since he was no longer receiving Pathways-type treatment. The person in question is now in the Lisdarn unit. I emphasise that these individuals have no complaints regarding any of the nurses or staff in Lisdarn, other than the fact that they simply do not have enough personnel to give the necessary care and attention that patients in need of rehabilitation require and deserve.

In the past, treatment in the Pathways ward has allowed many people to return to their own homes needing little if any help. Other younger people recovering from accidents have been given a good future. The most worrying aspect of all is the failure of the HSE to plan for the staffing and retention of such a service in Cavan while, at the same time, promising publicly to restructure a brand new 25 bed ward in Monaghan General Hospital and to create a 13 bed rehabilitation unit there. If it cannot manage a six-bed rehabilitation centre in Cavan, it is hard to see it getting started in Monaghan.

The people of Cavan and Monaghan deserve at least the truth and some honesty. Above all, we deserve a service and Pathways is one of those excellent services which has given new life to many people. Physiotherapists and speech support staff are still in place and available. However, without the proper personnel and backup for these people, Pathways, as such, is gone. I am sick, sore and tired of being advised by HSE personnel that it will all be sorted out in a week or so. This is not the case. I have been there in person and I have seen at first hand the situation, which is of great concern. I have consistently seen people admitted to the Pathways unit in recent years who were not initially able to walk and who left the unit on their own steam. I saw a young man there who had been in a bad accident and who was brought back to life again despite no hope of his admittance to the rehabilitation centre in Dún Laoghaire. Pathways is the only alternative we have to the Dún Laoghaire service. Will the Minister of State please ensure this valuable service is not taken away from us? Enough has been taken away already and we deserve better.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, who cannot be here this evening. I thank Deputy Crawford for raising the matter and I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the provision of rehabilitation services at the Pathways rehabilitation unit, located on the grounds of the Lisdarn unit for the elderly in Cavan. The HSE has no plans to close the Pathways rehabilitation unit service. However, the HSE has advised the Department that a staffing deficit exists at the Pathways unit arising from several recent staff retirements. While this staffing issue is being addressed, and to ensure continuity of service provision, patients from the Pathways unit are being accommodated in the Lisdarn unit for the elderly, which is located within the same building.

These patients are availing of the same levels of intensive rehabilitation therapy within the Lisdarn unit as they had received prior to their relocation from the Pathways unit.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  That is not fair comment.

Deputy John Moloney:  This is the brief I have from the Department and I have to believe the brief I have been given.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I fully understand.

Deputy John Moloney:  Either way, the HSE is actively working to restore the staffing levels at the Pathways unit. In this regard a process of sourcing staff nurses is under way to address the current staffing deficit. As Deputy Crawford will be aware, the Pathways unit has been [92]playing a key role in providing an intensive rehabilitation service to patients from Cavan and Monaghan who are recovering from an episode of acute illness such as stroke, amputation, a road traffic accident or acquired brain injury.

Pathways has operated from the outset on a multi-disciplinary team basis with input from the medical, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy professions and ancillary care staff. The rehabilitation unit has evolved since it was established in 2000 and now treats patients between 18 and 95 years of age. The majority of patients have been discharged to the community following treatment. Feedback from patients has been very positive throughout the years.

The issue at the Pathways rehabilitation unit is one of a short-term staffing deficit arsing from a series of recent staff retirements. The HSE is actively engaged in a process of recruiting staff nurses with a view to restoring the service at the unit as soon as possible. I assure Deputy Crawford that the Government will continue to deliver its public health services, including rehabilitation services, in a way which delivers the best possible outcomes within the resources available.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Of all the various testimonies I have heard, none has been more moving than that of Orla Tinsley who has outlined the daily struggles of people with cystic fibrosis in Ireland. She has spoken of the issues they must weigh up such as when they know they must go into hospital, but are terrified of the cross infection they may encounter in our hospital system in Ireland.

It is unbelievable and incredible that the promise that there would be a dedicated unit in St. Vincent’s Hospital by 2010 has been reneged on. I realise the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, is not present but she must respond to the matter.

She must find a way to build a unit, as promised, to provide for people with cystic fibrosis.

We all know that Ireland has the world’s highest incidence of cystic fibrosis. It also has the worst type. However, we have the worst services among the developed world — Europe, North America and so on. This is incredible, given that it is a life and death situation. The units are necessary to give people the opportunity to be treated safely in isolation. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that the promise be kept.

When the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland heard about this decision today and that there was no definite information on it, the association cited a HSE spokesperson who stated before last week’s joint committee that no capital under the HSE capital plan would be made available for construction until 2011 at the earliest. Today, the HSE stated that the unit would be built in 2011. We need clarity. Will it be built in 2011 or is that in doubt? Will the Minister return to the promised date of 2010?

When this issue was highlighted in January of last year, people from the private sector offered to provide funding to build the unit, but they were refused because the Minister and the HSE had given an absolute commitment to have the unit built under the public system by 2010. That promise is being reneged on and the Minister, Deputy Harney, will ask the private sector. This is unacceptable.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is not the private sector’s responsibility to provide a public health service for CF sufferers, for whom this is a matter of life and death. In the strongest manner possible, I urge that the promise be fulfilled in 2010.

[93]Deputy Finian McGrath:  I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to raise the matter of the scandalous cutbacks in services for cystic fibrosis patients, particularly at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I call on the Government to stop this criminal cut, a term I do not use lightly. CF patients should not need to fight, protest or appear on radio shows to get their services. Some 1,135 CF patients need to be supported and the proposed 30-room national centre at St. Vincent’s Hospital forms a major part of the health strategy.

Some 300 patients use St. Vincent’s Hospital, approximately 10% of whom are regularly on-site. For this reason, the 30 beds are urgently required. I demand that the project be continued as a priority and I urge the Government to listen to CF patients and their families. I feel betrayed by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance, who promised months ago that the project would not be touched. They broke their word to me and to the CF families. They are now discussing private backers. Shame on them for this disgrace. The project, costed at €30 million, has already started and the plans are set to go. As well as saving CF patients, it would provide jobs in the construction sector, which comprises another aspect of the scandal.

I commend Dr. Charles Gallagher and the team at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I thank Orla Tinsley and every other CF patient for their dignity and bravery. I urge the Government not to turn its back on such great people. Last week in the Chamber, I tabled proposals on funding and taxation in support of the unit. A few cents on a pint would sort out the problem in the morning. It is time that the Minister and the Government got real, listened to the majority of people and taxpayers and funded this necessary service.

It is time for tough decisions. Real courage means standing up for CF patients. I also urge common sense and ask people to consider the future for the patients and their families. I pledge my support to all CF families and I will continue to fight for services. I urge the Government and the Minister of State to reconsider the cut and to support the funding of a 30-bed CF unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Deputy John Moloney:  I will be taking the Adjournment on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Harney, who is unfortunately unable to attend to respond. She has consistently emphasised the need to improve facilities and services for persons with cystic fibrosis. Some 48 additional staff, including consultant, nursing and allied health professionals, have been appointed across the hospital system in recent years to enhance the level of services provided for persons with CF.

St. Vincent’s Hospital is the national adult tertiary referral centre for patients with CF. A number of capital projects to improve the quality of accommodation have been completed at the hospital, including last year’s refurbishment of accommodation to provide eight single en suite rooms for the exclusive use of people with CF. The single rooms have improved the quality of service for people with CF. It is intended that the proposed 120-bed development will include dedicated facilities for such patients. These facilities will include appropriate isolation facilities. Design work and the preparation of tender documents continue in respect of the development. This is a significant capital project in the acute hospitals area.

The HSE draft capital plan for the 2009-13 period is the subject of consideration. The Minister has confirmed that she will discuss this matter and the overall capital plan with the HSE after the forthcoming budget on 7 April. At this point, she has stated that she will encourage innovative solutions to implement high priority projects so that services, including those for patients with CF, can continue to be developed.

[94]It is important to stress that a series of other developments that will improve the quality of service for CF patients are also in preparation. In the 2008 budget, a special allocation of €2.5 million in capital funding was provided to enable Beaumont Hospital to provide facilities for ambulatory care of people with CF. The project has now gone to tender. Patients with CF will also benefit from additional single room capacity in the new medical admissions unit at Beaumont Hospital, which is due for completion in the middle of this year.

The executive management board of Cork University Hospital has agreed in principle that new facilities for adult patients with CF are to be developed on its main campus. In the interim, plans are being advanced to provide for an interim day care facility, which will provide for dedicated day care space until the site development plan is scoped and developed.

Temple Street Children’s Hospital is developing a dedicated respiratory unit, which will be a self-contained floor for the ambulant care of CF and respiratory patients. This will include a new respiratory lab, treatment room, consulting rooms and walk-in access to clinical nurse specialists. This unit is due to open later this year.

The HSE’s expert advisory group on children and families produced a draft policy document on the implementation of a CF screening programme for newborns. A steering group will be established in 2009 to oversee the roll-out of the screening programme. An independent register for CF has been established. It is expected that preliminary data to inform analysis relating to median survival will be available by the third quarter 2009.

The Minister is conscious that further improvements are required, including the need to develop community outreach services to facilitate the treatment of patients outside a hospital setting where appropriate. Taken together, the planned developments represent a tangible improvement in the quality of services for people with CF.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Minister of State knows that his answer was not good enough.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  The Government should finish the job. Professor Drumm seems to have an attitude about it.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I thank the Chairman for selecting this matter for the Adjournment debate. While this matter relates to a small number of people in the west, draft net fishing has been a way of life, reared many families and helped families to educate their children, including at third level. It was their way to supplement social welfare incomes. In recent years, people feel that they have been under attack by the Department and other agencies. The Minister of State might relay to his counterpart the fact that few fishermen are affected.

I wish to discuss the cost of getting a licence. For an eight-week period and hoping that the weather is good and that one will be able to fish, a licence costs €545. A constituent presented at my clinic recently. He has a quota of 40 tags, which means that he is allowed to catch 40 fish. If he is lucky with the weather, he will do so. If the weather is bad, he will not get the chance. Given the licence fee, each tag costs €13.62. That does not provide one with an opportunity to make a few euro on the transaction. The fishermen tell me this is the dearest licence in the entire country and that draft net licences elsewhere are cheaper than in the west of Ireland. Why does the Government charge €545 to people in the west of Ireland; why does the same rate not apply nationwide?

[95]If the Government does not want to have draft net fishermen in Ireland, in the west of Ireland or in north County Mayo, I call on the Minister of State and on the Government to put in place a decent package. While I am open to correction in this regard, I believe that 116 people are involved in north Mayo. I assure the Minister of State that were a proper package put on the table, a significant percentage of them would take it. At present, they are being forced out of fishing by stealth. They are being forced out by the Government and by outside interests. This is unfair because fishing was a way of life in rural Ireland. Such people fought their landlords in the past to hold onto their fishing rights. At present, the new landlords, the Government, are taking away their rights and are not allowing them a living from this practice. They have been taken out by stealth through the overcharging of the licence, the shortening of the time period and by introducing quotas for them.

I ask the Government, through the Minister of State, to reduce the price of the licence. Second, the Minister should put on the table a decent package that would be of assistance. If the Government wishes such people to desist from this activity, putting such a package on the table would succeed in this regard. Third, I ask that the season be extended to provide the fishermen with an opportunity to use the quota available to them. As matters stand, draft net fishing is extremely difficult. One depends on the weather and the kind of summers one has, particularly in the west of Ireland. The last few summers have been extremely difficult with much flooding and the fishermen were unable to fish.

I hope the Minister of State will have good news for me. These fishermen believe they have no one to represent them or speak up for them. They consider this to be a way of life that is similar to cutting turf. This week, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, announced he would allow turf cutting for an additional year. Everyone knows this is because of the local and European elections, as well perhaps because of a certain treaty that is coming up at the end of the year. This is the reason these fishermen do not, and did not support Europe the last time, because they consider that EU and Irish legislation, as well as Irish landlords, namely, Ministers, are trying to take away their livelihood and their business by stealth.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Seán Power. Licence duties for commercial salmon fishing are set by statutory order made by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources under section 68 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, as amended. The most recent order increasing the licence fees, the Fisheries (Commercial Fishing Licences) (Alteration of Duties and Fees) Order 2007, SI 812 of 2007, was made in 2007 and was approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This order prescribes the licence fees payable in respect of salmon commercial fishing licences from January 2008. The order also prescribes the licence fees payable in respect of eel and oyster commercial fishing licences and salmon, eel and molluscan shellfish dealers’ licences issued or renewed for a period commencing on or after 1 January 2008.

These fees are uniform across all fisheries regions and I assure the Deputy that draft net licences are no more expensive in the west than in any other part of the country. Under the existing order, a draft net licence costs €398. It was decided not to increase the fees for any salmon fishing licences for 2009 and, accordingly, licence fees have remained static.

Certain waters around the country are designated as special tidal waters and draft net users are required to obtain a special draft net licence to fish these waters. I am advised that in the west under the Rivers Owenmore and Owenduff (Tidal Waters) Order 1967, SI 33 of 1967, the [96]tidal waters of Owenmore and Owenduff are so designated and therefore attract the licence fees applicable to special draft net licences. Section 74 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 provides that the licence duty to be fixed in respect of special local licences shall not be less than the licence duty payable in respect of ordinary licences. The licence fees payable in respect of special local licences are prescribed by the Special Tidal Waters (Special Local Licences) (Alteration of Duties) Order 2007, SI 795 of 2007. At present, a special draft net licence for the Owenduff and Owenmore costs €545.

The proceeds from the sale of licences contribute to the revenues of the central and regional fisheries boards, which are currently statutorily responsible for the conservation, management and development of inland fisheries in the State, including the fisheries to which licences apply. In 2007 the management of the wild salmon fishery was aligned with the scientific advice and fundamental changes were introduced regarding conservation and protection of the national wild salmon resource. As part of a suite of measures agreed by the Government, in line with the recommendations of the independent group on salmon, a salmon conservation component was applied to all salmon rod licences and commercial salmon fisheries licences from 2007. The salmon conservation component represents 50% of the licence fee. The revenue generated from the salmon conservation component is reinvested in salmon stock rehabilitation and habitat improvement and is ring-fenced and designated for the purpose of prioritised investment in such initiatives.

To ensure that the revenue generated by the salmon conservation component is used for its intended purpose, a ministerial direction, in accordance with section 18A of the Fisheries Act 1980, issued to the central and regional fisheries boards instructing that the Central Fisheries Board co-ordinate the preparation and implementation of a programme for the rehabilitation of salmon stocks, which will be funded by the proceeds of the salmon conservation component. The boards also were instructed to identify in each of their annual accounts the income generated as part of the salmon conservation component of the licence fee.

The fund is being managed by a committee comprising of scientists from the Central Fisheries Board and representatives from the regional fisheries boards, which receive project applications from the central and regional fisheries boards. Each project is assessed and scored based on the river’s conservation limit status, its special area of conservation status, its water quality and the maximum potential benefits to the river.

Deputy David Stanton:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle’s office for choosing this matter this evening, thereby allowing me to raise it. I thank the Minister of State for taking this debate. Unfortunately, his ministerial colleagues in the Department of Education and Science, which has one Minister and two Ministers of State, could not be present. However, the Minister of State who is present is most competent to take this issue.

I raise the issue of the gaelscoil in Midleton again, more than 12 months after doing so previously. Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann now is well established and is attended by 305 pupils at present. Attendance will increase to 340 and 370 pupils next year and the year after, respectively. The school is growing at an alarming rate and needs one new classroom every year. It operates out of a community centre, which ironically has developed through taking out loans on the strength of getting rent from the Department, which it has used to build permanent rooms onto the community centre.

[97]However, the community centre is not a suitable site and the town has lost its community centre as a result of the gaelscoil taking over the building. It has no playground as such, parking is inadequate and the school is spread out upstairs, downstairs and all over the place. Moreover, the school is set to grow even further. It is very popular and successful and, increasingly, parents are choosing this school, as is their right. More than 50 children are seeking to enrol in 2010 with a waiting list of 30.

Ironically, had the Department decided a number of years ago to build and fund a new school, the amount it has expended on rent over that period would have funded such a development and its pupils now would have a new school. This cockeyed policy of spending millions upon millions on rental accommodation does not make sense to me because sooner or later, the Department will be obliged to build a new school anyway. The community centre management is delighted because the centre now has many new rooms that ultimately will benefit the community. In the short term, however, the students are being short-changed. The Minister of State should revert to the Department of Education and Science to reconsider this school. The school itself considers itself to be abandoned and has little contact with the Department. It has a band rating that I contend is not suitable to its needs.

  9 o’clock

The population in the area is growing at a significant rate and this is an urgent need. Building a new school would provide much needed employment in the area, particularly to the construction industry. That should be part of policies across the House. Instead of allocating money to renting prefabs, let us build new, solid schools for the education of our children. I hope the Minister of State has positive news for me, not a cut and paste version of what I got 12 months ago or a cut and paste version of answers to parliamentary questions I tabled during the year. This seems to happen more and more. I hope the Minister of State will take the message back to the Department that we must start planning for a new gaelscoil in Mainistir na Corann as soon as possible.

Deputy John Moloney:  I apologise that the senior Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, cannot be present to respond.

Deputy David Stanton:  Nor his deputies.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am a Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, with responsibility for special education. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline the strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position of Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann.

Modernising facilities in the existing building stock, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge and is one of the priorities of the Minister for Education and Science. The allocation of funding for school buildings in 2009 is €653 million. This represents a significant investment in the schools building and modernisation programme. This level of funding, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the Government’s commitment to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Science. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need based on the demographics of an area, the proposed housing developments, the condition of buildings and site capacity etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution.

[98]Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann currently has 305 pupils and staffing of a principal plus ten mainstream teachers, one developing post, two full-time learning support teachers and one shared learning support teacher. The school has submitted an application for permanent accommodation and this project has been given a band rating of 1.1 for a new school in a developing area which is the highest priority that can be assigned.

In 2007, a developer proposed transferring a site to the Department. Departmental officials carried out a technical examination of the site and subsequently wrote to the developer requesting contract documents. The Department is continuing to liaise with the developer on the proposed site transfer and has recently requested an update from the developer as to the status of the original offer. In the interim, the Department has sanctioned the rental of temporary premises and accommodation in Midleton Community Centre in order for the school to operate.

Regarding the school’s immediate accommodation needs for September 2009, the Department has recently written directly to the school approving funding, in principle, for additional accommodation. However, the Department has requested clarification of certain terms and conditions in the school’s proposal. The Department will continue to work with the school on this.

Progression of a project to provide permanent accommodation for this school will be considered in the context of overall primary level provision in the Midleton area and in the context of the multi-annual school building programme. However, it is not possible to progress all projects at the same time. In light of current demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project. I thank Deputy Stanton for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position of Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 April 2009.

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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 9, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 10 to 33, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 34 to 40, inclusive, answered orally.

  41.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if capital funding will be made available to public nursing homes to enable them to upgrade their facilities to meet the new Health Information and Quality Authority residential care standards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13147/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  The Deputy will be aware that my colleague the Minister for Health and Children recently approved the national standards for all residential care settings for older people under section 10 (2) of the Health Act, 2007. The approval has been conveyed to the Health Information and Quality Authority and the standards were launched earlier this month. Under the 2007 Act statutory responsibility is given to the Chief Inspector of Social Services for inspecting and registering all residential centres for older people. It is intended to have the relevant parts of the Act commenced on 1 July, 2009 to allow the Chief Inspector inspect all centres against the regulations governing these centres together with the standards set by HIQA.

Standard 25 addresses the physical environment for all types of residential centres. A distinction is made between existing facilities and new builds. The standards provide a six year period for existing builds, whether public, private or voluntary to meet certain infrastructural deficits, for example with regard to room sizes, the number of residents per room and usable floor space. While the Chief Inspector has some discretion to extend this timeframe this can only occur where the provider and the Chief Inspector agree a written, explicit, costed plan with timescales to address these deficits. The Executive is developing an Action Plan to prioritise a phased programme of refurbishment and replacement of existing public nursing homes to meet the new standards.

  42.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the VHI has acquired its reserve fund, as obliged under EU competition; if it is regulated by the Financial Regulator in time for the revised deadline of 31 March 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13117/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Act, 2008 placed an obligation the VHI to have accumulated sufficient capital by 31 December 2008 to allow the company to submit an application to the Financial Regulator for authorisation as an insurance undertaking. When the Act was passed it appeared that the company would be in a position to satisfy the Regulator’s solvency requirements. Accordingly the VHI submitted its application in June 2008.

As part of the application process the VHI was required to submit detailed financial projections for a number of years encompassing a robust business plan and sufficient capital. Obviously certain key assumptions would have been made by the company in preparing the projections submitted to the Regulator. One of these was that it would receive the transfers due under the 2003 Risk Equalisation Scheme. These transfers would include the amounts likely to be paid in the period covered by the projections as well as transfers due for the period from the activation of the scheme. The transfers had not been made pending the Supreme Court’s decision on BUPA’s appeal against the High Court finding upholding the validity of the Risk Equalisation Scheme. In the event the Supreme Court upheld BUPA’s appeal and found the scheme to be ultra vires.

On 19 November 2008 the Government announced that it would be introducing a series of interim measures in support of community rating pending the introduction of a new risk equalisation scheme. These involve the granting of additional age related tax reliefs which are financed by a levy charged on health insurance companies. The measures are set out in the Health Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2008 published last December. The interim scheme was notified to the European Commission in November as a potential state aid. Assuming a positive response from the Commission I expect to introduce the Second Stage immediately after the Easter recess.

Following enactment of the envisaged arrangements, I would hope that VHI will be in a position to satisfy the Regulator that it has a sufficiently robust business plan and the required capital to meet the authorisation requirements. Given the older age profile of VHI’s customers I expect the company to be a net beneficiary under the interim scheme. Having regard to the timeframe for passing the Bill and any other measures necessary to ensure VHI is in a position to pursue its application, an Order setting a new deadline of 1st September 2009 is being prepared. The Government remains committed to having the VHI authorised as soon as possible and I have asked the Board to proceed accordingly and to explore all the options available to it under the VHI Acts.

  43.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her plans to introduce a Health Service Executive voluntary redundancy programme have been abandoned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13149/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  If the best possible services are to be delivered within available resources, pay costs have to be contained and reduced. The Government has already introduced the pension-related deduction for the public service in the context of the need to stabilise the public finances and achieve expenditure adjustments. In [101]addition, the Government has recently announced the implementation of a moratorium on recruitment and promotions in the public service. Arrangements have been modulated in relation to the education and health sectors to reflect the particular service needs in these sectors. In particular, there will be flexibility to allow for the continued development of integrated health care, particularly primary and community care, care of the elderly and people with disabilities. Further measures and the role of a voluntary redundancy/early retirement scheme will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget.

  44.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to reduce the State drugs bill through the use of generic medicines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13132/09]

  51.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether there are potential savings of up to €350 million a year through the use of branded generic drugs throughout the health service; if so, the way these savings might best be achieved; and the obstacles that are in place, whether legislative or otherwise, in this regard. [13023/09]

  70.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if it is her policy to encourage the use of generic drugs; the action that is being taken to implement this policy; and if she has further proposals in this regard. [13022/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 44, 51 and 70 together.

The use of a proprietary drug or a generic equivalent is a matter for the prescriber, in consultation with the patient. Both my Department and the HSE support the increased use of generics where this is appropriate. Prescription drugs can be classified into four groups: proprietary drugs which have a generic equivalent, proprietary drugs which do not have a generic equivalent, branded generics and unbranded generics. In 2007 about a quarter of all drugs dispensed to medical card holders were proprietary drugs with generic equivalents, at a total cost of approximately €150 million.

Since the introduction of revised agreements in 2006 with IPHA, the pharmaceutical manufacturers, the price of every proprietary drug with a generic equivalent on the Irish market was reduced by 35% (20% from 1st March 2007 and 18% from 1st January 2009). Price reductions have been applied to approximately 600 products to date. These reductions have eroded the difference in price between proprietary and generic products in Ireland. Analysis by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, based on the volume and cost of drugs dispensed in 2003, estimated potential savings from generic substitution in the range of €15 million to €21 million. This was based on an average price differential between proprietary drugs and the lowest cost generic equivalents of 21.6%.

The HSE currently estimates that, following the 35% reduction in the price of patent-expired brand leaders, there is now a differential of approximately 10% between off-patent proprietary and generic products. Based on a total cost of €150 million for proprietary items on the GMS that have generic equivalents, this suggests that approximately €15 million in savings could be made if there were to be full substitution. Greater savings would, of course, arise if the price of generic products were to be reduced. The NCPE will carry out a detailed analysis of the current position as soon as the data for January of this year, the first month for which the second part of the IPHA price reduction came into effect, becomes available.

[102]The report submitted to me in December 2008 by the group chaired by Dr Michael Barry recommended, amongst other things, that GPs should be encouraged and facilitated to prescribe generic products. An implementation group has since been established to identify and oversee the introduction of specific measures that will deliver more cost effective prescribing by GPs.

  45.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will review the illnesses covered by the long-term illness scheme; if she will include Huntington’s disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13077/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There are currently no plans to extend the list of eligible conditions covered by the Long Term Illness Scheme, which was introduced on a statutory basis in 1971. Under the Drugs Payment Scheme, which was introduced in 1999, no individual or family unit pays more than €100 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines. In addition, people who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In the assessment process, the Health Service Executive can take into account medical costs incurred by an individual or a family. Those who are not eligible for a medical card may still be able to avail of a GP visit card, which covers the cost of general practice consultations.

  46.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of income declaration forms received by the Health Service Executive regarding the over 70 years medical card; the sanctions the HSE will impose on people who have not declared they are above the income threshold; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13125/09]

  53.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has asked the Health Service Executive for the number of over 70s medical cards either returned to the HSE or cancelled by the HSE as a consequence of the Health Act 2008; the number of such cards returned or cancelled to date; and the cost incurred in the communication of the new eligibility criteria by post to all relevant medical card holders. [13097/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 53 together.

Following enactment of the Health Act 2008, the Health Service Executive (HSE) wrote to all medical card holders aged 70 years and over in January 2009. Persons who were in receipt of a medical card on a non means tested basis were requested, if over the income limits set out in the Act, to make a declaration to the Executive, on or before the 2nd March 2009. The HSE reports the cost of postage, stationary, etc. for this exercise as some €224,000. This forms part of an ongoing data quality exercise which is budget neutral. To-date, 19,445 medical cards for persons aged 70 and over have been returned or removed from the medical card register.

Under the new arrangements, a much simplified system of assessment for eligibility was introduced in respect of persons aged 70 and over, based on gross income rather than net income, as applies otherwise for means-testing of eligibility for medical cards. The simplified approach taken for persons aged 70 and over who held a medical card prior to 31st December 2008 is close to a self-assessment system. In introducing the measures, I emphasised my belief [103]in the honesty and integrity of the vast majority of older persons in our society. There are measures in the legislation that allow for the sharing of data between State agencies and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to allow the HSE to verify in any particular case if the person has income, as declared, under the gross income limit.

Long-standing provisions of the Health Act 1970, as amended, continue to apply. For instance, under Section 49(1) there is a requirement for a person to notify the HSE of any change in his/her circumstances which would render him/her ineligible for services. In addition, under Section 50, when a person has obtained a service and it is later ascertained that he/she was not entitled to the service, the HSE may charge the individual for any services provided to him/her for the period for which he/she had no entitlement. Failure to notify the HSE or the use of a service one is not entitled to is an offence on summary conviction.

  47.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the latest figures for persons in receipt of medical cards and general practitioner only cards; the number of cards issued to date in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13072/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Details of the number of medical card holders and GP visit card holders are provided to my Department each month by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The figures are provided on a net basis, showing the balance after new cards have been issued and other cards, as appropriate, have been deleted from the Executive’s database, e.g. following a review of a person’s circumstances. The most recent figures provided to my Department by the HSE are for February 2009. The total number of medical card holders on 28th February 2009 was 1,365,242 and the total number of GP visit card holders on that date was 86,442. The net number of additional cards between 1st January 2009 and 28th February 2009 was 13,122 medical cards and 896 GP visit cards.

  48.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of new consultants appointed to date in 2009; the number of such posts that have been advertised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13084/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Service Executive (HSE) approved a total of 283 medical consultant posts from April to December 2008. Of these, 156 are new posts and 127 are replacement posts. The Executive has approved a further 43 posts to date in 2009: 27 of these are new posts and 16 are replacement posts. The Public Appointments Service provides recruitment, assessment and selection services for the HSE National Hospitals Office. The Public Appointments Service advertised 195 (194.5 wte) consultant posts for the National Hospitals Office between April 2008 and March 2009. A total of 48 consultants have been appointed, and 34 consultants have taken up post since April 2008: 27 in 2009 and seven in 2008. A further 14 consultants have been issued with contracts with start dates after 26 March 2009.

The creation and funding of further consultant posts will be driven by service priorities, as reflected in the HSE’s Annual Service Plan, and the policy of achieving a better balance between the numbers of consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors. There is to be a significant reduction in the number of Non Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) employed in each of the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. This would generate savings that would be used to fund the recruitment of additional consultants. Government policy is to have a consultant delivered, rather than a consultant-led service. The new contract is designed to support this and, as in many areas of our health services, service improvements will depend to a much greater extent on mobilising and re-configuring existing resources than on additional funds.

  49.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the details of the people who are regarded as having full eligibility to repayment of long stay charges under the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006; if her Department has conducted research into the number eligible for repayments under this scheme and the potential cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13095/09]

  67.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the deadlines which have been set for the repayment of charges to persons or estates of persons under the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006; the number of claims received under the repayment scheme; the number approved for payment; the number which have been paid to date; the number pending; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13096/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 67 together.

The Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006 provides the framework for the repayment of recoverable health charges to those who were incorrectly charged for publicly funded long stay care. The Act only provides for prescribed repayments to be made in respect of recoverable health charges. Recoverable health charges are charges for in-patient services, imposed on persons with full eligibility, under the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 1976, as amended, and the Institutional Assistance Regulations 1954. For the purpose of the Scheme both medical card holders and those entitled to medical cards are deemed to be persons with full eligibility.

The estates of all those fully eligible persons who were incorrectly charged and who died since 9 December 1998 are eligible for repayment under the scheme provided a valid application form was submitted prior to the closing date. It is anticipated that of the 35,000 applications received under the scheme, approximately 14,200 applications will be rejected and the remaining 20,800 valid applications will result in repayments with a potential cost of approximately €414m. Over 33,400 or 95% of applications have been concluded to date. Almost 19,900 offers of repayment totalling more than €392m have issued and, within this, 16,800 repayments have been completed to the value of €370m. There are in the region of 1,500 claims remaining to be concluded and it is anticipated that the vast majority of these remaining claims will be processed by the end of April.

  50.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the way it is proposed to protect vulnerable children at weekends in the absence of social work cover; if she will ensure that such cover is provided for those children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13060/09]

  78.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the staffing levels for the provision of an after office hours social care and worker service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13088/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 78 together.

The Government and the HSE remain committed to the development of a comprehensive needs-based service for children at risk. I personally chair regular meetings between officials from my Office and senior child welfare and protection managers in the HSE aimed at improv[105]ing the provision of services to children at risk. A key component of these discussions has been the provision of out of hours care. In this context, the HSE is now putting in place a standardised national system whereby Gardaí can access an appropriate place of safety for children found to be at risk out of hours under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. This service will conform with Child Care Regulations and with the National Foster Care Standards. The provision of this service aims to ensure that children presenting as ‘at risk’ outside of normal working hours are provided with an appropriate emergency place of safety thereby reducing or eliminating social admissions of children in an acute hospital setting. Foster families are currently being recruited with a view to commencing the service on or before 1 June 2009.

In addition, and instead of developing a stand alone social work out of hours service, it has been agreed to develop alternative proposals based on a more integrated approach which builds on the HSE’s existing out of hours services including GPs, acute hospital services and mental health services. This should provide a more effective and integrated service by using existing resources and strengthening the links between services such as mental health and social work to appropriately address incidents occurring outside usual working hours. The aim is to ensure that persons seeking personal social services outside normal working hours can be provided with appropriate advice, information, support and, in emergency situations, access to specialist staff, such as staff working in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 44.

  52.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether in the current economic climate pay increases for consultants can be justified; if she will review this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13101/09]

  227.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if it is proposed to revisit the hospital consultants contract; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13332/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 227 together.

The new consultants’ contract does not represent a pay increase for consultants for doing the same work. Instead it entails a fundamentally different way of working that involves clinicians in the management and leadership of the acute hospital system. The contract ensures clinicians are involved in the management of budgets and that there is one-for-all access to outpatient and ambulatory diagnostic services in our publicly-funded acute hospital system.

The new arrangement is fundamental to the reform of the hospital system. In particular, it involves consultants working more as part of a team, with longer days and more structured cover at weekends. We have sought changes in the contract for almost 30 years and the changes which will happen are significant. The 85% of consultants who have signed on for this new contract will have their public-private mix measured for the first time. This is a fundamental and radical change to the current contract of employment that exists in our hospitals. Last December I indicated that I was not prepared to sanction salary increases for consultants who signed up to the new contract until I was satisfied that the reformed work practices were being implemented and there was a demonstrable benefit to the public health system. The HSE has since undertaken a verification exercise the results of which show that the majority of consultants are demonstrably engaged in the implementation of new work practices.

[106]In the light of the HSE’s findings, I am committed to commencing payment of the new contract rates from 1 January 2009. However, since the start of the year, our country’s fiscal circumstances have deteriorated rapidly and very seriously. The Government is now formulating far-reaching, comprehensive and integrated measures for a Supplementary Budget to deal with this situation. The intention is to pay the new contract rates and issues may arise in this regard that will be addressed in the context of the budget. However, I intend that this contract will be honoured because it is fundamental to changing the manner in which our public hospitals operate. Without this change, we will not see improved access for public patients.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 46.

  54.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason 1,200 children and adults in Cork, Limerick and Kerry have been recalled for a review of their hearing tests dating as far back as 2001; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13163/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  In 2008, concerns were raised about the practice of a Paediatric Audiological Scientist who had worked primarily in Cork from 2001 to 2007. A detailed investigation of these concerns was undertaken and 1,231 former clients of the Audiology Service are being recalled for precautionary check-up appointments as part of a Look Back Review. The recall appointments commenced on 18th March and they will be completed within 12 weeks.

  55.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to centralise the administration of medical card applications; the way this will affect the assessment of people whose income exceeds the guidelines but who have a case to be considered on medical or hardship grounds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13092/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Under the Health Service Executive’s 2009 Service Plan it has been agreed that the processing of medical card applications will be centralised and will transfer to the Executive’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service in Dublin. The change is being implemented on a phased basis and is designed to deliver a better and more cost effective service. Under the new arrangements, the HSE will be aiming for a turnaround time of 15 days or less for all medical card applications. Emergency applications will be dealt with immediately with a card issuing within 24 hours. There will be no effect on the assessment of people whose income exceeds the income guidelines but have a case to be considered on medical or hardship grounds.

Local Health Offices will continue to provide advice and necessary supports to people applying for medical cards. They will also deal with queries of a general nature about the medical card scheme and, along with the HSE National Helpline (1850 24 1850), will handle enquiries from clients in respect of their medical card entitlements. The new arrangements will also deliver significant efficiencies by making greater use of shared services for both internal administration and direct service delivery. This is a good example of the type of innovation signalled in the Transforming Public Services Programme announced by the Taoiseach last November. It demonstrates how the HSE can deliver improved services within the more limited resources available in a way which meets the needs of citizens in a modern society.

  56.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the front-line services that will be affected due to the Health Service Executive funding shortfall of €1 billion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13176/09]

  62.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the areas of the health budget expected to be affected arising from proposed budgetary reviews; the areas of services to the public likely to be restricted; the number of people to be so affected; the measures specifically identified to cater for those with particularly sensitive needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13099/09]

  223.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the mechanisms in place in her Department to monitor the effects of spending cutbacks on the delivery of health care services to patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13328/09]

  239.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the extent, if known, of financial cutbacks applicable or expected to be applied by her Department in 2009; the areas expected to be most affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13459/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 56, 62, 223 and 239 together.

The HSE and my Department have had intensive discussions regarding the Executive’s financial position following the publication of its end January figures. At the time the HSE was projecting a shortfall in its budget of €1.1bn. This figures included a projected shortfall of €300m in health contributions. Following the discussions and based upon end February figures, the potential additional financial exposure is now estimated at approximately €480m including a shortfall of €100m in health contributions. The Department of Finance has now revised its estimated figure for the shortfall in health contributions to €160m.

Earlier this month I wrote to the HSE regarding the emerging position. I indicated that under the circumstances that the HSE should focus on the measures required to be implemented to deliver the services set out in the Service Plan within the allocation that will be given to it following the most recent government decisions on public expenditure. The HSE has already agreed measures amounting to €133m and was asked to further examine how it could achieve another €72m in savings. I have indicated to the HSE that any additional Exchequer funding to meet projected extra costs associated with the Long Stay Repayment Scheme, income from health contributions and a larger than anticipated increase in medical card numbers, as a result of increased unemployment, will have to be considered in the context of the Government’s decisions to ensure the stabilisation and sustainability of the public finances, due to be finalised in early April.

The Board of the HSE met yesterday to further consider its financial position. I understand a revised Service Plan will be submitted to me within the next 5 days which will include proposals to save the further €72m. I will consider the proposals contained in the revised Service Plan when it is submitted for my approval in accordance with the Health Act 2004.

  57.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the new long stay beds for older people planned for 2009; the locations of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13093/09]

[108]

  84.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position in terms of step-down beds being made available in the major urban centres in order that patients in acute hospitals who are ready to be discharged to such beds can be transferred relieving pressure on the accident and emergency departments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13070/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 84 together.

The provision of services for older people is a priority for Government. A commitment has been made to provide 860 additional public long-stay beds for older people under the Fast-Track Initiative and these are in the process of being put in place. By the end of 2008, 273 additional beds had been provided under the Public Fast-Track Initiative. A further 704 additional beds and 506 replacement beds will become operational during 2009. This includes beds being provided under the Capital Plan and beds being provided under the Fast-Track Initiative. These beds will be located throughout the country as follows: Planned Capacity

Region Additional Beds Replacement Beds
DML 182 188
DNE 173 67
South 301 207
West 48 44
Total 704 506

Pending the provision of permanent capacity as outlined above, the HSE has provided for 235 additional contract beds to alleviate delayed discharges pressure on the acute hospital system. As of 13th March, 220 of these beds had been filled. As the permanent capacity comes on stream, these contract beds will be phased out to ensure that overall provision remains in line with resources. The breakdown of these beds is as follows:

Region No. of Beds
DML 75
DNE 90
South 60
West 10
Total 235

Finally, many people leaving acute hospitals do not require long-term care but may instead need a short period of convalescent or respite care.

Very significant residential respite care continues to be provided in public community nursing units (including community hospitals/long stay residential units) across the country. There are over 700 designated respite care beds provided nationally in these units. It is estimated that approximately 19,000 people benefit over the course of a full year — based on an average length of stay of 2 weeks per person. Public Residential Respite Care Beds by Area — November 2008

Area Number of Residential Respite Care Beds Estimated numbers benefiting per annum*
DML 218 5,668
DNE 166 4,316
South 203 5,278
West 151 3,926
Total 738 19,188

This is a very significant resource which is relied upon by carers across the country and which will continue to be developed as additional public bed capacity is provided.

  58.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made in reducing the waiting lists and times for rheumatology; the number of patients on waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13064/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I recognise that we need to strengthen rheumatology services, particularly by improving waiting times for rheumatology appointments. I am anxious to see improvements implemented as quickly as possible. The HSE’s provisional waiting list figures for February 2009 indicate that there are just over 3,000 patients on waiting lists across all hospitals of whom over 70% are waiting for less than one year.

The HSE is taking steps to improve the situation. Since the publication in 2005 of a report by the former Comhairle na nOspidéal, the HSE has appointed a number of additional consultant rheumatologists. Two new posts were created in the Midlands and North West areas and a third additional post of Paediatric Rheumatologist was filled in Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin in 2006. The HSE intends to appoint two Rheumatologists in the Mid West to provide services in Ennis and Nenagh as part of the process of reconfiguration of acute services. It is intended to create two further Consultant Rheumatology posts in 2009 one each in the South and the North East.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) has also been working to reduce Rheumatology waiting lists. Since the Fund’s outpatient programme commenced, a total of 1,970 people have been facilitated with outpatient Rheumatology appointments and further such appointments will be facilitated in 2009. In 2006, the HSE established a working group in association with Arthritis Ireland, to examine how rheumatology services could be improved. A report based on the Group’s work is in the final stages of editing at present prior to presentation to the HSE Board and publication.

In relation to waiting times generally, the HSE is working across all medical specialties to ensure that best practice in ensuring prompt access to a hospital outpatient appointment is implemented. Measures will include setting targets for waiting times, ensuring that hospitals validate waiting lists, addressing the issue of persons who fail to attend for appointments and scrutinising new-to-return ratios to maximise the capacity available for new patients to be assessed. The HSE will also seek, particularly in the area of rheumatology and other chronic disease management processes, to exploit the multi-disciplinary skills available including specialist nursing and allied health professionals in both secondary and primary care. This is [110]considered to have the potential to release acute care capacity to improve access times for new patients.

  59.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the action that will be taken on foot of the report (details supplied) to reduce the State drugs bill; if the Health Service Executive has restricted access to oral nutritional supplements for those eligible for the medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13138/09]

  69.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she plans to withdraw any drugs, medicines or supplements from community drugs schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13143/09]

  201.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the details of all instructions issued to general practitioners to limit access, reduce prescribing rates, or withdraw certain drugs, medicines and nutritional supports provided by State drugs schemes, including a list of all drugs, medicines or supplements affected; the estimated cost savings to be achieved from each of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12950/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59, 69 and 201 together.

The HSE has not withdrawn any products that comply with the existing reimbursement criteria from the community drugs schemes. All patients continue to have access to prescribed drugs and medicines as required. Reimbursement decisions are made with regard to a range of criteria. These include clinical, pharmacoeconomic, patient safety and legal issues, as well as value for money. A number of reimbursement areas are currently under review by the HSE and any reimbursement decisions following those reviews will be made with regard to the existing criteria.

Ensuring value for money in the State’s expenditure on drugs and medicines is a priority for both my Department and the HSE. In October last year I established a group, chaired by Dr Michael Barry of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, to develop recommendations for good practice which will ensure safe and effective prescribing for patients while maximising the potential for economy in the use of public funds. An implementation group has since been established to identify and oversee the introduction of specific measures that will deliver more cost effective prescribing by GPs. The group is expected to finish its work by the end of May 2009.

One of the issues identified by the group was the wastage of oral nutritional products. Clinical nutritional products cost the HSE €46 million a year, over €27 million of which is spent on oral nutritional products. The types of oral nutritional supplements most commonly prescribed in the community are ready-made drinks called ‘sip feeds’. Audits suggest that up to 50% of prescribed oral nutritional supplements may not be consumed by patients. The HSE are taking steps to reduce the wastage and inappropriate prescribing of these products while ensuring that patients can access them as required. A support pack with prescribing protocols has been distributed to all GPs. HSE dieticians are also developing a training package to support the implementation of the new protocols as well as establishing linkages with primary care teams. I have asked the HSE to forward to the Deputies the support pack with prescribing protocols for their information.

[111]The HSE has also established an internal working group comprising of clinical, commercial and pharmaceutical expertise to review the usage of clinical nutrition products and the introduction of procurement arrangements where appropriate to determine cost effective reimbursement prices for agreed non-drug items.

  60.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the funding being made available to the rape crisis centres nationally; the percentage increases per centre from 2008 to 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13075/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  61.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the estimated full cost per year for the roll-out of bowel screening; when the national bowel screening programme will commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13108/09]

  176.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the estimated full cost per year of the roll-out of bowel screening; when the national bowel screening programme will commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13414/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 176 together.

The Expert Group on Colorectal Screening was established by the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) to study the medical and scientific evidence concerning screening for colorectal cancer and to make recommendations to the Board of the NCSS about the potential benefits of introducing a population-based screening programme for this condition in Ireland. In December 2008, I received the Final Report of the Expert Group. The Report indicated that there would be substantial capital and revenue costs associated with such a programme.

The NCSS has also requested the Health Information and Quality Authority to conduct a Health Technology Assessment on a colorectal screening programme. This is an important element of the overall assessment process. I expect this to be completed shortly, at which stage I will be in a position to give further consideration to the introduction of a colorectal screening programme and the resources that would be necessary for this.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 56.

  63.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of the co-location hospital plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13165/09]

  79.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will continue to support the proposed construction of private hospitals on State lands; the position in respect of these proposed co-located hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13086/09]

  225.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her Department has carried out a re-evaluation of the private for-profit hospital co-location scheme in view of the economic recession; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13330/09]

[112]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 63, 79 and 225 together.

The co-location initiative is a complex process but it is an efficient means of delivering extra bed capacity. Significant progress has been made in advancing the individual projects involved. The Board of the HSE has approved preferred bidder status for the development of co-located hospitals at Beaumont, Cork University, the Mid-Western Regional Limerick, St. James’s, Waterford Regional and Sligo General Hospitals. Project Agreements for the Beaumont, Cork, Limerick and St James’s projects have been signed. Planning permission was granted by An Bord Pleanála for the Beaumont project late last year. Planning permission for the Cork and Limerick projects has been granted by the local authorities concerned and appealed in each case to An Bord Pleanála. The preparatory work required to make the planning application for the St James’s project is underway.

The necessary preparatory work for the Project Agreements in respect of Waterford Regional Hospital and Sligo General Hospital is proceeding. Two further projects are at an earlier stage of the procurement process. A tender in respect of Connolly Hospital has been received by the HSE and is under consideration. Work is being undertaken on the drafting of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) for Tallaght Hospital.

It is a matter for each successful bidder to arrange its finance under the terms of the relevant Project Agreement. It is certainly the case that the funding environment has changed significantly in the last number of months, and this has affected both the public and private sectors. The co-location initiative, like other major projects, has to deal with the new situation. The successful bidders are working on the details of contractual terms with banks and other arrangers of finance. The HSE is continuing to work with the successful bidders to provide whatever assistance it can to help them advance the projects. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to carry out an independent review of the co location initiative following completion of the current programme of developments. Having regard to this commitment, my Department will make the necessary arrangements for a review in due course.

  64.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made in reducing the level of alcohol advertising associated with community and sporting events nationwide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13061/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  Strengthened codes on advertising and sponsorship, which were developed between the Department of Health and Children and representatives of the Irish drinks industry and the Irish advertising industry, came into effect on 1 July last year. Under these Codes the Irish alcohol industry may not sponsor any sporting competitions, leagues, events or competitors where such events are designated specifically for participants under 18 years of age. In the selection of a sponsored event the overall objective is to ensure that all alcohol drinks sponsored events are planned and executed in such a manner as to adhere to the relevant codes, regulations and legislation. In addition, Government has agreed to the establishment of a Working Group to examine the question of the sponsorship of sporting events by the alcohol industry with a view to phasing it out. The first meeting of the Working Group, which will be chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, is expected to take place in late April, 2009.

  65.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of [113]specialist consultants per county treating persons suffering from diabetes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13073/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  66.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will reconsider her decision to suspend the roll-out of the cervical cancer vaccination programme for 12 year old girls; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13105/09]

  93.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will reconsider the decision not to introduce a programme of vaccination against cervical cancer as agreed in the programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13080/09]

  175.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will reconsider her decision to suspend the roll-out of the cervical cancer vaccination programme for 12 year old girls; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13413/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 93 and 175 together.

All of the clinical advice available to me indicates that the national roll-out of a cervical screening programme should take precedence over the introduction of a HPV vaccination programme. The National Cervical Screening Programme, CervicalCheck, is being implemented at a full year cost of €42m. I am fully committed to keeping the introduction of a HPV vaccination programme under active review.

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 49.

  68.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will protect the budgets for community care in order that elderly and disabled persons currently receiving a reasonable level of home help or home care will not be adversely affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13089/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  Government policy in relation to older people is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Where this is not an option, the health service supports access as appropriate to quality long term residential care. Additional funding of just over €200 million was provided to develop community services and supports for older people over the period 2006-8.

The Home Help Sevice, delivered by or on behalf of the Health Service Executive (HSE), is a community initiative enabling people who otherwise might need to be cared for in long-term residential care to remain at home. The current level of investment by the Executive indicates:

around €210 million revenue funding annually (including additional funding of €55 made available over 2006-8).

over 54,000 people benefiting on average each year.

[114]approaching 12 million Home Helps hours to be delivered nationally in 2009.

Home Care Packages are a relatively new initiative developed over the past few years across the country. A package comprises a number of community-based services and supports, provided in a way to best meet the needs of an older person. The person will have significant medical, nursing and/or therapy requirements and may be recently discharged from hospital, or at-risk of admission to hospital, if such needs are not met in a planned way. Developments in Home Care Packages over 2006-8 include:

a total of €120m development funding to establish the initiative.

over 4,600 packages were provided by the HSE in 2008, with around 8,700 people benefiting at any one time, or over 11,000 people benefiting during the course of last year.

In addition to the wide range of other supports available to older people, such as Day/Respite services and Meals-on-Wheels, it is clear that the Government has made considerable improvements in recent years to enhance Home Care provision generally across the country. There is no doubt that demand can at times exceed resources. However, it is a matter for the HSE to deliver services both nationally and locally, in the context of Government priorities and its overall resources, while at the same time taking account of the need to maximise services to the most vulnerable in our society.

Question No. 69 answered with Question No. 59.

Question No. 70 answered with Question No. 44.

  71.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients currently receiving IVF treatment through the Health Service Executive; the average cost involved per patient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13091/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  72.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that a new inter-country adoption arrangement will be concluded between Ireland and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in order that there will be no gap between the expiry of the present arrangement and the introduction of the new one; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12818/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Adoption Bill, 2009, which will give force of law to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption, was published on 23 January, 2009. Under the new legislation, prospective adoptive parents will be able to adopt from countries that have also ratified the Hague Convention, and from countries with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement that meets Hague standards.

While it is true to say that our current Agreement with Vietnam is based on Hague principles, as part of the preparations for our new legislation, we need to ensure that our Agreement [115]reflects the Hague Convention as comprehensively as possible. A new Agreement allows the opportunity to elaborate and strengthen some existing provisions to meet the standards that will, it is anticipated, be set in draft legislation. There have been considerable developments in inter-country adoption in Vietnam since the Agreement was signed 5 years ago. This progress also needs to be reflected in any new Agreement.

In December, 2008, the Irish Government issued a formal request to the Vietnamese Authorities stating that we wish to enter into discussions immediately for the purpose of negotiating a new Agreement to follow on from the existing Agreement — which will expire on 1 May, 2009. The Vietnamese Authorities have responded positively to Ireland’s request. Ireland offered to provide the Vietnamese Authorities with the text of a Draft Agreement as a basis for negotiations. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that a Draft Bilateral Agreement for Inter-country Adoption was delivered on 6 March, 2009, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, to the Vietnamese Authorities for their consideration.

I would like to again reiterate my personal commitment, and the commitment of the Government, to conclude an agreement with Vietnam and, in this regard, a letter accompanying the Draft Agreement advised the Vietnamese Government of our willingness to travel to discuss the draft at the earliest opportunity. As the Deputy will be aware, it is important to recognise that Ireland has a long and positive relationship with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and, also, to emphasise the need to respect the authority of that jurisdiction, having regard to the sensitive nature of discussions regarding inter-country adoption.

The work to prepare for and advise the Government on this issue, and the implementation of the Government’s decisions, is being given the highest priority. These are complex matters that require careful consideration. At all times, the Minister and the Government, and officials advising them, are guided by the need to respect and protect the best interests and rights of the child.

  73.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason the review of adult critical care services completed in January 2008, that identifies the need for 100 additional intensive care beds, has not been published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13153/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The report referred to by the Deputy has only been completed recently, and not in January 2008. The HSE is currently examining the report and its implications in the context of many competing and challenging priorities.

  74.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of laboratories that will be cut and the staff reduction from same under recently announced plans to rationalise medical laboratory services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13156/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The implementation of the recently published review of Laboratory Medicine Services will bring about a significant restructuring of existing laboratory services. Large cold laboratories will be established to provide quality cost efficient laboratory services to primary and community care and some non-urgent testing from acute hospitals. All hospitals with Emergency Services, Critical Care Services or Maternity Services will continue to have on-site laboratories.

[116]A Laboratory Services Steering Group, chaired by the National Director of Commercial and Support Services of the Health Service Executive, is currently being established to implement the plan. Engagement with the relevant stakeholders has commenced. The number of laboratories required, and associated staff, will be determined by the work of this group and therefore it would be premature to make any estimates at this time regarding the envisaged number of staff and laboratories required.

  75.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the development of the new national children’s hospital, that is estimated to cost in the region of €1 billion, in view of the state of the public finances; the reason the completion date for the new hospital has been delayed until 2014; if this development as currently proposed is still a priority for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13115/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Government is committed to proceeding with the development of the new national paediatric hospital as a priority project. The new hospital will be located beside the adult hospital on the Mater campus. The development will also include an associated Ambulatory and Urgent Care Centre at Tallaght which is to open in advance of the main hospital. The project is being overseen by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board which was established in May, 2007. The HSE is working closely with the Board in progressing the project. The development of the hospital involves a number of phases. The planning, design and construction phases are scheduled for completion in 2013. The equipping and commissioning phases, which will allow the hospital to become operational, are scheduled for completion in 2014.

A detailed design brief for the new hospital is currently being prepared. This will be converted into an exemplar design, outlining the exact dimensions, standards and specifications for the new hospital, to allow the project proceed to tender for construction. A more comprehensive estimate of all costs will be available at that stage. However, current indications are that the project cost will be substantially less than the original estimate.

  76.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has sanctioned the Health Service Executive advising HSE and medical nursing personnel that legally consent is only needed from one parent with parental responsibility for a medical examination or treatment to be provided to a child; her views on whether there is a difficulty in this area in the context of parents being joint guardians of their children; and if it is intended to enact more specific and detailed legislation to remove all ambiguity and difficulties that can arise. [13010/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The issue of medical consent required for the treatment of children is not governed by any specific piece of legislation. What is required in a given situation falls to be determined on the basis of the facts of an individual case. In medical emergencies, for example, urgent treatment may be provided to a child in the absence of express consents where it is necessary to save the life of the child. The age of the child is also relevant with this issue being provided for in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 for children over 16 years.

I have contacted the Health Service Executive in this regard and I understand that the Executive has developed guidelines entitled “Procedure for obtaining consent for non emer[117]gency treatment/services from parents of children and young people under the age of 18 years”. These guidelines give the necessary clarity in relation to this matter. I understand from the HSE that these guidelines will be available on the HSE website in the near future. If the Deputy is aware of any particular case where the issue of medical consent needs to be clarified then the individual concerned should contact his/her Local Health Office in this regard. The legal framework for guardianship is set out in the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964. Any proposed amendment to this Act is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  77.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will direct the Health Service Executive to measure accident and emergency waiting time from the time of arrival, rather than the time a decision has been made to admit a patient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13169/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  In its National Service Plan 2009, the HSE has set a lower waiting time target of 6 hours for all patients attending Emergency Departments. The aim is that all patients, irrespective of whether they are admitted or not, will be assessed, treated and discharged or admitted within 6 hours of arrival at an ED. Up to now, the focus has been on waiting times for those awaiting admission. The new target will apply to all ED patients, and will be measured from the time they register at the ED.

The HSE is developing a measurement system to collect this information. A Project Group has been established by the HSE to determine the necessary clinical dataset definitions, to establish the technical requirements to enable the collection of the data, and to implement the collection of the data across the acute hospital system. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of the second quarter of 2009. In the interim, a sampling system of waiting times at selected time periods each day will be used in Emergency Departments until all hospitals can report using the new system.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 50.

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 63.

  80.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the dependence on methadone treatment to address problems of drug addiction; if policy changes are planned in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13066/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  While the treatment of opiate dependence is complex, methadone maintenance is recognised as an appropriate treatment in the context of an integrated response to this condition. Methadone treatment is currently available and no changes are anticipated in regard to its continued provision.

  81.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made in designating and implementing modern hygiene practices in hospitals in order to reduce and eradicate MRSA; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13082/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Achieving and maintaining the highest possible standards of hygiene in our hospitals and healthcare facilities generally is a [118]priority for this government and for the Health Service Executive (HSE). Hygiene and infection control measures are key to the prevention of the spread of Health Care Associated Infections (HCAIs), including MRSA. In March 2007, the HSE launched a National Infection Control Action Plan. An Infection Control Steering Group is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the plan. Over the period of the Plan the HSE aims to reduce HCAIs by 20%, MRSA infection by 30% and antibiotic consumption by 20%. The Steering Group is supported by eight Local Implementation Teams which will ensure that all local facilities are focused on achieving the national targets.

HIQA, since its establishment in 2007, has also taken significant steps in this area. A core function of the Authority is to set standards on safety and quality of health services and to monitor enforcement of those standards in an open and transparent way. In 2007, HIQA developed National Hygiene Standards and commenced a programme of audit against these Standards. The Authority undertook a comprehensive inspection and review of hygiene in our acute public hospitals in 2007 and again in 2008. The reports represent a thorough assessment of how hygiene services are provided and managed in HSE-funded acute care hospitals. HIQA noted that the standard on front line services which was already very high in 2007 had been maintained in 2008 and that corporate governance was significantly improved.

In 2008 HIQA developed National Standards for the Prevention and Control of Healthcare Associated Infections to provide an overall framework for health and social care providers to prevent or minimise the occurrence of health care associated infections in order to maximise the safety and quality of care delivered to all service users in Ireland. These Standards go far beyond hygiene and include all the key areas of importance in the control of HCAIs namely governance, hygiene, microbiological services, antimicrobial resistance and surveillance systems. The Standards are currently being examined in my Department and I expect them to be submitted to me for formal approval in the near future. When approved the HSE will produce a timetabled Action Plan for their implementation.

There has already been a significant decrease in MRSA cases in 2007 over 2006 from 589 (2006) to 533 (2007) and a further decrease in the first nine months of 2008 to 342 as compared to 432 for the same period in 2007. Data for the last quarter of 2008 will be published this week. Initial indications show that the reduction in MRSA rates has been sustained. In an extrapolation of data on public acute hospitals only it was found for the 12 month period from October 2007 to September 2008 when compared to the calendar 12 months of 2006, for the same hospitals, that there has been a 25% reduction in the rate of cases of MRSA (from 575 cases to 430 cases). I am satisfied that significant steps have been and continue to be taken to reduce the rates of HCAIs generally and to treat them promptly when they occur.

  82.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the waiting periods and number of children seeking speech therapy in each Health Service Executive region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13065/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  83.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the action she will take to address the general practitioner manpower crisis to ensure that primary care can con[119]tinue to deliver a same day service into the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13175/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The determinants of the demand for GPs are diverse and include matters such as population growth, aging and health status of the population, the development of new technologies, the geographic distribution of doctors, the overall status of the economy, fees, policy initiatives, etc. There are twelve GP Specialist Training Programmes (GPTPs) currently in operation in the State which are all of four years duration — two years spent in hospital posts (SHO), under supervision of hospital consultants, and two years in an approved general practice at registrar level, under the supervision of a general practice trainer. The Health Service Executive (HSE) has agreed to fund 120 GP training places in 2009.

The HSE is working closely with the Irish Medical Organisation on GP Workforce Planning and a joint working group to examine this area has been established in this regard. In addition, an extensive mapping exercise has been undertaken by the HSE and a number of measures in relation to maintaining and increasing GP numbers have been identified and are currently being progressed. These include the following:

On-going engagement with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Medical Council in relation to increasing the number of GP training places within available resources and exploring alternative models of GP training.

Active management in each Local Health Office to encourage GP assistantship and partnership in relation to upcoming retirements where such doctors could potentially take over from the retiring GPs.

Recruitment drives in the UK and EU countries to attract qualified GPs to apply for available posts in Ireland, particularly regions experiencing difficulties attracting GPs.

Issuing of new GMS numbers in regions urgently requiring additional GPs. This is being undertaken in accordance with the established consultation process with the Irish Medical Organisation.

Continued expansion of Primary Care Teams and Primary Care Centres so that GPs applying for posts are attracted to high quality, well supported posts in suitable premises. To date, 107 teams have been established with an additional 103 teams planned for development by year end. In relation to the securing of accommodation for teams, the HSE Board has approved 90 locations to date as part of a new initiative to provide 200 primary care centres. This involves the HSE entering into fixed term leases with private providers. The programme aims to have all sites identified by the middle of this year, with a target of 80 to open by the end of 2010 and the full complement to open by 2011.

In addition to the above, research has been undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs on behalf of the Joint Department of Health and Children / HSE Working Group on Workforce Planning. This research, conducted by FÁS on behalf of the Expert Group, analysed the labour market for 12 healthcare occupations, including GPs. The research, which is expected to be finalised in a few months, will help determine future GP workforce planning and training needs.

Question No. 84 answered with Question No. 57.

  85.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has received a decision from the European Commission with regard to the new health insurance levy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13122/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The levy and additional age related tax relief scheme was notified to the Commission in November as a potential State aid. These measures are set out in the Health Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2008 published last December. I expect the Commission to give its decision in April. Assuming a positive response from the Commission I hope to introduce the Second Stage immediately after the Easter recess.

  86.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether the new charge levied against nursing home beds for inspection far exceeds the cost of conducting inspections and that this levy is instead a stealth tax aimed at gathering revenue for the deteriorating Exchequer finances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13129/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  It is important to have effective mechanisms to maintain and enhance public confidence in the delivery of quality residential care. Residents, their families and the public need to be reassured that HIQA (an independent inspectorate) will be monitoring the care people receive. It is important therefore to have an effective, robust, independent and properly resourced inspection regime for residential services for older people.

Under the 2007 Act statutory responsibility is given to the Chief Inspector of Social Services for inspecting and registering residential services for children, older people and people with disabilities. Following analysis of the types of centres, numbers of places, etc. it was a decided to set a registration fee of €500, payable every 3 years by each nursing home together with an annual fee of €190 per place in each registered centre. It is estimated that this will generate a minimum income of about €4.5 million which would cover the minimum annual additional funding required without putting an excessive burden on smaller residential units. The fees as calculated covers staff costs only; non-pay costs such as accommodation and equipment, are coming from the overall HIQA budget. It is further estimated that the fee will represent an average weekly cost of €3.73 per registered place.

Question No. 87 answered with Question No. 39.

  88.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of chiropodists employed by the Health Service Executive per county; the waiting times for elderly people wishing to avail of this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13074/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Almost 130,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Governments ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in [121]order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  89.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the funding provided for the expansion of the home birth service in the Dublin area will be protected in 2009; the plans to provide such a service in other parts of the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13069/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Home birth services for women classified medically as being “low risk” are provided as an outreach from hospital service or through self employed community midwives on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding agreed with the Health Service Executive. This national framework facilitates the provision of home birth services for low risk women in areas where an appropriate clinical governance framework can be established to enable a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed. Where this is possible, self employed community midwives are paid for the service by the Health Service Executive. It is open to any suitably qualified self employed community midwife to apply to the Health Service Executive for a Memorandum of Understanding. The provision of this service is limited by the number of midwives willing to practice as self employed midwives and who are in a position to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. The ability of hospital based services to provide for outreach services on a 24 hour basis also has a bearing on the operation of such services.

  90.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of funding spent on nursing home subvention per county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13062/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply. I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  91.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the waiting times for orthodontic treatment for children under 16 years of age in each Health Service Executive region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13063/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  92.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the juvenile residential facilities for substance abuse available here; her plans to improve these services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7684/09]

[122]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 66.

  94.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the steps taken to ensure that all hospitals, including practices and procedures therein, are brought up to the standard of excellence in accordance with best international practice; the degree to which it is intended to take steps to bring same about in the short to medium term; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13098/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The achievement of the highest standards of patient care is at the heart of Government policy on the delivery of public hospital services. Patient safety has become both a national and international imperative in recent years, with increasing emphasis across the world on patient safety in policy reform, legislative changes and development of standards of care driven by quality improvement initiatives. The Government places great importance on the policies and practical reforms we are implementing to ensure patient safety and quality-assured health services. In the hospital system this objective is being addressed in a number of ways.

Work is underway in a number of regions to reconfigure hospital services. This process involves concentrating the more complex cases in a smaller number of more specialised hospitals. Importantly, it also involves developing smaller hospitals to provide a much greater proportion of less complex care, especially in day surgery, medicine and diagnostics. The HSE is currently progressing the appointment of Clinical Directors, whose principal roles will be to deploy and manage consultants and other resources, plan how services are delivered, contribute to the process of strategic planning and influence and respond to organisational priorities.

The HSE’s 2009 National Service Plan includes a significantly enhanced suite of performance measures which include a number of targets, for example to increase the proportion of a given group of surgical procedures performed on a day basis, developed and agreed with reference to international best practice. These performance measures will be further developed for 2010 and subsequent years. The HSE has also recently published for the first time comprehensive information from its HealthStat system showing how 29 teaching, regional and general hospitals are performing against national and international targets. This information is designed to support continuous improvement and also allows for greater openness and transparency in relation to health services.

In 2007, I established the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) as part of the Health Reform Programme. A core function of HIQA is to set standards on safety and quality of health services and to monitor enforcement of those standards in an open and transparent way. HIQA has already developed National Quality Standards in areas such as Symptomatic Breast Disease Standards, National Hygiene Standards and National Standards for Infection Prevention and Control. Work has also commenced on the development of National Quality Standards for acute hospitals in the public acute hospital sector. These Standards conform to best international practice and compliance will be monitored by the Authority. HIQA also has power to conduct investigations into specific matters where there is cause for concern and three such investigations have been conducted to date. Recommendations for improvements in service standards and systems contained in the reports of these investigations are implemented by the HSE.

[123]I also established the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance in January 2007 and it reported to me in July 2008. The Government recently accepted the Commission’s report and approved the commencement of work on the drawing up of legislation to give effect to its central recommendation on the licensing of both public and private healthcare providers. The Government also supported the immediate establishment of a Steering Group, chaired by the Chief Medical Officer in my Department, to drive implementation of the report’s recommendations. I expect to be in a position to announce the composition of that Group shortly. Work has already commenced in my Department on devising a plan for the implementation of the 134 recommendations in the Patient Safety Commission Report over the next two to three years.

There has also been considerable progress made in recent years in reforming the regulation of health professionals in Ireland. Legislation providing for the establishment of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council was enacted in 2005. The Pharmacy Act 2007 and the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 provided for new, modern systems of regulation for Pharmacists and Medical Practitioners. New legislation is in preparation for the reform of the regulation of Nurses and Midwives, while the regulation of Dentists will also be reviewed.

Part 11 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, once commenced, will place duties and responsibilities on individual medical practitioners, their employers and the Medical Council regarding the maintenance of professional competence of medical practitioners. Preparations are ongoing for the implementation of these provisions, which will be commenced in due course. I believe that all of these measures are contributing to an improvement in the standard of health services being delivered by our hospitals.

  95.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made to reduce the waiting lists for patients waiting to access dermatology services; the number currently waiting; the time period involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13090/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  96.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of people treated under the National Treatment Purchase Fund; the amount to date spent on administering this fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13078/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The allocations to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) in each year since 2002 are as follows:- 2002: €5m; 2003: €30m.; 2004: €44m.; 2005: €64m.; 2006: €78m.; 2007: €91.75m.; 2008: €104.64m.; 2009: €100.350m. In each year to date, 95% to 96% of NTPF funding has been spent on direct patient care. The balance relates to the administration of the scheme with 2% to 2.5% of this relating to expenditure on wages and salaries.

At the end of February 2009, over 140,000 public patients had been facilitated by the NTPF with either in-patient procedures or out-patient appointments. A significant reduction in the number of people waiting for surgical procedures has been achieved over the years, from 7.4 per 1,000 population in 2002 to 4.3 per 1,000 in 2008. The NTPF will continue in 2009 to arrange in-patient and out-patient care for persons on hospital waiting lists. At my request, the NTPF, working with the HSE, will maintain a particular focus on the issue of people waiting for more [124]than twelve months for treatment. I am pleased to say that, as a result of co-operation between the two organisations during 2008 on validation of waiting lists, the numbers of persons waiting over 12 months for treatment was reduced by 66%, from 4,637 to 1,576, between December 2007 and December 2008.

  97.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has established a mechanism to protect funding for new developments in the areas of mental health, disability, palliative care, Travellers’ health and other specific areas from being used for other proposes in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13094/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, I have included additional funding in the 2009 Estimates for new developments which includes €15m for Cancer Services and €10m for Disabilities. To facilitate a more transparent level of accountability for this funding a new subhead, B 17, has been established in the Estimates for the Health Service Executive.

The Deputy will be aware that proposals regarding the expenditure of development funding must be submitted as part of the National Service Plan, the approval of which I have the statutory responsibility. The implementation of the plan is the subject of ongoing monitoring by my Department throughout the year, including the use of development funding. In addition, the letter of sanction in respect of the Health Service Executive’s Vote issued each year by the Minister for Finance contains strict conditions regarding the use of these funds. I am satisfied that these mechanisms are more than adequate to ensure that development funding is used for the purpose for which it has been allocated.

  98.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the stage the roll-out of the BreastCheck screening programme is at nationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13083/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The matter raised by the Deputy is the responsibility of the National Cancer Screening Service. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Chief Executive Officer of the Service to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to the matter raised.

  99.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress being made in developing specific fully staffed cystic fibrosis units in designated hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13081/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I have consistently emphasised the need to improve facilities and services for persons with cystic fibrosis. In particular, I have asked the Health Service Executive to focus on developing services at the National Adult Tertiary Referral Centre at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Considerable improvements have been made at the hospital. Since 2006, 19 additional staff have been recruited and the physical infrastructure has been enhanced through the refurbishment last year of accommodation to provide eight single en suite rooms for the exclusive use of people with cystic fibrosis. There are currently 63 beds at St. Vincent’s Hospital used for respiratory/cystic fibrosis services.

[125]Phase 2 of the development of St Vincent’s is being designed to provide a new clinical building which will include 120 replacement beds. The new facility will include appropriate isolation facilities with accommodation for cystic fibrosis patients as required. Design work and preparation of tender documents is continuing in respect of the development.

Beyond St Vincent’s Hospital, a number of other significant capital developments are being progressed for patients with cystic fibrosis. For example, the 2008 budget included €2.5m capital funding to enable Beaumont Hospital to provide ambulatory care for people with cystic fibrosis. This project has now gone to tender. Patients with cystic fibrosis will also benefit from additional single rooms in the new Medical Admissions Unit, which is due for completion in the middle of this year.

On the staffing side, some 48 additional staff, including consultant, nursing and allied health professionals, have been appointed across the hospital system in recent years to enhance the level of services provided for persons with cystic fibrosis. I am conscious that further improvements are required, including the need to develop community outreach services and to facilitate the treatment of patients outside of a hospital setting where appropriate. My Department has asked the HSE to reply directly to the Deputy in respect of other individual hospitals.

  100.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the proposals for a new food labelling system being finalised by the EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12008/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Mary Wallace):  At present EU food labelling legislation is harmonised by Council Directive 2000/13/EC, transposed in 2002, with several amendments since. In January 2008, the European Commission presented its proposals on updating and harmonising this legislation. The proposal is still under discussion. This proposal consolidated existing legislation in the area of food labelling and introduced new provisions for Country of Origin Labelling, a mandatory nutrition declaration and allergen labelling, amongst others.

In November 2008, Ireland submitted its position paper on the proposal. This paper was informed by submissions made to the FSAI by many of the key stakeholders. Ireland’s position will be further informed by the outcome of an FSAI Consumer Survey. This is expected to end in June 2009. In its position paper, Ireland

supports mandatory Country of Origin Labelling,

shares the concerns of a significant number of other member states with regard to National Schemes,

welcomes the proposal for mandatory allergen labelling and supports the highlighting of allergens on labels,

supports the equal treatment of all alcohol products,

asks that consideration should be given to bringing alcohol products into the scope of the legislation,

supports the retention of the Commission’s proposal with regard to the use of “per portion” expression alone in certain cases,

[126]does not support the proposal for a minimum font size of 3mm for display of mandatory particulars and suggests that other aids to legibility, such as contrasting background, be explored,

shares the concerns of some other member states regarding possible flaws in the calculation of Reference Intakes,

feels that a lower “significant amount” should be stipulated for foods and beverages with low contents of dried matter,

supports the inclusion of trans fats, fibre, folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamin D in the mandatory nutrition declaration.

Since January 2008 a number of meetings have taken place at European Union Working Group level, attended by officials from Department of Health and Children and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The next meeting is due to take place on 27 April 2009. On 16th March 2009, the European Parliament examined the proposal. Parliament has indicated however, that it will not be in a position to conduct the first reading of the document until after the May European Parliament elections. At this stage, it is likely that the proposal will not be finalised until end of 2009 at the earliest.

Question No. 101 answered with Question No. 40.

  102.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the financial state of hospitals nationwide; the number which will over-spend their allocated budgets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13087/09]

  222.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the reduction in funding to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital of €1,608,800 for inpatient services and €325,659 in respect of ED/accident and emergency services. [13327/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 222 together.

In the National Service Plan 2009, the HSE committed to deliver the same level of activity in 2009 as in 2008. In order to deliver this level of services the HSE will be reconfiguring many frontline services. This is in keeping with the overall strategic direction as set out in the HSE Corporate Plan 2008-2011 and includes: conversion of in-patient work to day case work, a focus on reducing patients length of stay in acute hospitals, reduction of in-patient bed numbers and associated costs and the provision of more services in community settings, thus reducing the dependency on in-patient beds. Arising from this strategy hospital budgets have been adjusted accordingly. As the details of each hospital budget and the monitoring and control of their budgets is a matter for the HSE I have asked the Executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

  103.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the difficulties the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill poses to farm families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11962/09]

[127]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  With regard to the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, Farming Organisations and Deputies have expressed concern in relation to the combined impact of the inclusion of transferred assets in the financial assessment and the absence of a cap on contributions from farms. Their concerns centre most strongly on situations where care is required from an early age and for a prolonged period, and the impact that this could have on the normal family succession of the farm. The IFA met with the Minister and officials from the Department to discuss their concerns with the Bill. The potential impact of the Bill on farming families was also raised at both Second Stage and Committee Stage in the Dáil and my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, has pledged to give the matter careful consideration prior to Report Stage. The Department is, therefore, in the process of reviewing the issue and matters raised at present.

  104.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of new physiotherapy posts expected to be created in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13071/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There has been a growing demand for, and investment in, physiotherapy services over the last number of years. A particular priority for my Department and the Department of Education and Science in recent years has been the expansion of the supply of therapy graduates. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future. In this regard, since 1997, the number of training places for physiotherapists has been increased from 64 to 145 which represents an increase of 127%. The numbers employed in physiotherapy has also grown significantly, with 593 whole time equivalents employed in December 1997 compared to 1,449 whole time equivalents employed in December 2008, which represents an increase of 144%.

The Government is committed to ensuring continued adequate recruitment of professional staff across a range of community settings to ensure the continued development of community services. Additional funding of €20 million has been provided in 2009 for health and education services for children with special educational needs. This funding will provide a total of 125 additional therapy posts in the HSE targeted at children of school-going age. 90 of these will be in the disability services, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. In addition, it is intended that certain key health and social care professional posts, including physiotherapists, are to be protected by setting employment floors for these grades within the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2009.

These posts are essential to the development of a number of services areas such as disability, child adolescent mental health services and child protection services. In order to protect these posts, it is envisaged that the HSE will establish minimum employment levels to be maintained within each of these occupations in the health sector in 2009. The recruitment and retention of these key front line professional posts is vital to ensure continued progress in the development of community settings.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. It is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. With regard to the number of new physiotherapy posts expected to be created in 2009, as this is an operational matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  105.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the most recent figures for children diagnosed with ADHD per county; the cost of administering appropriate medications to those children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13067/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  106.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of community welfare officers currently employed in each region; if there are plans to make further staff and resources available to the CWOs in view of the increasing demands being placed upon them due to increased unemployment levels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13085/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise that the number of community welfare officers employed at 31/12/2008 in each region is as follows:

Number (WTE) of Community Welfare Officers employed in the public health service

Grade Dublin/Mid-Leinster Dublin/North-East National South West
Community Welfare Officer 41 327.84 1 163.30 161.30
Community Welfare Officer, Supt. 3 18.60 0 11.80 19.59
Total 44 346.44 1 175.10 180.89

As the further information requested is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  107.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plan and time frame to implement the recommendations of the report on maternity services in the Dublin area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13068/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Review of Maternity & Gynaecology Services in the Greater Dublin Area, which was conducted for the Health Service Executive by KPMG Consultants, sets out recommendations and provides a high level action plan to facilitate the delivery of the best model of care for primary, community and hospital maternity services in the future. The objective is to ensure the provision of safe, sustainable, cost effective and high quality maternity, neonatology and gynaecology care services. The HSE has begun the process of developing an implementation plan to deal with the key recommendations in the report. My Department has asked the HSE to provide a more detailed response directly to the Deputy in relation to the plans and timeframe involved.

  108.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12833/09]

[129]The Taoiseach:  As stated below, two limited companies have agreements for the provision of full-time services to my Department or to the bodies under its aegis.

One limited company is currently contracted to provide a full-time, on-site technical resource to my Department to assist in the operation and maintenance of my Department’s IT and PC Network. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has an agreement with one limited company for the full-time services of a senior Java IT developer. The contract is due to conclude in May 2009.

  109.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Taoiseach    the number of offences involving the possession of a knife annually for the past five years; the detection rate in respect of each of these crimes; the conviction rate in respect of each of these crimes annually for the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12872/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey):  The exact data the deputy requested is not available. The CSO collects statistics on the possession of offensive weapons (excluding firearms) and statistics for the period 2003-2008 are included below. Please note offensive weapons include all non-firearm based weapons and, in addition to knives, may refer to sticks or other melee weapons.

Number of offences under ICCSq 11d Possession of offensive weapons offences leading to proceedings 2003-2008

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
N N N N N N
11d Offensive weapons offences (nec) 1,564 1,845 2,107 2,485 2,768 2,691
All 1,564 1,845 2,107 2,485 2,768 2,691

No of offences under ICCSq 11d Possession of offensive weapons offences leading to convictions 2003-2008

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
N N N N N N
11d Offensive weapons offences (nec) 603 676 766 964 913 439
All 603 676 766 964 913 439

  110.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Taoiseach    the oversea visits, excluding attendance at EU Council, he will make before 31 December 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13422/09]

The Taoiseach:  The information sought by the Deputy is set out below.

It is my intention to attend the EU-US Summit which will be held on 5 April in Prague where EU leaders will meet with US President Barack Obama. The summit will address issues of global financial architecture and consequences of the financial crisis, energy and climate change and broader foreign policy topics. I have also received an invitation from Prime Minister Topolanek to travel to Prague on 7 May for a summit to mark the formal launch of the Eastern [130]Partnership initiative on which the European Council adopted a declaration at the Spring European Council. The initiative is designed to promote stability, good governance and economic development in those countries to the East of the Union’s borders (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine). I will also travel to Jersey in October to attend the thirteenth British Irish Council Summit.

  111.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding export credit insurance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12980/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  It is recognised that there has been some withdrawal and reduction of export credit insurance cover for business, by the commercial insurance companies, in recent months. In relation to the possible introduction of a State Export Credit Insurance scheme, as a response to this situation I recently requested that a review of the export credit insurance market be carried out by Forfas and Enterprise Ireland. This report has just been finalised and I will be bringing its findings to Government shortly for discussion.

Having regard to the continued concerns of the business community in relation to the issue of credit generally, an independent study on credit availability has been commissioned by the Department of Finance, as part of the bank recapitalisation programme. I understand that this study, which will also address the issue of credit insurance and trade finance generally, is due to be completed shortly. In light of the findings of the two studies mentioned above, the Government will be considering the facts and possible policy responses to these particular issues within the next few weeks. It should be appreciated that any intervention by the state in the area of trade finance must have regard to its effectiveness and tangible benefits for exporters and businesses generally, in light of potential significant additional costs and financial exposure to the exchequer.

  112.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will ensure that the Revenue Commissioners will reimburse employers the 60% rebate of statutory redundancy payments to which they are entitled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13371/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  Under the Redundancy Payments Scheme all eligible employees are entitled to a statutory redundancy lump sum payment on being made redundant. It is up to the employer concerned, in the first instance, to determine whether or not there is in fact a redundancy situation and to make the relevant statutory redundancy payment to the employee(s). The Redundancy Payments Section of my Department administers payments from the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) in respect of the Redundancy Payments and Insolvency Payments Schemes on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. On submission of the appropriately completed application form (RP50) to the Redundancy Payments Section, a rebate in respect of 60% of the amount paid by the employer will be paid from the SIF.

  113.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employ[131]ment    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to her, her Department or to a public body under the aegis of her Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12826/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department has two contracts with limited companies for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual as follows:

Name of Contractor Purpose of Contract
“Sword” (a software development company) The provision of an on-site engineer to support the Patents Office administration system In responses to the need to reduce expenditure on the engagement of external service providers notice has been given to Sword of the Department’s intention to terminate this contract from 1st July 2009.
“MaryB.ie” (a recruitment agency) The provision of a temporary Legal Secretary to legal personnel of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE). The expertise performed by such temporary personnel is not available to the legal staff of the ODCE from within the cohort of general clerical staff available within the Department.

  114.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if there is a process for interdepartmental co-operation on the WTO negotiations between her Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food. [12837/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  There are a number of formal and informal avenues by which my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food cooperate on Ireland’s position in the WTO negotiations. In most cases, the Department of Foreign Affairs is also involved. As the Deputy may know, the EU acts as a single entity within the WTO, and its policy for the trade talks is agreed in the General Affairs Council and the Article 133 Committee. Whenever the WTO talks feature on the Council agenda, briefing is prepared in consultation with all three Departments. The Article 133 Committee has a meeting of its full members once a month, with the Deputy members meeting during each of the other three weeks of month. My Department together with the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and of Foreign Affairs coordinates the Irish position and briefing for all 133 Committee meetings.

Of course, the Irish position on the WTO talks is set by the Government, and these decisions are on the basis of proposals that I bring to the attention of Government colleagues in conjunction with the Minister for Agriculture, as well as with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, so that we can give a full picture to our government colleagues. Alongside this work at home, officials from all three Departments are posted in Geneva and they work closely together every day monitoring the WTO talks, reporting back to Dublin and representing Ireland’s interests at the many meetings that take place there. As well as these formal contacts, all three Departments are in regular informal contact exchanging information and coordinating briefings.

Finally, in advance of the last WTO Ministerial meeting in July 2008, an interdepartmental committee was established for the weeks leading up to the event. As well as representatives from the three Departments already mentioned, the Department of the Taoiseach also attended. Then, as has been traditional for some time now, the Minister for Agriculture joined me in Geneva as an important member of the Irish delegation at the Ministerial. If another [132]Ministerial meeting is convened on the trade talks this year, I anticipate that the same arrangements will be put in place.

  115.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will introduce additional measures to support redundant apprentices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12931/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  My Department and FÁS have been monitoring the trends in apprenticeship on an ongoing basis. A number of measures have been initiated or taken to date to assist apprentices who have become redundant to progress their apprenticeship. Over 2,700 places have been provided, are currently being provided or have been put in place for future provision under these measures. These include:

The scheduling rules for off-the-job training have been amended to permit redundant apprentices to progress to their next off-the-job phase, at phase 2, phase 4 and phase 6. This change has permitted 428 apprentices to attend phase 4 and phase 6 off-the-job training in 2008. To date in 2009 398 apprentices have attended phase 4 and phase 6. An estimated 700 redundant apprentices will commence phase 4 and phase 6 training in the Institutes of Technology on the 6th April 2009.

In relation to phase 2,191 redundant apprentices have completed their training to date, and 115 are currently attending phase 2 training. An additional 47 redundant apprentices will be scheduled for phase 2 training in the next number of weeks.

The Employer Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme became operational in January 2009. It provides up to 500 places this year for redundant apprentices to be placed with employers who have released their employed apprentice for off-the-job training. The number of redundant apprentices who are currently placed with employers is 98 and 7 have completed their training phase to date. FÁS is currently processing 24 applications from employers to participate in the scheme. · FÁS and ESB Networks have agreed the placement on a phased basis of 400 redundant electrical apprentices over the period 2009/10 to allow them to complete their on-the-job training and assessments. The first group of phase 7 apprentices commenced their placement with the ESB on the 23rd March last.

Leargas — the National Agency in Ireland for the management of national and international exchange and cooperation programmes in education, youth and community work, and vocational education and training — has also provided funding towards the cost of placing redundant phase 7 apprentices with employers in Germany. A group of 20 such apprentices are currently there completing their phase 7 training. FÁS has submitted a further proposal to Léargas to accommodate an additional 50 apprentices under this programme.

I will continue to work with all stakeholders in an effort to ensure that redundant apprentices will have opportunities to complete their apprenticeship and gain a craft qualification. In this endeavour I am open to positive suggestions from all quarters.

  116.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the take-up of the new scheme by which employers are paid to take on redundant apprentices; the cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12932/09]

[133]Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The Employer Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme was launched in December 2008. It supports opportunities for up to 500 redundant apprentices to complete phases 5 and 7 on-the-job training and assessments with eligible employers during 2009. The apprenticeships covered by the scheme are those in the construction trades of bricklaying, carpentry & joinery, electrical, and plastering. There are currently 98 apprentices on the scheme and a further 24 applications are being processed. Seven apprentices have already completed a period of employment under the scheme. Projected costs to date amount to €717,080.

  117.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will make a statement on the application by a person (details supplied). [12943/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The Employment Permits Section informs me that it has written to the applicant requesting some additional information in this case. On receipt of that information this application will be considered further.

  118.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her views on changing the qualifying conditions to participate in community employment schemes in view of the economic situation and when an organisation (details supplied) in County Offaly found a suitable candidate for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12969/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  Community Employment (CE) is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a fixed term basis. CE helps unemployed people to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to a work routine and to assist them to enhance/develop both their technical and personal skills. The criteria for participating on the Community Employment programme are based on age and length of time in receipt of various social welfare payments.

The aim of CE still remains as an active labour market programme with the emphasis on progression into employment. The programme is managed within this context, with consideration to the availability of resources and the needs of participants and the community. FÁS makes every effort to ensure that differing levels of demand between neighbouring schemes are equalised. FÁS also operates the programme flexibly as far as possible to ensure the continuation of community projects. I have no plans to change the qualifying conditions for CE; however, I should say that the operation of the Scheme is being kept under constant review in the context of the current difficult unemployment situation.

  119.  Deputy Ciarán Cuffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will provide this Deputy with a list of the ten largest employers in the Dáil Éireann constituency of Dún Laoghaire indicating the companies’ name, location and number employed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12971/09]

[134]Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department does not retain a list of employers in the Dáil Éireann constituency of Dún Laoghaire.

  120.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to the concerns among employers at the diversion of funding for training for persons in employment within Skillnett in favour of those recently unemployed; her views on restoring the Skillnett fund to its original total; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12992/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The reply to Questions Nos. 130, 131, 134, 141, 143, 144, 145, 150, 151 and 13 of 24 March 2009 refers. As stated all Department budgetary allocations are currently under review in the context of the forthcoming Budget on 7 April 2009. Any reallocations that result will reflect the funding priorities that have been agreed by the Government.

  121.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if the late payment survey has been completed; if so, the findings of the survey; if not, when the survey is expected to be completed and published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13026/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy John McGuinness):  My Department has not undertaken a late payments survey as subsequent priority developments in the financial sector and wider economy have broadened the concerns for SMEs in gaining access to working capital. As I have outlined to the House on a number of occasions in recent months, I have had regular contacts with the representative bodies of the SME sector — the Small Firms Association and ISME — in relation to a number of issues impacting on small business access to working capital, including late payments.

The Recapitalisation Scheme for the banks includes a commitment to increase their lending capacity to the SME sector by 10% and has also resulted in the introduction by the Financial Regulator of a Code of Conduct for Business lending to SMEs to facilitate access to credit for sustainable and productive business propositions. To further assist the cash flow of SMEs, the Taoiseach announced on 5 March 2009, that the Government is introducing on an administrative basis, a commitment to reduce the payment period by central Government Departments from 30 to 15 days,and that an assessment will be completed by end-April of the impact of extending this arrangement to the local authority, health and education sectors. My Department is currently working on the specifics of implementing this arrangement and I will be circulating proposals to Government Departments shortly.

  122.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will detail for each individual craft apprenticeship provided by FÁS, the annual and total cost per apprentice of providing the training element of their apprenticeship excluding the cost of an apprentice’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13027/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The following table shows the average cost per apprentice for the training element of their apprenticeship broken down by trade group. FÁS have supplied information that could [135]be provided in response to the Deputy’s question in the time available. FÁS do not apportion staff costs and overheads to the various trades and in addition FÁS do not have information on staff costs and overheads for phases 4 & 6, as these are carried out by the Institutes of Technology. Following a further exercise to apportion these costs across the Apprenticeship programme and then within trade, FÁS will be in a position to provide the information to the Deputy within the next week, with the proviso that costs incurred by the Institutes of Technology would not be included in determining a full cost of the training element.

2008 FÁS Annual Programme cost per apprentice (excluding allowances)

Trade Group Cost p/apprentice
Construction 1,140
Printing 153
Electrical 1,108
Motor 1,694
Engineering 932

  123.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of apprentices in receipt of apprentice allowance from FÁS with a breakdown of same by craft, and within each craft by phase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13028/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The Standard Based Apprenticeship programme is an alternance training programme consisting of seven phases of which four are on-the-job with the employer and three are off-the-job in FÁS/Institutes of Technology/ Colleges of Further Education. These off-the-job phases total approximately 40 weeks out of 208 weeks of the apprenticeship programme. Apprentices receive a training allowance from FÁS, which is equivalent to industry wage norm, while they are completing the off-the-job training phases of their apprenticeship. These occur at phases 2, 4 and 6. Apprentices completing phases 1,3,5 and 7 of their apprenticeship are paid by their employer. The following table outlines the number of apprentices currently in receipt of an allowance from FÁS by trade and phase.

Current Number of Apprentices in receipt of allowances in FÁS

Trade Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 Total
Cabinet making 54 54
Print media 28 28
Electronic security systems 13 13
Electrical 507 215 92 814
Instrumentation 9 9
Electrical instrumentation 25 40 23 88
Motor mechanics 147 13 160
Agricultural mechanics 21 8 29
Heavy vehicle mechanics 41 16 15 72
Vehicle body repairs 40 40
M.a.m.f. 71 15 14 100
Aircraft mechanics 24 18 42
Refrigeration 27 27
Sheet metalworking 9 9
Metal fabrication 50 29 17 96
Floor & wall tiling 7 7
Industrial insulation 5 5
Carpentry & joinery 196 1 197
Painting & decorating 29 29
Plumbing 272 129 141 542
Brick & stonelaying 10 24 34
Plastering 26 23 49
Construction plant fitting 23 23
TOTAL 1,613 526 328 2,467

  124.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the organisations other than FÁS which carry out approved apprenticeships; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13029/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  Only FÁS has a role in approving apprenticeships. All employers must be approved by FÁS in advance of apprentices being recruited and registered with them. This is to ensure that such employers can provide the necessary on-the-job training and progress assessments in a way that meets the particular requirements of the apprenticeship system.

Other organisations do have a role in the provision of parts of the Standards Based Apprenticeship system administered by FÁS. FÁS provides phase 2 training to apprentices and the Institutes of Technology provide phase 4 and 6 training. Phases 1, 3, 5 and 7 are provided on-the-job in conjunction with the individual employers of apprentices. The following organisations provide off-the-job training for the Standard Based Apprenticeship programmes:

Athlone Institutes of Technology

Carlow Institute of Technology

Cork Institute of Technology Dublin Institute of Technology

Department of Defence (Air Corp)

Blancharstown Institute of Technology

Dundalk Institute of Technology

Dun Laoghaire College of Further Education

Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology

Limerick Institute of Technology

Mallow College of Further Education

Sligo Institute of Technology

[137]Tallaght Institute of Technology

Tralee Institute of Technology

Waterford Institute of Technology

South West College Skills Centre on behalf of Sligo Institute of Technology.

  125.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the cost in 2008 and the budgeted amount for 2009 in respect of the apprentice allowance provided by FÁS with a breakdown of same by craft and within each craft by phase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13030/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The following table shows the breakdown of the cost of the allowances for apprentices paid by FÁS in 2008 and estimates of the 2009 allocation.

Annual Allowance costs

2008 Actual Estimated Budget 2009 *
Trade Group Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 TOTAL Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 TOTAL
€m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m
Construction 22.799 17.289 15.720 55.808 13.071 16.384 16.335 45.790
Printing 0.167 0.089 0.256 0.192 0.250 0.442
Electrical 17.261 9.537 10.544 37.342 12.346 9.360 9.984 31.690
Motor 3.349 1.859 2.273 7.481 3.778 1.824 2.570 8.172
Engineering 1.883 1.275 1.539 4.697 2.653 1.746 1.650 6.049
45.459 30.049 30.076 105.584 32.040 29.564 30.539 92.143

  126.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount spent in 2007 and 2008 on the apprenticeship activities of FÁS with a detailed breakdown of same; the budgeted amount for 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13031/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  The information sought by the Deputy is as outlined in the tabular statement.

2007 2008 2009
Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 Total Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 Total Phase 2 Phase 4 Phase 6 Total
€m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m €m
Allowances 39.02 25.40 26.88 91.31 38.09 27.22 27.56 92.87 25.91 26.80 28.01 80.72
Trainee T&S 8.17 2.30 2.47 12.94 7.37 2.83 2.51 12.72 6.13 2.76 2.53 11.42
Other Direct Costs* 20.89 2.07 1.83 24.79 17.57 1.99 1.70 21.26 11.81 2.43 2.09 16.33
68.08 29.77 31.18 129.03 63.03 32.04 31.77 126.84 43.85 32.00 32.63 108.48

[138]

  127.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the amount spent in 2008 by FÁS on the FÁS Jobs Ireland project; the amount budgeted for same in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13032/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  FÁS Jobs Ireland is an on-line marketplace where Jobseekers and Employers can find information and profiles about prospective jobs and staff in Ireland and across Europe. FÁS Jobs Ireland also provides a database of Training courses to suit all needs. It is an integrated system for:

receiving vacancies from employers and profiles from employees either by phone to a national call centre or inserted on-line;

distributing searchable information on those vacancies to interested job-seekers via the FÁS Website, self-service kiosks and to FÁS field staff through the Client Services System so they can match vacancies against the profiles of registered job-seeker clients.

The cost of running this system in 2008 was approximately €0.8 million, which includes staff costs and overheads. The cost is expected to be somewhat lower in 2009 due to a decrease in the number of vacancy notifications and the consequent redeployment of call centre staff to other front-line offices of the employment service. The exact extent of the savings in this area will not be clear until year-end.

  128.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will assist the persons (details supplied) in County Cavan who were unfairly dismissed and won their case at the Employment Appeals Tribunal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13220/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  I understand that the person to whom the Deputy refers is one of a number of employees who were awarded compensation by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in 2006 under the Unfair Dismissals Acts. The Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Act, 1993 provides that an employee who has not received compensation within six weeks of an EAT determination being communicated to the parties, may apply to the Circuit Court for an order directing the employer to carry out the determination. Such applications may also, if appropriate, and having regard to all the circumstances, be made by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Unfortunately, the advice I have received from the National Employment Rights Authority is that the taking of such proceedings and the enforcement of any Court Order, which might emanate therefrom, would in this case be problematical. I understand that the employer involved no longer resides or has a business in the State. I am also informed that representatives of the employees involved have instituted, or are considering the institution of, legal proceedings against the employer. Having regard to all the circumstances in this case, I regret that the State is not, therefore, in a position at this time to take enforcement proceedings under the Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Act, 1993.

  129.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the shortest period and the longest period for companies who have made [139]employees redundant to receive their 60% rebate from her Department currently and in each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13318/09]

  130.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the reason applications for redundancy rebate payments due to employers back to October 2008 are still not paid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13326/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 130 together.

The huge increase in the number of Redundancy Payment claims lodged with the Redundancy Payments Section of my Department in the latter part of 2008 and, to date in 2009 is unprecedented and is giving rise to delays in the processing of redundancy payments for individuals and companies within a reasonable timeframe. The scale of the challenge is evident from the statistics which indicate that, at the end of the first quarter of 2009, the number of new claims lodged with my Department was 19,742 which equates to almost 50% of the entire level of applications lodged for the whole of 2008 i.e. 40,607. It is also equivalent to 78% of applications lodged for the whole of 2007. The number of claims received is averaging 1,600 per week. Both the Tánaiste and I are acutely aware of the difficulties which the inability to deliver an acceptable turnaround of redundancy rebate payments is giving rise to for both individual employees and the business community and together, we are taking steps to address the issues.

Up until mid 2008, our customer service targets for processing correctly completed redundancy claims were, in order of priority:

4-6 weeks for statutory redundancy lump sum claims to employees whose employers failed to pay the statutory entitlement;

6 weeks where claims were correctly submitted on-line, hard copy printed down correctly signed and sent in by employer.

10+ weeks for manual claims sent in by employers.

By and large these targets were met. Because of the huge surge in the number of claims received in Redundancy Payments in 2008, customer service targets have slipped as existing staff levels are insufficient to cope with such a massive increase in claim numbers. Actual timeframes being achieved are, in order of priority:

6-8+ weeks for statutory lump sum payments to employees whose employers had failed to pay the statutory entitlement

12+ weeks for correctly submitted on-line claims, hard copy printed down correctly signed and sent in by employer.

16+ weeks for manual claims sent in by employers.

I have re-allocated an additional 9 persons to the Redundancy Payments Section since the start of the year and I have identified an additional 12 persons to be reassigned in the coming days and weeks. However, there is a limit to the amount of people that we can reassign internally because other areas of my Department are equally busy — for example on labour force activation issues and in the employment rights bodies (e.g. Employment Appeals Tribunal). Therefore, I am also in discussions with the Department of Finance to see what scope there is for the assignment of additional staff, possibly from other Departments, as happened in the case of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

[140]One of the problems is that people — quite rightly — are concerned about their redundancy claims and are telephoning frequently to check on progress. While this is understandable, it is adding to the delays as it means that staff are tied up on phones and not processing the claims. Therefore, we are making arrangements so that the dedicated call centre of the National Employment Rights Authority will be able to give out better and more up-to-date information to callers about the status of their applications. I can assure the Deputies that this matter is under constant review in my Department and that every effort is being made to deal with an increasing backlog in an attempt to ensure that claimants get the best possible service at, what is for them, a very difficult time.

  131.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when the State will be making an application to the globalisation fund arising from recent announcements by a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13378/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Funding is available from the European Globalisation Fund (EGF) for the retraining of workers in EU Member States made redundant as a result of changing global trade patterns. A minimum threshold of at least 1,000 redundancies applies for a given enterprise and its suppliers. This threshold must be reached within a 4 month period. In order for an application for assistance from the EGF to be eligible, formal notification of redundancies must issue to the 1,000 workers affected.

With regard to the 1,900 redundancies recently announced by DELL at its Limerick plant, formal notification of redundancy has only issued in a small number of cases and well below the 1,000 threshold. Accordingly, no application for assistance from the EGF can be advanced at this time in respect of DELL or those that arise as a consequence of the redundancies at the DELL plant. Once redundancy notices have been received by at least 1,000 workers, and other relevant eligibility criteria have been met, a period of ten weeks is available within which an application to the EGF can be made. That application will then be made without any delay.

  132.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if additional FÁS training places will be made available following her decision to cut jobseeker’s benefit from 15 months to 12 months. [9243/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Matters relating to the payment of Jobseekers Benefit are the responsibility of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The Government is determined to do all in its power to tackle the rise in numbers of people finding themselves without work or with reduced working weeks. Our approach in tackling the issue is multi-layered and centres on restoring our public finances, protecting employment across the economy, re-training those without work; and attracting new investment and jobs to our shores.

To assist individuals through the provision of education and training opportunities I recently announced the availability of 51,000 new training places under the FÁS Training Initiatives Strategy. These places are in addition to the 27,000 previously planned for 2009 under the Bridging Foundation Training, Specific Skills Training and Traineeships Programmes. These programmes will provide short training courses for those who are recently unemployed.

[141]The Training Initiative Strategy enhances the traditional mix of course offerings and will be delivered through three core-training initiatives, Short Courses, Night Courses and On-line Courses. The courses are for highly employable persons who wish to add to their existing skills level and improve their prospects of re-entering the labour market. The night courses offer further flexibility and the on-line courses provide an excellent option for those who need a fast flexible intervention and who prefer a self directed e-learning and blended learning environment.

FÁS’ Employment Services together with Local Employment Services have also put in place measures designed to provide increased capacity for the rise in referrals from the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the increased number of unemployed seeking job search assistance voluntarily. The implementation of these measures has increased the monthly capacity of job search services from 6,500 to 12,250 persons per month.

My Department, in conjunction with FÁS are working hard to achieve greater capacity within existing resources to meet the on-going challenges in the labour market. We are presently examining a number of ways to make training and education services available to a greater number of unemployed persons. While a significant amount of work has been done in a short space of time, the Government is intent on achieving greater capacity within existing resources. In this context we will bring forward further measures to make training and education services available to a greater number of unemployed persons over the coming weeks and months.

  133.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost of holding the recent Lisbon referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12981/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The total direct cost on the Central Fund for holding the recent Lisbon Referendum was €17.412m. This figure may change slightly as checking of four of the Returning Officers’ accounts has still to be finalised.

  134.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the steps being taken to reform the financial regulatory system going forward; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12797/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am bringing proposals before the Government to introduce new structures for regulation of financial services that will provide for the integration of Central Bank responsibilities with regulatory and supervisory functions and a new approach to enhance consumer protection. These changes are designed to restore Ireland’s reputation and are consistent with the emerging international agenda for reform in the financial services sector. The structural changes and a substantial increase in regulatory capacity will lead to a more effective and efficient financial services regulatory system which will be aligned to the best international standards.

  135.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the meetings or correspondence he or his officials have had with the chief executives of the six largest retail banks here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12798/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to the six largest banks which are covered under by the Government’s Bank Guarantee Scheme. [142] In my reply to a parliamentary question from the Deputy on 18 February, I advised of the chief executives myself and/or my officials had met and corresponded with since January 2009. In the interim period, my officials and I have either met or corresponded with the chief executives of Bank of Ireland, AIB, EBS and Irish Nationwide Building Society, the executive chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, and the senior executive director of Irish Life and Permanent.

  136.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in view of the fact that banks (details supplied) are effectively nationalised retail banks operating in financial markets here, his attention has been drawn to the details of the take-over process undertaken by the British Government; his views on such an option for the Irish banks that he proposed recapitalising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12799/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Of the banks the deputy has listed in the UK, only one has been nationalised; the UK Government have taken significant shareholdings in the others. The Irish Government took the decisive step of nationalising Anglo Irish Bank because of concerns about governance issues and the market confidence in Anglo Irish Bank. The Deputy is aware that I announced on 11th February the recapitalisation programme for Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. Shareholders in Bank of Ireland voted in favour of the recapitalisation proposal last Friday, 27th March, at their Extraordinary General Court. AIB is scheduled to hold its EGM in the near future.

The recapitalised banks have reconfirmed their commitment to an extensive credit package which will help to increase lending capacity to small and medium enterprises by 10% and to provide an additional 30% capacity for lending to first time buyers in 2009. The credit package also provides for a €100m environmental and clean energy innovation fund to be established by each bank. All the steps that I have outlined have been taken by the Government to ensure that the public interest is secured so that the financial system in Ireland meets the everyday financial needs of individuals, businesses and the overall economy.

  137.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on changes in property taxes here; and the measures which will be taken going forward. [12800/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  All taxes and potential taxation measures continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. However, as the Deputy will be aware, it is not customary for the Minister of Finance to comment on possible tax and expenditure changes in advance of the Budget.

  138.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the most accurate figure for the amount of deposits guaranteed under the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12801/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I assume the Deputy when referring to ‘deposits’ means the total covered liabilities guaranteed by the Government. Under the terms of the Scheme covered liabilities include: senior unsecured debt; asset covered securities; dated subordinated debt (Lower Tier 2); along with deposits (retail, corporate, and interbank). The estimated total amount of covered liabilities under the scheme for the final quarter of 2008 (an average of the end-month liabilities for October, November and December) amounts to €376bn. The banks are paying significant fees in respect of the Guarantee of some €450m per [143]annum, based on the first two quarterly payments. For the institutions covered by the Government Guarantee, the deposits that are covered by the separate Deposit Protection Scheme (on deposits up to €100,000) amount to €90bn.

  139.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    when the Revenue Commissioners report on reforming taxation here is due. [12802/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I take it that the Deputy is referring to the work of the Commission on Taxation which was established in 2008 to review the structure, efficiency and appropriateness of the Irish taxation system. The Commission is requested to report on the results of its examination and consideration and to make such recommendations as, and when, it thinks fit to the Minister for Finance but not later than 30 September 2009.

  140.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in conjunction with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, he will address the anomaly whereby cohabitation with another person is considered as a means for social welfare purposes, yet it is not considered by his Department for tax credit purposes; if his attention has been drawn to the disadvantage that this puts such families at; if same will be addressed in the forthcoming budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12807/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Cohabitating couples are expressly recognised for the purpose of social welfare law but are not recognised for the purposes of income tax law. Although this may appear contradictory, the main aim of both the welfare code and the tax code is to uphold the constitutional right of married couples not to be treated less favourably than unmarried couples. The basis for the current tax treatment of married couples derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs the Attorney General (1980) which held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple to pay more tax than two single people living together and having the same income.

The treatment of cohabiting couples for the purposes of social welfare is primarily a matter for the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs. However, my understanding is that it is also based on the principle that married couples should not be treated less favourably than cohabiting couples. This was given a constitutional underpinning following the Supreme Court decision in Hyland v Minister for Social Welfare (1989) which ruled that it was unconstitutional for the total income a married couple received in social welfare benefits to be less than the couple would have received if they were unmarried and cohabiting.

  141.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12828/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  There are 2 limited companies with agreements for the provision of the dedicated full time services of a single individual to my Department. The services of (i) an Analyst Programmer Contractor, and (ii) a Senior Technical Service Administrator Contractor are provided under these agreements. With regard to Offices under the aegis of my Department, I have been advised that the Valuation Office uses the services of a company for the provision of a Software Programmer in the development of an [144]IT system, and PAS currently have an agreement with a company for the supply of an individual to provide Information Technology HelpDesk Services.

Five Limited Companies currently provide the Office of Public Works with the services of nine individuals. The services are 2 for Civil Engineering Services, 2 for CAD operations, 1 for architectural services, 1 for Clerk of Works services, 1 for Draughtsperson services, 1 for IT support services, and 1 for Geographic Information services. In relation to other Offices under the aegis of my Department, I am advised that no such agreements are in place.

  142.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason he chose to announce new financial regulatory measures to a newspaper (details suppled) in March 2009 before presenting them to Cabinet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12838/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Government have been very concerned that an unfavourable image of Ireland was being created abroad by media coverage. I was given an opportunity to speak to the newspaper the Deputy refers to on St. Patrick’s Day which I took to put across a more balanced message. This appeared to me to be appropriate in the circumstances.

  143.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the facilities and properties constituting a community hall under the Valuation Act 2001; if this covers GAA and other sports clubs and their playing areas; if these do not come under the Act, if he proposes to amend them to that effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12842/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Valuation Act, 2001 defines a “community hall” as a hall or a similar building, which is used exclusively as a community hall and which—

(a) is not used primarily for profit or gain, and

(b) is occupied by a person who ordinarily uses it or permits it to be used, for purposes which involve the participation by inhabitants of the locality generally, and are recreational or otherwise of a social nature.

The exception is the premises of a club registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904 which is a premises with a club licence to sell alcohol. In practical terms, this means that GAA and other sports clubs that are not licensed to sell alcohol are regarded as community halls and are therefore exempt from rates. The Act also provides for the exemption from rates of the land of sports clubs that is developed for sport such as playing pitches, land on golf courses, tennis courts, etc.

On the other hand, all sports clubs that are registered under the Registration of Clubs Act, 1904 and licensed to sell alcohol are not community halls and the premises occupied by such clubs are therefore liable for rates. I have no plans to provide for exemption from rates of such licensed clubs as the sale of alcohol is a commercial activity and these premises are competing with other commercial premises. The effect of removing any category of rateable property from the valuation base would be to reduce local authority revenues and could also increase the rates burden on other taxpayers.

  144.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the way he will formulate strategic objectives for the Anglo Irish Bank board in view of the fact that he is the only shareholder. [12847/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Anglo Irish Bank is being run on arms length commercial basis. The Board of Anglo is currently preparing a comprehensive business plan which will be required to demonstrate how the Board will oversee the continued commercial operation of the bank in the best interests of the bank and the Exchequer as shareholders. The Board will formulate the strategic objectives of the bank, in the context of the bank’s changed ownership structure and the more challenging operating environment in the coming years. My Department has been consulted as part of that process. The business plan will be submitted to me in the near future.

  145.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the introduction of a €30 note; if he will make a case to the European Central Bank for the creation of a new €30 note; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12868/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The denomination sequence of the euro currency was proposed by an EU Working Group as part of the preparations for the introduction of the new currency. The agreed sequence is 1:2:5 and this corresponds to the sequence we used in the Irish Pound currency. There are no plans to introduce a €30 bank note and it is not my intention to make a case to the ECB calling for the introduction of such a denomination.

  146.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    when payment of rebate of stamp duty will issue in respect of a person (details suppled) in County Tipperary. [12874/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the solicitor acting on behalf of the person has replied to the queries raised relating to the application for the refund of stamp duty. The solicitor has been informed that the refund has now been approved and will issue shortly.

  147.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    when flood relief work will be carried out to the River Pill, Piltown, County Kilkenny as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12914/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Office of Public Works has agreed to a request from Kilkenny County Council to examine flood alleviation at a number of locations, including Piltown, in the County. A Steering Group has been established to progress the matter. A Consultant has been appointed to prepare a pre-feasibility report on problems in Thomastown, Callan and Graiguenamanagh and their report is expected shortly. OPW has already completed a pre-feasibility study of the flooding in Piltown. All of the reports will be considered by the Steering Committee and, subject to the identification of solutions, which are likely to be economically and socially viable and environmentally sustainable, decisions will be made on the development and prioritisation of flood alleviation measures.

  148.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the introduction of a scrappage scheme for motor vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12933/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am conscious of the decline in new car sales in Ireland and internationally due to the contraction in economic activity. I and officials in my Department have met with representatives of the motor industry, where they have put forward various proposals, including the introduction of a car scrappage scheme. Any such proposal will be considered in the context of the forthcoming Supplementary Budget.

  149.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make amendments to the VAT system to ensure that VAT is paid by car dealers on the amount for which a used car is sold not purchased by the dealer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12934/09]

  150.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will introduce a margin system in respect of VAT for used car dealerships similar to that in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12935/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 149 and 150 together.

I am conscious of the decline in the motor industry in Ireland and internationally due to the contraction in economic activity. I and my officials have had meetings with representatives of the motor industry on the matter. In the case of second-hand cars a special VAT scheme is in place in Ireland. This special scheme was introduced in 1994, following strong representations from the motor industry, as a derogation under the VAT Directive. The scheme contrasts with the Margin Scheme, which operates in most other Member States.

The special scheme allows motor dealers, at the time of purchase, to claim credit for residual input VAT which is considered to be included in the cost of acquiring a second-hand car from a customer. When the car is subsequently resold, the VAT is chargeable on the full sale price of the car or on the original purchase price paid by the dealer, whichever is the higher. This is necessary because the dealer has already been granted a credit in relation to the residual input VAT incurred. The special scheme allows dealers the maximum benefit by allowing an immediate deduction of residual VAT at the point of purchase. The VAT credit already allowed on second-hand cars must, despite the industry’s view, be seen for what it is, i.e. money advanced to dealers by the Exchequer which they are only repaying when they resell the second-hand cars.

Under the Margin Scheme, garages and dealers would account for VAT on their profit margin only, i.e. on the difference between the cost of acquiring and selling the second-hand cars involved. There would also be no entitlement to a deduction on the acquisition of the car and consequently the question of a VAT clawback would not arise. Although with the changing economic circumstances dealers have found themselves selling traded-in second-hand cars at a loss, which is increasingly giving rise to clawbacks of VAT situations for dealers, it is not possible to write-off the VAT credit already allowed to the dealers on second-hand cars. In this context the Revenue Commissioners have however granted concessionary treatment which allows dealers to postpone payment in respect of the clawbacks over the past number of months until 19 May 2009.

The motor industry has made calls for the introduction of a Margin Scheme for second-hand cars in conjunction with the writing-off of the outstanding VAT credits already provided to dealers in respect of second-hand cars. I am not opposed to the introduction of such a Margin [147]Scheme, but not on the basis that the outstanding VAT credit already provided to dealers in relation to their existing stock of second-hand cars would be written-off in full.

  151.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Finance    if contract research staff in universities are eligible for exemption from the pension levy in view of the temporary nature of their employment and the lack of benefits, incremental pay scale or pension options for these positions. [12955/09]

  153.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will advise on a matter (details supplied). [12982/09]

  154.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will exercise his powers under section 8 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, to exempt research staff at third level institutions from deductions under section 2 of that Act, having regard to the particular aspects and conditions of their employment that materially distinguish them from other employees in the public sector (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13008/09]

  170.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on exempting university research staff who are on fixed term contracts from the pension levy, under section 8 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, as they would be unlikely to accumulate the years of service needed to receive a meaningful benefit from a public service pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13367/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions 151, 153, 154 and 170 together.

Public servants who are members of public service pension schemes are liable to pay the pension-related deduction legislated for in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. On this basis, third-level researchers on fixed-term and temporary contracts must pay the deduction, since they are members of the relevant occupational pension schemes. They are just one of many groups of non-permanent public servants paying the deduction. Distinctions between public servants on the basis of whether they are permanent or temporary, and if temporary what contract duration applies, are irrelevant insofar as liability to pay the deduction is concerned. The pay of the post, in terms of whether it features incremental progression, is likewise irrelevant.

In recent years fixed-term researchers in third-level institutions have been made pensionable, and this has significantly improved the attractiveness of a research career. These researchers accrue pensionable service even for short-duration appointments and that service can be aggregated with past and future service in other pensionable public service employment.

Section 6 of the Act provides for a refund of the deduction in certain circumstances, and should reassure third-level researchers on short-term non-renewable contracts who have no prior public service employment history and who may be concerned about accruing no pension benefit at the expiry of their contract due to insufficient service. A deduction refund may be payable provided that the departing employee has accrued no benefits under any public service pension scheme, has not received a payment in lieu of scheme membership and has not transferred the service to another public service pension scheme.

Section 8 of the Act grants the Minister for Finance a limited special discretion to exempt groups of public servants from payment of the deduction. Specifically, where he is satisfied that [148]due to exceptional circumstances, a particular class or group of public servants are materially distinguished from other classes or groups who are subject to the deduction, then the Minister may fully or partly exempt this group from paying some or all of the deduction, if he believes it would be fair and equitable to do so. The deduction is required at a time of great pressure on the public finances and takes account of the valuable pension benefits available to public servants.

In light of all the above factors, I am satisfied that it is fair and appropriate that public servants on fixed-term and temporary contracts, including third-level researchers, are subject to the pension-related deduction. In the event that any class or group of public servants makes an appeal for exemption from the deduction under section 8 of the Act then such an appeal will be considered.

  152.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of times he and the banks met in order to negotiate the bank guarantee; the persons who attended these meetings and in what capacity; the legal advisers who attended the meetings on the banks’ behalf; the legal advisers who attended the meetings on the Government’s behalf; if the Government engaged external specialist financial or legal advice; if so, if such persons attended the meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12963/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The terms of the guarantee provided to covered institutions are set out in the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme 2008, approved by the European Commission on 13 October, 2008, enacted by the Oireachtas on 17 October, 2008 under Section 6 of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008. Individual credit institutions became members of the scheme by executing a Guarantee Acceptance Deed in a form specified by me as provided for at paragraph five of the scheme.

The decision to introduce the Guarantee was taken after a prolonged and unfolding period of turmoil in financial markets characterised by deteriorating availability and cost of liquidity, which accelerated rapidly in the late summer and early autumn 2008. Throughout this period, and particularly in the weeks and months preceding the decision to introduce the Guarantee, the Financial Regulator had engaged in intensive liaison and monitoring with Irish credit institutions. I consulted throughout this period with the Financial Regulator and the Governor of the Central Bank and had available to me the advice of my officials, the National Treasury Management Agency and independent legal and financial expertise. These discussions and consultations were ongoing and intensified in the period following the virtual freezing of credit markets in September.

As the Deputy would expect during a period of difficult conditions I and my officials engaged in discussions with a wide range of institutions in the period before and after the Guarantee was introduced. In relation to meetings and those in attendance, I have previously dealt with this matter on a number of occasions in my replies to Parliamentary Questions Numbers 158, 159 and 160 of 28 January, 2009, Question Number 255 of 27 January, 2009, Question Number 170 of 9 December, 2008, and 67 of 6 November, 2008, and in my Second Stage speech to the Dáil on the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill.

Questions Nos. 153 and 154 answered with Question No. 151.

  155.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost to the State of the tax [149]reliefs available in respect of tuition fees in 2008; the amount claimed by individuals in respect of courses they undertook themselves as against their children, other dependants and so on; the amount claimed in respect of full-time undergraduate courses, part-time undergraduate courses, full-time postgraduate courses, part-time postgraduate courses, information technology training courses and language training courses. [13034/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The most recent year for which the necessary detailed information is available on the cost of tax relief for tuition fees is the income tax year 2005. The cost to the Exchequer is estimated at approximately €14.3 million and the number who availed of it was 29,900. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the other information sought by the Deputy is not available. A married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

  156.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has received correspondence or a report from the Financial Regulator or Central Bank in relation to any matter since 2000 to date in 2009; if such correspondence related to overcharging at any bank; if they received correspondence or a report regarding overcharging customers at a bank (details supplied); if they received correspondence or a report into trading in that bank’s shares or any other shares; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13046/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Both the Minister for Finance and the Department of Finance have received a wide range of correspondence and reports from the Central Bank over the past nine years. The same applies to the Financial Regulator since it was established in May 2003. Allegations of overcharging have been made against various financial institutions over that period and were investigated by the Central Bank or Financial Regulator, as appropriate, and I have received reports on some of these investigations, some of which, specifically in relation to AIB, were published by the Financial Regulator in July and December 2004 and were the subject of an enquiry by an Oireachtas Committee at that time.

I have been informed that the Financial Regulator wrote last week to the Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Economic and Regulatory Affairs — of which the Deputy is a member — in response to issues raised at discussions with the Committee on 24 March last by a former bank official. The Financial Regulator also issued an extensive public statement addressing those issues and I believe that officials from the Financial Regulator will appear before the Joint Committee on 8 April to discuss the issues raised. I understand that a report on irregular dealings in AIB shares up to 2001 was investigated by the Central Bank — the supervisor of banks prior to May 2003 but was not communicated to the Department of Finance due to the confidentiality obligations.

  157.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on correspondence (details supplied); the plans or support mechanisms in place or proposed by him to overcome the problems stated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13048/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Deputy Wall has provided details of an individual but he will appreciate that I cannot comment on any particular case. I am fully aware of people’s concerns following the introduction of the pension-related deduction. However, the key objective is the realisation of the savings needed from the public service pay bill, given the severe economic and budgetary circumstances we face. The approach to the pension related deduction is that it applies generally given the fact that public servants enjoy the benefits of a [150]public service pension which provides for greater security and more favourable terms than the generality of private sector pensions. The pension related deduction is a reasonable means of reconciling the need to achieve the necessary savings while seeking to ameliorate the impact on lower paid staff.

  158.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress being made on the implementation of the payment services directive; the procedures which must be followed to ensure that all the PSD is operational by the November 2009 deadline; the consultation process that has been undertaken to date with the financial services providers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13052/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Payment Services Directive (PSD) provides the necessary legal framework to support the development of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), a major payments industry initiative aimed at eliminating any remaining difference between domestic and cross-border payments within the eurozone. This Directive comes into effect on 1 November 2009 and my Department is currently working on draft legislation to enable Ireland to apply the PSD’s provisions by that date. The Deputy may be aware that the Directive introduces standard rules for payment execution in all Member States, seeks to ensure fair market access to new payment services providers and introduces harmonised standards of consumer protection.

As regards the procedures which must be followed to ensure that all of the PSD is operational by November 2009, Section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 allows me, as Minister, to make Regulations in order to fulfil Ireland’s obligations which arise by virtue of our membership of the E.U. In this case, all of the PSD will be transposed through secondary legislation, namely a Statutory Instrument.

My Department has consulted relevant stakeholders on two occasions in 2008. In February 2008, it held a public consultation on the national discretions available within the PSD and in October 2008, it held a further consultation on the draft text of the transposing regulations. Based on responses received during both consultations, a draft set of regulations was submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in February 2009 for formal drafting and work is now progressing to produce a final set of regulations, which will give effect to the Directive by the required transposition date. My Department plans to hold another consultation when the text of the regulations is at a more advanced level. It is anticipated that the relevant regulations will be published in Summer 2009 and be given effect from 1 November 2009.

  159.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the pension levy is being imposed on city and county councillors’ representational allowance in view of the fact that this is not regarded as wages when assessing family income supplement and not regarded as wages for PRSI or other tax purposes; and the steps he will take to address this anomaly. [13058/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The pension-related deduction applies in respect of emoluments to which Chapter 4 of Part 42 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 applies and which are payable to public servants in respect of their services as such. As the representational payment is fully taxable and subject to that Chapter, the pension-related deduction applies to that payment. There is, therefore, no anomaly to address.

  160.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in view of the fact that Anglo Irish Bank has been nationalised, the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 in respect of the public interest override extends to this bank in view of the fact that it is completely owned by the State and should be one of the institutions in which the FOI legislation is operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13191/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As a matter of policy, the Freedom of Information Act has not been extended to commercial State bodies for reasons associated with the need for such bodies to compete commercially. Commercial State bodies operate in a different environment to non-commercial State bodies. To bring a commercial State body under the Freedom of Information Act while other companies in the same sector remain excluded could place such a body at a significant commercial and competitive disadvantage. Therefore as Anglo Irish Bank is a commercial State body there are currently no proposals to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the bank.

  161.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that property transfers between partners who have been living together for years and have children are subject to stamp duty and this can give rise to significant hardship such as when one partner seeks to buy out the share of another partner or transfer a share in the family home; his views on an exemption from this stamp duty charge for partners who have been together for a certain minimum period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13199/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  When a particular stamp duty relief for first-time purchasers was introduced into the tax code in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2000, the relief was also extended to spouses in certain circumstances, who, as a result of a judicial separation or divorce, left the family home to their other spouse and did not have an interest in any other property. As unmarried cohabiting couples cannot benefit from a judicial separation or divorce, the existing provisions cannot be extended to include them. As regards introducing a new provision to allow first-time purchaser status to cohabiting couples, I have no plans to introduce such an arrangement. At this point, it would be unwise to change the tax code with regard to cohabiting couples in advance of developments in other relevant areas of public policy, for example, in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships.

  162.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has been informed or if he has inquired if any of the financial institutions covered by the Government guarantee have paid bonuses to their staff here, or overseas, since the inauguration of the Government guarantee; if any of these institutions have done so, the steps these institutions are taking to recover these bonuses; the status of this process; if he has been informed if such bonus recipients are co-operative; if evidence is discovered that post-guarantee bonuses have been paid, his views on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13208/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Paragraph 47 of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme 2008 provides that bonuses for directors or senior executives must be measurably linked to reductions in guarantee charges, reduction in excessive risk-taking and encouraging the long-term sustainability of the covered institutions. The Deputy will appreciate [152]that in answering his question about bonuses to staff, the terms of the Scheme relate in this regard only to directors and senior executives. Pursuant to the Scheme, the Credit Institutions Remuneration Oversight Committee (CIROC) was established and its recently published report has provided additional specific details in relation to remuneration levels in the banks.

The Deputy will be aware that the Committee recommended that performance-related bonus schemes for chief executives and executive directors should not lead to payments in respect of performance in 2008 or in 2009 and for the period of the Government guarantee. A number of covered institutions reported to CIROC that they did not intend to pay bonuses in respect of 2008. In respect of Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS), where the CEO was paid a pre-arranged incentive bonus of €1,000,000 in relation to 2008, the Deputy will be aware that the CEO of INBS has undertaken to return that bonus.

  163.  Deputy James McDaid    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of interest due on previous Government bonds due in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. [13303/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The National Treasury Management Agency advise me that interest due on bonds outstanding at present is as follows:

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012
Interest due (€m) 1,827.600 1,266.703 1,234.553 1,074.483

Of course, any additional borrowing undertaken will increase the amount of future interest payments.

  164.  Deputy James McDaid    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of interest due in 2012 on Government bonds taken out in January 2009 and February 2009; and if it is anticipated that another bond will be required before April 2009. [13304/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The National Treasury Management Agency advise me that interest on the bonds issued in January and February 2009 will amount to €396 million in 2012. Another bond will not be required before April 2009. The NTMA auctioned €1 billion from existing series of medium- and long-term bonds last week. This was the first of a series of auctions planned for 2009 and it was oversubscribed, reflecting investor confidence in Irish bonds. The Exchequer is in a comfortable position with regard to funding with around €25 billion in cash balances.

  165.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on raising a carbon tax on gas at the point of production in order that all gas produced here, whether used at home or abroad, would carry such a levy, providing an extra royalty on the Irish resources. [13305/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy will be aware the issue of a carbon tax is being considered by the Commission on Taxation. The Commission is due to report by September 2009 at the latest. Given that the precise design of the carbon tax is yet to be determined as well as other factors including how exports and companies covered by the EU Emissions Trading System are to be treated, I do not propose to comment on the structure of a carbon tax at this time.

  166.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the public service pension levy is being collected in a way that the liability is evenly spread over the full year to allow families plan their finances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13306/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The public service pension-related deduction is being collected on a “week-1” basis. This is the same way in which PRSI has been collected for many years. It is also used for collection of the Income Levy. I am satisfied that, for most affected public servants, the payroll impact is, or will shortly be, averaged across individual payments. In other words the same amount broadly would be deducted from each payment. This is in line with section 3(2)(a) of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009.

It should however be noted that payroll practice may differ across the constituent parts of the public service. In addition, the circumstances of individual public servants, especially in cases where earnings are subject to fluctuation or contract duration changes, may of necessity mean that a uniform deduction from each payroll payment is made more difficult. There will be provision for adjustments if required during a financial year. In conclusion, I can assure the Deputy that, to the greatest extent possible, my Department is aiming to ensure an even spread of deductions across the year.

  167.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the tax relief on medical expenses is not available to people with large health care bills aged over 65 years who are exempt from income tax on the basis of their age and yet often this group cannot qualify for a medical card because the income threshold is set so low. [13312/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Relief for health expenses is allowed as a deduction at the standard rate of tax by way of review of liability at the end of the year. The relief is available as a refund of the amount of income tax paid by the taxpayer only. Where an individual’s income tax liability has been reduced to zero or no income tax has been paid by a person for a tax year, he or she will have not been in a position to avail of the relief for that year. It should be noted that tax relief for health expenses is only one means through which the State may provide support to those in need of medical services. Account should also be taken of supports provided through the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The medical card is one such support. The assessment of eligibility to medical cards is statutorily a matter for the Health Service Executive (HSE) and is determined following an examination of the means of the applicant and his/her dependants. Under Section 45 of the Health Act 1970 medical cards are provided for persons who, in the opinion of the HSE, are unable without undue hardship to arrange general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants. Section 58 of the Health Act, 1970, as amended, provides for GP visit cards for adult persons with limited eligibility for whom, in the opinion of the HSE, and notwithstanding that they do not qualify for a medical card, it would be unduly burdensome to arrange GP medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants.

In assessing eligibility under the general medical card scheme, the HSE uses guidelines based on people’s means, which includes their income, certain allowable outgoings and the effect of other factors such as medical or social need which may impact on their ability to meet the cost of GP services for themselves and their families. The current income thresholds for the general medical card scheme are set out in tabular form as follows.

[154]Under the Health Act 2008, automatic entitlement to a medical card for persons aged 70 or over ceased on 31st December 2008, and with effect from 1st January 2009, the income thresholds for entitlement to a medical card for those aged 70 or over is €700 (gross) per week (€36,500 per year) for a single person and €1,400 (gross) per week (€73,000 per year) for a couple. Where the spouse/partner is under 70 years of age, he/she can qualify under the over 70s medical card scheme if the combined gross incomes of the applicant and dependant spouse/partner are within the income threshold limit of €1,400 (gross) per week. Individuals who do not qualify for the medical card can use the Drugs Payment Scheme, which protects against excessive costs arising in relation to medicines. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €100 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

General Medical Card Scheme Income Thresholds

Category Medical Card Weekly amount GP Visit Card Weekly amount
Single person Living Alone
Aged up to 65 years 184.00 276.00
Aged between 66-69 years 201.50 302.00
Single person living with family
Aged up to 65 years 164.00 246.00
Aged between 66-69 years 173.50 260.00
Married Couple
Aged up to 65 years 266.50 400.00
Aged between 66-69 years 298.00 447.00
Allowances for Dependent Children
For each of the first two children 38.00 57.00
For third and each subsequent child 41.00 61.50
For each of the first two children aged over 16 39.00 58.50
For third and each subsequent child aged over 16 42.50 64.00
Dependant over 16 years in full-time education and not grant-aided
Allowance for each child 78.00 117.00

The rates above show allowed weekly income, after tax/PRSI and before mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work expenses are allowed for.

  168.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will confirm that tax relief on health insurance can be applied to people who are exempt from income tax; and if, on that basis, tax relief at source can be applied to health care expenses incurred by a person who is exempt from income tax but does not have health insurance. [13313/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Tax relief on health insurance contributions to authorised insurers is available under the tax relief at source system irrespective of whether [155]the insured individual has a liability to income tax or not. Under the tax relief at source, the insured individual pays the subscription to the authorised insurer net of the standard rate of tax. The authorised insurer then gets payment of this amount from the Revenue Commissioners. The tax relief at source system works best where there are a small number of players involved. In the case of medical insurance there are just three main companies involved. Tax relief at source for medical expenses would be difficult to implement because of the number of service providers who would need to co-operate in order for such a scheme to work. There would also be a considerable Exchequer cost involved in extending a subsidy through the tax system to persons who are exempt from income tax.

  169.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on introducing a system of taxing offshore gambling on the basis that credit card companies and banks would be required to levy a percentage of all moneys paid to offshore gambling companies on the presumption that all individuals with an Irish credit card are tax resident unless notified specifically to the credit card company or bank that they are not by the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13319/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy will be aware that I have stated on numerous occasions that I would like to broaden the tax base applying to betting activity. Bets placed either online or over the phone are generally with out-of-State companies so applying betting duty is problematic. My officials, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, are looking at the scope to overcome legal and operational difficulties in this area. One such option, as the Deputy suggests, is to explore the capacity of financial companies such as credit card companies to facilitate the collection of betting duty. However, it is clear that there are serious legal difficulties surrounding the effective application of betting duty to bets placed online or over the phone which my officials are exploring on an ongoing basis.

Question No. 170 answered with Question No. 151.

  171.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Finance    the tax implications for a person in receipt of deserted wife’s benefit payment. [13376/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The position is that Deserted Wife’s Benefit payment is within the charge to income tax. The extent to which taxation actually arises in a given case depends on the amount of an individual’s total income for tax purposes (including the deserted wife’s benefit) in a tax year and the amount of tax credits to which that individual is entitled. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that if the Deputy has a particular case in mind and can provide the necessary details, they would be prepared to examine it should the Deputy so wish.

  172.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the system in place to allow for transfers of service office staff between Departments; the way swaps are currently organised; if a centralised organised system exists to facilitate same; and if so, if he will provide the contact details. [13415/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Transfers across the Civil Service are arranged by various mechanisms: ‘Head-for Head’ transfers which are organised between individual officers on the basis of personal contacts; the Central Applications Facility (CAF) for officers who wish to move to locations designated under the Decentralisation Programme and the [156]‘Dublin Arrangements’ which facilitate the backfilling of posts in Dublin for the pool of officers who do not wish to decentralise. Head-for Head transfers must be approved by the relevant Personnel Officers while both of the decentralisation transfer systems are administered by the Public Appointments Service.

Services Officers may apply for Head-for-Head transfers and may register their interest in moving to a decentralising Department or Office by making an application on the CAF. Discussions have been ongoing between my Department and the relevant union in relation to the inclusion of Services Officer posts on the ‘Dublin Arrangements’ system. Pending agreement, the arrangements have been utilised successfully in respect of a number of Services Officer posts on a case-by-case basis and it is intended to continue with this approach.

  173.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will furnish a reply to a commitment given in the Houses of the Oireachtas on 25 February 2008 to provide the figures on the cost of including low paid workers within the pension levy; if he will explain the way he could evaluate the matter as marginal on that date and yet be unable to furnish the figures requested within the month; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13419/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I wish to convey to the Deputy my regret that his enquiry was not replied to sooner. Over the past month the responsible officials in my Department have prioritised the goal of ensuring a fast and effective launch of the new pension-related deduction. In this context these officials have concentrated on giving clear guidance to public service employers on the interpretation of the relevant legal provisions and on critical operational aspects of collecting and remitting the deduction. At the same time there has been a special focus on ensuring that public servants themselves can access reliable and pertinent information on how the deduction affects them. Notwithstanding this, I can assure the Deputy that I will be writing to him about this matter in the very near future.

  174.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    if and when a P45 issued in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13431/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a PPS number is required for the taxpayer to enable them to deal with this tax query.

Question No. 175 answered with Question No. 66.

Question No. 176 answered with Question No. 61.

  177.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position in relation to a nursing home place and subvention for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [12793/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  178.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of orthopaedic operations being carried out by each surgeon at the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12804/09]

  179.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of private orthopaedic operations being carried out by each surgeon at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12805/09]

  180.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the average waiting time for an appointment to be seen by the orthopaedic surgeon or a specialist at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12806/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 to 180, inclusive, together.

As these are service matters they have been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  181.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 181 of 4 February 2009, the number of children under the age of 18 with autism in the Dublin north catchment area (details supplied) who have been discharged from their school or service; the location where, be it in another institution, service or into their own family’s care, they were placed subsequently; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12813/09]

  182.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 181 of 4 February 2009, the number of people with autism aged 18 and over who have been discharged from their service placement in the Dublin north catchment area (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12814/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 181 and 182 together.

As the Deputy’s questions relate to service matters I have arranged for the questions to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  183.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [12841/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The matter raised by the Deputy relates to the provision of healthcare services and accordingly, I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy on the matter.

  184.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [12848/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  185.  Deputy Ciarán Cuffe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the nursing home support scheme; when she envisages the scheme being implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12852/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 completed Committee Stage in the Dáil on 12th March 2009. It is the Minister’s intention to progress the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas with a view to implementing the scheme in the second half of 2009. Unfortunately it is not possible to give a more specific timeframe at present.

  186.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position with regard to the renewal of a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11. [12859/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  187.  Deputy Catherine Byrne    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of a review of the disability services sector which was announced in January 2009; the persons who sit on this committee; if non-profit organisations in the sector can be represented on this committee; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12860/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  Following Budget 2009, I announced that a review will be conducted in 2009 of non-statutory agencies which provide services for persons with disabilities. The Review will consider a number of issues, including structure, overheads and coherence of and synergies within the sector with a view to assessing the scope for further efficiencies. This exercise will be undertaken with the focus at all times on the needs of people with disabilities.

The Review has now been incorporated within a wider programme of VFM Reviews being conducted under the supervision of the Department of Finance and will include the statutory as well as the non-statutory sectors. Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Finance with regard to the terms of reference and scope of the Review. These discussions are expected to conclude shortly. The Steering Group for the Review will be selected on the basis of expertise rather than on a representative basis.

  188.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason South Tipperary General Hospital has not been included in the HealthStat initiative; when it will be included; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12875/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  189.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position in respect of discussions between the Health Service Executive and St. John’s Hospital, Limerick, [159]in terms of the recommendations of the Teamwork consultants report and its implications for St. John’s Hospital. [12876/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE reconfiguration plans for the HSE Mid West region are informed by the recently published Teamwork Report. The Report highlighted the need for changes to be made in the provision and organisation of acute hospital services across the region as it found services were too fragmented, carried increased risks for patients and staff and were not sustainable in their present form. The HSE has been engaged in a consultation process with key stakeholders as it formulates detailed plans in relation to emergency care, critical care and surgical services in the region.

The HSE plans will involve the reconfiguration of Acute Hospital services into a network and their better integration with primary care services across the region, with a regional centre at the Regional Hospital Limerick that will deal with complex and specialist cases. The changing nature of health service delivery is such that smaller hospitals such as St John’s can meet much of the demand for less complex services, especially those that are increasingly done on a day case basis, such as day surgery and diagnostic procedures.

St John’s Hospital has played a prominent role in the provision of integrated health service in the Mid West and particularly in Limerick. For example, consultant appointments to the hospital for the past number of years have been on a shared basis with Limerick Regional Hospital at Dooradoyle. In addition, the hospital has participated in joint ventures such as the development of a minor injuries service in Limerick and in the co-ordination of pathology and radiology services.

St John’s Hospital is well placed strategically to continue to play a prominent role in the provision of services under the reconfiguration proposals. The HSE has commenced initial discussions with the management of the hospital in relation to its contribution in the future. The issues being discussed include the provision of increased input at A&E consultant level, expanded role in the provision of surgical services and the possibility of expanding the scope of the minor injuries service in St John’s to cover the weekend period. I am satisfied that the measures being taken by the HSE on the reconfiguration of services in the Mid West are necessary and appropriate in order to ensure the provision of safe and effective health services to the people of the region.

  190.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be reached in respect of a medical card application by a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12877/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  191.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be reached in respect of a medical card application by a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12878/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  192.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person [160](details supplied) qualifies for domiciliary care allowance; if they have been assessed to determine special needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12902/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  193.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork can expect to receive treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12913/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. The National Treatment Purchase Fund arranges treatment for patients who have been on a surgical waiting list for more than three months. It is open to the person in question or anyone acting on their behalf to contact the Fund directly in relation to their case.

  194.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a group (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [12921/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  195.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support persons (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [12923/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  196.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive to Parliamentary Question No. 208 of 24 February 2009. [12925/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I understand that a reply to the Deputy’s earlier question issued from the HSE on 25th March, 2009.

  197.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive to Parliamentary Question No. 209 of 24 February 2009. [12926/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have been informed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that it does not routinely keep the information required by the Deputy in the format requested by him and therefore it has to be generated and collated across each of the 32 Local Health Offices. I have also been informed that the HSE is actively pursuing the responses on the Deputy’s behalf and that a reply will issue as soon as the information has been compiled.

  198.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a hip operation. [12928/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  199.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork is failing to receive an appointment with the occupational therapist; and the alternative arrangements being made to have the child assessed. [12929/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Almost 130,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Governments ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  200.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ascertain from the Health Service Executive the reason the allocation of the transport of private medical insured patients is being allocated to only two private ambulance companies; and the further reason the Health Service Executive has not put in place a clinical and quality audit process to enable other private ambulance service providers to also do this work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12930/09]

  205.  Deputy Noel Grealish    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ascertain from the Health Service Executive if there is a mechanism in place for checking that the private ambulance services on the private ambulance service agreement framework are meeting the terms of their agreement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12967/09]

  206.  Deputy Noel Grealish    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ascertain from the Health Service Executive the number of inspections which have been carried out on the private ambulance providers who provide ambulance services under the private ambulance service level agreement to the HSE since the agreement was set up in January 2008; the observations the HSE assessors made as a result of these inspections; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12968/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 200, 205 and 206 together.

As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 201 answered with Question No. 59.

  202.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the long-term policy and plan for upgrading nursing homes; the criteria used for closing nursing homes; the consultation process with residents and staff of affected nursing homes; and if alternative measures are considered to improve standards before the closure option is chosen. [12956/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  In preparation for the introduction of the new national standards for residential care settings for Older People the Health Service Executive has put in place a comprehensive programme of preparation to ensure that its public facilities will be in a position to comply with the requirements of the standards. This preparation has focused on two particular areas to ensure that:

1. Policies, procedures and overall service are sufficient to meet the new standards.

2. The overall infrastructure is adequately developed on a phased basis.

The Executive established a Residential Standards National Reference Group which included Managers/Directors of Nursing of HSE residential facilities and each residential care setting is currently undertaking work to benchmark their facility against the standards in order to identify and address the deficits that can be addressed on a cost neutral basis.

In 2006, at the request of the Department, the Executive carried out an assessment of need for residential care for older people in preparation for both the impending standards and the National Development Plan 2009-2013. As part of this work, an assessment was undertaken to establish the extent to which existing public residential accommodation required replacement in the context of emerging standards, but also in the context of wider environmental and structural requirements including health & safety, fire and other criteria.

The HSE has undertaken to commence a phased programme of sustained reconfiguration and development over the next 6 years in order to be in a position to meet the statutory requirements provided for in the new national standards. In terms of reconfiguration and development the focus of the HSE’s programme is to target the highest priority locations in the first instance and progressing over time, within the resources available, to bring all our facilities up to the required standards. The 2009 National Service Plan sets out its plan for the management and configuration of public long-term residential care services.

The plan identifies a requirement to reduce the number of long-term residential care beds in some parts of the country, particularly where the standard of facilities is considered inadequate and where it is necessary to addresses infrastructural deficits in order to meet Health & Safety and Fire Requirements and the new standards. Where existing residents have to be relocated, the HSE works closely with the residents and their families to explain what options are available to them with a view to agreeing their preferences for relocation and ensuring that they are relocated to other facilities which will best meet their needs. It is also involved in an information and consultation process with both staff and their representative organisations and efforts will be made to accommodate preferences according to current best HR practice and HSE standards.

  203.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the Health Service Executive’s plans for the retention or removal of services for the Dóchas Breast Care Unit, Drogheda, County Louth; if a definitive date has been set for removal of services; if so, the [163]services which will be removed; the services which will be maintained; and if they are to be maintained on a permanent basis. [12960/09]

  204.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the Health Service Executive has a strategy for the family history unit at the Dóchas Breast Care Unit, Drogheda, County Louth; and if so, the details of the strategy. [12961/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 203 and 204 together.

The matters raised by the Deputy relate to the provision of healthcare services and accordingly, I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy on the matters.

Questions Nos. 205 and 206 answered with Question No. 200.

  207.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has sought or received any report on the deployment of occupational therapists who work for the Health Service Executive; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the service is unable to provide a service for children with special needs who require a support for sensory perception; her views on whether too much of the time of occupational therapists is absorbed in building inspections for grant purposes which could be provided under supervision by suitability trained construction experts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12984/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There has been a growing demand for, and investment in, occupational therapy services over the last number of years. A particular priority for my Department and the Department of Education and Science in recent years has been the expansion of the supply of therapy graduates. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future. In this regard, since 1997, the number of training places for occupational therapy has been increased from 29 to 110 which represents an increase of 279%. The numbers employed in occupational therapy has also grown significantly, with 291 whole time equivalents employed in December 1997 compared to 1,078 whole time equivalents employed in December 2008, which represents an increase of 270%.

The Government is committed to ensuring continued adequate recruitment of professional staff across a range of community settings to ensure the continued development of community services. Additional funding of €20 million has been provided in 2009 for health and education services for children with special educational needs. This funding will provide a total of 125 additional therapy posts in the HSE targeted at children of school-going age. 90 of these will be in the disability services, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. 35 additional posts will be provided for child and adolescent mental health services, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists for new and existing multi-disciplinary teams.

In addition, it is intended that certain key health and social care professional posts, including occupational therapists, are to be protected by setting employment floors for these grades within the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2009. These posts are essential to the development of a number of services areas such as disability, child adolescent mental health services and child protection services. In order to protect these posts, it is envisaged that the HSE will establish minimum employment levels to be maintained within each of these occupations in [164]the health sector in 2009. The recruitment and retention of these key front line professional posts is vital to ensure continued progress in the development of community settings.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. It is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. With regard to the deployment and duties of occupational therapists, as this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  208.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in issuing an over 70s medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [12994/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  209.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if persons (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive additional home help hours. [13011/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  210.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will publish the report (details supplied) on the outcome of mediation undertaken at her request in the case of three consultant orthodontists working in the public orthodontic service. [13036/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The report concerns a mediation process which I initiated in an attempt to resolve differences between three consultant orthodontists and the HSE. At the outset the parties agreed that the report, which contains personal information, including correspondence between the individuals concerned and their employer, would be treated as confidential. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to publish the report.

  211.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the case of persons (details supplied) and that the family wish to return to Ireland; the treatment that is available here for this person; if they will be treated in Letterkenny General Hospital, County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13057/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 212 answered with Question No. 40.

[165]

  213.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [13202/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE has advised that a reply was issued directly to the Deputy dated 23rd March 2009.

  214.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will make a statement in response to the call by a group (details supplied) for 24-hour social work services in respect of children. [13204/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Government and the HSE remain committed to the development of a comprehensive needs-based service for children at risk. I personally chair regular meetings between officials from my Office and senior child welfare and protection managers in the HSE aimed at improving the provision of services to children at risk. A key component of these discussions has been the provision of out of hours care.

In this context, the HSE is now putting in place a standardised national system whereby Gardaí can access an appropriate place of safety for children found to be at risk out of hours under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. This service will conform with Child Care Regulations and with the National Foster Care Standards. The provision of this service aims to ensure that children presenting as ‘at risk’ outside of normal working hours are provided with an appropriate emergency place of safety thereby reducing or eliminating social admissions of children in an acute hospital setting. Foster families are currently being recruited with a view to commencing the service on or before 1 June 2009.

In addition, and instead of developing a stand alone social work out of hours service, it has been agreed to develop alternative proposals based on a more integrated approach which builds on the HSE’s existing out of hours services including GPs, acute hospital services and mental health services. This should provide a more effective and integrated service by using existing resources and strengthening the links between services such as mental health and social work to appropriately address incidents occurring outside usual working hours. The aim is to ensure that persons seeking personal social services outside normal working hours can be provided with appropriate advice, information, support and, in emergency situations, access to specialist staff, such as staff working in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention.

  215.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if an appointment will be expedited in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13213/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  216.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on correspondence sent to her by the Irish Human Rights Commission, dated 23 October 2008, in which it recommended that she should reconsider her decision not to establish an external review of the use of symphysiotomy between the 1950s and the 1980s; if she will implement this recommendation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13217/09]

[166]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Irish Human Rights Commission was requested some time ago by a patient advocacy group to conduct an Inquiry into matters relating to the practice of symphysiotomy in Ireland from the 1950s up to 1983. Having considered the matter in some detail the Commission decided against conducting such an Inquiry under the Human Rights Commission Act, 2000.

The Commission recommended that I review a previous decision not to establish an external review of the practice. Significant efforts had been made previously by the Department’s Chief Medical Officer, via the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and through international contacts, to source a suitable reviewer. Progress was made in identifying and sourcing a suitable candidate who later became unavailable due to work commitments. However, the Survivors of Symphysiotomy, another patient support group, subsequently expressed reservations over the choice of reviewer. Thereafter it did not prove possible to source an independent expert. My Department remains in correspondence with the Commission in relation to the matter. The Deputy may also wish to note that in line with a recommendation from the Commission my Department has asked the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to consider the preparation of clinical guidelines covering the practice of symphysiotomy.

  217.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that a national co-ordinator is appointed who has the appropriate authority and knowledge to deal with the health needs of persons who underwent symphysiotomy procedures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13218/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  A range of measures to support the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) Group was put in place by the Health Service Executive (HSE) following a meeting between my predecessor, Minister Martin, and the Group in late 2003. This included the designation of liaison officers to assist in co-ordinating the provision of services to former patients. My Department has asked the HSE to reply directly to the Deputy on the issue raised.

  218.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is aware that retired teachers who will not benefit from a medical card are required to continue to pay a 2% health levy while also meeting the cost of hospital and general practitioner charges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13224/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Contribution was introduced by virtue of the Health Contributions Act 1979 and came into effect on the 6th April of that year. The contributions are levied on income at a percentage rate set in pursuance of the Health Contributions Act and are paid over to the Minister for Health and Children in respect of the Vote for the Health Service Executive. The current rate of contribution is 2% of gross income up to € 1,925 per week or €100,100 per annum and 2.5 % on the balance of income in excess of those amounts in a contribution year. Subject to exemptions, the rate of contribution is applicable to all persons over the age of sixteen with reckonable income, earnings or emoluments. Among the exemptions and in accordance with the provisions of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008, any person who is over 70 years of age is exempt from paying the contributions.

  219.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the recent sudden decision to end the work of the teaching panel in the City of Dublin Youth Services Board; the consideration she has given to the impact of same on many youth clubs in the Dublin area; the implications for a long established youth club (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if she will reconsider this decision in view of the negative implications for young people, particularly in disadvantaged areas. [13310/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The City of Dublin Youth Service Board (CDYSB) has been for many years promoting, supporting and co-ordinating the development of voluntary youth clubs and youth services in Dublin City. I understand that the youth club referred to by the Deputy was in receipt of a “pre project” grant of €15,000 for the past three years from CDYSB to help it develop and become an independent project.

While this funding is being discontinued, the youth club in question will continue to receive a grant to meet the costs of overheads, programme and activities. Applications have been submitted by CDYSB on behalf of the youth club over the past three years for funding under the Special Projects for Youth scheme but due to the large number of applications received and the limited funding available it was not possible to provide the funding requested. In relation to the work of the teaching panel, I understand that the teaching hours have had to be reduced in light of budgetary constraints, but CDYSB will continue to accept applications for support and hours will be allocated equitably to groups who meet the requirements. I wish to assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to minimise the impact of the reduction in funding available to the youth sector and to preserve and maintain existing provision in so far as is possible.

  220.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the registration or notification procedures in place to track the number of people with private health insurance; if regular statistics are collected on the number of people who have health insurance cover and the number of people covered; and if she will provide figures on the number of people currently with a policy, the number of people covered by these policies and the equivalent figures for 2006, 2007 and 2008. [13314/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Insurance Authority compiles statistics on the market based on returns made by insurers. The most recent data available to the Authority relates to 31 December 2008. The Authority includes summary market data in its annual Reports, which are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Detailed data concerning the market is available in reports and surveys on the Authority’s website.

While its 2008 Report is not yet published the Authority has informed my Department that at the end of 2008 2,299,000 people were insured — estimated at 51.6% of the population. Of these 1,011,000 were policyholders and the balance dependants (mostly spouses and children). The equivalent figures for 2007 were 2,245,000 people insured (51.2% of the population) and for 2006, 2,174,000 people (50.9% of the population).

  221.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will centralise the processing of the medical card scheme, drugs payment scheme, ophthalmic scheme and immunisation scheme to a central office in Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13323/09]

[168]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Question No. 222 answered with Question No. 102.

Question No. 223 answered with Question No. 56.

  224.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will reverse the cuts to the National Office for Suicide Prevention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13329/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Budget for the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) is set by the Health Service Executive, specifically, within the Population Health Directorate. The HSE advised NOSP that its annual budget was to be reduced by 12.5%. Accordingly, NOSP’s budget for 2009 amounts to €3.3 million. In addition, once off funding of €1 million was allocated in 2009 for suicide prevention initiatives which brings the total funding available to NOSP in 2009 to €4.3m.

Funding will be used to progress actions identified in ‘Reach Out’— the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention and specifically, develop youth based campaigns. Other suicide prevention initiatives which include Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), dedicated suicide resource officers, suicide prevention training officers and deliberate self-harm response nurses in A&E departments, are delivered and funded directly by the HSE. It should also be emphasised that a range of services such as mental health and primary care services are important in helping to prevent suicide. These services play a vital role in the drive to reduce the incidence of suicide, and should be taken into account when considering the level of expenditure devoted to suicide prevention.

It is the responsibility of the National Office to allocate its funding most effectively within itself and to organisations it funds. NOSP met all of the organisations involved to ensure that existing levels of service will be maintained. All organisations have agreed to introduce the required reductions and have agreed that cuts in expenditure will be restricted to non-pay and non-service related costs (e.g. training, travel etc.) It is worth noting that, in 2008, the National Office made no reduction in funding to any of the voluntary bodies it supports, even though other parts of the HSE reduced funding to voluntary bodies. We are operating in straitened times but I wish to assure the Deputy that the current economic climate does not in any way dilute this Government’s commitment to suicide prevention.

Question No. 225 answered with Question No. 63.

  226.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her Department, in view of the economic recession, has carried out a re-evaluation of the decision that new primary care centres will be provided by the market, through rental of floor space, rather than from the capital programme as proposed in the national development plan. [13331/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Government as part of Budget 2009 announced that the Health Service Executive would initiate an innovative proposal to fast-track the roll-out of new Primary Care Centres in collaboration with the private sector through leasing arrangements. Based on responses received from the market, the Executive has undertaken a Cost Benefit Analysis on the proposed approach which, taking account of [169]the competitive rates on offer, demonstrates that the provision of Primary Care Centres through leasing arrangements provides value for money. The private sector continues to show strong interest in the approach and negotiations on the initial tranche of pilot locations demonstrate commitment and capacity on the part of those expressing interest in providing suitable accommodation. The Executive has sought the assistance of the National Development Finance Agency to support it in developing a framework for testing the value for money to be achieved through this initiative on an ongoing basis.

Question No. 227 answered with Question No. 52.

  228.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the names and locations of the private health care facilities she has opened since her appointment as Minister. [13333/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The information requested is detailed as follows:

Year 2004

Date Health Care Facility
30/11/04 The Beacon Clinic, Sandyford

Year 2005

Date Health Care Facility
17/1/05 TLC Centre, Santry Purpose built nursing home.
22/4/05 New Building of MS Ireland, 80 Northumberland Road. Building for Multiple Sclerosis organisation, providing information and support to people with Multiple Sclerosis.
10/6/05 Summerville Healthcare, Strandhill Village. Residential medical care, for all age groups, short medium or long term.
11/6/05 Sycamore House, Clifden. 10 place community residence. Clifden Mental Health Association involved in the opening.
19/10/05 Touchstone Primary Health Care Centre, Mulhuddart Primary Care service allied to residences for elderly people.
9/11/05 Primary Care Centre for Dromod Development Assoc, Co Leitrim.
24/11/05 VHI Swift Care Centre, Dundrum
5/12/05 Peter Bradley House, Tallaght. Foundation related to acquired brain injuries.
12/11/05 Extension to Tara Winthrop Private Clinic. Clinic providing nursing care for medium, high and maximum dependency residents. Divided into 5 separate units.

Year 2006

Date Health Care Facility
19/6/06 VHI Swiftcare Clinic — DCU Campus
17/7/06 Sonas Care Centre — Athlone, Co Westmeath. 60 bed nursing home with 16 independent living units
25/10/06 Beacon Hospital, Sandyford

[170]Year 2007

Date Health Care Facility
11/1/07 Charter Medical Clinic, Smithfield. Medical facility offering speciality healthcare in the community.
15/10/07 VHI Swiftcare Clinic, Swords
25/10/07 Slievemore Clinic, Stillorgan. Primary Care Services clinic.
26/11/07 Chartered Physiotherapy Clinic “the Physio Company”, Temple Bar. Physiotherapy centre catering for cases related to sports, work or in the home.

Year 2008

Date Health Care Facility
28/1/08 Primary Care Centre for G.P. Practice. Providing services to the public.
1/2/08 All in Care unit, Balbriggan — (launch telephone monitoring unit). Care agency supplying experienced carers, nurses and home helps.
0/3/08 Dyspraxia Centre, Tallaght. Facility for The Dyspraxia Association of Ireland.
31/3/08 First Step Rehabilitation Centre, Limerick. Facility providing physiotherapy to young adults.
19/5/08 Day Surgery Unit in Aut Even Hospital, Kilkenny. Hospital opened in 1912. Opening of new unit.
30/5/08 Oakview Village Childcare, Tralee. Facility for children including a nursery and playschool.
23/6/08 Marley Nursing Home Clinic, Rathfarmham. Nursing home with 124 bedrooms.
9/7/08 Barchester Retirement Village, Trim. Retirement village with 69 homes for independent living. Medical services for people with dementia and chronic illnesses.
9/7/08 Redwood Extended Care Facility, Stamullen, Co Meath. Residential Centre for people with acquired brain injury.
28/7/08 Ballinderry Clinic, Mullingar. 16 unit consulting clinic providing outpatient services for Mullingar and midlands region.
15/9/08 New Emergency Dept at Hermitage Medical Clinic, Lucan. Independent hospital in West Dublin.
26/9/08 Hamilton Park Care Facility, Balrothery. Residential Care and health care facility.
29/9/08 The Care Centre, Straffan, Co Kildare. Residential care with separate specialist Alzheimer’s unit.
10/11/08 VHI Swiftcare Clinic, Cork
13/11/08 Rossecourt Resource Centre, Balgaddy, Lucan. Attached to Stewarts Hospital (voluntary body). Facility to help young adults requiring physiotherapy.

Year 2009

Date Health Care Facility
2/2/09 Vista Primary Care Centre, Naas. Primary care facility also providing services and offices to the HSE

  229.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the action she has taken to ensure that funding allocated to the Health Service Executive for spending on disability services is spent on those services and not diverted to other purposes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13334/09]

[171]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The National Service Plan, which sets out the quantum of services to be provided in any financial year by the Health Service Executive (HSE) out of the resources allocated to it, is the primary vehicle through which the Minister and the Department monitor and evaluate the performance of the Executive against the targets set out in the plan. The Plan is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Department has an agreed monitoring framework with the HSE and receives detailed comprehensive monthly reports from the HSE on all aspects of progression of the National Service Plan. Quarterly ‘high level’ meetings take place between the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief Executive Officer of the HSE to discuss issues arising in relation to implementation and progression of the National Service Plan. In addition, there is ongoing liaison and dialogue between various sections within the Department and their corresponding directorates in the HSE. There are also ‘triangular’ monthly meetings held between the Department of Finance, Department of Health and Children and the HSE.

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister for Finance will be introducing a new budget on 7th April 2009 which will determine spending levels for public services including the health services the rest of the year. The Minister for Health and Children has given a commitment that she will come before the Oireachtas or the Joint Committee on Health and Children to address the situation that will arise in the health service following the introduction of the budget on the 7th April 2009.

  230.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will intervene to prevent the planned removal of acute medical services from Monaghan General Hospital as planned later in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13335/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Transformation Programme for the North East region has been informed by the Teamwork Report to the Health Service Executive (HSE) which demonstrated that the service configuration in the region was unsustainable. A series of focused and necessary service changes are being implemented across the region.

With regard to the Cavan/Monaghan Hospital Group the HSE intends to complete the transfer of acute in-patient services from Monaghan to Cavan over the coming months and to develop additional services in Monaghan. The transfer of acute medical care to Cavan is subject to a number of dependencies first being in place, including the development of an enhanced ambulance and pre-hospital thrombolysis service. The recently opened Medical Assessment Unit at Cavan is to be in place for two months prior to the proposed transfer of services from Monaghan. Finally, I must emphasise that the changes proposed by the HSE and fully supported by the Government are for reasons of patient safety. The HSE will work with all stakeholders to bring about the improvements in a carefully planned way that puts patients first.

  231.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of dentists attached to the Kildare-west Wicklow area of the Health Service Executive; if there is a waiting list for dental or orthodontic treatment in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13372/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  232.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position of the centralisation of the medical card system; the location at which the new headquarters will be; the position of the existing staff that operate the system within each Health Service Executive area; if they will be facilitated in the existing areas with alternative employment, if they will have to relocate to Dublin or if there will be redundancies as a result of this relocation; the cost that will occur to the HSE as a result of this change; the changes that will have to be made to the HSE computer system to facilitate the changes; if the changes will increase or decrease employment within the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13373/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  233.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason Roscommon County Hospital was not included in the Health Service Executive performance league; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13382/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  234.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if medical assistance or funding will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13454/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  235.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when an MRI scan will be arranged in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13455/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  236.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when psychological and behavioural assessments will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13456/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  237.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13457/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[173]

  238.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [13458/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Question No. 239 answered with Question No. 56.

  240.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the level of research currently in hand or proposed in respect of incidence of autism and Asperger’s syndrome; how this compares with other European countries; if genetic or other comparisons have been made; if the levels here are as high or higher than in other EU or non-EU countries; the initiatives she will take to address conclusions accruing from such comparisons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13460/09]

  241.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the level of support, diagnostic or treatment support services available to parents of children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome; her plans to address this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13461/09]

  242.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the level of diagnostic treatment or support services available to the parents of autistic children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13462/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 240 to 242, inclusive, together.

The Department of Health and Children does not collect information on children identified with Autism and Asperger’s on a national or international basis. Information pertaining to diagnosis is specifically excluded from the National Intellectual Disability Database as the database is not designed as a medical epidemiological tool. Accordingly the database does not record the incidence of Autism or any other disability.

In 2004, the Department of Health and Children, through the Health Research Board, approved expenditure of €5 million on autism research to help improve international understanding of the genetic causes of autism. This €5 million is the Irish contribution to a new major international research initiative called the Autism Genome Project which will receive a total investment of €12 million from a variety of international organisations over the next three years. The other co-funders in the international consortium include Autism Speaks (US), the British Medical Research Council (CIHR), Southwest Autism Research and Resource Centre (SARRC), and the Hilibrand Foundation. This unique combination of international, public and private partners funding a consortium of clinicians and scientists is a new and welcome departure in the field of autism research. The Health Research Board has informed my Department that this funding was awarded as follows:

€2.8 million: Professor Michael Gill, Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College, Dublin

€2.2 million: Professor Andrew Green, Director National Centre for Medical Genetics, Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin (affiliated to UCD).

This figure represents the largest tranche of funding to be awarded by any of the four funders within the international consortium. The Irish researchers are at the forefront in unravelling [174]the genetic determinants of autism and related disorders. They are using novel state of the art genetic sequencing technology to analyse DNA samples taken from autistic patients to identify candidate genetic markers for autism. They will collaborate with their international colleagues to then link these genetic markers with clinical outcomes. This unique international research effort will greatly improve not only our understanding of the causes of autism, but its diagnosis and treatment.

With regard to the remaining matters raised by the Deputy, these relate to the management and delivery of health and personal services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act, 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  243.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children how she will make nursing home or similar accommodation available to older people at an affordable cost in view of    the economic downturn; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13463/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Máire Hoctor):  The new Nursing Homes Support Scheme, A Fair Deal, will guarantee that nursing home care is affordable for those who need it. Individuals will contribute towards the cost of their care based on their ability to pay as determined by a financial assessment. The State will then meet the full balance of cost up to the agreed price for care. Under the new scheme, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) will agree prices for long-term care with private nursing home owners on behalf of the State. Where nursing homes agree prices for the purposes of the scheme with the NTPF, the NTPF will recommend the homes to the Health Service Executive for inclusion on the list of nursing homes ‘approved’ for the scheme. The NTPF will only agree a price if it is satisfied that it is reasonable and value for money.

The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 completed Committee Stage in the Dáil on 12th March 2009. It is the Minister’s intention to progress the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas with a view to implementing the scheme in the second half of 2009. Unfortunately it is not possible to give a more specific timeframe at present. In the interim, individuals can also continue to apply for Nursing Home Subvention. The HSE has contracted an additional 235 beds in private nursing homes, of which 220 have been filled.

  244.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of doctor-only medical cards issued since the inception of the doctor-only medical card scheme; the number withdrawn in the same period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13464/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The GP visit card benefit was introduced in November 2005. Details of the number of GP visit card holders are provided to my Department each month by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The figures are provided on a net basis, showing the balance after new cards have been issued and other cards, as appropriate, have been deleted from the Executive’s database, e.g. following a review of a person’s circumstances. The most recent figures provided to my Department by the HSE are for February 2009. The total number of GP visit card holders on 28th February 2009 was 86,442.

[175]As the information sought by the Deputy is not provided to my Department by the HSE as a matter of the routine, the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive has been requested to arrange to address these matters and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  245.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of medical cards issued to persons over 70 years of age; the number withdrawn to date; the extent to which further withdrawals or cancellations are expected to take place arising from budgetary or other decisions taken or likely to be taken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13465/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Details of the number of medical card holders are provided to my Department each month by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The figures are provided on a net basis, showing the balance after new cards have been issued and other cards, as appropriate, have been deleted from the Executive’s database, e.g. following a review of a person’s circumstances. The most recent figures provided to my Department by the HSE are for February 2009. The total number of medical card holders aged 70 and over on 28th February 2009 was 343,617.

Following enactment of the Health Act 2008, the Health Service Executive (HSE) wrote to all medical card holders aged 70 years and over in January 2009. Persons who were in receipt of a medical card on a non means tested basis were requested, if over the income limits set out in the Act, to make a declaration to the Executive, on or before the 2nd March 2009. To date, 10,181 persons have returned their medical cards to the HSE and I understand that cards are still being returned. The HSE also reports that as part of an ongoing data quality exercise, a significant number of cards have also been removed from the medical card register — 9,264 of which are in respect of persons aged 70 years and over.

  246.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of general medical cards issued in each of the past five years to date; the number withdrawn or cancelled in each year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13466/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Details of the number of medical card holders are provided to my Department each month by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The figures are provided on a net basis, showing the balance after new cards have been issued and other cards, as appropriate, have been deleted from the Executive’s database, e.g. following a review of a person’s circumstances. The most recent figures provided to my Department by the HSE are for February 2009. The number of medical card holders in February 2009 and for the month of February in the five previous years are set out in tabular form.

Date Number of Medical Card Holders
28th February 2009 1,365,242
29th February 2008 1,288,621
28th February 2007 1,228,468
28th February 2006 1,168,273
28th February 2005 1,144,578
29th February 2004 1,152,291

As the information requested by the Deputy is not provided by the HSE to my Department as a matter of routine, the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive has been requested to arrange to address these matters and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  247.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the level of permanent nursing staff throughout the health services; the extent to which this figure has fluctuated in each of the past ten years to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13467/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  248.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of children assessed and adjudged to be in need of orthodontic treatment in each of the past five years to date; the number of such cases in which treatment has begun; the number outstanding; the number in respect of whom alternative provision has been made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13468/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  249.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is satisfied that the ambulance service is fully and adequately equipped in terms of ambulances and all medical equipment required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13469/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  250.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the extent to which all facilities proposed in respect of Naas General Hospital, Naas, County Kildare, are in operation in accordance with projections; if the full staff complement at all levels is in situ or anticipated; if all theatres, including the clear air theatre, are fully and satisfactorily functioning and being utilised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13470/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  251.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to persons (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13471/09]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  252.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his [177]Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12834/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the table. All the contracts involved are to the Department.

Company Nature of Service
Premier Recruitment International IT — Software development management and training
Version1 Software IT — Software development
Sabeo Contracting Services Limited IT — Network Support — data storage administrator
IT Force Limited IT — Network Support Administrator
IT Force Limited IT —Network Support — security systems administrator
IT Force Limited IT — Service Desk
IT Force Limited IT — Service Desk
Ajilon (UK) Limited trading as Computer People IT — Service Desk
Sabeo Contracting Services Limited IT — Database administrator
Talitha Management Services Sustainability Advisor

In relation to agencies such agreements are matters for the agencies themselves.

  253.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the National Roads Authority, his Department or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform retain all funds accruing from speeding or other motoring offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12898/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The collection of financial penalties accruing from offences under the Road Traffic Acts is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Courts Service. There are no provisions in the Road Traffic Acts for any part of such penalties to be paid to the Department or to the NRA.

  254.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding a matter (details supplied). [12924/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The position I outlined in my reply of 11th November last to Dail Question No. 320 (Ref. No. 39293/08) in relation to this matter remains unchanged except that the planning and preparations for Metro North have been further advanced. The first round of tenders for the PPP contract for this project were submitted by the four bidding groups in 27th February last and these tenders are now being evaluated by the RPA. In addition, the Oral Hearing before An Bord Pleanála on the RPA’s application for a railway order in respect of Metro North will commence tomorrow. The statutory planning process which is currently underway provides the appropriate forum for all interested parties, including Mr. Mannion, to have their views and concerns on the proposed Metro North project heard and taken into account by the planning authorities.

  255.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will respond to a query regarding a company (details supplied). [12964/09]

[178]

  261.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Transport    his dealings in respect of the challenges for the workers at a company (details supplied); the position regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13368/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 255 and 261 together.

In mid January the Department were informed by the DAA that as part of preparations for global restructuring SR Technics had agreed to sell certain hangars back to the DAA and had signed a letter of intent to that effect. I was informed of these developments at the time. The Department and I had been made aware by the DAA in mid November of contacts between SR Technics and the DAA about possible restructuring of SR Technics and as a consequence the possible return of hangar leases. The DAA advised that as they had signed a strict confidentiality agreement with SR Technics, they were therefore precluded from providing the Department with details of the discussions at that stage.

Subsequently, in late December the Department were advised by the DAA that these discussions were progressing but were still subject to a strict confidentiality agreement and that any restructuring of SR Technics could have a significant impact on employment in the Dublin operation. I would like to make it clear that both the Department and the DAA have at all times been sensitive to the employment implications of SR Technics closure. I can also confirm that the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are working intensively to ensure that any viable proposals for aviation related projects to retain as many jobs as possible in aircraft maintenance are given serious consideration. The DAA will also give serious consideration to any commercial proposal put to it as regards access to hangars for aircraft maintenance operations. I have instructed the Department to maintain contact with the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment, IDA and Enterprise Ireland to ensure that any viable proposals can be facilitated

As regards the position of Aer Lingus, the company awarded the maintenance contracts to other providers following a competitive tender process in which SR Technics played a full part. It is not open to the Government to intervene in commercial matters of Aer Lingus and the Company has to be allowed the freedom to make such decisions in the interests of its shareholders. It should also be noted that under EU rules the airline would have had to put the maintenance contracts out to tender even if it was still under State ownership.

  256.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of money which was available in 2008 to local authorities on a county basis in tabular form for local and regional roads. [12974/09]

  257.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of money which will be available to local authorities on a county basis in tabular form for local and regional roads. [12975/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 256 and 257 together.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads, in its area, is a statutory function of each individual local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants paid by my Department. State road grants paid in 2008 are set out in the following table. The allocations which will be authorised for 2009 will not be known until after 7th April when the budget is announced.

Local Authority 2008 Grant Payments 2009 Grant Allocations
County Councils
Carlow 7,689,649 8,108,699
Cavan 18,459,927 18,683,025
Clare 22,318,081 22,576,498
Cork 62,827,165 63,659,343
Donegal 43,656,564 39,464,397
Dun Laoghaire–Rathdown 9,187,663 8,711,699
Fingal 9,740,986 8,170,866
Galway 30,251,618 33,844,804
Kerry 25,281,662 25,540,139
Kildare 26,858,894 25,470,264
Kilkenny 15,001,413 16,021,813
Laois 10,844,115 12,453,928
Leitrim 12,532,288 12,622,699
Limerick 18,408,476 18,330,598
Longford 8,953,647 9,085,799
Louth 10,678,281 14,426,636
Mayo 31,150,621 31,212,746
Meath 29,232,813 22,491,473
Monaghan 17,030,071 18,000,199
North Tipperary 13,648,233 15,517,598
Offaly 11,156,910 11,925,699
Roscommon 18,361,100 17,847,265
Sligo 15,853,007 17,149,751
South Dublin 9,162,308 13,826,899
South Tipperary 16,397,058 16,529,738
Waterford 15,844,110 17,888,699
Westmeath 15,701,147 18,329,365
Wexford 19,006,757 18,993,046
Wicklow 24,796,229 25,076,820
City Councils
Cork City 7,003,628 6,979,000
Dublin City 14,178,426 18,325,656
Galway City 2,317,829 3,805,000
Limerick City 3,498,718 4,210,000
Waterford City 6,950,075 5,170,000

  258.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    if there has been a cutback in the amount of funding which has been promised for roads for 2009. [12976/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Apart from a minor adjustment (€1.1 million) there has been no reduction in the allocation announced on 28 January 2009 by the National Roads Authority for its national roads investment programme or in the allocations for regional and local roads notified to local authorities on 2 February 2009. All public expenditure is, however, subject to review in the context of the forthcoming Supplementary Budget.

  259.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will respond to correspondence from an association (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12977/09]

  260.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13049/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 259 and 260 together.

The Minister has responded to the correspondence received from the Irish Road Haulage Association.

Question No. 261 answered with Question No. 255.

  262.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Transport    the projects under Transport 21 which will commence in 2009; the projects to be completed in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13385/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Significant progress has been made since the beginning of Transport 21 and this progress will continue in 2009. The Transport 21 projects that will begin in 2009 are:

the N21 Castleisland Bypass;

the Citywest Luas line;

the Dublin City Centre rail resignalling project;

the third tranche of the Railway Safety Programme.

Construction will continue during the year on 11 major projects including Phase 1 of the Navan rail line, the Cherrywood Luas line and 9 national road projects:

M3 Clonee-North of Kells;

N6 Galway-Ballinasloe;

N7 Limerick Tunnel;

M7 Castletown-Nenagh;

M7/M8 Portlaoise-Cullahill/Castletown;

N9 Carlow-Knocktopher;

N18 Gort-Crusheen;

M50 Upgrade Phase 2;

N52 Tullamore Bypass;

In addition, a number of public transport programmes such as the GDA traffic management grants scheme, the accessibility programme and the automation of level crossings will continue.

[181]In 2009, the NRA expects to complete 8 national road projects:

N4 Leixlip/M50 Junction (Lucan Bypass upgrade);

N6 Athlone to Ballinasloe;

M7 Nenagh to Limerick;

M8 Mitchelstown to Fermoy;

N9 aterford to Knocktopher;

M9 Kilcullen to Carlow;

N25 Waterford City Bypass;

N51 Navan Inner Relief Road.

The following public transport projects will be completed in 2009:

the Docklands Luas line;

the Midleton rail line;

Phase 1 of the Western Rail Corridor (Ennis to Athenry);

the Kildare rail project;

The remaining Intercity railcars of the 183 ordered will enter into service on the national rail network.

  263.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    the roads projects that are subject to Department of Finance approval before the National Roads Authority can proceed with the projects; the expected delay in each case that will arise from this new procedure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13421/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The total capital allocation to the National Roads Authority (NRA) for its national roads investment programme for 2009 is €1.44 billion. All but approximately €50m of this year’s allocation on national roads is already contractually committed and does not require prior Department of Finance approval. This contractually committed expenditure will see us move into the final construction phase on the interurban motorway and dual carriageway network and the completion of the M50 upgrade by end 2010. It will also finance a range of other projects around the country.

My Department has written to the Department of Finance seeking approval to proceed with the letting of contracts in respect of the remaining €50 million of the NRA’s capital allocation. This includes the NRA’s proposed programme of minor roadworks on both national primary and national secondary roads, as well as planning and preparatory works on a range of other projects. I expect that the Department of Finance will respond to my Department following the Supplementary Budget on 7th April next.

  264.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding the installation of closed circuit television by location in County Louth; the [182]success to date of the system; the future plans for increased funding and expansion of the service in County Louth by location; if changes have been made in such plans as a result of cutbacks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12790/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There are currently two Garda Town Centre CCTV systems located in Dundalk and Drogheda. These systems are managed by An Garda Síochána and are monitored on a 24 hour basis. In addition, there is a Community based CCTV scheme operational in Drogheda consisting of six cameras and plans are well advanced by Drogheda Borough Council to further expand this scheme. Also, a proposed Community based scheme in Dundalk at Cox’s Demesne and Muirhevnamor has been approved and two further groups — Carlingford and Louth County Council — Blackrock, have been awarded small pre-development grants to assist with developing proposals for the installation of Community CCTV schemes in their areas. Grant aided funding is provided for the Community based schemes by my Department with matching funding provided by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in respect of RAPID areas.

CCTV systems have become an important and effective tool to support policing and community safety in these areas and they also act as a useful deterrent to crime and public disorder. Garda CCTV schemes are planned and implemented on the basis of the Garda Commissioner’s identified operational needs and priorities. Before grants are awarded under the Community based scheme, a comprehensive vetting of applications is carried out by Pobal on behalf of my Department. As part of the process, an assessment of needs, including an analysis of crime statistics and other background information, is carried out by the local Garda Divisional Officer. Any future plans for extension of CCTV are dependent on a number of factors including the availability of funding, the progression of schemes already grant aided and overall policy considerations.

  265.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 271 of 10 March 2009, when he will make a decision in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12840/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 271 of Tuesday 10 March 2009, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply. The Deputy might wish to note that the outstanding leave to remain application of the person concerned is among a large number of such applications my Department currently has on hands. Additionally, the Deputy should note that the processing of such applications is resource intensive and, as such, it is not possible to estimate when a decision will be made on this application. However, the Deputy can be assured that there will be no avoidable delay in having the case of the person concerned finalised.

  266.  Deputy Ciarán Cuffe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has plans to commence sections 13 and 14 of the Courts and Courts Officers Act 2002 to extend the jurisdictions of the District and Circuit Courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12853/09]

[183]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The matter is under consideration by my Department in the context of the proposed Legal Costs Bill.

  267.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the cell capacity of every prison here in tabular form. [12857/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to advise the Deputy that there has been a significant increase in the provision of prison spaces in the last 10 to 12 years. In that period close to 1,400 new prison spaces have been provided representing a significant investment in modern prison accommodation. In addition, an additional 400 extra spaces will be provided at Castlerea, Wheatfield and Portlaoise in the coming months. That said, overcrowding is an issue with the numbers in custody increasing by 65% over the last 12 years. We must maximise the available prison space since the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed to their custody by the Courts.

The cell capacity of all prisons throughout the prison estate that presently can be used for occupancy are set out in the table below. This does not include special observation or close supervision cells. When looking at prison capacity and bearing in mind that not all cells are single occupancy cells, the bed capacity figure for each prison gives a much more accurate picture. Accordingly, details of the bed and the cell/room capacity of each prison are set out in the table.

Prison/Place of Detention Bed Capacity Cell/Room Capacity
Arbour Hill 148 114 cells
Castlerea 228 135 cells
Cloverhill 431 188 cells
Cork 272 138 cells
Dóchas Centre 85 90 rooms
Limerick 295 195 cells
Loughan House 130 115 rooms
Midlands 469 434 cells
Mountjoy (Male) 540 441 cells
Portlaoise 210 233 cells
Shelton Abbey 90 56 cells
St. Patrick’s 216 214 cells
Training Unit 107 96 rooms
Wheatfield 390 284 cells

  268.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of recorded incidents in which a knife was involved annually since 2003; the number of detected recorded incidents involving a knife annually since 2003; the number of recorded incidents in which a knife is involved with convictions annually since 2003; the number of recorded incidents in which a knife is involved with cases pending annually since 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12870/09]

[184]

  269.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of incidences in which a knife was involved recorded monthly in the past six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12871/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 268 and 269 together.

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide the statistics sought by the Deputy directly to him.

  270.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will confirm that a tender competition was recently held to appoint presenting officers to attend hearings of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal; the publications and website on which this competition was advertised; the costs involved; the number of tenders received; the number of those interviewed by the selection board; the names of the members of the selection board and the fees and expenses they were paid; the name of the successful applicant; if they are solicitors or barristers; if those people are being or have been appointed as staff members of his Department or the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner; if they have been appointed or will be appointed authorised officers under the Refugee Act 1996; if so, the date of same; if the successful appointees are able to subcontract work to another solicitor or barrister or legal firms; if they are able to provide services to asylum applications before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal; the schedule of fees being paid; if they have been reduced in view of the statement (details supplied) of 3 February 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12879/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 232 on 3 March 2009. At the time of my reply, the matter of the application of the Government decision relating to professional fees to the schedule of fees payable to Presenting Panel members was under examination. I can now confirm that the schedule of fees applicable to the Panel has been reduced in line with the Government Decision.

  271.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to the application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12880/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No 334 for answer on 25 November, 2008. The person’s case has been reviewed in light of the recent Supreme Court judgments on matters related to the IBC/05 Scheme. The Deportation Order made in respect of the person concerned, on 15 September, 2008 remains in force. The effect of the Deportation Order is that the person concerned must leave the State and remain thereafter out of the State. The enforcement of Deportation Orders is an operational matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  272.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to the application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12881/09]

[185]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No.125 of Thursday 12 February 2009, in this matter. The position of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

  273.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a review will be taken in the case of the application for residency by a person (details supplied) in County Meath; if all relevant issues have been fully investigated before making an order; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12882/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned, an infant child, was born in the State in mid-2008. An application for asylum was made on her behalf on 13 August 2008. Her asylum application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 28 November 2008, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State i.e. why she should not be deported. She was also notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection pursuant to the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006. An application for Subsidiary Protection was made on behalf of the person concerned by her legal representative. Following consideration of this application, a decision was made to refuse the application. The person concerned and her legal representative were notified of this decision by letter dated 11 March 2009.

Her case was then examined under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended, on the prohibition of refoulement. Consideration was given to all representations submitted on her behalf. On 5 March 2009, I signed a Deportation Order in respect of the person concerned. Notice of this Order was served by registered letter dated 13 March 2009 which obliges the person concerned to leave the State. To this end, the person concerned is required to present herself at the Offices of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) 13-14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2 on Tuesday 31 March 2009 in order to make arrangements for her removal from the State.

The Deputy might wish to note that the mother of the person concerned, who is also the subject of a Deportation Order, has been directed to ‘present’ at the Offices of the Garda National Immigration Bureau on the same date and at the same time as her infant child. I am satisfied that the applications made by the person concerned for asylum, for Subsidiary Protection and for leave to remain temporarily in the State were fairly and comprehensively examined and, as such, the decision to deport the person concerned is justified. The effect of the Deportation Order is that the person concerned must leave the State and remain thereafter out of the State. The enforcement of the Deportation Order is an operational matter for the GNIB.

  274.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in relation to the application for family reunification or residency in the case of persons (details supplied). [12883/09]

[186]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned has had his Leave to Remain in the State extended for a three year period, to 23 March 2012. This decision was conveyed to the person concerned by letter dated 24 March 2009. There is no record in my Department of the person concerned having submitted an application for family reunification. The Deputy might wish to note that the position in the State of the person concerned is not such as would confer any statutory entitlement under family reunification provisions.

  275.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a further temporary travel document will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12884/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Immigration Services Section of my Department that the person in question has not been granted refugee status in the State in accordance with the Refugee Act 1996 and therefore is not entitled to apply for a 1951 UN Convention Travel Document. The person in question was issued with a Temporary Travel Document in May 2008 valid to November 2008 to assist him in obtaining a national passport. The person in question was advised in writing by the Travel Document Unit on 20 February 2009 that the temporary travel document previously issued to him would not be renewed. It is open to the person concerned to seek Consular Assistance from his own national embassy located in London.

  276.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on the application for family reunification or residency in the case of a
person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12885/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my previous answers to his Parliamentary Questions on the person in question, No. 209 of 21 February 2008, No. 232 of Thursday 6th March 2008, No. 513 of 17th April 2008, No.147 of Thursday 29th May 2008, No.106 of 4th December 2008, and No. 316 of 16th December 2008. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that an application for family reunification from the person referred to by the Deputy was processed in July 2006 and that a decision was made refusing the application. I am also informed that subsequently the person concerned submitted additional documentation relating to their application. Following the receipt of the additional material, the Family Reunification Unit has carried out a review of the case and has informed the person in question of the outcome.

  277.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on the application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12886/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There is currently no application pending in my Department for residency in the case of the person whose details were supplied. If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy [187]will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  278.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on the application for family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12887/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned has been granted temporary Leave to Remain in the State for a three year period, to 26 June 2011. This decision was conveyed to the person concerned by letter dated 26 June 2008. There is no record in my Department of the person concerned having submitted an application for family reunification. The Deputy might wish to note that the position in the State of the person concerned is not such as would confer any statutory entitlement under family reunification provisions.

  279.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position on the application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12888/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There is currently no application pending in my Department for residency in the case of the person whose details were supplied. If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  280.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a stamp four or travel document will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12889/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned was informed by the Repatriation Unit in writing on 19 January 2009 that, as an exceptional measure, his permission to remain in the State had been renewed for three years until 3 December 2011. In order to register, the person concerned, under Section 9(2)(a) of the Immigration Act 2004, is required to produce a passport issued by his national authorities which establishes his identity and nationality, unless a satisfactory explanation of the circumstances preventing him from procuring it is provided.

The person in question has not been granted refugee status in the State in accordance with the Refugee Act 1996 and therefore is not entitled to apply for a 1951 UN Convention Travel Document. He was advised in writing by the Travel Document Unit of the Immigration Services Section of my Department on 11 November 2008 and 24 March 2009 that he would not be issued with a Temporary Irish Travel document as he had not produced satisfactory evidence to show that his national embassy in London was not in a position to provide Consular Assistance to him.

  281.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    [188] the position on the application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12890/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in February 2009. On examination of the application and supporting documentation submitted it was determined that the application form was not fully completed and it was returned in its entirety to the person concerned for further attention on 17 February, 2009. In order to be fair to all applicants, only valid applications can be considered. It is open to the person in question to re-submit the application to the Citizenship Division of my Department at any time.

  282.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current or expected residency status or leave to remain in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12891/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 22 December 2003. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 25 May 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State.

Representations have been submitted on behalf of the person concerned and these representations will be fully considered, under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement, before the file is passed to me for decision.

  283.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if leave to remain will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12892/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum in the State on 24 February 2004. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 27 August 2007, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006).

[189]The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with these Regulations and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome. In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  284.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when the mother of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare was granted naturalisation; when an extension of the person’s residency was granted subsequently; if it is recognised that there was no change in either person’s circumstances since renewal in December 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12893/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The mother of the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was granted a certificate of naturalisation in June 2006. Correspondence was received in my Department regarding the person’s changed circumstances. Following receipt of this correspondence the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 25 March 2009, to attend at his local Registration Office in order to renew his certificate of registration. The permission granted to the person concerned will only become operative once registered, and this registration is a matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  285.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to the renewal of residency documentation or citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12894/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned has had his permission to remain in the State extended for a further one-year period, to 11 March 2010. This decision was conveyed in writing to the person concerned by letter dated 13 March 2009.

  286.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to the asylum application in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12895/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  287.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to the application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12896/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum in the State on 5 March 2004. Her application was refused following [190]consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 30 November 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations have been submitted on behalf of the person concerned.

The person concerned was notified, by letter dated 19 February 2008, of her entitlement to make an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). She was also invited to update her earlier representations to the Minister. Updated representations have been received on behalf of the person concerned. An application for Subsidiary Protection in the State has also been submitted on behalf of the person concerned and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

  288.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if the National Roads Authority, the Department of Transport or his Department retains all funds accruing from speeding or other motoring offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12897/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  All moneys accruing from penalties for speeding or other motoring offences are surrendered to the Exchequer as extra exchequer receipts and are accounted for in the Appropriation Accounts.

  289.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will report on the visit of his Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to Nigeria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12907/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Conor Lenihan):  At the invitation of the Nigerian Government, I led an official and business delegation to Nigeria on 18 to 25 March last with the aim of strengthening bilateral co-operation in relation to immigration and to improve economic relations between our two countries.

On matters to do with immigration, I met with members of the Nigerian Government, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, and the Minister of Interior, Major-General (rtd) Godwin Abbe. The operation of the Readmission Agreement concluded by both Governments in 2001 was reviewed and agreed to be working well. In [191]addition, as has become public knowledge, Mr Aondoakaa referred to a particular case. I cannot comment on this case as it is before the courts.

On business matters, representatives of the following Irish businesses, under the auspices of the Irish-Nigerian Chamber of Commerce (which was also represented on the visit) and the Nigerian Embassy, Dublin, took part in the visit: John Gartland and Partners Limited, Consulting Engineers; Whelan Corcoran Smith, Architects/Planners; Haahjem Heavy Duty Crushing Plants and Equipments; Ber Store, Solar Power Generators; Carey Glass; Kerrigan Sheanon Newman, Chartered Quantity Surveyors; Scott Construction; Trinity Shipping; Sutton Cronin Crowley, Consulting Engineers; Transcontinental Services; GT Plant Hire; OBK Development; James Booth, Financial Advisers and Consultants; Byrne, Anike; and Tullow Oil and Gas. I led the business delegation at meetings with Ministers at the Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Environment, Housing and Urban Development and Information and Communications, and the National Planning Commission.

I also paid courtesy calls on the Adamawa State Governor, Vice-Admiral (rtd) Murtala Nyako, and the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Dr Tanimu Yakubu. In addition, I attended a dinner reception for the delegation hosted by the Senate President, Senator David Mark. I am pleased to report that the visit was extremely successful in terms both of the official contacts with the Nigerian authorities on immigration issues and the opportunities to develop and strengthen economic relationships with Nigeria.

  290.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the cost of deportations in each of the past five years; the number of persons deported in each year; the estimates in this area for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12908/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The deportation costs provided below refer to the removal from the State of illegal immigrants, persons whose asylum applications were refused or persons whose applications for asylum were transferred to another country under the Dublin Convention/Dublin II Regulations. The vast majority of the removals involved persons whose asylum applications were refused.

Set out below are the costs for the last five years of the removal of persons subject to either deportation or (Dublin II Regulation) transfer orders, by scheduled/commercial and charter flights and, in very limited circumstances for some Dublin II Regulation based removals, ferries. These figures include the travel costs relating to the deportees/transferees and their Garda escorts.

Year Cost (Euros) of scheduled/commercial flight removals
2004 1,797,523
2005 1,725,745
2006 1,607,685
2007 786,335
2008 920,710
Total 6,837,998

The Deputy might wish to note that the figures above do not include the cost of overtime or subsistence payments for Garda escorts.

[192]The deportation of failed asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants is costly, particularly in the case of removals to distant countries such as Nigeria, China etc. In most cases removals are carried out using commercial flights, which usually involves transit through other European airports as Ireland does not have direct flights to most of the countries of return. In addition, most flights have to be booked at short notice, near to the date of departure, which involves higher costs than if booked well in advance. However, such costs must be looked at in tandem with the considerable expense arising from the continued presence in the State of persons who have no valid basis for being in the State. Such costs would include accommodation and social welfare costs as well as detention costs in certain cases. While it is important to keep deportation costs to a minimum, to not remove persons who have no valid basis for being in the State would call into question the integrity of the entire asylum and immigration systems. This would leave this State open to further illegal immigration and even greater expense to taxpayers.

The numbers of persons deported and ‘transferred’ in each of the last five years is as follows:

Year Deportation Orders effected Transfer Orders effected
2004 599 65
2005 396 209
2006 302 294
2007 139 225
2008 162 271
Total 1,598 1,064

It is not possible to accurately estimate the numbers of persons who will be removed from the State in 2009. Neither is it possible to estimate accurately what the financial costs in this area might be in 2009. However, the Deputy can be assured that my Department will continue to work in close collaboration with the Garda National Immigration Bureau towards the enforcement of deportation or transfer orders where such orders have been signed and served. Equally, my Department will continue to arrange deportations and Dublin II Regulation transfers in the most cost effective manner possible including the use of charter flights where this is considered to be most effective. My Department will also continue to work in co-operation with other EU Member States, through the EU-wide FRONTEX network, to carry out joint deportation operations to destinations of shared interest.

  291.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the situation regarding the application made in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork for naturalisation. [12916/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Officials in the Citizenship Division of my Department inform me that there is no record of an application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question.

  292.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a decision will be made on the application for naturalisation in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and the reason the decision is taking so long. [12917/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in October 2007. Applications for naturalisation [193]are generally dealt with in chronological order as this is deemed to be the fairest to all applicants. Additional resources were allocated to the Citizenship Division to enable certain categories of applicant to be dealt with more expeditiously. These include refugees, spouses of Irish citizens and minors.

The average processing time from application to decision is now at 23 months. The Citizenship Division is currently commencing further processing of applications received in mid 2007. More complicated cases can at times take more than the current average while an element of straightforward cases are now being dealt with in less than that time scale. There is a limit to the reduction in the processing time that can be achieved as applications for naturalisation must be processed in a way which preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the status of citizenship is not undervalued and is only given to persons who genuinely satisfy the necessary qualifying criteria.

  293.  Deputy Paul Gogarty    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when the next phase of new Garda recruitment and training will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12918/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that there is currently a panel in place of candidates for recruitment and there are no proposals at present to hold a further recruitment competition.

  294.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of cases which have been referred to the confidential receiver for An Garda Síochána; the number which have been investigated; the outcomes of cases referred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12948/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I understand that three reports have been made to the confidential recipient appointed under the Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007. These reports have been transmitted to the Garda Commissioner and they are currently being investigated.

  295.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the areas in which closed circuit television cameras are used for crime fighting in the Dublin 17 area; his views on supporting the Garda in extending this scheme to roads (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12954/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am advised by the Garda authorities that Dublin City Council operate and control a CCTV system in Dublin the 17 area. Local Gardaí have access this system at the Council’s Darndale Office as and when required. In addition, Gardaí also have recourse to other CCTV footage for crime investigation from local business premises in the area. Garda CCTV schemes are planned and implemented on the basis of the Garda Commissioner’s identified operational needs and priorities. I am informed by the Garda Authorities that there is currently no Garda operated CCTV system in the Dublin 17 area.

  296.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the [194]number of Garda stations in County Donegal; the number of gardaí based in these stations; and the hours that they are open. [12965/09]

  297.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the increase in Garda numbers stationed in County Donegal from 1997 to date in 2009; and the stations at which these gardaí were stationed. [12966/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 296 and 297 together.

I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the yearly personnel strengths from 31 December 1997 to 31 December 2008 and 28 February 2009 — the latest date for which figures are readily available — are as set out in the following table. Also shown is a table containing the opening hours, which are subject to manpower availability, of the 45 Garda stations in the Donegal Division. Resource levels are monitored on an ongoing basis by local and senior Garda Management in each District and Division, in conjunction with crime trends and other demands made on An Garda Síochána. The situation will be kept under review and the needs of the Division referred to by the Deputy will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

Year ending 31 December

Station 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 28/02/09
District: Letterkenny
Letterkenny 90 96 92 93 92 92 101 94 97 119 129 132 135
Carrigans 12 11 9 8 9 8 7 6 5 5 5 5 5
Castlefin 18 17 14 10 5 4 4 4 3 3 4 4 4
Brocach 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Newtowncunningham 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 2 4 4
Raphoe 5 6 9 9 7 7 6 4 6 4 4 4 4
Lifford 22 22 19 19 17 15 17 15 14 15 15 13 13
Ballybofey 20 23 22 20 23 24 23 24 21 21 22 25 24
Convoy 2 1 2 3 4 4 4 3 3 3 4 3 4
District: Buncrana
Buncrana 36 37 34 33 37 34 35 38 41 51 48 50 50
Burnfoot 21 19 21 22 19 18 15 13 11 12 14 15 16
Carndonagh 5 5 5 5 5 5 4 5 6 5 6 5 5
Clonmanny 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 2 1 1
Malin 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 3 7 5 5
Culdaff 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Moville 9 10 10 10 9 9 9 8 9 9 9 10 9
Muff 2 3 2 2 3 4 4 4 6 4 3 4 3
District: Milford
Milford 18 19 20 19 17 20 23 23 23 24 27 31 26
Carrigart 3 2 3 3 3 3 3 2 3 3 3 3 2
Kerrykeel 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 3 3 3
Kilmacrennan 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 2
Churchill 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dunfanaghy 2 2 2 1 2 2 3 4 3 4 4 4 4
Craoslagh 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Falcarragh 6 6 5 6 7 6 6 6 7 6 6 6 7
Ramelton 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Rathmullen 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
District: Glenties
Glenties 19 20 19 20 18 21 24 24 21 22 27 28 26
Annagry 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Ardara 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Bunbeag 6 6 6 7 7 5 6 6 6 7 8 7 7
Burtonport 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 1 2 2 2
Clougher 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Doochary 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dungloe 5 4 6 6 6 6 5 6 7 9 8 11 11
Carrick 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 2
Gleann Cholmcille 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
District: Ballyshannon
Ballyshannon 35 38 37 35 34 31 32 33 34 36 35 35 35
Ballintra 3 2 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 1
Bundoran 14 14 16 15 14 12 11 11 12 12 12 12 12
Donegal Town 29 29 27 27 34 34 34 33 24 32 34 34 36
Pettigo 13 13 13 12 4 4 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Dunkineely 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Na Cealla Beaga 6 6 6 6 6 6 7 8 7 7 7 6 7
Mountcharles 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 8 2 2 2 2
TOTAL 440 450 439 434 424 416 424 412 417 448 476 488 485

Monday-Friday Saturday Sunday
District: Letterkenny
Letterkenny 24 Hours
Carrigans 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Castlefin 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Brocach 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Newtowncunningham 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Raphoe 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Lifford 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Ballybofey 10am – 6pm 10am – 6pm Closed
Convoy 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
District: Buncrana
Buncrana 24 Hours
Burnfoot 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Carndonagh 9am – 3pm 10am – 1pm Closed
Clonmanny 7pm – 8pm Closed Closed
Malin 6pm – 7pm Closed Closed
Culdaff 8pm – 9pm Closed Closed
Moville 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Muff 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
District: Milford
Milford 24 Hours
Carrigart 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Kerrykeel 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Kilmacrennan 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Churchill 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm
Dunfanaghy 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Craosloch 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm
Falcarragh 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Ramelton 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Rathmullen 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm 11am – 1pm
District: Glenties
Glenties 24 Hours
Annagry 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Ardara 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Bunbeag 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Burtonport 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Clougher 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Doochary 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Dungloe 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Carrick 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Gleann Cholmcille 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
District: Ballyshannon
Ballyshannon 24 Hours
Ballintra 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Bundoran 10am – 1pm, 7pm – 8pm 10am – 1pm, 7pm – 8pm 10am – 1pm, 7pm – 8pm
Donegal 24 hours
Pettigo 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Dunkineely 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Na Cealla Beaga 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm
Mountcharles 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm 10am – 1pm

  298.  Deputy Brendan Howlin    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the status of the application for naturalisation in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Wexford; when this application will be dealt with by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12978/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Applications for certificates of naturalisation on behalf of the persons referred to in the Deputy’s Question were received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in December 2005, February 2008 and April 2008, and on each occasion the applications were refused. The reasons for refusal were disclosed to the parent of the persons concerned in letters issued on 11 April, 2006 and 30 October, 2008. However, on reviewing the files my Officials have noticed that it may not have been clear to the parent of one of the persons in question that the letter dated 30 October, 2008 indicated my refusal of both outstanding applications at that time. A new letter has issued clarifying the position.

Further applications for certificates of naturalisation were submitted to the Citizenship Division of my Department in December 2008. Applications on behalf of minors are dealt with by a separate unit in the Citizenship Division of my Department; because they generally require less processing than standard adult applications, it is usually possible to finalise them more [197]quickly. All applications for a certificates of naturalisation on behalf of minors are dealt with in chronological order as this is deemed to be the fairest to all applicants.

  299.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [13037/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the location referred to is in the Clontarf Garda Sub-District. Local Garda management is aware of difficulties being experienced by residents in the area as a result of anti-social behaviour. A member of the local Community Policing Unit is allocated to this area and liaises with the local community. An active Neighbourhood Watch Scheme is in place, and the community Garda attends its meetings. Any issues raised are addressed by local Garda management.

The area is subject to regular patrols by uniform and plain clothes personnel, including the Community Policing Unit, the Garda Mountain Bike Unit and the District Detective and Drugs Unit, supplemented by the Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Corps personnel. Current policing policy in the area is predicated on the prevention of crime, including crimes of violence against persons and property, the prevention of public order offences and the maintenance of an environment conducive to the improvement of the quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of the policing service in this area.

  300.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of persons prosecuted for the supply of alcohol to under-age persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13038/09]

  302.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the Garda districts in which suppliers were prosecuted in respect of breaches of the law for the supply of alcohol to under-age persons; the number of prosecutions in each district; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13040/09]

  303.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if persons other than vendors of alcohol have been prosecuted for having been complicit in making alcohol available to under-age persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13041/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 300, 302 and 303 together.

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide the statistics sought by the Deputy directly to her.

  301.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the penalties in place for breaches of the law in respect of the supply of alcohol to under-age persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter [13039/09]

[198]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Sections 31 and 32 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, as amended, contain provisions which prohibit the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 years. The penalties applicable on conviction for offences under these sections have been updated most recently in sections 13 and 17 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.

Questions Nos. 302 and 303 answered with Question No. 300.

  304.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13051/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Deputy will be aware that I have initiated a major review of gambling. The objective of the review is to put in place a modern, responsive code that recognises the fact that some people gamble and enjoy gambling. But, equally, any gambling code must acknowledge that there are inherent dangers involved in gambling that need to be addressed, not least in terms of problem gambling, protection of minors and the need to ensure gambling venues are crime-free. The Casino Gaming Control Section of my Department will be responsible for bringing forward proposals, including a draft Bill in due course, for a revised gambling code. The Casino Gaming Control Section will consult widely before bringing forward any proposals and will develop its proposals based on the three important considerations which are the hallmark of most well-regulated gambling codes. These are: — that young people and the vulnerable are protected, — that gambling should in all respects be fairly and openly conducted, — that gambling is kept free of crime.

In this context I have also decided that private clubs offering casino games to members will be subject to oversight by the Casino Gaming Control Section of my Department, pending the outcome of the review now underway. As a first step, private clubs engaged in casino-like activities will be obliged to comply with relevant anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation. The immediate necessary legislative changes, for these purposes, will be made in conjunction with legislation now being drafted to give effect to the Third Money Laundering Directive, and which forms part of the Government’s published legislative programme. This limited recognition of casino-type gaming does not mean that large-scale casino developments will be permitted. Any further development of this area must await detailed consideration and rigorous examination by the Government of proposals for the further regulation of this sector that will arise from the overall review of gambling being undertaken by my Department.

  305.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí based in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary; and the number of gardaí there are nationally per head of the population. [13053/09]

  306.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí based in Tipperary town; and the number of gardaí there are nationally per head of the population. [13054/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 305 and 306 together.

[199]I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that as of 28 February 2009, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the personnel strength of An Garda Síochána was 14,371. As of that date the personnel strength of Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary town Garda Stations was 11 and 34 respectively. The population statistics were last collected by the Central Statistics Office in April 2006 and recorded a national population of 4,239,848. Garda strength on 30 April 2006 was 12,408. On that basis the ratio of Gardaí to head of population was 1:342.

  307.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will publish the results of an internal Irish prison service inquiry into an incident in May 2007 when a telephone call (details supplied) was made from a prison cell; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13200/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to advise the Deputy that for security reasons I do not propose to publish the report he refers to.

  308.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will support the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 1. [13216/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that local Garda personnel remain in ongoing contact with the person referred to by the Deputy with regard to the investigation of the incident. I am also informed that he is being provided with appropriate crime prevention and personal security advice and other assistance.

  309.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of suspected offenders arrested for possession of drugs for sale or supply who were granted bail in each of the past five years; the number who were refused bail; the number who were subsequently convicted in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13219/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide the statistics sought by the Deputy directly to him.

  310.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on representations he has received regarding an alleged miscarriage of justice in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13221/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Proceedings under the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 in relation to the case raised by the Deputy are currently before the courts. As the Deputy will be aware, subject to the Constitution and the law, [200]the courts are independent in the exercise of their functions. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have no function in relation to the determination of the proceedings.

  311.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his Department has received an application for citizenship from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11; and when he expects to make a decision on the application. [13309/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department on 14 November 2005. I decided to refuse this application and the applicant was informed of my decision by way of letter dated 26 March 2009.

  312.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of community gardaí attached to the new Kildare Garda division; the stations in which they are stationed; the proposals to increase the number; the criteria that determine the stations to which they are appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13374/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As previously outlined in my reply to Parliamentary Question 145 of the 5th February 2009, the establishment of Kildare as a distinct Garda Division in An Garda Síochána has been postponed pending the completion of preparatory works. It is expected that these will be completed in the second quarter of 2009. As at 28th February 2009, the latest date for which figures are readily available, there were 4 members attached to the Community Policing Unit in Naas Garda Station and 3 members attached to the Community Policing Unit in Leixlip Garda Station.

Resource levels are monitored on an ongoing basis by local and senior Garda Management in each District and Division, in conjunction with crime trends and other demands made on An Garda Síochána. The situation will be kept under review and the Community Policing needs of the Division will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

  313.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of Garda mountain bikes attached to each station in the Dublin region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13379/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are currently 190 Garda Mountain bikes allocated to the Dublin Metropolitan Region. The number assigned to each station is set-out in a table.

Deployment of Garda Mountain Bikes

Station Number Total
DMR SOUTH CENTRAL DIVISION 29
Pearse Street 8
Harcourt Tce 3
Kevin Street 7
Kilmainham 3
Donnybrook 4
Irishtown 4
DMR NORTH CENTRAL DIVISION 17
Store Street 6
Fitzgibbon Street 3
Mountjoy 3
Bridewell 5
DMR SOUTH DIVISION 32
Tallaght 10
Terenure 4
Rathfarnham 7
Crumlin 5
Sundrive Road 4
Rathmines 2
DMR NORTH DIVISION 41
Raheny 4
Clontarf 5
Howth 4
Ballymun 5
Coolock 5
Swords 4
Malahide 3
Whitehall 2
Dublin Airport 2
Santry 3
Balbriggan 3
Lusk/Garristown 1
DMR EAST DIVISION 23
Blackrock 4
Stepaside 2
Dundrum 4
Dun Laoghaire 4
Shankill 3
Cabinteely 2
Kill O The Grange 1
Greystones 2
Dalkey 1
DMR WEST DIVISION 48
Blanchardstown 11
Ballyfermot 5
Clondalkin 6
Ronanstown 5
Finglas 6
Lucan 8
Cabra 4
Leixlip 2
Rathcoole 1
Total DMR 190

  314.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the progress on constructing a new prison at Thornton Hall, County Dublin; and when it is planned to have this project commence construction. [13390/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Thornton Hall Prison development is a complex Public Private Partnership project which involves the construction of more than 30 buildings, including 8 prison facilities on the site, a major internal road network, extensive perimeter security and a vast array of security systems both physical and technical. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that negotiations with the preferred bidder are currently at an advanced stage. These negotiations are focussed on progressing the Negotiation Phase of the project across financial, technical and legal aspects of the project. This involves the continuation of the design development of the project and contract negotiations to enable the Irish Prison Service to contract with the PPP Company and commence construction of the prison facilities.

Pressures on the international financial markets have the potential to impact on all major capital projects, including the Thornton Hall PPP project. It is the responsibility of the commercial consortium, under the PPP process, to arrange the funding and other resources to deliver the project. The Irish Prison Service is being advised by the National Development Finance Agency in relation to trends and developments in this area.

While negotiations on the contract are at an advanced stage they have not, however, been completed to the point that the Project Agreement can be signed. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that it is hoped that a contract will be signed later this year. Construction will commence immediately after contract award and should take no more than 3 years. This timeframe is subject, of course, to the successful completion of the contract negotiations. I can say, however, that if the current contract negotiations are not successfully concluded there are other options which can still be considered.

  315.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his position regarding the maintenance payments by fathers (details supplied). [13416/09]

[203]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Section 9 of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 provides that, where any court makes a maintenance order under that Act, the court shall direct that payments under the order shall be made to a District Court clerk unless the maintenance creditor requests otherwise and the court considers that it would not be proper to so direct. Where payments to the District Court clerk are in arrear, the clerk shall, if requested to do so by the maintenance creditor, take such steps as the clerk considers reasonable to recover the sums in arrear whether by proceeding for an attachment of earnings order or otherwise.

Section 10 of the 1976 Act, as amended, provides for the making of an attachment of earnings order in the same proceedings in which a court makes either a maintenance order under that Act or a range of other orders including periodical payments orders on the occasion of divorce or judicial separation. I cannot comment on individual cases or on the operation of the law by the courts. However, I consider that substantial powers are available to enforce maintenance orders. Moreover, the procedures involved are of a summary nature and are designed to keep costs to a minimum.

  316.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will reconsider the cause for the refusal of subsidiary protection under the European regulation, S.I. No. 518 of 2006, in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13432/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 820 of Thursday 10 July 2008 and the written Reply to that Question. The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 — S.I. No. 518 of 2006. This application was fully considered, having regard for the matters raised in the application of the person concerned and measured against reputable, up to date, objective information relating to the country of origin of the person concerned. Given the comprehensive manner in which the Subsidiary Protection application of the person concerned has been examined, I see no reason as to why the matter would require re-consideration.

  317.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13433/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There is currently no application pending in my Department for residency in the case of the person whose details were supplied. If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  318.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13434/09]

[204]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to the Reply given to his Parliamentary Question No. 225 of 18 December 2008. The status of the first person concerned remains as set out in that Reply. The second person concerned was born in the State in late 2005 and an application for asylum was made on his behalf to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner on 15 December 2008. Said application is still under consideration.

  319.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the residency status of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13435/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There is currently no application pending in my Department for residency in the case of the person whose details were supplied. If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  320.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13436/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned arrived in the State on 31 January 2008 and applied for asylum. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 9 March 2009, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, he was notified of his entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). To date no response has been received in my Department to this letter.

The 15 working day period referred to in my Department’s letter of 9 March 2009 expires on 6 April 2009. It is open to the person concerned to make representations and/or apply for Subsidiary Protection within that period. In any event, the Deputy may be assured that a final decision on this case will not be made prior to the expiry of the 15 working day period referred to above.

  321.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13437/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 662 of Tuesday 27 January 2009, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

[205]

  322.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13438/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 5 February 2003. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 9 February 2009, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, he was notified of his entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with these Regulations and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered, under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file is passed to me for decision.

  323.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13439/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I would refer the Deputy to his recent Parliamentary Question No. 312 of Tuesday 16 December 2008 and my detailed Reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 928 of Wednesday, 24 September 2008, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

  324.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13440/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 16 November 2004. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. On 25 March 2005 the person concerned made an application for permission to remain in the State on the basis of his parentage of an Irish citizen child, born in the State before 1 January 2005, in accordance with the provisions of the IBC/05 Scheme. Following consideration of this application, a decision was made to refuse the application and this decision was conveyed in writing to the person concerned by letter dated 30 November 2005.

In accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 13 January 2006, re-issued on 27 January 2006, that the [206]Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. Representations were submitted on behalf of the person concerned at that time.

The person concerned made an EU Treaty Rights application which was received in my Department on 16 August 2008. This application was refused as the person concerned did not satisfy the relevant criteria. The person concerned was informed of this decision by letter dated 7 November 2008. The case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, now falls to be considered, under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this consideration has been completed, the file is passed to me for decision.

  325.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the procedures whereby a residency application can be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13441/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned the Deputy will of course be aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending. In the case of asylum applicants in respect of whom the Minister has, under Section 17(5) of the Refugee Act 1996, refused to give a determination of Refugee status, the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) apply. In this regard the applicant is advised, in writing, of the options available, which are to leave the State voluntarily, to consent to deportation, to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State and/or to submit, within a period of 15 working days, written representations as to why they should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State.

Applications for leave to remain are considered in accordance with the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement before a final decision is made. Once such a decision has been made, this decision, and the consequences of the decision, are conveyed in writing to the applicant.

  326.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare can take up work and obtain residency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13442/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No 542 for answer on 24 March 2009. Further to that reply and following the person’s refusal under the IBC/05 Scheme as stated therein, the person’s case is being considered by the relevant officials. As the person concerned currently has no legal status in the State, he is not eligible to be employed. The person in question can expect to be contacted directly and informed of any decisions made regarding his status in the State shortly.

  327.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when an extended residency stamp four will be offered to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13443/09]

[207]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed that the person to whom the Deputy refers was granted permission to remain in the State in March 2002, under the arrangements then in place for the parents of Irish citizen children. I am informed that the permission granted to the person concerned is current until 6 April, 2009.

  328.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13444/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned arrived in the State on 14 July 2008 and applied for asylum on the following day. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 24 November 2008, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State i.e. why she should not be deported. She was also notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection pursuant to the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006.

An application for Subsidiary Protection was made on behalf of the person concerned by her legal representative. Following consideration of this application, a decision was made to refuse the application. The person concerned and her legal representative were notified of this decision by letter dated 27 February 2009.

Her case was then examined under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended, on the prohibition of refoulement. Consideration was given to all representations submitted on her behalf. On 5 March 2009, I signed a Deportation Order in respect of the person concerned. Notice of this Order was served by registered letter dated 13 March 2009 which obliges the person concerned to leave the State. To this end, the person concerned is required to present herself at the Offices of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) 13-14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2 on Tuesday 31 March 2009 in order to make arrangements for her removal from the State.

I am satisfied that the applications made by the person concerned for asylum, for Subsidiary Protection and for leave to remain temporarily in the State were fairly and comprehensively examined and, as such, the decision to deport the person concerned is justified. The effect of the Deportation Order is that the person concerned must leave the State and remain thereafter out of the State. The enforcement of the Deportation Order is an operational matter for the GNIB.

  329.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13445/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my previous answer to Parliamentary Question No. 671 of 27th January 2009. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person in question made a Family [208]Reunification application on behalf of her husband in April 2008. The application was forwarded to the Refugee Applications Commissioner for investigation as required under Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. The investigation has been completed and the Commissioner has forwarded a report to my Department. The report will be considered by my Department and a decision on the application will issue in due course. Applications are currently taking approximately 24 months to process.

  330.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13446/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my previous answer to his Parliamentary Question Nos. 193 of 2nd October 2008 and No. 670 put of 27th January 2009. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person in question is the subject of an application for Family Reunification made by his wife in April 2008. The application was forwarded to the Refugee Applications Commissioner for investigation as required under Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. The investigation has been completed and the Commissioner has forwarded a report to my Department. The report will be considered by my Department and a decision on the application will issue in due course. Applications are currently taking approximately 24 months to process.

  331.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13447/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned has been granted Leave to Remain in the State for a three year period to 24 March 2012. This decision was conveyed to the person concerned by letter dated 24 March 2009.

  332.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13448/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned has been granted Leave to Remain in the State for a three year period to 24 March 2012. This decision was conveyed to the person concerned by letter dated 24 March 2009.

  333.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 136 of 5 March 2009, the procedure to be followed in the case of an application for a stamp four in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13449/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question 136 of 5 March, 2009. I am informed that correspondence from the person concerned,as advised in previous replies, has not yet been received in my Department. The procedure to be followed in this case were set out in my reply to Parliamentary Question No 955 for answer on 24 September, 2008. Any such correspondence, [209]when received, will be assessed by the relevant officials and the person in question will be contacted directly and notified of any decisions made regarding his status in the State.

  334.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will review an application for residency or family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13450/09]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my previous answers to Parliamentary Question No. 975 of 26th September 2007 and 827 of 17th June 2008 and Parliamentary Question No. 124 of 26th February 2009. I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person in question made a Family Reunification application in January 2006 and a decision was issued to the person in question on 9th July 2008. However, the letter containing that decision was subsequently returned undelivered to my Department. The decision letter was reissued on the 11th March 2009 to the new address which the Deputy provided for the person in question. If the person in question wishes to submit additional information which he wishes to be considered he should submit same to the Family Reunification section or alternatively make a fresh application.

  335.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of applications that have been made for a passport for children born here since 1 January 2005 to date in 2009 on the basis that they are Irish citizens in which neither parent is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen; the number of such applications which have been granted in which the parent is either a British citizen, a national of an EU member state, an EEA agreement state or of the Swiss Confederation, and in which the parent is a non-Irish national other than an EU, EEA or Swiss national; if in such cases there have been long delays in reaching decisions, in some instances running into a number of years; the reason for such delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13000/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The Passports Act 2008 requires that before issuing a passport to a person, the Minister for Foreign Affairs shall be satisfied that that person is an Irish citizen. Proofs of identity and entitlement to citizenship are required in respect of all passport applications. These requirements are outlined in the passport application form notes that accompany each application form. Details are also available on the Department’s website.

The citizenship of a child born on the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 depends on the citizenship or period of legal residence in Ireland of his or her parents at the time of the child’s birth and is determined by reference to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has lead responsibility for questions of citizenship. Where at least one parent of such a child is, at the time of his or her birth: (i) an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen, (ii) a British citizen or (iii) entitled to reside in the State or Northern Ireland without any restriction on his or her period of residence, the child has an automatic entitlement to Irish citizenship. In other cases, citizenship depends on whether the parent was legally resident in the island of Ireland for an aggregate period of at least three years in the four years prior to the birth of the child.

A total of 164,000 applications concerning children born in Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 have to date been registered by the Passport Office. This total includes repeat applications made in respect of some children where, for example, there were problems with the infor[210]mation, photographs or documents submitted initially. It is not possible to obtain a breakdown of this total by the nationality of the children’s parents.

Some 148,000 passports have to date been issued to children born in Ireland since 1 January, 2005. Most of these passports (88%) were issued in respect of children where at least one parent was an Irish citizen or entitled to Irish citizenship at the time of the child’s birth. A total of 2,866 passports were issued in respect of children where entitlement was established on the basis that at least one parent was a British citizen. Some 14,264 passports were issued in respect of children where a parent was entitled to reside in Ireland at the time of the birth. This category mainly concerns cases where at least one parent demonstrated that he or she was legally resident in Ireland for an aggregate period of at least three years in the four year period prior to the child’s birth. It also includes a small number of cases where a parent is designated as a refugee.

Within this total, it is not possible to obtain a breakdown between cases where a parent is a national of an EU Member State, an EEA agreement State or of the Swiss Confederation, and those where the parent is a national of another country. In accordance with the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as amended, evidence of lawful residence in the State by one or both parents must be provided. In cases where a parent is a national of the EU, EEA or Swiss Confederation, a declaration may be made regarding the period of residence. Evidence of residence such as tax forms or bank statements may be requested in support of the declaration.

Where the child’s parent is a national of another country, evidence must be provided in the form of immigration stamps in passports, Garda National Immigration Bureau cards and registration books. The Passport Office calculates the periods of lawful residency on the basis of these proofs. The vast majority of such applications are processed within the same timeframe as all other passport applications. However, delays have arisen in a small number of cases because of uncertainty regarding reckonable residence. Legal advice has been sought in these cases and pending the receipt of this advice, a small number of applications have been put on hold. There are currently five such applications in the system. Once the legal position has been clarified, priority will be given to clearing these applications without further delay.

  336.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12829/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  I have made enquiries and been advised that there are no service agreements within my Department that come within the scope of the Deputy’s question. There are no public bodies under the aegis of my Department.

  337.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the outcome of An Taoiseach’s discussions with President Obama regarding Irish immigrants in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12845/09]

  338.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the way the introduction of the E3 visa programme will benefit the undocumented Irish community in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12846/09]

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  341.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress of discussions he has had with the new administration in the United States to regularise the position of the thousands of undocumented Irish in the US; his views on whether a bilateral agreement will result from his discussions with the US authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12997/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 337, 338 and 341 together.

The Government remains steadfast in its commitment to developing our bilateral migration arrangements with the United States, including finding a solution for our undocumented citizens. The Taoiseach and I emphasised the importance of this issue in our engagements with the US Administration and Congress during our visit to the United States for the St Patrick’s Day period. Our support for the undocumented and for a new E3 bilateral programme was highlighted during our meetings with President Obama, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. In addition, I raised the issue at my meeting with Secretary of State Clinton and in my discussions with Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Zoë Lofgren, the respective Chairs of the Senate and House subcommittees on immigration.

At each of these meetings, the Taoiseach and I outlined how, in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, the Government has been actively pursuing a bilateral approach, aimed at facilitating greater legal migration between the two countries. We recalled our three-pronged strategy: a reciprocal Working Holiday Agreement (now operational); new bilateral arrangements to provide reciprocal long term E3 working visas; and a solution for our undocumented.

The provision of long term working visas similar to the E3 visas available to Australian citizens has already formed the basis for detailed discussions with senior members of Congress over the past twelve months. The inclusion of Ireland in an expanded version of the E3 programme would provide extensive new opportunities for Irish people to work in the United States and help ensure that a new generation of undocumented Irish does not develop. I am pleased to report that we received a very encouraging response to this initiative during our meetings in Washington. Discussions on the detail will continue, in the first instance through our Embassy in Washington.

The clear advice we received from both the Administration and Congress is that the position of undocumented residents continues to be a matter of considerable political sensitivity in the US. Those to whom we spoke were clear that it will not be possible to address the situation of the undocumented through an E3 visa facility and that the issue can only be tackled in the context of comprehensive immigration reform. We received no encouragement for the notion that it would be possible to address the situation of undocumented Irish immigrants in isolation from other ethnic groups.

Mindful of these challenges, the Government is determined to continue to highlight the difficulties facing our undocumented and to press for reform. As the Deputies will be aware, President Obama, along with other senior members of the new Administration, including Secretary of State Clinton, have been strong supporters of comprehensive reform. Both they and many of the lawmakers the Taoiseach and I spoke to during our visit reiterated their strong support for reform. The Government and our missions in the US will continue to work closely with Irish community organisations in the United States, including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, with whom I met in New York in the course of the recent visit.

  339.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the overall expenditure made in respect of aid activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the years 2008 and 2009. [12854/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Peter Power):  Following four decades of economic decline and ten years of nearly continuous conflict, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. It ranks among the world’s least developed countries, with a position of 177 out of 179 countries on the UN’s 2008 Human Development Index.

In 2008, Ireland provided over €12.4 million in assistance to the DRC. €7 million of this support was channelled through the Common Humanitarian Fund, a UN administered pooled fund which supports both UN agencies and NGOs in addressing the most immediate humanitarian and life-saving needs, including in eastern DRC where the situation in particularly acute. €1.5 million was provided to NGO partners for specific humanitarian interventions. €3.8 million in funding was channelled to NGOs in the DRC for development projects in a range of areas such as basic education, primary health care, water and sanitation, and community rural development.

In December 2008, an airlift of emergency relief supplies from our stocks held at the UN depot in Brindisi was made to eastern DRC. The airlift, which consisted of blankets and plastic sheeting, helped provide temporary shelter for 6,000 vulnerable families displaced by violence. In addition, a member of Ireland’s Rapid Response Corps was recently working as a logistics officer in the DRC with the UN World Food Programme. To date in 2009, Ireland has allocated a total of over €4.1 million in emergency funding to the DRC via the UN administered pooled fund and through our NGO partners. A further €2.8 million has been allocated to NGO partners for development projects.

  340.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will support persons (details supplied). [12920/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The case to which the Deputy refers relates to five Cuban men, known as the Miami Five, who were convicted in the US in 2001 on charges ranging from espionage to first degree murder. As I have previously stated on a number of occasions to the Deputy, most recently on 25 February 2009, the Government has no standing in this matter, which is a bilateral consular question between the US and the Cuban authorities.

It is my understanding that the defendants’ legal counsel lodged a petition to the US Supreme Court on 30 January requesting that it hear an appeal from these five individuals. With regard to the question of family visits, as I have previously stated I am aware that visas have been issued to a number of family members in past years but have not been granted to the wives of two of the convicted men on the stated grounds of US national security. I am not in a position to assess the justification for this decision.

Question No. 341 answered with Question No. 337.

  342.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will make representations to the United States Government regarding the policy of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services of detaining illegal immigrants in prison for up to eight weeks prior to deportation; his views on whether this is a particularly harsh approach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12998/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The Government attaches the highest importance to resolving the plight of our undocumented citizens in the United States and their welfare, like the welfare of all Irish citizens abroad, is a key priority for my Department. In the course of my recent St. Patrick’s Day visit to the US, I raised the plight of the undocumented Irish with Secretary of State Clinton and the Taoiseach discussed the issue with President Obama.

I am aware that concerns have been expressed concerning the length of detention of Irish citizens in the United States, prior to their deportation. While the official figures available to us indicate that the numbers of undocumented Irish being detained and deported have not increased significantly in recent years (see table), I can understand that the anxiety and stress which detention and deportation cause is very real. Our Embassy and the Consulates in the United States provide consular assistance to Irish nationals who have been detained and who are awaiting deportation. Officials liaise closely with the relevant authorities in the U.S. and, where requested, with the detainee’s family in Ireland, throughout the deportation process.

Detention by the authorities for any period of time would undoubtedly be a difficult experience for individuals unfamiliar with such a challenging and, by its nature, harsh environment. The Embassy and Consulates do seek to minimise the detention period, including by assuring US authorities that formal documentation can be provided without delay to enable departure. They have also, over the years, assisted in expediting the deportation process where there have been particular medical or other humanitarian issues.

Our Ambassador in Washington has raised with the US authorities the issue of the detention and deportation of Irish citizens for visa related infringements and requested that their particular circumstances be taken into account. In addition, through the Emigrant Support Programme, the Government provides funding to a number of organisations who work with the undocumented Irish in the United States, including those who have been detained and who are awaiting deportation.

Table — Deportation figures (2000-2008) provided by the US Department of Homeland Security

Year Total Criminal Non-criminal (Immigration related)
2000 29 15 14
2001 50 17 33
2002 64 15 49
2003 69 17 52
2004 63 24 39
2005 43 12 31
2006 39 12 27
2007 42 17 25
2008 66 18 48

  343.  Deputy Chris Andrews    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the measures, in view of the ongoing allegations of war crimes being carried out by the Israeli army in its recent war in Gaza, he will take to ensure that these allegations are fully investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13211/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The conflict in Gaza witnessed a number of appalling incidents and alleged violations of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas. I have called on several occasions — including at a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council — for these incidents to be fully investigated and, where evidence of violations of international humanitarian law is adduced, for those responsible be held to account.

There have been a number of troubling new reports and allegations in recent days. These include the Human Rights Watch report on the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza, as well as a report by UN Special Rapporteurs to the Human Rights Council which contained allegations regarding, inter alia, the use by the Israeli Army of Palestinian children as human shields. In addition, a number of disturbing media reports have appeared regarding leaked testimony by Israeli soldiers deployed during the Gaza campaign which suggest the deliberate targeting and murder of civilians and destruction of personal property in Gaza by IDF personnel. All these reports merely serve to underline the need for a full, proper, independent investigation of all alleged violations of international humanitarian law committed during the Gaza conflict.

I welcomed the decision of UN Secretary General Ban to appoint a Board of Inquiry to examine certain incidents in which UN facilities were allegedly targeted during the conflict. I understand that the Board of Inquiry, which is headed by a former Secretary General of Amnesty International, hopes to present its report to Secretary General Ban in the very near future. The results of the Board of Inquiry will be awaited with very great interest and hopefully will strengthen the case for a fuller international investigation. The Israeli authorities have also established their own internal investigation into allegations made against the Israeli Defence Forces. However, I understand this investigation is still ongoing and no results have as yet been issued.

  344.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12821/09]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen):  The Department has no agreements with limited companies for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual. Contracts for the supply of services entered into by the agencies under the aegis of the Department are a matter for the agencies themselves.

  345.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will direct the Irish Sports Council to pay grants to GAA inter-county players in 2009; if the necessary funding has been made available to the Sports Council to pay these grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12985/09]

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  346.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the annual support scheme to support inter-county GAA players will continue to be funded by his Department in 2009; when a decision on such funding will be announced; the amount of such funding available in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13197/09]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Deputy Martin Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 345 and 346 together.

The funding of the Gaelic players grant schemes is a matter for the Irish Sports Council (ISC) in the context of the distribution of its budget for 2009. In light of the current economic constraints and the reduction in the ISC’s allocation of funding in the 2009 Estimates, I am having discussions with the Council on optimum funding options, in order to maintain its existing programmes while building on recent progress. The future funding of the Gaelic players schemes is being considered in that context.

  347.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if funding is available from his Department via community alert for the installation of closed circuit television cameras for home security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13044/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  The Scheme of Community Support for Older People is administered and funded by my Department with the services delivered by local community and voluntary groups. It currently provides individual grants in respect of the once-off installation costs of socially monitored alarms, small items of physical security and in the case of qualifying older people living on our offshore islands, interior emergency lighting. The Scheme does not provide funding to offset the costs of closed circuit television cameras for home security and I have no plans to extend its scope to include such equipment.

  348.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of staff employed in the new cohesed Leader partnership companies in each city and county; the cost associated with that staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12810/09]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The Local Action Groups selected to deliver the LEADER elements of the Rural Development Programme are private companies limited by guarantee and are contracted to deliver a range of programmes and schemes on behalf of my Department and a number of other Departments and agencies. It is a matter for each integrated company to make decisions in relation to staffing complements, salary levels and the broad range of other HR matters. The contractual arrangements governing the programmes and schemes mentioned above entitle the companies to certain administrative and other costs but there are programme mechanisms in place to control such costs and secure value for money.

  349.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a [216]single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12823/09]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department currently has an agreement with one limited company for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to the Department. This agreement is for IT helpdesk duties and the arrangement will terminate on Friday 3rd April 2009.

I am advised that in relation to the public bodies under the aegis of my Department, only Foras na Gaeilge and the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) have agreements with limited companies for the provision of full-times services by a single individual. In the case of Foras na Gaeilge, the agreement was for Web Master duties. In the case of the NACD, there are two agreements in place, one for research support since 8th May 2006 and the other for secretarial support. This latter agreement had been for full-time support from 26th September 2007 and changed to part-time support on 31st October 2008.

  350.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if a scheme (details supplied) will be reintroduced in 2009. [12856/09]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  This scheme was discontinued in 2003. I have no plans at present to reintroduce the scheme.

  351.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the steps being taken to lift the PRSI ceiling. [12803/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Under the PRSI system social insurance contributions are compulsorily payable by employers and employed and self-employed workers. In relation to employee’s contributions the amount payable is determined by reference to reckonable earnings in a weekly period, and is subject to a range of thresholds and an annual ceiling. The PRSI exemption on low earnings stands at €352 per week. People with incomes at that level or below are exempt from PRSI. Once a person earns above this level their total income, up to the annual ceiling, is chargeable to PRSI but they are entitled to a PRSI-Free Allowance of €127 per week.

Approximately 76 per cent of workers pay PRSI Class A and Class H at the rate of 4 per cent and accrue entitlement to a range of benefits and pensions under various social insurance schemes. In the 2009 Budget the employee ceiling was increased by €1,300 from €50,700 to €52,000. Any future changes to the PRSI ceiling would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

  352.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the maximum amount of mortgage interest, aside from exceptional cases, the Health Service Executive considers to be reasonable to pay to a mortgage interest supplement claimant to meet their residential and other needs with a breakdown by area and family type. [13308/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes mortgage interest supplement, is administered on behalf of [217]the Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Mortgage interest supplements are normally calculated to ensure that a person, after the payment of mortgage interest, has an income equal to the rate of SWA appropriate to their family circumstances less a minimum contribution, currently €18, which recipients are required to pay from their own resources. Many recipients pay more than €18 because recipients are also required, subject to income disregards, to contribute any additional assessable means that they have over and above the appropriate basic SWA rate towards their accommodation costs.

In order to qualify for mortgage interest supplement, a person must satisfy a number of statutory qualifying conditions. Claims are determined on the basis of the merits of each individual case and in accordance with all of the statutory qualifying conditions. One of the statutory qualifying conditions is that the amount of the mortgage interest payable does not exceed such amount as the Health Service Executive considers reasonable to meet his or her residential and other needs.

When considering if the amount of mortgage interest is reasonable to meet residential and other needs, regard would normally be had to the household composition of the claimant and to the appropriate maximum rent limits in operation in that geographical area. Where the amount of mortgage interest exceeds the appropriate maximum rent limit, regard may be had to the average cost of purchase of accommodation appropriate to the circumstances of the claimant at the time of purchase of the residence in respect of which the supplement is being claimed.

In exceptional circumstances, the Health Service Executive may award a supplement where the amount of mortgage interest payable by a person exceeds such amount as the Health Service Executive considers reasonable to meet his or her residential and other needs. Such an exceptional supplement is payable under regulations (S.I. 412 of 2007, Article (10)(3)) for a maximum of 12 months from the date of the claim. The Department has commenced a review of the administration of the mortgage interest supplement scheme. The main purpose of the review is to consider how the mortgage interest supplement scheme can best meet its objective of catering for those who require assistance on a short-term basis, where they are unable to meet mortgage interest repayments on their sole place of residence. Legislative and operational issues arising in the existing mortgage interest scheme are also being examined.

  353.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if, in conjunction with the Department of Finance, she will address the anomaly whereby cohabitation with another person is considered as a means for social welfare purposes, yet it is not considered by her Department for tax credit purposes; if her attention has been drawn to the disadvantage that this puts such families at; if same will be addressed in the forthcoming budget; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12808/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The social welfare and tax systems have evolved over time and in response to a variety of factors, including Constitutional imperatives as interpreted by the Courts, changing social trends and EU Directives. The EEC Equality Directive 79/9 and the subsequent Supreme Court case ( Hyland v Minister for Social Welfare, 1989 ) led to the change in the treatment of non-married cohabiting couples in the social welfare code. The Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the total income a married couple received in social welfare benefits to be less than the couple would have received if they were unmarried and cohabiting. Accordingly, there was a constitutional imperative for the [218]social welfare code to treat married and cohabiting couples in a similar manner. The income tax arrangements for cohabiting couples are a matter for the Minister for Finance.

  354.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved and granted jobseeker’s allowance. [12858/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The person concerned has been awarded jobseeker’s allowance at the maximum weekly rate of €204.30 from 17 February, 2009. A payment of €544.80, which includes all arrears due, less any supplementary welfare allowance paid, will issue to her on 31 March, 2009. Under Social Welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by Deciding Officers and Appeals Officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  355.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the position in relation to child benefit and one parent family allowance payment in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12900/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The person concerned is in receipt of child benefit in respect of one child. He applied for One Parent Family Payment (OPFP) on 20 September 2007. His application was disallowed as he failed to disclose all of his means. He appealed the disallowance decision and the decision was upheld by an Appeals Officer. He does not have a current OPFP claim pending.

  356.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when supplementary welfare allowance will be awarded in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12904/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The Health Service Executive has advised that the payment of supplementary welfare allowance to the person concerned is currently under review with the Executive’s Appeals Office. The person concerned will be informed of the Appeals Officer’s decision in due course.

  357.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason the habitual residency requirement does not apply to residents of Northern Ireland who seek to claim welfare payments in the Republic of Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12936/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The habitual residence condition applies to all claimants for certain social welfare payments, regardless of nationality. Any person who makes a claim for jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit, one parent family payment, disability allowance, State pension non-contributory, carer’s allowance, widow’s non-contributory, guardian’s non-contributory payment, blind pension or supplementary welfare allowance must be habitually resident in the State.

People who reside in Northern Ireland are not immune from being subject to the habitual residence condition. However, a person who has been residing in Northern Ireland and moves residence to this State may find it easier to satisfy this residence condition than people coming [219]from other countries, because of the freedom of movement within the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the United Kingdom, and the relative ease of transferring one’s centre of interest across the Border. This is reflected in Section 246 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 which provides that “it shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, that a person is not habitually resident in the State at the date of making the application concerned unless the person has been present in the State or any other part of the Common Travel Area for a continuous period of 2 years ending on that date”.

The EU Regulations, which provide for the protection of the social security rights of migrant workers exercising their right to freedom of movement between EU countries, include provisions which can override national legislation. The Regulations provide that family benefits (including child benefit) are payable by the State in which the claimant is employed, or by the State which is paying benefit, including jobseeker’s benefit, following a period of employment in that State, even where the children are resident in another State. A person who is currently employed in the Republic of Ireland by an Irish employer is entitled to child benefit even if that person and/or his/her children are residing in Northern Ireland. A person who was last employed in the Republic and, for example, is entitled to Irish jobseeker’s benefit (which can be exported for up to 3 months) will be similarly entitled to child benefit for that 3 months period. These arrangements do not apply to other payments like jobseeker’s allowance, disability allowance or supplementary welfare allowance which remain subject to the habitual residence condition.

  358.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if an Irish citizen who has been living in the United States for the past three years and has not worked here since 2006 would be entitled to claim jobseeker’s allowance or benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12937/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  A person who has been living in the United States for the past three years will not have sufficient PRSI contributions to qualify for jobseeker’s benefit. To get jobseeker’s benefit during 2009 the person must have:

(a) 104 PRSI contributions paid since they first started work and

(b) 39 PRSI contributions, at classes A, H or P, paid or credited in the 2007 tax year. At least 13 of these must be paid contributions. If person does not have 13 contributions paid in 2007, they can satisfy this condition if they have 13 contributions paid in either 2005, 2006 or 2008. Contributions in multiple years cannot be aggregated. If a person does not satisfy condition (b) they may qualify if they have 26 PRSI contributions paid in each of the years 2006 and 2007.

The person may qualify for a jobseeker’s allowance payment, provided he/she satisfies a number of conditions including a means test and is habitually resident in Ireland. In assessing means, account is taken of all income that the person may reasonably expect to receive during the succeeding year. Account is also taken of any property that the person may own, apart from their family home, together with any savings and investments and any other cash income such as a pension from a former employer or from another country. In the case of a couple, the means of the spouse or partner are taken into account as well as the claimant’s own means.

The factors taken into account in determining whether a person is habitually resident in this country are:

Length and continuity of residence in Ireland or in any other particular country

[220]Length and purpose of any absence from Ireland

Nature and pattern of employment

Applicant’s main centre of interest

Future intentions of applicant as they appear from all the circumstances.

An Irish citizen returning to Ireland would have to satisfy the habitual residence condition. A person claiming jobseeker’s allowance should apply to the Social Welfare Local Office so that a decision can be made on their entitlement.

  359.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the social welfare supports available to Irish citizens returning home from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12938/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Ireland has bilateral agreements on social security with the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. The EU Regulations on social security for migrant workers apply, with certain exceptions, to workers and their families migrating between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In the case of the first four of these bilateral agreements, provision is made for the aggregation of insurance periods (or comparable periods of residence in the case of Australia and New Zealand) if required to establish entitlement to contributory State pension, widow’s or widower’s pension, guardian’s payment, invalidity pension or bereavement grant. The guardian’s payment and bereavement grant are paid at the normal rates. The other pensions are paid on a pro-rata basis — that is, the Irish pension is calculated according to the proportion that the Irish contribution period bears to the total aggregate of periods of insurance and their equivalents. Pro rata pensions, calculated on a similar basis, may also be payable by the other country. These four agreements do not apply to short-term benefits including jobseeker’s, maternity or illness benefits.

The EU Regulations on social security apply to persons migrating between the United Kingdom and Ireland, except in the case of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are not part of the EU. An agreement with the United Kingdom covers migration between Ireland and these territories and includes all benefits and pensions.

The EU Regulations and the UK agreement both provide for pro-rata pensions (as described above) in the case of State pension and widow’s / widower’s pension. Periods of insurance are aggregated to establish entitlement to short-term benefits and (in the case of the UK) invalidity pension which under the EU Regulations are normally paid by one country, the country of employment or last employment. (A pro-rata arrangement applies to invalidity pension where some EU countries are involved). If a person is not entitled to a contributory payment or pension under the relevant agreement on returning to Ireland, an assistance payment such as State non-contributory pension, jobseeker’s allowance, disability allowance, or supplementary welfare allowance may be payable subject to the normal means test and other conditions, including the habitual residence condition.

Irish nationals returning to live here on a permanent basis normally experience little difficulty in demonstrating that they satisfy the requirements of the habitual residence condition. [221]However a person who is on a short-term visit may not be entitled to avail of these non-contributory benefits. Information regarding these bilateral agreements and the conditions applying to all social welfare schemes are published on the Department’s website:

www.welfare.ie and on the Citizens Information Board’s website — see

http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/social-welfare

  360.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a payment has been reduced for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [12945/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The rate of jobseeker’s benefit being paid to the person concerned was reduced with effect from 9 March 2009 when her son reached 18 years of age. Her Social Welfare Local Office has written to her for proof of his continuance in full-time education. When this information is received, a decision will be made as soon as possible regarding any necessary adjustment in payment and she will be notified of the outcome. Under Social Welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by Deciding Officers and Appeals Officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  361.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of individuals for each PRSI class who have made more than 156 reckonable contributions over the past four years, 195 reckonable contributions over the past five years, 234 reckonable contribution over the past six years, 273 reckonable contributions over the past seven years and 312 reckonable contributions over the past eight years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13033/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Information on the numbers of PRSI contributions paid is held on my Department’s computer systems in individual contributors’ records. Statistics are not held on the numbers of contributors whose total contributions amount to various amounts over various periods of time. The creation of such statistics would require diverting scarce computing and other resources from other work that is necessarily of a higher priority at this time. Accordingly, the information requested by the Deputy is not available.

  362.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the additional tough measures being taken to deal with welfare fraud; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13384/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department. A key objective of the Department’s control strategy is to ensure that we pay the right person the right amount of money at the right time. Over 600 staff at local, regional and national level are engaged on a full or part-time basis on work related to the control of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system including a dedicated section dealing with identity fraud in PPS No. allocations.

[222]A four pronged control strategy has been adopted by the Department, namely prevention of fraud and error at the initial claim stage, early detection through effective review of claims in payment, measures to deter fraud and the pursuit and recovery of overpayments. Key elements of the Department’s control strategy include systematic risk analysis, surveys of the levels of fraud and error within schemes and matching the Department’s scheme data with other bodies’ data e.g. Revenue’s commencement of employment and earnings data. These control tools help identify the types of claims which should be prioritised for review purposes.

The Department targets control activity at high risk categories of claimants. In recent times examples include the Special Investigation Unit undertaking more regular interviews of jobseeker recipients, particularly those with high risk ratings; border regions have put an increased emphasis on controls on claims from applicants with a previous address in Northern Ireland; Department officials are involved in a number of high visibility multi-agency projects; one parent family recipients with earnings are targeted for review; the frequency of issue of mail shots to validate continued entitlement to child benefit has doubled, to 3 monthly intervals for EU worker customers and 6 monthly intervals (3 monthly from April this year) for resident non-Irish national customers; new data matches with additional external bodies have been initiated.

As a preventative measure, in 2008 the option to receive payments by Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) was removed for new claimants for jobseeker payments. They must attend in person at the post office each week thus confirming their continued residency in the country. Their claim is automatically suspended where two consecutive payments are not collected.

During 2008, almost €476 million in social welfare payments was saved through fraud and error control measures which is an increase of €29million on the previous year. More than 560,000 social welfare claims were reviewed and over 1,000 reports of possible fraud were received from members of the public. The records of some 3,203 employers were inspected to ensure compliance with the Department’s regulations and in particular to prevent and detect abuses of the system. At the end of 2008, 357 cases of social welfare fraud were forwarded to the Chief State Solicitors Office for the initiation of prosecution proceedings and 328 cases were finalised in court.

I am committed to ensuring that social welfare payments are available to those who are entitled to them. I am also determined to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected. In this regard the control programme of the Department is carefully monitored and the various measures are continuously refined to ensure that they remain effective.

  363.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the percentage of welfare claims processed electronically; the amount saved on welfare payments processed electronically; the breakdown of the amount the State would save if all social welfare payments were made electronically; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13423/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The Department supports government policy which aims to facilitate the greater use of electronic payment systems in the economy in the interests of developing a world class payments environment in Ireland. Our payment strategy is designed to ensure that cost effective arrangements are in place for making [223]payments to social welfare customers by using a range of payment options and to ensure that new payment facilities are made available to customers as they arise.

The Department is implementing a three year strategy to change paper based payment instruments to electronic payments at post offices, banks and other financial institutions, including certain credit unions that have financial regulatory approval. Currently some 84% of customers receive their payment electronically direct to their post office or financial institution. Some 47% of customers are paid by electronic fund transfer (EFT) to an account in their financial institution and 37% are paid by electronic information transfer (EIT) at their local post office. Of the remaining customers, 9% are paid by a book of personalised payable orders (PPO) at their local post office and 7% are paid by cheque.

The use of PPO books as a payment method is being phased out and there will be no further payment by PPO book from the end of September 2009. Savings in printing and book production costs of €2.29m will accrue to the Department in a full year, and four support staff will be redeployed to other duties. Plans are also underway to phase out the use of cheques as a payment method which will result in further savings on cheque production and postage.

Customers will also see benefits as changes in circumstances, such as change of address or change of post office or financial institution can be made immediately rather than taking a week or more when the return of a PPO book was required. Maintenance changes, including changes in circumstances or rates of payments, also provide additional administrative savings. The full benefits of these saving will be achieved as the remaining customers are moved to electronic payment methods. There is no cost to the Department for payments by EFT to a financial institution. Payments to An Post cost the State an average of €1.45 per transaction. An Post were paid a total of €54m for payment delivery services in 2008.

  364.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when supplementary welfare allowance will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13426/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme is administered on behalf of the department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE). The Executive has advised that it has no record of an application for SWA from the person concerned. If the person concerned wishes to make such an application she should contact the community welfare officer at her local health centre.

  365.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when rent allowance will be awarded in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13427/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Rent supplement is administered on behalf of the department by the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to eligible persons living in private rented accommodation, whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

The Executive has advised that it received an application for rent supplement from the person concerned in October 2008. The delay in processing his application is due to an issue over the valuation of land owned by the person concerned and his family. The Executive has [224]advised that this issue should be resolved within the next week when it should be possible to make a decision on his rent supplement claim.

  366.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when jobseeker’s allowance will be awarded in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13430/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The claim for jobseeker’s allowance by the person concerned was refused by a Deciding Officer of the Department on 16 September 2008 on the grounds that he failed to show that his means do not exceed the statutory limit. An appeal was opened on 21 October 2008 and I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office, that in accordance with the statutory requirements, the Department was asked for the documentation in the case and the Deciding Officers comments on the grounds of appeal.

The relevant documentation is now to hand and the case has been considered by an Appeals Officer who has decided to hold an oral hearing. The person concerned will be informed when arrangements have been made. The Social Welfare Appeals Office is an office of the Department that is independently responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

  367.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when supplementary welfare allowance will be granted pending a decision on an application for jobseeker’s allowance in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13452/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme is administered on behalf of the Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE). The Executive has advised that it has no record of an application for SWA from the person concerned. If the person concerned wishes to make such an application he should contact the community welfare officer at his local health centre.

  368.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if an increase in rent support will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13586/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Rent supplement is administered on behalf of the Department by the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The Executive has advised that the entitlement of the person concerned to rent supplement is as communicated to the Deputy on 5 March 2009 and 12 March 2009.

  369.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12824/09]

[225]Minister for Defence (Deputy Willie O’Dea):  There are no limited companies with agreements to provide the full-time services of a single individual to me, to my Department or to the public bodies under the aegis of my Department.

  370.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if his Department is acting as the ultimate guarantor of payment on behalf of Dublin City Council with respect to its contract to build the Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin 4; if his Department has considered or will consider acting in any circumstances for the financing or part financing of the project, if Dublin City Council was unable to fulfil its own contractual obligations with respect to this incinerator; the applicable circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12927/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  As previously advised, the facility in question is provided for in the Dublin regional waste management plan for which the four Dublin local authorities have statutory responsibility under the Waste Management Acts. Section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996 precludes the Minister from exercising any power or control in relation to the performance in particular circumstances by a local authority of a function conferred on it under the Act.

In line with national policy, the Exchequer does not fund new heavy waste infrastructure, landfills or waste to energy (incineration) plants. These are to be provided as purely private sector commercial initiatives or by way of public private partnerships with local authorities. Accordingly, the capital cost of this project will not fall to be met by the Exchequer. In consequence, my Department has not provided any guarantee to Dublin City Council in respect of this project and there is no intention to do so.

  371.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the pension levy is being imposed on city and county councillors’ representational allowance which is causing a financial burden to those councillors who have no other source of income other than their council paid allowances. [13059/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I am aware that under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, 2009, a deduction is being made from the remuneration of members of local authorities on the same basis as in the case of other office holders and employees of public service bodies.

  372.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the action being taken by him to incorporate proposed new regulations governing dog breeding establishments within the proposed animal welfare Bill which will include dogs as per the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 456 of 10 March 2009; and his views on publishing temporary simple regulations to control cruelty in dog breeding pending the outcome of the legislative procedures for the animal welfare Bill. [13576/09]

  377.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he has an objection to the preparation of regulations governing the intensive rearing of dogs being included in the proposed animal welfare Bill. [12839/09]

[226]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 372 and 377 together.

As indicated in previous replies on this matter, work has been ongoing for some time in my Department in drafting measures to provide for statutory regulation of dog breeding establishments within the dog control legislative regime. This process has included discussions with a number of organisations, bodies, public agencies and interests active in this area. The issues involved are complex and required detailed consideration. Following advice, it is my intention to introduce amending legislation in this area. My proposals in this regard will be published as soon as possible and will address a number of issues relating specifically to dog breeding and control. The proposals being brought forward by my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, under the Animal Welfare Bill will update existing welfare legislation in respect of all animals.

  373.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the rules and regulations on housing associations that must be passed on to tenants of these associations. [13612/09]

  374.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the protection there is for tenants of housing association houses. [13613/09]

  384.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the checks his Department carries out in respect of the way the housing association housing schemes operate. [13012/09]

  385.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will provide this Deputy with a copy of a tenancy agreement with a housing association housing scheme. [13013/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 373, 374, 384 and 385 together.

My Department’s involvement with the voluntary and co-operative housing schemes relates primarily to the provision of funds for individual projects. The detailed administration of the schemes, and the certification that projects comply with the terms and conditions of the funding schemes, are the responsibility of the local authority. Approved housing bodies are responsible for the proper management and maintenance of dwellings provided under the terms of the funding schemes and for the operation of letting policies, the fixing of rents and compliance with all relevant statutory requirements. The local authority is responsible for ensuring that approved housing bodies comply with the requirements in relation to letting policy including the requirement for prior consultation and agreement on letting policies for each new project.

In the case of family type accommodation provided under the Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme, all tenants must be drawn from the local authority social housing waiting list. The rent payable to an approved housing body, by a tenant, is determined in accordance with the rent formula as set out in the scheme. This may be modified, at the discretion of the approved housing body, in particular respects where they consider this appropriate. Rents are based on household and subsidiary income in the previous tax year. Where this would result in hardship arising from a fall in income due to loss of employment, disability etc, the rent may be adjusted accordingly.

[227]In the case of accommodation provided under the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS), which is aimed at persons with special housing needs such as the elderly, the homeless or persons with an intellectual or physical disability, rents are charged at a reasonable rate having regard to tenants’ income. In cases where an approved housing body contributes a minimum of 5% of the capital cost of a CAS funded project, the approved body may retain nomination rights, outside of the local authority waiting list, for up to 25% of the units. In these circumstances, the normal landlord/tenant arrangements apply.

The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) and the National Association of Building Co-operatives (Nabco) are the representative bodies for the voluntary and co-operative housing sector in Ireland. Both organisations provide promotion, information, advice and training services to approved housing bodies. The ICSH provides a range of housing management services to approved housing bodies including a Housing Association Performance Management framework which aims to promote good housing management practice and to demonstrate accountability to customers and stakeholders. The ICSH also makes available a Standard Tenancy Agreement for Housing Associations as well as Rent Books for use by approved housing bodies, details of which are available on the ICSH website at www.icsh.ie.

  375.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the reason he has not adopted a national action plan for green public procurement despite the fact that such a plan was required to be adopted by the end of 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12791/09]

  376.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the action proposed to ensure that the EU sustainable strategy in respect of green procurement targets will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12811/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 375 and 376 together.

The conclusions adopted by the September 2008 EU Competitiveness Council recalled the aim of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy on Green Public Procurement and provided a comprehensive overview of developments and commitments. The Government’s commitment to green public procurement was confirmed in the 2008 Framework For Sustainable Economic Renewal Building Ireland’s Smart Economy. My Department is committed to the preparation of an action plan on green public procurement. In doing so, we will work with the Department of Finance’s National Public Procurement Policy Unit which has overall responsibility for public procurement policy in Ireland. We will also work with the National Procurement Operations Unit in the Office of Public Works. The new Unit will be a centre of excellence for public procurement generally and will facilitate the integration of whole-of-Government policy issues in areas such as sustainability and the environment into public procurement practice for the organisations served by the Unit.

Question No. 377 answered with Question No. 372.

  378.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the correspondence and meetings that have taken place between his Department and Meath County Council in respect of a library in Laytown, now closed, and a proposed new [228]library in Bettystown, County Meath; the action he has been asked to take by Meath County Council in respect of the libraries; and the result of same. [12844/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael P. Kitt):  My Department has been in discussions with Meath County Council for some time regarding proposals for the provision of a new Library at Bettystown. A Circular letter issued from my Department in August 2008 notifying Local Authorities of a new Capital Funding Programme for Libraries and inviting library authorities to submit priority lists for consideration for grant aid under this Programme. Meath County Council indicated that the Bettystown project is its first priority for funding and this application together with those received from other library authorities is currently under consideration. In progressing this application Meath County Council has been in consultation with An Chomhairle Leabharlanna on the proposed new site and layout of the facility at Bettystown. I hope to be in a position to announce a Capital Programme in the near future in the light of finances available to me.

  379.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the reason every tyre has to be registered for recycling purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12861/09]

  392.  Deputy Rory O’Hanlon    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of used tyres collected and the number recycled in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13383/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 379 and 392 together.

No specific information is available to my Department on the volumes of waste tyres collected or recycled for the last 12 months, and, there is no requirement for every tyre to be registered for recycling purposes. National waste statistics for waste streams are independently produced and published on an annual basis by the EPA in the National Waste Report, the most recent of which for 2007 was published in January. Information on tyre flows and the management of waste tyres has long been regarded as inadequate. To tackle this deficit and put in place a proper regulatory framework, I made the Waste Management (Tyres and Waste Tyres) Regulations 2007. These Regulations impose obligations on persons who supply tyres to the Irish market, whether as producers (e.g. manufacturers, importers including wholesalers, traders and retailers who source tyres outside the State), or suppliers (e.g. wholesalers, traders and retailers who source tyres exclusively within the State) and on the collectors of waste tyres.

The Regulations were introduced following protracted negotiations with economic stakeholders, including wholesalers, under the auspices of the Irish Tyre Industry Association (ITIA) and included discussions with other stakeholders including farming organisations. They were published in draft in March 2007 for public consultation, which resulted in the development of a Producer Responsibility Initiative (PRI). The Regulations facilitate the comparison of quantities of waste tyres arising with the amounts placed on the market and tracking the movement of waste tyres from their discarding until they are either reused or processed for recycling.

As is the normal practice with PRIs, the Regulations place a number of obligations on economic stakeholders who have the option of either self complying or participating in an approved industry compliance scheme which takes on the administrative burden associated [229]with self compliance. Self complying producers, suppliers and the collectors of waste tyres are required to register with local authorities and submit information on tyre and waste tyre flows each quarter to the relevant local authorities. Alternatively producers may participate in an approved collective compliance scheme and submit information on tyre and waste tyre flows each quarter to approved collective compliance scheme concerned. I have approved Tyre Recovery Activity Compliance Scheme Ltd. (TRACS) to operate as an approved body under the Regulations. TRACS is required to report to me annually. Its Annual Report must include:

The performance of its tyre and waste tyre data flow scheme for the preceding calendar year,

An outlook for the coming year, and

An audited statement of accounts for the preceding calendar year.

Furthermore the Regulations require operators involved in the collection, recycling and re-use of waste tyres to issue Certificates of Recovery and submit reports to the EPA. Data in respect of waste tyres, exclusively, have not been collected by the EPA in preparing their National Waste Reports. I understand, however, that information compiled by TRACS and local authorities will now enable the EPA to provide detailed information on quantities of waste tyres managed in an environmentally sound manner and the recovery / recycling rates achieved.

  380.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the amount that was spent as an initial outlay on electronic voting machines; the amount that is being spent to rent or lease the voting machines annually; and the amount that is being spent storing these machines annually. [12873/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The total expenditure on the development and roll-out of the electronic voting system to date is some €51.3 million, the bulk of which has been incurred in purchasing the voting machines and ancillary equipment. The machines were purchased and there are therefore no ongoing lease costs related to their ownership. Based on figures received in my Department from Returning Officers, the total annual costs for storage of the electronic voting equipment (including the cost of insurance, service charges, rates and heating) for 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 were some €658,000; €696,000; €706,000; €489,000; and €204,000 respectively. In 2007, over 60% of the electronic voting machines (some 4,762 in total) were moved to a central storage facility located at Gormanston Army Camp. Costs incurred to date in respect of the movement and storage of this equipment are some €328,000.

  381.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the cost of establishing the joint policing committee for local authority areas in accordance with circular letter LG10 08; and the cost in a 12-month period. [12952/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Joint Policing Committees are comprised of members of local authorities, An Garda Síochána, members of the Oireachtas, and community and voluntary interests. Each agency involved is [230]generally expected to meet the expenses arising for itself in establishing and operating the Committees from within its own budget.

  382.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of tenancies currently registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board; if there is a mechanism in place to keep account of the number of licence agreements in operation at present; if a mechanism is in place to ensure that licence agreements conform to the standards of residential and tenancy legislation. [12962/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I have no function in these matters as the operation of tenancy registration is the responsibility of the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB), an independent statutory body established under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2004. Nevertheless, it should be noted that since its establishment, the Board has achieved considerable success in the registration of tenancies and I understand that in excess of 210,000 active tenancies are currently registered, covering some 103,000 landlords and some 362,000 tenants.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 applies to every dwelling that is the subject of a tenancy, subject to a limited number of exceptions which are set out in section 3(2) of the Act. Where a dwelling is occupied by a person under an arrangement or agreement which is not a tenancy or under a tenancy to which the Act does not apply, the PRTB does not have any function in the registration of such agreements or arrangements.

I have recently announced my intention to review aspects of the Residential Tenancies Act. While the PRTB has not brought any specific concerns to my attention in relation to licence arrangements, I will review the matter as part of the overall review of the legislation which it is hoped will yield preliminary outcomes by autumn 2009.

  383.  Deputy Bobby Aylward    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of applications received under the home choice loan scheme; the number of applications approved to date; and the number employed by his Department in the administration of this scheme. [12991/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  The Home Choice Loan was introduced to facilitate, rather than incentivise first-time buyers who have decided to purchase a house at this time. Since being announced in October 2008, over 1,400 prospective purchasers have formally registered interest on the dedicated Home Choice website (www.homechoiceloan.ie) and these have been contacted in recent weeks to advise that applications are now being accepted. 19 full applications have been made and a significant number of enquiries have also been received from brokers in relation to applications that may be pending. The scheme is operated by four local authorities acting on a regional basis, with administrative support from a Central Processing Unit in the Affordable Homes Partnership.

Questions Nos. 384 and 385 answered with Question No. 373.

  386.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his plans to modernise the legislation governing landlord and tenant relationships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13192/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I have recently announced my intention to review aspects of the Residential Tenancies Acts with a view to considering the scope for further improvements to the legislative framework within which the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) operates, which would support the achievement of additional operational efficiencies by the Board in the delivery of its functions. My Department is currently undertaking the necessary preparatory work for this review which I hope will yield preliminary outcomes by the autumn of 2009.

  387.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the amount which is to be made available to each local authority for remedial housing works in 2009. [13193/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  Formal allocations for the national remedial works programme are not usually made until April in any given year. However, in January 2009, to facilitate local authorities in planning for and managing projects, provisional allocations totalling €52 million were notified to authorities. Since then, my Department has held Housing Action Plan meetings with all Housing Authorities during which the direction and content of social housing construction and improvement programmes were discussed. The final allocations under the national programme will naturally have to take account of the information received during the course of this round of Action Plan meetings, as well as the Estimates position for 2009 to be finalised shortly. It is envisaged that the allocations will issue to local authorities by end April 2009.

  388.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of local authority houses to be built in 2009; and the breakdown among each county area. [13194/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  During March my Department held Housing Action Plan meetings with all housing authorities. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss the direction and content of authorities’ proposed housing investment programmes and particularly to consider the prioritisation of projects and the reconfiguration of the Social Housing Investment Programme as a whole, so that it can be sustained and consolidated in the changing economic and budgetary circumstances. On foot of information furnished in the course of this round of Action Plan meetings, and taking account of the finalised Estimates position for 2009 to be published on 7 April, I will consider and finalise this year’s Social Housing Investment Programme allocations later in April.

Based on these allocations it will be a matter for housing authorities to finalise their plans for the composition, management and delivery of their programmes, taking into account existing commitments, identifying priority projects and proposals and providing a time line for delivery and a sustainable funding plan for each project and their programme as a whole. The overall [232]aim will be to maximise capacity to meet housing needs through the suite of social housing supply options available to individual housing authorities, including through the recently announced long-term leasing initiative.

  389.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the position regarding a matter (details supplied). [13203/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Under the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, the erection on or within the curtilage of a house of a dish type antenna used for the receiving and transmitting of signals from satellites is exempted development, subject to the following conditions:

1. Not more than one such antenna shall be erected on, or within the curtilage of a house.

2. The diameter of any such antenna shall not exceed 1 metre.

3. No such antenna shall be erected on, or forward of, the front wall of the house.

4. No such antenna shall be erected on the front roof slope of the house or higher than the highest part of the roof of the house.

The erection of a satellite dish other than within the terms of this exemption requires planning permission. Enforcement of planning control is a matter for the relevant planning authority, which is obliged to address any complaints in this regard and make a decision as to whether enforcement action is appropriate.

  390.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the reason for the delay in issuing funding under the conservation grant scheme to Roscommon County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13380/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  My Department made funding of €99,000 available to Roscommon County Council in 2008, for the local authority conservation grant scheme under my Department’s built heritage capital programme. Allocations for the various programmes and schemes under the 2009 built heritage capital programme will be finalised and announced following publication of the Revised Estimates for 2009.

  391.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of electronic voting machines stored at each location; the address, owner, cost of storage and the term of the contract; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13381/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  In 2007, over 60% of the electronic voting machines (some 4,762 in total) were moved to a central storage facility located at Gormanston Army Camp. Costs incurred to date in respect of the movement and storage of this equipment are some €328,000. These are largely one-off costs [233]related to the preparation of the facility, transportation of the machines and the acquisition of storage containers. Storage details in respect of the machines stored at local premises are set out in the table.

Storage of Electronic Voting Equipment

City/County Number of Machines Stored Location of Storage Premises Owners of the Premises Storage Costs 2008 (incl. VAT) Period of Lease Contract
Cavan-Monaghan 280 Monaghan Town Martin Duffy 21,685.79 25 years
Clare 200 Ennis Voting Machines stored in courthouse. Premises for ancillary equipment owned by Tony Mulqueen 3,600 Monthly Basis
Donegal 294 Letterkenny Niall McIvors, Secure Storage 14,026.20 Annual
Galway 310 Castlebar Joseph Togher Nil Annual
Kerry 310 Tralee John Dillane 31,875.32 10 Years
Laois-Offaly 219 Portlaoise KG Warehousing Ltd. 27,682.60 5 Years
Longford 95 Longford Town Returning Officer has requested that this information not be released publicly for security reasons 16,859.98 4 Years 9 Months
Roscommon 137 Roscommon Town Gerry Kelly 10,026.82 2 Years 6 Months
Louth 179 Dundalk Dundalk Town Council 566.11 N/A
Meath 235 Navan Paul McDonnell 26,395.72 9 Years 9 Months
Sligo 129 Sligo Town Voting Machines stored in courthouse 2,500 N/A
Leitrim 101 Carrick-on-Shannon Voting Machines stored in courthouse. Premises for ancillary equipment owned by Drumshanbo Enterprise Centre 3,200 1 Year
Wexford 240 Drinagh McGuinness Enterprises Ltd. 25,057.70 Monthly Basis

Question No. 392 answered with Question No. 379.

  393.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the steps taken to ensure the welfare of circus animals. [13417/09]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Animal welfare and the legal protection of animals from cruelty are the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

  394.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number of limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to him, his Department or to a public body under the aegis of his Department, indicating the nature of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12822/09]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  There are 6 limited companies with agreements for the provision of the full-time services of a single individual to this Department. They provide services in Information Technology as follows: Systems Analysis, Java Development, GIS Administration, Database Administration and Application Testing. Any such agreements entered into by the bodies under the aegis of the Department are a day to day operational matter for those bodies and I have no function in that regard.

  395.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if there will be a national roll out of high definition television in view of the fact that many operators in the market here are not offering this key service; the availability and penetration of HDTV in the communications sector here; the way this compares with other EU and OECD states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12867/09]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2007 provides for the national rollout of digital terrestrial services in Ireland. In this regard, RTE is tasked with providing a digital service with space for RTE, TG4 and TV3. Digital television can offer more in comparison with analogue services including high definition television (HDTV) and this is supported in the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act, 2007.

The development of HDTV services in Ireland is ultimately a matter for the broadcasters as they will need to upgrade their studio equipment as well as their transmission network. RTE, TG4 and TV3 have all expressed an interest in developing HDTV services, in the future. In relation to the availability of HDTV services the range of content available at a European level is still quite limited as broadcasters move towards developing more HDTV programmes.

  396.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if a salmon counter has been purchased for the River Boyne; the cost of same; when and where on the River Boyne it will be located; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12990/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power):  As previously advised to the Deputy a partial fish counter on the river Boyne is located downstream of Navan at the Blackcastle weir. I am advised that in June 2008 the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board purchased a fish counter at a cost of €11,883. I understand that this counter currently acts as a back up to the Eastern Regional Board’s five other counters in case of breakdown. It is planned that this counter will be made available to the Boyne in future should a suitable site be found.

The Deputy will also be aware that the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board is t