Dáil Eireann

09/Jul/2009

Prelude

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32.

Order of Business.

Message from Seanad.

Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Committee Stage and Remaining Stages.

Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009: From the Seanad.

Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

Priority Questions.

Departmental Expenditure.

Taxi Regulations.

Public Transport.

Proposed Legislation.

Other Questions.

State Airports.

Proposed Legislation.

Appointments to State Boards.

Road Traffic Offences.

Public Transport.

Public Transport.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate.

Health Services.

Community Employment Schemes.

Message from Seanad.

Written Answers.

Public Transport.

Road Safety.

Airport Preclearance Facility.

Renewable Energy.

Integrated Ticketing.

State Airports.

Bus Licensing.

Transport Projects.

Public Transport.

Road Network.

Public Service Review.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Acht um Thrácht ar Bhóithre.

Light Rail Project.

Sustainable Transport.

Proposed Legislation.

Driving Tests.

Light Rail Project.

Haulage Licences.

Employment Rights.

Transport Sector.

Public Transport.

Ministerial Appointments.

Road Safety.

Driving Tests.

Tax Code.

Airport Development Projects.

Transport Costs.

Rural Transport Services.

Public Transport.

Air Services.

Flood Relief.

Transport Policy.

Departmental Staff.

Road Safety.

Air Services.

Proposed Legislation.

Penalty Points System.

Employment Support Services.

Departmental Agencies.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Work Placement Programme.

Redundancy Payments.

Community Employment Schemes.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Employment Levels.

Employment Rights.

Public Service Staff.

Community Employment Schemes.

FÁS Training Programmes.

EU Regulations.

Redundancy Payments.

Employment Support Services.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Funding.

IDA Properties.

Departmental Funding.

Work-Life Balance.

Ministerial Appointments.

Training and Advisory Services.

Trades’ Union Sector.

Departmental Expenditure.

Proposed Legislation.

County and City Enterprise Boards.

Departmental Expenditure.

State Agencies.

Banking Sector.

FÁS Training Programmes.

State Agencies.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Retail Sector.

Public Service Contracts.

Fuel Costs.

EU Treaties.

Customs Service.

Social Insurance.

Betting Industry.

Tax Yield.

Faoiseamh Cánach.

Stádas na Gaeilge.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Flood Relief.

Banking Sector.

Tax Yield.

EU Directives.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Public Service Staff.

Tax Yield.

Insurance Industry.

Tax Code.

Customs Service.

National Flag.

Financial Services Regulation.

Tax Code.

Financial Services Regulation.

Public Sector Salaries.

Fiscal Policy.

Capital Investment.

Decentralisation Programme.

Financial Services Regulation.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Public Service Contracts.

Tax Code.

Departmental Properties.

National Parks.

Departmental Offices.

Public Sector Staff.

Public Sector Salaries.

Public Service Recruitment.

Tax Yield.

Public Service Contracts.

Budget Submissions.

Children in Care.

Health Services.

Youth Services.

Child Care Services.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Service for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Services.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Hospital Accommodation.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Health Service Staff.

Mental Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Health Services.

Health Service Allowances.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Vaccination Programme.

Public Service Review.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Child Care Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Hospital Accommodation.

Health Service Staff.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Infectious Diseases.

Health Service Staff.

Food Labelling.

Health Service Staff.

Vaccination Programme.

Health Services.

Health Services.

Vaccination Programme

Health Services.

Departmental Properties.

Mental Health Services.

Ambulance Services.

Legislative Programme.

Health Services.

Public Service Staff.

Health Services.

Child Protection.

Medical Cards.

Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Contracts.

Hospital Services.

Health Issues.

Health Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Hospital Staff.

Adoption Services.

Medicinal Products.

Departmental Bodies.

Health Services.

Health Service Executive Expenditure.

Health Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Food Safety Standards.

Hospital Services.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Health Services.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Health Services.

State Compensation Payments..

Child Care Services.

Adoption Services.

Medical Cards.

Youth Services.

Medicinal Products.

Health Services.

Hospital Infections.

Hospital Services.

Health Service Staff.

Medical Cards.

Community Care.

Health Services.

Departmental Contracts.

Departmental Strategy Statements.

Domestic Violence.

Child Protection.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health Services.

Domestic Violence.

Health Services.

Community Pharmacy Services.

Hospital Accommodation.

Health Service Staff.

Care of the Elderly.

Health Services.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health Service Staff.

Departmental Expenditure.

Medical Cards.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Hospital Accommodation.

Mental Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Mental Health Services.

Health Services.

Hospital Charges.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Departmental Programmes.

Patients’ Rights.

Health Services.

Medical Cards.

Patient Treatment Register.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Cancer Control Strategy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Cancer Control Strategy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Mental Health Services.

Medical Training.

Mental Health Services.

Suicide Prevention.

Mental Health Services.

Care of the Elderly.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Care of the Elderly.

Palliative Care.

Nursing Profession.

Health Service Staff.

Health Services.

Eating Disorders.

Regional Airports.

Harbours and Piers.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Taxi Regulations.

Public Transport.

State Agencies.

Integrated Ticketing.

Capital Projects.

Public Service Staff.

Road Network.

Industrial Disputes.

Road Network.

Public Transport.

Transport Projects.

Public Transport.

Transport Projects.

Rail Services.

Road Traffic Offences.

State Agencies.

Harbours and Piers.

Road Network.

Rail Network.

Public Transport.

Ports Review.

Public Transport.

Air Services.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Congestion Charges.

Departmental Reports.

Rail Services.

Dublin Port Tunnel.

Road Network.

Departmental Contracts.

Public Transport.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Drug Seizures.

Departmental Staff.

Visa Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Public Service Review.

Crime Levels.

Citizenship Applications.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Expenditure.

Deportation Orders.

Asylum Applications.

EU Directives.

Sports Funding.

Asylum Support Services.

Asylum Applications.

Asylum Issues.

Crime Levels.

Public Service Staff.

Garda Deployment.

Legislative Programme.

Garda Ombudsman Report.

Visa Applications.

Road Traffic Accidents.

Garda Deployment.

Crime Levels.

Residency Permits.

Refugee Status.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Residency Permits.

Citizenship Applications.

Residency Permits.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Residency Permits.

Citizenship Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Asylum Applications.

National Identity Card.

Internet Usage.

Garda Deployment.

Sexual Offences.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Deployment.

Illegal Immigrants.

Road Traffic Offences.

Departmental Contracts.

Domestic Violence.

Sexual Offences.

Civil Legal Aid.

Sexual Offences.

Crime Statistics.

Gambling Legislation.

Civil Legal Aid.

Garda Training.

Garda Deployment.

Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Human Rights Issues.

Departmental Staff.

Bilateral Agreements.

Good Friday Agreement.

Sudanese Abductions.

EU Enlargement.

Visa Applications.

Human Rights Issues.

Overseas Development Aid.

Human Rights Issues.

Visa Applications.

EU Treaties.

Departmental Contracts.

Departmental Contracts.

Human Rights Issues.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Public Service Staff.

Sports Capital Programme.

Proposed Legislation.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Departmental Contracts.

Rural Transport.

Higher Education Grants.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Public Service Staff.

Security of the Elderly.

Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Inland Waterways.

National Drugs Strategy.

Departmental Contracts.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Public Service Staff.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Expenditure.

Irish Language.

Social Insurance.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Child Support.

Domiciliary Care Services.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Insurance.

Departmental Contracts.

Adoption Services.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Estimates.

Departmental Expenditure.

Consultancy Contracts.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Bodies.

Job Creation.

Departmental Staff.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

Social Welfare Code.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Departmental Programmes.

Social Welfare Code.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

Social Inclusion.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Staff.

Departmental Offices.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Departmental Staff.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Airport Exclusion Zones.

Departmental Contracts.

Register of Electors.

Tax Code.

Turbary Rights.

National Parks.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Local Authority Housing.

Local Authority Status.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Natural Heritage Areas.

Departmental Staff.

Decentralisation Programme.

Building Regulations.

Litter Pollution.

Public Service Review.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Special Protection Orders.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Public Service Staff.

Voluntary Housing Schemes.

Special Areas of Conservation.

Environmental Impact Statements.

Quarrying Activity.

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Private Rented Accommodation.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Environmental Information Service.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Waste Management.

Housing Grants.

Constitutional Amendments.

Local Authority Funding.

Environmental Policy.

Docklands Development.

Litter Pollution.

Local Authority Housing.

Local Government Reform.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Water Quality.

Grant Payments.

Waste Management.

Register of Electors.

Electronic Voting.

Local Authority Funding.

Waste Management.

Departmental Contracts.

Departmental Expenditure.

Health and Safety Programmes.

Energy Conservation.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Departmental Staff.

Public Service Review.

Telecommunications Services.

Public Service Staff.

Telecommunications Services.

Postal Services.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Telecommunications Services.

Departmental Agencies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Television Licence Fee.

Telecommunications Services.

Fishing Industry Development.

Smart Economy.

Energy Resources.

Broadcasting Services.

Telecommunications Services.

Departmental Contracts.

Foreshore Licences.

Harbours and Piers.

Fishing Industry Development.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Staff.

Grant Payments.

Public Service Review.

Departmental Schemes.

Proposed Legislation.

Public Service Staff.

Fisheries Protection.

Grant Payments.

Food Labelling.

Forestry Sector.

Shipwreck Salvage.

Aquaculture Licences.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Contracts.

School Staffing.

Departmental Staff.

Adult Education.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Public Service Review.

School Enrolments.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

Schools Recognition.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

School Curriculum.

Public Service Staff.

School Accommodation.

Special Educational Needs.

School Services Staff.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Institutes of Technology.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Teaching Qualifications.

Capitation Grants.

Departmental Expenditure.

Waste Management.

Schools Building Projects.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

In-service Training.

School Staffing.

Information and Communications Technology.

In-service Training.

Physical Education Facilities.

School Staffing.

Road Safety.

Stay Safe Programme.

Student Councils.

School Curriculum.

Youthreach Programme.

Disadvantaged Status.

Information and Communications Technology.

DEIS Programme.

Literacy Levels.

Disadvantaged Status.

Psychological Service.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

School Transport.

Literacy Levels.

Adult Education.

Educational Disadvantage.

Third Level Fees.

Third Level Sector.

Student Representation.

In-Service Training.

Special Educational Needs.

School Curriculum.

Teaching Qualifications.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Building Projects.

Teaching Qualifications.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

School Staffing.

Schools Refurbishment.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Accommodation.

Departmental Correspondence.

Schools Refurbishment.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Refurbishment.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Accommodation.

Schools Recognition.

School Accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme.

Departmental Contracts.

Third Level Education.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

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

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the urgent need to support the residents of Donnycarney, Dublin 5, Elm Mount Avenue, Richmond Road, Fairview, Collins Park and Clontarf who have suffered recently with huge flooding; and call on the Minister for Finance and the OPW to provide support and funding to Dublin City Council on this urgent matter.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the need to debate the decision by the Government and the HSE to remove the acute medical services from Monaghan General Hospital to Cavan. There are serious implications not only for the people of Monaghan but for County Cavan, where the present hospital cannot cope with its own patients and has already closed down the Pathways special unit for rehabilitation. On the last occasion Monaghan General Hospital was off call many lives were lost and if this proposal is implemented lives will be in danger and it will become the mould for all other general hospitals across the land.

[2]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the urgent need for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children to intervene directly to prevent the planned removal on 22 July of all acute services from Monaghan General Hospital, including all emergency and inpatient medical services, with potentially devastating consequences for the safety and health care of all those who depend on the hospital, as well as very serious knock-on effects for Cavan General Hospital which will have to cope with some thousands of additional inpatient admissions per year without the provision of a single additional inpatient bed.

Deputy James Bannon:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the findings of a report published yesterday which highlights the problems of unbalanced regional development, which sees major deficits in road and rail projects, regional airports and broadband services in several regions, including the midlands, which are impacting adversely on production, delivery and travel times and negatively affecting competitiveness.

Can the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food comment on his proposal to abolish REPS 4, which has farmers up in arms around the country?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

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 Tánaiste:  The Order of Business is No. a1, Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009 [Seanad] — Second and Subsequent Stages; No. b1, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — Amendments from the Seanad; No. 1, Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009 [Seanad] — Second and Subsequent Stages; No. 23, Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. today and business shall be interrupted not later than 9 p.m.; the Second and Subsequent Stages of No. a1 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. today; the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; the proceedings on No. b1 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Health and Children; the Second and Subsequent Stages of No. 1 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m. today; the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; the Dáil shall sit tomorrow at [3]10.30 a.m. and shall adjourn not later than 9 p.m.; and the business to be transacted shall be announced on the Order of Business in accordance with Standing Order 26 on that day.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. today agreed to?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Labour Party will not agree to any proposal relating to today’s business until we have an assurance from the Tánaiste that the report from the McCarthy group will be published and until she is in a position to tell us when it will be published. The weekend before last, almost every newspaper carried the story that the McCarthy report would be available to Government last week. I assume those stories were on the basis of briefings from Government but the Government has now contrived not to receive the McCarthy report until the Taoiseach is no longer in a position to answer questions on it in the House.

Within hours of the Taoiseach taking his last Leaders’ Questions before the summer recess the Government conveniently received the McCarthy report. We need to know whether it will be published and, if so, when. I heard Deputy Mary O’Rourke on the radio this morning and I feel I speak for the majority of Members of the House when I say the report should be published.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I agree with Deputy Gilmore and was going to raise this matter at the end of the Order of Business in connection with No. 5.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  He got in ahead of Deputy Kenny again.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Deputy Kenny is in the slipstream.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In any event, this epitomises what is wrong with this Government; it dithers over every issue. The problem the Tánaiste and Government face is whether to publish the report. Publish it and be damned. If the Government did not want to publish the report, it should have asked Mr. McCarthy not to supply it until the end of September.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  That is what the Opposition would do.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  That is not what the Deputy said when Deputy Pat Breen took the flight to England.

Deputy Billy Timmins:  Deputy Dooley missed the flight.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Government has had plenty of practice.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  There is now no option but to publish it. Deputy Dooley is entitled to his opinion. There are secret deals with Deputies Finian McGrath, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae that will not be published either.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Do not look at me, Deputy Kenny.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I am not sure whether Deputy O’Rourke, who is not here, will get a copy from her nephew to read over the weekend. I believe the Tánaiste should publish this as soon as it is given to the Minister for Finance because the public has a right to know. If she continues to hold on to it until after the Lisbon referendum, matters will be made worse for [4]the Government. It should be published now so every Member of the House and everyone in the country can have a chance to read it. We should come back here next week to discuss the implications of Mr. McCarthy’s report.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  We should sit next week.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Deputy Durkan should be careful; he might get what he is asking for.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I join the other Opposition voices calling on the Government to circulate the McCarthy report by an bord snip nua to Members of this House; indeed, I suggested this some weeks ago. We should have the opportunity to debate properly the contents of the report. Some alternatives may not be under consideration but we have a collective responsibility to face up to these challenges. This matter is not the preserve of the Government; the Opposition has a contribution to make to the resolution of these problems. One thing is certain: we must face the fact that this McCarthy cup will not be overflowing with good news. I urge that the details of this report be circulated and that we be given the opportunity to address them properly. If necessary, we should have the chance to address the report in the coming week. Surely it is within the gift of the Government to agree to this.

The Tánaiste:  It is important to make one or two points. The report has been received by the Minister for Finance and its purpose is to inform the Government in the context of the Estimates process. It is appropriate and equally important to say that the public should be made aware of the choices that must be made and the context in which this will be done. However, as a former member of the Cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition knows there is a process to be followed.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Leak the nice bits.

The Tánaiste:  First, the Minister for Finance gets the report and then the Cabinet sees it. The Cabinet members consider the report and final decisions are made afterwards. The process will be adhered to and a final decision will be made by the Cabinet on when, how and where the report will be published in due course.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Is the Tánaiste deferring this until September?

Question, “That the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. today”, put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a1, relating to Second and Remaining Stages of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009, agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  This is a touchy subject. I have made my point on the principle of guillotines but I want to be clear that because this item refers to Members of this House I will not call a vote. I do not want my intention to be misconstrued.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  In this case we are applying the guillotine unnecessarily. The time allowed before the guillotine falls is longer than necessary as there is agreement on the proposals before us. I would say that in many cases they are welcome. There is absolutely no need to use a guillotine as the debate will be long finished before its time comes. The purpose of the guillotine is to set aside Standing Orders in case of an emergency — this is not an emer[5]gency. This is standard, routine legislation on which there is agreement so there is no need for the guillotine.

The Tánaiste:  If the business is finished we will move on to the next piece of legislation.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  We know that but sufficient time is not given to most Bills.

The Tánaiste:  The guillotine is a method by which business can be finished.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is No. 2 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. b1, relating to amendments from the Seanad to the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, agreed to?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not agreed. The Sinn Féin Deputies will not agree to the ordering of any business today relating to health. The very idea is galling as the Government yesterday presided over the final announcement of the closure of acute medical services at Monaghan General Hospital.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order and may not raise a constituency matter on the Order of Business under any circumstances.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This is not out of order. I am giving the reasons I will not agree to No. b1. The Ceann Comhairle would give any other Member the opportunity to speak and I can tell him that it will not be long before the same situation occurs in his own constituency.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  This is a national issue and it is a scandal. What is being done to Monaghan General Hospital is an absolute scandal and must be addressed.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Government must wake up to what it is presiding over; it is an absolute disgrace.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. b1 be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 68.

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



Níl
 Bannon, James.  Barrett, Seán.
 Behan, Joe.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Coonan, Noel J.
 Costello, Joe.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Hogan, Phil.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lee, George.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGrath, Finian.
 McHugh, Joe.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Olivia.  Morgan, Arthur.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 O’Sullivan, Maureen.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheehan, P. J.  Sherlock, Seán.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I cannot support the guillotine on the Local Government (Charges) Bill. This Bill appears, by fact rather than intent, to focus on the elderly. It looks as if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was not fully awake when it was discussed at Cabinet because I do not see any amendments from him clarifying a range of specific circumstances in which elderly people find themselves as a consequence of it. That is why I oppose the guillotine.

[7]Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The Minister’s intends to bring forward the Local Government (Charges) Bill despite the debacle on its introduction in the Seanad with legislation by “Liveline”, on Joe Duffy’s radio show, dealing with caravans and mobile homes and other matters. The Bill is full of anomalies and needs further clarity. Why is a guillotine being put on the Bill when it is bereft of clear thinking? It is going from Second Stage to Report and Final Stages in a couple of hours. The Labour Party will oppose the guillotine.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Sinn Féin will also oppose the guillotine on the Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009.

Deputy Johnny Brady:  What is new?

Deputy Michael Creed:  The disadvantaged areas: REPS 4.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  What is partly new is that we have just seen a vote of 70:68 and regrettably three of the Cavan-Monaghan Members voted against the interests of hospital care in our constituency.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can raise that matter on the Adjournment.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Ceann Comhairle cut me off on the last occasion when we were discussing the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. If the provision of acute medical services at Monaghan General Hospital did not come under that particular topic then why not?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not going to deal with a constituency matter on the Order of Business. The Deputy should raise that on the Adjournment this evening if he wishes and he is welcome to do that.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Ceann Comhairle has a very jaundiced view of Deputies raising hospital services in this Chamber.

(Interruptions).

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 1 be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 66.

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


Níl
 Bannon, James.  Barrett, Seán.
 Behan, Joe.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Creed, Michael.
 Creighton, Lucinda.  D’Arcy, Michael.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Brian.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lee, George.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 O’Sullivan, Maureen.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheehan, P.J..  Sherlock, Seán.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal that the Dáil will sit tomorrow agreed to? Agreed.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I wish to raise a number of matters on the Order of Business. Will the Tánaiste offer a little more clarity in respect of the McCarthy report? I am aware of the process and that the Minister for Finance received the report yesterday. I am sorry for missing Deputy O’Rourke but I did not see her so far around on the seats.

[9]Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  I love being on the backbenches.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I know that. Will there be a review of this report’s publication, as the Government must publish it in everybody’s interest? The use of the guillotine by the Government in the final four weeks of this session in 2009 occurred in 86% of cases or 18 of 21 Bills. In four of those Bills there were clear constitutional implications. Those are the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, the Defamation Bill, the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill.

The consequences of using the guillotine to the extent the Government has means that elected representatives do not get the opportunity to scrutinise legislation in the way they should and the Dáil does not fully perform its constitutional role of enacting legislation. Most important, the presumption of constitutionality is threatened in the development of legislation in these circumstances. It behoves the Government to look again at the requirements for guillotines, which should only be used in truly exceptional circumstances.

  11 o’clock

Is there any Bill on the A list that will be taken tomorrow of which we do not have notice? On 22 April the Government Chief Whip announced the legislative programme for the summer session, indicating that the Government intended to publish 26 Bills in that session. Of those, 17 Bills have been published and nine have not. I am not clear from the Government Whip’s office as to whether there is an intention to take one of those Bills tomorrow, namely the employment agency regulation Bill, which has not yet been published. If not, I assume the nine unpublished Bills will go on the list for the autumn session. I hope there will be clarity from the Tánaiste on when the House will be expected to return to deal with NAMA.

I have received correspondence from the editors of The Irish Times and the Irish Independent, major national newspapers, and they make a point on the importance of having a team of journalists in Leinster House with ready access to the politicians and public representatives.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is absolutely essential.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot really deal with this on the Order of Business.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  They make the point that there is an attempt to move the journalists away from Leinster House because of construction work which is taking place.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  There is always Doheny and Nesbitts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter is being dealt with.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Tánaiste has long had interaction with journalists from newspapers and other sources.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is a health and safety issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot deal with that now. It is being dealt with by the authorities of the House and is not in order now.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle is in charge of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which deals with the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas and perhaps I should direct it to you.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, you should not. I merely intervene on the Order of Business to ensure Standing Orders are implemented.

[10]Deputy Enda Kenny:  I understand that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The issue raised by the Deputy is being dealt with by the authorities of the House. The Tánaiste can deal with the legislative aspects of the matter.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  As it was long ago.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  Is it a touchy subject?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Both editors make the point very strongly that although there are structural works to be completed upstairs, it is important from the media and journalistic perspective that they have a facility in Leinster House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must return to the Order of Business.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I have always supported that, irrespective of what attitude they take towards the people who sit down here.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  They have to move because of the construction.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on the Tánaiste.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Will the Ceann Comhairle, in his capacity as the esteemed chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission——

An Ceann Comhairle:  As I have said, the authorities of the House are dealing with the matter.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Plámás will get me nowhere, will it not?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Does the Deputy want them to fall in on us?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on the Tánaiste.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I respectfully suggest that the Ceann Comhairle might read this correspondence from both editors of major newspapers and see if anything can be done.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am sure they will send it to him.

The Tánaiste:  There is no need for further clarity. The Leader of the Opposition is requesting a date or timeframe but I am not in a position to give that. I indicated the process by which this matter would be dealt with.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Another process.

The Tánaiste:  On the issue of the guillotine, it is a matter by which order is given to the legislative process. In many circumstances it is not necessary but I remind the Leader of the Opposition that his Government acted similarly in 1996.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  We are going back a long time now.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The Tánaiste may as well tell us what happened in 1886.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That was in the last century.

[11]The Tánaiste:  The Communications (Retention of Data) Bill was published today and as a consequence there are six remaining pieces of legislation, a number of which fall within my own remit. They are progressing and I hope to have them published this month. There are one or two other pieces of legislation with which some unforeseen complications have arisen but it is expected that these will be published shortly.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Will it be in the next fortnight?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to question the Tánaiste further on “process”. She told us there is a process for the McCarthy report. I interpret from what she has said and the Taoiseach’s comments yesterday that it will not be published at all.

The Tánaiste:  No.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is what I understand.

The Tánaiste:  That is a misinterpretation.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am glad to hear that; it is news. If indeed it is to be published, when will it be published?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The issue will be considered.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  If the Cabinet is considering it next week, can we take it that it will be published following the Cabinet consideration. Will the Tánaiste clarify that?

Continuing on the subject of process, when will the NAMA legislation be published? I agree with Deputy Kenny on the undesirability, to put it mildly, of the continued use of the guillotine in respect of all the legislation being forced through the House. The forcing of legislation through the House without the kind of scrutiny it deserves, particularly in the criminal justice area, is likely to result in bad law. Too much processed food is bad for one’s health. Similarly, too much processed legislation is bad for the health of our democracy.

I welcome the Ceann Comhairle’s statement to the effect that the matter raised by the editors of newspapers and television news programmes is being dealt with. I had understood that the arrangement whereby some of the members of the press corps were moved to an office in Molesworth Street was to facilitate the refurbishment of some offices in this building. It had also been my impression that these individuals would return here. It is important the members of the press should be around the House in order that Members might interact with and keep an eye on them.

The Tánaiste:  There are approximately 137 members of the press accredited to the House. We will, therefore, need many more eyes and certainly more chairs.

In the event that there may be a misinterpretation or a misapprehension of what I said or did not say, it has not been decided whether the McCarthy report is to be published. It is appropriate that the Minister for Finance should have the opportunity to brief his colleagues in Cabinet who do not have access to the report. Once that has happened——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  That is not what——

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Will it also be kept secret from the Minister for Finance’s colleagues in Cabinet for weeks?

The Tánaiste:  ——the Government will come to a decision.

[12]Deputy Alan Shatter:  They will probably read about it in the Sunday Independent.

The Tánaiste:  It is clearly not the intention to keep from the public serious problems relating to the economy.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  In a mature democracy, the report would be published and publicly debated. Members of the public should not be treated like children.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  In a mature democracy, the Government would be allowed to consider the report in the first instance.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The report should be published. If this were any other European democracy, it would be published and made available for public debate.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  In a mature democracy, the Government considers matters in the first instance. The report will be published but not before the Government has dealt with it.

The Tánaiste:  The public must be kept apprised of the difficult choices that must be made.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  This is not the old Soviet Union.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Shatter will force me to censor him if he does not obey the Chair.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Sir, the Government forgets that this is a parliamentary democracy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I accept that it is a parliamentary democracy.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The report should be published.

The Tánaiste:  As the Taoiseach indicated, the legislation relating to NAMA will be published this month.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  This is a parliamentary democracy and the report should be published.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a parliamentary democracy and that is why I am trying to allow the Tánaiste to answer the question that was put to her. That is the objective of the exercise.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  If a report is compiled at taxpayers’ expense, then members of the public are entitled to know what it contains. As Members of Parliament, we are entitled to consider and debate the report in public.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Shatter will be obliged to leave the House if he continues in the same vein. Does the Tánaiste wish to continue with her reply?

The Tánaiste:  I have already answered the two questions I was asked.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  It is outrageous the way the Government conducts its business. It has been in power for 12 years and it has no respect for either the Members of this Parliament or the public.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Deputy Shatter is ignoring the Chair.

[13]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Crawford.

A Deputy:  Deputy O’Rourke wants the report to be published.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Yesterday I tried to obtain an indication from the Taoiseach——

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The fact that Deputy O’Rourke wants the report to be published is big news. Apparently, the rest of us are irrelevant. The Government should publish the report and let it be debated during the summer months in order that mature and reflective decisions might be made.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Deputy Shatter is doing his best to make himself irrelevant.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Minister for Transport will be irrelevant in the near future. So I would not worry if I were him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must inform Deputy Shatter that Deputy Crawford has been called on the Order of Business. Perhaps Deputy Shatter might give his party colleague the opportunity to make his contribution.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Yesterday I tried to obtain an indication from the Taoiseach with regard to whether he would make time available for a debate on agriculture, particularly as the situation relating to it is extremely serious. As it happened, REPS 4 was abandoned yesterday.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss that matter now.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  When will the animal health and welfare Bill be published? The welfare of farmers, never mind that of animals, is extremely important. The legislation to which I refer should be debated at the earliest possible opportunity following the summer recess.

In light of the fact that a large proportion of those in my constituency will no longer be able to access the health services to which they are entitled, when will the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill be introduced in order that we might engage in a full debate on whether people are entitled to any care whatsoever in this State?

The Tánaiste:  The animal health and welfare Bill relates to the health of animals, not that of farmers.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Farmers’ health is important too.

The Tánaiste:  The animal health and welfare Bill is not yet ready for publication. As the Deputy is aware, the legislation in question will impose significant requirements on members of the farming community. That is why careful consideration is being given to it before we finalise a date for publication. Record numbers of people, some 62,000 — 17,000 of them since May — are on REPS.

It is expected that proposals relating to the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill will be brought before the Government later in the year.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Will the Tánaiste indicate what is likely to happen in respect of the pharmacy (No. 2) Bill? The Taoiseach kindly wrote to me and stated that we would be briefed on this matter in the near future. Is it intended to reintroduce the legislation and if so, will it deal with the current impasse involving pharmacists and the Minister for Health and Children?

[14]In light of the liberal use of the guillotine in recent times, one would have thought it would have been necessary to introduce, as a matter of urgency, the legislation in respect of the collection and exchange of information relating to the endangerment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse or risk thereof of children. It would be appropriate to bring forward this legislation in view of recent events. Will the Tánaiste indicate the degree of urgency that will be applied in respect of introducing the relevant Bill?

The Tánaiste:  As indicated previously, the provisions of the Pharmacy Act 2007 have not yet been implemented in full. It has not, therefore, been decided whether it would be appropriate to introduce a second item of legislation. The legislation relating to soft information is currently being drafted by the relevant Minister.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  When will the proposed forestry Bill be introduced? It is over six years since that legislation was promised and it is still hiding in the forest.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  One cannot see the wood for the trees.

The Tánaiste:  I would hate to lose Deputy P. J. Sheehan in the forest. The heads of the legislation were approved in March. I will ask the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Killeen, to revert to the Deputy in respect of a timeframe for the Bill’s publication.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  It is about time the Bill should be published, particularly as it has been hiding in the forest for six years.

The Tánaiste:  I had almost drafted the legislation before I left the relevant Department.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  We were waiting for Deputy P. J. Sheehan to return from the forest.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  The Minister for Transport was not too kind to me the other evening.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy was not too kind to me either.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  With regard to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill and the serious abuse of Dáil procedures by the Government in using the guillotine, I wish to indicate that Fine Gael supports the legislation but there are major issues regarding the detail which must be debated in the House. The latter will not happen, however, particularly in light of the time allocated in respect of the Bill. Will the Tánaiste consider deferring Report Stage of the Bill until the autumn in order to allow for public debate and a period of due consideration?

The Bill has far-reaching implications. Fine Gael supports it but is anxious that it should be a workable statute. I am aware that at least one Cabinet Minister shares my view in this regard. I ask the Tánaiste to consult the Government Chief Whip in order to ensure that we get this matter right.

The Tánaiste is on record as stating that the Bill must be passed as a matter of urgency. However, when enacted, it will not be capable of being used during the summer because there are no court sittings in August and September.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made his point.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  If Report Stage were deferred, this would give Members the opportunity to reflect on and give due consideration to the legislation during the summer months. We could then, as is our duty, return to the House in the autumn and pass it. At least [15]one Cabinet Minister is in favour of my proposal in this regard. I ask that due consideration be given to that proposal during the remainder of today and tomorrow. If we were to proceed as I suggest, it would have the effect of reducing the impact of the guillotine on the other important items of legislation the House is due to process either today or tomorrow.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  We have only reached section 5 of the Bill on Committee Stage. Two or three aspects of the legislation are extremely controversial. An expectation has been built up that some 300 gangsters and thugs will be locked up by the weekend if the Bill is passed. As Deputy Charlie Flanagan stated, that will not be the case. Committee Stage is being taken in the House. If the Tánaiste would agree to refer the Bill to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, the issues relating to it could be teased out over the summer months and it could be brought back before the House when it meets in mid-September. Nothing will be lost in the interim. It is wrong to give people the impression that the gangsters to whom I refer will be locked up in the next week or ten days.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  A Cheann Comhairle, on the same point——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I beg Deputy Morgan’s pardon. I also am aware that a delegation of lawyers met a Cabinet Minister yesterday who assured them that he takes a similar view, namely, that it should be a case of festina lente in this regard and that the House should have time to tease through the more difficult aspects of the Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Morgan. I will only take brief comments on this matter because we must move on.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  There is genuine and deep public concern regarding the content of this Bill. Rather than being a case of backing down, it would be courageous of the Government to agree to give more time through the summer, as the two previous speakers have suggested, to consider this Bill. Were Members to be brought back a few days earlier in September or whenever to conclude its passage, so be it. However, I would appreciate it were the Government to give consideration to providing more time to this Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Briefly, Deputy Shatter, to be followed by Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I support what has been said and wish to draw another issue to the Government’s attention. If the Government truly believes this legislation to be urgent, is it aware that if the Bill goes through in its current form, it is inevitable that its coming into full force will be delayed for an extended time for one of two reasons? The first possibility is that it will be referred by the President under Article 26 of the Constitution for consideration by the Supreme Court because of grave concerns regarding the constitutionality of certain aspects of the Bill. Does the Government intend or wish that there be such referral? Second, in the absence of such referral it is absolutely inevitable that the very first prosecution taken under this legislation will result in a constitutional challenge that could block use of this legislation for 18 months to two years, while the constitutional issues are being dealt with in the High Court and Supreme Court. Moreover, it is possible that it could even find its way before the European Court of Human Rights.

The Government should recognise that Members have a duty to scrutinise legislation to ensure it is constitutionally viable and appropriate. In the circumstances, this House should be allowed to do its duty and to process properly this legislation in a manner whereby the individual sections are fully teased out and constitutional issues that are of serious nature are addressed, so as to ensure the legislation is fully effective and the gangs that all Members wish [16]to see put behind jail doors are properly and fully prosecuted in a manner that is not open to constitutional challenge.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I raised this issue yesterday morning because 100 legal professionals wrote to The Irish Times expressing their concern about the possible constitutionality issue to the effect that Ireland might be shamed in the international arena as a result of the passage of the legislation, were it to be passed as presently constituted. My concern is similar to that of other speakers. The purpose of this exercise is to put seasoned, hardened and organised criminals behind bars and to protect society. I again ask the Tánaiste whether any effort has been made since yesterday, and in view of the points raised by other speakers, to be assured that from a constitutional perspective, the proposed legislation is fair, well tested and will stand any contest anywhere. If this fails, the worst possible outcome then will be that those hardened criminals who have been terrorising people in recent years will be given a type of approval.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on. The Tánaiste, to respond. However, I presume the difficulty is that the order has been made.

The Tánaiste:  The position is that following the death of Shane Geoghegan, everyone in this House was revulsed by what happened and all Members were asked to do whatever was necessary to deal with such issues. Members were ad idem on this matter in the House. While I acknowledge this legislation is extremely tough, very tough items of legislation have been introduced to the House over the years. It is inappropriate for any Member to comment on the role of the President. As an independent officer, it is her prerogative to decide what she must do, one way or the other. It would be most inappropriate to refer to it at all in this House in the context of this legislation.

A total of 12.5 hours has been provided for the discussion. If other legislative items on the Order Paper today are completed much earlier, that would give even more time for consideration by the House.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  The Tánaiste completely misses the point.

An Ceann Comhairle:  All I can say to Deputy Charles Flanagan at this point is that the question of whether there is to be a guillotine in respect of this legislation will in any event arise on the Order of Business tomorrow. There will be an Order of Business tomorrow and the Deputy will have the opportunity to raise the matter again. I call Deputy O’Shea.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  I refer to two defence bills for which the heads have been agreed and the text is in preparation, namely, the Curragh of Kildare Bill and the defence (amendment) Bill. What progress has been made with regard to the preparation of the texts and when will the Bills be published?

The Tánaiste:  Early next year.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  While I do not wish to reopen the issue of the McCarthy report, which has been adequately aired, will a new approach be adopted this year to the presentation of the Estimates? As the Tánaiste is aware, the present position is that there is no scrutiny whatsoever of the Government’s plans in respect of the choices on public spending. When the Estimates are presented, the House receives no information about what will be achieved and it is not until six months later that Members receive any information about what is to be achieved by the spending Estimates. If there is to be some real and substantive engagement in this time of crisis on the choices that must be made, will there be a change in the Estimates [17]procedure in order that the various committees of the House will get advance notice of the options on the table regarding their respective areas of expenditure? There then could be a reasoned debate about which choices ought to be made. There is no point in going into the form of Punch and Judy dialogue of the deaf in which the Government engages, whereby it suggests Members should come up with choices without revealing anything of its own intentions or the implications of different choices. The House deserves both the publication of a McCarthy report and a realistic process for engagement on the choices open to Members. Will there be change in this regard or will there be a reversion to the same old crazy and archaic system of deciding Estimates?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Bruton, the Tánaiste cannot change that on the Order of Business. All she can do is answer in respect of the publication of the report in the context of it being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  She can answer in respect of the Government’s intentions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Tánaiste can be of help, that is fine but I do not believe she can.

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy is more than able to articulate this point and discuss the matter with the Minister for Finance. However, as yet there has been no decision to change the process.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Reilly.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The Tánaiste should take the views of the rest of the House seriously when she goes to Cabinet to discuss this process, be it today, tomorrow or next week. Members seek a serious engagement and not the crazy activity that takes place at present.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made his point. I call Deputy Reilly.

Deputy James Reilly:  Is legislation planned to address the issue of medical indemnity insurance in Ireland, given that more than 50% of claims now are consumed by legal fees and settlements?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is such legislation promised?

The Tánaiste:  I am unsure and will revert to the Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Seanad Éireann has passed the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009, without amendment.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

When introducing my supplementary budget, I stated that fairness must be the cornerstone of all our efforts to achieve economic renewal. In that context, it was decided that those in these Houses and in the Government must examine their own costs and make their contribution to the savings that must be achieved in this time of unprecedented economic difficulty. The measures in this Bill, along with what Members already have done, show they are willing to play their part in efforts to bring about national recovery. I acknowledge that, in advance [18]of the legislation, many Members made voluntary contributions in respect of their pension arrangements to assist the national finances. This is as it should be, given the sacrifices that have already been made by many across the economy, especially by those who have lost their jobs.

Last October, members of the Government and Ministers of State took a reduction of 10% in their salaries. This cut, along with the pension levy, amounts to a 20% cut in ministerial salaries. The number of Ministers of State has been cut from 20 to 15. Some Members of the Oireachtas also took a voluntary pay reduction and some have also voluntarily forgone their entitlement to their ministerial pensions.

I am acutely aware that the measures in the recent supplementary budget have imposed a burden on people. The Government was guided by the principle that the burden had to be spread fairly, with those who could afford to contributing in accordance with their means. It was, therefore, incumbent on us in these Houses to play our part and, accordingly, the budget provided for changes in Members’ remuneration. These measures included a 10% reduction in all expenses other than mileage rates, where a 25% reduction has already taken place and a provision whereby Oireachtas Members will no longer receive long service payments or increments. The arrangement whereby former Ministers are paid ministerial pensions while they are still Members of the Oireachtas will be discontinued.

This Bill provides the necessary statutory basis for the changes announced for long-service increments. Since the budget announcement in this regard, 45 Oireachtas Members have forgone increments that fell due. The budget date was taken as the date for the effective suspension of these increments and they ceased at that point.

The Bill also provides for the abolition of the current arrangement whereby former Ministers are paid ministerial pension while they are still Members of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. I will be proposing an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage that will enable me to provide for regulations for a composite expense allowance for Deputies and Senators, in lieu of existing allowances, as proposed by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. This is an enabling provision and I am of the view that Members need to consider these proposed changes further before any effect is given to it by regulation. In the interim the existing system of allowances will remain in place and I will be bringing forward the necessary regulations to reduce the majority of the Oireachtas expense allowances by 10%. A 25% reduction in travel rates has already been implemented. I will elaborate on this on Committee Stage.

While these measures are intended to effect savings on public expenditure, their financial impact will not be significant although they are a real contribution by Members as individuals and a signal that Members of both Houses are willing to give a lead in a time of great economic difficulty.

Section 1 defines “Act of 1938” as the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938. Section 2 provides that long-service increments will not be paid to Members who would normally have qualified for a long-service increment on or after 13 May 2009. So far, 45 Members have been affected by this provision. It also provides that long-service increments will not be paid to any Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas after the next general election.

Section 3 addresses pensions to former holders of ministerial and other offices. It concerns pensions awarded to officeholders under the old officeholders pensions scheme, those who qualified for such pensions before 13 January 1993 when the new officeholders pension scheme was introduced and who did not opt to join the new scheme. Officeholders are taoisigh, Ministers and Ministers of State. The section provides that between the passing of this Act and the next general election officeholder pensions paid to sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be reduced by 25% and the pensions will cease to be paid to such Members [19]after the next general election. In the case of Members of the European Parliament, the reduction will apply until the next European Parliament elections. Pensions will cease to be paid after that date for sitting Members.

Section 4 concerns pensions awarded to officeholders under the new officeholders pension scheme to persons who have three years or more of qualifying service. New scheme Members are those who first qualified for an officeholder’s pension after 13 January 1993, when the new scheme came into effect. It also includes persons who had already qualified under the old scheme but who opted into the new scheme. These pensions are not paid until the person concerned reaches the age of 50 and the pension is reduced to a half while the former officeholder is sitting in either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. The only exception is for former taoisigh, in which case, under the new scheme at present the pension is not reduced.

The section provides that between the passing of this Act and the next general election officeholder pensions paid to sitting Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be reduced by 25%. This provision is given effect by reducing the pensions by 62.5% rather than 50%. It also provides for a reduction of 25% in the pension paid to former taoisigh who are Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. At present, such a pension is not reduced.

The section also provides that the pensions will cease to be paid to such Members after the next general election. In the case of Members of the European Parliament, the reduction in the pension will apply until the next elections for the European Parliament and then the officeholder pensions will cease to be paid after that date.

Section 4 also provides for some technical amendments to the legislation by the renumbering existing provisions. Section 5 deals with ministerial, secretarial, minister of State and other officeholder pensions awarded under the new scheme to persons who have more than two but less than three years qualifying service. The qualifying period for officeholders’ pensions was reduced from thee years to two in 2001. The provisions of section 5 are essentially the same as those in section 4 of the Bill. It provides that the officeholder pensions will cease to be paid to former Ministers who are sitting Members after the next relevant election. In the meantime, the pensions paid to such sitting Members will be reduced by 25%.

It is a matter of considerable public debate but the Attorney General advised the Government on the drafting of this legislation and the maximum possible reduction that can be effected on those with existing pensions. Section 6 concerns the Short Title and collective citation. When it comes to politicians’ pay, it is next to impossible to please. It has ever been thus and Ireland is not unique in this regard. By these measures, Members of the Oireachtas and the Government show our readiness to play our part in the national effort to restore this economy to health. I am sure other groups in the State will show similar readiness.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before calling Deputy Bruton, I remind the Minister for Finance that the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle also took a 10% reduction voluntarily.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  There is no doubt about the desirability of dealing with pay levels and allowances in the Oireachtas and having a system that is seen as fair is important. Fine Gael advocated that pensions payable to serving Members of the Oireachtas should be entirely abolished. I received a letter from the Minister indicating that he had received legal advice to say that this could not be done but no such advice was furnished. I then heard that the Minister had decided to cut the pensions by 25% but no legal advice was furnished on why he could cut them by 25% but not 100%. There is considerable confusion about the legal restraint on the Government implementing these changes. The legal advice indicates that a general election [20]provides a threshold at which one can change because people knowingly enter a new contract. That is understandable but I am not clear how legal advice would suggest that 25% is allowable but 100% is not.

Some Members will be adversely affected by this and will look ruefully at how someone who served as a Minister can take up well-paid positions outside the House and continue to enjoy a pension, while those who continue in the House cannot do so. I understand how people see this as unfair but there is a sense of fairness in that one is continuing in the same profession.

The question arises of whether the Minister will apply similar rules throughout the public service. There must be clarity that one cannot draw a pension as a former teacher and continue teaching. There must be a level playing pitch. There is not much point in a system where people in the Oireachtas are paid on a basis that is seen to be fair and objective but not having rules that are consistently applied.

An issue of the pensionability of the long-service increment cut is raised, which the Minister does not appear to have dealt with in his address to the House. It would seem that an individual who retires at the next election will have his or her final salary based on a long-service increment but someone who runs in the next election and retires at the end of the following term will have his or her final pension based on a lower base. The issue raised relates to what is the final salary. There ought to be a level playing pitch for all Members of the Oireachtas and the Minister should not create fish of one and flesh of another.

While I am on this subject, I will ask about the reduction in ministerial pay, which is somewhat akin to the reduction in the long-service increment. Will the pension treatment of Ministers who have given up pay be on the same basis? There is no point in Ministers being able to have their pensions based on the full 100% pay which they did not take for a period while long-term pensionability for Deputies is on a base that is not similarly calculated. The Minister needs to ensure that treatment is equitable for various Members.

This brings me to another subject that I believe is a source of irritation for quite a number of Deputies who are members of parties. Some Deputies who are Independent Members receive what is described as a party leader’s allowance, but unlike the party leader’s allowance it is not vouched. There is no return of accounts to show that the allowance was used for purposes legitimately related to parliamentary activities. If we are dealing with anomalies, the situation whereby some Independent Deputies have €41,000 available to them each year, which can be built up and used for all types of advertising or election activities, again raises the issue of a level playing pitch. I recognise that Independent Deputies are entitled to access research support and legitimate matters related to their parliamentary duties. However, if we are to have such a system, in a new spirit of realism such moneys should be based on the presentation to an authority, presumably the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, of the legitimate use to which that money has been put.

With regard to the regulatory powers which the Minister proposes to take to himself on Committee Stage, in principle there is no problem with this reform and most people will welcome it. I am not clear on whether he will implement in regulation decisions taken by the Oireachtas commission or whether he proposes to institute a system of allowances that he intends to implement. I have not seen the text of his amendment. It is in circulation but I have not seen it.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It is enabling in character.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Is it enabling to the Minister or to the commission?

[21]Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Minister.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The structure of the legislation is that the Minister does it.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Yes, but is it——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It simply enables the Minister to do something else that he or she cannot do——

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I am not clear on whether it is on the recommendation of the commission or a power that the Minister has which he can exercise independently of the commission.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The commission made a proposal which cannot easily be facilitated in the current statutory framework so I am amending the statutory framework to enable me to consider the commission proposal.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  That is fair enough.

The other issue that is raised is the Minister’s proposal to have a benchmarking process for higher paid people in the public service. I presume that Members of the Oireachtas are included in that process. The Minister has not really clarified in his presentation how that procedure is intended to operate. There was quite a degree of debate about the issue of how individuals would be benchmarked, particularly those in the high earnings brackets. On the previous occasion when there was a review of the remuneration of higher paid individuals in the public service, there was a rather strange system where an arbitrary assumption was made that the value of a public service pension to higher paid people was 15% when quite plainly the value to higher paid people is a great deal more than 15%. Some people estimate that the value of pensionability to senior people in the public service and Ministers would be in the order of 40%.

Recommendations were then made on what were supposed to be benchmarks of pay that ended up with our Ministers and Taoiseach being award pay levels that were several times higher than those in other jurisdictions, including in vastly larger and more complex states. We need to understand what is the benchmark generally with regard to higher paid people in the public service. How is it intended to create comparators? Who will make the key decisions on what are the relevant comparators? There is a legitimate belief that higher paid people in the public service, including ourselves, have enjoyed increases that were out of line with what occurred in the private sector.

The most recent review of higher remuneration — which the Government was going to implement only that the public outcry was so great — was not based on any serious benchmarking exercise against people with comparable responsibilities. We need to have an objective test for benchmarking exercises. I am interested to hear how the Minister intends that process to proceed generally with regard to people in the public service, particularly having regard to pensionability at a time when private sector pensions are under such stress, how will that be factored in and what are valid comparators in an exercise such as this.

I welcome the Bill as a first step. As I stated, as far as Fine Gael is concerned it has not gone far enough but I understand there are legal reasons for that not being possible and I look forward to hearing them. I am surprised that we have not heard them at this stage as I understood the Government also felt the Bill would go much further. It appears it proceeded along a route either without adequate legal advice at the time of the first decision or the legal advice changed at some point.

  [22]12 o’clock

The one element we may live to question is whether removing increments from the salary structure of Deputies is a good thing. I understand that in the current situation it is an obvious target but increments seem to be a feature of pay systems. Fine Gael has taken the view that increments should be frozen throughout the public sector and not only for Deputies, but that is as a crisis measure and not as a long-term policy position. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view on what he sees as the status of increments generally and why they are good in some walks of life but not in the political one. I say this not to oppose this in any way but to ensure we distinguish between what we might do in an emergency and what we might see as a long-term sensible structure for people who choose a career in politics. I do not want to use up much more of the time because it would be useful to have more than half an hour on the amendments. I welcome the Bill.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Labour Party welcomes this Bill. In our submissions before the budget we called for clear reductions, particularly in the situation where former Ministers receive pensions while still Members of the Dáil. It is a pity the Minister had neither the political guts nor the capacity to introduce the reforms he promised with such grand rhetorical flourishes on budget day. On that day, he proposed that Members of the Oireachtas and Government would show leadership in a time of deep, national economic crisis by offering an appropriate level of sacrifice in respect of pay reductions, as was appropriate, particularly when they were asking many poorly paid people or people on poor pensions to take sacrifices. It is regrettable for the reputation of the Dáil that the Minister had not got political clearance from his party to bring in the reforms he so grandiloquently mentioned in his Budget Statement to a packed Chamber.

The Minister is aware that I and Deputy Gilmore contacted him on the matter of ministerial pensions. We did so some time ago and made arrangements to offer our ministerial pensions to the Government and that offer was accepted.

With regard to the new arrangements being made, the public is not generally aware that people who served in Government before 1993 got a full ministerial pension on exiting Government, no matter what age they were or no matter whether they left the Dáil or remained in it. They got a full ministerial pension from the day they ceased to hold ministerial office, provided they had sufficient service. It seems odd therefore that in the arrangements of this Bill the Minister has not yet been able to do away with that anomaly. When the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil were in Government after 1993, the arrangement thereafter — to which the Minister referred and which was much more sensible — was that the people who had the required service received a pension from the age of 55. They received the pension whether they were serving in the Dáil or not.

A sensible move was also made at that time to put in place transitional arrangements for people who lost their seats who would suffer a sudden severe loss of income. That was properly recognised and a sensible arrangement was made. Therefore, I find it odd that in this legislation the Minister does not switch everyone to the arrangement that was agreed by both the outgoing Government and the incoming Fianna Fáil-Labour Government at the time, namely, that persons who were entitled to a ministerial pension received it from the age of 55. I understand that the arrangement provided for in this Bill is that persons serving under the old system — probably six or seven current Members, including senior Fianna Fáil Members and a former Taoiseach — will, until the next Dáil get 75% of their pension. That is quite a high level, whereas others will——

[23]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  A former Taoiseach is in a different category under the 1993 arrangement.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Why is that? A former Taoiseach has a State car and some State protection.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  A former Taoiseach is in a different category by law.

Deputy Joan Burton:  All right. Why did the Minister not move to make a uniform arrangement? Also, why did the Minister not return to the qualifying age of 55? It is essential to have transitional arrangements. I know from experience that losing a seat is a traumatic event. Many Members nowadays are full-time politicians, although there are Members who have businesses and other commitments and other sources of income. However, many Members do not. The transitional arrangements are generous and last from 18 months to two years. Why, therefore, does the Minister not return to the qualifying age of 55 for pensions. What was the thinking behind the move to age 50?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I did not make the move to age 50. That move was made in 2001.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I suggest that if the arrangements are being reformed now, the arrangements entered into by the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government in 1992 were sensible and fair. The rainbow Government did not change those arrangements, but the Minister has said they were changed in 2001. I suggest they were simple, fair arrangements. Taking up the business of politics is risky and people can lose their seat at an election and have difficulty re-establishing themselves in another career. It is only right that should be acknowledged.

The Minister spoke about a 10% salary sacrifice by Ministers. Was that in respect of all their income as Deputies or was it just in respect of the ministerial allowance?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It was in respect of the aggregate income.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I might add that it applied to other office holders also.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I am aware the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle made that sacrifice. I and Deputy Gilmore offered our ministerial pensions to the Minister also and he accepted. The point is that in a time of such national difficulty this sense of leadership is required in the Oireachtas.

The issue of the salaries paid to other top people arose during and after the budget and the Minister promised a review process. The Labour Party stated in its pre-budget submission, and I agree, that there is no reason anybody paid out of the public purse should be paid more than €200,000, all included, expenses and everything else. The country cannot afford the level of salary being paid to the upper echelons, such as Secretaries General and heads of various Government bodies. Neither can it afford some of the extraordinary salaries paid to people working in commercial semi-State bodies, not excluding RTE.

How can people benchmark such salaries with what is appropriate in times of such economic stringency and difficulty, where women are threatened with child benefit cuts and old aged pensioners have had their entitlement to a medical card altered? People will inevitably benchmark against the salaries of people who hold attractive, important and responsible jobs in the senior echelons of the public service. Therefore, the Minister should say whether he is of a mind to see members of Government formally reduce their salaries. As a consequence, people in the upper echelons of the public service, such as Secretaries General, also make an appropriate salary sacrifice that brings us down to a level of affordability that makes sense by com[24]parison to what we know to be top salaries in other countries. I still do not understand why the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, put consultants’ basic salaries at about the €250,000 mark. I am not convinced that this country can afford that level of salary at this time.

With regard to the expenses regime as set out in the Minister’s amendment, the Labour Party will accept the proposal, which I understand was put forward by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Speaking as a former accountant, I believe it lacks one thing, which I pointed out to the Minister before. One way to reduce expenses is not only to set out a regime of expenses but to cap them. For example, with regard to mileage and other Deputies’ expenses, Deputy Richard Bruton’s annual claim for expenses is always in the modest range, as are the expenses attributed to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. Why not just set a cap on the total amount? Some expenses, for example, mileage, are at such a high level that Members must run up and down from one end of the country to the other — this applies in particular to some Members of the other House. I know some people live in very remote places and travel is expensive but, with the wider availability of public transport and the availability of good quality cars, it must be possible to work out, in conjunction with professional advice, what is a realistic charge for somebody’s reckonable travel between Dublin and, for example, Cork, Galway or Kerry.

We should cap these expenses. The variation is very significant and, inevitably, when the media publicise Deputies’ expenses, as is right and proper, the ones picked are always those at the absolute top end of the range, whereas the majority of Members of the House, and probably of the Seanad also, have relatively modest expenses. Some of the expenses claims, in mileage alone, are double the average industrial wage. This is what causes a difficulty in the public perception of what Members do in the Houses but it could be addressed. Expenses could be capped and I am sure a formula could be found where they reach a maximum at, for example, €25,000 or €35,000, depending on the distance one lives from Dublin. I have suggested this to the Minister previously because it would put a stop to the extraordinary figures that are quoted at times, but which probably only apply to a relatively small percentage of Members of both Houses.

Was the position of former taoisigh the subject of separate negotiation? The Minister might enlighten us again given that the transitional arrangements for former taoisigh are generous. Certain establishments are provided to them, such as Garda cars and drivers, which are not provided in other jurisdictions except for a period after holding office. Following that period, if a former Head of Government is attending a state function, he or she is supplied with appropriate transport. This is another area where, given the straitened times, savings could be made and it would not be to the discomfort of or cause danger to the former taoisigh. I wonder whether the arrangements arise from a more generous time when money was more freely available.

When the Minister has completed the comparative review of the salaries of top public servants, does he expect to publish it? We must remember that the salaries of such top officials influence the salaries of others such as bankers, whom the State is bailing out. We need to get a grip and insist that modesty or a slight retrenchment is the order of the day. When an bord snip nua presents its report, if the rumours are to be believed, it will be suggesting all sorts of reductions for people on very modest incomes. The Dáil must recognise this point.

The Labour Party welcomes this legislation. We would have preferred to see it taken in the same week as the Finance Bill because that would have given leadership. However, it is better late than never, although I would prefer if it was immediately implementable. There have been a variety of different legal opinions as to what was possible. If it is possible to cut the ministerial pension by 25%, why did the Minister not pick 35% or 55%? Was this on the basis of advice [25]from the Attorney General? It might have been more appropriate to have sought a higher level of contribution.

It should be stated, as the Minister did, that of course all Members of the Dáil and Seanad are properly subject to the pension levy and are contributing all of the other extra taxes and levies, which is perhaps difficult for some people who have made commitments in line with their previous salary levels. Nonetheless, as some of those salary, pension and emolument levels were exceptionally high, there is a case for reducing them. The Minister might explain his thinking and the advice he received.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on the Bill. Under its terms, ministerial pensions paid to serving Deputies, Senators and MEPs will be cut by 25% and will then be abolished completely after the next general election. For the rest of this Dáil term, instead of getting 50% as a pension, serving Members will get 37.5% — the poor things, we should really feel sorry for them. Does the Government want to give them a pat on the back? Should those people standing for hours in queues for social welfare congratulate these public representatives?

My issue with this Bill is why the pension is not being scrapped entirely. So what if there is a legal challenge? The Minister should face them down and take them on. As was said earlier by Deputy Bruton, while we have not seen the legal opinion the Minister received, it seems dubious. It would seem that those Members of the Oireachtas who are in receipt of the pension are coining it in anticipation of its complete abolition following the next general election. These pensions are, I suppose, a nice little earner so why would they want to give it up? I must qualify that comment by——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Quite a number on all sides have given them up.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I want to acknowledge that there is legal provision for the pension and, therefore, those Deputies who are getting it are legally entitled to do so — I have no qualms about that whatsoever. I also highly commend those who have handed it back. However, those others who have not yet handed it back have a brass neck, in my view.

It is totally ironic that we are here, in the last week of this term, deliberating on a Bill aimed at cutting a meagre 25% from these ministerial pensions — this applies to Deputies and Senators who are already on very good salaries — when many workers nationwide have lost their pensions completely. It is ironic that the Government congratulates itself on its selflessness — if that is the correct word — to cut 25% off the pension when people who have paid pension contributions all their working lives find their pension benefits have dwindled. It is also ironic that workers of pension age, the most vulnerable time of life, may not be able to claim for pension funds while Members are able to claim Ministerial pensions while drawing a significant salary.

I hope the Minister will indicate if he believes the Bill represents leading by example. How can some elected representatives prioritise the recapitalisation of banks but do nothing as thousands of working people may end their lives in poverty despite having paid money to pension funds all their lives? This is not leading by example. Retaining any portion of a ministerial pension until the next general election is ludicrous. Whatever excuse these Members had to milk the cash cow while the Celtic tiger was roaring is long since gone. It is disgusting to latch onto these pensions at the height of a severe recession while 87,400 people have signed on the live register since January.

I hope some provision will be made to deal with the issue of teachers’ pensions, a related matter. Although I accept that significant numbers have given up the right recently, many [26]Members claim the teachers’ pension while working here. It is obscene because in many cases they are obstructing the career paths of young teachers and preventing them from achieving their potential and from getting a full time job in the relevant school.

We have heard for some time of the commission’s proposal to streamline the expenses issue, which is welcome. For whatever reason there is always a blast of publicity every January or early February when the Freedom of Information Act is used to find out Members’ expenses. I have no qualms about the publication of this information at any stage but the Minister’s proposal will probably streamline the process and I trust it will be more cost effective for the taxpayer. I look forward to the remainder of the debate on the Bill.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I wish to share time with Deputy Shatter.

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

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  It is very important there is consistency with any Bill. Upon examination of the Bill it seems the pension of a former Taoiseach will be reduced to 75% whereas that of a former Minister will be only 37.5%, half of the former figure. There should be consistency and the same reduction should apply to any Member regardless of the office held in the past. A former Taoiseach is in a different position and there is an inconsistency in this regard.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The inconsistency was in place before this legislation.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The perception of the public is that the inconsistency should not be there.

There should also be consistency for the higher paid in the public sector. Fine Gael proposed that full pension entitlement should be abolished for sitting Members but the Government has sought otherwise and plans to introduce a reduction of 25%. Will the Minister explain the legal basis for this? What legislation has determined this position? The key point is the Government is required to show consistency in terms of reductions for pension holders regardless of the office held. We await the amendments on Committee Stage from the Minister to see how the legislation will come into effect.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I am very conscious that making any public comment is like walking on glass in dealing with this legislation, whether from the Minister or any other Member. I have followed the debate from my office this morning and noted the careful contributions of all Deputies who have spoken thus far. Let us be honest about this matter. One reason people are careful about the way in which they address these issues is the public perception that Members are overpaid. This is a most unfair public perception given the hours Members devote to the work they carry out. For fear of opprobrium from the public and especially from members of the print media, Members lack the courage to defend their work and the hours they spend carrying it out.

My view is simple. The country is confronted by a major economic crisis. It behoves every Member to do his or her duty with regard to the salaries or allowances received and to ensure in so far as other sectors within the economy are experiencing reductions, that we reduce our remuneration in a manner that is appropriate and that takes account of the parlous state of the public finances. On a personal level I make no complaint about any impact of the imposition of the pension levy or any reductions that will result from the proposed legislation on myself or other colleagues in the House. It is important to consider what is taking place in a construc[27]tive and fair manner and to tease out the legislation in the same manner in which we would tease out legislation applicable outside the House.

An understanding of the motives of the Minister in introducing the legislation is important. There are elements of cowardice in the manner in which this is being dealt. I trust the Minister will not interpret this as a personal charge against him and it is not so intended. However, it is a charge that could be levelled against the Government, a political charge based on two or three aspects of the legislation and what I interpret as the politics of it.

I have listened with great interest to the remarks on ministerial pensions and constitutional issues. It is easy for me to comment on these issues because I am not the happy recipient of a ministerial pension and I need not make a declaration of interest. However, it is unfathomable that the Minister’s legislation seeks to reduce the ministerial pensions of sitting Deputies by 25% on the basis of some advice on constitutional issues which suggests he cannot interfere with them at all. This is a complete shibboleths and a total nonsense. Either there is a constitutional reason not to interfere with pensions, period, and the 25% reduction or any reduction of the Taosieach’s pension is unconstitutional, or one can interfere with the pensions and there is no constitutional issue.

There is clear evidence of political cowardice because it seems there are those in receipt of ministerial pensions who have no difficulty in terminating receipt of those pensions on the Opposition side of the House. Some have done so already and I understand some have indicated they would do so if the multiple members of Fianna Fáil sitting on the benches opposite were willing to voluntarily set aside their ministerial pensions for the lifetime of this Dáil. There is political cowardice because the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have not told the Fianna Fáil Members on the backbenches who are former Ministers that former Ministers have an obligation to set an example for the rest of the country and this is the political decision they are being asked to accept.

That would have allowed the Minister to leave aside the niceties of legislation or constitutional issues and he would not have had to introduce this Bill at all because there would have been a consistent voluntary agreement. If the Minister had introduced a measure which either reduced to a greater extent the ministerial pensions of sitting Deputies who are not currently Ministers, or if he had terminated them entirely with perhaps a lead-in period to allow people adjust, which Members would have launched a constitutional action? Are there former Fianna Fáil Ministers sitting quietly on the benches supporting the Government who have indicated they would withdraw support or launch a constitutional action if their pensions are abolished? I do not believe there is a single Member of the House who would do this. It would create a very interesting political predicament for members of Government if, for example, Deputy Woods — I am not suggesting he would do so — or Deputy O’Rourke, who has given up her ministerial pension in fairness to her, launched a constitutional challenge. I do not believe this will happen as this is where the political cowardice lies. People outside this House find it incomprehensible that former Ministers who are still Members of this House in receipt of a Dáil salary are also in receipt of a pension as former Ministers.

I wish to raise a matter which I find quite odd in the legislation and if I am incorrect I know the Minister will correct me. Deputy Bruton has already made some comment on the issue of increments. In this context I declare an interest as someone who has been a Member of the House for 23 years, and together with many other Deputies I am at the higher end of the incremental scale. If I run in the next election with the knowledge that my increments are to be taken away from me, that is a voluntary decision I will make. If I am committed to public service and I wish to continue to be a Member of this House — which at this time I would wish to be, although I would like to be a Member with Fine Gael in Government and the [28]procedures of the House reformed — increments will not remotely influence my decision to run in the next election.

There is one aspect which is extremely odd. I wonder what legal advice the Minister has received in the realm of constitutional law and legitimate expectation. It seems there is built into this legislation a direct incentive which in my view is also an ageist provision which is designed to discourage Members of this House who have long service, who have been here for 21 years or longer, or who are perhaps hitting the ages of 60 or 70, from running again. My perspective and understanding of the legislation is that if I as a Deputy — I have no intention of doing this, just in case the Minister or any of my constituency colleagues might think I have — decided to retire at the next election I would have a pension at a particular level. Of course in Dublin South we are committed to re-electing three Fine Gael TDs in the next election and I am looking forward to achieving this. If, however, I ran in the next election and were unfortunate enough not to be re-elected, I would be financially better off pension-wise than should I run in the next election, be re-elected and then six months’ later if there is another election, I lost my seat. There is a whole series of Deputies on the Fianna Fáil backbenches——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  That could be a likely contingency if the Deputy were to get into Government.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——with long service who may not realise that should they be fortunate enough — there will not be that many of them — to be——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will deal with that in my reply.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——re-elected in the next election and, if there is an election in close proximity thereafter, lose their seats, their pensions for ever more will be substantially reduced until the day they die and so will the pensions of any widow or widower who survives them. I do not believe anyone in the public or private sector would agree to that type of provision. I am not making a complaint for myself as fortuitously I have income from other sources. However, other Members of this House do not have incomes from other sources and in respect of whom this provision will have a very substantial impact. We should not have within our legislation a provision designed to discourage people from standing for democratic election in the future. That is entirely wrong.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton:  I feel somewhat like Deputy Michael Ring giving way to Deputy George Lee for his maiden speech to the House but it is always a pleasure to follow Deputy Shatter.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  It is wonderful to be still described as a maiden.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton:  This is an important Bill in the context of the current economic crisis. There is a demand and an expectation for leadership from both Government and Opposition and from all elected public representatives. They will be expected to lead the charge in efforts to bring the public finances under control and to take the pain and a hit in what are very difficult times. This is particularly relevant in the context of what has been happening in the private sector for the past year where people are not discussing taking cuts of 10% or 25% in their pay because the situation is much more serious in that sector. We are all aware from our constituency work that people are losing their jobs.

There is an air of unreality connected to certain elements of the trade unions and particularly to certain elements of the public sector. We must show leadership as elected representatives. [29] The challenge for the Minister in the coming months will be the figure of €20 billion which is the cost of running the public services and which is not sustainable. We all have to take our hit and share the pain. Public spending has to be dramatically reduced and we have to play our part in this cut.

The wider debate about politicians’ salaries and expenses has to come with a health warning. A media campaign has been driven by sensationalism and populism in this regard. Politicians are probably the easiest targets for the media. There seems to be a constant stream of freedom of information questions on a monthly basis to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The same figures are published repeatedly and yet they manage to make headlines every time. I would recommend to the Minister and to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission that these figures should be published as a matter of course. We should not allow these figures to become front page headlines. We should be transparent with our information and show the public our expenses, what we are claiming and the reasons for the claims. I have no problem in doing so and I make a point of publishing that information in my constituency.

I welcomed the Minister’s announcement that ministerial pensions would be scrapped for serving TDs. In my view, however, we need to go further. No Member of the Oireachtas should be in receipt of a public pension, whether he or she is a teacher or from any other profession. It is well known by everyone that we are paid very handsomely as Members of the Oireachtas. We should take a strong stance on the issue of pensions.

I am aware of the legal advice from the Attorney General with regard to the constitutionality of abolishing the pensions. I concur with the point made by Deputy Shatter. I do not see the consistency in allowing for a 25% reduction and yet saying a reduction of 100% would be considered unconstitutional or open to a constitutional challenge. I am not convinced by the argument, although the Minister will have a view. We should be serious about this issue and about restoring public confidence in the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Most Members work hard and work long hours, weekends and holidays. The perception is that we take off for three months in the summer. We all know that is fallacious but we must stand up and be counted in that regard. We must show leadership by leading from the front but we also must challenge many of the myths that surround the media reporting and the coverage of the work we do here and the way we are remunerated for that work.

We should be in a position to carry out the work we must do in our constituencies and we should not be constrained in that. Not so long ago politicians here were very badly paid and it was difficult for people who did not have a wealthy background and the resources to be elected to this House or Seanad Éireann. It is extremely important that financial obstacles do not create barriers for people entering elected politics.

We cannot allow politics to become the preserve of the rich. There are many people in the media who would love to go back to the days when politics was a part-time hobby for some very wealthy people. That would not be fair to society, would lead to this House becoming much less representative of ordinary society and reduce people’s choices in terms of having a wide spectrum of people before them on the ballot paper with a realistic prospect of getting elected to this House.

I do not want politics to become the preserve of the rich and in that regard I welcome the Minister’s initiative. I am aware it has not been finalised yet but I welcome his initiative in trying to sort out the quagmire that is the expenses here in this House and in Seanad Éireann. I wish him well with that task. It is not an easy one but we must have transparency and accountability in the expenses system, and we must be in a position also to run our political operations in our constituencies. There is a fine line in that regard and it will be a balancing act but the way to achieve it is probably through the proposal for a parliamentary allowance [30]that Deputies and Senators can use to carry out their constituency work. That is probably the fairest and most transparent way to go about it, and it should be published. That is my last appeal to the Minister. He should publish it and make it available on the Internet to whoever wants to check it out, but please do not allow the system to continue with journalists who seem to have not much else to do other than submitting freedom of information requests and then sensationalising the whole process. We should be transparent about it.

Deputy Seán Power:  I listened attentively to the contributions made and, in general, I believe Members support what we are doing. I listened in particular to the point Deputy Shatter made on the pensions, which I suppose is a shortcoming, but in the current climate we are living in there are very few Members in the House who would complain in that regard.

In recent times our pay and expenses have come under major scrutiny from the press and much of what was written was misinformed in many respects but as Deputy Creighton said, it is important that we have a system that is transparent and accountable. We saw the recent goings on across the water where a different system is in place but one that has done politics a great deal of damage. It is important we do not allow that type of system develop here.

What is being proposed appears to have support from all parties. When it comes to issues like pay and expenses it is important that there is one voice on it. Whether one is a member of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin, we would all agree it is important that the pay that goes with the job must be attractive enough to encourage people to come into the House and work here. We must ensure we attract a good cross-section of people, whether they are from the business sector or elsewhere, and that the 166 people elected here are representative of the country. That could be tradespeople, people in business, teaching or sport but it is important that they are from many fields.

I am aware many Members have come under a great deal of pressure recently and almost felt it necessary to offer a reduction in their salary, expenses, pension or whatever because someone in the constituency or from another party was doing that. I am glad we are dealing with the issue in a more mature way here in the House today.

The downturn in the economy has placed enormous pressures on people. Many of those fortunate enough to be in employment will have taken reductions in their take-home pay, be it a reduction in their salary, levies that have been introduced or other taxes. There are very few people in a better position financially today than they were 12 months ago.

Those of us who are Members of this House are in an honoured position. Very few people get the opportunity to represent their people. While being elected here is a great honour, it also brings with it great responsibilities and on the area of pay in particular it was important that we should show leadership.

I compliment the Taoiseach and the Government on the initiative they took in the budget of 14 October when Ministers decided to take a reduction in their salary, and the further moves that have been made since. They have provided leadership and shown the people that we are not just asking the rest of the public to make sacrifices unless we are prepared to make them ourselves. The reduction in the numbers of Ministers of State was a further indication of the change we were prepared to make and that we were not asking the public to take something we were not prepared to take ourselves.

The measures we have introduced in recent months have meant a significant reduction in the take-home salary of all Members in the House. It is fitting that should be so but we must strike a balance while ensuring that the salary is attractive enough to attract good people into the House, and that will always be the way.

[31]I welcome the move and acknowledge the mature way it has been approached by all parties. The cross-party approach is the best way to deal with what is a delicate issue. I compliment everyone involved and wish the Minister well in his efforts.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I welcome the principle of the Bill but want to make a few comments on it, and it is important they are made at this stage.

As all Members will be aware, the public is taking a great deal of pain in terms of pension levies and pay cuts in the private sector, pension levies in the public sector and tax increases imposed by the Government, and there will be further tax increases imposed in future budgets, perhaps not income tax increases but there will be other tax increases. On that basis it is important that politicians set an example and not only take reductions but take reductions greater than those being imposed on people who are not Members of this House.

I am critical of the way the Government has handled this issue in general. In reality there have been significant reductions in pay and expenses. There has been the voluntary surrender by the Ministers and by many Members of this House. The number of junior Ministers has been cut by 25%; expenses have been cut by 10%; and the paid committee positions have been abolished. This could have been done in a more effective way. It appears to the public that these changes were dragged out of the Government, forced on it by the media and made under duress. That is the real failure. Had the Government announced this full package of measures last November, before the other cuts were introduced, politicians and the Government would have much more credibility.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I can tell the Deputy this is the hardest curve of all to get ahead of.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I appreciate that. That is fair comment. The public and the media do not believe or understand the level of cutbacks and reductions which have been imposed on Members of the House. It is right that the cuts were made but they should have been made up-front and in a big package. Announcements were made in the emergency budget but there was a perception that they were not implemented. In fact, some of them have not been implemented yet. I do not know why that is but I assume they will be implemented shortly.

The Minister has made the right decision with regard to long service increments. Nevertheless, there is a certain unfairness in the fact that Members with many years service will receive the same pay level as others. In all areas of the public and private sectors people who have a degree of service are paid more. There is an unfairness in someone who has been in the House 20 years longer than me being paid the same as me. That is not entirely fair. However, having abolished long service increments, I hope the Minister will consider doing something similar across the board. If Deputies are no longer entitled to receive long-service increments, I do not understand why Secretaries General, deputy Secretaries General and principal officers should receive them. Perhaps the Minister might explain why a different rule will be applied to other public servants who earn the same as us or more. I accept that long service increments are being abolished but why only for Oireachtas Members?

The Attorney General’s advice regarding the 25% reduction in pensions has not been published. I accept that it is not standard practice to publish the advice of the Attorney General. However, a suspicious mind may think suspiciously. I wonder if the reduction is 25% and not 50% because a 50% reduction would leave certain Members, particularly of Government parties, better off if the Dáil were to collapse. Take the example of a Deputy who earns more than €100,000, has a long service increment of €10,000 and a half ministerial pension of €30,000. He or she would receive a pension of €70,000 while his or her basic salary, minus the pension levy, is not much more than that. If the Minister had reduced pensions for sitting Members by 50%, would a number of his own backbenchers have decided they would be better off if the [32]Dáil were to fall sooner rather than later and would have found an issue of principle on which to vote against the Government. Is that why the reduction is 25% and not 50%?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have had no such intimations from any Government Deputy.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Minister should look at my figures. There is no financial advantage in the Dáil collapsing if the pension is reduced by 25%. If it were 50%, a number of former Ministers on the Government backbenches who are quite critical of the Government — I can think of two, in particular — would have been better off were the Dáil to collapse. This will not now be the case as the reduction will be only 25% and the abolition of the long service increment will be delayed until the next Dáil.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I am very supportive of former officeholders.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The former officeholders are not very supportive of the current officeholders.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The ones with pensions are.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  My point regarding the payment of long-service increments to public servants who are paid more than Deputies also applies to the dual payment of public sector pensions. Deputies and Senators are not the only people on the Government payroll who also receive a pension. Many people in well paid positions at the head of State agencies and boards have retired from the Army, the Garda and other areas and are in receipt of both a substantial public service pension and a substantial public service salary. If Deputies in the next Dáil are no longer able to benefit from that arrangement, should the same arrangement not apply across the board? I accept the need for this measure. Politicians must show example and impose greater cuts on ourselves than on others. However, the Oireachtas costs are 0.2% of the entire budget and these changes mean nothing if they are not followed through across the public service. The measures being introduced by the Minister should be imposed across the board on those who earn salaries equivalent to that of a Senator or higher. That seems to me to be fair and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments in this regard.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is very interesting to listen to people with different views.

There are two types of public representatives. One is full-time and works on a full-time basis and at nothing else. The other works part-time. The Minister is endeavouring to pay both the same salary. A Deputy who goes to the Law Library or who has a medical practice is paid as though he were a full-time politician. Are farmers full-time politicians? If one is trying to attract people into politics to act on a full-time basis one must take into account the role of a public representative. In the Oireachtas there is a variety of people, some of whom are full-time. As one coming to the end of my political career, I think this is a retrograde step to introduce harsh measures while failing to distinguish between a full-time and part-time public representative.

I listened to Deputy Varadkar. Other people in this House are getting public service pensions, which they will continue to receive. Should farmers cease to be entitled to EU grants because they are public representatives? Should doctors who are public representatives not receive payment for GMS patients?

I was a Whip when Members were on the verge of bankruptcy after three general elections. We fought for a situation which would not allow for the possibility of people taking backhanders for doing their job. We established a system of paying Oireachtas Members a proper salary linked to a certain public service grade so that a Deputy received an increase if the [33]equivalent public service grade received one. If the public servant has to pay a levy the Deputy pays a levy. That is how it is and that it how is should be left.

With regard to the long-service increment, there is no profession in the world which pays someone who has been doing a job for 30 years the same as someone who joined two years ago. What will happen to existing pensioners who had a long service increment and receive 50% of a Deputy’s salary. Will they be docked €3,000? A Deputy whose salary, with a ten year long service increment, is €106,000 would be entitled to a pension of €53,000. If the long-service increment is removed will the pension be correspondingly reduced to €53,000? The Minister is nodding his head but this does not make sense. Will the pension be 50% of a previous salary or not? The legislation makes no provision for situations such as this.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  That is dealt with in the pension section.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Minister’s family has been a long time in politics. There are many widows who served as unpaid secretaries to their husbands, long before there were secretaries in this House. They answered telephone calls late into the night and acted as secretaries at home and got no income. Is a widow on a maximum pension of €25,000 well paid? Are we serious about attracting people into giving their lives to full-time politics or will we revert to the days of part-time politicians? The latter will occur.

  1 o’clock

I am in receipt of a ministerial salary. If the legislation says I do not have it, then I do not have it, but let us be frank and honest about why it was introduced. Many people, although not necessarily Fianna Fáil Members, served as Front Bench spokespersons in the House for many years, including myself. A Front Bench spokesperson does not get any extra pay. The original idea was that a Minister who went into opposition would, more than likely, be a Front Bench spokesperson and should get an income to supplement his or her salary. Ministerial pensions derived from this idea, but there is still no extra remuneration for a Front Bench spokesperson whose job is to produce policy, review legislation, travel the country and meet various groups. Spokespersons get the same salaries as backbenchers. This matter has never been considered fully because we have never had the guts to hold a proper debate. We run away because the media starts writing.

In 1993, we decided that serving Members would get only 50% of their ministerial pensions if they became Ministers after 1993. This fact has never been made clear in the media. Other speakers referred to the constitutionality of abolishing pensions. It is my understanding that, once one has paid for something and worked under certain conditions, removing anything is difficult. It is not being made clear that people contributed towards their ministerial pensions. It is not the fault of the Deputies or the Minister that the contribution level may not be sufficient, but a deduction was made for the pension on certain conditions. For this reason, the 1993 changes were implemented in respect of new Ministers who entered into their positions on the clear understanding of these conditions of employment, namely, a 50% pension, despite a similar deduction being made.

Let us be clear about the facts. It is time for an overall review of the role of the public representative, be he or she full-time or part-time. For example, is a Front Bench spokesperson in a senior and responsible position to get the same salary as someone who has been elected for only one month? I accept that whatever must be, must be, but let us consider the future, what type of people will be attracted into politics and whether they will hold full-time positions.

Let us also remember that politics is like no other job or profession, as there is no guarantee of employment. One is not even guaranteed a full term. It could be one year, five years or, as occurred in the 1981-82 period when there were three elections, three months. There is no guarantee of continuity. Will we ask people to give up their positions in life to enter the Houses [34]as full politicians without paying them? Will we revert to a stage where people will be tempted to take inducements? Let us bring everything into the open. As revealed recently, people in Britain did not have the guts to make the necessary changes and pay proper salaries. Instead, on a nod and a wink, people filled in forms to claim, for example, second home allowances worth €24,000 to which no one was supposed to pay any attention. Consequently, confidence in the public system has collapsed. I do not want a similar situation to obtain in this State. People should be paid.

A previous speaker stated that, when we get expenses, they should be published. People should not need to make freedom of information applications. I can stand over any of my claims for expenses. Let the publication of expenses be automatic. Let people know for what they are voting, namely, what their representatives will get and what conditions of employment they will have. Let people wishing to stand know those conditions as well.

A mistake has been made in changing the ordinary pension conditions for Deputies. As and from the last election, new Members will not qualify for pensions until they are 65 years of age. This is daft. If someone becomes a Deputy at 30 or 32 years of age, spends 25 years in the House, fights four or five elections and is unfortunate enough to lose his or her seat or believes he or she has fulfilled a purpose and leaves, he or she will get nothing until reaching the age of 65 years. This is madness.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is not true.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is a question of rushing through provisions. The Minister can check, as I am certain that I am correct. There will be a large gap. If he or she dies, what will happen to the surviving spouse and children? Who will look after them? As Chief Whips have dealings with many people, I knew plenty of widows who were on the verge of starvation because their husbands served as Deputies. They were left with minuscule pensions and were too proud to seek other assistance. These are facts.

There is a notion that public representatives are ripping off the system and getting paid plenty. That is not true. I am interested in the truth and the facts, which clearly show that the maximum pension a widow or widower can get under the new system is €25,000 per year. The maximum salary will be €100,000. If one serves 20 or more years, one can get 50% of that amount as a pension, but a widow or widower can get only 50% of that €50,000. Therefore, the maximum pension that a widow or widower can get is €25,000.

Since we are assuming that people will be full-time public representatives, no other income or pensions will go to the widows or widowers. Those who lose their seats at 50 or 55 years of age cannot claim jobseekers’ benefit.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The widow or widower will always get a pension in those circumstances.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Is that to be ex gratia?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  No. The age restriction does not apply in the event of the death of the Member. The pension is payable to the widow or widower.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  At whatever age. It is a small amount of money in today’s world. The idea that people will either leave the House rich or that their spouses and dependent children will be cared for is inaccurate. From this debate, I would like——

[35]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am loth to interrupt the Deputy, but I will need to call the Minister in five minutes’ time. I call on Deputy Tom Hayes to make a brief contribution.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I will conclude, as I would like to let Deputy Tom Hayes contribute.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Bill. Where politicians are concerned, nothing has taken up as much space on the airwaves or column inches in the print media as pay. Every Deputy wants to be open and fair. The main issue is the lack of understanding on the part of the public and the media about how politicians accrue expenses. Deputy Barrett illustrated the issue of pensions very well. The media and public do not understand the cost of running a modern political set-up in a constituency. In some rural areas, Members have two or three constituency offices, which cost money. The Minister may laugh but there are Members of the Dáil with two or three constituency offices, some of whom are in his party and others who are in my party. The offices represent a very significant cost and burden.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Three offices?

Deputy Tom Hayes:  Some have two and others have three; that is the reality. The offices may not be open full-time but people come to them in these difficult times with various problems that must be solved.

I set up an office here when I started in Leinster House. I needed this office but, because of the demands on Members, I had to open offices in my constituency to serve people. Their cost must be considered but this is not understood. It is not understood that, when a Member is away from home, he is entitled to an overnight allowance and travel expenses. People do not understand that and believe we put the allowances in our pockets. We all have to have extra cars and ways of getting around, as the case may be.

The real issue, in respect of which Deputy Barrett mentioned a review, is that we should make an effort in this House to address these matters because we are doing damage to ourselves. There are people who will opt for the populist line at all times but it must be remembered that, by doing so, we are doing damage to the body politic. None of us wants his or her family to be embarrassed or to have headlines stating who is on top of published tables of expenses. With regard to freedom of information, there are humans behind the statistics; there are children and spouses. The highlighting by the media of the circumstances of a married couple in this House was grossly unfair. As politicians we should stand together and explain to the media and public what we do. They do not understand. When there is a review of politicians’ pay, pensions and increments, as Deputy Barrett called for, the House should, as one unit, explain to the people that we are not trying to pocket the money. As Members have said, one does not get rich in here. One does one’s job and one does it as best one can. There are many committed Members in the House trying to do so.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I will try to assist the House as much as I can by going through each Member’s contribution rather than delivering a general reply. Deputy Bruton commenced the debate by referring to legal advice and his comments were echoed by several Members. The position is that the Attorney General advised that removing the pensions from current sitting Members was vulnerable to constitutional challenge but that a reduction following consultation with the Members would be possible. That is why the relevant Members were written to in that regard. The Government, having considered such correspondence as was received, decided a proportionate reduction of 25% would be possible.

All the interventions of Deputies were useful. Deputies Barrett and Burton illustrated the character of the legal problem involved. When the 1993 scheme was introduced, those who [36]were Members theretofore were not transferred compulsorily but given an option to transfer. The legislation dates from the 1940s. The Attorney General was satisfied that it was possible to make a reduction but that if a percentage were exceeded, it would not constitute a reduction but an actual extinguishment or abolition of the expectation or right in question. For this reason, he advised the Government that a ceiling should apply to any reduction that could be effected in the case of a sitting Member.

Statutory practice in this matter indicates that when the 1993 scheme was introduced, Members on the old scheme, whereby the pension was payable irrespective of age, were allowed to opt into the 1993 scheme or remain in the one they were in. The Attorney General advised that we face grave economic circumstances and that the Government is entitled to make reductions as a consequence, but that it cannot single out one class for a reduction that amounts to an abolition of their rights. This advice flows from the circumstances that obtained the 1990s, as outlined by Deputies Barrett and Burton.

The pensionability of any increment that has already been earned by Deputies, which was raised by a number of Members, is not dealt with in this legislation. It is a matter for the relevant pension scheme. Deputies Shatter and Bruton made the point that there would not be a level playing field in the next election if a Deputy were aware of the fact that, by contesting the election, he or she would lose an accrued pensionable entitlement. Therefore, it is my intention in revising the appropriate schemes to preserve the increment, if earned before budget day, in so far as the pension in concerned. Otherwise, the rights of widows and those who survive a deceased Member in receipt of a pension would be entrenched. This issue will be addressed.

With regard to the review body on higher pay, I welcome very much the comments of Deputy Burton. I agree with her that if we are to consider very substantial economic adjustment, leadership must clearly come from the top. This is why I announced, in the supplementary budget, that we needed a commission on higher level pay. It will examine the pay of senior public servants and also the pay of Ministers.

The key point Deputies Burton and Bruton raised in this regard focused on the basis of comparison. One difficulty with earlier review groups on higher remuneration was that they compared public salaries exclusively to those in the private sector. I have amended the terms of reference on this occasion to ensure comparison to comparable jurisdictions in the eurozone and the United Kingdom.

Deputies and Senators are now within the scope of the review group because there has been for a number of a years a linkage between the salary of a Deputy and that of a principal officer in the public service. I was very determined to preserve this arrangement in the legislation because it is the correct one regarding the determination of Deputies’ pay. I would like a similar arrangement put in place——

Deputy Michael Creed:  Will principal officers lose their increments also?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  When Deputies were linked to principal officers, the link was established at the highest level of principal officer pay. In other words, a principal officer would have to earn all his increments to have the basic salary of a Deputy. On the issue of having increments for Deputies, I examined the papers in my Department and noted a very scanty submission underlying the change in this regard earlier in the decade. It is not constitutionally correct for Deputies to have increments. They are different from all other public servants in this regard. We are here at the pleasure of the people and a Deputy who is elected for a few [37]weeks has the same standing as a Deputy who is here for 20 years. That is the nature of this House and the basic salary arrangement should reflect that point.

I take Deputy Barrett’s very fair point that we may have to consider in the medium term the circumstances of Front Bench spokespersons in Opposition parties. We will not be able to examine them during the current crisis. However, it is not justifiable to say that because one is a Member for a number of years, one should earn an increment. Deputies are in a different position from any other member of the public service in this regard. There is no presumption that we should be here for a given number of years; it is entirely a matter for the electorate to determine when given the opportunity to do so.

We are linked to the principal officer grade. If financial adjustments are required to that grade in the course of what we have to do in the next year it will affect Deputies. However, it means Deputies are in the same position as a definite grade in the public service and that is appropriate. I hope there is all-party agreement to stick to that because it is a good arrangement. If anything, I would like to see it extended to Ministers and Ministers of State because that would help to remove the matter from controversy.

Comments were made by various Deputies about our workload. It is a very substantial burden and any principal officer in the public service will accept that any Deputy, of whatever stripe, has to work a lot harder than a principal officer and cannot rely on any hours-of-work legislation in the performance of his or her duties.

The review group will look at comparisons with other countries. Deputy Bruton asked about the party leaders’ allowances and payment to Independents and there is an issue in that regard, which I will examine. The Oireachtas Commission has submitted proposals to me and there is a legal basis for the implementation of those in the amendment which, regrettably, we will not discuss now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There will be half an hour for Committee Stage.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  If I can close my remarks there might be an opportunity to discuss it.

Deputy Burton raised a number of important points. The position relating to former taoisigh is unique. One currently serves in the House and there are another four who have retired from the House. The position of a former Taoiseach is unique and a former Taoiseach has always been paid a full pension with no reduction. In that sense there is consistency, despite Deputy O’Donnell’s suggestion that there was inconsistency in the treatment of different individuals. There is a 25% reduction for everybody, whether a former Taoiseach or a former Minister.

The age limit of 55 was reduced to 50 in 2001. I have not looked at that issue afresh, although Deputy Burton suggests we should do so. I take into account what she said about the expenses regime. I would welcome her comments on top-level salaries as there are issues to address in that regard. I have told the review group to complete its work with the greatest possible speed.

In the old scheme there was no age limit. In the new scheme it was 55 from 1993 to 2001. After 2001 it was 50 and since 2004 it has been 65, a point to which Deputy Barrett drew attention. It does not affect the position of a widow, for whom no age limit applies, but it could affect Members who gave long service but lost their seats in their 50s.

Deputy Morgan made a point about legal challenges. Governments have to act on the advice of the Attorney General. A lot of legal opinions are expressed nowadays but at all stages before and since the budget the advice of the Attorney General has been consistent and he has always maintained that issues would arise from the implementation of any decision to abolish pensions or increments. We acted within the legal constraints that applied to us.

[38]Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I was only asking for the Minister to summarise. I accept that he has done so.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I appreciate that, Deputy. Deputy O’Donnell also asked the question and Deputy Shatter addressed the legal issues.

Deputy Bruton asked about increments in the public service generally but they do not arise in this legislation. Fine Gael has consistently advocated that increments be frozen in the public service. Typically, increments in the public service are earned by the lower grades quite rapidly and amount to a substantial increase in their remuneration as they progress. We looked at this issue when preparing the pension levy earlier in the year and found there would be arbitrary effects to freezing increments in that people doing like work would not receive like remuneration. For that reason we felt the pension arrangement was fairer.

The position of Deputies and Senators is unique in the public sector and I do not believe there is, in principle, a case for the payment of an increment simply on the basis of length of service. In pension schemes I will respect those increments which have been earned by Members.

Deputy Creighton referred to the salary reductions taken by different individuals within the community. The average imposition made by the pension levy in the public sector is of the order of 6.8%. The forecast of the EU for this year is for a reduction of between 4% and 5% in payroll levels. Of course, in some firms there have been reductions very much in excess of that and in some of the sheltered sectors there have been pay increases. There is a much wider spectrum in the private than in the public sector.

I take issue with one point made by Deputies Creighton and Barrett to the effect that there was an age in Ireland when politics were the preserve of the wealthy. Salaries were very poor in this House for many years and the House was not dominated in any sense by wealthy people. Back in the 19th century, when we had to send people to another parliament in London, Members of Parliament for Irish constituencies who represented the national interest in the old Home Rule Party had no remuneration at all. Many went to London at considerable personal expense and lived in circumstances of near destitution while earning no pensions. We do not acknowledge that fact often enough in this House. We commemorated the First Dáil this year and we should also acknowledge those who represented the national interest elsewhere, many of whom lived in garrets to attend meetings of the House of Commons.

The idea of paying public representatives was introduced by the political left and was designed to give people the freedom to act in the public interest, which is fundamental and very important. However, in the various Dáileanna since 1919 there have been a large number of individuals who had to lead a very restricted lifestyle and the House was not noteworthy for many persons of substantial wealth. In fact, most Members were very poor and that has been the case for many years. The former Minister and current EU Commissioner, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, did a good day’s work for politics in ensuring a reasonable level of remuneration. Nevertheless, we must look at some of the excesses that developed in recent years and trim them.

I feel I have dealt with most of the questions put by Deputies during the course of the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 1.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. a1 and b1 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I move amendment No. a1:

In page 3, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

““Act of 2001” means Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act 2001.”.

This amendment is to deal with the issue which the Minister indicated he was sympathetic to examining, namely the status of the allowances paid to Independents. Under the present arrangements, while parties have to provide justification for their leaders’ allowances in the form of vouched returns, etc., a similar restriction does not apply to Independents. The purpose of my amendment is to provide that the annual allowance enjoyed by Independents be backed up by a statement of expenditure from that allowance. There should be equity for all Members. While it is important that Independent Deputies have the same support as is provided to Deputies who are members of parties through the leader’s allowance to help carry out research and engage in legitimate parliamentary activities, there should be a similar obligation to account for how the money is used. Otherwise there is simply a slush fund available to Independents that is not available to members of parties to compete in constituencies.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I support this amendment. Most members of the public would be quite surprised to learn that Independents receive an additional personal expense allowance of €41,000 that does not have to be vouched for in any way. In this regard, Independent Members of the Oireachtas have an enormous advantage over members of parties in their constituencies. If a Dáil lasts its full term, €41,000 per year adds up to a war chest of over €200,000 to put towards an election; members of political parties do not enjoy such a benefit. Has the Minister had occasion to examine this allowance?

A deal was struck with Independents some time ago, probably by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Much of what we are dealing with today, in terms of confusion and obfuscation relating to allowances, is a legacy of the former Taoiseach and the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy. Things were done quietly and extra money was put into the system. The problem is, when there is little discussion of or justification for such measures all politicians are brought into disrepute. Unfortunately, the money is not evenly shared and it is not justified. Like political party Members, Independents vary; some may spend a lot on constituency expenses and some may take a tighter approach. An additional €41,000 per year, untaxed and unvouched, is a lot of money. Deputy Bruton’s proposed amendment, which would make this payment subject to vouching in the same way as the parliamentary allowance paid to leaders of political parties, is sensible.

When expenses are published emphasis tends to be placed on those who get the highest amounts and people assume that everyone gets such payments. Has the Minister reviewed these payments? Has an bord snip nua been working by candlelight on Independents’ expenses? Was this in the terms of reference? The general public should understand that people who have the privilege of being elected as Independents get an extraordinary amount of money and it is up to them how they choose to spend it. Most Deputies, particularly those in political parties, spend money in a fairly predictable way; expenses are used to run constituency offices and [40]communicate with constituents. However, the additional €41,000 per year that Independents receive may not be spent at all — it could be put in a piggy bank or in Anglo Irish Bank and saved for a rainy day.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  That would be the safest deposit in the country.

Deputy Michael Creed:  I support the amendment and wish to raise a related matter, the allowance for a personal assistant to which each Member of the House is entitled. Can the Minister for Finance clarify how this allowance applies to Ministers and Ministers of State who already have an extraordinarily generous allocation of officials from their Departments to assist them in their constituency and ministerial duties? Parliamentary assistants are invaluable to all Members of the House but I understand that Ministers and Ministers of State receive this allowance directly. Can the Minister clarify whether this is the case?

The general perception is that we are all on the gravy train but, in the context of what is coming down the track in terms of public finances, this House should lead by example. In this respect, additional scrutiny should be applied to the ministerial salary cut made recently. Much spin was placed on that measure but I understand that, unlike the cutbacks relating to allowances that are being agreed for all Members of the House, the ministerial salary reduction will not impact on future pension entitlements. If cutbacks to allowances payable in increments to Members will be applied in future, why are ministerial salaries not seeing this reduction? Ministerial pension entitlements should decline accordingly.

It appears there is a golden circle in the House and it consists of Ministers and Ministers of State who enjoy a far more privileged position than ordinary Members. When Members’ expenses are published Ministers and Ministers of State strut around and make much ado about the fact that they do not draw expenses. However, we hear nothing of how their parliamentary assistant allowance is paid. Their pension arrangements are more generous, and are safer in the current economic climate, than those of ordinary Members. Ministers and Ministers of State have credit card allowances, walking about allowances and a range of other benefits to which ordinary Members of this House are not entitled. Having said that, ordinary Members of this House are not looking for such benefits as they willingly acknowledge the difficult circumstances we are in and are prepared to lead by example. I see cynicism at the root of the attitudes of Ministers and Ministers of State to these proposals.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I strongly support Deputy Bruton’s amendment; this is a question of accountability and levelling the playing field. If party leaders are required to prepare a statement of expenditure there is no reason Independents should not also do so, provided there is no clause, such as a Cinderella clause, that excuses them from doing so.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have considerable sympathy with the amendment tabled by Deputy Bruton. The Standards is Public Office Commission has a statutory oversight role that relates to party leaders’ allowances. The commission has made a recommendation on the statutory effect to be given to the guidelines on the allowance issued. I am considering the recommendations and will consider this proposal in that context. The proposal will be examined in a separate statutory context.

The expenditure control group asked me for leave to examine the Central Fund as well as the voted allocation. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is funded by a triennial grant that is a charge on the Central Fund. The examination was conducted and I know the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission met the expenditure control group. There are recommendations [41]in the report that relate to the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and there are also recommendations relating to the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Did the Minister read that chapter first?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have not yet had the opportunity to digest that matter but the chapter headings show that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is within the scope of the report.

Deputy Creed raised a number of issues. This has been a very constructive debate so far. In regard to ministerial pay, Ministers are the only people who have taken a voluntary pay cut as an absolute and general class in the House. I am not making a great virtue out of this, but that is the position, and that was done after the budget in October last year. Ministers, like Deputies, were subjected to the pension levy. Because it is a voluntary surrender, it does not affect pension entitlements. Government has established a commission on higher level remuneration that will look at all the higher level payments. We discussed that during the debate.

Regarding the options for secretarial assistance available to Ministers, the Oireachtas Commission treats all Members of the House equally. When the arrangement was put in place for Deputies to have a second secretary there were other options available to a Deputy. The Deputy had the option of having a secretarial assistant or of sharing a very high-powered adviser with another Deputy — I do not think anyone has ever availed of that option. There was also the option of vouching a sum, approximately equivalent to the value of a secretary, for definitive secretarial expenses. That option is also available to Ministers, as is the option of a much smaller sum, but with the special secretarial allowance. There are various options available to Ministers.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The last option is unvouched.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is a vouched and an unvouched option available to Ministers and to Deputies. Deputy Creed pointed out the fact that a Minister gets some provision for constituency staff from the public service.

Deputy Michael Creed:  It is a very generous provision.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is a point that must be borne in mind and it is that those officers are not allowed to engage in political activity.

Deputy Michael Creed:  That is a fine line.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It is not a fine line.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Does that include staffing clinics?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will not go into the detailed application of the rules——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Are civil servants running Fianna Fáil TDs’ clinics?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I am simply making the point that there is a line to be drawn here. Certainly they could not circulate literature, something at which Deputy Varadkar has always been a great expert. They certainly could not draft and circulate political propaganda. There is a distinction to which I draw attention. We have seen in recent elections that increasingly these distinctions are enforced and respected and have real consequences.

[42]Deputy Michael Creed:  We are talking about seven or eight staff. What about credit cards and walk-about allowances?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy had better remind me what walk-about allowances are.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. b1 not moved.

Section 1 agreed to.

Section 2 agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related to amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 may be discussed together.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

“3.—(1) Where a member of the Oireachtas is entitled to—

(a) payments for travelling facilities prescribed under section 5 (as amended by section 18 of the Act of 1998) of the Act of 1964 and granted under section 2 of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) Act 1938,

(b) the overnight allowance under section 1 (inserted by section 2 of the Act of 1996 and as amended by section 15 of the Act of 1998) of the Act of 1962,

(c) a telephone allowance under section 2(2) (inserted by section 3 of the Act of 1996) of the Act of 1962, or

(d) an allowance for expenses under section 3 (as amended by section 19 of the Act of 1998 and section 37 of the Act of 2001) of the Act of 1992,

the Minister may decide that any payment due to the member in respect of all or any of them may be paid together as a single composite monthly payment (“parliamentary standard allowance”) to the member, of the amount determined in regulations under this section, in lieu of each allowance or payment due to the member being paid separately to him or her.

(2) Where the parliamentary standard allowance applies under this section to a member of the Oireachtas—

(a) the rate payable for travelling expenses determined in regulations under section 5(1A) (inserted by section 18 of the Act of 1998) of the Act of 1964,

(b) an overnight allowance of the amount sanctioned by the Minister for Finance under section 1(2) (inserted by section 15 of the Act of 1998) of the Act of 1962,

(c) a telephone allowance of the amount prescribed in regulations under section 2(2)(a) (inserted by section 3 of the Act of 1996) of the Act of 1962, and

[43]

(d) the rate payable of an allowance for expenses determined in regulations under section 3(4) of the Act of 1992,

do not apply to the member.

(3) The Minister may, in applying the parliamentary standard allowance to a member of the Oireachtas—

(a) by regulations revoke any regulations made under the provisions referred to in subsection (2), and

(b) determine in regulations made under subsection (4) the rates and amounts payable under those provisions in determining the amount of the parliamentary standard allowance payable to a member of the Oireachtas in regulations under that subsection.

(4) The Minister may, by regulations, in respect of the parliamentary standard allowance, determine—

(a) the date from which the allowance is payable,

(b) the amount of the allowance payable—

(i) to a member or members of Dáil Éireann, and

(ii) to a member or members of Seanad Éireann, and

(c) the manner in which, and the exceptions, restrictions and conditions (including attendance recording and deductions for non-attendance)subject to which, the allowance is to be provided and paid.

(5) Regulations under this section may, if so expressed, have retrospective effect.

(6) Every regulation made under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either House within the next 21 days on which the House has sat after the regulation has been laid before it, the regulation shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.

(7) Section 836 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 is amended—

(a) by inserting after subsection (1A) (inserted by section 21 of the Act of 1998) the following: —

“(1B) Parliamentary standard allowance payable under section 3 of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 2009 is exempt from income tax and shall not be reckoned in computing income for the purposes of the Income Tax Acts.”,

and

(b) in subsection (2), by inserting “or under section 3 of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 2009 or any allowance or payment made in respect of any particular allowance or payment referred to in subsection (1) of that section” after “1992,”.

(8) In this section—

[44]

“Act of 1962” means Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) Act 1962;

“Act of 1964” means Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 1964;

“Act of 1992” means Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 1992;

“Act of 1996” means Oireachtas (Miscellaneous Provisions) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 1996;

“Act of 1998” means Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Act 1998;

“Act of 2001” means Ministerial, Parliamentary and Judicial Offices and Oireachtas Members (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001;

“Minister” means Minister for Finance.”.

The purpose of this is to facilitate the decision made by the Oireachtas Commission on a composite allowance for Members. The commission has made a submission to me. It is under consideration in my Department. We consulted the Attorney General on it and the advice is that the easiest way to do this is to have statutory authority to provide for such an allowance. The statutory authority is being provided for here. The new section will enable the Minister to pay a composite allowance in view of the separate allowance currently paid to Deputies and Senators and to make regulations determining the rate of the allowance, the date from which it will be payable, the conditions for payment and the manner of payment. In addition, it allows the Minister to make regulations regarding the recording of attendance and deductions for non-attendance. The composite allowances, to be known as parliamentary standard allowance, has been proposed by the Oireachtas Commission and will include all or elements of the existing expenses.

The Government decided in April that the Oireachtas expenses allowance should be cut by 10% with the exception of the travel rates to this building which have been reduced already by 25%. The new parliamentary standard allowances will take account of the 25% reduction already made to the mileage payments for travel to Dublin and the 10% reductions for the rest of the allowances.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Is this new in the sense that the Minister is taking responsibility for something that has hitherto been a matter for the Oireachtas Commission? The Minister seems to be saying that the legal advice is that this would seem to be the simplest way. Undoubtedly it is simple but it certainly seems to be rowing back on the principle that the Oireachtas Commission is self-governing. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that.

Another aspect that struck me relates to subsection (5) which provides that regulations under this section may, if so expressed, have retrospective effect. Is that in accordance with good legal practice? Why is that provided for?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I understand that the reference to retrospective effect is a standard provision in enabling provisions of this type. On the issue of the point of substance raised, it has always been the position that the Minister draws up the regulations relating to expenses on the advice of the commission. That is the statutory template. There is, therefore, no question of interference with the autonomy or independence of the commission. When the original [45]legislation was enacted setting up the commission, that was the balance of power between the Minister and the commission. There have been many occasions when I would have preferred if the entire function were vested in the commission but this is how matters stand. There are two main areas where the Minister has residual authority as against the commission. One is the whole question of establishments and staffing and the Minister sanctions staff complements and increases. The other is the area of expenses. The commission advises the Minister and I will have to have regard to what it says. I have had a very useful discussion already with the Ceann Comhairle and several members of the commission about these matters. We need to ensure that, in addition to the reduction taking place, expenses are verified, which is for the protection of all of us, and that they are objective in their basis.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister should acknowledge that it was the commission which wrote to him on behalf of ordinary Members of the Oireachtas proposing that these matters should be addressed. In the public relations campaign and so on that was attendant on the last budget, the Minister managed to lose sight of the fact that it was the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission that had put forward a scheme for the reduction of the various expenses. It is good that the Minister should work with the Houses of the Oireachtas but I want to get back to the point that Deputy Creed made. It is important for our democracy that the expenses of Ministers and Ministers of State be as transparent as those of Deputies. I have the schedule of Ministers’ salaries. They did not accept the last increase. I am aware that the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, when he returned to office, struggled with the issue of whether to accept the suggested increases for Ministers and I think he stayed at the current rate. That, for a Minister, is €214,000. Is that correct? That is what is in the schedule we received in the last report. The Taoiseach’s salary is €271,000. Some Ministers add to that an active ministerial credit card. These expenses are never listed with Deputies expenses. When it comes to the publication of expenses, Deputies’ expenses are properly listed and published, but because ministerial expenses are paid by individual Departments they are never listed, and it is made to look as if Ministers are not in receipt of expenses. This is the wrong impression because Ministers have significant and important expenses. If one is making general regulations the expenses of Ministers, whether paid by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission or by Departments, should be listed at the same time as the expenses of Deputies are listed. I do not know whether the Minister’s amendment provides for this. It is very unfair to Deputies to give the impression that some of them earn more than Ministers because they do not, unless they have been Ministers and have been receiving ministerial pensions until now. That should be clarified.

Do people who have served as Attorneys General and go on to have other lucrative and highly-paid positions continue to collect a full ministerial pension? Some receive significant sums, to judge by the senior positions they hold in Ireland and internationally. That should be considered, perhaps by way of an abatement. It would be interesting to know whether multimillionaires, particularly those who lecture the rest of us, and ordinary people and old age pensioners about giving up their pensions, make the same kind of sacrifices that they often suggest the rest of us should make. The information about ministerial emoluments, entitlements and so on should be published at the same time as that relating to Deputies.

When the Minister received the report from an bord snip nua yesterday evening did he dip into it? It is human nature to want to do so.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  We might see it in the newspapers over the weekend.

Deputy Joan Burton:  If the report addressed the total cost of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, did it also in any way address the total cost of Ministers and Ministers of State [46]and other office holders? Would the Minister care to tell us whether he saw that when he scanned over the document?

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I will not oppose the Minister’s amendments because, like the pension issue, they go some way to improving matters but they do not go far enough. There is a requirement that expenses will be verified I would have preferred the word “vouched”. The issue of expenses is part of the view of politics as a contaminated profession. We all know that does not concern only expenses, but includes tribunals, golden circles and five or six civil servants working in a Minister’s office. There is some minor improvement here in the regime.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The amendment states, in subsection (1)(d): “an allowance for expenses under section 3 (as amended by section 19 of the Act of 1998 and section 37 of the Act of 2001) of the Act of 1992,”. What are they? In subsection (2)(d) the amendment states: “the rate payable of an allowance for expenses determined in regulations under section 3(4) of the Act of 1992,”. This is not specified. Will the Minister indicate what it is?

I see no mention of the Oireachtas Commission and the expense of running the Houses in the amendment or of how it interacts with the Chairman. Is it based on a recommendation from the Oireachtas Commission on expenses? What is the Minister’s legal status when it comes to determining the expenses for the commission?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  On which sections did Deputy O’Donnell require clarification?

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  It is amendment No. 1. In subsection (1)(d), below where it states: “Where a Member of the Oireachtas is entitled to—”.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The section relates to the existing legislative provisions. There are already sections in legislation providing for all of these matters such as the payment for travelling facilities, overnight allowances, telephones, miscellaneous expenses, constituency office and constituency travel. Each of those has a distinct statutory existence. The first sub-section enables me to make a regulation if I so wish to provide for a composite allowance instead of the existing provisions. That is what it means.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  That clarifies the matter.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The requirement that it follows the advice of the Oireachtas Commission is contained in the primary Oireachtas Commission legislation, which binds me. I hope that clarifies the point.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Yes.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Deputy Burton ranged far beyond some of the issues raised in the amendment. I agree with her point that the presentation of the expenses is often very unfair because a Deputy who lives a long way from the House is highlighted as the typical expense collector, and while the general Deputy expenses are published, the ministerial ones are not. As the Deputy spoke I was reminded of a former Member of this House, Seán MacBride, who once presided over a commission whose purpose was to ensure that there would be fair and balanced information about Third World countries in First World newspapers. We do not control how the press acquires or disseminates information but that is an issue and it is important that all expenses are accounted for.

While Deputy Morgan is happy that we are going some in addressing matters he seems to want us to go a bit further but I am not clear how.

[47]Deputy Seán Barrett:  The location of a constituency office presents a difficulty because it involves the payment of rent. A constituency office in the centre of a city costs far more than one elsewhere. There seems to be no distinction made. If one has a constituency office for one’s staff it is not necessary to provide space in this House. There is a saving for the State if people are outside rather than in the Houses. In other words if we closed down constituency offices and moved them in to the Houses we would have to find additional accommodation for them. It is logical to recognise this fact.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Commission has raised this issue. There is a wide variety of arrangements for constituency offices. It would be impossible in my constituency to have a main street office whereas in many provincial constituencies it is possible to rent property on a main street. In my constituency only a back office arrangement is possible because a front office would be too expensive. One would need to be a very wealthy individual to have a front office. The point is correct and is something I will consider in examining the proposals from the Commission.

Amendment agreed to.

Sections 3 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 6.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, subsection (2), line 17, to delete “section 2” and substitute “sections 2 and 3”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 6, as amended, agreed to.

TITLE.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, line 11, after “SALARIES” to insert “AND ALLOWANCES”.

Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

  2 o’clock

Acting Chairman:  As it is now 2 o’clock I am now required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for Finance for Committee Stage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections not disposed of that the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Title as amended is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill, as amended is accordingly reported to the House; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put and agreed to.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

[48]Acting Chairman:  Seanad amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are consequential on Seanad amendment No. 2 and these amendments will be taken together.

Seanad amendment No. 1:

Section 1: In page 5, subsection (4), line 31, to delete “section 62” and substitute “sections 60 to 64”.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  Amendment No. 1 is a technical drafting amendment to allow certain sections of the Bill to come into force when it is enacted and assist the commencement process. These are sections Nos. 60 to 64, inclusive, of the Bill as amended by the Seanad. Other provisions of the Bill will come into operation at different times by ministerial order.

I will outline the four sections referred to in amendment No. 1. Section 60 provides for the transfer of ministerial responsibility for the local government superannuation scheme in the health sector from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Health and Children. Section 61 is a new section included in the Bill during its passage through the Seanad and is provided for in amendment No. 2.

Section 62 amends the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act 1997 to remove age limits for travel insurance benefit provided in accordance with that Act. Section 63 provides for an amendment to the Mental Health Act 2001 to address difficulties in the operation of the Act which have arisen following a recent High Court judgment. Section 64 makes technical drafting amendments to the Health Act 2007.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I accept that this amendment is essentially technical and allows for the coming into effect of sections 60 to 64, inclusive, but I must raise my concerns about the implementation of section 62. This section was introduced as a Government amendment on Committee Stage and we objected at the time on the grounds that it was a substantial measure that in this Deputy’s view and that of others required separate legislation.

The Minister of State will agree that the involuntary admission of patients with mental illness is a very delicate and sensitive issue. The effect of the section is to authorise the personnel of a private company to carry out this function and I am not happy with the fact that a private firm is being used for what is quite clearly a public health function. The Minister of State indicated in the Seanad yesterday that this is an interim arrangement, if I am informed correctly. He also stated that all the staff of the firm involved are trained psychiatric nurses.

That is certainly a reassurance but before we agree to this amendment I ask the Minister of State to indicate what further legislation is expected in this regard. When will it be forthcoming? Will the Minister indicate this to the House with the clarity that this Deputy requires to build on the reassurance I have already referred to with regard to the confirmation of the staff involved in the cited firm? Will the Minister give an assurance that the staff not only today but also tomorrow and into the future will have that basic required standard of trained psychiatric nurse?

Deputy James Reilly:  The concerns about this Bill revolve around the new section which has been added. When the House last discussed it, we raised our concerns about the manner in which this was included and the Minister gave us the rationale behind it. The section was rushed in because of a court case so while we can accept a certain logic to this and a need to address a legal problem, rushed law often transpires to be bad law.

The Minister has told us the Mental Health Act will not be reviewed until 2011 at the earliest, which is two years away. In the meantime there is no regulation governing inspection, selection [49]of these private companies, police vetting, regulation of hygiene requirements or the type of vehicle which can be used in the transport of disturbed patients, or the training of individuals concerned in restraint and talking-down techniques.

It is reassuring to know that the current company consists mainly of psychiatric nurses who would have all that training. There is no guarantee, particularly in light of the current economic climate, that other companies will not seek to become involved in doing the same sort of work or that individuals who are not suitably trained may join the employ of the company which holds the contract at present.

I am disappointed the Minister of State did not take on board what Members said on Report Stage and did not take the opportunity to introduce amendments which could have addressed the issues about which we are concerned. It would have been preferable if the Bill had been amended in such a way as to give the Minister for Health and Children the power, by way of introducing a statutory instrument, to impose regulations that will set standards in respect of the issues to which I refer. I do not have an ideological difficulty with a private company being involved in this area as long as the public can rest assured that proper standards and procedures relating to training, hygiene and the nature of the transport used will be adhered to. In addition, the company in question must be subjected to regular inspections and the public interest must be served by its being frequently monitored by HIQA or some other agency.

Is the Minister of State in a position to provide assurances in this regard? As stated previously, this is the only aspect of the Bill about which we are concerned. I do not want to be obliged to vote against the legislation. However, if we do not obtain some guarantees in respect of this matter, then we will be failing in our obligation to patients who are vulnerable and who will be completely at the mercy of those arrive to assist in their being brought to hospital. We all know what the word “assist” means in this context. Basically, it refers to the forced removal of patients — against their wishes — from wherever they are to a place of care. These people usually require to be forcibly removed because they are psychotic or unwell and certain procedures have to be followed for their safety and for the safety of others.

When we take extraordinary powers onto ourselves, we must be absolutely certain that the appropriate personnel and means of transport are in place. I await the Minister of State’s response in respect of the matter.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I also have serious concerns with regard to this aspect of the Bill and I ventilated them on Report Stage. Like Deputies Ó Caoláin and Reilly, I am disappointed that an additional amendment was not introduced in the Seanad so that provision could be made for the extra safeguards we are seeking.

It is fine to state that Nationwide Health Solutions employs trained psychiatric nurses. However, there is no safeguard in the legislation which will ensure that this continues to be the case in the future. In addition, there is no indication with regard to how long this legislation will remain in operation.

Is it not the case that the contract relating to the kind of work done by Nationwide Health Solutions must be put out to tender? If so, is it not possible that another company might tender for the work and that said company, because there would be no obligation on it to do so, might not employ trained psychiatric nurses? When other aspects of health care, such as, for example, the cleaning of hospitals, were privatised, companies competed against each other in order to obtain the work at the lowest price. This sometimes prompts concerns with regard to the standards that might apply. In this instance, I do not know if there is an obligation to open up the work in question to companies other than that which possesses the contract at present. However, that is often the case with regard to work which is paid for out of public moneys.

[50]Assurances must be provided to the effect that a range of other companies will not seek to be given this work. All such companies would need would be a few strong men who are able to hold people down. If the latter were the case, we would not be protecting the interests and well-being of the patients concerned who, by their nature, are vulnerable because they are being taken against their will to a place in which they have no desire to be.

This is an extremely delicate matter and I am concerned about what we are allowing to happen in the legislation. While I accept that amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, do not deal with the substantive issue we are concerned about, one of them relates to the commencement of the relevant section of the Bill. It would be appropriate, therefore, to deal with the substantive issue in the context of that amendment. Will the Minister of State indicate if there is a date in respect of the commencement of the section to which I refer? As I understand it, various sections of the Bill will be commenced at different times.

Our concerns are genuine. I do not know if in-depth consideration was given to them prior to the rushed introduction of the relevant amendment on Report Stage. We were only informed of this at the end of Committee Stage because the amendment did not arise out of Committee Stage proceedings. We did not, therefore, have the normal opportunity to debate it at length. I hope the Minister of State is in a position to provide the assurances we are seeking. However, I would much prefer to have those assurances included in the legislation so that they might act as a safeguard and protect the well-being of the vulnerable patients concerned.

Deputy John Moloney:  I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I will try to deal, in as clear a manner as possible, with the points they raised. I sympathise with people’s concerns, particularly in view of the fact that we are dealing with mental health issues. Given the perception that the legislation is being rushed, I will try to show that due consideration was given to all relevant matters.

As stated on Report Stage in this House and on Committee Stage in the Seanad, the Bill is an interim measure. I accept the fact that it was introduced on short notice but, on foot of a High Court judgment delivered on 21 May, there was a need to amend the position prior to the summer recess. The difficulties which gave rise to the legislation arose on foot of events that occurred in Dublin, in other areas on the east coast, in Clonmel and in Cork, where over 90% of involuntary admissions were carried out by an external agency. I wish to stress that these amendments to the Mental Health Act are necessary to ensure the continuation of externally assisted admissions. No one wants a situation to develop whereby vulnerable people cannot be assisted, albeit on an involuntary basis, to enter health facilities.

I referred to the Bill as an interim measure because I wanted to clarify the position and assure people that we were not rushing through legislation. I accept Deputy James Reilly’s point that the major review will not take place until 2011. All mental health legislation will form part of that review. In the context of safeguards, I wish to inform Deputies Jan O’Sullivan and James Reilly that a number of other amendments will be introduced later in the year. These will contemplate the matters now under discussion.

I accept that people have doubts with regard to the agency and its staff and Deputies Jan O’Sullivan and James Reilly inquired about the qualifications of the latter. I wish to point out that there is a tendering system for work of this nature. The company which secured the contract in this instance underwent a tendering process. If I were on the opposite side of the House, I would also want to clarify the position regarding the bona fides of such a company.

All the personnel of the company in question are qualified psychiatric staff and their qualifications are reviewed on a yearly basis. In addition, the company is obliged to meet the various [51]standards laid down by the Mental Health Commission. The staff of the company work in close proximity with members of the Garda Síochána in all of their dealings.

It also is important to note that the suitably qualified people are vetted by the Garda Síochána. Moreover, on the initial vetting and clearance by the Garda, just as qualifications are renewed on a yearly basis, so also will the Garda vetting process continue on a yearly basis. This should bring some clarity towards ensuring that those involved in involuntary assisted admissions are properly trained. I wish to state specifically in respect of the vetting of staff that current practice regarding the contracting of this service requires the external agency to provide suitably qualified mental health professionals, such as psychiatric nurses or allied health professionals or both. All such professionals must have Garda clearance and the HSE protocols and guidelines for the external assisted service will be revisited in light of the amended legislation.

I have dealt with the perception that this legislation is rushed and will respond regarding the review. The review will not take place until 2011 and much work must be done between now and then. However, in respect of safety in this regard, I again refer to the ongoing Garda clearance and the level of professionalism of the staff. While one cannot dwell on the past to predict the future, it is important to note that of the 600 assisted involuntary admissions, there have been no complaints — nor should there be — from the patients, their families, the centres or anyone else involved. During the debate in the Seanad yesterday, I noted the HSE is the direct employer and through protocols or safeguards, the HSE has the responsibility to ensure that those who have been contracted live up to the required standard as laid down by the Mental Health Commission. I accept the point, to which Deputy Reilly also referred the last time, on the involvement of HIQA.

The standards will be set in the protocols and are set out in the contract. Whenever a contract is up for renewal, an open market competition will take place and other companies may vie for similar contracts. I am not in a position to provide Members with the number of companies that submitted tenders because I do not know. While I should know it for the purposes of this debate, the point only occurred to me a few minutes ago. I will revert to Members with this information as quickly as possible.

However, based on the historical involvement of this company, the Garda clearance, the HSE involvement, the absence of complaints and the requirement that the staff must be professionals, I am satisfied that all safeguards are present in respect of this agency. In future, this obviously must be firmed up in the forthcoming Bill in 2011 and there will be some further amendments before then.

I forgot to reply to the question raised by Deputy Jan O’Sullivan as to when the Bill will be enacted. It will be enacted immediately after its presumed signature by the President.

Deputy James Reilly:  I thank the Minister of State for his helpful and useful reply. He has addressed all the concerns save one, which I am sure he also can address. He has assured Members that the standards of training of those involved are up to those obtaining for psychiatric nurses and allied professionals. While he did not refer to the regulation or inspection of vehicles to be used in transport, I am sure this can be done by way of a directive from the Minister. I seek assurance in the House that there will be regulation and regular inspection. During the previous debate on this issue in the House, I told the Minister of State about the regular ambulance service that was taken over by one company from another. The new owner discovered that 20 drivers of the company he took over did not have police clearance. This constitutes a glaring hole although it pertains to enforcement rather than to legislation. Nevertheless, although a law may not be required, a ministerial directive is. The Minister of State should provide Members with an undertaking today that he will ensure regular inspections and [52]regulations pertaining to the training of companies and associated personnel that might apply in the future before Members have an opportunity to review this issue.

There also should be regulations in place in respect of hygiene training for both vehicles and personnel. This would be for obvious scenarios such as someone getting sick in the back of a vehicle, which then would require a thorough deep clean, or blood contamination. There also should be training in restraint and talking techniques, as well as Garda clearance. If the Minister of State provides an undertaking in respect of these measures, I certainly will not oppose the Bill.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister of State has provided an assurance to Members on current staff numbers and the critical remaining concern is in respect of the future. Am I to understand that the legislation to which the Minister of State referred, which is scheduled for 2011, will place in legislation the standards of training to be reached and sustained by people involved in this line of work in the future? Will that be the means and method of guaranteeing the highest standards of those involved in such activities in the future? Does the Minister of State suggest some other means or method in the intervening period? On the basis of the assurances provided by the Minister of State and in expectation of what the Minister of State’s response may contain, I also wish to indicate that I will not oppose the amendments as tabled.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  While the Minister of State’s response is reassuring, I wish to tease out matters a little further. The Minister of State mentioned protocols and noted that specific standards are laid down by the HSE regarding vetting, qualifications, hygiene and so on. Are these protocols set in stone for the future and are they written down somewhere? Are they available for inspection in order that one may be assured that the standards will be maintained? In these times of cutbacks, I refer to the need to prevent another clever company from offering to provide the service more cheaply by cutting corners and by not complying with such protocols. I seek an assurance that the protocols will continue in force into the future, are not negotiable and must be conformed to by whatever company might undertake this work.

While the Minister of State referred to the major item of legislation scheduled for 2011, he also stated that further amendments would arise later in the year. He should indicate whether they are simply other amendments to mental health legislation in general or whether they relate specifically to the contents of this Bill.

Deputy John Moloney:  I again thank Members for their questions. First, in response to Deputy Ó Caoláin’s point, the commitment is that there will be a major review of the proposed Act in 2011. There also will be opportunity for amendments. As I am anxious to move in respect of other issues pertaining to mental health, which may require amendments, such an opportunity may arise before then. I make this point in the context of the issues that have been raised. I must apologise to Deputy Reilly in one context, that is, the points he raised regarding the ambulance issue were quite relevant and I should have started my initial response from that point. As for the major review of legislation in 2011, I will have opportunities before then to make amendments on this issue and possibly other issues.

In the context of the ambulance service, I recall the point made by Deputy Reilly last week regarding the conditions of some ambulances, the change of drivers and so on. Part of the contract between the HSE and this company stipulates there must be regular servicing of vehicles. While the word “service” may conjure up the image of mechanical servicing only, clearly far greater issues arise in this regard. I intend to strengthen this provision to ensure that it is not simply the motorised part of the ambulance that should be serviced. Clearly, the [53]contract also should stipulate that areas dealing with patients or the public also must undergo strenuous and regular tests. I give that particular assurance as well.

I refer to the question as to what will happen in the Act. Since the Act and the establishment of the Mental Health Commission, submissions made by Members in the House and in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children have raised a number of issues. There will be a root and branch review of the Act. That is why it will take so long. Many issues arise and I give a commitment to Members that such a review will take place. The contents of the Act will come from the review and from consultation between now and then. I give a clear commitment that there will be opportunity to debate this matter and there will be a full review.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked me about protocols and staff. These must be professional staff and must be vetted by the agencies, including the Department of Health and Children and the Garda Síochána. The psychiatric nurse or the health professional contracted in this instance must have a qualification of three years in the previous four years. It is not a matter of bringing in someone who was a nurse years ago. The person must be an active participant who is clearly involved in current legislation, as well as being skilled to meet standards laid down by the Mental Health Commission. This will be included in the contracts prepared and signed by the company involved.

Deputy James Reilly:  What about monitoring? Administration services were supposed to be monitored but were not.

Deputy John Moloney:  I am not sure what the role of HIQA should be. The authority is assigned to centres. It is important that there should be independent authority to ensure this monitoring takes place. I will engage with HIQA to see if it will carry out this duty.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 2:

Section 61: In page 20, before section 61, but in Part 8, to insert the following new section:

“61.—(1) Section 53(1B) of the Health Act 1970 (inserted by section 34 of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009) is amended by the substitution of “section 6(1)(c) of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009” for “section 6(2)(c) of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009”.

(2) The amendment (effected by subsection (1)) to section 53(1B) of the Health Act 1970 is deemed to have been included in that provision with effect from the passing of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 and that provision (as amended by subsection (1)) shall come into operation in accordance with section 2 of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009.”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 3:

Title: In page 5, line 15, after “OF” to insert “THE HEALTH ACT 1970,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments reported.

Acting Chairman:  A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I am pleased to open the debate in the Dáil on the Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Government’s budgetary decision to introduce an annual charge on non-principal private residences. The Bill sets the charge at €200 and liability for it will fall, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties. This will broaden the revenue base of local authorities. The proceeds of the charge will be paid to, and retained by, local authorities and it will take effect in 2009 and continue to apply in subsequent years. It has been a long time since a new source of local funding has been made available to local authorities. The Indecon review of local government financing recommended that the sources of local government funding should be extended by a contribution in respect of non-principal private residences, and the Bill gives effect to the Government’s budgetary decision in this regard. Furthermore, local authorities should not be disproportionately dependent on central Government funding and, for this reason, the importance of the Bill outweighs the level of revenue it will generate. The existing revenue base of local authorities is very narrow by international standards.

There is a now a measure of consensus that our economy, and especially our tax revenues, has been overly reliant on activity in the construction sector. The decline in the yield from transaction taxes such as stamp duty, capital gains and value added tax on property has been a major factor in the imbalance in our public finances which the Government has had to address. The correction has been sharp and painful and more needs to be done. The €200 charge on non-principal residences is one of the measures taken to close the gap between expenditure and revenue but it should be seen as more than simply a measure to raise additional revenue. It is a new type of revenue stream that will generate a stable yield and will not be subject to the volatility associated with the transaction based property taxes.

The Bill is a relatively short and straightforward legislative measure. Essentially, owners of non-principal private residences will be liable to pay to the city or county council an annual charge of €200 in which a relevant property is located. Liability arises each year on a point in time basis. Ownership of a relevant residential property on a specified day, known in the Bill as a liability date, gives rise to the requirement to pay the charge. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, intends to designate 31 July as the liability date for 2009. In subsequent years the liability date will be 31 March and this earlier date will fit somewhat better with the overall annual financial cycle of local authorities.

The charge can be viewed as a type of self-assessment measure because it is for the owners of residential property, in the first instance, to assess whether they are liable to pay it. Given the relatively modest level at which the charge is set, it is very important to minimise the costs associated with its collection. Accordingly, city and county councils will not be required to issue bills or invoices to those persons who own property liable for the charge.

Nonetheless, the basis on which the charge will operate is relatively simple and straightforward, and it is generally easy to understand and administer. I do not anticipate that those persons liable to pay it will be under any confusion on this point and my Department and local authorities will mount an information campaign to advise people of their responsibilities in this regard. In addition to the normal sanctions involving a fine on conviction of an offence, the Bill incorporates a late payment fee which should act as a real incentive to pay the charge by the due date.

From a drafting perspective, the Bill takes as its starting position a universal liability for residential property in respect of the charge. It goes on to exempt certain buildings and owners [55]from this liability. To put it another way, it identifies what is not liable within the totality of residential buildings rather than taking as a starting point buildings and owners that are liable. By far the most important exemption relates to principal private residences. Owner-occupied residences account for 70% of the entire housing stock. The more important of the other exemptions include property which is let directly or indirectly by local authorities or voluntary housing bodies for social housing, property the subject of shared ownership arrangements with local authorities and certain heritage properties. Other exemptions to the charge are provided for persons who, in process of changing house, own two residential properties for a short period, residential properties owned by charities and certain discretionary trusts and a spouse having an interest in a property after a divorce or separation agreement and who does not reside there but the other spouse does.

We had a helpful and constructive debate in the Seanad on the Bill and it is fair to say that most of the discussion revolved around the exemptions from the charge. In the main, Senators advocated additional provisions to exempt more owners and properties from its scope. During the debate, the Minister undertook to table two amendments before this House and to report these back to the Seanad. One of these amendments will exempt a residential property owned by persons who by reason of long-term physical or mental infirmity have to vacate their principal private residence. The other relates to what are sometimes referred to as “granny flats”.

The provision of additional exemptions from taxation measures can give rise to a kind of domino effect. Providing an additional exemption from the charge may seem entirely reasonable in itself but can give rise to pressure for more exemptions catering for circumstances different to, but not wholly dissimilar from, the original one. There can be a tendency for an incremental extension of exemptions to a point where the revenue stream from the charge starts to be eroded significantly.

The Government has always taken the view that an annual charge of €200 is a relatively modest one. Against this background, I cannot see that the charge will represent a heavy burden on those required to pay it. This is not to say that there is no case for any exemptions from the charge but simply to make the point that a €200 annual charge is unlikely to be a serious burden for owners of property. The point has been made that the level of the charge may be increased in the future. I do not intend to comment on this except to state that apart from an adjustment for inflation any change in the level of the charge will require primary legislation and cannot be increased without reference to the Oireachtas.

It has been stated that the ideal taxation measure is equitable, simple and robust. The Local Government (Charges) Bill scores well under the criteria of simplicity and robustness. It is simple and cost effective to administer, and it will be simple to understand and comply with. It will generate revenue on a continuing basis and will not be subject to the volatility we have come to associate with transaction based property taxes. In this sense, it is sufficiently robust to cope with varying economic conditions while maintaining a stable yield. It has to be acknowledged that the Bill does not include a valuation-based component, something which would have made the measure very much more complex and difficult to administer and comply with. As against this, I again make the point that the amount of the charge is relatively modest at €200, and should not cause those liable to pay it any great difficulty.

The Bill provides that the charge shall be paid to county and city councils with an estimated annual yield of €40 million. However, census and other data suggest that there may be 400,000 properties in the State liable for the charge. The annual potential yield could, therefore, be higher than estimated at present. However, like any new taxation measure, knowledge of the actual yield will only come with experience of its operation in practice. Given the data sources [56]available, it is likely that, initially at least, collection levels from rental properties, of which there are about 200,000, may be higher than from holiday homes and vacant residential properties.

For reasons of efficiency, the smaller towns and boroughs that are rating authorities — those that levy and collect commercial rates — will not be involved in this exercise. However, they will receive a payment from their parent county council based on the yield from the charge related to properties that are located in the town area. Provision is also made for the costs of collection of these charges to be retained by the parent local authority. This ensures that all local authorities who have revenue raising powers will benefit from the introduction of the charge.

In the event of non-payment of a charge for which a person is liable by a certain date, a late payment fee of €20 will apply for each month or part of a month for which the charge remains unpaid. An unpaid charge and any associated late payment fee will be a charge against the property in respect of which the liability arose. The rolled-up amount of a late payment fee should not be underestimated, and non-payment of a charge for a period of five years will result in a liability of more than €4,000 when account is taken of the charges and the late payment fees. I want the message to go out as clearly as possible to those who are liable to pay the charge that it will be much simpler and much less expensive to pay the charge when it falls due rather than to attempt to evade it, especially in terms of resale of the property concerned.

Where a property liable for the charge is sold, the Bill provides that the new owner of the property will be liable for unpaid charges and late payment fees, and that these will remain a charge against the property for a period of 12 years from the date that they were incurred. This should prove a strong incentive for a purchaser’s solicitor to ensure that all outstanding charges are paid before a contract to sell the property is executed. Local authorities will also have power to take prosecutions against owners who fail to discharge their liability to pay the charge. Prosecution will be by way of summary jurisdiction, and a court may impose a fine of up to €2,000.

Local authorities can delegate functions under the Bill to the Local Government Computer Services Board or the Local Government Management Services Board, or both. In practice, the computer services board will design and operate a web-site facilitating electronic payment of the charge and a database to record payments. It is likely that local authorities will delegate functions to the Local Government Computer Services Board on the overall operation and management of a web-site through which the charge can be paid, and a database recording payment of the charge and related matters.

Provision is made for data exchange between local authorities and the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, the Electricity Supply Board, ESB, and the Revenue Commissioners. This data should assist local authorities to identify properties liable for the charge. The PRTB holds data on rental properties and the ESB’s information technology systems can generate data on residential properties where relatively low amounts of electricity are used, something which will indicate the possibility of a holiday or a vacant residential property. The Revenue Commissioners hold data on certain property transactions such as stamp duty, VAT and capital gains taxes.

Payment will be accepted on behalf of any local authority through a web-site designed and constructed by the Local Government Computer Services Board and which is broadly similar to the motor tax on-line system. The revenue accruing will be relayed automatically and at intervals to the bank account of the city or county council in whose area the property is situated. While payment will also be accepted locally in local authority offices, I would ask those con[57]cerned to use the website for their own convenience. This will minimise costs associated with the administration and collection of the charge.

Deputies are aware of the significant role which the local government fund has played in financing the local government sector since it was established in 1999. The fund is financed from a combination of an Exchequer contribution and the full proceeds of motor taxation. Total funding for 2009 amounts to €1.46 billion, which represents approximately 30% of local authority current funding. The fund comprises an Exchequer contribution of €417 million and the proceeds of motor tax, which is projected at just over €1 billion this year. In addition, local authorities will retain the full proceeds of the new pension-related deduction, estimated at €80 million in 2009, and the Exchequer contribution to the fund has been reduced to take account of the deduction. The new pension related deduction has, therefore, a neutral impact on local authority finances in 2009.

Local authority current expenditure amounted to €1.8 billion in 1997. This year current expenditure by the local government sector will be of the order of €5 billion. Local authorities were advised of their 2009 general purpose grant allocations in October 2008, which indicated an average reduction of 6.4% over the corresponding 2008 allocations. The general purpose grant allocation from the fund to local authorities for 2009 amounts to €935 million. These allocations have been reviewed in the light of the estimated income from motor tax in 2009 and the Exchequer contribution to the fund for 2009 as set out in the supplementary budget. This has necessitated a further reduction of 3% in individual allocations, and local authorities have been recently notified on the matter.

The €200 charge is estimated to provide some €40 million in income to local authorities. This will more than ameliorate the impact of the reduction of €30 million in general purpose grants to which I have just referred. I hope that local authorities will be proactive in carrying the charge into effect and that the yield from the charge will exceed what I regard as a relatively conservative and prudent budget projection.

A properly resourced local government sector is vital to local democracy but I want to take this opportunity to address another issue that is equally important to the local government sector. As Deputies will be aware, a Green Paper on local government reform has been published and a White Paper will be published after the Government has had an opportunity to consider the report of the Commission on Taxation. The Green Paper addressed a number of issues, including a proper balance of power at local levels between the managers and elected representatives; directly elected mayors; establishing town councils in towns that have displayed significant population growth; quality customer service; and expenditure limits at local elections.

My colleague, the Minister, recently announced that the first election for a mayor for Dublin with a regional mandate will be held during the summer of next year. The election of the Dublin Mayor in 2010 will fulfil, a year ahead of target, a key commitment of the Government’s programme. In introducing a directly elected mayor for the region, the Government will be making the most significant change to local democratic leadership in Dublin since the foundation of our current system of local government in the 19th century. Dublin is both a city and a region. A strong, dynamic and sustainable capital is essential to the well-being of the whole nation, not just to the people of the city itself. Experience has shown that strong political leadership can bring a new dynamic to cities and their regions.

The new mayor will be elected by the people of the city and the three surrounding Dublin county councils — that is, the area which constitutes the existing Dublin Regional Authority — and will have the powers to set strategic policy for the region, to co-ordinate across institutional boundaries and to ensure that local activity is in tune with a coherent set of strategic regional [58]policies and plans. A strengthened Dublin Regional Authority, chaired by the mayor, will support and complement the mayor’s activities. The introduction of a democratically accountable mayor for Dublin, a position which personifies local government and thereby creates a new connection with the public, will capture the imagination of the people of the city. It should bring about improved strategic planning for the region, better services, greater integration and coherence, the enhanced use of resources, and a stronger local democracy.

Quality customer service is another issue addressed in the Green Paper. The efficient and effective performance of local government is of real importance to our citizens and to the welfare of our local communities. In that context, the transforming public services agenda will build on the local government modernisation programme which has taken place over the past decade or so, but will also represent a step change in regard to progress in this area.

Transforming public services recommends that local government structures should be drawn on to enhance public service delivery. The democratic legitimacy of elected councils is also recognised and should be maximised as a focus for consultation on the delivery of national services locally. The local government sector is a willing and able partner in this agenda and recognises that public sector transformation is an integral part of the solution to Ireland’s current economic difficulties. In this regard, greater coherence and synergy between different levels of Government and of the public service are fundamental to more efficient and effective operation. The Department and the local government sector are working closely together to advance broad public service initiatives for a more integrated public service which can achieve better value for money and enhanced customer services.

The Local Government (Charges) Bill is a fairly short and straightforward legislative instrument. The revenue stream to which it will give rise — while not insignificant at some €40 million annually — could not be described as large in the context of overall local government spending. Nonetheless, its importance cannot be measured simply in these terms. The Bill establishes a new funding source for local authorities, one that is genuinely local in that it derives from revenue raised locally and that will be expended for local purposes. By broadening the revenue base of local authorities, the charge can properly be described as a ground-breaking initiative. I hope it will receive a general welcome for that reason.

Arguably, it would serve the interests of local democracy still better if local authority members themselves determined, perhaps within certain limits, the level of the charge, as is the case for commercial rates. There may be scope to devolve other aspects of the charge to local authorities also. These are issues we may well revisit at a future date, and I welcome any views Deputies may have on these matters. I thank Deputies for their co-operation in facilitating early consideration of the Bill and commend it to the House.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Bannon and Deenihan.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  The Bill before the House, the Local Government (Charges) Bill, is probably the most confused legislation brought before the House by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government since he took office. With no disrespect to the Minister of State, I am disappointed the Minister is not here to explain how he could have put such proposals to the Cabinet some months ago and have made such major mistakes with regard to the application of the charge that he must now amend these mistakes in the Dáil and Seanad. The Minister accused me, the Fine Gael spokesman on the environment, of being mischievous in raising issues relating to the elderly, but now we have amendments before the House in order to put into effect the concerns expressed by Fine Gael.

[59]The disrespect shown by the Government to the people by rushing this important and far-reaching legislation, which creates a precedent with regard to property tax, through the Oireachtas is unacceptable. The decision to rush through a new property tax with only one day’s debate is unprecedented in any parliamentary democracy. It seems always to hold true that every time legislation is rushed, mistakes are made. The Minister has made many mistakes in this legislation already and perhaps before the day is out, we will, in the short time available, have teased through some aspects of the Bill and have found other exemptions are required.

Glaring faults were immediately obvious in the Minister’s proposals and this Bill is no different. The fact that such a Bill, with little or no thought put into it, can be approved by the Cabinet is very worrying. Fianna Fáil Cabinet Members clearly made no observations or submissions to the Minister on the legislation. The Cabinet has approved the Minister’s attempt to put a property tax on the elderly who reside in nursing homes and on those who built granny flats to care for their elderly parents. It even allowed for a tax on mobile homes until it was forced into an immediate U-turn after the Minister got an earful from the Joe Duffy radio show.

The Minister will claim that it was never his intention to levy these taxes on the elderly and carers, yet that is what his legislation set out to do when it was published. How nobody in Government saw the blatant anti-elderly bias in the published version of the Bill is astonishing. One would almost believe that forces at work at the highest level of Government set out to make old people’s lives more miserable. Of course, this is untrue.

The truth of the matter is that these ill-thought out provisions are the result of an incompetent Government. These mistakes are the results of its own actions. The Government is complacent and mistakes are made. One would wonder what mistakes will be made on serious legislation such as the implementation of the National Asset Management Agency if mistakes like these are made on such a short Bill.

  3 o’clock

Besides the attack on the elderly, there are other significant problems with this Bill. The inclusion of Bord Fáilte approved self-catering holiday homes is another example of the Government failing to see the bigger picture. Self-catering holidays are the backbone of the Irish tourism industry. These homes are not simply homes, but businesses. Bord Fáilte registered and listed homes already pay charges in the form of registration fees and other annual business charges to local authorities. The Fine Gael Party leader encouraged people to holiday at home in Ireland this year to keep money in the Irish economy. It is a bizarre display of inconsistency that the Green Party Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who would be against excessive air travel, is now imposing an additional tax on the indigenous tourism industry. Self-catering homes will have little option but to pass on the cost to their customers, difficult and all as it is to get customers in the current climate.

The Bill is an attempt to address the many problems of local government finance. As such, Fine Gael accepts the principle of putting a charge on second homes, in order to assist local government financing. However, we are opposed to some of the details of the Bill. Many local authorities throughout the country are in significant financial difficulty due to the collapse of the building industry, business rates and development levies. The local authority in my area, Kilkenny County Council, had a €7 million income from development levies in 2008. It budgeted for €3 million in 2009 but the most recent target is €1 million. This is the extent of the difficulties with which local government is faced for the remainder of the year in carrying out much of the planned capital works that require development levy contributions to make them happen.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s tinkering with the car tax system last year contributed to the almost complete collapse of that industry and the [60]resulting loss of tax for the local authorities. Galway County Council is reportedly losing a €1 million a week. This week, Sligo County Council stated it had no prospect of balancing its budget this year, and I have no doubt the same problems arise in many other local authority areas. Notwithstanding the economic difficulties the country is facing, after two years in office, the policy pursued by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has contributed to many of the problems that are faced in the financing of local government at present. What will result is a drastically reduced level of service and the elimination of any meaningful impact on the capital programme, particularly for water and waste water services which are urgently needed in the context of meeting our deadlines for the water framework directive in 2015.

What has been the Minister’s response to this financial crisis in local government? It is a tax on second homes that was put together without thought and then rushed into the Dáil today. In this time of emergency and crisis, it is not half-hearted measures that will get us through but wholesale reform of local government. The Minister has talked about local government in the context of the Green Paper and he promised we would have a White Paper by the end of 2008. He was not able to take the hard decisions and set out his programme before the local government elections in June of this year. He has talked big but his only real proposal for reform is to have a directly elected mayor of Dublin, on which we do not know the powers or the extent of the remit of the position. He is expecting us to buy and pig in a poke in regard to accepting this proposal without knowing what level of impact and power will apply vis-à-vis the management system in the four local authorities in Dublin and, more importantly, what meaningful impact this position will have on the welfare and well-being of the citizens of Dublin next year.

Any new tax measures for Dublin have been put off until the Commission on Taxation report is published. While I welcome the expected publication of that report in the coming weeks, this new tax to help pay for the failing “business as usual” model is a waste of taxpayers’ money. It has been 15 months since the Government published the Green Paper and, although we want to see action on local government reform, we want a comprehensive White Paper published sooner rather than later because we are already seven months behind schedule.

What local government in Ireland, not just Dublin, needs is dramatic reform. Fine Gael has painstakingly set out its local government reform programme whereby we want to bring all of the various agencies in a locality together under the accountable remit of local government. Too many agencies are operating at arm’s length from the State in local areas without any proper mandate at local government level. These are the kind of agencies that could make a meaningful impact in creating employment in many of our urban and rural areas if they were at the coalface of interaction, where they should be.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, who was a member of a local authority, will appreciate that over the years there has been a massive centralisation of power in the hands of the Executive and central Government at the expense of local government. I do not agree with this and believe we need a programme of devolution that will give a meaningful role to the local councils. The only way this can be done is to devolve functions and responsibilities, and co-ordinate all of the agencies that are operating from various Departments through the local government system.

This new tax is supposed to raise €40 million but it has no hope of raising that sum in 2009. To begin with, we do not know the extent of the information that is available at local government level and we are relying on the Private Residential Tenancies Board, the Revenue Commissioners and the ESB. The Revenue is probably the body best equipped to know what is the registration of each property and it has the necessary powers and remit to be able to get that information. It could then transfer funds to the local government system. I do not accept the local government system will be up and running as quickly as the Minister anticipates in order [61]to collect this amount of money in the current year. Instead of compensating for the €30 million reduction in the funding of the local government that was recently announced, we will make a bad situation worse in terms of the funding deficit at the end of the year. I put forward an amendment which suggests that the Revenue Commissioners should collect this tax in the first instance and until such time as the local government system is able to cope administratively with new taxation.

Fine Gael has published the details of its local government programme and the Minister should take them on board in order to ensure there is a vision for local government. We are often accused by Government of not coming forward with constructive suggestions as to how we could deal with many of the problems in different areas, although we on the Opposition side do this regularly. The document I have given to the Minister for his perusal is another example but the only response is that we are told to await the outcome of another report. It is time for action because the country cannot afford inaction. It is widely expected there will be difficulties in the next budget and that there will be a need for reform in all areas, so why not start now by ensuring we have a meaningful local government structure? We should not delay in issuing the White Paper for local government, including in regard to financing, on which difficult decisions will have to be made.

In the meantime, there are programmes which require serious expenditure, such as the water services programme, on which the Minister has set out his stall and boasted of the extra money he has received in order to make the biggest single investment in water services in the history of the State. Now, however, because of the reduction in development levies at local authority level, we will not be able to start many of the anticipated projects this year. How will we achieve our objectives in regard to meeting the water services framework directive as drawn up by the European Commission by 2015 if there is no serious attempt to make the necessary investments in water and waste water services? If we do not do this, we will have to pay fines to the Commission which, as everybody would agree, is a waste of time.

In principle, I have no difficulty with charging a modest fee for second homes. We believe a service charge is required for provision of second homes in local authority areas. However, as one can see from the research, this will mean different things in terms of funding for different parts of the country. It will be welcome for some areas, particularly Dublin and the west coast, but the midlands will suffer disproportionately due to inactivity on the second home and holiday home front.

It is not appropriate that the self catering businesses which are approved by Fáilte Ireland, many of the them in the Minister of State’s, area near the River Shannon, should be included as part of the process of levying the €200. With the best intentions and all the assurances in the world that this €200 charge will remain €200, we all know that once a charge is introduced, it does not always work out that way. At a time when we have many demands on programmes and demands by the Exchequer and the Minister for Finance for additional resources, the €200 could very quickly become €400 or even €500.

The principle has been accepted but the exemptions are important to ensure we do not penalise people who, through no fault of their own, have made investments and are paying tax in other ways and paying contributions through the local government system, including elderly people who live in the same area as their families. How the Minister could not see that this should be included in the exemptions is beyond me. I encountered another case today involving a 90 year old lady who has two family members living in apartments at the rear and the side of her house. Since the property is in her name the house and the two apartments at the side and rear will be liable for the €200 charge. These are unforeseen circumstances with which the Minister of State should be able to deal. The two family members are helping out to ensure [62]the elderly parent can stay in the general vicinity of the family home rather than institutionalised care. These are the anomalies we must address in the legislation and I trust the Minister of State is open enough to deal with the matter as quickly as possible.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I welcome the principle of the Bill as Deputy Hogan has done. It has major implications for a county such as Kerry which has a very substantial dependency on tourism. According to the 2006 census there is a possibility of earning up to €4 million in the county through the charge on tourist accommodation. In the overview presented by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, it was suggested that because of the amount of rental accommodation Dublin City Council could earn up to €14 million. Vast revenue earning opportunities exist for local authorities. Local authorities set rates and water charges. Although it is not contained in the Bill, would it be possible for local authorities to set their own charges on property? That may be a matter for the future but it is at least a possibility that local authorities could set their own charges depending on the conditions and the demands of a certain area.

I acknowledge the Minister has accepted some amendments. However I make a special case for the self-catering tourism sector, a very important part of tourism in counties such as Kerry with which I am familiar. I refer to a particular case, that of a person I visited last week. The man in question is concerned about this Bill and the imposition of the €200 tax. He pointed out that he already pays high registration fees to Fáilte Ireland, VAT on rental moneys received and his water is metered by the local council. He is required to have a BER, building energy rating, certificate. He advertises in self-catering magazines, marketing brochures and through web and printed media. He employs contract cleaners and facilities for visiting tourists which I saw including playgrounds, saunas and an indoor hot tub. The proposed charge will be another imposition.

Deputy Hogan has tabled an amendment which would exempt self-catering accommodation from this charge and I urge the Minister to consider it. The Fáilte Ireland survey of 2008 indicated that tourists in the self-catering sector add approximately €1 billion to local economies throughout the country. There are self-catering units throughout the country, including the midlands, and they are a very important vehicle for rural development. They provide very good value and bring tourists to areas they would not normally visit. My concern is the imposition of this charge together with the imposition of all other charges may encourage some of those involved to leave the business entirely. I realise it is only €200 but it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It might create a very negative reaction by some of those involved. The number of Fáilte Ireland registered and approved self-catering homes has been in sharp decline in the past two years. The exemption need not apply to every self-catering enterprise, only those which are registered. I wish to focus on this issue and I hope the Minister of State is listening to me. Such a measure would have two effects. It would encourage people to register and, as a result, there would be a higher quality product.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  The charge does not apply to anyone paying commercial rates anyway.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Those who have self-catering units pay——

Deputy Michael Finneran:  Not everyone pays commercial rates. It is a matter for the local authority.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I refer to those registered with Fáilte Ireland. The Minister of State and his official may wish to clarify the matter. The impression of the individual with [63]whom I spoke, a very credible operator who does a very good job, is that he will be liable for the tax. This should be clarified.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  Clearly the person is not paying commercial rates.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  No, but he pays water rates. He is not paying commercial rates but he is registered with Fáilte Ireland. If the charge is introduced people will drop their registration with Fáilte Ireland, simply pay the €200 charge and this will lower the standard with which they must comply. I wish to focus on that issue and I hope the Minister of State will consider the matter seriously. It will be discussed on Committee Stage and I will have another opportunity to examine the matter then, but an exemption should apply to those registered with Fáilte Ireland. It would encourage people to register with Fáilte Ireland and raise standards.

Deputy James Bannon:  This is extraordinarily disturbing legislation. Shockingly, one of its main thrusts seems to be yet another attack on the elderly. What appears on the surface to be legislation to impose a charge on second and holiday homes follows a pattern set by this heartless Government in its quest to restore the public coffers, which it criminally squandered in the first place. The Government is attempting to find any method possible to squeeze every last cent from those who deserve respect and comfort in their old age, not an assault on their purses.

I call on the Minister of State, who comes from my area——

Deputy Michael Finneran:  This is nothing to do with the elderly.

Deputy James Bannon:  ——to close his eyes, not in the 40 winks manner described by my colleague, Deputy Lee, but to allow a mental image to form. I call on the Minister of State to imagine the lifestyles of the majority of our elderly citizens who are forced into nursing home care. The Minister of State should contrast that with the picture of the lavish lifestyles of our bankers, higher paid civil servants and the Galway tent brigade. Does it not disturb the Minister of State to dwell on these mental images? It should do so since he comes from a rural part of the country.

Even with my eyes firmly open, it is a contrast too great for me to bear. The elderly and vulnerable are usually extremely reluctant to leave their family home and go into institutionalised care.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  This is nothing to do with the elderly.

Deputy James Bannon:  The only thing that makes this more bearable is the thought that they might perhaps at some stage return home. It seems the Minister of State is now cruelly telling them that their home is not their home, that the nursing centre is their primary dwelling and their family home is merely a second home. This is in addition to 80% of their income due to go on care costs and 15% of the value of what the Government is, in certain circumstances, pleased to acknowledge as their primary residence, to be taken after their death. This, combined with the withdrawal of 20,000 medical cards from the over-70s, is a shameful record for this Government. It is appalling that legislation can be drafted which leads to a perception such as this, even if the action was never intended. The stress caused to the elderly at a time when they have earned a peaceful retirement is inexcusable, regardless of whether it is the Minister of State’s actual intent to impose this charge.

The intention to include granny flats in the levy is equally disturbing. What Government would acknowledge the kindness of a person, who is prepared to give over a part of his or her [64]property to accommodating an elderly relation, by imposing a €200 levy as a reward? Only one word springs to mind for such an action and that is “cruel”.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  Everybody knows they are not liable.

Deputy James Bannon:  The Minister of State’s constituents will meet him on the doorsteps on this one at the next general election and I hope that election comes soon.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  The Deputy knows they are not liable. He is putting inaccurate information on the record of the House.

Deputy James Bannon:  It is particularly puzzling when one considers the benefit to the State of having the burden of the provision of care removed. I am particularly concerned that this levy is being debated at this point when residential property tax and domestic service charges are being mooted. If these are imposed, will the elderly person in the nursing home then end up paying a treble tax on the house that is not being regarded as a primary residence, but rather a second home for the purpose of this legislation? This will in all probability become a residence for the purpose of the residential tax. The law may be an ass, but it is in the ha’penny place compared to the actions of the Government.

If one considers the rapid rise of the so-called registration fee for third level colleges which will amount of €1,500 this September, the introduction of a €200 levy, while unacceptable in the short term, has far more worrying long-term implications. The Government has a worrying record of stealth taxes, which is what this levy is. It is an attempt to make good the shortfall in funding for local authorities at the expense of the middle income earners, who as always will be hardest hit. Those who raised a mortgage to buy a place in the country, as opposed to a mobile home or a villa abroad, as a means of saving have invested heavily in the area into which they bought and they pay tax on the income if they rent the property.

The Government actively encouraged people to buy rural properties. Does the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, not realise that the countryside is awash with unsold properties? This is particularly evident in my own county of Longford and also in County Roscommon. These properties are becoming derelict and will soon be a blot on the landscape. This is the result of the sham Government schemes which have led to the destruction of the countryside, particularly our small villages. Many of the developers responsible for the rash of now unsold or unfinished estates were in bed with the Galway tent guys. Second-home buyers who fell for the Government spin are now being rewarded by the imposition of this levy. Ironically, if they had merely bought a mobile home they would be exempt. This is a farce as some mobile homes are worth far more than small rural properties and yet, due to public outcry, they will be exempt from taxation. The public are flexing their muscles as they realise that the louder they shout, the easier it is to get the Government to do a U-turn. This happened on Joe Duffy’s show only two weeks’ ago.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  There is a bit of a show on here as well.

Deputy James Bannon:  As the Government has cut over 3% annual funding from local authorities, it sees second-home owners as the fall guys to take the hit and make good the deficit. I realise the position is extremely difficult for many local authorities with the picture becoming increasingly one of debt and rapidly rising bills.

Another area I would like to see the Minister of State reconsider is the imposition of the levy on the owners of rented properties.

[65]Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Ardagh):  The Deputy has only half a minute left.

Deputy James Bannon:  In the interest of fairness, this charge should be levied at least equally between the owner and the tenant. The tenant has absolute rights over the rented property and the services provided and, therefore, the tenant should be responsible for payment of at least a percentage of the charge.

Acting Chairman:  Thank you very much, Deputy Bannon. I am afraid the Deputy has used his time.

Deputy James Bannon:  There is huge anger being voiced right across the midlands. It would be wrong of me, as a public representative from a rural constituency, to let this go.

Acting Chairman:  I call Deputy Ciarán Lynch.

Deputy James Bannon:  There is huge anger being voiced by the farming community.

Acting Chairman:  I think the Deputy has had enough time.

Deputy James Bannon:  It is the keening at the wake for our national industry, put to death by this Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government ——

Deputy Michael Finneran:  What section of the Bill is that?

Deputy James Bannon:  This legislation is another example of the lack of joined-up thinking which is graphically highlighted by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government on a daily basis.

Acting Chairman:  I ask Deputy Bannon to have a little respect for the Chair, please.

Deputy James Bannon:  Shame on the Minister of State.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I wish to share my speaking time with Deputies Joanna Tuffy and Martin Ferris.

Listening this afternoon to the Minister of State’s contribution on Second Stage, to Deputy Phil Hogan and to the Joe Duffy show last week, one would have a certain degree of trepidation as to what will happen here in the House this afternoon. There is a significant difference between what is a good idea and what is good government. We have witnessed this in a number of proposals from the Minister, Deputy John Gormley’s Department to date. It was proposed that self-detonating a nuclear device in Ireland would become an illegal act and it would incur a fine of €5,000 if a nuclear bomb was set off in the State. This is one of the proposals coming from the Minister.

Not so humorously, last year, the method for VRT registrations was changed. This had a significant and very damaging impact on the motor vehicle trade. Everybody knows that people buy their cars at the start of the year. The introduction of a change in the taxation regime in the middle of the summer had a direct impact on the sequencing and purchasing of new cars. There is a direct correlation between the Government’s policy on VRT and the situation in the motor trade. The Government policy is not entirely to blame but it came at the beginning of a difficult period for the motor industry and there is no doubt that the figures in that year relate to the management of the VRT taxation system.

Last week, along with other Members of this House and people right across the country, I listened to the Joe Duffy show. This was legislation carried out on the airwaves. The Minister’s intention does not seem clear. The Bill in its initial draft was specific with regard to mobile [66]homes. This was not a misinterpretation or some ambiguous reading or misreading of the Bill. It was a stated fact that mobile homes would be included as part of this new charge. I await the Minister’s reply this evening. What is the intention behind this charge? Is it a second property tax? If so, is it a form of indirect taxation? If it is taxation, questions must be asked about its equity and fairness.

I dispute Deputy Bannon’s argument. A mobile home depreciates in value from the moment of purchase and will never appreciate in value because it is six sheets of aluminium or steel which will depreciate over a period of time. Regardless of how bad the property market is now, a small property will always appreciate over the long term. One is not comparing like with like. Properties, by definition, have a leasehold or some form of deed of title.

Debate adjourned.

  1.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the potential and planned spending cuts across his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29661/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Planned expenditure levels for my Department will be considered as part of the Estimates and budgetary process for 2010. This will include consideration of the report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes.

It would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage pending the outcome of these deliberative processes.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  That is a poor response. The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Mary O’Rourke, spoke about the an bord snip nua report this morning and said it should be in the public domain. The Minister has been in consultation with an bord snip nua. The Minister should put on record the plans he put before the board.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy will be aware that we did not make any proposals. We were asked questions about the various programmes. We gave an outline of those programmes and it is up to Mr. McCarthy to make up his mind and make his decision on what he feels might or might not be cut to ensure the levels of expenditure generally across Government are reduced. The Deputy will be aware that we are talking in terms of an adjustment in the coming budget of €4 billion in total between tax and revenues. I am sure some elements of that will fall on the Department of Transport but until the deliberative process is finished I am not at liberty to say anything further.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister has not given me any facts. Did the Minister distinguish, in the discussion with an bord snip nua, between capital and current projects? Did he distinguish between national priorities in terms of transport infrastructure? The key point that he and his Department should have made, if they did not make it, is that it was never cheaper to build infrastructure projects than it is now and that, on average, they are coming in 20% less than what was the case in the previous year, and may be even less again next year. The [67]process sounds like a confession box in which no confession was made. The an bord snip nua man was there, the Minister was on his knees but he said nothing. It is clear he said nothing and therefore the axe may fall universally on his Department rather than on where the waste is located. What proposals, if any, does the Minister have in terms of current expenditure cutbacks or efficiencies?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy seems to be under some misapprehension as to the process in regard to an bord snip nua. I did not talk to an bord snip nua. I had no contact with it. I was not asked to have any contact with it. An bord snip nua can make whatever recommendations it likes but at the end of the day I will outline my priorities and those of the Government. If programmes are suggested for cuts, whether capital or current, I will make a judgment on that and make my views known at that time.

  2.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on recent meetings with taxi workers and their representatives; his views on a moratorium and major reform of the taxi regulatory system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28929/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Officials of my Department recently met representatives of several different organisations representing taxi interests. They set out the concerns of their members relating to the taxi industry including, in particular, in relation to taxi numbers. The taxi representative bodies were encouraged by the officials to participate fully within the advisory and consultative structures provided for under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 to ensure that their views, including those in relation to the economic review of the sector, are taken into account by the Commission for Taxi Regulation, which is the agency charged under law with the regulation of the taxi industry.

The Taxi Regulation Act 2003 does not provide for a moratorium on taxi numbers and the recent economic review concluded that a moratorium is not warranted. The Commission for Taxi Regulation has recently completed a major public consultation on the economic review and is currently preparing proposals for the further development of the taxi industry for consideration by its Advisory Council. I understand the commission expects to finalise its development proposals in August.

I will consider the outcome of this work, the views of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and the views of the representatives of the taxi industry, consumers and consumer interest groups insofar as they relate to my statutory responsibilities.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Is it not time the Minister told us where he stands on a moratorium on the issuing of taxi licences because he is the Minister who has presided over a collapse in standards and a free for all in the taxi industry? Many Deputies, particularly those on the transport committee, have been inundated with complaints about cloned vehicle licences, illegal licences of different kinds, drivers without the proper knowledge of the region in question, the poor state of vehicles, safety issues and, most recently, investigations by the media such as the Evening Herald and The Sunday Times into the ease with which one can legally buy a roof taxi sign or a full taxi package. Roof signs are only €180 approximately. There is a litany of abuses in the industry and, at the same time, the recent Goodbody report highlighted that the income of taxi workers has collapsed, down to approximately €11 an hour, which is just above the minimum wage, although drivers who are members of Taxi Drivers for Change and the taxi unions tell us that incomes have collapsed by anything from 25% to 40%.

It is very difficult for taxi workers to put bread on the table for their families. The Minister is presiding over that with an ineffective and failing taxi regulator who has now granted licences [68]to almost 28,000 drivers and approved more than 27,000 vehicles in the case of this city. More licences are being issued for this city than for the city of New York with ten times the population. The Minister is presiding over that failure of regulation. On the regulator, for those 50,000 drivers there are only nine enforcement officers — nine inspectors for 50,000 workers. Is it not time the Minister stopped shilly-shallying and came forward with a moratorium?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It would be helpful if the Deputy knew the structure for the control and regulation of the taxi industry. It would make answering some of his questions a little easier. In addition to that, matters legal and for enforcement are a matter for the Garda as well as the taxi regulators.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  This is utter nonsense.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will call the Deputy again but allow the Minister to answer the question.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  As the Deputy should be well aware, both the Garda and the transport officers are involved, and we have approximately 14,000 gardaí in the country.

On the economic review, the Deputy has selectively quoted from that. He fails to note that the economic review also states that taxi journeys have increased by 25% in recent years.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  As has the population.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is an increase. Demand has grown by 25%. The number of cabs has increased from almost 3,000 in 2000 to almost 27,500 in 2008.

The current status of the industry, according to the Goodbody report, from the point of view of vehicle standards, knowledge and so on, is that “current overall level of cab services provided in Ireland as well as vehicle quality, vehicle cleanliness and helpfulness of drivers is good”. The Deputy is being very unfair to the taxi regulator but there is only one taxi regulator and 27,000 taxi drivers. They have included a new uniform and new fare structure, new national vehicle standards, better customer information and redress complaint mechanisms, including a national information line. They have provided for a new skills development programme, for this year for new drivers and for 2012 for existing drivers. There has been a streamlining of the administration of vehicle licensing, a strengthening of enforcement and the establishment of a national register of licensed vehicles.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Minister does not have the required knowledge of how the system works. Is it an offence to sell a licence on a particular number or not? Gardaí tell us it is not.

The Joint Committee on Transport has discussed this issue for the past nine months. We have listened to all interests and have consulted with consumers and passengers. We have taken advice from a senior counsel who says it would be possible to introduce legislation to suspend the allocation of licences for a period, using a legal device known as a sunset clause, to allow time to bring in a proper system of regulation.

The Minister and his Cabinet colleagues presided over lousy regulation of the financial system and planning. The country is suffering from a poor regulation regime. This is affecting the taxi business and the Minister is responsible.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am aware of the work of the CTR. I am also aware of the work done by the Joint Committee on Transport. A process of consultation is under way and the [69]fair and reasonable approach is to wait until all of that work is compiled, look at it and then decide if further action is required in the areas for which I have direct responsibility. I will do that.

  3.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress that has been made in the implementation of the Deloitte report on efficiency reforms in Dublin Bus; the timetable for the implementation of set objectives; his plans to restructure other areas of CIE and Dublin Bus in the immediate future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29662/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I understand from Dublin Bus that it has commenced implementation of the recommendations of the Deloitte report. The implementation process includes the application of the principles identified in the report, such as the amalgamation of route legs and the use of even headways between buses, as part of its cost recovery plan. The company has also commenced work on the review and redesign of the network in line with the Deloitte report and Dublin Bus is targeting mid-2010 for the completion of this work. This involves a detailed review of the 18 main route corridors served by Dublin Bus. I am informed that Dublin Bus is rolling out automatic vehicle location, AVL, and real time passenger information on a depot by depot basis with the first depot to be completed by the end of this year. Once AVL has been introduced this will enable Dublin Bus to provide real time passenger Information, RTPI, by way of Internet or mobile phone access. Funding has also been set aside for Dublin City Council to enable the installation of RTPI display signs at bus stops in a similar fashion to those at Luas and DART stops.

Both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are introducing a single smart card in the greater Dublin area on a phased basis over the period to early 2011. Dublin Bus introduced a “disposable” smart card in 2008 for its current range of prepaid tickets and more than 30 million smart card transactions take place every year.

While I have no plans to restructure other areas of CIE and Dublin Bus in the immediate future, my Department is currently developing public service contracts for the annual compensation paid to the CIE companies in respect of their PSO services. These contracts, which will replace the current memoranda of understanding, are due to be in place by early December.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I have met with Dublin Bus representatives. I am happy with the way the company resolved its industrial relations issue, and particularly with how it gave priority to new people coming into the company and allowed older people who wished to take voluntary redundancy to do so.

In a contracting economy, the situation has worsened for people who need public transport. People cannot afford to drive as much as previously and there are fewer buses on the road. What plans do the Minister or Dublin Bus have to improve services? When funding is cut the company cannot provide service.

The Dublin Transport Authority was to have been set up earlier this year. Will it be in place before the end of the year? When it is set up, will it give priority to this area?

Integrated ticketing was to have cost €12 million. It has cost €18 million to date and is still not fully in place. Taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this project and it is not working as well as it ought.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The total cost of integrated ticketing will be €54 million. The amount spent so far is €19 million.

[70]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  A sum of €12 million was the estimated cost so far.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes, to the stage it is now at. The estimated total cost was in the region of €49 or €50 million. When tenders came in that was revised up to €54 million. That is the figure we are looking at.

I hope the Dublin Transport Authority will be established and operational before the end of this year. The new chief executive officer has been notified of his appointment and some matters remain to be finalised in that regard. As soon as the person is in place we will establish the board itself and move forward.

I join Deputy O’Dowd in commending Dublin Bus on securing agreement for a new streamlined service and for the necessary economies. The plans for improvement do not need extra money. The recommendations of the Deloitte report will save money. I meet Dublin Bus representatives every four to six weeks to discuss the Deloitte report. The company has set up a steering group which is dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the report.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Deloitte recommendations would save Dublin Bus approximately €2 million per major route. The key point is that new areas of population have no bus service. With its finite resources, Dublin Bus will not be able to provide these services. What attractions is the Minister providing to private companies to come into the market, as was promised ten years ago?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I accept the Deputy’s basic point. I am sure Bus Átha Cliath will take note of the fact that there are areas where there are no services. I have seen some maps which illustrate this lack. There is nothing to stop private sector companies from operating in those areas. The forthcoming public transport Bill, which will reform the 1932 Act, will be a big help in attracting the private sector.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It takes years to get the consent of the Department of Transport and to get a licence.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  No, it does not.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I can give the Minister a few examples.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  There have been difficulties in the past. The 1932 Act is slow and cumbersome and is not fit for current purpose.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Absolutely.

  4.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the indicative completion dates of all planned public transport capital projects; the delays that are currently being experienced by these projects; the status of other public transport capital projects as detailed in Transport 21 but have not yet entered the planning phase or are not subject to contractual obligations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29663/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Significant progress has been made in the delivery of the ambitious programme of works to upgrade our public transport system set out in Transport 21.

A number of public transport projects have already been completed. The new Docklands railway station has opened and Irish Rail has completely modernised its intercity rolling stock. The new Portlaoise traincare depot is open and operational and new stations have also been provided at Parkwest-Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin-Fonthill and Hazelhatch-Celbridge. All of [71]the Luas trams on the Tallaght line were lengthened by 10 m, increasing the capacity of that line by 40%.

Further major works are also in progress on other public transport projects, some of which will be completed this year. These are the Cork to Midleton rail line, phase 1 of the western rail corridor and the Luas extension to the Docklands. Apart from six that were damaged in transit, the remainder of the new intercity railcars will also enter service on the national rail network this year. Work is progressing on the Luas extensions to Cherrywood and Citywest, phase 1 of the Kildare route project and phase 1 of the Navan rail line project. All of these will complete construction within 18 months.

Funding for an automatic vehicle location system, AVLS, and real-time passenger information, RTPI, has also been made available and these projects will be rolled out over the next 18 months. The integrated ticketing project is also well advanced and the single smartcard for the GDA will be introduced on a phased basis over the period to early 2011. Major investment in Iarnród Éireann’s railway safety programme is ongoing. Progress is also continuing on the delivery of bus priority measures in Dublin and the provincial cities. By the end of this year, more than €2.5 billion will have been invested in new public transport infrastructure under Transport 21.

Regarding projects not yet at construction, I have stated a number of times that the provision of increased capacity will continue to be a key consideration in determining investment priorities for public transport. Given their potential to increase capacity on the public transport network, metro north and the DART underground are key projects. Continued investment in increased bus capacity and bus priority measures are also priorities. The bus-related investment will be guided by the Deloitte cost and efficiency review of the CIE bus companies and the availability of current funding for public service obligations. The selection of projects and programmes will also be guided by the overarching priorities of strengthening the productive capacity of the economy and sustaining employment.

The planning of the other major public transport capital projects identified in Transport 21 is continuing and they will be released for construction as soon as they are through statutory procedures and subject to the funding available during the current difficult economic climate.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The current economic climate is key. Does it mean that all of Transport 21’s objectives will be followed through? There has been speculation in the press regarding metro north and west. Will the Minister comment in this regard? Metro north, which everyone present favours, is predicated on a Government decision to proceed. It has not received the final green light.

Where there are contractual obligations, I presume that they must continue. Where there are none, will the Minister provide an amended Transport 21 plan for 2015?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Like the Deputy, I have been reading consistently negative comments in newspapers about metro north for as long as I have been in my Department and even prior to that time. Metro north is some people’s pet hate and they continue to feed this feeling into the media.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Yes.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  However, the project’s situation has not changed one iota. It is one of Transport 21’s two key public projects. As the Deputy is aware from newspaper reports, it is being delayed in the planning process.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  This week.

[72]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The two preferred tenderers are in place. As soon as the planning and tendering processes have concluded, the cost-benefit appraisal will be carried out. Once it proves positive, which I am certain will be the case, construction will commence.

Any contracts we have signed must be honoured and those projects will continue. As to which projects might fall foul of the economic circumstances if they do not improve, I will decide nearer the time. In deference to our time limits, I will not name all of the projects listed in Transport 21, but I intend to continue providing money for planning and to make them shovel ready. At that stage, we will make the decisions in light of the economic circumstances.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister can add any additional information in a tabular statement that will be included in the Official Report.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister and I agree on the objectives. He stated that the projects without contractual obligations will continue until he must make the decision to say “Yay” or “Nay”. What is metro west’s position in this regard?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Its next stage, the railway order, is under consideration. No final decision will be made on the project until we get that order.

  5.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will outline the progress to date in reducing the legal blood alcohol level to 0.5 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood; the introduction of compulsory testing of alcohol at road traffic accidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29664/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  A road traffic Bill that, inter alia, provides for a reduction in the blood alcohol concentration levels for drivers is nearing completion. The preparation of legislation takes time and I am sure Deputies will agree that it is important to get it right.

The Bill will take account of the blood alcohol concentration levels proposed by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, last year. The implementation of the new levels, when the legislation has been enacted, will require the recalibration or replacement and subsequent recertification of both the roadside breathalysers and evidential breath testing machines in Garda stations. The Bill will also include provision for the mandatory testing for alcohol of drivers involved in road traffic collisions and provisions for field impairment testing, that is, non-technological methods by which gardaí can make a preliminary assessment about the possible presence of drugs. A number of amendments will be included to improve the effectiveness of the fixed charge and penalty points system.

As Deputies will be aware, we have seen a sustained reduction in the number of people killed on our roads. For example, 2008 saw the lowest number of road deaths on record at 279, despite the fact that, in the past decade, there has been a 40% increase in the number of drivers and a 70% increase in the number of vehicles on our roads. Fatalities in the year to this morning number 128, down 18 from the same date last year. It is important to maintain this momentum. As everyone knows, each fatality and serious injury is a tragedy for families, friends and communities. I am confident that the provisions in the road traffic Bill will contribute to significant further improvements in road safety.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  I welcome the Minister’s report. In 2005, there were 396 road deaths. Last year, the figure was 279, a decrease of 117. The RSA was established due to the outcry about the slaughter on the roads. Many initiatives have since been taken. I would push to the limit the education of young people.

[73]The Minister knows of the considerable input provided by Mr. Michael Finnegan, a road safety officer in our county, in educating people on not drinking and driving. This is the bottom line. People should find a way to get to and from places without drinking and driving. Young people follow this message because they will not sit into a car being driven by someone who has been drinking.

The other issue is speed. Given the drastic number of sergeants leaving the Garda force, I am concerned that we will not be in a position to patrol roads. Nothing is more striking than the sight of a garda or a patrol car on the road. One will cut one’s speed. The reduction in law enforcement numbers will affect everyone. In one station in Dublin, seven of nine sergeants have left.

We all know what must happen, but it has not yet come about. When will the Garda begin testing for drug driving?

  4 o’clock

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The sooner the better. My most recent information in this regard is that, unlike the breathalyser and so on, there is no effective roadside test for drugs. However, drugs can show up in blood and urine samples, so there is some level of detection of drugs. Anecdotal evidence indicates an increasing number of people are being caught with drugs, but not necessarily alcohol, in their system. With a view to having roadside testing for drugs, we are involved with a high-level group at European level that is trying to develop a means of carrying out reliable roadside tests. The Australians are trying out systems at present and if they prove successful, we will consider them.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  In Australia, where roadside tests were carried out, it was discovered people are five times more likely to have drugs in their systems than alcohol. Addressing this problem is crucial. The Oxegen concert is taking place this weekend and it is essential that we avoid the carnage that occurred last year.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I agree with the Deputy and I join him in appealing to those going to the concert to drive safely.

  6.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on airport security following recent proposals by an airline (details supplied) to request all passengers to carry their own luggage directly on to the aircraft; his views on whether such a measure would be compatible with standard operating procedures at national airports here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28404/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  While I am aware of recent press articles about suggestions by the airline concerned that it plans to stop passengers checking in any baggage from next year, my Department has not received any proposal of this nature to date.

Security measures specifically in respect of both cabin and hold baggage are currently in place as part of the overall aviation security regime in the State. These measures are in accordance with EU regulations on aviation security and must also comply with the national civil aviation security programme. Any proposed changes to current procedures would have to comply fully with all EU and national aviation security requirements and therefore would have to be approved by the relevant national authorities in all jurisdictions concerned.

[74]Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Reports suggested that Ryanair was considering a system whereby passengers would carry their main baggage through the check-in area and on to the tarmac and put it into the hold of the plane. Perhaps on landing, a passenger as fit and nimble as the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, might hop into the hold and hand out the bags to the other passengers. This was to be one system. The other that the chief executive of the airline is apparently considering involves airplanes on which everyone would stand and perhaps hold a handgrip like those on the tube or DART. On a serious note, given that both our airlines have instituted steps to enable baggage to be swiftly transferred at least to the point where one boards the plane, are there security concerns that must be considered?

Is the Minister prepared to ask the Department of Finance to publish the cost-benefit analysis it carried out on the travel tax, which is due to yield only €95 million this year? It is alleged by the industry——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is beyond the scope of the question, which concerns airline security.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I am broadening the question because it may well be that these kinds of loony proposals for cutting costs are the result of the imposition of unnecessary and counterproductive charges, such as the travel tax. Can we have the cost-benefit analysis of the Department of Finance on the travel tax?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call the Minister. Deputy Broughan takes two minutes for his one-minute slot.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  There is no such document and the tax was proposed on the back of a cigarette box.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I do not know why the Deputy would seek a cost-benefit analysis that he knows does not exist. I am not quite sure about his logic.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I asked because the Minister will not be able to produce it.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I will provide the Deputy with a very quick cost-benefit analysis, not even on the back of an envelope. The tax is €10 per passenger and the benefit will be €95 million this year and €156 million potentially in a full year. A month ago, I asked the Deputy where he would get the €95 million we would have to forgo if we did not impose the tax and I am still awaiting a response.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Government jet would yield approximately €10 million.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Is the Deputy proposing to sell it?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I refer to the Government jet and the chopper that brings the Minister home to Navan.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Perhaps the Deputy will suggest disbanding the Army? Has he any other proposal?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  It could be done.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  On a serious point, I heard the suggestion about standing on airplanes some days ago. I had not been aware of it and all I could do was laugh. I am still [75]laughing. With regard to security, there are rules and regulations stipulating what baggage one can bring to certain points in airports. These will be, and must be, enforced strictly.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I attended the European Aviation Conference in Strasbourg last Monday and the issue of logistics associated with baggage arose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question?

Deputy Pat Breen:  My question is coming; the Leas-Cheann Comhairle should not worry. At the conference, the cost of scanners was mentioned. Many of them must be upgraded at a cost of millions of euro. Scanners, particularly those for hand luggage, only scan luggage weighing under 10 kg. Therefore, the logistics of trying to enforce the proposed system are not feasible.

I have a serious question on the issue of having passengers stand on airplanes. There was an application in this regard from a Chinese airline called Spring Airlines, which I understand is very serious about the proposal. This is a security matter. The airline proposes to have passengers stand while wearing seat belts and to cut down on food and water. It will be like getting on and off a bus.

Deputy Broughan referred to the travel tax. Ireland is the only country in Europe imposing such a tax to yield revenue to make up for bad governance.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss that issue.

Deputy Pat Breen:  There are travel taxes in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere. In the United Kingdom the revenue is ringfenced for sports, and so on. Will the Minister comment on that?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister may reply on the part of the question that is relevant.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is not the practice to comment on specific security measures that are in place or which might be implemented at any of the State’s airports. As I stated to Deputy Broughan, passengers are not permitted to carry certain articles into security-restricted areas or the cabin of the aircraft. Obviously some such articles are permitted in checked-in, hold-destined bags. Any change to current procedures would have to be approved. Any change must be put to the national civil aviation security committee, which is chaired by a senior official from my Department and includes airline pilots and representatives from various Departments, including the Department of Defence, Customs and Excise and the Irish Aviation Authority.

  7.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects to introduce a lower drink driving blood alcohol limit; the reason for not meeting the deadline as set out in the road safety strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28490/09]

  24.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    when legislation will come into effect to reduce the drink driving limit. [28344/09]

  35.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will reduce the legal blood alcohol level from 80 mg per 100 ml to 50 mg per 100 ml; if this measure will be provided for in the new road traffic Bill; when this Bill will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28386/09]

[76]

  64.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has not published the new road traffic (amendment) Bill; if he will include a provision for the mandatory testing of all drivers involved in a road collision in the legislation; the other key headings and objectives of the bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28385/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 24, 35 and 64 together.

In my reply to Question No. 5, I outlined the provisions on blood alcohol concentration and mandatory testing that will be included in the road traffic Bill, which is nearing completion. Clearly, I cannot at this stage specify when the new regime will come into place as the passage of the legislation will be a matter for the Oireachtas. As already mentioned, the new limits will require the recalibration or replacement of roadside breathalysers and evidential breath-testing machines in Garda stations.

The Bill will also provide for several amendments to existing legislation to improve the effectiveness of the fixed charge and penalty points system.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Will the maximum blood alcohol level recommended by the Road Safety Authority be included in the Bill? Does the Minister intend to have graduated penalties? Existing legislation permits the Minister to make an order to allow those whose blood alcohol levels are less than a certain limit to consent to surrendering their licences immediately and go off the road voluntarily, thus preventing their having to appear in court and eliminating the expense of court action. He has not made such an order to date.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy is referring to administrative penalties. We stated on another occasion that the provisions in section 5, although in law, have never been commenced.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  That is right. The Minister has not commenced them.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The administrative penalties come under section 5. The Garda, the Courts Service and various others have a strong desire to ensure section 5 would become operational because it would free up significant time for the Garda and the courts. There was a difficulty about records and establishing what happened over the previous five years but that has been overcome and I hope to be able to put that into effect for many of the offences. On the other issues, because the Government has not approved the Bill I can say only that I take my advice on limits from the Road Safety Authority, RSA. It has advocated a reduction from 80 mg to 50 mg and to 20 mg in certain cases.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Will the Minister expand on his point about what he will actually do in respect of this section?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I have the same question. We are still waiting for the road traffic legislation. When will it be published? Will that be when the Dáil is not sitting? When can it be implemented? It is reported that last night at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting the Minister met severe opposition to the introduction of the 0.5 mg level, presumably from those representing vintners. Is the Minister seriously committed to implementing the RSA recommendation because the record shows that 37% of all fatal crashes involve alcohol and it is also a factor in approximately 50% of crashes involving young men. Will the lower, 0.2 mg limit, be in the legislation in respect of professional and learner drivers?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Bill will take account of the blood alcohol concentration levels that the RSA proposed last year. I cannot anticipate Government decisions on this. When a few issues about fixed penalties are sorted out I will bring the final draft of the Bill to Govern[77]ment. It will be published as soon as Government has passed it and I hope it will have a speedy passage through the House.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I have raised the matter of fixed penalty points in question No. 9 so I will postpone that discussion. Will the Minister commence the section soon that provides that someone who has a low blood alcohol concentration but is technically over the limit can opt to surrender his or her licence on the spot without going to court? Can he give us a date? How will that operate?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Section 5 of the 2006 Act provides that if a person whose blood alcohol concentration is found to be between 80 mg and 100 mg accepts that fact and takes the fixed penalty he will be fined €300 — I think that is the fine — and will have to hand up his licence. Instead of going to court where he would be disqualified for 12 months he would be automatically disqualified for six months. That is the provision and we will operate on that principle.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  When does the Minister intend to commence that?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  We have to make a change to the Road Traffic Bill to make it feasible because there was a difficulty about the five——

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We will not see it before Christmas.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It will be ready sometime in the autumn.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Mandatory testing at crash sites will be part of the Bill but is the Minister concerned that so many deadlines for the actions on the timetable in the road safety strategy are being missed? He has not delivered any of the following, the change to the blood alcohol concentration limit, due in the second quarter of 2009; action 72, the graduated driver licence, due in the third quarter, 2008; action 41, the random roadside mechanical checking programme, second quarter of 2008; action 34, the new speed limit engineering guidance for setting speed limits, third quarter of 2008; above all, action 26, the 6,000 hours of cameras, second quarter 2008; and action 23, the full roll-out of the traffic corps, fourth quarter 2008. I could go on. The Minister has failed again and again. Does the Minister recall the day he launched the strategy in the presence of Gay Byrne, Noel Brett and the rest of us? Is it not deplorable that he has missed so many targets in the road safety programme? Is he serious about this?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This is the subject of a later question but the Deputy will be delighted to know, because he usually celebrates all our successes, all the actions listed for 2007 have been completed. A total of 24 actions of the RSA, which is the lead, or joint lead agency are under way and most are completed. A range of other actions across the road safety strategy, some of which were not due until 2010 and 2011, have been completed. I would like to stick to the indicative timetable as much as possible but sometimes the opportunity arises to do something further down the list and that causes slight delays in the earlier part of the list. The important point is that the road safety strategy is being implemented and is having a significant effect.

  8.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    when the chief executive officer, CEO, for the Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, will be appointed; the estimated salary for the new, CEO of the DTA; the person he plans to appoint to the board of the DTA; the [78]mechanism for appointing members of the public to the DTA board and advisory body; when he will publish promised legislation to transform the DTA into a new national transport regulator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28383/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  My Department is proceeding with preparations for the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority during 2009. A key part of those preparations is the recruitment of a CEO. The necessary recruitment process has now been concluded and I expect to be in a position to announce the outcome in the near future. The annual salary for the CEO post will be €211,363.

In accordance with section 14 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the Minister for Transport is responsible for appointing the members of the DTA. Membership of the authority will comprise a chairperson, three ex officio members and six ordinary members. The chairperson and six ordinary members must be persons who, in the opinion of the Minister for Transport, have wide experience of transport, industrial, commercial, financial, land use planning or environmental matters, the organisation of workers or administration.

Last March I invited applications from people who wish to be considered for appointment as an ordinary member of the new authority. The purpose of the application process was to encourage people who believe that they can make a positive contribution to the development of the transport system in the greater Dublin area to put their names forward for consideration. The process yielded 66 applications, which I am considering. The procedure for the appointment of the 24 members of the Dublin Transport Advisory Council is set out in section 17 of the 2008 Act.

In January 2009, the Government approved the general scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill which contains proposals for a new bus licensing regime which will replace the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. It is proposed that responsibility for bus licensing and public transport services contracts nationwide will be assigned to the DTA under the Bill, which will also provide for the absorption of the Commission for Taxi Regulation into the DTA. The Bill will also provide for the renaming of the DTA as the National Transport Authority given its proposed national focus in relation to commercial bus licensing, future bus and rail subvention and the regulation of small public service vehicles. The draft Bill has now been prepared and has been circulated to Departments for observations. On their receipt, it is my intention to seek Government approval for the publication of the Bill as soon as possible.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Is the new chief executive from this country? The Minister said it was an international competition. On the appointment of members of the public, it is good news that a number of people have put themselves forward for that position. It was my view on Committee Stage of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill that the people should elect the key members of the board, as would happen in many other countries. These are people with an expertise and interest in the matter.

Will the criteria for membership change now that the body is to become the national transport authority rather than just one for the Dublin area? We spent approximately 13 hours on Committee Stage of the DTA Bill because it was so significant but is the Minister envisaging any of the powers of the regulator being changed in any way in the new Bill? For example, what will be the ability of the new regulator to grant bus contracts and other public contracts for the whole of Ireland?

I presume the new national transport authority will now have authority over all public service contracts throughout the country. Does the Minister envisage that the licensing Bill will bring about the final changes for that to happen and what will be the timeframe on it?

[79]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will call the Deputy again. Otherwise we will lose track of all the questions.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It was difficult to keep up. With regard to the composition of the authority, I do not anticipate the need to change the criteria for people who will go on the DTA when it changes to a national transport authority. The same types of skills — a wide experience in transport, industrial, commercial and financial land use, planning or environmental matters and the organisation or workers and administration — mean such people can stay as they are. I may have to consider a geographic spread of the people involved.

From 9 December this year, all PSO contracts and subvention will be subject to a contract, and any new PSO will be subject to open public tender from any operator, public or private. The DTA will administer all of that. When the national transport authority comes into existence, it will look after the licensing at the time and it will have the responsibility which currently resides in the Department.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will call on Deputy Broughan so as not to break his sequence. I will then go back to Deputy O’Dowd.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  When does the Minister envisage the Commission for Taxi Regulation will be absorbed? Does he agree there is an ideal opportunity to change the remit of the taxi regulator, which relates to some of the points I made earlier? Deputy O’Dowd mentioned the next matter earlier. What is the final timeframe on integrated ticketing in the greater Dublin area?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  We hope to have the Commission for Taxi Regulation absorbed into the national transport authority as quickly as possible. There are considerations regarding transfers of staff and so on that will have to be taken into account, and some industrial relations matters will also have to be dealt with, along with pensions and so on. It will happen as quickly as possible because we want to build up a critical mass in the DTA at an early stage.

What was the second point? It was something unrelated to the original question.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I asked about integrated ticketing, which is a key task.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is expected to have it completely rolled out at the end of 2010 and early 2011.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  When the Bill went through the Dáil I made the point that the Minister should have opted for the national transport authority as the DTA has limitations. One of the problem areas relates to counties Meath and Louth. Much of the Bill is excellent, particularly as it relates to land use and strategy but, for example, planning permissions in County Meath must conform to transport plans, while in County Louth they do not need to regard them at all.

It is very important for that anomaly to be cleared up around the country because when the economy recovers and the building industry picks up again, we want to ensure there is joined-up thinking, with transport plans linked to housing estates rather than what has happened over the past 12 years.

With regard to licensing, which currently resides with the Department, I presume that authority will go to the DTA or the national transport authority when it comes along. There have been many cutbacks in Bus Éireann around the country and people are up in arms over them. I was told that two years ago Bus Éireann in Drogheda requested from the Department a [80]consent to vary a route so as to include a railway station in the mornings. It has waited two years for that decision.

Is the Department operating in Soviet Russia or why is there such slow and unacceptably ridiculous decision making and bureaucracy? Why will the Department not approve the route straight away?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is extending the boundaries of the question.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  To the Kremlin only.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  If the Deputy had given me some notice I could have informed him on that issue. I have had similar complaints from Bus Éireann in Deputy Broughan’s area and from other Deputies. Nearly every time I went to investigate, I found that the company had started a service which was in direct competition with an existing service that was licensed. It was told it could not do so under the terms of the 1958 Act and that it had to seek consent. If it had sought consent it would be dealt with. In about 80% of the cases, consent was not sought but the company complained about not getting the service. I do not know if that is the case in Drogheda but I will check it out.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  In this case there was no competition.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I agree with the Deputy’s other points. We had a discussion on the DTA Bill and I wanted to get the DTA element through at the time. The Deputy rightly pointed out that we would return to this issue and I indicated that I would introduce proposals for a national transport authority. We are doing this because it is important to get the land use and transport.

  9.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals to improve the fixed charge processing system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28523/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Some 36 fixed charge offences under the Road Traffic Acts are covered by the Garda fixed charge processing system. If a person makes a payment of up to €80 within 26 days, or a higher payment of up to €120 within a second period of 26 days, a prosecution will not be proceeded with. Some 31 fixed charges also attract penalty points. An Garda Síochána operates the fixed charge system itself.

There is ongoing liaison between my Department, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, An Garda Síochána and other parties, including the Courts Service, on the effective enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts, including the fixed charge system. As a result of these contacts I will take the opportunity in the forthcoming road traffic Bill to introduce measures to amend certain provisions relating to the operation of the fixed charge and penalty point system to improve its effectiveness and to support the better use of the resources of the gardaí and the Courts Service. My overall objective is to maximise the number of cases dealt with under the fixed charge system rather than proceeding to court.

Implementation of the system itself in accordance with the legislative provisions in the Road Traffic Acts is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The key point is that the Courts Service is being clogged up and Garda time is being wasted. The figures we have for 2007 show that in the first six months, 88,000 people chose not to pay the fixed penalties and court notices were issued. Some 23,700 [81]were struck out, 43,000 were not served and only 14,000 resulted in fines. That is extremely unfair to people who opt to pay their fines and not go to court.

The key change the Minister must make is to introduce a default position whereby if people opt not to go to court in the first seven days or whatever, the level of the fine should be automatically increased if it is not paid within 20 or 40 days. As I understand it, the Courts Service is being prevented from doing its normal work because it is obliged to process these minor infringements, which were never intended to go before the courts in any event. The sooner the Minister introduces legislation to amend the position, the better.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy raised this matter on previous occasions and has pursued it quite vigorously in the interim. As a result of issues he raised on a previous Question Time, I asked the officials of my Department to examine the position. They did so, in consultation with the various interested organisations, and it is our intention to bring forward proposals which can be discussed in the context of the Road Traffic Acts.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I welcome that development.

  10.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has explored interest with domestic and international private bus operators to enter the market here to compensate for reduced and lost bus transport systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28503/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  In recent years, private bus operators have shown a much stronger interest in the provision of bus services and are now well established in parts of the national bus market. They compete with Bus Éireann on most of the major national routes in and out of Dublin and provide some limited services within the Dublin metropolitan area. The provision of public bus services on specific routes or to service particular areas is an operational matter that must be determined by the State bus companies or by private bus operators.

The Road Transport Act 1932 provides the statutory basis for regulating the provision of public bus services by private bus operators. Under that Act, it is open to such operators to submit proposals to my Department for licences for the provision of bus services. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are not subject to the 1932 Act. However, they are obliged to notify my Department with regard to the initiation or alteration of a bus service and they must obtain my specific consent under section 25 of the Transport Act 1958 where a proposed new service or an alteration to an existing service would give rise to competition with a service licensed under the 1932 Act.

In January 2009 the Government approved the general scheme of the public transport regulation Bill, which contains proposals for a new bus licensing regime for all commercial services. This new regime will replace that provided for under the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 which relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. In accordance with the programme for Government commitment, the proposed licensing regime will provide a level playing field for all bus market participants.

The general scheme of the Bill also contains proposals for extending nationally the contractual arrangements for the procurement of bus and rail services established in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in respect of the greater Dublin area. That Act provides that future growth in the market for subvented bus services will be addressed by public service contracts entered into following open tendering processes.

[82]The Bill will assign responsibility to the Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, for bus route licensing and the award of public service contracts nationwide. Given its proposed national responsibility in respect of commercial bus licensing, bus and rail subvention and also the regulation of small public service vehicles, the Bill will also provide for the renaming of the DTA as the national transport authority. In the light of Government approval of the general scheme to which I refer, the draft public transport regulation Bill has been prepared and circulated to Departments for observations. When the latter are received, it is my intention to seek Government approval for the publication of the Bill at the earliest opportunity.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Has the Department received any approaches from companies from outside the State which may wish to provide services here?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am not aware of any such approaches being made. However, there are a couple of companies which operate in Ireland, the parent companies of which are located abroad. One of the latter has its headquarters in Singapore. I met representatives of that company when I visited Singapore, either last year or the year before, to examine its transport system. I am not aware of any formal approaches being made to the Department in respect of the provision of bus services but I will check on the matter for the Deputy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Joint Committee on Transport discussed the issue of international operators in the context of the relevant European directive. Did any discussions take place with international companies in respect of that matter? For example, I understand there may have been discussions with some Polish companies.

How many applications for bus licences — of any type — are currently lodged with the Department in respect of which decisions are awaited? How long does it take the Department to process such applications? Are there any ongoing legal disputes involving the Department and any private bus operators?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Approximately 600 licences are on issue in respect of public bus passenger services being provided by private bus operators throughout the country. In the first half of this year there has been an increase of over 40% in the number of applications. The total number of applications received for the first six months of 2009 was 152. Applications for annual passenger licences during that period increased by over 100% when compared to the first six months of 2008. It is clear, therefore, that something is happening in the market.

I am informed that no undue delays occur in respect of processing either bus licence applications for private operators or notifications from the State bus companies. In 2008 the Department received in the region of 500 applications for proposed services. These comprised applications for new licences from private operators, amendments to existing licences and notifications from the State bus companies. Some 90% of these applications were processed in 2008. Almost 100% of the remaining 2008 applications had been processed by the beginning of this month. A total of 601 cases were finalised in 2008, comprising 447 applications received in that year and 154 that were outstanding from previous years.

The aim is that, where possible and once all the necessary information has been provided, applications are processed with weeks of being received. In view of the level of complaints received, I insisted that this be the case when I took up my portfolio.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  So a problem did exist.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes. In addition, difficulties continue to arise in cases where State bus companies or private operators make prior applications. In such circumstances, one appli[83]cation must be processed before the other. Of the 336 cases received up to 7 July of this year, 72% have been processed, that is, an offer has been made to the relevant operator.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  The bus service provided by Bus Éireann in the west is particularly bad. In 2005 Bus Éireann agreed to commence providing a range of services between Knock Airport and the surrounding towns. The Minister and his Department were lobbied in respect of this matter. In March 2007 — oddly enough, prior to the general election — the department decided to sanction the provision of such services. To date, however, a service to the airport has not been provided. Will the Minister indicate the position with regard to this matter?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The matter to which the Deputy refers is extremely specific in nature. If he tables a parliamentary question in respect of it, I will endeavour to obtain the information he requires. If it took two years to process the application — I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the Deputy’s claims in that regard — then information must have been outstanding and this prevented the making of a decision. The fact that, two years after the licence was granted, bus services are not being provided, indicates to me that the fault may not lie with the Department.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I wish to raise one closely related point and thank the Minister for the statistics. It is the first time Members have been provided with such statistics, which will enable Members to evaluate what is happening——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should be brief, as I wish to include one last question.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Are there, at present, one or more legal disputes between the Department and a number of companies?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes, I am sure there is one or more.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Can the Minister provide information on them to Members?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy should drop a note to me and I will try to give him any information I can.

  11.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will make future funding to CIE contingent on the company producing a strategy for ensuring a more sustainable fleet and for progress in implementing the Deloitte report on bus efficiency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28527/09]

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Public service contracts with the CIE companies are due to be in place by early December. My Department will consider the inclusion in those contracts of provisions relating to emission standards to be met by buses and rail rolling stock and the implementation of the recommendations of the Deloitte report relating to the bus companies. A number of initiatives have already been undertaken across the three companies to ensure more sustainable fleets.

The complete renewal of rail rolling stock, funded under Transport 21 and earlier investment programmes, has resulted in a more fuel-efficient fleet, which generates less emissions. Iarnród Éireann has also in the past two years achieved energy savings of 26% through the use of regenerative braking on its DART fleet. Iarnród Éireann also has fitted fuel shut-down modifications to much of the diesel fleet, thereby saving 3.5 million litres of diesel per annum.

[84]Transport 21 also has facilitated the introduction by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann of buses and coaches meeting EU Euro 4 standards. Both companies have been using bio-diesel in their tour fleets since 2006 and Dublin Bus is currently piloting a hybrid electric bus. The Government’s Smarter Travel policy, which I published in February 2009, provides that all public transport providers will prepare a plan for fleet replacement based on the most sustainable vehicle and fuel type.

The position in respect of the recommendations of the Deloitte report is that both Bus Átha Cliath and Bus Éireann have commenced implementation including, in the case of Dublin Bus, a complete review and redesign of its network to better meet the needs of its customers. The implementation of recommendations in the report relating to bus priority, integrated ticketing, bus licensing and the move to public service obligation, PSO, contracts are being pursued actively by my Department in conjunction with the key stakeholders

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I welcome the Minister’s reply. Will a percentage limit be placed on such companies? In other words, will an obligation be placed on the companies in order that, for example, 80% of their vehicles must use bio-fuels? What criteria will the Minister apply?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  My Department has asked CIE to have a blend of at least 5%.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  That is what was originally proposed.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes, that is what was originally proposed in the programme for Government. CIE purchases fuel for all three companies and its supplier has confirmed that in many cases, a 5% blend is applied by the fuel companies. In addition, both Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus have sought and received assurances that their new buses will be able to accommodate a 30% blend without affecting their warranty. They are pursuing the goal that any new buses will have a usage of 30%

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  While I welcome the thrust of the response to the question, would it not be advisable to make provision in the new legislation for all bus operators to be obliged to have more sustainable fleets, in order that the low CO2 emissions required of the captive fleets of the national companies would be applicable to all companies? I note in particular that recently, both Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus bought large new fleets contingent on the expansion of their service but the Minister then peremptorily, and as part of the Government cutbacks, slashed their allocations and forced them to rely on older fleets. Is this not part of the problem? Will the Minister include in the legislation a requirement to make it incumbent on all public transport operators to have more sustainable fleets?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is quite to the contrary. The fact that Dublin Bus now operates with fewer buses than it used to recently——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The service has worsened. One now waits for 20 minutes instead of waiting for ten minutes.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The average age of the fleet has been improved——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  It now will begin to decline.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  ——and the company now has buses that are much more fuel-efficient.

[85]I will make one point in this regard. Costs must be taken into account and the cost of bio-fuel increased by 46% last year. This factor must be taken into account.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputies Margaret Conlon, Seymour Crawford, Rory O’Hanlon and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin — the removal of acute medical services from Monaghan General Hospital on 22 July 2009; (2) Deputy Lucinda Creighton — the commitment of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to introduce legislation for a directly elected mayor of Dublin in 2010, the need to establish how far advanced is this proposal, what the implications will be for the role of the current position of Lord Mayor of Dublin and the type of budget and executive powers that are envisaged for the directly elected mayor, as distinct from the Lord Mayor; (3) Deputy John Perry — to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to outline the guidelines in place or planned for local government authorities in the matter of the cost-benefit analysis procedures and methods to be followed in assessing proposals for their larger capital expenditure projects, and if he will consider extending the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General to include the larger local authority capital expenditure projects; (4) Deputy Joe Costello — the need for the Minister for Health and Children to resolve the bed crisis in the Mater and St. James’s Hospital; (5) Deputy Bernard Allen — the situation where there are 3,700 persons awaiting optical services on the north side of Cork city and the explanation given that applications could not be processed because the clerical officer is on maternity leave, unlike the south side of Cork city where there is no waiting list and services are offered within one month of application; (6) Deputy Ciarán Lynch — to ask the Minister for Finance if it is his intention to provide sufficient finance to continue the provision of area co-ordinators in the family mediation service in the southern and western regions and if he will make a statement on the matter; (7) Deputy Simon Coveney — to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to outline in detail where stands the Cork docklands project now, what the Government is planning to do to incentivise investment though taxation and gateway funding for this project, where the report completed last summer by the docklands policy committee is and if he will outline its findings and his Department’s plan to work with the local authority on its ambitious plans for the Cork docklands project; (8) Deputy Denis Naughten — the need for the Minister for Health and Children to ensure that elderly people in County Roscommon can avail of the enhanced nursing home subvention; and (9) Deputy Paul Connaughton — the non-eligibility of unemployed persons on jobseeker’s benefit to participate on community employment schemes.

The matters raised by Deputies Margaret Conlon, Seymour Crawford, Rory O’Hanlon and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Paul Connaughton have been selected for discussion.

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

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Approximately 26 minutes remain to Deputy Ciarán Lynch.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  As I mentioned just before the debate was adjourned, I wish to share time with Deputies Joanna Tuffy and Martin Ferris. How much time remains in my slot?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Six minutes.

[86]Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Previously, I was discussing the manner in which the Bill has been managed to date and the need for clarity. I seek clarity in this Second Stage debate regarding the real intention behind the measure that has been introduced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, I also seek specific clarity on a particular matter. During the last Question Time in which questions were directed to the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, I asked him what was the position in respect of development levies held on account at present by local authorities. At the end of 2007, a total of €1.5 billion was held on account.

This sum entered the public domain on foot of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General that showed that €1.5 billion was held on account by local authorities nationwide. I asked what was the position in respect of this money because at the outset of this year, a circular from the Department was issued stating that all existing moneys held on account by local authorities was now to be ring-fenced and only spent when measured against income for 2009. Therefore, a local authority can only spend €1 million or €2 million in development levies, if it is in receipt of a similar income this year. This is the elephant in the room. This Bill provides for a €200 charge on second dwellings that has the potential to raise perhaps €40 million. Moreover, that is before one considers potential difficulties in respect of administering this scheme or in collecting moneys in County Donegal and Border regions in which the owners of such properties may live in Northern Ireland. The question will arise as to how one can get the money from them or whether it is legally possible to so do.

However, even if two thirds of the aforementioned funds have been spent since the start of 2008, it would mean that €500 million remains held on account nationally. I refer to moneys to which developers, builders and home owners contributed under the development levy to have specific critical infrastructural and recreational works carried out in their communities. Will such work be done or not? If such work is not to be carried out, I question the legality of people handing over a tax for specific works to be done in their communities while, simultaneously, the Minister issued a directive to the local authorities to the effect that this money cannot be spent. Will developers ask the Department to give them their money back? This money was collected for a specific reason and will not be spent for the foreseeable future.

The Minister’s circular letter, FIN 03/2009, issued in February 2009, indicates no timeline in this regard. Consequently, the development levy moneys that local authorities have on account will remain frozen for the foreseeable future. At the conclusion of the Second Stage debate, the Minister should provide some further clarification in this regard. His response in the House that day, when I believe the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was in the Chair, appears to contradict the evidence given to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the previous day by the County and City Managers’ Association. Its representatives were categorically clear that development levies that are held on account at present or up until 31 December 2008 can only be spent against moneys accrued in 2009. That is a substantial sum of money. It puts the sum of money we are talking about this afternoon in the ha’penny place. It is something on which local authorities must be given a clear answer. This is particularly true for people who are living in developments that were built in recent years when development levies were accrued and who are awaiting completion of vital infrastructural and recreation projects.

In the course of the debate on Committee, Report and Final Stages, the Labour Party will table amendments. One relates to an amendment tabled during the debate in the Seanad. I read with concern the Minister’s response to the Labour Party amendment on that day in which he said there was no legal standing for the amendment to recognise separated couples in a specific context. My legal advice is that the Minister is operating illegally. During the debate on Committee and Report Stages I hope the Minister receives legal advice rather than talking [87]on the hoof, as appears to have been the case in the Seanad. He might then come to the legal position of the Labour Party amendment, which is correct, so that he accepts there are different categories of separation in law.

The Labour Party will table amendments on the second home charge in respect of properties with an architectural or heritage value that are in a transitional stage, where the property owner may wish to hand it over to a national heritage trust, the Office of Public Works or another national agency and where the owner may be exposed to this charge over the transfer period. Unlike a development levy, which is paid over a period of time and index-linked, the cumulative cost of not paying the charge over a four year period runs into a significant sum. It increase from €200 to €4,000 over four years as a penalty. This is critical.

There was much confusion when this Bill was introduced. “Liveline” acted as a referee between callers and the Department to clarify what was happening. There was a massive U-turn on mobile homes and this reflects the cloudy thinking of the Minister on this issue. This is a consistent theme with the Green Party. We saw this on the Nuclear Test Ban Bill, part of a UN protocol to which Ireland is a signatory. The bizarre situation was that the legislation provided that someone caught detonating a nuclear device in the State would be fined €5,000. I do not know who would be around afterwards to issue the fine or collect it after a nuclear bomb exploded. This was poorly drafted legislation.

Another example is the motor vehicle registration tax. There is a difference between a good idea and good governance. The vehicle registration tax makes sense but should have been introduced on 1 January of any given year. The Minister introduced it in the middle of the calendar year. The dogs in the street know that the state of the motor industry is determined by cars being bought at the start of the year. The second hand car market is also dependent on turnover at this time. Since moving to the yearly registration system of 07, 08 and 09, this has become a critical factor in the industry. The registration immediately indicates the year of the car’s manufacture. Introducing a new tax regime in the middle of the year created a situation in which cars were not sold in the period, particularly in the case of diesel cars, because people were witnessing a significant drop in taxation. It was June or July when this measure was introduced and car sales started to drop. Other factors have had serious implications for the motor vehicle trade but this was the entry point at which the motor vehicle trade was in danger because of bad sequencing and timing by the Minister and his Department.

Whether this is a tax or a charge and whether it is indirect or direct, all payments by citizens to local or national government should be paid in equity and fairness. There are concerns about how equitable or fair this measure will be. There are fears that because this legislation is being rushed, Opposition spokespersons are not begin given enough time to examine what the Government hopes to achieve, given the number of U-turns the Minister and his Department have made to date.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  When this was announced in the budget it was called a charge. There was no mention of a tax. In legislation it is now being referred to as a tax and the Minister refers to it as a charge at times and a tax at other times. It is in between, neither one nor the other.

It is hard to know how if fits in with future plans for taxation and local government funding. The Minister made the point that this is the first time there is an independent source of local government funding in a long time but it is not part of a local government review. It is not clear that this is what the measure is about. The problem with the charge and the legislation is that it is not part of an overall plan on how to tax or charge people fairly to pay for public services. A flat charge that people pay irrespective of income or wealth is a blunt instrument. It is an ad hoc measure that goes back to the budget before Christmas, when certain measures [88]were introduced and then there was a U-turn. There was a U-turn in respect of mobile homes after the legislation was published. There is unfairness in this. It will hit people irrespective of how valuable their property is, their income or circumstances.

Will nursing home residents be charged this sum? How long will they be charged for? The charges may build up if they are not aware they are liable for it. Local authorities will not know if this is a property to be charged. Those in nursing homes who will be hit for the charge will also be charged under the fair deal legislation for up to 15% of the value of their houses. This will include those on modest incomes, on the State pension and who bought council houses from the local authority. The value of the house may be €150,000 and it may be the one thing the person intended to leave to the family after passing away. It is unfair to hit those people.

  5 o’clock

There are many anomalies in the Bill. It is not unlike bin charges as they were originally introduced, where there was a flat charge everywhere. In that case, many local authorities had a waiver system for those for whom the charge would cause hardship. There is a similarity because the charges attach to the property. If selling the property, one had to clear arrears and bin charges. I presume that is still the case. There is no waiver or consideration that someone might have a property subject to a charge but not have a major income. The nursing home resident is one example, another is a person with a second property but who becomes unemployed. That is why this Bill needs more thought and should have been part of an overall plan.

There is no return in services. This is allegedly a new income stream for local authorities but no extra services will be provided by them in return. It is to plug a gap in funding from the national Exchequer as the Government is cutting funding to local authorities. Whether it will make up the difference is questionable because it will create an inequality in terms of what local authorities receive through the charge. I understand that some local authorities will receive more under the charge than others and I hope the Minister speaks more on this aspect.

Material prepared for us by the Library indicates that Kildare, which is the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, will raise a low level of revenue through the charge. However, I know that Kildare is not unlike the area in which I live; it is part of the commuter belt and has huge needs. Issues have already been raised by Deputies from Kildare about the lack of funding as the local authority in north Kildare comes out unfairly with regard to local government funding. Huge demands are made on the services because of the huge numbers of families living in the commuter belt.

The implementation of this tax is another example of the Government’s policy of ad hocery and crisis management — it is not part of an overall plan — and it is an example of divide and rule whereby the Government picks on a sector of the population which it has decided is doing great. Many of those hit will be people on middle incomes. Other examples of this are the public sector pension levy and the proposals to introduce third level fees.

It is easy for someone to state that he or she does not have a second property — I do not — and to shrug his or her shoulders. I know some people who built holiday homes and who privately rented out accommodation benefited from the various tax reliefs introduced by the Government over the years and there is a certain amount of equity in the fact that they might be hit for a tax now as they legally avoided tax under the various tax structures put in place by the Government on holiday homes and the development of property in incentivised areas. However, many who will be hit by this tax did not benefit in that way. We need to consider how to tax, levy and charge people in a way that is fair and has the common good in mind. The outcome should be to ensure that what we do in terms of our taxation and spending policies are for the common good. None of that is behind this legislation.

[89]Fine Gael differs from the Labour Party on the point of third level fees. Is third level education for the common good? I believe it is and that it does not matter whether it is my children or someone else’s who receive third level education. It benefits all of us and our economy so why pick on students and tax them? We all benefit from third level education and we should pay for it through a fair taxation system not pick out sectors of the community, make them pay for it and treat it like it is a consumer good, which I believe Deputy Brian Hayes of Fine Gael did in his article in The Irish Times today.

Why did the Government appoint a group of unelected individuals to come up with cuts? Why does the Government not have an overall vision of how it will tax and use the money collected to bring about a better society? There is no vision in this; it is all part of a very negative approach of which an bord snip nua is one example.

I also want to discuss cutbacks because although this is an alleged new income source for local authorities they have been told to substantially reduce their expenditure. This means they are letting go temporary staff and not recruiting to fill vacancies that arise. They are not employing the people they used to for summer works such as cutting grass in local cemeteries. In a cemetery in my constituency the grass is up to shoulder height because South Dublin County Council cannot employ students to carry out this work during the summer, which it normally did. There is a rota of where to cut the grass in the various cemeteries and as a result families turn up to leave flowers for their relatives and have to wade through uncut grass. We also have other issues, such as uncollected litter at beaches.

Services are being reduced but the money saved must be weighed up against the money lost to the economy if the image of Ireland as a good clean country is damaged by not collecting litter. Will there really be savings? Most of the temporary workers let go by local authorities were on low incomes. They are now on the dole and are being paid to sit at home to do nothing. Local authorities had plenty of work for them to do. The wages they were being paid were not that much higher than what they receive on social welfare but they wanted to work. Last month, the shortsightedness of this type of cutback was borne out by the fact that county and city managers told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that they made a submission to FÁS to ask to be allowed to provide employment through FÁS schemes because they have much work to be done but do not have the workforce to do it.

The Government’s policy is shortsighted. We need a plan for the economy that takes into account the broader picture and looks at society as a whole to consider how best to impose taxes and spend public moneys.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  As others stated, this Bill is to be welcomed for addressing areas which were neglected for far too long. Any of us involved in local government who have party colleagues who are local councillors know there has been considerable resentment over the fact that holiday homes were not making a contribution to the cost of providing water, roads, sewerage facilities and other amenities in their respective areas. This was particularly the case in counties such as mine where there is a considerable number of such buildings which place a very high demand on those services. That is not to say that people object to people having holiday homes as individuals or to let commercially. However, it is only fair that they make a contribution and I welcome the provisions of the Bill.

I have submitted an amendment to section 3(3)(a) which deletes the reference to the €200 rate set by the Minister and transfers that right to local authorities which is best placed to decide. For this reason, I will oppose the Fine Gael amendment which proposes to give the power of collection to the Revenue Commissioners rather than to local authorities. This would add to the bureaucracy involved and local authorities would be more efficient at collecting such [90]a charge and would immediately have the money at their disposal to fund local services. That cannot be stressed enough, particularly in the present circumstances when local authorities are striving for funds to meet the demands placed upon them and provide such services for holiday homes. It is also to be welcomed that the Minister amended the original draft to provide that the revenue collected from holiday homes will be retained by local authorities and in that way go towards the provision of essential services, particularly as there are so many financial constraints at present.

I also welcome the fact that caravans will be exempt from the charge. The proposals with regard to caravans and mobile homes have been brought to the attention of all Members in recent weeks. Most people who own caravans are in the low income bracket of society and it is not right to put further constraints upon them.

The issue of commercially-let holiday homes has been raised and no doubt many Deputies received representation from the owners of such properties to ask to be exempted. There is a point to be made on the importance of holiday homes to the local economy and the fact they bring much-needed spending, particularly during the summer months; we can testify to that in rural Kerry, Cork and Clare. They bring significant benefit to the local economy and are much appreciated. Long may that continue. However, there is little ground for exempting them from the charge, given that residents of the counties concerned must pay local for local services and the fact the premises in question draw heavily on those services. Therefore, while I recognise the case being made, fairness requires that the charge should stand.

I also support the amendment to exclude from liability what are referred to as “granny flats”, premises built adjoining existing family homes in order to accommodate a parent or close family relation. These are a common feature around the country and play a vital role in care for the elderly by families. In light of the fact this represents considerable savings for the State, which might otherwise have direct responsibility for looking after such people, it is only fair such premises should be excluded from the charge, as proposed by the amendment in the name of Deputy Hogan. It is a good amendment and should be supported. I hope it is taken on board. The same applies to the amendment to exempt people who are currently in residential care and not living in their home, but who would be liable for the charge as the legislation stands. I support the proposal to exclude them from the charge.

Much of the Bill is welcome. I applaud the fact that those who drew it up and those who have brought it to the House have listened carefully to the proposals for amendments and to those who voiced their opinions in the media or through their representatives.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I wish to share my time with Deputy John Browne.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  In October 2008, as part of its budget, the Government announced it would introduce a €200 charge on non-principal residences. The legislation necessary to give effect to this was published by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, on 24 June 2009. The bill brought forward, the Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009, will give effect to last October’s budget decision.

The €200 charge proposed in the Bill will apply to the owners of residential rental property, holiday homes and vacant properties, unless the vacant property is newly constructed but unsold. It is estimated that the new charge will provide some €40 million in revenue to county and city councils each year and that the charges will be collected and retained by local authorities. This is a good step. However, the actual yield will only be known once collection of the [91]charges by the local authorities begins. The Bill represents the first important revenue stream for local authorities since the abolition of domestic rates over 30 years ago and it will provide access to much needed funds.

We all recognise that councils carry out very important work in the area of water schemes, road improvements, infrastructure and tourism, etc. However, some of that work has been jeopardised this year due to the drastic decline in development levies and other cuts. This new measure is significant in that it recognises that local authorities require a stable revenue stream that is independent of central government funding. These moneys will not only reduce local authorities’ dependence on central funding, but will provide a stable income stream, as this is not a transaction based tax. In other words, the charge will not be affected by economic conditions in the way that stamp duty or capital gains tax were.

The County and City Managers Association, CCMA, recently proposed the introduction of a local property tax as a mean of raising funds locally. The new property tax will be collected each year on a day known as the “liability date”. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will choose the liability date for 2009. Failure to pay the charge within the relevant period will result in a late payment fee of €20 for each month or part of a month that the charge remains unpaid. A grace period of one month will be allowed before the late payment fees start to take effect. Any unpaid charges will be a charge against the property. This means that if the property is sold, those charges will remain against the property for a period of 12 years. Non-compliance with the charge will be considered an offence.

The person liable for the charge is defined as the “owner”, that is the person to whom rent on the building concerned is payable, or would be payable if it was rented. The owner of the residential property shall be liable for the charge on the specific liability date and he or she shall pay it to the local authority in whose area the property is situated. The Minister may also increase the charge of €200 in line with inflation.

Not all residential properties are categorised in the Bill under the title “non principal residences”. Those houses that will not be subject to the €200 charge are those that are newly constructed but unsold, those of particular heritage value, those let by certain public authorities, those that are the subject of a shared ownership arrangement with a housing authority and those that are owned by voluntary housing bodies or those that are the subject of a contractual arrangement with a housing authority. As someone who was involved in the social housing area as a councillor, I welcome this on behalf of all the voluntary bodies throughout the country who do so much work in the area of voluntary housing and meeting housing needs.

The Bill provides for a number of exemptions from payment of the charge, such as the temporary ownership of a second home used for a short period while moving house. In this case, a person may have the €200 charge refunded, but must dispose of the original property within six months of the liability date. I welcome the amendment that specifically provides that those in nursing homes will not be subject to a €200 charge on their home. Granny flats will also be exempt, where the owners or parents live in the second house on the land within a specified distance of the main house. A person going through a judicial divorce or separation resulting in one of the spouses buying a second house will also be exempt, provided this is to be used as the main residence of the other spouse. Owners of principal private residences who occupy their property as their principal private residence, but who let out rooms within it will also be exempt from the charge.

I wish to comment on a number of other areas concerning local government. We all understand the importance of the functions of local government. I served on a local authority for a number of years, as I am sure did many Members before the ending of the dual mandate. Local authorities face significant issues, such as the provision of housing, the provision and [92]maintenance of roads, the maintenance of the environment and water and sewerage infrastructure. These are vital issues at this time. The county development plans are also of significant importance in each local authority area. Local councils work hard with planners to try and get the best deal for everybody within those plans.

Planning and enforcement are another issue. I compliment planners in the main, particularly those who in recent years fought and worked hard against the pressures for huge developments in our towns, villages and the countryside. They often got stick from us for that resistance, but I compliment them on the job they did. They held the reins as well as they could. We now concede we have an over-supply of houses and housing schemes in some areas. Developers went a bit mad in the Celtic tiger years, but those years are now over.

I must pay tribute to the planning officer in my area, Mr. Michael Lynch in the South Tipperary County Council. I pay tribute to planners who worked hard, despite criticism and who held the line. However, I now ask planners and county managers — I have asked the county manager in my county and his director of services to do this — to make the planning process more accessible, particularly for rural dwellers as there are many issues in that regard. A more accessible planning process would also act as a boost to the construction industry. Better incentives would encourage people with business ideas and plans.

I am aware of such people in my constituency who have found there is too much red tape and that planning approval takes far too long to obtain. Third parties are entitled to object, raise issues and appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I am aware of planning issues continuing for the past six years with regard to a hotel in my own town. This was a landmark building that ceased operating as a hotel and became derelict. Now a brave developer and his associates want to turn it into a badly needed car park, with 460-odd car-parking spaces and some retail units. This would be a lovely development for a centre of town site at a time when many towns, including my town of Clonmel, are dying and cannot survive because businesses are moving out from them to new clusters on the outskirts of towns. However, planning in this case has been an issue. An Taisce and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government both took appeals to An Bord Pleanála. This process has gone on for years but, thankfully, in recent weeks the board made a decision and gave the green light. I am concerned about An Taisce’s role. While it has an important role and is interested in conservation and other issues, some of its judgments, certainly in my constituency, must be questioned.

Delay will cause the loss of many projects because the process is too expensive, time-consuming and exhaustive. In many cases developers are forced to walk away. These issues arise in my own town of Clonmel with regard to major developments. An Taisce should be more up-front and have greater accessibility. Developers need to get the message immediately that a development is too large or has too much of an impact on the roads and not find this out following a series of meetings. One of the cases to which I refer comes under the remit of three local authorities, Clonmel Borough Council, South Tipperary County Council and Waterford County Council. It is a nightmare to organise and facilitate meetings, to get the people one needs at these meetings and to get the process on the road. It is costing too much, particularly for developers, is too cumbersome and is frustrating people with initiative.

I welcome the development of the new motorway. The travel time to Dublin has been significantly decreased, which is great for travellers from Cork and other areas on the route to Dublin. While I understand compulsory purchase orders are a tool that must be used, the non-payment to farmers, householders and ordinary families is an issue. While the road has been opened and the developer has been relieved of his duties, many landowners and families have been left unpaid, which is unfair. The contractor and those who worked on the road have been paid, rightly so, and the tolls are being paid by motorists travelling on the Cork section of the road, [93]so it is not acceptable that the families who expected to be paid under CPOs have been left in a position of uncertainty.

I have an issue with transient traders. I refuse to call them Travellers. Although I have heard their various representative bodies call them Travellers, they are not Travellers but transient traders who have come in marauding gangs onto huge tracts of land on the motorway. I do not know why this land was needed and, when it was not used, it should have been given back or sold back to the landowners. We have a major problem moving these traders from place to place. They do not pay rates, I doubt they pay income tax, despite driving the finest of vehicles, and they are very intimidating.

I visited a site on Monday where a new road was built to give access to lands which had severed by the new motorway. The road was blocked and I had to ask them to move to let me through. They questioned me as to what my business was on that public road. The gardaí and the council officials do their best, to be fair, but the Roads Act 1993 will have to be strengthened. I do not know if all aspects of the current Act are being employed by the county council. We are too slow to implement the legislation because these people need to experience the full rigours of the law. They create hell for everybody living in the vicinity, they intimidate people and they are carrying out business.

The businesspeople in all of our towns and villages pay their rates and insurance, and pay their staff, and they must deal with NERA and the many other agencies dealing with health and safety, food safety and so on which ensure standards are maintained. I would sometimes question whether the standards are too high and they make it extremely expensive for businesspeople to trade. The current debate on rates is based on wrong premises as it is based on a valuation from 2005 or 2006 whereas the valuation from, say, 2000 would be more realistic. People simply cannot afford to pay the current level of rates. Different statements have been made by the different parties in recent months with regard to freezing or lowering rates but we must seriously consider this issue because many business are unable, though not unwilling, to pay. While there were minimal increases in rates this year, there are increases year on year.

It is not easy for the ratepayers, for whom I feel sorry as they are the ones in the centre of our villages and towns carrying out business in the long term. Most are indigenous, family businesses which must pay all the time even though the business is being sucked out to the new developments on the outskirts of the towns. While I welcome that a new Marks & Spencer has opened in Clonmel, this type of development is sucking the business from the main streets and leaving semi-derelict areas in the main streets. Some property developers were too greedy and bought many properties and charged too high a rent. We have to force down the cost of business and this Bill should address this area, particularly with regard to rates, by allowing for other streams of income for local authorities.

The issue of cuts by local authorities has become a big issue recently, including in my constituency where the county manager informed a council meeting on Monday last that he must achieve €5 million in cuts before the end of the year, which is draconian. We should not need to have an bord snip nua — it is a terrible name — because we should have been minding the stable before the horse bolted, or before the tiger disappeared. My issue during the first round of cuts last year was that the first staff let go by the local authority were the ground, outdoor and temporary staff, who were the people providing the services on the ground. The local authority is top-heavy, with a plethora of managers, including the county manager, the director of services and many engineers, but it is the staff working in services on the ground and in amenities who are let go.

This policy will cost more in the long run. If we have a bad winter and maintenance is not done, the roads will be significantly undermined, particularly given the effect of climate change. [94] We have seen the result of heavy rain in Mayo and Donegal, which has caused much damage to roads. It is more foot soldiers that we need; we have all chiefs and very few Indians, if the House will pardon the pun. This is happening throughout the country. When I first joined the county council, there was a county manager, county engineer, county secretary and a range of engineers, and there is now a plethora of directors’ services and their staff, most of whom got their bonuses last December in the middle of this crisis.

I pay tribute to the staff of the local authorities, who work very hard and are often criticised. The outdoor staff must deal with all kinds of situations, including some very unsavoury ones such as when the traders leave. We pay for our bins and pay our litter fines but these people leave a mess behind them. Who must look after this? It is the ordinary council workers. There are not enough of them and while they do a vital job and provide a good service, the dignity of the job is not being respected. They need to be supported and not made to accept cuts and three-day weeks and four-day weeks. Will we have the offices staffed but no staff on the ground to look after the necessary work?

Health and safety is an issue in this regard. There is no hedge cutting in south Tipperary and exiting from junctions and culs-de-sac is a danger. Health and safety has gone over the top in some areas but there are glaring anomalies and places where it is being compromised not just because of lack of resources, but also because of the management of those resources, which I seriously question. We will have to get the County and City Managers’ Association back before the committees of the Houses to try to get a change of emphasis. I feel very strongly about this issue. They are making it too difficult for people to trade and stifling initiative. There is the issue of parking charges and development charges that have been introduced in recent years. I supported them because many community facilities have received a good deal of money.

I compliment those who operated the scheme within the council as well for the encouragement they gave various communities. The local communities are the real enablers and nothing would be done in the community by Government or local authorities without them. These people endure sleepless nights and establish committees limited by guarantee to organise planning and they have the vision to put in place the infrastructure.

The community development levy for recreation schemes has been an asset, which is the reason I support it. However, we now must re-examine the matter. We need clarity because there are rumours that vast sums remain in local authorities’ deposit accounts. It is suggested these are from the levies paid on road, infrastructure and sewerage and water charges. The matter should be sorted out and the rumour is not appropriate but I am unsure whether it is true. It is suggested one council has a certain amount and another has yet another amount. However it is unclear if the money has been collected. If the money is available it should be spent and there is no point in leaving it holed up in a deposit account; it should be spent on the services needed. I wish the Minister well with the Bill and I commend it to the House.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I wish to share time with Deputies Breen, Shatter and either Creighton or D’Arcy. I support the concept of local charges. I was one of the self-destructive politicians that defended water charges when they were introduced in the 1990s. It is reasonable if I have a holiday home and I am supplied with services that I should be asked to pay for them. I also understand there is a gaping hole in the national finances and that it must be filled somehow.

However, as the Taoiseach has stated many times, as well as the need to stabilise the nation’s finances we must also try to sustain employment and return to economic growth. My objection to the Bill stems from the proposal not only to tax those who do not pay charges but to tax those who already pay charges. In other words, it is a stealth tax on businesses and as such it [95]is completely contrary to Government objectives. I do not wish to see any business taxed but as the Fine Gael spokesperson for tourism matters I especially do not wish to see a further burden put on the sector. As I have stated numerous times it is already subject to a crisis that no one imagined was possible. It has already lost 50,000 jobs and the promised bounce from Irish people staying at home has not materialised. People are doing exactly that, they are staying at home. They are not staying in hotels, holiday homes, or bed and breakfast accommodation.

The lead Minister for this legislation should be in the House as should the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, whose job it is to champion the industry. He has been silent, sleepwalking through a disaster which is haemorrhaging jobs and closing down the tourism infrastructure. That infrastructure was painstakingly built up over many years and was aided by a significant contribution from the taxpayer.

The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism is either incompetent or negligent to allow yet another tax to be applied to the industry, which is collapsing without a murmur. Now that I reflect on the matter, he is probably both. I expect he will defend this tax as he has already defended the airport departure tax, which was probably one of the most incomprehensibly stupid taxes of which I have ever heard and which has been completely counterproductive. The result of the tax, apart from everything else that has taken place in the industry, is plain for all to see.

Yesterday, I met some hoteliers from Cork and from the Ceann Comhairle’s constituency of Kerry South. Deputy Clune accompanied me. They told a sorry tale of 35% occupancy for major hotels. Up to three-quarters of all hotels are operating on winter season overdrafts in the middle of the high season when revenues should be pouring in. Some 40% of all hotels have been unable to play last year’s rates bill. The jobs of these businesses and all the local spin-off jobs supported by tourism will be gone before the end of the years unless the Government wakes up, does something about it and tries to salvage something from what remains of this tourism season. We are already in the middle of July.

Not content with what has taken place in the hotel industry, the Government now seems determined to wipe out the self-catering holiday sector. It has displayed a complete lack of joined-up thinking because the very homes they seek to tax were, in many cases, tax incentivised in recent years or received grants at the taxpayer’s expense. Although he is not present, I plead with the Minister — he may be listening somewhere — to exempt registered and listed self-catering holiday cottages from the legislation. These businesses are located almost exclusively in rural Ireland in areas where they provide the only jobs, or if not the only jobs then the support and other spin-off jobs in areas dependent on tourism and farming. For many operators, it is their only business and their livelihood, or it may supplement farm income. Whichever is the case these businesses are vital to the social and economic fabric of rural Ireland.

The sector has reported a drop in business of at least 30% this summer. It is only holding at this level because those in the sector have slashed prices. In some cases, prices have been reduced by 50% and they simply cannot afford to pass on any more charges. They already pay local charges. One operator contacted me yesterday and outlined to me that he already pays €639 per property in a variety of local charges. In addition he pays €200 per property to Fáilte Ireland to register his property and to ensure standards are maintained. He may or may not get referrals from Fáilte Ireland. A further €200 has been requested from the same Minister for a BER, building energy rating, certificate. This does not include VAT, income tax and corporation tax which must be paid to the Exchequer, quite apart from local charges.

[96]As in the case of many of his colleagues in the same business, the operator who approached me is on a knife edge for survival. It makes no sense to push such people over the edge with a tax that will, in the long run, reduce income to the Exchequer. This tax will be the final straw for many businesses that are only barely hanging on. The season has shrunk immeasurably. Some ten or 15 years ago the season was long but now people go abroad in the winter, the season lasts only 14 weeks. The income for those working in the industry has been halved.

I do not exaggerate and I cannot over-emphasise the heartbreaking calls and e-mails to my office in recent weeks from those in the industry, upon whom it is only now beginning to dawn that the promise of salvation and of an upturn in tourist numbers during the summer will not materialise. Many face ruination. It is not simply a question of these rental properties closing down. There is also the matter of the debt attached to these properties. In many cases, operators were scarcely able to pay the interest on these but now nothing will be paid.

The banks are currently exposed to the tourism industry to the extent of €11.5 billion. Under the NAMA proposals the taxpayer would take on that debt. What is the point in putting them out of business by imposing a further tax now? The Government has far more to lose than it has to gain by introducing the tax. I understand that only €2 million would be foregone if the Minister exempted the tax from Fáilte Ireland-registered and listed properties. They already pay €200 to Fáilte Ireland. The proposal is a great incentive for businesses currently registered with Fáilte Ireland to leave the register and enter the black market which would result in further income lost to the Exchequer. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Brady, to explain to the Minister that this will wipe out an important part of the tourism industry. It is vital he understands the damage this charge will bring about.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Bill. Funding for local authorities has not been addressed but a debate on that matter should take place at some stage. Many local authorities throughout the country are contemplating some very unpalatable decisions as they struggle and try to keep essential services in place, because funding from Government has been cut dramatically and, in some cases, it has dried up completely. In the constituency of Clare, the local government fund allocation from central Government was cut by €1.1 million in 2008 and there was also a direction from the Minister to cut payroll and administration costs by 3%. There are knock-on effects for each of the town councils in Kilrush, Kilkee, Ennis and Shannon who now have to cut their cloth to suit the measure of their income reduction and no matter how it is dressed up, this will have an effect on the delivery of services. I would argue that County Clare has done very badly and it is fifth from the bottom with respect to moneys received from central Government in 2008.

The moneys collected from the imposition of this €200 income charge was expected by many local authorities to be an additional income stream for them but I question whether this is the case. Will this be reflected in a further reduction in the funding from central Government? This aspect needs to be clarified.

Many local authorities are now struggling. The 2009 roads programme in Clare has been reduced by 5%. Deputy Michael McGrath referred in his contribution to the level of charges in south Tipperary. I was beginning to wonder for a while if he was a member of the Opposition and if he had made any representations to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Potholes are returning in many rural roads and hedges are not being cut back on the secondary and local roads. The majority of accidents take place on secondary roads, many of which are very narrow and the overgrown hedges reduce visibility even further.

The lack of funding is also restricting the council’s good work in helping older people to adapt their homes in order to address their changing needs and no new applications are being [97]accepted for the housing aid for the elderly scheme this year. I welcome the decision by the Minister to exempt mobile homes from the €200 tax. Like every sector in this country, the tourism sector is in crisis as Deputy Mitchell outlined very well in her contribution. Hoteliers in the mid-west region are only achieving 30% to 35% occupancy in the middle of July which is their high season. Many Irish people are expected to holiday at home this year and we should not be imposing any form of tax that could jeopardise the tourism business. My county has quite a number of caravans and mobile homes, particularly in the resorts of Kilkee, Lahinch and Spanish Point. Those resorts depend on the summer influx to keep them going. I spoke to one man recently who told me that he is already up to his ears with bills and this levy was the final straw for him.

Deputy Mitchell raised a very important point about self-catering holiday cottages. This will affect my county as a €200 tax will be administered for this accommodation. Will the tax be paid by the owner or by the person renting the cottage? If it is to be paid by the owner, has the Minister considered the administrative difficulties particularly in the current crisis? These will have an adverse effect. One owner of holiday cottages told me he has no bookings for July.

I urge the Minister to consider the tourism sector. The travel tax did considerable damage to our airports and this tax will do the same to holiday cottages in our resorts.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  My colleagues have voiced many valid criticisms of this Bill which I believe has been prepared with undue haste. It is being guillotined in circumstances which are highly inappropriate and which is laying the foundation for attacks on which I expect the Government to further build in the next budget. This Bill is simply providing a structure that will result in a major property tax imposition throughout the length and breadth of this country. The Government is introducing this by way of stealth to ensure the structure is in place when we get to the budget next November or December.

The Bill is riddled with anomalies that result from its poor drafting and failure to address the different circumstances that can arise and for which special provision should be made. A classic example of an anomaly in the Bill which has the potential for very odd consequences is set out in the definition section of the Bill. The Bill defines the word “buildings”as:

(i) part of a building,

(ii) a structure or erection of any kind and of any materials, or any part of that structure or erection,

I am not quite sure why it is that we have the definition of a building, an essential definition with regard to residential property in later sections of the Bill, which includes a reference to an erection of any kind or part of an erection. I have been checking this out in the Oxford Compact Dictionary which defines the word “structure” in a variety of ways:

noun 1 the arrangement of and relations between the parts of something complex. 2 a building or other object constructed from several parts. 3 the quality of being well organised.

Essentially what is intended here is a building or other object constructed from several parts.

The definition of “erection” is a building or other upright structure. It seems to me one either refers to a structure or an erection and the only difference between the two in the Oxford Compact Dictionary is that an erection is also described with regard to a certain physiological impact on the male species of certain events. I do not know what the Minister is at and I think it is deplorable he is not in the House to listen to the debate on this Bill. It is quite extraordinary, in a Bill which is seeking to impose a €200 charge, that apparently there is a need to make reference to an erection or part of an erection. What mindset produced that type of [98]drafting? What is the reason for it? Is there some stealth impact intended by this tax, with a short amendment to this Bill at a later stage if not this evening, or some further amending piece of legislation? Is there some sort of activity that the Minister has in mind on which he wishes to impose a €200 charge? I do not know.

This is a serious Bill but in a serious Bill it is an example of bad drafting. I know this type of phraseology has been used in conveyancing circumstances — and the Ceann Comhairle, as a former solicitor, will be aware of this — to deal with certain building issues that can arise but why in the name of God are we referring here to structures or erections? I simply do not understand it. This could only be a Bill that is rushed out by a Minister who has completely lost all sense of proportion that it would be so poorly and badly drafted and contain a reference of a nature that I think would surprise many people outside this House.

If there is this sort of difficulty with this Bill, there are other hidden flaws in the Bill that need to be addressed. Clearly the erection reference should be deleted. I think the Minister should explain how such an nonsensical provision could be included in a Bill sponsored by his Department and supported by the Government. The very fact that it includes this definition should ring the alarm bells to indicate there are other flaws in this legislation, that it should not be guillotined through this House and that there are other more serious issues that need to be addressed and amendments included to cover, for example, the issue of granny flats, about which there has been so much discussion so far.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  This Bill makes it obvious that local authorities throughout the country are starved of money. For too long they were completely dependent on development levies. There is a peculiar anomaly that many local authorities are running overdrafts of millions of euro and paying significant interest to the banks yet have development funds worth millions of euro. This is a crazy scenario which has been allowed to happen and it should be addressed. I am pleased the Minister has seen sense and has exempted mobile homes. My area of north Wexford has perhaps more mobile homes than most and the area will be well known to the Minister. The benefit of the mobile home is that people will come and spend money in the local towns. The weather is not good and they are not going to the beaches. They are in the towns and are spending some money, and that is a major benefit.

The Minister must remove the Bord Fáilte registered properties. We must not beat about the bush or talk about it for much longer. They should be taken out and allow the matter be dealt with finally. Everyone in this Chamber is at one on that issue. If we do not take them out we will further impact on our tourist sector, which is already in enough difficulty.

I want to raise two other aspects. The current unemployment level has the capacity to do serious damage. We can charge people who want to holiday in Ireland this rate of €200 by not removing the people with Bord Fáilte registered properties or we can decide not to charge them. If we charge it, the people will not go into towns and spend money in the shops where VAT is collected and people are employed. Those people are essential. If we charge this rate we will have another 150,000 unemployed before the end of this year.

Another important point is that this money will not be easily collected. There will not be an easy method of collecting it. I can envisage every tax avoidance measure being put in place to ensure people do not pay this €200 charge, including properties being put into the names of husbands and wives and only one property owned. That is something we must deal with also. I would like to discuss many other aspects but unfortunately time does not allow me to do that.

Deputy Niall Collins:  I wish to share my time with Deputy John McGuinness.

[99]An Ceann Comhairle:  Agreed.

Deputy Niall Collins:  I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Many of us in this House have served in local government from time to time and we realise the importance local government plays in everybody’s lives. It is important that we have a debate on these charges, and a wider debate on the funding of local government would be welcome also.

Our local authorities have core functions to do with planning, roads, sewerage infrastructure, environment, community and enterprise. Throughout those core functions they have many revenue raising streams which the public have to contribute to on an almost daily basis but the most controversial one which causes people concern is commercial rates. Any of us who have been involved in a budget estimates process in a local authority will be aware that the rate struck by a local authority is the balancing figure. We have come to a position here where the small and medium businesses, and the larger businesses, are being levied with onerous commercial rates by local authorities. We must undertake a fundamental review of that because we have a serious competitiveness issue in addition to increasing joblessness and businesses closing down. The local authorities pursue the collection of outstanding rates, which they are mandated to do through legislation, in an aggressive fashion.

The chairman of the Revenue Commissioners recently outlined a policy, which is welcome, in which they are open to negotiation in terms of tax collection from companies and businesses that owe taxes. They are open to collecting payments over a scheduled period. On the question of commercial rates, business people tell us there is an issue that we must address it at some point.

On planning, local authorities have gathered a great deal of money through the local authority development funds. Recently, those funds were practically frozen. The balance on those development funds is taken into the overall Government cash balance calculation at the end of the year. That is regrettable. Certainly, in my constituency basic community facilities such as playgrounds which were approved for areas such as Bruff and Kilfinnan, are now held up. In my local authority, for example, there is approximately €25 million sitting in the bank that cannot be spent. That is why we need a full debate on this issue.

The lack of sewerage infrastructure is holding up development across my constituency. We allowed a ridiculous situation arise in recent years where consultants’ documents, engineers’ documents and so on flowed between local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The process would go from one stage to the next stage, come back for another report and 12 years later there is still no sewerage scheme in place. I have one such situation in my home village of Patrickswell. Development is held up. Planning permission is conditional on sewerage upgrades and it is stymying everything. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must seriously examine that issue.

The €200 charge is a mechanism for raising revenue. I appreciate that we must raise taxes to run the country and provide the services but on the €200 charge a number of issues have been brought to my attention, particularly in terms of my constituency. We are unique in Rathkeale in that we have a large Traveller community which is not comparable to Traveller communities in other areas of the country. They are business people, effectively, but they live in large demountable houses or mobile homes on their own properties beside a house, which they own. The house is boarded up and used to store the tools of their trade, including furniture and whatever they need to lay tarmacadam on roads. It begs the question whether the €200 will be levied on the storage, which is a dwelling, or on the mobile home or the demountable.

A situation arises also where people, because of their social circumstances, are living in a house but they have a mobile home or a demountable, which is not mobile, on the property or [100]premises which is used by other members of the family because the house, for whatever reason, has not been extended or does not have enough room. We must clarify the position on that.

There has been a great deal of debate about the an bord snip nua report and the review of all the State agencies. We need to examine all our local authorities. A debate is ongoing in Limerick as to whether we should have a boundary extension from the Limerick City Council administrative area into the county. We have all those issues; we have duplication; we have local authority managers and directors of services. All of that has grown out of Better Local Government. All of that must go under the microscope.

On the €200 charge, there are some items I would like to see clarified but I appreciate we have to raise taxes to provide the public services.

Deputy John McGuinness:  There has never been a time in the history of the State when people were more geared towards reform of one kind or another and addressing all the outstanding issues we might have tolerated in a time of plenty. In a time when there is far less there should be this type of reform and people would accept it, provided we set out our stall and explain to them where we are going, how much it will cost to get there and the timeframe. That leadership is now more necessary than ever.

A more extensive Bill dealing with reform of local government would have been a welcome development. The report of an bord snip nua became available today. Perhaps it is time to look at outstanding matters and at where reform is necessary. Having listened to Members who have experience of local authorities, it is obvious that the demand for reform of the local government system is more relevant and more necessary than ever. The Better Local Government package, which is in place, is not working.

I understand that Fine Gael accepts the Bill in principle. This change needs to be made. I accept the argument about self-catering holiday homes. The Bill will be passed and the charge will be applied. It is essential that we establish how the amount will be increased and ensure that it will not be substantially increased automatically year by year. It will be applied to every home and will affect those people who own their homes.

  6 o’clock

We need to examine the entire rates system. In a previous debate, I referred to the valuation system. Businesses are paying rates on valuations established at the high end of the market. They are unable to pay the rate. New businesses which are paying on that higher valuation will run into serious difficulty in the course of this year. While we debate competitiveness in the economy, we cannot overlook the fact that some competitive difficulties come from our local government system. We need to examine the cost of making a planning application. What fees and charges are applied after the application is made, how do businesses develop thereafter and how are rates applied? There is a need to radically overhaul local government because local government charges affect our competitiveness, and this is a way of doing it.

I encourage new local authority members to examine local government charges in a new light, bearing in mind the current economic circumstances. If wages and other costs are tumbling there is no reason rates cannot be looked at in the same way. Why should they not come down? They are just another cost. They bridge the gap between what is needed in local authorities but they are applied to the smaller and smaller number of people who are in business. As councils examine their costs, we should force the debate forward by ensuring they examine how their rates are struck.

The Minister said the election of a mayor of Dublin would capture the imaginations of people. The election of mayors throughout the country captured people’s imaginations but it [101]is not understood that when they are elected they have very little power within their local authorities. If power is to be moved from central government we should give substantial power to each local authority and ensure the mayor is allowed to function independently and to drive a local economic, social and political agenda. That thinking can be applied to the mayor of Dublin and to any elected mayor. Instead of that, we are tying down mayors with bureaucratic red tape which prevents them from acting in the interests of the people and from driving the local economy. That can be easily changed. I have heard many ideas expressed during this debate which could be considered by the Minister in the context of local government reform. Regardless of what side of the House they came from, these ideas should be considered in the context of a Bill which would truly reform local authorities and give them the ability to raise funds locally, to adjust their funding or to deal with local issues.

As local authorities see their funds reduced and their ability to raise funds affected by the economic situation, the first to be hit is the person at the front line delivering services. Roads are not swept and services are not delivered to local communities. That needs to be examined. A balance must be struck between the delivery of services and giving value for money. The only way to strike that balance is to put the complete onus on the local authority to raise its own funding. Some funding must come from central government but local authorities must be given the authority and power to make real decisions at local level. Otherwise this House will become a local authority or a general council of county councils discussing local issues. A large number of Members contributed to this debate and the issues they raised were local authority issues.

We should not be afraid to reform local government. If that is not going to happen soon, we must find a way in the short term to give real powers to the mayors and chairmen of county councils so they can reflect the views of their electors. At present, members of local authorities and strategic policy committees simply sign off on the reports of managers or engineers. People are fed up with that process. They want to see real democracy and they look to this Government to deliver real change and to give local democracy real meaning.

In these changed times, we should not be afraid to bring forward legislation, even if it must come under the heading of emergency legislation, to enforce the views of the Members of both sides of this House. We are all demanding the same thing, which is change in local government.

I fought hard against the ending of the dual mandate, which was a bad step for local democracy. Most members of local councils now say that since the Oireachtas Members were removed from the authorities they have less power and less information. When we were members of local authorities there was direct communication between central and local government and we kept our local government colleagues informed. That communication must be strengthened so that local authority members are empowered to make real decisions for themselves. It should not be a simple matter of how the county manager sees things or what he thinks needs to be done.

The same business people are called upon repeatedly to raise money. I understand there are more than 1,000 local authority houses empty in Dublin. A similar number of houses are empty and boarded up throughout the country. These houses could have been allocated when the previous tenants vacated them. They are well kept houses in the housing stock of local authorities but when tenants left they were simply boarded up. Some have been vandalised and will cost a fortune to repair. We are standing over this failure and continually giving local authorities money to refurbish houses. The figure of 1,000 empty houses in Dublin is not inaccurate. Similar numbers of houses are empty throughout the country. Some action must be taken in that regard. The more money lost by not collecting rent the more must be imposed in rates, an imposition on the business people of the country. That is an unfair method of taxation.

[102]We will create new taxes in the coming budget and we must examine the report of an bord snip nua. The board must do a full report, including a report on local authorities. If necessary, Mr. Colm McCarthy should be asked to investigate local authorities and the HSE and begin to give taxpayers real value for money. I urge the Minister for Finance to publish the report of an bord snip so that we can have a full debate on the report in the House, as we lead into the budgetary process.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is Deputy Burke sharing his time with Deputy Connaughton?

Deputy Ulick Burke:  The Deputy has indicated that he will not avail of the time.

Earlier this afternoon, the Minister’s colleague stated, “A properly resourced local government sector is vital to local democracy”. When we take into consideration this, and the Bill’s capacity to raise funds for proper local democracy, we are left with hastily produced legislation. The greatest fault of those who have contributed to it is the uncertainty and lack of real decision making. All that can be said about the Bill is that it seems to be the first short step towards the reintroduction of domestic property rates.

Deputy McGuinness discussed the need for local government reform. Has he forgotten that a Fianna Fáil Government was responsible for the abolition of rates or that his and another party were responsible for what was termed better local government? Throughout the country, our local government is in crisis due to a shortage of money. Regarding the Bill’s potential to collect money, there is no clarity on the way in which money will be collected and given to local authorities. There are four suggestions regarding payment methods, how it will be identified and who is to declare a liability of payment to local authorities. In contrast with the Bill’s provisions, the Department failed to legislate for a register of landlords. It missed its opportunity to identify landlords. That vague step was never implemented properly. Now, more legislation is coming down the same line.

Almost every local authority and every contributor to this debate has indicated serious cutbacks in local government funding. Galway County Council was notified only a few weeks ago of a cutback amounting to €10 million in its allocation. How can a local authority continue to deliver services when such cutbacks are being implemented? The Bill will do nothing to shore up the shortage.

What is the cost of implementing the collection of the funds? There is no indication of the cost. We have been given an estimate of what it might yield in light of the 700,000 residents who might be liable for the tax. The Bill comes at a time when local authorities have needed to shed employment due to cutbacks. People on short-term contracts have lost out and many talented people have lost their jobs. The collection will incur serious costs, yet nothing has been allocated to retrieve them.

I will not indulge in previously mentioned definitions, but that of a vacant property is vague. No one knows what is a vacancy. How long must a house be vacant before it can be classified as being liable for the charge? This is an important matter. Our spokesman, Deputy Hogan, has clearly indicated the greatest concern for many people, namely, granny flats vacated by elderly people who are temporarily in nursing homes. The Minister must clarify these points as matters of urgency.

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

Deputy Ulick Burke:  I hope the Minister will clarify the many concerns expressed by Deputies.

[103]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I thank Deputies for their thoughtful contributions on the Bill. Its purpose is to give effect to the Government’s budgetary decision to introduce an annual charge on non-principal private residences. The Bill sets the charge at a level of €200 and it will be payable, in the main, by owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties. The proceeds from the charge will provide a new source of income to city and county councils and the budgetary estimate of the annual revenue stream was €40 million. Experience of the operation of the charge will be the best guide to the actual revenue generated.

To revert to Deputy Burke, we are confident that, since we have incentivised local authorities to collect the charge, they will do so efficiently and effectively. In my conversations with local authority managers, who are enthusiastic about the provision, they——

Deputy Ulick Burke:  As a first step.

Deputy John Gormley:  ——assured me this is a good way to raise revenue.

The Bill is important because it gives effect to a new locally based income source for local authorities, the first in many decades. While the amount of income is modest in the context of local authority overall revenue expenditures, it will nevertheless broaden authorities’ revenue sources and reduce their dependence on finance from central government. Over the years, there have been many calls for a new locally based source of local government funding to be introduced and I believe the introduction of the new charge through this Bill is positive. It has been broadly welcomed by the Opposition.

It has been stated that the ideal taxation measure is equitable, simple and flexible. The Local Government (Charges) Bill scores well under the criteria of simplicity and flexibility. It is simple and cost effective to administer and understanding and complying with it will be simple. It will generate revenue on a continuing basis and will not be subject to the volatility we have come to associate with transaction-based property taxes. In this sense, it has the flexibility to cope with varying economic conditions while maintaining a stable yield. It must be acknowledged that the Bill does not include a valuation-based component, something that would make the system more complex and difficult to administer and comply with, as mentioned by a previous speaker. As against this, the amount of the charge is relatively modest at €200 and should not cause those liable to pay it any great difficulty. For these reasons, I hope Deputies from all sides of the House can support the passage of the Bill.

I will refer to some of the points raised. As they primarily relate to issues that will arise on Committee Stage, I am reluctant to address them on this Stage. However, my amendment will put beyond doubt the availability of an exemption from the charge for granny flats and persons vacating their homes due to incapacitation arising from mental or physical ill health. People in those circumstances are different from the general run of owners of non-principal private residences.

I wish to comment on the points made by Deputy McGuinness. He has since left the Chamber, but I share his interest in local government reform. For too long, that area has been stagnating. If we are to examine seriously the issue of the dual mandate, which the Deputy raised, we must examine electoral reform. We all know that Deputies compete with up-and-coming councillors. We send out the same sorts of letter assuring people that the drains have been cleaned and the potholes have been fixed. One must wonder whether this is a role for national legislators. Electoral reform at a national level goes hand in hand with local government reform. We must have a serious debate on reform of the Dáil, the Seanad and local government.

[104]I want to go further and consider broadening the revenue base. I will be able to do so more thoroughly once the Commission on Taxation has reported. We will be able to determine in greater detail how we can raise money at local authority level. Bearing in mind that there is a Sinn Féin amendment in this area tabled for Committee Stage, I want to consider empowering the local authorities to set the levels and examine the scope of charges. This is what real local government is about. I agree with Deputy McGuinness in this regard.

I thank the Deputies opposite and those on the Government side. Second Stage has given rise to some interesting debate, which I want to continue on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 1.

Amendments Nos. a1 and b1 not moved.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, 8, and 13 to 18, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 1 and they may be discussed together.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, to delete lines 11 to 15.

This amendment deals with the administration of the charge collection system. We are effectively creating a new administrative system for the collection of the charge. There are revenue collectors and staff in local authorities but, as Deputy Burke stated, the moratorium on recruitment in local authorities and the general reduction in staff arising from the reduction in local government funds are such that local authorities may not be best equipped or sufficiently equipped administratively to collect the charge. I would have believed that, in order to collect the charge, the Minister would have considered the vehicle used by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.

Although the Minister stated the local government system is efficiently set up to collect the charge, will he indicate how he can reconcile that with the reduction in staff and the lack of necessary information on private rented accommodation and holiday homes in each local authority area? If the discrepancy has been reconciled, will the Minister assure me that is the case before I comment further?

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  I thank Deputy Hogan for his amendment. The central issue concerns the body or organisation within the public service that is best suited to administer the €200 charge. I assume that Fine Gael’s opposition to sections 9, 10 and 11 is based on the principle behind the group of amendments, the purpose of which is to substitute the Revenue Commissioners for local authorities in administering the collection of the charge.

I fully accept that we must administer our public services as best we can. I also accept the Office of the Revenue Commissioners is a very efficient organisation that has made major strides in recent years in facilitating compliant taxpayers to discharge their liabilities with the minimum of fuss and red tape. I have no doubt that had this function been assigned to the Revenue Commissioners, the organisation would have put in place effective management and [105]arrangements to implement the charge. Equally, I am in no doubt that local authorities will do a very efficient job in putting into effect the legislation.

A project board was set up by the local authorities after the 2009 budget to plan for the introduction of the charge. The Local Government Computer Services Board was asked to design a website, similar in concept to the motor tax on-line website, to accept Internet payments. This site will be up and running in time for the liability date of 31 July 2009. Other arrangements continue to be put in place in local authorities to facilitate the smooth and effective implementation of the new charge. I encourage all concerned to use the website to discharge liabilities to pay the charge. This is in everybody’s interest, especially those obliged to pay it. The website is efficient and user friendly and will make life easier and simpler for those who avail of it. For those who cannot or will not use this facility, local authorities will accept payments at their local offices.

There is an inherent logic to paying the charge to local authorities, given that these bodies will retain and deploy the revenue stream that arises. This is a major step forward for local authorities towards securing a genuinely local source of revenue that will reduce their dependency on central government funding.

I await with interest the report of the Commission on Taxation. One of its terms of reference requires it to consider options for the future funding of local government. I have every confidence the commission will do its work thoroughly. It will be very interesting to see the conclusions and recommendations it reaches.

I stated in the Seanad that I have no doubt but that the local authorities will do a very good job collecting the revenue. From 31 July onwards, they will be seeking the revenue and will do so because it will be in their interest. When one provides the local authorities with such an incentive, they generally step up to the plate. While the local authorities are not immune to the cutbacks across all sectors of society, one can be assured the revenue will be collected very efficiently as a result of the changes to the way we operate at local government level.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I tabled the amendments because I do not believe the local authorities will be in a position to collect the money efficiently and effectively, as believed by the Minister. It is bound to take time and money for them to get their new tax collection systems up and running. I would have believed the Revenue Commissioners would have been better placed to collect the tax temporarily. The Minister expects people to admit liability to the tax and pay up. If they do not pay up they will be fined €20, which fine will increase if there are repeat offences.

The data-sharing arrangements mentioned in the Bill will help. I would like to see the charge collected but am worried about the state of local government finances. Given the short run-in period, which commenced on 7 April, on which date the local authorities first received notice, it would have been more appropriate to use an existing revenue collection system this year than to require the setting up of a new administrative system at local government level. This is the motivation behind my amendment. If the Minister is satisfied the system he has put in place is appropriate, that is fair enough. We will judge it at the end of the year.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  I support Deputy Hogan’s amendment. It was suggested that local authorities can delegate the collection functions referred to in the Bill to the Local Government Computer Services Board and the Local Government Management Services Board, which can accept electronic payment. The Minister is suggesting it will be possible to pay directly to the local authorities themselves.

Deputy John Gormley:  Or go to an office.

[106]Deputy Ulick Burke:  Or go to an office. However, all of these mechanisms will incur a cost — for example, the cost of employing staff to man the computers or offices through which payments can be made.

Bearing in mind what Deputy Hogan and I stated on Second Stage, there must be a failure to realise that many sections of councils have been depleted of staff. In respect of collecting for water services, the council can cut off the water supply to make people pay up. In this instance there is no such danger apart from the fine of €20 per month for the balance. It is crazy to make the system so complicated given the sum involved, with no definite method by which those charged can pay.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(a) a dwelling let as a temporary self-catering holiday dwelling,”.

This matter came to the attention of many Members. A series of tidying up measures have been already taken because of the speed at which the legislation is being passed. In the Seanad it had to be tidied up in respect of mobile homes of granny flats, following Deputy Hogan’s highlighting of the issue last week.

There is a problem concerning self-catering dwellings across the country that are registered with Fáilte Ireland. These are not holiday homes which their owners leave unoccupied. They are let on a lease arrangement for short periods of time. Crucially they are holiday homes that provide a vital stimulus to local economies. According to one representation I received, bookings are 60% down on this time last year. That is in Kerry, one of the premium holiday regions in the country. I hope the Minister will take on board what we propose and allow some scope under the measures in the Bill — we are still undecided on whether this is a charge or a tax. The levy of €200 on each of these buildings has a significant impact on tourism service operators. I urge the Minister to support the amendment.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  Has the local authority any scope to reduce rates paid in respect of buildings to allow for the €200 charge? Has the Minister examined that aspect of the charge?

Deputy John Gormley:  I thank the Deputies from the Labour Party and Fine Gael for their amendments. There is no charge for a person paying commercial rates. Fine Gael has tabled a similar amendment. Should I wait for the Fine Gael Members to speak?

Deputy Phil Hogan:  We will wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will not discuss that amendment now. We are discussing amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

[107]Deputy John Gormley:  The Bill takes as its starting point the introduction of a modest annual charge on the owners of non-principal private residences. An exemption is provided for owners of principal private residences and for certain local authority and social housing that is also used for the purpose of principal residence. These exemptions are provided in recognition of the fact that we all need somewhere to live. Most other dwellings are deployed by their owners for an economic purpose of one kind or another or are available to them to be so deployed. This underpins the charge. It is reasonable to ask the owners of properties that are, or can be, used to generate an economic return to make some contribution to the services that local authorities provide and that are necessary to enable an economic return to be made.

Nobody likes having to pay taxes or charges and nobody particularly likes imposing them either. It would not be reasonable for me to differentiate between rental properties and other non-principal private residences by exempting one type of non-principal private residence from the charge while leaving other such properties liable to it. I accept that self-catering holiday accommodation is a valuable resource from the perspective of our tourism infrastructure. These properties benefit tourists and the local economy alike. I hope they generate a reasonable economic return for the individuals and companies that own them, but accommodation of this kind is in the business of generating a return for its owners, and it usually will. For this reason, I cannot accede to the amendment.

I understand that self-catering accommodation is not normally liable for commercial rates even though it is in competition with other tourism infrastructure that is liable for rates. In these circumstances, the €200 fee is not a large charge when compared with a commercial rates bill. The House should note that section 2(1)(h) provides that in any case where commercial rates liability is incurred the €200 charge will not apply. Deputies can be assured that no self-catering accommodation or any other property will incur a liability for both the charge and commercial rates.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I thank the Minister for his response. I have just spoken on this topic and do not want to repeat what I said. However, I want to convey to the Minister that this is an industry in crisis, haemorrhaging jobs and losing infrastructure. The departure tax has done irreparable damage to hotels and B&Bs and this tax means wipe-out for many people in the self-catering sector. That is no exaggeration. Many feel this is the thin end of the wedge and a €200 charge this year might be €2,000 before we blink. Even if the fee does not increase, this will be the extra cost that drives many businesses over the edge. They are slashing, even halving, their prices to salvage an income out of a maximum 14 weeks season when demand is down to keep any kind of bookings coming in. These businesses are in real trouble.

I plead with the Minister to consider these self-catering holiday homes that are registered with Fáilte Ireland. They already pay €200 to register. This will drive many people into the black market. My main concern is to maintain jobs in the tourism industry. The Minister stated that they will not have to pay the charge if they are paying rates. They are making a local contribution. It may not be rates but they are paying water charges, refuse charges and an additional fee for a building energy rating, BER, certificate for each holiday letting, introduced by the Minister’s Department. They also pay national taxes such as corporate tax, income tax and VAT. Many cannot afford to pay the interest on their debts. We are driving people out of business. Many of them face ruination. They owe money to the banks which will sell their bad debts to the taxpayer. This makes no sense from anybody’s perspective, and the Exchequer will lose more money than it can ever hope to gain from this tax. I ask the Minister to consider these businesses. I understand the total cost would be €2 million if the Minister were to exempt the registered properties.

[108]Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I, too, have already said what I am going to say now. The revenue loss of €2 million that Deputy Mitchell mentioned represents approximately 10,000 people involved in providing self-catering units. In a year when we all know tourism is doing so poorly, this would be a gesture to the industry to indicate we are concerned about it and sensitive to its current problems.

As Deputy Mitchell said, it costs €200 to be registered and people may decide not to register with Fáilte Ireland as a result of this. The conditions for registration would not hold and this could result in an inferior product. There are now people selling their self-catering units by means of the Internet and doing their own promotion. Such people may get more clients than would through Fáilte Ireland brochures and its marketing process.

As a result of this measure, people may not bother listing with Fáilte Ireland, and its fees will go up anyway. Fewer people will be registered with Fáilte Ireland and, although people will have to pay the €200, we may see an inferior product as a result. The Minister should consider that.

The case was strongly put on Second Stage and again on Committee Stage by both Labour and Fine Gael. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment. Perhaps it could be reviewed in future, but because of what is happening currently in the Irish tourism industry, it is important that these amendments are implemented. Although €200 may not seem much, to the 10,000 people in the sector, it could mean a great deal. As I have stated, it could cause fewer people to register with Fáilte Ireland, leading to an inferior product.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I support the amendment put down by my colleagues Deputies Hogan and Mitchell on this issue. The points have been articulated well by my colleagues, and there is an opportunity to ensure we deal with a sector of the industry that is on its knees. I have correspondence from a constituent who has said bookings are down between 50% and 60% this year alone, and it is mainly families which avail of self-catering accommodation around the country.

The industry has been allocated a great deal of resources by the State, especially Leader funding, in recent years. Many people around the country got their facilities registered with Fáilte Ireland in order to draw down grants from Leader, with facilities brought up to a very high standard for Fáilte Ireland approval. In recent years, as part of the rural development process, the State has encouraged the development of these facilities around the country but we are now putting an additional tax on top of rates, water charges and the Fáilte Ireland registration fees.

There is a concern that this will be only the first step and the €200 charge will be increased in future. The reality is that in many parts of the country, self-catering accommodation is the backbone of the tourism offering. It is a substantial part of tourism in my own constituency in Roscommon and south Leitrim, and this is also the case in other parts of the country. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment, as it would not have a major financial implication on what the Government is trying to do but it would send a clear message that we want to support the development of our tourism industry. This is important from the point of view of the taxpayer and the European Union because of the large capital investment in the sector in recent years. It is vital that we support the industry, rather than imposing additional taxes, now that it is under financial pressure.

Deputy John Gormley:  Deputy Naughten has repeated an untruth which I have clarified for Deputy Tuffy. The €200 is not on top of rates; we have made it clear that it is separate from rates.

[109]Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  It is on top of other charges.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  It is on top of charges and water rates.

Deputy John Gormley:  Deputy Naughten said it was on top of rates, which is not the case.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  It is on top of water rates.

Deputy John Gormley:  Deputy Mitchell said it is €200 and that it could be €2,000 before we know it, but the legislation is clear.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  The legislation can be changed.

Deputy John Gormley:  That is the point. We would have to introduce new legislation if we wanted to change it. It cannot be introduced by sleight of hand. Deputy Deenihan indicated that €200 is not a significant amount. That is precisely the point. This is a relatively modest charge in the overall scheme. This economy must raise an incredible amount of money and if we cannot act on this modest charge, we may as well throw our hats at it.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  People will be put out of business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  How stands amendment No. 2?

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I would like to withdraw amendment No. 2 in favour of the Fine Gael amendment, which is better in scope in that it refers to Fáilte Ireland-registered properties, which sets a standard and ensures such a standard into the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I move amendment No. 2a:

In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“(b) a building which is intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest, and which is unoccupied on the date of commencement of this section and in respect of which the owner bona fide intends to apply to have the building approved as an approved building within the meaning of section 482 of the Act of 1997, until it becomes occupied or so approved, which ever first occurs,”.

This amendment sets out to allow exemptions for heritage-type properties which are unoccupied pending the making of an application for them to become approved properties under the 1997 Act. This could occur where a property is not yet in a fit state to be rented out by the Landmark Trust, for example, or some other agency similar in scope to the Landmark Trust, but which will be at some future point.

It seems unfair to charge a tax in the meantime if the property remains vacant, and there are properties in this category around the country. It would be unfortunate if such properties were to fall to rack and ruin in a similar way to the magnificent properties in the State which fell to rack and ruin in the 1920s because a tax or charge would be implemented. There are currently applications with the Landmark Trust to have buildings transferred and that trust does not have the financial fluidity which it had a number of years ago. This cost could jeopardise the transfer of such properties.

[110]Deputy John Gormley:  I thank the Deputy for putting down this amendment. Section 482 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 deals with certain tax reliefs for buildings of significant scientific, historical or aesthetic merit. Deputies will note that I provided for an exemption from the charge for such buildings that had been approved for the purposes of this section by the Revenue Commissioners.

Few such buildings will qualify under the provision of the Bill in section 2(1)(a) as most of them are likely to be used as principal private residences. Nonetheless, it seemed prudent to include the provision in the Bill, both for its own sake, especially as I have a role relating to heritage generally, and for consistency with the provision of the tax code operated by the Revenue Commissioners.

I regret I cannot accede to the amendment. If I provided an exemption for any person who indicated it was his or her bone fide intention to use a residential property as a principal private residence, the entire yield from the charge could dry up. Our corpus of legislation deals with reality as it exists, not as it might be or as some people intend it to be. For this reason, I cannot accede to the amendment sought.

If people genuinely believe they are entitled to relief under section 482 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, they should apply to the Revenue without delay. They should do so because they may be entitled to such relief but also because there is a possible exemption from the €200 charge if a property qualifies under section 482.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  Does the charge qualify to be set against tax in the same way domestic refuse charges so qualify? Will businesses be able to set it against tax?

Deputy John Gormley:  As I understand it, they can set it against their expenses for business purposes.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Is there a register of houses that are listed as being of value from a heritage point of view? Is there an overall figure in this regard?

Deputy John Gormley:  Yes. We published details of the houses that are listed. I seem to recall that the Deputy was present when I launched the document relating to those properties in Kerry.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I was just wondering if there is an overall figure in respect of the number of houses listed. I presume castles in which people live, etc., are included.

Deputy John Gormley:  Castles, thatched cottages and so on are included.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  I presume some of them are very famous houses which attracted attention when the scheme was introduced some years ago. It will be stated that those who rent out their properties as self-catering holiday homes will be penalised, while some very wealthy individuals will be exempt. However, that is the way it is dealt with in the legislation.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  It shows where the priorities lie.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On the last occasion on which Deputy Deenihan referred to thatched cottages at a meeting of Kerry County Council, a Deputy who was present stated that if the colour of the thatch was anything like the colour of the thatch on some of those attending the meeting he would have nothing to do with it.

[111]Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Yes, but we saved quite a few houses on that occasion.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  And the Deputy is still around.

  7 o’clock

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  The amendment does not relate to castles, moats or Georgian or Victorian mansions. There are a number of small cottages and dwellings which would have come into people’s possession by means of inheritance or whatever and which, in light of the level of refurbishment they require, could not be regarded as habitable. If they were to be refurbished to modern standards, their natural heritage value might be destroyed. A number of these properties incorporate unique design and architectural features that can be peculiar to the localities in which they are to be found. Is there a possibility that, by means of secondary legislation, further direction might be given in respect of including matters that are not currently contemplated in the Bill?

Deputy John Gormley:  No, that possibility does not exist. However, in the interest of clarifying certain matters, I will issue guidance to local authorities. I made it clear earlier that people will either be part of this or they will not. It is not possible to legislate for situations where a person intends something to happen. I cannot operate in that way.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, subsection (1), after line 44, to insert the following:

“(i) a building that is a Fáilte Ireland registered and/or listed self catering property.”.

Amendment put.

The Committee divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 70.

 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Carey, Joe.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J..  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Creed, Michael.
 Creighton, Lucinda.  D’Arcy, Michael.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Brian.
 Hayes, Tom.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lee, George.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  O’Sullivan, Maureen.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P. J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  Wall, Jack.



Níl
 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cregan, John.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gormley, John.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kenneally, Brendan.  Kennedy, Michael.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Finian.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Moloney, John.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M. J.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Seán.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Mary.
 White, Mary Alexandra.  Woods, Michael.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and David Stanton; Níl, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan.

Amendment declared lost.

Section 2 agreed to.

SECTION 3.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I move amendment No. 5a:

In page 5, subsection 3(a), line 17, to delete “€200” and substitute “at a rate determined by the local authority”.

Deputy John Gormley:  I thank Deputies Ferris and Ó Snodaigh. From my speech on Second Stage the House will be aware that I have considerable sympathy with the view that the determination of the charge should be devolved to local authorities in the future. I see this power [113]being exercised as a reserve function within certain limits that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government would determine. For 2009, local authorities will concentrate on securing the maximum yield from the charge, not to mind embarking on a process of considering the level of the charge. I have made it clear that I may revisit the basis on which the charge operates but I want to consult Members and see what the Commission on Taxation has to say on the future of financing local government before making any further decisions. I made that clear on Second Stage. For these reasons I am not disposed to devolve powers to local authorities to determine the level of the charge at this time but I will keep the matter under review.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, after line 45, to insert the following subsection:

“(8) The charge liable by a single owner will be limited to €600 per building in instances where the building contains in excess of three self-contained dwellings.”.

I tabled this amendment because the €200 levy is not unduly onerous on rented accommodation or apartments but could have a significant impact on low cost social housing for single people who may not be able to buy a house of their own. Many houses have been converted into five, six or seven units, depending on the size of the house. Each unit could be subject to the €200 charge. On top of that, the owner must pay a registration charge to the Private Residential Tenancies Board. It could amount to a great deal of money when we want to provide good quality accommodation, particularly for single people with low incomes. I ask the Minister to cap the charge at a particular amount without letting it run to €3,000, depending on the number of units in the house. I suggest it be capped at €600. There is a precedent for this.

Deputy John Gormley:  I thank Deputy Hogan although I cannot accept his amendment. The definitions in the Bill are relevant to this amendment. The policy parameters of the Bill arise, as well as considerations of equity and fairness.

Let us consider the definitions of “building” and “dwelling” in section 1 and “residential property” in section 2. These are the building blocks that define the scope of the Bill. Section 1 provides that the definition of a building includes part of a building so that the argument cannot be made that an apartment block within which multiple living units are contained is simply one building and liable to only one charge. In the case of the definition of “dwelling” in section 1, it is clear that it includes a separate dwelling, whether other facilities in common areas are shared. This concept of a separate dwelling is reinforced in the definition of “residential property” in section 2, where it is made clear that maisonettes, flats, apartments and bedsits constitute residential property. Section 3(1) and 3(2) apply the charge to residential property. It is clear that each separate dwelling incurs a charge unless its owner is exempt. This is as it should be.

The Bill does not rely on a valuation component but we all know that many apartments are worth more than many houses. Furthermore, many apartments generate more rent for their owners than do houses. There are examples of multiple apartments owned by a single person. I cannot accept that the owner of multiple apartments in a substantial apartment block should have his or her liability restricted to €600 or to any figure other than the multiple of €200 the number of separate residential properties gives rise to. I cannot see how a restriction of the [114]kind proposed in the amendment could be regarded as progressive or fair. The impact of the amendment is to reduce the average cost or charge per dwelling, incrementally, in proportion to the number of dwellings the person owns. The more one owns, the less one pays. This is unreasonable, unfair, not progressive and unsuitable for the Bill before us. For these reasons I ask Deputy Hogan to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  The Minister has completely misinterpreted the motivation behind the amendment. I explained that I was concerned about low income people, particularly single people, with social housing requirements and the case of a large dwelling that is converted into various units, each of which is subject to the €200 charge. I do not advocate the charge being exempt for the case of the multi-unit apartment blocks to which the Minister referred. Nor am I proposing a regressive measure.

Those who have rented or leased HSE assisted dwellings, including those with disabilities, are exempt. Are they exempt altogether? What is the duration of the lease or rent required in that instance to be exempt under the meaning of “residential property” in section 2?

Deputy John Gormley:  HSE contracted buildings are exempt. Deputy Hogan should remember that we are talking about the owners of the properties, not those renting.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  Why did not the Minister include the rental accommodation scheme?

Deputy John Gormley:  We are trying to encourage the rental accommodation scheme. Deputy Hogan is asking questions back and forth; I will respond when he is finished.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Exactly.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  In line with the scenario presented in respect of HSE assisted people, the same principle applies to those under the rental accommodation scheme but the Minister has exempted them. I am interested in the reason.

Deputy John Gormley:  I have explained this in this House and in the Seanad. We try to encourage the rental accommodation scheme and move towards it. We have less and less money to build property. We are trying to move more people to the rented sector. We can get better value for money and that is why we made the exemption.

The RAS system is working well.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 3 agreed to.

SECTION 4.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 7, subsection (4)(a)(iii), line 5, after “granted” to insert “or separation agreement entered into”.

[115]As it stands, the section fails to recognise separation agreements and seems to put a premium on a court order or judicial separation. The Labour Party believes this is discrimination against people who are separated by agreement and that view travels well beyond the Labour Party. In legal definitions, this section would be seen to discriminate against that group. The Minister’s reply to the Seanad when this issue was debated there defies logic. He stated:

The amendment does not define adequately what a separation agreement is, whether it applies in the case of a marriage or otherwise or, more generally, what standing it has in law. Neither is it clear whether either or both of the parties to the marriage had the benefit of legal advice in arriving at that agreement. It would not be known whether any element of duress was present in respect of one of the parties to the agreement when it was entered into.

Excuse me, but this does not add up. “Separation agreement” has a clear legal meaning and the phrase is used in section 49 of the Family Law Act 1996 and sections 22(2) and 24(1)(b) of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, and in amendment No. 10 we use the definition included in section 20 of that Act. The Minister should accept this amendment. What he proposes creates a shortfall and we will end up with a test case on this matter and the legislation will be found to be legally flawed as it does not take into its scope one type of separation. If the Minister has received legal advice on this I would like him to quote it in the House because what he is proposing is at variance with the Statute Book.

Deputy John Gormley:  I thank Deputies Ciarán Lynch and Joanna Tuffy for tabling amendments Nos. 9 and 10. Section 4 provides that where a decree of divorce or a decree of judicial separation has been granted in respect of a marriage, a residential property in which a spouse retains an interest but which is occupied by the other spouse as his or her sole or main residence will not attract a liability for the charge in respect of the spouse who does not reside there. This provision is inserted to cater for the relatively common outcome of a divorce or separation agreement where one party continues to reside in the family home but the other, although retaining a financial interest in the property, does not.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seem to seek to give the same status to a separation agreement as is given to a decree granted by a court. Deputy Lynch is correct to state that I made the point in the Seanad that I have considerable sympathy with the objective of these amendments but, as before, I regret to state that I cannot accede to them. While the Labour Party amendments go further than those put forward in the Seanad in attempting to define what is a separation agreement, there remains a crucial difference between what the amendments propose and what is provided for in the Bill.

A decree of judicial separation and a decree of divorce, as referred to in the Bill, must be granted by a court but this is not the case with regard to the type of separation agreement proposed in the amendments we are discussing. As such, we would not know whether either or both parties to the separation agreement had the benefit of legal advice or whether due process generally was followed in arriving at the terms of the agreement. It seems that a court has a vital role to play in ensuring a separation agreement was entered into with the full consent of both parties and ensuring that the parties had been properly advised as part of the legal process.

I assure the Deputies that I am not opposing their amendments on the grounds that there would be a loss in revenue yield. The breakdown of a marriage is a very serious matter and one which generally brings with it a difficult and complicated process during which the parties, among other things, must disentangle their financial affairs. I do not wish to grant a form of legal recognition to this process where there is an insufficient guarantee that it has been carried [116]out properly and with adequate regard to the principles of natural justice and any relevant legal requirements.

The drafting of section 4(4) of the Bill is grounded in precedent. I refer the Deputies to section 13 of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2000 which deals with broadly similar circumstances, but which confines itself to actual decrees of divorce and separation granted under the same statutes as referred to in section 4(4)(b). Bearing in mind this and taking account of the points I have made with regard to the uncertainty surrounding a separation agreement, I regret I cannot accede to the amendments under discussion.

I want, however, to be as helpful as possible to the Deputies and I refer them to the definition of “owner” in the Bill which is set out in section 1. Essentially, an owner is a person who is entitled to receive the rent from a property. If, as part of a separation agreement, one of the parties to the marriage will not be entitled to occupy the residential property in question or to receive any rent in respect of it , I am prepared to advise local authorities that the person should not be regarded as an owner for the purposes of the Bill. It follows, therefore, that the person would not be required to pay the charge in respect of the property in which he or she retains some financial interest but in which he or she is not either residing or receiving rent as part of the separation agreement. I will do this as part of the guidance, to which I referred previously, I intend to issue to local authorities to assist them to carry this legislation into effect.

I hope it will be of benefit to the Deputies proposing the amendments if I also undertake to contact my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to advise him of the Deputies’ views in this matter, as this branch of law is primarily something in which his Department has the requisite expertise. As I pointed out, the provision included in the Local Government (Charges) Bill follows precedent in other legislation. Depending on my colleague’s advice, I would be happy in the future to address these concerns in a suitable legislative vehicle if this is necessary or appropriate in light of what I have already undertaken to do.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  The Minister made a point on precedent and I presume this precedent relates to the first time buyer’s exemption on stamp duty because when that exemption was introduced a separated person was eligible for it under certain conditions. If this is not the precedent to which the Minister referred, I ask him to clarify it.

Surely the majority of separations are by way of separation agreement, not court proceedings. The point is that the two spouses no longer live together. The situation envisaged here is that one of the spouses will be living in the property and the other will live somewhere else, but under the separation agreement both names could remain on the title deeds and both could have a legal and beneficial interest in the property. Merely because a separation agreement is mediated through negotiation with a solicitor or between the spouses they must pay the €200 tax. However, those who go through adversarial proceedings in court will not. This is not right.

Thousands of couples have had separation agreements for years and the Minister is stating he will give guidance to local authorities if there is a provision in the agreement which states the person is not entitled to receive rent from the property. How will people retrospectively provide for this in their separation agreements? The Minister has opened up a minefield by stating what he did. The Labour Party amendments would deal with the problem once and for all. A separation agreement is a legal document recognised by the State and its institutions. The idea that this is considered inferior because the people did not go to court is nonsense. I do not know what the exemption is under the Finance (No. 2) Act 2000 but it is not the same.

This is obviously an anomaly with which the Minister should deal. There is provision in the legislation for those with a decree of divorce or separation decree, but it should also apply in the case of those with separation agreements. Otherwise, the whole family law issue must be [117]open to question, particularly if, somehow, a separation agreement is not a separation agreement and not a legal document. Of course it is.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does the Minister wish to respond?

Deputy John Gormley:  Is there a need to go through it all again?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the Minister.

Deputy John Gormley:  We have gone through it.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  In response to the Minister’s comments on the issue, it appears he is saying people should pay either the €200 or the court costs. The notion of somebody having to go through an expensive court process to receive an exemption they should have been granted in the legislation is bizarre. The same is true with regard to the fact that the Minister says he will give guidance to local authorities. What he should be doing is providing them with clear direction through legislation. Failure to do this is a missed opportunity for the Minister to take leadership on this substantive issue — a separation agreement — which is something that is recognised in Ireland today. That the Minister is determining discriminating levels of status for people who are separated — as Deputy Tuffy pointed out — is nonsense. A separation agreement is an agreement reached by various means — through mediation, solicitors or personal agreement — which de facto states that two people no longer live together. They may have a second home, what was once a holiday home, where one of the partners now resides. This Bill in all common sense should provide that the exemption applies in that situation. On those grounds, the Labour Party will press the amendment.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 63; Níl, 70.

 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Carey, Joe.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Creed, Michael.
 Creighton, Lucinda.  D’Arcy, Michael.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Tom.
 Hogan, Phil.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lee, George.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  O’Sullivan, Maureen.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P.J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Upton, Mary.  Varadkar, Leo.
 Wall, Jack.  


Níl
 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Haughey, Seán.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Kitt, Michael P.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Moloney, John.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Seán.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Mary.
 White, Mary Alexandra.  Woods, Michael.

Tellers: Tá: Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl: Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan.

Amendment declared lost.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 7, subsection (4)(b), between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“separation agreement” means an agreement in writing which provides for the spouses concerned living separately and apart from each other.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We move to amendment No. 11. Amendment No. 12 is an alternative and the two amendments may be discussed together.

Deputy John Gormley:  I move amendment No. 11:

In page 7, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following subsections:

[119]

“(5) If, on a liability date, an individual who is the owner of a residential property—

(a) is incapacitated by reason of long term mental or physical infirmity, and

(b) had been obliged, at a time prior to that date, due to the said mental or physical infirmity, to vacate the said property, which had been, immediately preceding that time, his or her sole or main residence, and

(c) is normally resident in a place of which he or she is not the owner, then he or she shall not be liable to pay a charge in respect of that property in relation to that liability date.

(6) (a) If, on a liability date, a residential property is occupied, free of rent, as his or her sole or main residence by an individual who is a relative of the owner of the property, and the owner resides in another property as his or her sole or main residence, then the owner shall not be liable to pay a charge in respect of the first-mentioned property in relation to that liability date, provided that the first-mentioned property and the sole or main residence of the owner are located—

(i) on the same property, or

(ii) within 2 kilometres of each other.

(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), “relative” includes—

(i) a relation of the spouse or partner of the owner,

(ii) a person in respect of whom the owner is the legal guardian, and

(iii) a person who is a ward of court in respect of whom the owner is the committee.”.

The amendment inserts two new subsections into section 4 of the Bill. Subsection (5) caters for a situation where a person who owns a principle private residence vacates the dwelling in question because he or she is long-term incapacitated as a result of physical or mental illness. Although the dwelling in question would no longer be used by the person concerned as a principle private residence, a liability to pay the charge could arise. I accept there is an issue here in regard to whether it would be reasonable in these circumstances for the person concerned to incur this liability, notwithstanding the fact the charge is set at a very modest level. I am, therefore, tabling this amendment before the House.

The amendment provides that a number of criteria must be satisfied for the exemption to have effect. In the first instance, the incapacity must be long-term and due to mental or physical illness. Typically, I would expect the incapacity to be brought about by infirmity due to old age or perhaps a form of senile dementia, but other forms of illness could also result in incapacitation. Either way the essential point is that the person concerned is incapable of independent living at the time and in future.

The residence vacated must be the person’s principal residence and if the person does not own the residence in which he or she lives, no charge would arise in any case. If the dwelling vacated prior to entering long-term care were not the person’s principal residence, it is difficult to see why an exemption should be granted in respect of that property because, presumably, it would have been put to some form of economic use. The person concerned must not own the property in which he or she will reside in future. In such a case the person would be the owner of at least two properties and an exemption from a modest charge of €200 would not seem to be required in respect of the property vacated.

[120]Clearly a person who is incapacitated due to long-term illness will require long-term care and this is often, but not always, secured through a nursing home or care centre. In such cases, the Revenue Commissioners will permit the person’s income to be offset against the cost of residing in the nursing home or care centre. It is often the case that the property which was the person’s principal private residence is let out to defray in part the costs of long-term residential care. In bringing forward this amendment I am disinclined to require the person in care to pay the charge in these circumstances. Sometimes the person incapacitated goes to live with or is looked after by someone else, normally a relative. In these circumstances, I am also disinclined to provide that a charge should be paid on what used to be the incapacitated person’s principal private residence. The relative who has taken the incapacitated person under his or her care has probably relieved the State, at least partially, of the cost that otherwise would have been associated with institutional care of one kind or another. I am not inclined to impose a charge in these circumstances even if the dwelling concerned is rented out. In this respect the amendment I propose goes further than that tabled by Deputy Hogan, which referred specifically to a nursing home.

I refer to subsection (6) of the amendment which addresses the issue of what are sometimes referred to as granny flats. In general the Local Government (Charges) Bill does not apply the €200 charge to dwellings that are not separate dwellings. A granny flat that constitutes an integral part of the residence in question will not be liable for any charge, assuming the overall building of which it is part is a principal private residence. Nor will a granny flat be liable for a charge where it is owned by the person or persons who reside there if it is their principal private residence.

The question at issue, therefore, relates only to instances in which a granny flat constitutes a separate dwelling and is owned by someone other than the resident. The amendment is designed to cater for a person who owns the primary residential property of which the granny flat forms a part or is otherwise associated with. I accept a valid case has been made for exempting such properties from the charge. Such accommodation is usually provided by sons and daughters to enable them to look after their parents and in circumstances in which the parents, understandably, wish to retain a measure of independent living for as long as possible. However, it is very much secondary to the consideration to which I referred earlier. In addition, the costs to the State are likely to be a good deal less in cases in which people are being cared for by relatives rather than in long-term care.

I have dealt with the issues and although there is a good deal more I could say I will allow other Deputies speak.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  The Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated his amendment went further than the Fine Gael amendment, demonstrating a great hypocrisy. The Minister published legislation which allowed people in long-term care and those with granny flats attached to their homes to be subject to the charge. He accused Fine Gael and the media of being mischievous when we raised the issue, but he now praises himself for introducing an amendment that is better than the Fine Gael amendment. That represents a great political hypocrisy and double standards and it is difficult to take the Minister seriously when he debases politics by making such spurious comments. I welcome the amendment, which had to be dragged out of the Minister through the airwaves on RTE radio 1, as was the case with the mobile home amendment on Joe Duffy’s show. The Minister had to be dragged into reality concerning the category of people included in the charge. He now, however, praises himself for excluding these people.

The family is very important in any community. The Minister sought to impose on families a charge for attaching a granny flat to a principal private residence but such families would be [121]exempt if a mobile home were in the back garden. This represents a lack of joined-up thinking and I have no idea what took place at the Cabinet meeting at which the Minister initially introduced the Bill. I do not understand how it was not spotted in the context of observations from other Ministers on the Fianna Fáil side, of which there are not many here tonight to support the Minister. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the Minister has carried out another U-turn with this amendment and that he has put forward an acceptable definition. However, I seek clarification on two aspects. What does he mean by “long-term” in the legislation? How long is “long-term” in terms of mental or physical infirmity in subsection (5)(a)? What is the definition of a relation in subsection 6(b)? It states that, for the purposes of paragraph (a) , a “relative” includes a relation of the spouse or partner of the owner. What is meant by “relation”?

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  I wish to put a question about the second part of the amendment which would exclude a relative, but the term “granny flat” was mentioned by the Minister. What is the position if someone uses the same unit or property to house an au pair for example? Might someone in that situation get caught for the charge?

Deputy John Gormley:  An au pair is not a relative. I will revert to the earlier points made by the Deputy. A relative is someone who is a relative, it is as simple as that. It could be a brother or whatever.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  In the broadest extent of the term.

Deputy John Gormley:  This amendment did not have to be dragged out of me.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  It did, absolutely.

Deputy John Gormley:  It certainly did not and if the Deputy spoke to his colleagues in the Seanad or if he read the Seanad debate he would find they were pleased to praise the way in which I conducted the debate. I conducted it in a non-partisan way and I was pleased in an unprecedented way to go outside and to allow them to——

Deputy Phil Hogan:  To bring forward an amendment.

Deputy John Gormley:  ——be briefed thoroughly by my officials. We considered the issue and I could not believe that, while we were conducting those discussions in a most civilised way, the Deputy issued a press release which was mischievous. I stand by my description in that regard. We have examined all the issues and listened at all times to what people have had to say. If the Deputy wishes, we could close our ears to any of the points he tries to make, but I try to be as accommodating as I can and that is what I have done in this case. The result is better quality legislation.

I have stated previously that any of these issues can be considered from the guidance document point of view. We can consider this matter in this way in discussions with the local authorities. I would be pleased to do so in any case but it is appropriate to have a belt and braces approach. I am not here to praise myself, to use the Deputy’s words. I sought to broaden the scope of the legislation. The Deputy chose a certain wording but I believe the wording I have proposed captures a greater number of circumstances. I accept we do not have the opportunity to go through the matter in as much detail as he would wish but I believe our proposals on these two issues are comprehensive and deal with the outstanding issues.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  What about the definition of “long-term”?

[122]Deputy John Gormley:  The Deputy and I discussed the matter outside. Originally the wording was permanent, which was not flexible enough. On the meaning of “long-term”, someone who is residing in a nursing home is often regarded as someone having long-term incapacity and that is the best way to describe it. This is a description that has been used in other legislation so we were of the view that “long-term” was a better way of describing it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As it is now 8 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for Committee Stage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, in respect of each of the sections not disposed of, the section, or as appropriate, the section, as amended, is hereby agreed in Committee, that the Title is hereby agreed in Committee, that the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 7.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2a:

In page 9, lines 21 to 23, to delete all words from and including “of” in line 21 down to and including “expertise” in line 23 and substitute the following:

“of—

(a) any member of the Garda Síochána, or

(b) any former member of the Garda Síochána,

who appears to the Court to possess the appropriate expertise (in this section referred to as the “appropriate expert“)”.

—(Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy O’Donnell was in possession and amendments Nos. 2a, 3, 3a, 4a, 5, 5a and 5b, are being discussed together.

  8 o’clock

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I am speaking specifically on amendment No. 3. We have excellent garda detectives on the ground in Limerick who do fantastic work. We must ensure this section of the Bill is constitutional. Fine Gael proposes that the expert evidence of a Garda superintendent to the Special Criminal Court should be put forward in cases of gangland crime. We need to get immediate convictions and ensure that Roy Collins, Shane Geoghegan and Brian Fitzgerald will be remembered. We must ensure that we can deal with gangland crime in an effective fashion and stop senseless murders and such heinous crimes ever happening again. Fine Gael supports this legislation but we want to ensure that when it comes into operation within the legal and courts system, it will be effective. In that context the expert evidence of a Garda chief superintendent to the Special Criminal Court would be the most effective in ensuring convictions for gangland crime and for the direction of and involvement in gangland crime in Limerick.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The import of this group of amendments is that notwithstanding that the evidence in question is only as to the existence of a gang, the view is that it would be more appropriate that this would be a garda of more senior rank. This has been the practice up to now and also because of the fact that a more senior garda, not below the rank as suggested in the amendments, would be likely to have more comprehensive information available to him. [123] One cannot expect a garda of any rank to have the same breadth of knowledge and the same sources of information. It is also to avoid or to minimise the possibility of accident.

A gruesome murder that took place in Limerick was reported by RTE to be the unlawful killing of yet another victim who was known to the Garda Síochána and who had criminal associations. When this report was corrected later in the day and when RTE had to apologise, it did so quite properly and fully because it was in error. This was one hell of an error, given the tragedy that had already transpired. The apology went on to explain that RTE only reported what they had reported because they had been briefed and had double-checked it with the Garda Síochána in Limerick. I have been hearing here how expert the Garda Síochána is in advising on its local knowledge of gangs and gang personalities. Whatever views people may hold about the national broadcaster, its accuracy and professionalism in the news department is usually of a very high standard. In this case they reported that the victim was known to the Garda Síochána with all that implies. They only reported that because they were so advised by the local gardaí. This is not a matter we can take lightly. The experience before the Court of Criminal Appeal is that this business is taken very seriously and if a garda is required of a higher rank to make sure from several sources available to him or her, the testimony is likely to be more reliable. This is an additional good reason for the Minister taking one of these amendments on board.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  We are dealing here with the burden of responsibility in proving what in effect constitutes a criminal organisation. Already on the last occasion we clarified the position regarding section 70 of the 2006 Act which has never been used to any significant effect. We propose the insertion of a new section to follow that section establishing the definition of a criminal organisation. Without impugning the Garda Síochána in any manner, it is important that the law reserves this burden of responsibility to senior persons for two reasons.

First, it reflects the importance of the officer going into to court, that he or she is a serious, experienced and expert officer of a rank not below that of a chief superintendent; everybody can testify that is a high-ranking official with many years of service, experience and, more importantly, expertise. Second, it underlines the gravity of the offence in terms of what is a criminal organisation because a person convicted of being a member of, participating in, directing or otherwise a criminal organisation can face a hefty sentence of imprisonment. The gravity of the offence must be reflected and that can be done by the status, experience and expertise of the officer.

I asked the Minister a question on the previous occasion but I am not sure if he responded. If he did I will ask him to repeat it because I do not have a note of his answer, nor can I recollect it. Part 2 deals with organised crime and the new section 71B(1) states: “In proceedings under this Part the opinion of any member of the Garda ...”. It could be that this opinion is being given by a Garda who is retired for many years, may not have been in the force for decades and who has been involved in a different career since leaving the force. We know that because many members of the Garda Síochána are forced to retire at a relatively young age and embark upon many and varying pursuits, some in the security industry because of their knowledge.

I would be concerned that ordinary ranking gardaí who may have left the force many years and embarked on different and varying careers could be called upon to give evidence to establish proof of the existence of a criminal organisation in an area. The relaxation of the safeguards around that opinion is a cause of concern that could be dealt with in a forum other than this one. Will the Minister clarify if this opinion evidence of an ordinary ranking member of the Garda Síochána could be given to a judge without any other witness being present? If that is the case, the concerns expressed by Deputies should be taken into consideration. The Minister [124]might confirm that there are no circumstances in which that could happen, given the proposals in the Bill. I will conclude because the Minister has a number of questions to answer but there does not appear to be a standard or a requirement of experience in terms of years standing, nor is there a standard of expertise which could be a matter of interpretation, given the individual circumstances.

Serious concerns arise here and I ask the Minister to explain not only the rationale behind his introduction of a late amendment facilitating the giving of evidence by a former member of the Garda Síochána and also the legal advice at his disposal that confirms his belief that by loosening the long-established safeguards, he is acting in a way that is constitutionally sound.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I have some sympathy with what Deputy Flanagan is trying to achieve while being opposed to the section as a whole. At least somebody of the standing of a chief superintendent would have the experience and a full understanding of the justice system which an ordinary member may not necessarily have. I have not been listening to the radio today and I do not know what sentence was imposed but a member of the Garda Síochána was convicted and sentenced today for her attempts to falsify evidence and obstruct justice. Not every member of the Garda Síochána is infallible and a high standard should be set if the Minister intends to go down this route.

Opinion evidence is no more than hearsay because it can be contradicted by the opinion of the others. The problem in the special court over the years was that the judges did not accept a contrary argument when it was dealing with people who were charged with IRA membership and that the basis of the evidence was just a garda’s word. What the level of that evidence had to be changed over the years but it was still used on occasion to convict. That appears to be the intention in this Bill in that a garda’s evidence would be enough to say a criminal organisation exists.

I gave the example previously but will repeat it. Recently, a senior garda in the Dublin South Central area denied at a public meeting that a feud was going on in the area despite the fact that 13 people had died at the hands of the ruthless gangs involved. That was an example of a garda giving contrary evidence to what the dogs in the street in Crumlin, Drimnagh and the rest of the country understood to be true. It might not be on the scale that Paul Williams and others would have us believe but it does exist.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the letter, although he has probably seen it at this stage, signed by over 130 barristers and solicitors in regard to the Bill. On the point about opinion evidence from a garda they state:

Opinion evidence from a garda must be understood as simply that — an opinion. No basis for such an opinion would be required by this Bill. No corroboration is required.

A Garda on the beat — who may base it on a person’s previous convictions or from evidence upon which he/she will claim privilege and therefore not divulge where it came from — will be able to give an opinion which could result in conviction and sentence for a serious crime.

The Constitution will surely not permit this, but even if it does, Ireland is likely to find itself shamed before the international community when the European Court of Human Rights or the United Nations Human Rights Committee are, inevitably, called upon to rule on the issue.

The Minister’s Bill was bad enough in its original presentation but he is now introducing an amendment to go beyond that and allow opinion evidence from a former member of the Garda [125]Síochána who supposedly has expertise. We have seen some of the articles by some of these expert gardaí in the newspapers which amount to sensationalism.

We must also consider the amount of leaking in investigations of details of suspects, which I believe in some cases undermines the possibility of a conviction. There seems to be more information available to the newspapers than there is to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It has never been fully addressed that Garda files, Garda photographs and intelligence which only those who are investigating close to the crime would have access to seems to leak out to the newspapers, especially the newspapers which sensationalise it. They create gangs where they do not exist. We need to be careful here. Might the word of a garda be based on an article he read in the Sunday World or similar? I have major concerns about going down this route. I am in sympathy with Deputy Flanagan’s attempt to introduce a safeguard. Although the evidence would be opinion evidence it would, at least, be given by a witness of a high standing who would understand its full impact.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in its submission on the Bill, highlighted some of the points I have made. I urge the Minister to re-read what the council has to say about section 7. The submission says:

The opinion of any garda who appears to the court to possess the appropriate expertise would be admissible as evidence of the existence of a criminal organisation. Under this section expertise means experience, specialised knowledge or qualifications. The opinion of the garda can be informed by the existence of previous convictions of the accused person.

In most trials the existence of previous convictions is not disclosed until the end of the trial. Here a garda can influence the court at an early stage, based upon someone’s previous convictions. The submission continues:

The Supreme Court has considered the use of belief evidence and its compatibility with Article 38 of the Constitution and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. While holding that a garda may claim privilege as to his or her sources when being cross-examined about belief evidence, the [Supreme] Court is clear that conviction cannot take place without the support of corroborative evidence, in recognition of the disadvantage which flows from and accrues to the defence in a trial. Moreover, in relation to the rank of a garda who is entitled to provide belief evidence, the Court stated that, the relevant provision in the Offences Against the State Act was “carefully crafted, ensuring that the belief evidence must come from an officer of An Garda Síochána not below the rank of Chief Superintendent”. This, the Supreme Court said, “was a view establishing trust and credibility as far as possible”.

That safeguard of a Chief Superintendent establishing trust and credibility is what Deputy Flanagan is inserting in the Bill. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties believes section 7 should be withdrawn and that, without prejudice, should the Bill be enacted opinion evidence should be restricted to a garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent. It believes the Bill “should include an express provision that a person cannot be convicted on opinion evidence alone”.

I do not wish to see drugs gangs escaping conviction. Recent legislative changes, particularly the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill will allow for that evidence to be built up. The Garda Síochána requires additional resources. The Minister denies they need these and says they have everything they need. An adequately resourced Garda Síochána coupled with the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill could build up cases properly and prosecute them to a proper conclusion.

This section of the Bill is flawed and should be withdrawn.

[126]Deputy Thomas Byrne:  I encourage the Minister in his resolve on this issue. Civil liberties and constitutional issues are important but so are the rights of ordinary citizens to go about their daily lives, not only in County Limerick but in my constituency in County Meath, where many of the gangs from Finglas have decided to live. Crime is an important issue in my part of the country.

A garda giving evidence in court does not determine guilt or innocence. He or she does not determine whether an organisation exists. His evidence will simply be part of what the judge must weigh up and decide on. Other evidence will be presented, which the judge will accept or reject based on his or her view of it.

I encourage the Minister in his resolve. His amendment to allow former members of the Garda Síochána to give the same evidence is appropriate. The issue was raised of gardaí who are long retired being allowed to give evidence. If such a retired garda were to give evidence it would, surely, be weighed accordingly by a judge.

Let us keep thinking about the victims. We should acknowledge the support for the Minister from the general public. The correct procedures in the Dáil must be observed and the Bill scrutinised line by line but we must not forget the victims of crime. The public want this legislation and it is important that we give it to them.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The purpose of Amendment No. 2a and those associated with it is to emphasise that the person giving evidence as to the existence of a gang must establish, to the satisfaction of the court, that he or she is an expert. Any garda will not be sufficient. The garda giving evidence must establish that he or she has the appropriate expertise. A garda, “who appears to the court to possess the appropriate expertise shall be admissible”.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh is wrong when he says previous offences can be taken into account. Subsection (3) states:

It shall be permissible for that member [of the Garda] in forming the opinion to take into account any previous convictions for arrestible offences of persons believed by the member to be part of a criminal gang.

This merely allows a garda to form an opinion. We are extending the measure to former members of the Garda because some members who have the necessary expertise may have left the force prior to the hearing.

There is considerable misunderstanding and misinformation among people I would have thought had expertise in this area. As recently as midnight last night, I heard someone on the airwaves mistaking what the Bill is about. He seemed to confuse it with opinion evidence, as a lawyer would normally know it, in the context of the Offences Against the State Act. In that legislation the opinion of a Chief Superintendent that a person is a member of a proscribed organisation is admissible. That is not part of this legislation. We have not gone that far. The expert evidence cited in this Bill is to the existence, generally, of a gang. It does not go any way to point guilt or innocence at the accused in question. The evidence will simply set the scene to the court and is an attempt to deal with the acknowledged difficulty of proving these criminal gang offences.

In drafting the Bill, we discussed it with the Garda Síochána. It has serious reservations about any proposal to introduce rank into the Bill. It has concerns that in assessing the expertise of any member or former member, the courts may have regard to the rank the person holds or attained in the Garda. The key issue is the knowledge of the garda, irrespective of rank. The rank of garda who would normally produce this expert evidence is detective inspector. [127] The strong advice of the Garda is that we should not specify a rank because there may very well be a garda of a lower rank who would have that expertise.

Reference was made to the famous letter. The letter is incorrect. It states: “A garda on the beat ... will be able to give an opinion which could result in conviction and sentence for a serious crime”. That is not the case. There is no way in which this section could, on its own, establish guilt or innocence. It does not go towards someone’s guilt or innocence. Instead, it establishes the existence of a criminal gang to the satisfaction of the court. Deputy Charles Flanagan is correct in that the garda would be open to cross-examination in open court unless the judge decided to exclude someone, although that only occurs in rare cases.

This is not opinion evidence in the normal understanding of opinion evidence in terms of the Offences Against the State Act. I accept that there must be corroboration of those offences. The provision in the Bill is to establish that a criminal gang is operating in a particular geographic area and to prevent a garda from impugning the accused at that stage. I ask people to understand this point and to accept what the Garda is saying.

If we were to limit the rank to that of chief superintendent, he or she might not have within his or her own knowledge the expertise in respect of the gang’s existence. By including that measure, we would be asking a superintendent with second-hand knowledge of the gang’s existence to subject himself or herself to cross-examination. Any lawyer worth his or her salt would be able to draw a coach and four through the garda. The chief superintendent might have general knowledge, just not the knowledge required under the Bill, namely, expertise, experience, specialised knowledge and qualifications. I strongly suggest that we accept the Garda’s assertion that no rank should be linked to this, although the understanding is that the officer should be as senior as possible.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Can we make progress on this amendment?

Deputy Finian McGrath:  On section 7.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We will discuss the section separately. We are on amendment No. 2a.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments No. 3 and 3a not moved.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

“(3) A person shall not be convicted of an offence under this Act based on the opinion given under this section in the absence of corroborating evidence, which shall not include evidence given to a Court based on section 9 of this Act.”.

This amendment relates to opinion evidence. I listened to the Minister, but we are establishing new offences and dealing with what constitutes the existence of a criminal organisation. The Minister stated that no one will be convicted under the opinion evidence, but it will be fundamental in leading to a conviction because it will establish the existence of a criminal organisation or gang. The level of evidence submitted is inextricably linked with the conviction because no conviction will be achieved without the court having established the gang’s existence. It is a difficult and too wide-ranging a proposal to depart from the accepted procedure under the Offences Against the State Acts. The Supreme Court has stated that opinion evidence must be [128]corroborated. Amendment No. 4 leaves no doubt as to the need to have corroborating evidence.

The manner and speed with which the Bill is being passed poses a difficulty, as the surveillance legislation has not been given an opportunity to run its course through the courts. In practice, opinion evidence accompanied by the evidence garnered under the surveillance Bill will help ensure that what the Supreme Court has stated will be maintained, that is, the unsoundness of opinion evidence alone. Without amendment No. 4 or a similar confirmation, corroborating evidence would be essential to any opinion evidence and we would be in danger of jeopardising the soundness of the Bill.

The practical effect of the surveillance legislation may be that the process I have outlined will be routine in such cases. The corroboration that ensures opinion evidence on the existence of a criminal gang is acceptable to a court could be achieved under any of the provisions of the surveillance legislation in terms of evidence that can be produced. Will the Minister accept the amendment?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Were we addressing this matter under the scheduled offences in the Offences Against the State Act and opinion evidence was being given as to the guilt of a particular individual by a chief superintendent, I would agree that there would need to be corroborative evidence. The courts have stated this point umpteen times. After the Shane Geoghegan murder, I asked the Attorney General to re-examine the request from Deputy Noonan, a former Minister for Justice, to determine whether we could use a chief superintendent’s opinion evidence in respect of organised gangs in a similar way as is handled under legislation on paramilitary organisations. The Attorney General confirmed the advice given by the previous Attorney General on the 2007 legislation to the effect that opinion evidence cannot be given without substantial corroborative evidence.

However, the Bill and section 7 do not deal with that matter. To accept the Deputy’s amendment would give rise to the suggestion that the garda’s opinion evidence could be used in determining the guilt or otherwise of a defendant, which this section is not about. Nowhere else in the legislation is opinion evidence that goes to the potential core of an accused’s guilt given.

To put the matter beyond doubt, I refer the Deputy to the proposed new section 74B in section 13, which states: “Nothing in this Part prevents a court, in proceedings thereunder, from excluding evidence that would otherwise be admissible if, in its opinion, the prejudicial effect of the evidence outweighs its probative value”. The amendment in question resembles section 3 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1972, which requires evidence to be given by an officer of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent. His or her evidence is to the person’s membership of an unlawful organisation, which is the offence but that is not the case in this section or legislation. As stated, the evidence of a Garda officer will not be used to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant.

A signatory to the famous letter appeared on “Morning Ireland” yesterday. She stated that her first problem with the legislation was the provision that allowed for opinion evidence of any ranking garda to be given as to the membership of a gang. It is not correct because opinion evidence does not determine the guilt of an accused under this legislation. Equally, there is no offence of membership of a gang. When people comment on this matter, they should examine section 7, the purpose of which is to try to establish participation in a gang.

When I sat down with the Garda Commissioner, the Attorney General and my officials in the weeks subsequent to the murder of Roy Collins, we decided we would consider a number of issues, including the existing legislation, to determine whether the legislative provisions were being used. This is because certain commentators, such as the Deputies opposite, were saying [129]they were not. We do not have a say in whether the provisions are used; that is the role of the DPP. We examined how we could amend the existing offence of participation and determined whether we could have an offence of membership but decided on the advice of the Attorney General that proving membership of an organised criminal gang was beyond the possibility of legislation. We therefore decided to stick with the amended offence of participation and the new offence of directing a criminal organisation.

The suggested amendment gives the incorrect impression that opinion evidence goes to the heart of the guilt of an accused under section 7.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister is asking us to take a lot on faith. It puts us in a difficult position because, given that the Minister is minded to push through the legislation before the recess, nobody wants to a see a section of the Bill undermined in terms of its efficiency on commencement.

The concept described by the Minister is very unusual. We have just passed over the issue of adding “or former garda”. I am certain, without having checked the matter, that there is no such precedent anywhere in the criminal law. The Minister stated the garda best able to give evidence as to the existence of a gang and what it is doing is the garda patrolling the streets of a particular neighbourhood and that, as a consequence, we should not persist in dividing the House. We did not do so in respect of the issue pertaining to gardaí who are not below a certain rank. When the Minister was asked to instance the kind of former garda he would call to testify, he referred to the former Assistant Garda Commissioner, Mr. Tony Hickey. Former Assistant Garda Commissioner, Mr. Tony Hickey, is a long way from gardaí on the beat in certain troubled areas.

On the last occasion on which we discussed this Bill, the Minister quoted a document he said he received from the Garda Commissioner. He felt Cabinet confidentiality would prevent him from informing the Opposition of the information therein. The result is that we are in quite difficult circumstances. The Bill is being rushed through and there is no time to hear other evidence and input. I demur from dividing the House on this matter and am willing to take the Minister at his word, although there is a great lack of certainty as to where we are going.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I genuinely wanted to move in the direction of opinion evidence as regards membership of a criminal gang but the Attorney General confirmed advice given by a preceding Attorney General stating the difficulty was not just the necessity to have corroborative evidence but also that membership of a gang would be difficult to establish. It was relatively easy to prove membership of a paramilitary organisation but it is not as easy to prove membership of a criminal gang and that is why we dropped this idea. Consequently we had to re-examine the issue of opinion evidence as to membership.

Expert evidence of a garda on the existence of a gang constitutes a new way — the way advised by the Attorney General — of adding to the proofs required to establish that a loose gang, not in any way similar to the Provisional IRA or any other paramilitary organisation that was operating in the State for decades, is operating in a particular geographical area. That is why much of the discussion on opinion evidence, as it is normally known by a lawyer, is not encompassed by this legislation. The legislation refers to the establishment of the fact that there is a gang in existence in a particular area but the person who gives evidence in this regard cannot link it to the guilt, or otherwise, of the accused.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Let me refer to a point the Minister made in respect of the ease of gaining convictions in the Special Criminal Court. It was not easy to prove membership but it was easy to gain a conviction given that there was no jury. That is one of the problems.

[130]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It has to be said that people did not recognise the court because they were not prepared to give evidence to oppose what the chief superintendent was saying.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  It was easy to gain a conviction but not to prove membership, which was a different matter. We can return to that if the Minister wants.

We are scheduling two offences without provision for a jury. The Minister stated there is no crime of membership but has created a crime that is its equivalent. Uncorroborated evidence from a garda that a gang or criminal organisation exists will be, in many cases, based on undisclosed previous convictions. The opinion of the garda will be based on whatever is in the PULSE system but this could not be declared to the court because it would prejudice a jury. A garda giving evidence, or supposed evidence, will state it is his firm belief that Mr. A is a member of a certain criminal organisation but if cross-examined he will not be able to disclose that his evidence is based on previous convictions that might be ten or 20 years old. The gang with which the convictions are associated may no longer exist.

The Minister said that no crime of membership exists. The section before us equates to that because the person could be charged with being involved in an offence of participating in or contributing to certain activities mentioned in section 6 which states, in subsection (4):

In proceedings for an offence under this section it shall not be necessary for the prosecution to prove—

(a) that the criminal organisation concerned or any of its members actually committed, as the case may be—

(i) a serious offence. . .

It is a huge leap of faith and danger to the system of justice that a garda can associate a person with an organisation, which he or she swears exists, and does not have to prove any crime when the person convicted under that section might be liable to up to 15 years in jail. Many of those whom we would like to see behind bars probably deserve the 15 years but this is not the way forward.

The way forward is to properly resource the Garda Síochána, to use the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill and if at the end of that time, two or three years from now, it has been shown that those steps are not working we can move to the provision in section 8, that “the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice”. The time to declare a national emergency is after we have taken the practical steps that I mentioned the last day we debated this Bill and the Minister accused me of going all over the place. They are simple steps. Everything in this Bill is predicated on the Government’s failure to deliver the practical steps first and foremost to remedy problems, such as the Garda stations throughout the country which do not even have Internet access or proper rooms; the lack of proper scanners around the country to scan trucks for weaponry and drugs and the like; the shortage of sniffer dogs; the inadequacy of the forensic laboratory; the under-resourcing of drugs units; the failure to achieve the target for civilianisation, to properly fund the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing service, to protect juries and witnesses or even to introduce legislation which puts them on a standard footing; and the other matters I mentioned such as the bans on overtime, promotions and recruitment and the delay in the TETRA system. There are more. That is what should be done first before we go down the route intended by this Bill. I oppose the Minister’s intentions in this section.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I have some concerns about this section but they are not the same as those of the last speaker. There are issues that revolve around the points raised by the [131]Minister and the Members on this side of the House. I do not accept the notion that previous history should not become an issue. That is not particularly relevant to this amendment but it could be relevant in an attempt to determine whether a person was a member of a criminal gang.

I was here in 1984 when the then Criminal Justice Bill was introduced and the House sat until 7 a.m. I was concerned that some of the measures introduced then would be used against innocent people in an arbitrary fashion to secure a conviction in a way that we would regret. There were many submissions to support that view. It did not happen but the Bill was watered down to such an extent that it became ineffective and failed to deal with the problems at the time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should deal with amendment No. 4.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I want to put it on the record because I have spoken about this before, as have others.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is in evidence now.

  9 o’clock

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Unlike the Ceann Comhairle I am not a lawyer. I speak as an ordinary layman. In 1996 and 1997 it was found necessary again to introduce more corrective or restrictive measures to combat the problem. I had serious concerns about that Bill at the time and again I was wrong. It is interesting that after a few years there appears to be a serious erosion of the rights of society and the law-abiding citizens around us. I do not agree with the last speaker. I believe that the case must be based on solid legal grounds. It should not be put in such a way that a clever cross-examiner in the courts could poke holes in it and overturn the legislation and leave us back where we were. I do not agree with the notion that we should see how it works and leave part of the legislation out and reintroduce it in a couple of years’ time. It is too late for that. I agree there should be substantive evidence that is corroborated. It cannot come from just anybody or be based on opinion alone, there must be some back-up.

We had all better be aware that there is a serious situation unfolding before our eyes and if we do not tackle this head on we will be judged by the law-abiding citizens outside who have deep concerns. I am not suggesting that my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, was speaking for the less than law-abiding citizens. From my knowledge of what is going on in this country, as a non-legal person, cases have come before the courts where a serious history exists and it is probably just as well that the jury is not told. I know why the information cannot be made available but it shocks me to read of some of the things that have happened in the courts——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must confine himself to amendment No. 4.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is on amendment No. 4.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s remarks will be more appropriate to section 7 when we discuss it. We are on a very narrow amendment now, submitted by Deputy Flanagan.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am speaking on the basis of Deputy Flanagan’s——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to obey the rules.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The amendment is about the basis for the case and whether the evidence should come from a garda above or below a certain level. We are either serious about this or not. If we want to be serious about it and tackle the issue then we go about it. If we [132]want to fiddle around with it we can talk around in rings and circles for as long as we like but the public knows full well what the issues are, where and how they occur. If 100 lawyers write to The Irish Times with a concern along these lines, I want to hear about it. If, however, this is nothing more than someone speculating I want to hear about that too. Unless we tackle this issue now, society that abides by the law and is concerned with the failure to enforce it will judge all of us.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I share many of the Minister’s views on this issue because it concerns enhancing the ability to bring prosecutions for organised crime. The provision to take the evidence of a former garda is relevant because I know from experience that many former gardaí have excellent intelligence, no matter how high or low their rank. We should listen to them. We should also listen to people involved in the anti-drugs movement who are aware of the people involved in organised crime.

On amendment No. 4, I agree that there must be quality corroborative evidence. This is an important point.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue both for the people I represent in County Monaghan and myself. For the past 30 years the people of Monaghan have had the dark cloud of an impending hospital closure hanging over their heads. In the 1980s, the Minister for Health at the time, Barry Desmond, used the famous phrase that he wanted to close and dispose of the hospital. That was not what we wanted then and it is certainly not what I want now.

I want to see an enhanced role for the hospital in Monaghan in providing services which it is competent in delivering and which the people would have faith in using. Monaghan’s medical unit is second to none under the expert guidance of the consultant, Dr. McMahon, and it should continue to provide such services.

I have no objection to changing for the better and standing still is not an option. If change is something to be embraced and not feared, it must be managed properly. Since I was elected and before that, I have believed that in order to effect change in a real way one has to work within the system. However, the level of engagement and consultation with the HSE has been disgraceful and with the proposed changes as of 22 July, the level of meaningful discussion has been unacceptable.

I never at any time made promises on the hospital which I felt I could not deliver and I always knew this would be an uphill battle. Nevertheless I pledged to do my best. Although I was tempted many times to use the media to create the impression of over-the-top activity on my behalf, I never chose to do so. I regret that the system has failed me and the HSE has moved on without any involvement or input from me.

Since being elected I have endeavoured to do my best and I will continue to do so. The proposed measure as the HSE sees it is “a replacement with a safer, superior alternative” but I do not see it that way. The HSE are masters at changing the goalposts when it suits.

[133]The medical assessment unit in Cavan is working well but there is chaos in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, with patients on trolleys and long waiting times for assessment and admissions. There was nobody on a trolley in Cavan yesterday or today but Drogheda is more than making up for that. There are patients on trolleys today and there were patients on trolleys yesterday. I can guarantee that there will be patients on trolleys tomorrow. Is that a better service? I think not.

I have always been consistent in saying that systems must be in place, bedded in, tried and tested so that people can have confidence in any newly reconfigured services. I am disappointed that over the past few weeks there has been much political game playing and scurrilous personal attacks; there is no place for such abuse in any debate. I regret that we came to that level.

Tonight I appeal to the HSE not to proceed as proposed on 22 July as it is too soon. Not everything is in place and there has been a lack of consultation and engagement by the HSE. It has not had the full benefit of the wisdom of GPs and Dr. McMahon and other stakeholders. If the HSE treats the GPs in the same manner as the elected representatives, it is no wonder it has no engagement.

My major fear is that the HSE will not have all its i’s dotted and t’s crossed by 22 July and something will go wrong to compromise patient care and safety. I will hold Professor Brendan Drumm and the management of the transformation team in the north east responsible and accountable for any failings or shortcomings that have a negative impact on any patient. I guarantee that I will watch their every move every step on the way.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this issue to be discussed by the four Deputies from County Monaghan. I am very disappointed that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, did not see fit to be here tonight. I hope this Minister of State will give us a positive reply.

I welcome the statement in The Irish Times by Deputies O’Hanlon and Conlon indicating that they are against the transfer of services on 22 July 2009 but what have they done in the past few months and years to change the decision of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and the present and previous taoisigh, who worked with the HSE to remove the services from Monaghan General Hospital? The Minister did everything possible to close down the hospital before by using the tragic death of Pat Joe Walsh, who should never have been removed from the hospital in Drogheda. During the period when the hospital was off-call, up to 17 lives were lost.

Who is charge of the health service and runs the budget? Has she any role in how that is administered? If she does not, is there any role for Deputies in Government at all? We have heard Deputy Conlon say that she has worked hard behind the scenes but the Minister is in charge and not Professor Drumm. Professor Drumm is answerable to the Minister.

Earlier I submitted questions to the Minister and I hope the replies are available. Has the transfer of services from Monaghan General Hospital been discussed and agreed as safe with Monaghan GPs? Has it been discussed with consultants in the hospital? What evidence does the Minister have that what is being done is safer and better than the service currently available? Can primary care teams deliver a replacement service and is there any in place in Monaghan?

Will the Minister comment on why the advice of Teamwork is being ignored when it was paid to provide such advice? It clearly indicated that the services at Monaghan should not be removed until the new regional hospital is in place. Does the Minister accept that the current project is being spearheaded by management structures without any medical expertise?

[134]Some €17 million was spent on Monaghan General Hospital in repair and restructuring. I make no apology for reminding the House that on the day the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, officially opened the two brand new, state-of-the-art wards, I organised a protest at the gates — in which I was supported by the party I represent, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Monaghan General Hospital Alliance — because we learned that at the same time that these wards were being opened, a top-quality female medical ward was being dismantled and state-of-the-art beds were being dumped in storage. This meant that 25 beds were removed from service.

The new proposal put forward by the HSE, which is supported by those who represent the main Government party — including the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, and Deputies O’Hanlon and Conlon — is that the two wards opened in September 2007 be dismantled, at a cost of €6 million, and be turned into two 13-bed units for rehabilitation and respite.

I beg the Minister for Health and Children, at this late stage, to intervene with the HSE in order to put a stop to the lunacy of taking our hospital off call. This hospital is capable of providing a good service and closing it is unwise, unsafe and unjustified. The four Oireachtas Members who represent the constituency were recently brought to see the new state-of-the-art ambulances at the paramedic unit that is due to replace the hospital. However, I must highlight the fact that in the past number of weeks it took an ambulance 45 minutes to reach the site of an accident at Knockatallan. This accident involved a lorry and took place on the main national primary route which runs from Donegal to Dublin. The paramedics were contacted first but the ambulance arrived before them.

We have been promised that the new service will be state-of-the-art. Deputies O’Hanlon and Conlon should ask the Taoiseach who is in charge of the HSE. That organisation is not completely without attachment to the House. We must ensure that it is accountable to the Dáil.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  This matter relates to patient care; it is not about party politics or any other agenda. I did not oppose the transfer of services in circumstances where I accepted that a better and safer service was being provided. This is not the case with regard to the announcement of 8 June.

Monaghan General Hospital has an excellent acute medical service, which provides for approximately 80% of patients’ needs. I recognise that major improvements have taken place in the provision of services in our region. I refer, for example, to the medical assessment unit in Cavan and the enhanced ambulance service, to which Deputy Crawford referred, in Monaghan and Castleblaney.

What is being implemented will result in patients travelling 30 to 50 miles and I am not satisfied that sufficient additional facilities have been put in place in Cavan or Drogheda to cope with the increased numbers that will come from County Monaghan. Where an appropriate level of service can be provided at Monaghan General Hospital, then it should be provided. It is important to recognise the level of services that will continue at Monaghan General Hospital. The two wards to which Senator Crawford referred will be used in an extremely efficient manner to, for example, facilitate patient rehabilitation.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  The ward in Cavan has been closed.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  A wide range of outpatient services, including day surgery, ear, nose and throat services and a number of investigative procedures, will continue to be provided. More people attend outpatient clinics than are admitted to hospital.

[135]I urge the Minister for Health and Children to ensure that an adequate CT scanner is put in place at Monaghan General Hospital. It is important that the hospital should have all the state-of-the-art facilities necessary to assist in the provision of services. I made that point to Professor Drumm last night when Deputy Conlon and I discussed the issue with him at a meeting which lasted an hour and a half.

We must move forward from where we are and not from a point at which we would like to be. Medical patients, particularly elderly people who are affected by conditions such as pneumonia, asthma, strokes and mild heart attacks, should continue to be treated at Monaghan General Hospital because this would mean that they would be near to home and their relatives. In order to achieve this, I would like the Minister for Health and Children to request the Health Service Executive, which has the ultimate responsibility in this area——

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  It is the Minister who has that responsibility.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  The operation of the services is the responsibility of the HSE, not the Minister. It is time we moved away from adversarial politics——

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  What happened at Roscommon?

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  ——and stopped blaming the Minister for things for which she has no responsibility.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I tried to do that for years and it did not work.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  What we should do is come together in order to achieve a resolution.

I ask that the Minister for Health and Children request that the Health Service Executive work with elected representatives, those who represent the hospital staff, GPs and patient representatives in order to consider the options that exist in order to ensure that the level and quality of health care will not be compromised. We must ensure that the elderly people to whom I refer will continue to be treated at Monaghan General Hospital.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On this morning’s Order of Business, the Ceann Comhairle characterised the axing of services at Monaghan General Hospital as a constituency matter. With respect, I must correct the Ceann Comhairle and say that it is a national matter with consequences for hospitals throughout the country. Monaghan is the blueprint for this Government’s policy of slashing services in local hospitals. What it is doing to Monaghan now it plans to do to other hospitals in Dundalk, Navan, Nenagh, Ennis, Tralee and Cork, with still more likely to follow. These are ultimately political decisions.

I have been reliably informed from within the HSE that the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, were closely involved in the decision to axe these services from 22 July next. Let us consider the timing involved. The HSE signalled that these services were to go in November 2008. It then decided that the closure would not happen until the start of this year. Finally, a date in early summer was identified as apt for their disappearance. However, the local and European elections loomed and the axe was hidden until polling day passed. That axe was merely being sharpened and, lo and behold, two days before the Dáil goes into recess until September, the announcement was made that it will finally fall on 22 July.

This represents nothing short of a health care disaster for the people of counties Monaghan and Cavan and areas beyond. It flies in the face of all appeals from front line health care workers — including nurses, GPs, consultants and support staff — and from people of all political affiliations and religious beliefs. From 22 July, lives will be at risk, day and night, [136]because we will lose vital hospital services, including emergency services and inpatient medical care. Lives were lost when Monaghan General Hospital was off call for emergencies in the past and now another fatal date has been set.

Deputies Conlon and O’Hanlon pointed out that all the promised support services due to be put in place before the axing of acute care at Monaghan have not, in fact, been put in place. That is true but I will return to those Deputies in a moment.

Even if all the promised supports were put in place, this would still not make the execution of Monaghan General Hospital acceptable or safe. In the HSE’s confidential so-called transformation planning document of April 2008 — I revealed this fact at the time —“rehab/respite/step-down” facilities are described as “alternatives to acute inpatient care”. Of course, they are no such thing.

The decision announced yesterday represents an attack on the health services by this Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and a betrayal of the people by the members of Fianna Fáil who represent Cavan and Monaghan, namely, Deputies Conlon, O’Hanlon and Smith. Deputies Conlon and O’Hanlon shed crocodile tears here this evening but this morning they voted with the Government and could not bring themselves to abstain in the vote I called in order to allow all Deputies to register a protest at what is being done to Monaghan General Hospital. The Deputies opposite had an opportunity to make a difference but the vote was defeated by 70 votes to 68.

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  That was a vote on the Order of Business. It had nothing to do with Monaghan General Hospital.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon:  It was a vote on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  If the Deputies had abstained, the Government would have been defeated in the vote.

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  There was no vote on Monaghan General Hospital

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  As a result, the issue of Monaghan General Hospital would have been catapulted to major national attention.

Deputy Conlon mentioned scurrilous attacks. I wish to refer to just one such attack which I heard this evening on the “Drivetime” programme on RTE radio, when Deputy O’Hanlon actually had the gall to blame those courageous people who have campaigned in defence of the hospital for the removal of services. Apparently, we should all have remained quiet while our betters decided what was best for us. Those days are long gone. Deputy O’Hanlon and his colleagues should hang their heads in shame because their inaction has helped bring about this mortal attack on a hospital that has served generations of the people of County Monaghan and served them well.

The Minister for Health and Children is not present in the House.

She, like the Taoiseach, had escaped before the announcement was made yesterday and Professor Brendan Drumm had wrapped up his opportunity the previous morning before the Joint Committee on Health and Children. As for the Minister of State, who is the messenger of the Minister——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Excuse me Deputy——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I will conclude on this point.

[137]The Minister of State and her colleagues on the Government benches must deliver a single clear message to the Minister for Health and Children and to the Taoiseach. They should make no mistake about it and should not become relaxed on this issue because this fight is not over.

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney.

At the outset, I note the fundamental objective of Government health policy continues to be to maximise the health status of the population. The Government is committed not only to ensuring the delivery of the best quality health services possible, but to doing so in an effective and efficient way. Ensuring patient safety is paramount in order that people can have confidence in the services and the best possible patient outcomes can be achieved.

The transformation programme for the north-east region involves widespread and fundamental change. It is designed to build a health system that is in line with the model of care emerging internationally. This can be achieved by centralising acute and complex care in order that clinical skill levels are safeguarded by ensuring access to a sufficient throughput of cases. This was highlighted, along with crucial patient safety and quality of care issues, in the 2006 Teamwork report to the HSE. The Teamwork report demonstrated that the service configuration in the north east was unsustainable. I am glad to have the opportunity this evening to explain clearly what the changes will involve and to offer reassurance that they can bring significant improvements in the services available.

As part of the transformation programme for the north-east region, all acute medical services will be transferred from Monaghan hospital to Cavan hospital on 22 July 2009. As part of the Cavan-Monaghan Hospital Group, Monaghan hospital will continue to play an important and expanding role in the provision of non-acute health services to the people of counties Cavan and Monaghan.

As the newly appointed clinical director for the Cavan-Monaghan Hospital Group, Dr. Hayes, stated on radio yesterday, there have been significant improvements in acute hospital services provided to Cavan and Monaghan over the past five to ten years and this transfer is part of the ongoing development of the services for the people of the area. He made the point that the Cavan medical assessment unit provided better, safer and significantly easier access to acute hospital services in the Cavan-Monaghan area.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Tell that to the people.

Deputy Áine Brady:  A medical assessment unit, MAU, which is consultant-led, opened in Cavan hospital on 30 March 2009. It provides a fast-track alternative to the emergency department for patients who require an urgent medical assessment. Patients can be referred directly by their GP to the medical assessment unit. Since the introduction of the MAU, the average waiting time for full medical diagnosis has reduced from eight hours to three hours. This unit is assessing patients and putting in place appropriate treatment plans that include admission to a medical bed. However, the reduction in diagnosis times is facilitating an increased level of discharges. As a result, this MAU has freed up bed capacity in Cavan hospital.

A new 24-hour observation ward, which is managed by emergency department consultants, has further reduced the Cavan hospital inpatient bed requirement. This observation ward will also reduce surgical admissions in Cavan. An admissions lounge, which is a new six-bedded ward, is now also in place in Cavan hospital. It is aimed at ensuring that no patient from the MAU, observation ward or emergency department will be obliged to wait on a corridor.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Great.

[138]Deputy Áine Brady:  This ward is close to the MAU and the observation ward. If a patient in either of these services requires admission, he or she will be transferred to this ward until a bed in the main hospital becomes available.

My Department is informed by the HSE that it has no plans to close the Pathways rehabilitation unit service.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  It has been closed for months.

Deputy Áine Brady:  However, because of a number of recent staff retirements at the Pathways unit, patients from the unit are currently being accommodated in the Lisdaran unit for the elderly, which is located within the same building. These patients are receiving the same level of intensive rehabilitation therapy within the Lisdaran unit——

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Total and absolute rubbish.

Acting Chairman:  Please, Deputy.

Deputy Áine Brady:  ——as they had received prior to their relocation from the Pathways unit.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I was there and saw it.

Deputy Áine Brady:  In the meantime, the HSE is trying to source staff nurses with a view to restoring the service at the unit as soon as possible.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Does the Minister of State expect Members to believe that?

Deputy Áine Brady:  As the Deputies will be aware, the Pathways unit has been playing a key role in providing an intensive rehabilitation service to patients from counties Cavan and Monaghan who are recovering from an episode of acute illness such as stroke, amputation, a road traffic accident or acquired brain injury.

Under the new arrangements, Monaghan hospital will have a minor injuries unit. This unit will now treat adults and children over the age of five years who present with minor injuries between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week. These minor injury patients will receive the same service in Monaghan hospital as they do on the other sites with a targeted turnaround time of one to two hours. Day surgery, medical day services and X-ray diagnostics will remain at Monaghan hospital. Outpatient services in medical, surgical, ear nose and throat, diagnostic urology, paediatrics, obstetric and gynaecological specialties will also stay at the hospital. Furthermore, 26 rehabilitation and step-down beds will be retained in Monaghan.

My Department is informed by the HSE that it is committed to putting in place an appropriate computed tomography, CT, service at Monaghan hospital. Having carried out a detailed option appraisal, the HSE established that best value can be obtained by putting in an upgraded CT scanner rather than reusing the former Cavan hospital scanner, which is in storage at present.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  That has been the case for ten years.

Deputy Áine Brady:  An upgraded scanner will require less infrastructural works, will incur lower service charges, will include a free parts replacement guarantee and will allow advantage to be taken of a trade-in discount on the existing scanner. The HSE is extremely mindful of the relatively low volumes of scans likely to be a feature of this service and will tailor both the service configuration and the clinical governance arrangements accordingly to ensure that any [139]issues related to expected volumes are appropriately managed. As a minimum, this will involve the CT service at Monaghan hospital operating within an overall single radiology department for Cavan and Monaghan hospitals, with appropriate rotation of radiography CT staff between the main CT service at Cavan hospital and the Monaghan hospital site to ensure skill levels and clinical competencies are maintained. It is anticipated that this service will operate within existing staffing levels and should be operational by late September or early October.

I wish to assure the House that there will continue to be a significant role for each of the acute hospitals in the region. Rather than operating largely independently of each other as at present, they will come together to enable the provision of a comprehensive integrated service. We need to recognise that the way in which hospital services are provided is changing rapidly and a growing proportion of care can be provided on a day basis without the need for overnight stays. I appreciate that people are concerned about services to deal with those who fall seriously ill or who are involved in an accident in areas further away from Cavan hospital. Pre-hospital care is the key to quality emergency and trauma management, regardless of hospital configuration. There always will be people who live considerable distances from any hospital and the key is to ensure that pre-hospital services are put in place that enable life-saving treatment to be provided quickly to such patients.

Medical evidence demonstrates that stabilising a patient should commence as rapidly as possible for someone who has suffered significant trauma. In the case of a road accident, this should happen at the roadside and be carried out by advanced paramedics. All the evidence demonstrates that people with severe injuries are best dealt with in large hospitals with a range of specialist teams to deal with serious injuries to different parts of the body. Ambulance services for Monaghan and Cavan already have been enhanced to include an additional emergency ambulance. This is in addition to two existing emergency ambulances based at Monaghan ambulance station. An intermediate care vehicle will also be based there for the transportation of non-emergency patients between hospitals. Advanced paramedics have also been deployed in a rapid response vehicle on a 24-hour, seven day a week basis to provide the population of Monaghan with access at the scene to life-saving treatments including blood and anti-clot treatment.

Ten posts were identified to deliver a significantly increased number of care packages in the community. Nine staff are in place at present, with the tenth person expected to be put in place shortly. These care packages will support the Cavan and Monaghan hospitals, further relieving the pressures on acute hospital services in the area. The HSE is managing the change process in Cavan and Monaghan through a network of subgroups. The HSE has stressed the importance of the involvement of all relevant stakeholders in this process and the HSE has sought the participation of general practitioners on a number of the subgroups particularly in respect of the development of the medical assessment unit in Cavan.

The sub-groups are being supported by specialist risk advisers to ensure that the change process is managed smoothly and, in particular, with a view to ensuring that any associated risks or challenges are identified and addressed in advance of any service changes. The HSE has reiterated that it has and will continue to seek engagement with GPs on this issue. Last week, the HSE held two sessions with GPs and work will continue to help ensure the GPs involvement, which is required for a well-integrated service linking hospitals and the community.

The HSE is due to issue an information leaflet to all households in Monaghan shortly to advise them of the minor injury unit. Advertisements are due to be placed in local newspapers in Cavan and Monaghan next week to remind the public of the new arrangements. The emergency unit consultants wrote to GPs in Cavan-Monaghan, on behalf of the HSE, on 7 July 2009 [140]to outline the referral process and the inclusion and exclusion criteria to them for the proposed minor injury unit at Monaghan Hospital.

It is frequently alleged that the Government and the HSE want to downgrade smaller hospitals, principally to save money. This is not so. There is an abundance of expert medical advice that small hospitals with low patient volumes should not continue to provide complex care.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  We were never offered that.

Deputy Áine Brady:  Patient safety, as a guiding principle for change, is aimed at achieving the best outcomes for patients. The best outcomes for the population will be achieved when complex care is provided in specialised centres where all of the necessary expertise, which is maintained by way of day-to-day experience in treating a range of patient’s problems and facilities, is immediately available. At the same time, the changing nature of health service delivery is such that smaller hospitals can meet much of the demand for less complex services, especially those that are increasingly done on a day case basis.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  On a point of order, Mr. Mulvaney told us it was a political decision.

Acting Chairman:  I am not in a position to take any further contributions.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Government needs to re-examine this.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I wish to set the scene on this important issue. Over 400,000 people are out of work and the figure is likely to be 500,000 before the year is out. Most of these people have never stood in a dole office in their lives and never want to. Economists, market analysts and commentators — everybody except the Government — now understand that getting people back to work is a crucial part of the national recovery plan. Every so often a Minister pays lip service to this principle but never seems to do something about it. Everybody knows that the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment must draft an action plan to help people hold onto the jobs they have or take people off the dole. As the saying goes, better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Let us look at a case in County Galway, where a young married man with two children lost his job as a manual worker two months ago. His local community employment scheme had an impressive list of works that needed to be done in the parish. Interviews were held but, lo and behold, the position could not be filled. It was not because the numbers were not there but because there were so many ineligible to get a job on a FÁS scheme. Why were they ineligible? One must be in receipt of jobseeker’s benefit for 12 months or jobseeker’s allowance. In this case, my constituent was on the former.

Why would the State want to subject a person to a year on the dole in the company of 400,000 more people when he did not want to be on the dole and there was no need for it? I ask the Minister of State to bring some sense to this. Where there are people who want to work and are capable of doing a job on community employment schemes, the least the Government should do is ensure that people are eligible to work. How is it that the Government will not allow anyone drawing the dole in these terrible recessionary times, who wants to work on a community employment scheme, to do so? Leaving politics aside, could there be anything more appropriate than taking people off the dole?

[141]I received an answer to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Tánaiste, telling me all the things the Government proposes to do to get people back to work. Although numerically my proposal is small enough, it is significant for the people concerned, the sponsors of the scheme, the development associations all over the country, those who want to get work done and those who know what wonderful work has been done on community schemes and related schemes in town and country. The Government has people on the dole drawing down money we do not have while there are jobs in the parish in which they live. The Government sees fit not to allow these people to work. It is the daftest situation I have seen in my time in the House.

Deputy Áine Brady:  I will respond on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan.

I thank Deputy Connaughton for raising this matter. Community employment 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. The purpose of community employment is to help unemployed people to re-enter the open labour market by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to a work routine and to assist them to enhance both their technical and personal skills.

The current eligibility criteria set by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for entry onto the community employment programme allows for a combination of periods on different social welfare payments including jobseeker’s benefit, provided they add up to at least 12 months without significant interruption and the person is currently in receipt of the payment at the time of application. Community employment is not designed to cater for short-term unemployed persons as they are not as far removed from the open labour market as the main client group for the programme.

In April 2000, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment introduced capped limits on the amount of time that a person could participate on community employment. Community employment capping was introduced to facilitate the movement of participants through the programme, allowing new participants who would not otherwise have such an opportunity to avail of the programme. In November 2004, to cater for older workers in particular, the standard three-year community employment cap was revised to allow those 55 years of age and over to avail of a six-year period on community employment based on participation since 3 April 2000. Subsequently, the participation limit for persons eligible for community employment based on a social welfare disability linked payment, including those under 55, was increased by one year. These measures were introduced in recognition of the fact that older participants and participants with a disability may find it more difficult to progress into the open labour market.

Funding for community employment in 2009 has been provided with a view to maintaining overall numbers on FÁS schemes. At present, over 22,000 people are participating in community employment schemes nationally. Some €6.6 million was provided to FÁS in 2009 for the provision of an additional 400 community employment places. In delivering these places, FÁS operates flexibly in the management of this allocation in order to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This provision of places is managed through a standardised application process between regional FÁS offices and local sponsor and community organisations. Any issues regarding the allocation of places are dealt with in this context. In so far as participants remain on community employment, they are precluding someone else from benefiting from the programme. 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.

[142]Persons that are considered job-ready are progressed through FÁS employment services onto other options, thus freeing up community employment places for others in greater need.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Back on the dole.

Deputy Áine Brady:  This Government will continue to support the positive role of community employment in meeting the needs of long-term unemployed persons, while, at the same time, providing essential services to communities. The Minister keeps the operation of the scheme under review in the context of the current difficult unemployment situation.

Acting Chairman:  Seanad Éireann has passed the Defamation Bill 2006, without amendment.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 10 July 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 11, inclusive, answered orally.

  12.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he will take on the further cuts proposed to Bus Éireann. [28342/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Service changes are a day-to-day operational matter for Bus Éireann and not one in which I have any function. I have been briefed by Bus Éireann management on the deterioration in its financial position and on the measures necessary, including the scale and extent of service changes, to maintain its financial viability. I have also been briefed by the unions on the issues involved. Decisions in relation to service changes are a matter for the company itself. I understand that Bus Éireann is currently engaged, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, in detailed discussions with its staff and their representatives on the measures proposed in this regard. I look forward to a successful outcome to these discussions.

  13.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has not implemented a number of key actions in the road safety strategy 2007 to 2012, including an administrative disqualification system for drink drivers, a risk register for heavy vehicle goods drivers, a full time health and safety officer for every local authority, a new system for preventing car write-offs getting back onto roads here, and a review of the response system for emergency staff to road collisions; the actions under the road safety strategy 2007 to 2012 which have failed to be implemented by the designated deadline; the reason all of these deadlines have been missed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28379/09]

  62.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of recommendations of the road safety strategy 2007 to 2012 which have been implemented to date; and the status of the remaining recommendations. [28345/09]

[144]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 62 together.

The Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 was prepared by the Road Safety Authority, approved by the Government and launched in October 2007.

Its overall objective, through a combination of education, enforcement and engineering actions, is to save lives and prevent serious injuries, thereby bringing Ireland in line with best practice countries in road safety terms.

The Strategy is being successfully implemented across a range of agencies. We have seen a sustained reduction in the number of people killed on our roads.

2008 saw the lowest number of road deaths on record at 279, despite the fact over the past decade there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of drivers and a 70 per cent increase in the number of vehicles on our roads. Fatalities in the year to date (9th July) are 128, down 18 from the same date last year.

According to the European Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) programme, which is run by the European Transport Safety Council, (ETSC), Ireland moved up to 6th out of the 27 EU Member States in road fatalities per million of population (compared to 8th in 2001).

Of course it is important to maintain the momentum in Road Safety measures, as each fatality and serious injury is a tragedy for families, friends and communities.

Action 83 of the Strategy requires the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to report to me by the end of the second quarter of each year on the implementation of the 126 actions in the Strategy, all of which identify the lead agency responsible for implementation and a target implementation date.

The report for the year 2008 is being finalised by the Road Safety Authority and will be presented to me shortly. However it is clear from communication with the RSA that substantial progress has been made on the annual Actions and those specifically for 2008. More than half have been completed and substantial progress has been made on the majority of the rest.

It may be the case, over the course of an ambitious and challenging Road Safety Strategy, that some of the target dates are missed, even where work on the Actions themselves is underway, but we must not lose sign of the underlying achievement: road fatalities are falling and substantial progress is being made on all the key issues in relation to the safety of road users.

  14.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    when legislation giving effect to the preclearance facility at Shannon Airport will be published; when the facility will be up and running; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22870/09]

  43.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the roll-out of the preclearance facilities at Shannon and Dublin Airports; when preclearance facilities will be fully operational at Shannon and Dublin Airports; if Aer Lingus will be utilising the preclearance facilities at Shannon; the expected number of additional routes and services to be created at Shannon in the first year of full pre-clearance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28401/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 43 together.

[145]As Deputies will be aware the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas last week as is due to be signed into law by the President this week.

My officials are working closely with the U.S. authorities on the final aspects of the operating procedures between the two administrations to ensure that preclearance will work to the benefit of both countries. My objective is that these collaborative efforts with the U.S. will allow preclearance to be inaugurated in Shannon before the end of July. It is scheduled to become operational at Dublin Airport in November 2010 with the completion of Terminal 2.

I understand from Aer Lingus that the airline would face severe logistical difficulties in a situation where their ex Shannon flights would be precleared and their ex Dublin flights would not. Accordingly I understand that they have taken a decision to postpone using preclearance for their flights until the service is available both in Dublin and Shannon.

Two daily British Airways services from London to the U.S. are due to use Preclearance at Shannon from the autumn and I hope that more airlines will follow this example.

  15.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he has taken to compel CIE to implement the 2007 direction to use 5% biodiesel in its fleets and 30% for newly acquired vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28534/09]

  18.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    the steps he has taken to encourage greater use of renewable energy in public transport fleets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25187/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 18 together.

A number of initiatives have taken place in relation to Iarnród Éireann, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to ensure more sustainable fleets in these organisations.

Iarnród Éireann, for example, have in the past two years re-instated regenerative braking on all DART electrical fleets giving energy savings of 26%. Iarnród Éireann have also fitted fuel shut-down modifications to much of the diesel fleet saving 3.5 million litres of diesel per annum. The significant renewal of engines and carriages funded under Transport 21 has resulted in more fuel-efficient trains, which also generate less greenhouse gas emissions. There will be further significant improvements with the electrification of the Kildare and Maynooth commuter lines.

Both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have also benefited from Transport 21 support and the new fleet of buses provided since 2006 have Euro 4 engines with selective catalytic reduction for lower emissions. Both companies have been using biodiesel in their tour fleets since 2006. In addition, I have provided funding for Ireland’s first hybrid electric bus, which is being trialed by Dublin Bus at the moment.

The diesel used in all the public transport fleets meets the EN 590 European standard for fuel, which has to contain up to 5% biofuel. The commitment in the Programme for Government relating to biofuels has, however, been superseded by the more ambitious targets for transport as set out in the Government’s Smarter Travel policy which I launched February, 2009.

Specifically, in relation to public transport fleets Smarter Travel proposes that all public transport providers will prepare a plan for fleet replacement based on the most sustainable vehicle and fuel type.

[146]The actions in Smarter Travel are to be implemented over a twelve-year period. In relation to new technology the immediate focus of Government policy is to prepare a plan to deliver the 10% target for electric vehicles by 2020. On biofuels, Smarter Travel refers to the proposed biofuels obligation, which will apply to all transport fleets and which is being addressed by my colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

  16.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason Bus Éireann is behind other CIÉ companies in rolling out an integrated ticketing system; his views on whether ten years for the rollout of this project could be considered a success; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28515/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The integrated ticketing system in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) is being introduced on a phased basis, based on smartcard technology. A progressive approach is being adopted to allow customers to familiarise themselves with using the new system and to permit transport operators to undertake the necessary testing with the integration of the technologies involved. The project is now firmly in the implementation phase.

A smartcard has been available on all Luas services for some time. Smartcards have also been introduced by Dublin Bus in respect of a number of ticket products such as annual and monthly tickets, 5-day rambler tickets, and annual and monthly integrated bus and rail, and bus and Luas tickets. The disposable smartcard is now being used by some 30% of Dublin Bus customers.

Irish Rail will launch its interim smartcard for its DART and Dublin commuter services from late Summer. The progressive roll-out of smartcards is in line with good practice internationally.

Subject to successful in-house testing, the single smartcard system will be rolled out initially to a small number of customers for live testing of the Dublin Bus / Luas integrated annual ticket. The full roll-out will take place throughout 2010 on Dublin Bus, Luas and Irish Rail. This means that by end 2010, the ITS smartcard will be available to the vast majority of public transport passengers in the GDA. It is also envisaged that private bus operators will join the scheme.

Bus Éireann’s project plan builds on the work currently being carried out for Dublin Bus as the ticketing equipment is similar. However Bus Éireann has advised that the software development work is more complex, taking account of the more complex ticketing issues that will arise with the introduction of longer distance commuter services to the scheme.

Bus Eireann will commence testing in Q4 2010, with rollout of smartcards on its pilot routes planned for early Q1 2011.

  17.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of the six hangars of a company (details supplied) at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28406/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The status of the six hangars of SR Technics at Dublin Airport is an operational matter for the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and as such I have no function in the matter.

[147]I understand that the DAA and SR Technics signed an agreement earlier in the year, whereby DAA bought back property leased by SR Technics at Dublin Airport, comprising six hangars and related ancillary facilities. I am informed that consequential contractual details are being completed at present.

Question No. 18 answered with Question No. 15.

  19.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects the Dublin Transport Authority to be fully operational in view of the fact that legislation establishing the body was signed in 2008; the effect this delay will have on restricting competition in the bus market here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28578/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  My Department is proceeding with preparations for the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority (DTA) during 2009. A key part of those preparations is the recruitment of a Chief Executive Officer and the necessary recruitment process has now been concluded. I expect to be in a position to announce the outcome in the near future.

In January 2009, the Government approved the General Scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill which contains proposals for a new bus licensing regime which will replace the Road Transport Act 1932, which applies to the licensing of private bus operators, and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. In accordance with the Programme for Government commitment, the proposed licensing regime will provide a level playing field for all bus market participants.

The new licensing structure will apply in respect of all commercial bus passenger services, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It will establish a clear structure against which applications for bus route licences will be considered as well as a modern system of penalties and associated powers for revocation of licences.

The General Scheme of the Bill also contains proposals for extending nationally the provisions of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in relation to the provision of public service obligations that are consistent with EU Regulation No. 1370/2007 on public passenger transport services by rail and by road. The Regulation creates a framework regulating how exclusive rights are to be awarded and compensation paid for services deemed to be ‘public service obligations’ on a transparent basis. The Regulation will put into effect for the first time in Irish transport law a contracting regime to govern public service obligations. Future growth in the market for subvented transport services will also be pursued by way of open tendering processes in accordance with the EU Regulation.

The Bill will assign responsibility to the Dublin Transport Authority for bus route licensing and public transport services contracts nationwide and provide for the amalgamation of the Commission for Taxi Regulation into the DTA, as well as the renaming of the DTA as the National Transport Authority given its proposed national focus in relation to commercial bus licensing, bus and rail subvention and the regulation of small public service vehicles.

Following Government approval of the General Scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill in January, a Bill has been drafted and has been circulated to Government Departments for observations. On their receipt, it is my intention to seek Government approval to the publication of the Bill as soon as possible.

  20.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether all aspects [148]of the Transport 21 plan will be completed by the 2015 deadline; his further views on whether capital transport investment projects are a means to restore lost economic competitiveness and provide short term employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28487/09]

  36.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which the capital spending programme for his Department is expected to alter in each of the next three years with particular reference to the targets he identified when he launched Transport 21 in respect of road and rail projects; if it is intended to increase capital spending to offset certain aspects of the economic downturn; if he expects any of the projects to be brought forward or accelerated; if he has identified the most likely areas for opportunities to improve the economic situation throughout his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28428/09]

  56.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has made submissions to the Department of Finance and the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes regarding capital funding for critical Transport 21 projects in budget 2010; and if he will make a statement on his priorities for capital transport spending up to the end of 2010. [28411/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 36 and 56 together.

Transport 21 continues to provide the strategic framework guiding Government investment in transport up to 2015.

To date, over 60% of the major inter urban roads programme, linking Dublin with Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and the Border with Northern Ireland, has been completed and the remainder is under construction and on target for completion in 2010. The upgrade of the M50 motorway is also on target for completion in 2010. On public transport, new railway stations have opened on the Kildare line and Irish Rail has completely modernised its intercity rolling stock under Transport 21. A number of projects such as the Midleton rail line, Phase 1 of the Western Rail Corridor and the Luas line to Docklands are scheduled to be completed this year, while construction continues on other projects such as the Luas lines to Cherrywood and Citywest, the first phase of the Navan rail line between Clonsilla and Pace and the Kildare rail project.

However, in the light of the changed economic circumstances, it has been necessary to review investment priorities across all Government Departments. As a result of this review, my Department’s priorities for the coming years have been identified as follows: national roads, completion of the five major inter-urban motorways by end 2010, progressing the Atlantic Road Corridor, increasing public transport capacity through construction of Metro North, construction of DART Underground and implementation of the associated electrification, signalling and rolling stock investments, investment in buses and bus priority, subject to the Deloitte/TAS cost and efficiency review of the CIE bus companies and the availability of subvention, continued planning of other Transport 21 projects to ensure that a shelf of work is ready to go to construction when the economic climate improves.

Transport 21 projects will be released for construction as soon as they are through statutory procedures and the available financial resources permit and consistent with the priorities I have outlined.

The continuation of the Transport 21 programme as planned will provide significant job opportunities within the civil engineering construction sector. Transport investment has significant employment benefits, sustaining about 10 direct jobs per €1 million of expenditure. [149]However, the primary purpose of investment in transport infrastructure is to add to Ireland’s capital stock and help support the development of a competitive productive economy in the long term.

In January this year my Department supplied briefing on all aspects of its Vote to the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes. However the primary focus of the Group is on current expenditure.

My Department is in constant dialogue with the Department of Finance and discussions in respect of Budget 2010 will begin shortly as part of the normal annual Estimates process. My Department is also working with the Department of Finance and the NDFA to maximise private investment in transport infrastructure.

  21.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will undertake a review of public bus services for commuters in view of the recent significant changes to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus routes and services through programmes of cutbacks; if he is monitoring the effect of withdrawn or reduced public bus services on workers and commuters particularly in lower income areas and for vulnerable citizens including senior citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28380/09]

  22.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether CIE is capable in providing adequate bus services at a reasonable cost to the Exchequer in view of the recent cutbacks in services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28570/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Question Nos. 21 and 22 together.

In January last I published a cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann services. The review concluded that, while both companies are generally as efficient as comparable organisations, there is considerable scope for Dublin Bus to improve its services to customers through improved network design and increased efficiencies. The recommendations of the review are being implemented by both companies in the context of their cost recovery plans to ensure the financial viability of the companies while maintaining services at the highest possible level.

Decisions in relation to services and the deployment of buses and drivers are matters for the companies having regard, inter alia, to the changing patterns and levels of demand and the revenue available from fares and Exchequer compensation for PSO services.

  23.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will reallocate the reduced funding for local and regional road maintenance to local authorities to address long-standing dangerous roads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28495/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  There was no reduction in the April Supplementary Budget in the State road grant provision for maintenance works on regional and local roads in 2009 and grants totalling €125.977 million were allocated in April last to local authorities for such work in the current year. A total of €85 million of the overall provision was allocated under the Restoration Maintenance Programme to fund the surface dressing of approximately 4,600 kilometres of regional and local road in 2009. The roads to be surface dressed under the programme are selected by local authorities with priority given to roads most in need of treatment.

[150]A submission from the City and County Managers Association was received in my Department on 29th June seeking discretion to use some of the funds allocated for the surface dressing programme on other maintenance work. The request is being examined in my Department and a response will issue shortly to the Association.

Question No. 24 answered with Question No. 7.

  25.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Transport    the recommendations the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes has made in relation to transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28540/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As I have not as yet received the final report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, I cannot comment on its recommendations.

  26.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of money allocated to road maintenance and improvement projects here in 2007, 2008 and 2009; if funding for capital spending on road building and maintenance projects including up to 80 projects that are currently being planned has been halted; the road building or maintenance projects which have been halted as a result of these new directions and if he will make a statement on the matter [28392/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national roads is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Act 1993 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

The Exchequer funding provided for to capital and current expenditure on the national road network is as follows:

Capital Current Total
2007 1,712,706,000 55,097,000 1,767,803,000
2008 1,599,577,000 58,210,000 1,657,787,000
2009 Allocation 1,438,900,000 44,255,000 1,483,155,000

Funding for capital spending on national roads building and maintenance projects has not been halted. Notwithstanding the current difficult economic climate, the allocation of almost €1.5 billion for 2009 is evidence of this Government’s continued commitment to investment in the national road infrastructure.

The priority up to the end of 2010 will be the completion of the five major interurban routes (MIUs). Significant progress continues to be made in their delivery. The M1 from Dublin to the Border was completed in 2007, while work on the other routes is underway and on schedule for completion in 2010. In addition to the MIUs, work is underway on the upgrade of the M50 which is also due for completion in 2010.

[151]The NRA’s current construction programme is proceeding on time and within budget. I expect this to continue to be the case right up to the completion of the MIUs. As all of this work is contractually committed, the current economic situation will not impact upon delivery targets.

The priority for the roads investment programme after the completion of the major interurban network will be the Atlantic Road Corridor, where construction is already underway, as well as the improvement of other key national primary routes and the targeted improvement of certain national secondary routes. Decisions to proceed with individual projects will be taken by the NRA from time to time in the light of the available public finance.

In relation to regional and local roads, the provision, improvement and maintenance of such roads, in its area, is a statutory function of each individual local authority under section 13 of the Roads Act, 1993, to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants paid by my Department.

The Exchequer for capital and current expenditure on regional and local roads is as follows:

Capital Current Total
2007 478,606,096 128,918,904 607,525,000
2008 469,822,922 134,391,008 604,214,000
2009 Allocation 321,500,000 125,977,000 447,477,000

The capital budget for improvement works this year is €321.5 million. This will fund 241 separate improvement projects at various stages of planning design and construction. In addition, the Restoration Improvement Programme will result in a further 1,700 kilometres of road being reconstructed or improved.

There was no reduction in the April Supplementary Budget in the provision for maintenance works and grants of almost €126 million were allocated to local authorities. The bulk of this —€85 million — is being invested in the Restoration Maintenance Programme and I fully expect to see an increase in surface dressing output achieved by local authorities under this programme this year, over the 2008 output.

  27.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has not published the national pedestrian strategy; the proposed key objectives and headings of the strategy; if home zone residential estates will be included; if the strategy will result in new legislation; the full cost of the new pedestrian strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28398/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Under the National Road Safety Strategy, the RSA is committed to publishing a pedestrian safety strategy and they are at consultation phase with this project.

The question may refer to the commitment in Smarter Travel, he Government’s sustainable transport policy, to publish a national walking policy to meet the Government’s aim of creating a culture of walking in Ireland.

There are 49 actions in the policy to be implemented over a 12 year period. In relation to the commitment on a walking policy, I have written to Ministerial colleagues to establish a [152]working group to progress the policy, given that it has implications for a number of other policy areas.

The working group will have to research the issues fully before preparing a position paper for consideration so it is too early to say what the details will be, including the estimated cost.

  28.  D’fhiafraigh Deputy Paul Connaughton    den Aire Iompair    cén fáth nach bhfuil sé i gceist aige an tAcht um Thrácht ar Bhóithre 1961, Alt 95, a leasú chun cead a thabhairt athrú a chur ar chruth dátheangach na gcomharthaí tráchta chun idirdhealú follasach éifeachtach a dhéanamh ar logainmneacha Gaeilge agus Béarla de réir córais shimplí, shoiléir a bheadh éasca le tuiscint, agus a laghdódh ar amanna freagartha agus léimh na dtiománaithe, agus a dhéanfadh na bóithre níos fusa le húsáid ag tiománaithe, agus níos sábháilte do chách, mar atá molta i dtuarascáil (sonraí tugtha); agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [28510/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Tá na socruithe maidir le téacs a thaispeáint ar chomharthaí bóthair leagtha amach ins an Acht um Thrácht ar Bhóithre 1961 (Alt 95). Tá na prionsabail maidir le téacs a thaispeáint ar chomharthaí bóthair leagtha amach i Lámhleabhar na gComharthaí Tráchta. Is é an cuspóir bunúsach atá taobh thiar díobh ná go bhfuil soiléireacht curtha ar fáil don lucht taistil sa chaoi is nach gcuirtear isteach ar shábháilteacht ar na bóithre.

Cuireadh úsáid téacs, cló-aghaidh, cló-éadain agus téacs a chomhdhlúthú san áireamh nuair a bhíábhar an lámhleabhair chomharthaíochta tráchta á dhreachtadh agus á n-ullmhú. Cuireadh san áireamh chomh maith an chomharthaíocht dhátheangach atá in úsáid sa Bhreatain Bheag agus in Alba.

Táim sásta go bfhuil cuspóirí an pholasaí réamh luaite bainte amach ag an gcruth atá ar ár gcomhtharthaíocht bhóthair dhátheangach. Níl sé ar intinn agam an polasaí seo nó cruth dátheangach na gcomharthaí tráchta a leasú.

  29.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the tendering process for metro north; if he will confirm the two bidders who have been chosen to go forward to the next round of metro north; when the winning tenderer will be selected; the timeframe for the commencement and conclusion of metro north; if he will confirm further that metro north will proceed in its current format; the estimate of the amount of public and private funding which will be spent on metro north in 2009 and in each year to 2015 and from 2015 to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28399/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  On 30 June, the Railway Procurement Agency announced that it had short-listed two bidding groups, Celtic Metro Group and Metro Express, to proceed to the final stage of the Metro North PPP procurement process. The formal commencement of this final stage of the procurement process is subject to a decision by An Bord Pleanála on the railway order application for the project.

The oral hearing before An Bord Pleanála on the railway order application commenced on 1st April last and was adjourned on 29th April to allow the Inspector and interested parties the opportunity to review and assimilate further information provided at the hearing by the RPA. On 26th June An Bord Pleanála wrote to the RPA requesting that further detailed information on various aspects of the project be submitted to it by 1st October 2009.

[153]The scope of the Metro North project remains as set out in the railway order application to An Bord Pleanála and its implementation is subject both to the outcome of the statutory planning process and a final decision by the Government following the completion of the statutory planning and procurement processes.

The Exchequer capital amount currently allocated from my Department’s Estimate for 2009 in respect of Metro North is €35m. It is not anticipated that any private funding will be spent on the project this year and the Exchequer allocation for Metro North for future years will be decided in the context of the Estimates for each year. Private sector funding for the project is a matter to be determined by the PPP procurement process, which is currently underway.

Given the commercial sensitivity surrounding the ongoing PPP procurement process, I am not in a position to give any information in relation to the cost of Metro North.

  30.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of funding allocated specifically to meet objectives and targets in the sustainable travel and cycling documents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28558/09]

  51.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will confirm that the cost of implementing the national cycle policy framework will be €2.3 billion; the timeframe for the allocation of the €2.3 billion; the number of years it will take to fully implement the NCPF; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28397/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 30 together.

Smarter Travel, A Sustainable Transport for Ireland, sets out a range of actions across all areas of Government to deliver a sustainable transport system by the year 2020. The Policy has ambitious targets, including a reduction in car commuting from 65% share in 2006 to 45% in 2020. It also sets out specific ambition in other areas. For example, it affirms the Government’s commitment to have 10% market penetration for electric vehicles by 2020.

The estimated cost of implementing the policy is approx €4.5 billion. The allocation of such funding will obviously depend on the prevailing economic climate and, in the present circumstances, the focus will be on making progress from existing resources.

The National Cycle Policy Framework has emerged from the new Smarter Travel policy and the estimated cost of €2.3 billion is covered in the overall estimate referred to above. The key ambition under NCPF is an increase in the modal share enjoyed by cycling from its current level of around 2% to 10%. I believe that this is an ambitious, yet achievable, target within the action period of 12 years.

I am pleased to say that, given the constrained economic circumstances, good progress is being made in implementing both policies.

I have made a total of €14 million available to my Department for the promotion and implementation of sustainable travel and transport initiatives in 2009. This is a significant increase on a budget allocation of €3 million in 2008.

The following are key initiatives progressed under the new agenda. These are in addition to other investments under Transport 21, such as integrated ticketing and improvements to public transport, which will also contribute to sustainable travel.

Support for demand measures such as the Green Schools Travel initiative and workplace travel planning. By September this year, 140,000 schoolchildren will have been reached, [154]resulting in a 18% drop in car use. The workplace travel planning initiative has reached 46 companies so far and is meeting with similar success. I aim to launch a national initiative on workplace travel planning in the near future

Support for demonstration sustainable travel projects. My Department has advertised for submissions for schemes and the closing date for proposals is 7th September.

Support for exemplary cycling projects. When I launched the National Cycle Policy Framework recently, I specifically referred to the availability of €3 million in 2009 for the provision of cycling infrastructure in the Dublin region. The projects that I envisage will be progressed this year by Dublin City Council include development of premium cycle routes (from Portobello to the Liffey via the Grand Canal and from the North Quays towards Fairview Park (to include part of the Sutton to Sandycove route); refurbishment of existing cycle lanes; and the provision of both additional permanent cycle parking in the city and mobile cycle parking facilities to service public events. I am also extending support for exemplary projects in other parts of the country and I recently announced schemes in Galway City.

Support for awareness initiatives. I have already put two new websites in place to provide information on the new policies. I have also launched Ireland’s first National Bike Week 2009, which ran successfully from 14th to the 21st June, and I am committed to running this as an annual event.

In all, progress is being made on most of the actions in the new Smarter Travel policy and I hope to deliver further initiatives this year. I would re-iterate that both policies offer a long-term vision that stretches from 2009 to 2020.

The wide-ranging nature of the individual interventions, their interlinked nature, and the undeniable challenges that face us in terms of availability of resources, means that it would not, however, be productive, at this stage, to assign precise deadlines to each action.

Delivery of the vision involves not only the provision of excellent infrastructure, but also requires a change in the national mindset. I am satisfied that sufficient funding is available this year to commence the process of changing the public perception and also to enable progress on key initiatives.

  31.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will amend the Harbours Act 1996 through the mechanism of the Merchant Shipping Bill to increase the mandatory retirement age for maritime pilots from 60 to 65; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28408/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As I have indicated in both the Committee and Report Stage debates on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, my officials are examining the issue of section 69 of the Harbours Act 1996 in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.

It is my intention to introduce such an amendment during the passage of the Merchant Shipping Bill 2009 through the Oireachtas.

  32.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will publish his plans [155]for green driving tests and enhanced eco-driving education; if he will report on the key headings and objectives of the proposed green driving tests and eco-driving plans; if legislation will be necessary for the new eco-driving measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28389/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Smarter Travel, the Government policy on Sustainable Transport, proposes a number of initiatives relating to eco-driving and driver behaviour.

I have established a joint working group between the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and the National Sustainable Travel Office (NSTO) of my Department to develop a structured overall plan to ensure that eco driving becomes part of the driving culture. Progress to date is as follows:

Eco driving has featured in both the Change and Power of 1 campaigns.

The RSA has ensured that compulsory annual training of drivers of certain categories of vehicles includes an eco driving element.

The registration of driving instructors is almost completed and the RSA propose including a module in compulsory basic training (initially these will only affect motorcyclists) related to eco driving.

The RSA are also looking at changes to the Rules of the Road and driving test.

Any changes to the national driving test to include eco driving measures will require to legislation by way of secondary legislation.

  33.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding all preparation works for the big dig and the upcoming major infrastructural works in Dublin for metro north, the Luas link-up and the Dublin rail interconnector; when the public information campaign on the big dig will begin; what it will comprise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28400/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have previously advised the House that traffic management in Dublin City centre, including public information campaigns relating to traffic management, is a matter for Dublin City Council.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Dublin City Manager chairs the Dublin Transport 21 Implementation Group, which coordinates and oversees the Transport 21 investment programme in Dublin, pending the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority.

Two sub-groups have been established:

The Contingency Planning Group, which is chaired by an official from Dublin City Council, deals with the traffic management strategy for the Transport 21 construction phase, focussed particularly on the city centre. I understand that the Contingency Planning Sub-Group meet monthly. Contingency planning will be an ongoing process during project construction. The Contingency Planning Group has developed an initial plan which includes traffic measures such as the provision of Park and Ride sites, enhanced public transport services, Real Time Passenger Information installations for bus stops, dedicated breakdown towing services, a bus gate at College Green and improved traffic [156]light control at specific junctions. This will be kept under regular review by the Transport 21 Implementation Group.

The Communications Group, which has prepared a co-ordinated communications strategy for the construction period of major Transport 21 projects, such as Metro North and the Interconnector.

I last met the Stakeholders Group regarding the major Transport 21 infrastructural works in Dublin on 11 May 2009 at which the co-ordinated communications plan for the construction period of the major Transport 21 projects such as Metro North and the DART Underground was presented. A key theme of communications during construction works is “Dublin is open for business”.

The communications campaign will be rolled out in advance of works on Metro North. The commencement of works is subject to the grant of an enforceable railway order by An Bord Pleanála.

  34.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Transport    his response to the Garda Ombudsman who claimed that the gardaí had provided sufficient information to his Department to make an appropriate judgment on whether to issue a haulier licence to a person (details supplied); his views on whether he made the correct decision; if there was procedural failings by his Department; his plans for policy or procedure changes in his Department related to haulage licence character checks; if the licence issued to the person will be revoked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28544/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have not yet received the Report in question. It would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment on this matter until the Report has been received and examined.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 7.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 20.

  37.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention and the way it will benefit maritime workers; his views on increasing the number of marine surveyors and inspectors operating in ports here in view of the recent reports from senior officials (details supplied) on the bad conditions in which many mariners are forced to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28409/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Ireland has been an active supporter of negotiations on the International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention in its efforts to promote global labour standards for seafarers. The Convention will enter into force twelve months after 30 Member States representing 33% of the world’s tonnage have ratified the convention. The latest information is that five Member States representing 44% of the world’s tonnage have ratified the convention.

The recently published Merchant Shipping Bill 2009 contains provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Convention. The Convention will benefit seafarers as it contains provisions relating to the living and working conditions on board ships in terms of food, accommodation and hours [157]of work but does not include rates of pay. It also introduces a certification scheme to ensure compliance by all flag States.

The number of Surveyors in my Department has recently been increased to thirty one by the recruitment of seven new Surveyors who will be involved in inspections on the enforcement of the Convention.

  38.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the recent OECD report that competitiveness would be restored through stronger competition; his plans to increase business competition in the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28562/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Agreed Programme for Government includes commitments to reform bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, and to examine the need for a National Transport Regulator in the context of the overall review of the economic regulatory environment.

The legislative framework to support the authorisation and provision of improved public bus services in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) has already been updated through the passage of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which establishes a new contractual structure relating to the provision of subvented bus and rail services in the GDA. This is in compliance with EU Regulation No. 1370/2007 on public passenger transport services by rail and by road which comes into force on 3 December 2009 and provides for a new contractual framework regulating how Member States award exclusive rights and pay compensation for services deemed to be ‘Public Service Obligations.’ The Act also provides that existing PSO bus and rail services can be procured by the DTA through direct award contracts but that future growth in subvented services must be procured by way of open tendering.

On 21 January 2009 the Government approved the General Scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill. The primary purpose of the Bill is to establish a modern system for the licensing of commercial public bus passenger services by the DTA with the objective of promoting regulated competition in the provision of licensed public bus passenger services on a national basis in the public interest, as well as the promotion of integrated, well-functioning and cost efficient public passenger transport services. In addition to the reform of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, which applies to the licensing of private bus operators, and relevant provisions of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies, the Bill will also provide for the introduction of new contractual arrangements for the procurement of bus and rail services on a national basis that is modelled on the approach established in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in respect of the GDA. Future growth in the market for subvented bus services will be addressed by public service contracts entered into following open tendering processes.

The Bill will also see the role of the Commission for Taxi Regulation being assumed by the Dublin Transport Authority and the re-naming of that body as the National Transport Authority so as to reflect its expanded national role in relation to commercial bus licensing, bus and rail subvention and the regulation of small public service vehicles.

In the light of the Government approval to the General Scheme, the draft Bill has been prepared and has been circulated to Government Departments for observations. On their receipt, it is my intention to seek Government approval to the publication of the Bill as soon as possible.

  39.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    when technical improvements which were recommended in the Deloitte report, including the early introduction of integrated ticketing, real time information, and AVL systems will be introduced for public bus services; the status of the Deloitte report recommendations; if he will ensure they are implemented in full; if so, the time frame and mechanism for implementation; the way he will invigilate these processes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28381/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Priority Question No. 3 of today.

  40.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has not appointed a new chairman for the Dublin Port Company; when the appointment will be made for this job in view of the challenges facing Dublin and all of the national ports at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28407/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Section 30 of the Harbours Act 1996 provides for consultation with a number of bodies before appointments to port company boards are made.

Various bodies including the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, IBEC and ICTU were invited to submit nominations for the current vacancy on the board of Dublin Port Company.

I have received a number of nominations and will take these into account when making my decision. In the meantime the board selects an acting chairperson for its meetings, as provided for in its Articles of Association.

  41.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the recent European Transport Safety Council statement which indicates that Ireland will be one of the states which will not hit the target of reducing road deaths by 50% between 2001 and 2010 as the percentage change in road deaths in Ireland between 2001 and 2008 was just 32%; the steps he will take to address this target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28388/09]

  48.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the number of road deaths and collisions over the past few months including the loss of 32 lives on roads here in May 2009 compared with 19 deaths on the roads in May 2008; the measures, including legislative and enforcement, he is taking to address this trend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28384/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions 48 and 41 together.

Road safety is a key priority for Government, and this commitment is underpinned by the Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012. We are still on target to meet the overall Road Safety Strategy target of reducing road deaths to no greater than 60 fatalities per million population by the end of 2012. This would equate to an average of 21 road deaths per month or 252 per year; the total for 2008 was 279 and the figure to date (7th July) is 128, down 15 on the same date last year.

[159]The European Transport Safety Council report sees Ireland improve its standing from 9th position in 2007 to 6th position in 2008 out of the 27 EU Member States in terms of road fatalities per million of population.

  42.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of funding which has been allocated to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety specifically to target drug driving for these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28393/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The number of specimens tested for the presence of a drug or drugs by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for the years 2005 to 2008 is as follows:

2005 2006 2007 2008 (provisional figure)
747 879 1,555 1,900

Figures for 2009 are not available at this time.

While my Department provides annual funding to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the allocation of resources to the various programmes is a matter for the Bureau itself.

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 14.

  44.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the new EU road safety regulations including the requirement for a driver certificate of professional competence which will come into force on 10 September 2009; if the Road Safety Authority will be charged with implementing these new regulations; if additional funding will be allocated for the implementation of the new regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28394/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has responsibility for these matters.

In 2008 I introduced legislation entitled the European Communities (Vehicle Drivers Certificate of Professional Competence) Regulations, which gave effect to Directive 2003/59/EC. From 10th September 2009, all truck drivers who drive for a living will be required to have a driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC). Drivers of vehicles for non-commercial purposes are exempt from the CPC test. Any drivers holding a valid full license in the truck license category on or before 9th September 2009 are automatically entitled to the new driver CPC. A driver applying for a truck license on or after 10th September 2009 will now be required to pass a further theory and practical driving test in addition to the ordinary truck driving test if they wish to become a professional truck driver.

The resourcing by the RSA of the implementation of the new regulations was considered as part of the overall budget for the RSA for 2009.

  45.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received, from the Department of Finance, a copy of the cost benefit analysis of the new €10 air travel tax; if he has undertaken an investigation of the impact of the air travel tax on air passenger numbers and traffic; if so, if he will publish this research; his views on the statement of a person (details [160]supplied) that thousands of aviation jobs may be lost in 2009 and 2010 as a result of the air travel tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28403/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The airline industry, along with other industries within the transport sector and beyond, continues to go through a difficult trading period. However, the Government does not accept that the decline in passenger numbers experienced by the airports in the State is due to the introduction of the air travel tax.

The difficult trading period in the airline industry arises primarily from weak world economic activity. The present decline in air travel is an international phenomenon and as a result aviation services are contracting on a global basis. As the Deputy may be aware the Airports Council International Europe, for example, has reported that Europe’s airports have posted an average fall of 12.4% in passenger traffic in Q1 2009 compared to the same period last year. The International Air Transport Association reports also reflect such declines.

In the case of Ireland the decline in passenger numbers through our airports is broadly in line with our international counterparts including those airports where there is no travel tax in place. This downward trend has been evident for periods prior to the introduction of the air travel tax. Furthermore, passenger numbers for other modes of transport have also experienced broadly similar declines.

Ireland is not unique in regard to applying a tax on air travel. Other countries within the EU apply similar taxes such as the UK and France, as do Australia and New Zealand. The UK has a relatively high travel tax but traffic there declined by 10% in the first Quarter of 2009, as compared with first quarter of 2008, which is in line with trends internationally arising from the economic downturn. The rates for the Irish air travel tax are not unreasonable both for shorter and longer journeys, when compared to rates in other countries.

The scale of the air travel tax of €10 or €2 arises in the context of a much larger purchasing decision involving travel, hotel expenditures etc, and this serves to limit the impact on tourist numbers. It should also be recognised that tourists are only subject to the tax on their return journey.

Ireland currently faces significant financial challenges and the air travel tax is just one element of the Government’s response to those challenges. As regards the taxation of airlines it is worth noting that fuel used by commercial airlines is by international agreement completely exempt from tax, so it’s a sector that already has considerable preferential treatment.

  46.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans for the future status and development of Cork Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28580/09]

  49.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the status of the State Airports Act 2004; if he will repeal the legislation; if so, the timeframe for the repeal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28402/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 46 together.

In December last, following the recommendations of the boards of the three State Airport Authorities, I announced the deferral until 2011 of a decision on the separation of the Airports under the State Airports Act, 2004 given the current very difficult circumstances for the aviation sector.

[161]When I considered the business plans of the three airports and the views of the boards, I accepted their overall conclusion that it would be best to defer the separation of the three airports. I took the view that it would be best to provide a reasonable period of time to enable the boards and management of these airports to address the very significant challenges facing the aviation market and decided to defer a decision on separation to 2011.

New governance arrangements, which have now been agreed with the Dublin Airport Authority, will provide an opportunity for Cork Airport to realise the potential provided by the very substantial investment in the airport in recent years.

In the circumstances the repeal of the State Airports Act, 2004 does not arise.

  47.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has made comparisons between transport costs here and those applicable in other jurisdictions; the degree to which the main features of extra costs here have been identified; the action he will take of a policy nature which might address these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28427/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Comparative data on transport costs are not readily available from respected international statistical sources such as Eurostat and the International Transport Forum.

Cost competitiveness is a key consideration for Ireland as an open export–oriented economy and transport costs are one of the many factors influencing that competitiveness. Ireland’s peripheral location impacts on transport costs for a range of reasons including:

Distance from our principal export markets;

Diseconomies of scale associated with operating in a small domestic market;

Higher administrative costs relating to distance;

The need to maintain higher stock levels to meet tight supply turnaround times.

The large transport investment being undertaken by this Government will help reduce the cost of transport. For example the huge investment in our major urban motorways and dual carriageways is bringing about substantial reductions in travel times and in the variance in journey times. Investment in public transport is helping to reduce urban congestion and improve the efficiency of the urban economy. Commercial investment by our ports and airports in increasing capacity and improving efficiency thereby contributing to reduced costs for business.

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 41.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 46.

  50.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    his policy in relation to the development of public transport links in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28102/09]

[162]

  52.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the need to have a comprehensive public transport system in rural areas here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28101/09]

  447.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will review rural transport policy with the obligation of existing services to new areas or regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29493/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 52, 50 and 447 together.

The provision of public transport services in rural areas is being progressed in the context of my Department’s Rural Transport Programme and the Government’s sustainable travel and transport plan Smarter Travel — A Sustainable Transport Future.

Thirty seven rural community transport groups are being funded under my Department’s Rural Transport Programme (RTP) which is now operational in every county. These groups are working towards maximising coverage in their operational areas having regard to local public transport service needs and the availability of resources.

Arrangements for the provision of services funded under the Programme are matters for individual rural community transport groups. Local communities know best where the transport needs are in their rural areas and how best to address those needs.

In addition, Bus Éireann and a number of private transport operators provide public transport services in rural areas.

Building on these achievements Smarter Travel, which I published in February 2009, provides the strategic framework for the further development of public transport services throughout the country.

The provision of public transport generally outside of the Greater Dublin Area will also be supported by a new legislative framework that will be promoted through the proposed Public Transport Regulation Bill. The Bill, the General Scheme of which was approved by Government in January 2009, will contain proposals for a new regime for the licensing of all commercial bus services, and for contracts for public transport services.

My Department is also supporting the Louth County Council Age Friendly Initiative by funding a study to map all transport services in the county, to assess age-related needs and to look at delivery models for a pilot scheme to provide a more comprehensive local transport service to complement nationally organised transport.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 30.

Question No. 52 answered with Question No. 50.

  53.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has considered the recommendations of the rural transport report recently published by an organisation (details supplied); if he will implement any of the proposals outlined in this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23112/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I presume that the Deputy is referring to the research study Towards A Sustainable Rural Transport Policy relating to the challenges of developing more sustainable travel patterns for persons living in rural areas, which Comhar, the Sustainable Development Council, commissioned Irish Rural Link to undertake.

[163]The research findings in the Comhar/Irish Rural Link report are broadly consistent with the aims and objectives of the Government’s sustainable transport policy as set out in Smartertravel — A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009 to 2020, which was published earlier this year. Both documents recognise the need for more sustainable alternatives to the private car as the primary means of transport, the importance of reducing overall travel demand through mobility management measures, the importance of maximising the efficiency of the public transport network through greater alignment between land use and transport planning policies, the need to reduce transport emissions, and the importance of improving accessibility to sustainable means of transport.

The Comhar/Irish Rural Link report is currently being examined by my officials and the proposals contained therein will be borne in mind in the context of progressing the various actions relating to rural transport that are contained in Smartertravel.

  54.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on a new aviation white paper on Ireland’s national strategic air connectivity; his further views on recent proposals by Aer Lingus to end flights between Shannon and New York and Chicago during the winter season; if he has been briefed on this matter by the Government appointed directors to Aer Lingus; if he will publish the Government’s cost benefit analysis on the €10 air travel tax; his views on new initiatives to enhance the connectivity of Shannon, Dublin and Cork Airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28378/09]

  57.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the initiatives he is considering to address all of the major issues in the aviation sector including the loss of aviation jobs at airline operators and in the aviation maintenance and engineering industries, the declining volume of passengers in the travel and transport industry and the impact of the new €10 airport departure tax on travel and tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28377/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 57 together.

The aviation sector and particularly the airline sector is extremely cyclical in nature. The airline sector is being badly affected by the current global economic downturn which has led to a significant reduction in consumer demand for air travel, particularly on long-haul routes. The International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, comprising 93% of international air traffic, has projected industry wide losses of $9 billion this year. Revenues are expected to fall by 15%, which is more than double the rate of decline experienced following the September 11 terrorist attacks. With regard to passenger numbers, Airports Council International Europe has reported that Europe’s airports posted an average fall of 12.4% in passenger traffic in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year. The International Air Transport Association reports also reflect such declines.

My Department’s main objective is to assist airports and airlines to respond to the downturn in the sector, while maintaining the highest possible levels of connectivity between Ireland and key markets. Across the world, airlines have been cutting capacity and routes and recent decisions by Aer Lingus, Delta and Ryanair reflect this trend. In a global market, which is fully liberalised within the EU, the scope for measures to provide direct support to airports and carriers is very limited. The focus must therefore be on managing through a severe downturn and being well positioned for an upturn when economic circumstances improve.

[164]The suspension of some key transatlantic services for the winter season recently announced by Aer Lingus and Delta is extremely disappointing. I am particularly concerned at the impact of these developments on connectivity of the Mid-West region to the wider US market from both a business and tourism perspective. I made these concerns known on behalf of the Government to the Aer Lingus Chairman when he informed me of the proposals. I immediately wrote to the State’s three directors to remind them of their mandate and requested that they take account of Government policy on connectivity, regional development and industrial development in the board’s consideration of the matter. It is acknowledged that the duties of the State nominated directors on the board of Aer Lingus derive from the Companies Acts and that they are obliged to pursue the best interests of the company.

The Government does not accept that the decline in passenger numbers experienced by the airports in the State is due to the introduction of the air travel tax. The present decline in air travel is an international phenomenon. In the case of Ireland the decline in passenger numbers through our airports is broadly in line with our international counterparts including those airports where there is no travel tax in place. This downward trend has been evident for periods prior to the introduction of the air travel tax. Furthermore, passenger numbers for other modes of transport have also experienced broadly similar declines.

Looking to the future, the challenge will be to ensure that Irish aviation is well positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery when it comes. To this end my Department will:

continue to liaise with carriers to protect and promote connectivity between Ireland and key markets;

take measures to enhance our bilateral aviation relations with emerging markets such as China and India;

finalise arrangements for the implementation of US Preclearance for flights from Shannon from end July 2009 and from Dublin when the new terminal opens in late 2010;

oversee the tender competition for an operator for Terminal 2 and ensure that the Dublin Airport Authority maximises cost efficiencies;

ensure that the Dublin Airport Authority strikes the right balance between managing short-term financial pressures and ensuring longer-term financial sustainability at all 3 State airports;

liaise with Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, IDA, Enterprise Ireland and DAA to facilitate development of aviation maintenance projects in particular to replace jobs lost at SR Technics.

  55.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport    the level of funding which will be made available in order to alleviate the damage caused by flooding in County Donegal in June 2009. [28343/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In September 2004 the Government confirmed the Office of Public Works (OPW) as the State’s lead agency in flooding, to be tasked with delivering an integrated, multifaceted programme aimed at mitigating future flood risk and impact.

[165]As regards flooding of roads, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a matter for the relevant local authority, to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants paid by my Department. The initial selection of works to be funded from these grants is also a matter for the local authority. Funding of national roads is a matter for the National Roads Authority.

When road grants for regional and local roads are allocated each year, my Department does not hold back a reserve allocation at central level to deal with weather contingencies. Such an arrangement would mean a reduction across all local authorities in the road grant allocations to them at the beginning of each year. Instead, the allocation made to local authorities is inclusive of the weather risk factor. Local authorities are expressly advised that they should set aside contingency sums from their overall regional and local roads resources to finance necessary weather related works.

In 2009, grants totalling €28.664 million were allocated to Donegal County Council for works on regional and local roads. This included a discretionary maintenance grant of €2 million and a discretionary improvement grant of €846,000. These grants are available at the discretion of Donegal County Council to fund contingency works arising from weather conditions.

My Department would also be prepared to consider sympathetically any request from Donegal County Council to adjust its multi-annual Restoration Programmes in order to prioritise work necessitated by severe weather conditions. In 2009, Donegal County Council was allocated a restoration improvement grant of €9.384 million and a restoration maintenance grant of €5.750 million.

In very exceptional circumstances, my Department will consider applications for additional funding of remedial works to roads and bridges following flooding. Consideration of any applications for financial assistance would, of course, have to take account of the current budgetary situation and the resources already allocated to the county.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 20.

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 54.

  58.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has had contacts with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the planned national electric car roll-out programme; the number of businesses which have taken up the option of a 100% write-off on the cost of purchase of electric vehicles against tax under the accelerated capital allowance scheme to date; the commencement date for the public information campaign on electric vehicles; the number of electric vehicles in the national car fleet; the percentage of the national car fleet they comprise; when the ministerial car and public vehicle fleets will be electrified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28410/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have been in contact with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the plans for electric cars. In February I launched Smarter Travel, Ireland’s new sustainable transport policy. It contains a commitment that electric cars will form 10% of the market by 2020. The most recent figures available to my Department (May 2009) indicate that 0.2% of vehicles (3,758) are a declared fuel-type of hybrid electric cars. This gives some idea of the scale of our ambition to increase this figure significantly.

Since the launch of Smarter Travel my officials have been in regular contact with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to assist in the preparation of a [166]national plan to meet this target. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has the lead responsibility in relation to the matter. The Deputy’s specific questions relating to tax write-off and Ministerial vehicles are a matter for the Ministers for Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform respectively.

  59.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of staff working in his Department at various grade levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28579/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The following table provides the information requested by the Deputy.

Grade Number
Secretary General 1.00
Assistant Secretary 5.00
Principal Officer 21.00
Assistant Principal 45.63
Higher Executive Officer 80.53
Administrative Officer 8.00
Executive Officer 89.33
Staff Officer 17.70
Clerical Officer 144.26
Ministerial staff 5.00
Services Officer 16.10
Telephonist 2.03
Irish Coast Guard — Professional & Technical 63.00
Marine Survey Office — Professional & Technical 31.00
All other Technical & Professional 17.00
Total 546.58

  60.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will report on the graduated driving licence scheme; when he will publish the legislation necessary to implement the full GDLS; the reason there has been a delay in rolling out this road safety measure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28390/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 outlines a range of measures to be considered in relation to a Graduated Driver Licensing System (GDLS). The driver licensing regulations, which were made in October 2007, providing for the introduction of a learner permit to replace the provisional licence and some other measures, were the first step in the introduction of a GDLS. A progressive roll-out of appropriate measures is envisaged as the most practical approach for implementing a GDLS.

On 13 January 2009 the Road Safety Authority (RSA) launched a consultation process on a GDLS and published a consultation paper. This contains a number of possible measures and the RSA also welcomes other suggestions from the public. This consultation process has now been completed and the RSA is considering responses. Proposals will be submitted in due [167]course for my consideration. It is too soon to say what the timeframe for that will be or whether new legislation will be required.

  61.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the recent €1 increase in airport charges from €7.39 per person to €8.35 beginning in January 2010 that was sanctioned by the Commission on Aviation Regulation; if he expects airport charges to rise further when terminal two is opened at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28405/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have no role in determining the per passenger charges at Dublin airport. The Commission for Aviation Regulation is the independent regulatory body responsible for setting maximum passenger charges at Dublin Airport.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 13.

  63.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason bus licensing legislation to replace the Road Transport Act 1932 has not been introduced; the reason for the ongoing delay in publishing this legislation; the proposed publication date for the bill; the proposed key headings and objectives of the bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28382/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  In January 2009, the Government approved the General Scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill which contains proposals for a new bus licensing regime which will replace the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. In accordance with the Programme for Government commitment, the proposed licensing regime will provide a level playing field for all bus market participants.

The new licensing structure will apply in respect of all commercial bus passenger services, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It will establish a clear framework for assessing applications for bus route licences as well as a modern system of penalties and associated powers for revocation of licences.

The general scheme of the Bill also contains proposals for extending nationally contractual arrangements for the procurement of bus and rail services modelled on the approach established in the provisions of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in respect of the Greater Dublin Area. Future growth in the market for subvented bus services will be addressed by public service contracts entered into following open tendering processes. The provisions are consistent with the requirements in relation to the provision of public service obligations in EU Regulation No. 1370/2007 on public passenger transport services by rail and by road.

The Bill will assign responsibility to the Dublin Transport Authority for bus route licensing and the award of public service contracts nationwide. It will also provide for the amalgamation of the Commission for Taxi Regulation into the DTA, as well as the renaming of the DTA as the National Transport Authority given its proposed national responsibility in relation to commercial bus licensing, bus and rail subvention and the regulation of small public service vehicles.

There has been no delay in introducing the legislation. Following Government approval of the General Scheme of the Public Transport Regulation Bill in January, a Bill has been drafted and has been circulated to Government Departments for observations. On their receipt, it is my intention to seek Government approval to the publication of the Bill as soon as possible.

[168]Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 7.

  65.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    the action he will take on the submission by an organisation (details supplied) on shadow licences to address the abuse of the penalty points system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28103/09]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have not received a submission from the organisation on the matter referred to. However a number of amendments to the fixed charge system are included in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill.

  66.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will provide details of the €250 million job protection programme; when she expects this scheme to commence; the financial mechanisms being used to fund the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29525/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The Government is proposing to introduce a Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme. The purpose of this scheme will be to help the economy to retain its productive capacity and help employers to retain the labour, knowledge and skills of the workforce, thereby supporting a faster return to sustainable growth; help employees to retain their jobs, and ensure that economic and fiscal stability is promoted by avoiding the costs of unemployment including statutory redundancy payments and the longer-term cost of social welfare.

It is proposed that the Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme will apply to companies in the manufacturing or internationally traded service sectors that are currently engaged in exporting. In addition in order to qualify for support it is intended that a company must not have been in difficulty on 1 July 2008, and a financial assessment must establish that it is now facing such difficulties as a result of the global and financial economic crisis that redundancies are likely to have to be considered within 12 months. It is also intended that a company must also be judged to be viable and capable of growth in the medium term in order to receive support under the scheme. Enterprise Ireland will be administering the scheme and they will determine whether a company meets the eligibility criteria of the scheme.

It is intended that a national steering committee will be established to oversee the implementation of the scheme comprising representatives of the relevant Government Departments and the Social Partners.

The Government is in discussions with the Social Partners with a view to implementing the Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme over the coming period. It is intended to have the scheme in operation with the first tranche of payments being made to companies after the summer. The resourcing of this scheme will be determined by Government shortly.

  67.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding proposal 24 listed in annex D of budget 2009; the date the proposal will be fully completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29577/09]

  85.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Question No. 119 of the 28 of April 2009, the progress made in this area; the expected date by which she expects to have completed the amalgamation [169]of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29583/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 67 and 85 together.

As the Deputy is aware, during the course of the budget speech last October, my colleague the Minister for Finance announced the merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority as part of the rationalisation of State Agencies. It is my intention to bring forward legislation during the course of 2009 to implement this merger.

  68.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Question No. 1 of 10 June 2009 with regard to the FÁS training and community programmes listed, the courses offered in each category; the duration of each course; the location where each course is available; the annual capacity of each course; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29920/09]

  108.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the courses offered with regard to the FÁS training and community programmes; the duration of each course; the location where each course is available; the annual capacity of each course; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29895/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 108 together.

The types of training programmes provided by FÁS across the Training Services, Community Services and Services to Business categories include Short courses, Traineeships, Bridging /Foundation courses, Return to Work Training Courses, Community Employment Schemes as well as more recent initiatives such as the Redundant Apprenticeship Rotation Scheme. Information on the range of training programmes offered by FÁS Training Services Division and Community Services Division by programme type, duration and potential beneficiaries are provided in tabular format.

FÁS training courses are delivered on a national basis. In terms of their specific location each of the eight FÁS regions, in consultation with the relevant regional stakeholders, develop appropriate plans regarding the location, delivery, range, mix and type of training courses appropriate to the needs of their region. Information on the precise location of individual courses can be accessed through the local FÁS employment services office. Information in regard to the full list of courses available under each category provided for by FÁS are available on the FÁS website.

[170]FÁS Training Services Division and Services to Business Division

Programme Programme Type Typical Duration Potential Beneficiaries (approx.) Delivery Location
Bridging Foundation Training Aimed at disadvantaged clients 8 to 20 weeks duration 4,643 Nationally
Return to Work Programme Bridging Programme specifically for persons wishing to return to employment 10 weeks 855 Nationally
Specific Skills Training Wide range of skills training with an appropriate vocational qualification Vary in length the typical duration is 20 –26 weeks but it can be up to a maximum of 48 weeks 10,237 Nationally
Short Course Programme Short Courses targeted at redundant persons with high employability 8 weeks 15,710 Nationally
Traineeship Occupational specific and industry endorsed training 20 to 40 weeks 3,014 Nationally
Redundant Apprenticeship Training Skills and knowledge training and assessment for apprentices 20 weeks 3,800 Nationally
Sponsored Training Fee paying training provided by FÁS to companies for people in employment Determined by the requirements of each skill set 2,512 Nationally
Evening Courses Provided for unemployed persons and fee paying employed clients to upskill and obtain accreditation 10 weeks 30,448 Nationally
On-line learning Training in a wide range of skills and knowledge for persons with access to PC 10 weeks 6,000 Nationally
Blended Learning On-line learning with tutor support and workshops 10 weeks 6,949 Nationally
Work Placement Programme A work placement programme for the unemployed including graduates. Participants on the scheme will retain their social welfare entitlements. 6 months 2000 Nationally
Short Time Working Training Programme Will provide training to people on systematic short-time for the days they are not working 52 weeks 277 Nationally

[171]FÁS Community Services Division

Programme Programme Type Typical Duration Potential Beneficiaries (approx) Delivery Location
Community Employment Employment programme 3 years max under 55.6 years max for 55+1 extra year for persons with a disability 22,780 Nationally
Job Initiative (closed to new recruitment November 2004) Employment programme n/a 1,435 Nationally
Community Training Centres Training programme Varies depending on individual learning needs 2,300 Nationally
Local Training Initiatives Training programme 1 year 2,100 Nationally
Specialist Training Providers Training/Employment programme for persons with disabilities 18 months average 2,000 Nationally
Employability Services(formerly Supported Employment) Training/Employment programme for persons with disabilities 18 months average 3,000 Nationally
Job Clubs Training programme Drop-in service, typically for 3 weeks average 7,800 Nationally
Special Initiative for Travellers Training programme 18 months average 140 Nationally

  69.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the uptake of the work placement programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29921/09]

  70.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the uptake of the short time working programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29922/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 70 together.

My Department, along with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Education and Science, have been working closely together to ensure a significant response to the unemployment situation. The Work Placement Programme and the Short Time Working Training Programme, which were announced in the supplementary budget, are but two initiatives that have been created to contribute to the challenge of activating and training the unemployed. It should be noted that these programmes form only an element of the Government’s response to the unemployment challenge, which also includes a substantial increase in job search, training and education supports.

The Work Placement Programme has been created to provide 2,000 six-month work experience places for graduates and other individuals. The aim of this scheme is to provide invaluable work experience to individuals who are unemployed, who have recently graduated from college or have very limited experience of the workplace.

To date the number of individuals who have expressed an interest with FÁS in the Programme and who meet the eligible criteria stands at 192. In terms of places, FÁS has received 180 inquiries to date from potential providers, which has resulted in 155 actual places being offered by providers. Considering that FÁS is in the process of finalising its targeted publicity campaign of the Programme, it is encouraging that it is experiencing a considerable level of interest from individuals and providers in the Programme.

The Short Time Training Programme will provide training and income support to 277 workers currently on systematic short time working. Under this programme workers who are on a three-day week and receiving social welfare payments for the days they are not working will receive two days training a week for a period of 52 weeks.

FÁS is in the process of allocating the places on this programme across a number of regions using either its Employment Services offices or its Local Services to Business Unit. To date 124 places have been allocated across two FÁS Regions. FÁS is continuing to explore a number of other possible inquiries from other FÁS regions in relation to the allocation of the remaining places. It is intended that these places will be allocated in the coming weeks.

  71.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will make a statement on the case of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [28805/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  The Redundancy Payments Section of my Department received an application on 1 April, 2009 for a statutory redundancy lump sum payment in respect of the individual referred to. In instances where an employer is unable or refuses to pay the statutory lump sum as [173]required in the first instance, my Department pays the statutory amount from the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) but, before doing so, the Department requires documentary evidence in support of the claim of inability to pay.

In all such cases, the employer is asked to provide to the Department a letter from his accountant or solicitor confirming inability to pay as well as other documentary evidence (i.e. audited accounts or statement of affairs) within 30 days of the Department’s request. In this particular case, the necessary support documentation has now been supplied and the documents are currently being examined. Assuming the documentation is in order, it should be possible to issue payment in this case shortly.

  72.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if a person, who was made unemployed 12 months ago but in the intervening time signed off for a few days and suspended their jobseeker’s payment for that short period, will qualify for community employment under current rules; and the way short periods of employment are treated in relation to eligibility for community employment. [28810/09]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  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. CE is not designed to cater for short-term unemployed persons as they are not as far removed from the open labour market as the main client group for the programme. To facilitate some short-term employment opportunities, breaks off the live register of up to 30 days are permissible with the 12-month eligibility period, while still maintaining eligibility for CE.

CE 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 provides a range programmes aimed specifically at the short-term unemployed, details of which are available from any FÁS Employment Services office, Local Employment Service offices or from the FÁS website www.fas.ie.

  73.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of staff employed by her Department in County Louth by location; if such staff are permanent, temporary, part-time or on fixed contracts and so on; the accommodation used by such staff and if same is owned, leased or otherwise rented by her Department; the cost of same per annum; if leased, when such lease expires; her proposals to close, amalgamate or expand her Department’s presence in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28849/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department does not have staff employed in County Louth.

  74.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her Department made submissions to the McCarthy group on potential savings in her Department; the contents of the submissions made; if the McCarthy group made proposals to her Department; the contents of the proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28895/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  At the commencement of its work, the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes, which is chaired by Mr. Colm McCarthy, invited my Department to submit an evaluation paper to the group, setting out the main areas of spending in my Department. This paper was submitted to the special group in January 2009 and included a number of options for potential savings within my Department’s Vote. The group has recently submitted a report on its considerations of all Departmental Votes to the Minister for Finance, and the Minister will bring the report to Government in the near future. Decisions on the release of the report and associated documents will be made by Government in due course.

  75.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the breakdown of employment in each county on a full-time and part-time basis for 2009; the breakdown of employment in each county on a full-time and part-time basis for each of the past ten years; the breakdown of employment for each county by sector and in relation to the type of employment for 2009; the breakdown of employment for each county by sector and in relation to the type of employment for each of the past ten years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29235/09]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Data in respect of employment in agency assisted companies are collated by Forfás on an annual basis and accordingly data for 2009 will not be available until 2010.

The following tabular statements provide data for the period 1998 -2008 at regional and county level in respect of Permanent Full-Time employment and Temporary Part-Time Employment in enterprise agency assisted firms. In addition, tabular data is provided showing sectoral data at county and regional level. For reasons of confidentiality, it is not possible in some cases to provide the same level of detail at sectoral level for every county.

The data shows that at end 2008 the numbers employed in permanent full time employment, in enterprise agency assisted companies, stood at 297,098 which represents an increase of almost 4,000 in the ten year period. While we have seen a decrease of approximately 20,000 in the numbers employed in manufacturing, this has been more than offset by increases in the International and Financial Services sectors.

In addition to the Enterprise Agencies, the County Enterprise Boards play a pivotal role in stimulating local economic development and entrepreneurship and in developing, sustaining and growing the micro-enterprise sector (i.e. companies employing ten or less people). The boards can assist businesses in both the start-up and the expansion phases within this sector but they must, however, give priority to manufacturing and internationally traded services. The total net full-time jobs created in CEB assisted companies for the period 1993 (when the CEBs were established) to end 2008 is 33,811.

Overall employment levels in agency assisted companies have been relatively stable during the past decade, increasing 7.5% from 1998 to 2008. Using output per employee as an indicator, [175]productivity increased two and a half times during the same period (2007 is the latest data available) demonstrating a significant shift toward higher value activities. In principle, higher productivity generates a higher return on investment. This positions Ireland well to attract business investment in the future, which in turn generates new employment opportunities and economic activity. This is borne out by the successes of IDA and EI client companies in 2008.

Strong, balanced regional development and a thriving culture of entrepreneurship in all parts of Ireland are key strategic objectives for my Department and the development agencies under its remit. I am satisfied that the policies and initiatives being pursued by the Industrial Development agencies and the CEBs will continue to bring about industrial development and employment opportunities for the regions.

Permanent Full-Time Employment in Enterprise Agency Assisted Companies by Region and County
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
All Regions 293,117 315,480 312,335 302,795 295,431 294,010 297,490 304,012 306,036 297,098
South East 28,884 28,914 29,325 29,645 29,775 29,300 28,784 29,653 30,710 29,445
Carlow 3,728 3,697 3,778 3,629 3,606 3,395 3,255 3,284 2,933 2,784
Kilkenny 3,676 3,768 3,879 4,224 3,846 3,768 3,927 3,958 4,067 3,797
Tipperary South Riding 4,257 4,669 5,000 5,158 4,899 4,965 5,012 5,043 5,870 6,135
Waterford 10,865 10,519 10,878 11,121 11,619 11,277 10,645 11,363 11,814 10,796
Wexford 6,358 6,261 5,790 5,513 5,805 5,895 5,945 6,005 6,026 5,933
Border 34,174 34,078 32,931 32,082 31,135 31,262 32,314 32,257 32,694 31,456
Cavan 5,165 5,242 5,335 5,829 6,080 6,401 6,974 6,983 7,511 7,888
Donegal 9,389 9,184 9,011 8,420 7,670 7,544 7,595 7,277 7,513 7,341
Leitrim 1,328 1,271 1,604 1,583 2,095 2,182 1,996 1,875 1,794 1,747
Louth 8,873 8,798 7,813 7,081 6,407 6,470 6,749 6,923 6,942 6,389
Monaghan 5,042 5,157 4,906 4,929 4,813 4,589 4,855 5,014 4,972 4,230
Sligo 4,377 4,426 4,262 4,240 4,070 4,076 4,145 4,185 3,962 3,861
Mid West 31,483 33,243 32,055 29,535 28,720 28,540 28,466 29,388 29,271 28,290
Clare 10,444 10,927 10,703 9,997 9,945 10,011 9,842 9,865 9,827 9,960
Limerick 16,813 17,807 17,044 15,581 14,935 14,813 14,969 15,867 15,704 14,817
Tipperary North Riding 4,226 4,509 4,308 3,957 3,840 3,716 3,655 3,656 3,740 3,513
South West 40,044 45,129 45,567 45,028 44,373 45,270 45,629 45,473 44,763 45,088
Cork 33,321 37,621 37,884 37,923 37,529 38,712 39,154 39,185 38,484 39,041
Kerry 6,723 7,508 7,683 7,105 6,844 6,558 6,475 6,288 6,279 6,047
Dublin 92,957 103,370 101,778 97,248 92,110 90,222 90,877 94,905 97,287 95,351
Dublin 92,957 103,370 101,778 97,248 92,110 90,222 90,877 94,905 97,287 95,351
West 26,594 29,073 29,149 27,290 27,362 27,618 28,785 28,932 28,877 28,025
Galway 16,694 18,784 18,474 17,222 17,347 17,983 18,983 19,071 19,022 18,702
Mayo 6,795 7,242 7,566 7,190 7,145 6,828 6,953 7,155 7,124 6,900
Roscommon 3,105 3,047 3,109 2,878 2,870 2,807 2,849 2,706 2,731 2,423
Mid East 26,506 29,138 28,967 29,215 29,435 29,391 29,199 29,615 28,585 26,381
Kildare 13,535 15,496 15,014 15,148 15,223 15,534 16,111 16,309 15,599 14,478
Meath 5,730 6,101 6,245 5,886 5,523 5,608 5,847 6,211 5,943 5,577
Wicklow 7,241 7,541 7,708 8,181 8,689 8,249 7,241 7,095 7,043 6,326
Midlands 12,475 12,535 12,563 12,752 12,521 12,407 13,436 13,789 13,849 13,062
Laois 1,745 1,611 1,733 1,664 1,634 1,436 1,534 1,649 1,621 1,495
Longford 2,228 2,210 2,323 2,130 2,403 2,508 2,785 2,758 2,789 2,708
Offaly 4,350 4,070 3,631 3,912 3,884 3,912 4,095 4,382 4,302 4,147
Westmeath 4,152 4,644 4,876 5,046 4,600 4,551 5,022 5,000 5,137 4,712

Temporary Part-Time Employment in Enterprise Agency Assisted Companies by Region and County
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
All Regions 34,390 36,084 32,791 33,151 34,337 36,512 36,500 36,350 35,230 30,871
South East 3,641 3,851 3,732 3,887 3,564 3,748 4,019 2,912 3,297 3,174
Carlow 420 524 475 369 299 303 227 238 246 181
Kilkenny 426 404 447 478 442 535 526 604 559 515
Tipperary South Riding 483 538 539 516 549 484 648 515 751 744
Waterford 1,748 1,895 1,851 2,058 1,791 1,868 2,052 1,114 1,287 1,232
Wexford 564 490 420 466 483 558 566 441 454 502
Border 4,186 4,358 4,533 4,215 4,250 4,270 4,197 3,990 3,595 3,070
Cavan 479 581 691 639 513 477 336 318 451 463
Donegal 1,862 2,085 2,143 1,951 2,033 2,136 2,106 1,704 1,570 988
Leitrim 121 90 114 181 121 154 223 231 88 181
Louth 1,097 925 680 731 969 901 945 1,063 814 806
Monaghan 289 257 425 382 275 202 320 359 326 290
Sligo 338 420 480 331 339 400 267 315 346 342
Mid West 1,033 2,139 1,917 1,416 2,357 2,870 3,021 3,110 3,529 2,159
Clare 72 964 602 446 721 702 805 598 878 728
Limerick 873 934 1,163 875 1,347 2,038 2,056 2,292 2,433 1,162
Tipperary North Riding 88 241 152 95 289 130 160 220 218 269
South West 5,685 6,411 5,565 6,492 6,298 6,294 6,116 6,762 6,428 5,869
Cork 4,721 5,281 4,497 5,546 5,355 5,291 5,088 5,546 5,372 4,963
Kerry 964 1,130 1,068 946 943 1,003 1,028 1,216 1,056 906
Dublin 10,634 9,619 8,267 9,109 9,162 9,721 10,734 10,259 9,334 9,443
Dublin 10,634 9,619 8,267 9,109 9,162 9,721 10,734 10,259 9,334 9,443
West 5,288 5,401 4,813 4,821 5,516 6,204 5,171 5,701 5,842 3,986
Galway 3,738 3,520 3,321 3,393 4,021 4,761 3,925 4,269 4,476 2,906
Mayo 1,346 1,691 1,345 1,323 1,425 1,324 1,159 1,277 1,249 978
Roscommon 204 190 147 105 70 119 87 155 117 102
Mid East 2,764 2,759 2,534 2,265 2,309 2,418 2,387 2,664 2,312 2,228
Kildare 1,181 1,185 853 695 753 921 1,242 1,324 1,109 941
Meath 722 729 838 855 660 723 556 688 502 544
Wicklow 861 845 843 715 896 774 589 652 701 743
Midlands 1,159 1,546 1,430 946 881 987 855 952 893 942
Laois 116 139 104 146 136 101 112 112 80 68
Longford 227 179 112 109 126 150 171 139 121 114
Offaly 400 492 664 315 303 294 271 308 261 348
Westmeath 416 736 550 376 316 442 301 393 431 412

Permanent Full-Time Employment By Region County and Sector
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
All Regions 293,117 315,480 312,335 302,795 295,431 294,010 297,490 304,012 306,036 297,098
Manufacturing & Industry 227,621 236,955 229,632 219,897 213,747 210,260 210,856 211,409 208,698 197,165
International Services 51,139 62,423 65,683 64,104 62,078 62,710 63,967 67,327 69,164 70,418
Financial & Other Services 11,676 13,390 14,281 16,000 16,912 18,494 20,017 22,588 25,415 26,832
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 2,681 2,712 2,739 2,794 2,694 2,546 2,650 2,688 2,759 2,683
South East
All Sectors 28,884 28,914 29,325 29,645 29,775 29,300 28,784 29,653 30,710 29,445
Manufacturing & Industry 27,082 27,020 27,125 26,845 26,386 25,717 25,161 25,570 25,739 24,481
International Services 1,030 1,163 1,410 1,807 1,993 2,059 2,045 2,334 2,906 2,797
Financial & Other Services 167 170 239 370 764 862 945 1,095 1,355 1,404
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 605 561 551 623 632 662 633 654 710 763
Carlow
All Sectors 3,728 3,697 3,778 3,629 3,606 3,395 3,255 3,284 2,933 2,784
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 3,607 3,545 3,589 3,461 3,433 3,225 3,091 3,091 2,781 2,626
International Financial & Other Services 121 152 189 168 173 170 164 193 152 158
Kilkenny
All Sectors 3,676 3,768 3,879 4,224 3,846 3,768 3,927 3,958 4,067 3,797
Manufacturing & Industry 3,169 3,309 3,361 3,533 3,109 2,911 2,982 2,977 2,957 2,697
International Services 283 244 237 379 417 482 477 497 528 514
Financial & Other Services 15 17 90 137 143 207 288 305 398 401
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 209 198 191 175 177 168 180 179 184 185
Tipperary South Riding
All Sectors 4,257 4,669 5,000 5,158 4,899 4,965 5,012 5,043 5,870 6,135
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 4,073 4,442 4,777 4,876 4,615 4,709 4,825 4,892 5,719 6,007
International Services 144 189 186 241 243 215 142 105 105 83
Financial & Other Services 40 38 37 41 41 41 45 46 46 45
Waterford
All Sectors 10,865 10,519 10,878 11,121 11,619 11,277 10,645 11,363 11,814 10,796
Manufacturing & Industry 10,474 10,033 10,196 10,225 10,588 10,191 9,457 9,832 9,652 8,668
International Services 277 380 580 779 939 981 1,072 1,363 1,912 1,847
Financial & Other Services 67 69 69 54 35 53 75 116 191 216
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 47 37 33 63 57 52 41 52 59 65
Wexford
All Sectors 6,358 6,261 5,790 5,513 5,805 5,895 5,945 6,005 6,026 5,933
Manufacturing & Industry 5,933 5,870 5,395 5,007 4,891 4,934 5,074 5,063 4,933 4,869
International Services 220 213 232 254 235 211 190 216 257 245
Financial & Other Services 30 31 29 124 531 561 537 588 672 692
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 175 147 134 128 148 189 144 138 164 127
Border
All Sectors 34,174 34,078 32,931 32,082 31,135 31,262 32,314 32,257 32,694 31,456
Manufacturing & Industry 32,049 31,680 29,979 28,560 26,751 26,494 27,022 26,288 25,832 23,761
International Services 1,033 1,284 1,859 1,995 2,745 3,029 3,180 3,376 3,576 3,763
Financial & Other Services 421 474 450 958 1,129 1,301 1,582 2,051 2,657 3,324
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 671 640 643 569 510 438 530 542 629 608
Cavan
All Sectors 5,165 5,242 5,335 5,829 6,080 6,401 6,974 6,983 7,511 7,888
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 5,084 5,155 5,264 5,310 5,414 5,590 5,984 5,749 5,883 5,752
International Services 54 60 46 48 48 42 36 35 33 23
Financial & Other Services 27 27 25 471 618 769 954 1,199 1,595 2,113
Donegal
All Sectors 9,389 9,184 9,011 8,420 7,670 7,544 7,595 7,277 7,513 7,341
Manufacturing & Industry 8,502 8,050 7,559 6,865 5,911 5,660 5,339 4,916 4,977 4,639
International Services 337 545 861 937 1,125 1,229 1,523 1,558 1,704 1,795
Financial & Other Services 300 326 315 364 379 395 454 510 562 664
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 250 263 276 254 255 260 279 293 270 243
Leitrim
All Sectors 1,328 1,271 1,604 1,583 2,095 2,182 1,996 1,875 1,794 1,747
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 1,299 1,240 1,237 1,097 1,103 1,032 1,023 987 917 828
International Financial & Other Services 29 31 367 486 992 1,150 973 888 877 919
Louth
All Sectors 8,873 8,798 7,813 7,081 6,407 6,470 6,749 6,923 6,942 6,389
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 8,495 8,397 7,492 6,788 6,063 6,089 6,297 6,234 6,048 5,400
International Financial & Other Services 378 401 321 293 344 381 452 689 894 989
Monaghan
All Sectors 5,042 5,157 4,906 4,929 4,813 4,589 4,855 5,014 4,972 4,230
Manufacturing & Industry 4,543 4,658 4,416 4,514 4,410 4,254 4,474 4,673 4,557 3,777
International Services 98 89 91 90 99 96 85 91 106 99
Financial & Other Services 72 100 97 91 97 96 98 80 86 98
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 329 310 302 234 207 143 198 170 223 256
Sligo
All Sectors 4,377 4,426 4,262 4,240 4,070 4,076 4,145 4,185 3,962 3,861
Manufacturing & Industry 4,218 4,247 4,076 4,067 3,898 3,904 3,958 3,808 3,586 3,474
International Financial & Other Services 159 179 186 173 172 172 187 377 376 387
Mid West
All Sectors 31,483 33,243 32,055 29,535 28,720 28,540 28,466 29,388 29,271 28,290
Manufacturing & Industry 27,353 28,652 27,009 24,434 23,879 23,723 23,603 24,198 23,806 22,945
International Services 2,450 2,723 3,017 2,997 2,666 2,708 2,728 3,020 3,267 3,082
Financial & Other Services 1,609 1,803 1,971 2,032 2,098 2,034 2,078 2,115 2,137 2,204
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 71 65 58 72 77 75 57 55 61 59
Clare
All Sectors 10,444 10,927 10,703 9,997 9,945 10,011 9,842 9,865 9,827 9,960
Manufacturing & Industry 8,001 8,116 7,758 6,906 6,893 6,903 6,827 6,680 6,654 6,712
International Services 1,002 1,191 1,173 1,249 1,152 1,210 1,112 1,255 1,336 1,367
Financial & Other Services 1,373 1,572 1,733 1,786 1,844 1,846 1,864 1,892 1,811 1,855
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 68 48 39 56 56 52 39 38 26 26
Limerick
All Sectors 16,813 17,807 17,044 15,581 14,935 14,813 14,969 15,867 15,704 14,817
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 15,309 16,220 15,152 13,786 13,368 13,242 13,249 13,986 13,557 12,853
International Services 1,411 1,499 1,797 1,702 1,466 1,451 1,572 1,732 1,897 1,688
Financial & Other Services 93 88 95 93 101 120 148 149 250 276
Tipperary North Riding
All Sectors 4,226 4,509 4,308 3,957 3,840 3,716 3,655 3,656 3,740 3,513
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 4,046 4,333 4,118 3,758 3,639 3,601 3,545 3,549 3,630 3,413
International Financial & Other Services 180 176 190 199 201 115 110 107 110 100
South West
All Sectors 40,044 45,129 45,567 45,028 44,373 45,270 45,629 45,473 44,763 45,088
Manufacturing & Industry 34,517 37,997 37,817 36,867 36,142 36,297 36,340 35,672 34,983 34,373
International Services 4,024 5,416 6,007 6,345 6,388 7,121 7,427 7,788 7,943 8,582
Financial & Other Services 1,266 1,459 1,490 1,565 1,588 1,615 1,643 1,805 1,686 2,028
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 237 257 253 251 255 237 219 208 151 105
Cork
All Sectors 33,321 37,621 37,884 37,923 37,529 38,712 39,154 39,185 38,484 39,041
Manufacturing & Industry 29,274 32,268 31,940 31,591 31,133 31,563 31,709 31,238 30,415 30,093
International Services 3,474 4,709 5,275 5,620 5,653 6,390 6,683 7,074 7,189 7,798
Financial & Other Services 479 551 566 599 628 645 649 774 817 1,099
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 94 93 103 113 115 114 113 99 63 51
Kerry
All Sectors 6,723 7,508 7,683 7,105 6,844 6,558 6,475 6,288 6,279 6,047
Manufacturing & Industry 5,243 5,729 5,877 5,276 5,009 4,734 4,631 4,434 4,568 4,280
International Services 550 707 732 725 735 731 744 714 754 784
Financial & Other Services 787 908 924 966 960 970 994 1,031 869 929
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 143 164 150 138 140 123 106 109 88 54
Dublin
All Sectors 92,957 103,370 101,778 97,248 92,110 90,222 90,877 94,905 97,287 95,351
Manufacturing & Industry 49,600 51,130 47,057 43,672 41,519 39,202 37,681 37,777 37,960 35,044
International Services 36,289 43,903 45,868 43,855 40,698 40,112 41,303 43,700 43,922 44,778
Financial & Other Services 7,005 8,248 8,759 9,618 9,787 10,796 11,763 13,329 15,299 15,403
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 63 89 94 103 106 112 130 99 106 126
West
All Sectors 26,594 29,073 29,149 27,290 27,362 27,618 28,785 28,932 28,877 28,025
Manufacturing & Industry 22,689 24,479 24,384 22,665 22,567 22,664 23,610 23,572 23,127 22,084
International Services 2,578 3,200 3,225 3,127 3,231 3,308 3,428 3,505 3,812 3,865
Financial & Other Services 750 764 848 830 906 1,048 1,085 1,135 1,225 1,395
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 577 630 692 668 658 598 662 720 713 681
Galway
All Sectors 16,694 18,784 18,474 17,222 17,347 17,983 18,983 19,071 19,022 18,702
Manufacturing & Industry 13,679 15,324 14,931 13,853 13,885 14,388 15,149 15,163 14,914 14,370
International Services 2,139 2,556 2,550 2,423 2,512 2,532 2,729 2,782 2,942 3,060
Financial & Other Services 551 572 649 643 695 826 850 869 905 1,038
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 325 332 344 303 255 237 255 257 261 234
Mayo
All Sectors 6,795 7,242 7,566 7,190 7,145 6,828 6,953 7,155 7,124 6,900
Manufacturing & Industry 5,988 6,264 6,491 6,068 5,979 5,670 5,824 5,903 5,726 5,539
International Services 385 565 606 640 648 694 612 649 750 688
Financial & Other Services 173 160 167 170 170 157 164 192 246 279
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 249 253 302 312 348 307 353 411 402 394
Roscommon
All Sectors 3,105 3,047 3,109 2,878 2,870 2,807 2,849 2,706 2,731 2,423
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 3,025 2,936 3,008 2,797 2,758 2,660 2,691 2,558 2,537 2,228
International, Financial & Other Services 80 111 101 81 112 147 158 148 194 195
Mid East
All Sectors 26,506 29,138 28,967 29,215 29,435 29,391 29,199 29,615 28,585 26,381
Manufacturing & Industry 22,922 24,769 25,047 25,462 25,422 25,289 25,614 26,009 25,073 22,988
International Services 2,983 3,722 3,308 3,048 3,337 3,213 2,636 2,540 2,482 2,315
Financial & Other Services 406 429 408 428 434 631 702 812 794 889
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 195 218 204 277 242 258 247 254 236 189
Kildare
All Sectors 13,535 15,496 15,014 15,148 15,223 15,534 16,111 16,309 15,599 14,478
Manufacturing & Industry 12,056 13,693 13,383 13,770 13,843 14,030 14,495 14,565 13,876 12,801
International Services 1,272 1,584 1,427 1,096 1,122 1,115 1,170 1,266 1,231 1,141
Financial & Other Services 126 140 136 140 146 273 337 368 385 438
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 81 79 68 142 112 116 109 110 107 98
Meath
All Sectors 5,730 6,101 6,245 5,886 5,523 5,608 5,847 6,211 5,943 5,577
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 5,284 5,514 5,692 5,343 5,017 4,995 5,136 5,451 5,236 4,830
International Services 274 423 412 383 329 398 500 470 442 460
Financial & Other Services 172 164 141 160 177 215 211 290 265 287
Wicklow
All Sectors 7,241 7,541 7,708 8,181 8,689 8,249 7,241 7,095 7,043 6,326
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 5,696 5,701 6,108 6,484 6,692 6,406 6,121 6,137 6,090 5,448
International Services 1,437 1,715 1,469 1,569 1,886 1,700 966 804 809 714
Financial & Other Services 108 125 131 128 111 143 154 154 144 164
International, Financial & Other Services 57 119 46 6 8 26 46 46 73 114
Westmeath
All Sectors 4,152 4,644 4,876 5,046 4,600 4,551 5,022 5,000 5,137 4,712
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 3,589 3,898 4,063 4,124 3,590 3,408 3,816 3,983 3,925 3,606
International Services 529 716 782 789 860 996 1,060 836 1,012 957
Financial & Other Services 34 28 28 130 148 144 143 178 197 147
Midlands
All Sectors 12,475 12,535 12,563 12,752 12,521 12,407 13,436 13,789 13,849 13,062
Manufacturing & Industry 11,409 11,228 11,214 11,392 11,081 10,874 11,825 12,323 12,178 11,489
International Services 752 1,012 989 930 1,020 1,160 1,220 1,064 1,256 1,236
Financial & Other Services 52 43 116 199 206 207 219 246 262 185
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 262 252 244 231 214 166 172 156 153 152
Laois
All Sectors 1,745 1,611 1,733 1,664 1,634 1,436 1,534 1,649 1,621 1,495
Manufacturing & Industry 1,554 1,409 1,472 1,409 1,409 1,213 1,299 1,386 1,355 1,229
International, Financial & Other Services 58 68 131 120 98 101 107 138 139 136
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 133 134 130 135 127 122 128 125 127 130
Longford
All Sectors 2,228 2,210 2,323 2,130 2,403 2,508 2,785 2,758 2,789 2,708
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 2,102 2,086 2,205 2,046 2,291 2,408 2,702 2,646 2,692 2,641
International, Financial & Other Services 126 124 118 84 112 100 83 112 97 67
Offaly
All Sectors 4,350 4,070 3,631 3,912 3,884 3,912 4,095 4,382 4,302 4,147
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 4,293 3,951 3,585 3,906 3,876 3,886 4,049 4,336 4,229 4,033
International, Financial & Other Services 57 119 46 6 8 26 46 46 73 114
Westmeath
All Sectors 4,152 4,644 4,876 5,046 4,600 4,551 5,022 5,000 5,137 4,712
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 3,589 3,898 4,063 4,124 3,590 3,408 3,816 3,983 3,925 3,606
International Services 529 716 782 789 860 996 1,060 836 1,012 957
Financial & Other Services 34 28 28 130 148 144 143 178 197 147

Temporary Part-Time Employment in Agency Assisted Companies by Region County and Sector
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
All Regions
All Sectors 34,390 36,084 32,791 33,151 34,337 36,512 36,500 36,350 35,230 30,871
Manufacturing & Industry 23,085 24,391 21,423 21,180 21,130 22,160 22,577 22,053 21,275 17,762
International Services 7,695 7,558 7,196 7,680 8,761 9,608 8,928 9,287 8,628 9,269
Financial & Other Services 1,973 2,324 2,398 2,554 2,706 3,090 3,338 3,411 4,037 3,156
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 1,637 1,811 1,774 1,737 1,740 1,654 1,657 1,599 1,290 684
South East
All Sectors 3,641 3,851 3,732 3,887 3,564 3,748 4,019 2,912 3,297 3,174
Manufacturing & Industry 3,410 3,478 3,292 3,203 2,852 3,074 3,312 2,389 2,683 2,297
International Services 153 296 329 540 555 481 512 304 453 713
Financial & Other Services 16 18 40 57 73 110 87 103 79 65
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 62 59 71 87 84 83 108 116 82 99
Carlow
All Sectors 420 524 475 369 299 303 227 238 246 181
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 349 433 388 290 244 286 211 224 236 170
International Financial & Other Services 71 91 87 79 55 17 16 14 10 11
Kilkenny
All Sectors 426 404 447 478 442 535 526 604 559 515
Manufacturing & Industry 396 365 369 329 314 352 361 375 353 337
International Services 18 29 19 62 15 82 79 110 110 91
Financial & Other Services 2 32 45 66 58 31 43 50 38
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 10 10 27 42 47 43 55 76 46 49
Tipperary South Riding
All Sectors 483 538 539 516 549 484 648 515 751 744
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 454 499 497 477 513 442 620 493 718 704
International Services 28 37 37 34 31 39 25 21 32 39
Financial & Other Services 1 2 5 5 5 3 3 1 1 1
Waterford
All Sectors 1,748 1,895 1,851 2,058 1,791 1,868 2,052 1,114 1,287 1,232
Manufacturing & Industry 1,679 1,709 1,645 1,675 1,355 1,519 1,671 928 979 652
International Services 19 129 168 340 401 267 291 98 259 526
Financial & Other Services 13 14 2 4 1 48 52 58 24 23
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 37 43 36 39 34 34 38 30 25 31
Wexford
All Sectors 564 490 420 466 483 558 566 441 454 502
Manufacturing & Industry 541 478 400 437 428 480 460 378 407 450
International Services 17 10 18 25 53 76 101 61 45 49
Financial & Other Services 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 6 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 3
Border
All Sectors 4,186 4,358 4,533 4,215 4,250 4,270 4,197 3,990 3,595 3,070
Manufacturing & Industry 3,321 3,430 3,539 3,307 3,224 2,993 2,839 2,528 2,149 1,856
International Services 226 168 248 234 325 522 570 669 505 607
Financial & Other Services 355 462 446 389 413 475 513 587 793 492
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 284 298 300 285 288 280 275 206 148 115
Cavan
All Sectors 479 581 691 639 513 477 336 318 451 463
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 428 537 645 624 498 457 313 295 271 193
International Services 30 22 23 1
Financial & Other Services 21 22 23 15 15 20 23 23 180 269
Donegal
All Sectors 1,862 2,085 2,143 1,951 2,033 2,136 2,106 1,704 1,570 988
Manufacturing & Industry 1,232 1,335 1,362 1,276 1,317 1,284 1,202 806 716 571
International Services 30 47 85 70 71 154 198 211 176 162
Financial & Other Services 322 426 413 344 367 424 440 493 548 171
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 278 277 283 261 278 274 266 194 130 84
Leitrim
All Sectors 121 90 114 181 121 154 223 231 88 181
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 119 87 77 163 82 121 147 138 74 76
International Financial & Other Services 2 3 37 18 39 33 76 93 14 105
Louth
All Sectors 1,097 925 680 731 969 901 945 1,063 814 806
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 945 848 608 600 762 587 635 690 515 498
International Financial & Other Services 152 77 72 131 207 314 310 373 299 308
Monaghan
All Sectors 289 257 425 382 275 202 320 359 326 290
Manufacturing & Industry 274 230 401 354 258 189 309 339 310 266
International Services 1 2 5 8 5 4 5 7 10 4
Financial & Other Services 9 8 6 5 2 3 3 7 2 6
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 5 17 13 15 10 6 3 6 4 14
Sligo
All Sectors 338 420 480 331 339 400 267 315 346 342
Manufacturing & Industry 324 397 450 299 307 355 239 266 277 269
International Financial & Other Services 14 23 30 32 32 45 28 49 69 73
Mid West
All Sectors 1,033 2,139 1,917 1,416 2,357 2,870 3,021 3,110 3,529 2,159
Manufacturing & Industry 918 1,672 1,294 761 1,568 2,108 2,245 2,588 2,899 1,656
International Services 115 215 438 440 524 488 513 406 410 353
Financial & Other Services 235 173 211 260 272 250 104 209 138
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 17 12 4 5 2 13 12 11 12
Clare
All Sectors 72 964 602 446 721 702 805 598 878 728
Manufacturing & Industry 72 666 395 179 316 423 484 485 603 583
International Services 85 68 78 154 28 95 42 98 61
Financial & Other Services 208 128 185 246 249 223 70 175 82
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 5 11 4 5 2 3 1 2 2
Limerick
All Sectors 873 934 1,163 875 1,347 2,038 2,056 2,292 2,433 1,162
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 758 779 749 513 963 1,555 1,613 1,899 2,096 823
International Services 115 129 369 361 370 460 418 364 310 291
Financial & Other Services 26 45 1 14 23 25 29 27 48
Tipperary North Riding
All Sectors 88 241 152 95 289 130 160 220 218 269
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 88 239 151 69 289 130 158 215 209 260
International Financial & Other Services 2 1 26 2 5 9 9
South West
All Sectors 5,685 6,411 5,565 6,492 6,298 6,294 6,116 6,762 6,428 5,869
Manufacturing & Industry 4,347 4,993 4,016 5,122 4,649 4,605 4,491 4,788 4,376 3,827
International Services 893 876 930 758 985 1,033 918 1,216 1,343 1,375
Financial & Other Services 328 411 483 489 511 524 576 632 641 620
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 117 131 136 123 153 132 131 126 68 47
Cork
All Sectors 4,721 5,281 4,497 5,546 5,355 5,291 5,088 5,546 5,372 4,963
Manufacturing & Industry 3,677 4,294 3,425 4,646 4,228 4,081 3,958 4,209 3,905 3,441
International Services 857 809 821 683 859 942 849 1,047 1,201 1,299
Financial & Other Services 148 140 206 189 220 212 225 238 253 217
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 39 38 45 28 48 56 56 52 13 6
Kerry
All Sectors 964 1,130 1,068 946 943 1,003 1,028 1,216 1,056 906
Manufacturing & Industry 670 699 591 476 421 524 533 579 471 386
International Services 36 67 109 75 126 91 69 169 142 76
Financial & Other Services 180 271 277 300 291 312 351 394 388 403
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 78 93 91 95 105 76 75 74 55 41
Dublin
All Sectors 10,634 9,619 8,267 9,109 9,162 9,721 10,734 10,259 9,334 9,443
Manufacturing & Industry 4,534 4,266 3,634 3,858 3,466 3,287 4,405 3,754 3,289 3,062
International Services 5,403 4,809 4,087 4,619 5,024 5,561 5,353 5,471 4,786 5,080
Financial & Other Services 690 538 540 621 657 860 964 1,021 1,250 1,293
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 7 6 6 11 15 13 12 13 9 8
West
All Sectors 5,288 5,401 4,813 4,821 5,516 6,204 5,171 5,701 5,842 3,986
Manufacturing & Industry 3,301 3,107 2,445 2,376 2,947 3,374 2,803 3,274 3,414 2,592
International Services 461 509 590 647 778 1,015 524 552 559 586
Financial & Other Services 467 532 579 638 654 721 762 783 921 429
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 1,059 1,253 1,199 1,160 1,137 1,094 1,082 1,092 948 379
Galway
All Sectors 3,738 3,520 3,321 3,393 4,021 4,761 3,925 4,269 4,476 2,906
Manufacturing & Industry 2,199 1,769 1,543 1,667 2,268 2,664 2,193 2,511 2,579 1,772
International Services 424 460 527 512 504 788 370 358 452 486
Financial & Other Services 311 367 395 418 449 545 600 633 663 348
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 804 924 856 796 800 764 762 767 782 300
Mayo
All Sectors 1,346 1,691 1,345 1,323 1,425 1,324 1,159 1,277 1,249 978
Manufacturing & Industry 910 1,165 779 618 623 607 539 621 732 735
International Services 30 43 56 123 260 211 138 184 95 87
Financial & Other Services 151 155 169 220 205 176 162 149 256 79
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 255 328 341 362 337 330 320 323 166 77
Roscommon
All Sectors 204 190 147 105 70 119 87 155 117 102
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 192 174 125 93 56 103 71 144 103 87
International, Financial & Other Services 12 16 22 12 14 16 16 11 14 15
Mid East
All Sectors 2,764 2,759 2,534 2,265 2,309 2,418 2,387 2,664 2,312 2,228
Manufacturing & Industry 2,203 1,983 1,939 1,736 1,681 1,868 1,790 1,976 1,802 1,748
International Services 374 619 435 364 482 418 438 541 402 365
Financial & Other Services 114 123 133 126 116 102 132 115 86 95
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 73 34 27 39 30 30 27 32 22 20
Kildare
All Sectors 1,181 1,185 853 695 753 921 1,242 1,324 1,109 941
Manufacturing & Industry 1,037 868 768 583 555 745 973 1,015 926 756
International Services 91 266 50 55 146 121 207 261 149 150
Financial & Other Services 10 21 15 23 25 28 38 23 18 18
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining 43 30 20 34 27 27 24 25 16 17
Meath
All Sectors 722 729 838 855 660 723 556 688 502 544
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 542 564 633 655 555 573 413 542 331 422
International Services 149 137 168 170 84 126 108 112 128 103
Financial & Other Services 31 28 37 30 21 24 35 34 43 19
Wicklow
All Sectors 861 845 843 715 896 774 589 652 701 743
Manufacturing & Industry & Agri 654 555 545 503 574 553 407 426 551 573
International Services 134 216 217 139 252 171 123 168 125 112
Financial & Other Services 73 74 81 73 70 50 59 58 25 58
Midlands
All Sectors 1,159 1,546 1,430 946 881 987 855 952 893 942
Manufacturing & Industry 1,051 1,462 1,264 817 743 851 692 756 663 724
International Services 70 66 139 78 88 90 100 128 170 190
Financial & Other Services 3 5 4 23 22 26 54 66 58 24
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Mining